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Mystery Hours

by Todd Ciolek, Sep 3rd 2014

Rumors about Final Fantasy are abundant, ridiculous, and sometimes true. Consider the story of a Disney-backed comic based on Final Fantasy IV. It sounds like a playground fib, but it certainly existed. Game Player's Strategy Guide to Nintendo Games mentioned it in 1991, and Disney-comic ads for the series touted the involvement of author Kurt Busiek, artist Dell Barras, and, for the covers, none other than Mike Mignola.

Busiek reportedly finished scripting the four-issue series, and Barras drew two of those issues before the whole project was canceled without ever seeing the comic racks. Sadly, those issues never leaked to the public, and for the longest time the only trace we had of them was the above ad. So Final Fantasy nerds like me were left to wonder.

Fortunately, Lost Levels forum member Johnny Undaunted and Twitter user Chou_Nosuke took a step toward solving the mystery. A 1992 Famitsu spread shows artwork for the American comic version of Final Fantasy IV, with Yoshitaka Amano's original designs for comparison. It's fascinating to see how the characters changed; Edward and Cid look much the same, but Rosa was overhauled so much that she looks like an honorary member of the X-Men.

Perhaps we'll see more artifacts from this strange intersection of video games and Disney comics. Or perhaps Disney and Square Enix, now even more cozy together thanks to Kingdom Hearts, will make a brand new Final Fantasy comic. And they can advertise it in their Rescue Rangers series. That's still running, right?

Well, this column's Ultra Street Fighter IV contest is still running, at least. You have until the end of Thursday to send me (toddciolek at gmail.com) your suggestion as to which character should join the Street Fighter cast. It can be anyone from any game! Just send the character's name, his or her or its title of origin, and whether you'd want the PLAYSTATION Network or XBox Live version. That's all I need!

NEWS

THE PERSONA 5 TRAILER IS UNFAIR
There's something fiendish about the first few glimpses of Persona 5's new trailer. When the game first appeared, I wished that it would leave the high-school settings of Persona 3 and 4 and adopt the working-adult overtones of Persona 2 and Catherine. Atlus dashed those hopes last year by stating that the game had a high-school stage, but for a moment the Persona 5 trailer fooled me into thinking that at least the protagonist might not be a high-school kid. We first see him sitting on a train and dressed in what looks like a sensible day-to-day turtleneck and sport coat.

Yet the wider shots reveal that he's wearing a school uniform, so there go my last dim desires for a Persona 5 that's not tied to high school. In retrospect, that's a pretty silly reason to be disappointed, and the game's brief introduction isn't bad. The rest of the trailer shows the hero wandering the city and gawking at a silent blue explosion, which fits the usual Persona concept of unseen worlds lurking amid sprawls of modern mundanity. So we at least know that it won't be, say, a kart-racing game.

The trailer also confirms that Persona 5 will be yet another game straddling the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. No differences between the versions were detailed, and both will be out in 2015. Based on the history of the series, I expect they will be followed by Persona 5 Arena, Persona 5 Golden, and maybe an actual Persona Kart.

NINTENDO'S NEW 3DS HAS A SECOND NUB, A XENOBLADE PORT
I was far less disheartened by Nintendo's announcement of a new 3DS. In truth, the uninventively named New Nintendo 3DS is two new models: the regular-size 3DS and the XL. It has two additional shoulder buttons, a faster processor, face buttons that are colored like a Super Famicom pad's, better 3-D, a second analog nub, and NFC support for those Amiibo Nintendo figures that every kid will want this Christmas. Mark my words. Much like the Nintendo DSi, the New Nintendo 3DS will bring around a few games incompatible with the old 3DS. The most notable one so far is a portable version of Xenoblade Chronicles, Monolith Soft's currently pricey Wii RPG.

The sight of marginally upgraded Nintendo hardware isn't half as interesting as some new remarks from Shigeru Miyamoto, who told Edge that his development staff doesn't want to focus on people who “passively” take in games and do not “know how interesting it is if you move one step further and try to challenge yourself.” He also cited the rise of smartphones as the major reason that Nintendo's developers “do not have to worry about making games something that are relevant to general people's daily lives.”

Miyamoto's remarks suggest a change from Nintendo's plan during the Wii era, when the console sold exceptionally well with casual users. Now the Wii U struggles in sales and Nintendo evidently needs new directions. Yet most of the recently announced Wii U software fits into the same wide-appeal category that the company always favored. Mario spin-offs, party games, and a multiplayer shooter called Splatoon would fit on the Wii and GameCube. If Miyamoto's hinting at Nintendo's next major move, perhaps we simply haven't seen it yet.

YAKUZA ZERO GOES TO 1988, DOESN'T MEET SHENMUE
The Yakuza series grew out of the hard lessons Sega learned from Shenmue. Yu Suzuki's would-be magnum opus, Shenmue was an ambitious and expensive attempt to tell an adventure tale in a painstakingly recreated 1980s Japan, but many of its attractions were humdrum payoffs considering how much Sega spent on the game. It's likely we'll never see a third Shenmue, but we'll see plenty of Yakuza titles. As a crime-drama take on the life simulator of Shenmue, Yakuza has players roaming seedy districts, romancing club hostesses, getting into punch-ups, and living the life of a semi-noble gangster. Not merely content to outshine Shenmue in general play, Yakuza now heads to Shenmue's home turf: the 1980s.

Yakuza Zero takes place in 1988, when thugs Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima were younger and perhaps a little more reckless. A murder mystery on the streets of Kamurocho in Tokyo draws Kiryu out of his service to the Dojima crime family, while Majima tries to hide his criminal history while running a club in Osaka's Soutenburi district. Both neighborhoods glow with all the seedy grandeur Japan's bubble economy could allow, and they supply the usual Yakuza vices of nightlife, dating, and perhaps even batting cages. The game's headed to the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and the latter supports remote play through the PS Vita. More details will emerge at this month's Tokyo Game Show, but we can start bothering the good people of Sega for a localized version right now. I'm sure they enjoy that.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: AUGUST

LOST DIMENSION
Developer: Lancarse
Publisher: FuRyu
Platform: PS Vita, PlayStation 3

Lost Dimension isn't quite a dungeon hack, at least not in the same random-hallway sense as Etrian Odyssey or Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. Developer Lancarse, having worked on both of those titles, decided on a different approach with Lost Dimension. It follows a pack of psychic agents and shock troopers as they climb a mysterious tower in a desolated New York City, but the battles aren't menu-driven grinds. They're strategic clashes closer to Valkyria Chronicles than a modern Wizardry scion. Characters roam around the rubble of human civilization as well as the smooth corridors of the tower, and overlapping circles determine just what they can attack.

More to the point, the player isn't raiding dungeons and forest goblin hovels. Lost Dimension finds precognitive soldier Sho Kasugi leading a band of misfit S.E.A.L.E.D. operatives into a bizarre alien edifice jutting out of the wrecked cityscape. It's the home of The End, an international mastermind trying to sow his own apocalypse. Sho can chat and bond with his teammates during battle intermissions, and he has good reason to: one of them is a traitor. It's the most obvious suspect the first time around, but further playthroughs change the big reveal depending on the choices the player makes throughout the game. Perhaps the turncoat is resentful pyromancer Himeno Akatsuki. Perhaps it's psychometric swordsman George Jackman. Perhaps it's self-hating telepath Yoko Tachibana or electricity-wielding altruist Toya Orbert or healer Sojiro Sagara. You can't quite trust any of them.

Sho's “Vision” ability lets his examine the other members of his team through conversations and thoughts, and this figures into the game's harshest choice. The pillar's Judgment Room demands that one of the S.E.A.L.E.D. members be sacrificed, so the player had better guess right when it comes to guessing the traitor. It's an interesting premise, though the game around it feels a good deal like a Shin Megami Tensei outing with more generic esper abilities instead of grotesque demon alter-egos. Furyu also seems caught in the middle with the game. Lost Dimension isn't striking enough to fill the void until Persona 5, and there aren't sufficient goo-goo-eyed girls to lure otaku away from the latest Neptunia.

Import Barrier: You can play it on your domestic PS3 and Vita, but you'll miss out on the betrayals and investigations without some knowledge of Japanese.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Not so good. No North American publishers have stepped up yet, and Lost Dimension barely charted during its launch week.

Least Realistic Character: Mana Kawai, a cute-culture fan who drags her pink teddy bear backpack into battle.

SHIN HAYARIGAMI
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PS Vita, PlayStation 3

Hayarigami is one of those long-running visual novel series that's enjoyed modest success in Japan and rare attention overseas. It delves into ghastly murders and harrowing mysteries, all without the cute veneer of Corpse Party or Higurashi. Instead, Shin Hayarigami bears shadowy gore and a big Cero-Z rating, Japan's version of an adults-only label. So it's all the more striking to note that this is the work of the Nippon Ichi Software staff, who normally package their hellish creations with the pint-size demon satire of Disgaea.

As its prefix implies, Shin Hayarigami has a largely new lineup of characters to explore the game's gloom and tragedy and many-armed ghost attacks. Saki Houjou is a dedicated police investigator who puts up a tough façade and proves adept in psychological inquiries. Sojiro Sekimoto is an ex-professor incarcerated on murder charges, but his knowledge of urban legends makes him too valuable for police to ignore. Together, they fight cri…well, they look for a serial killer called Blind Man. The game's seven story arcs find them interrogating suspects, picking over crime scenes, and stumbling into something far more ominous than an insane murderer. Most of the important details emerge in conversations and descriptions, though the new “Liar's Art” interface explores a character's inner mindscape and highlights mendacity. A lot of games have that these days.

Shin Hayarigami doesn't break with the usual visual-novel presentation or rise above an ungenerous budget, but it's a nice change in appearances. The art has a subdued and shaded look, and the characters are adults instead of beleaguered high-schoolers. With any luck, that'll keep the Hayarigami name alive for another downbeat installment.

Import Barrier: There's plenty o' text, so only fluent Japanese readers should apply. No region lock, though!

Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal, but with publishers like Aksys favoring more and more visual novels these days, NIS America might just take a shot at this.

Least Realistic Character: Saki, who isn't introduced to the player by bumbling through the hallway or talking about her favorite snack. Don't all women have to do that in video games?

SUPER ROBOT WARS OG SAGA: MASOU KISHIN F - COFFIN OF THE END
Developer: Banpresto
Publisher: Banpresto
Platform: PlayStation 3

Every game in the Super Robot Wars OG Saga mandates a disclaimer: this is the Original Generation spin-off, so you won't see any Gundams, Evangelions, Layzners, Gunbusters, Daltaniouses, or other anime robots that regularly appear in mainline Super Robot Wars strategy-RPGs. The Original Generation games feature only the robots and pilots created just for Super Robot Wars. They look and act like they sprang from an anime series, but without any pesky licensing fees or contracts. Masou Kishin is a sub-series within this sub-series of strategy-RPGs, having started with a Super Famicom game in 1996.

Now it's coming to an end. The Masou Kishin microcosm, that is. The Super Robot Wars series itself will be around when we colonize planets. But Masou Kishin is at its last chapter, and it really means it! The F stands for Final, and the subtitle is Coffin of the End.

Coffin of the End opens with somewhat grim circumstances, as vaguely xenomorphic mecha overrun a military facility conveniently defended by new characters Sakito Asagi and Elicia Zephyr. A similar mysterious attack leaves recurring Super Robot Wars characters like Masaki Ando and Tyutti Noorbuck either missing or on the run. Other familiar names return alongside fresh faces like Sakito, Elicia, the mischievous Adenam, and hippie-chick Philis Jarav. And that's to say nothing of the mecha that show up for the game's grid-driven battles and grandiose side-view attacks. The Cybuster remains the most recognizable to Western anime fans, thanks to its flop of a Geneon-released anime series, but the roster brims with many other OG Saga machines. Some, like the heavy-winged Duraxyll and the slightly less winged Justinia, favor Gundam-ish looks, but others go for spiky adornments and Dynasty Warriors fashions. Fans seem most shocked by the return of Amara Barton and her Galilnagant mecha. It's the villains who always get the attention.

Import Barrier: The gameplay isn't hard to figure out if you've played a good amount of strategy-RPGs or, better yet, Super Robot Wars titles. The dialogue is all in Japanese, though.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal. While the OG Saga games have no burdensome anime licenses for North American publishers to surmount, Coffin of the End is the last chapter of a saga-within-a-saga. That makes it an awkward introduction to Super Robot Wars.

Least Realistic Character: Saphine Grace, whose piloting dress resembles dominatrix formal wear and whose mecha resembles a naked mannequin being groped by a big metal crab.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
There's a triple dose of action-game exploitation this month. Marvelous has Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson for the 3DS, bringing another host of ninja girls (and one guy) who lose their clothes in the thick of battle. Compile Heart gives the Vita Ultra Dimension Action Neptunia U, wherein warrior-goddesses represent game consoles...and lose their clothes in the thick of battle. The Vita also gets D3's Bullet Girls, featuring young sharpshooters who...well, you get the idea. And guess what? The first two games stand a better chance of coming to America than any other imports we've discussed this week! That means something, but I'm afraid to know what.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DESTINY
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: September 9
Your Destiny: Adventure in Swords and Serpents
MSRP: $59.99

Is Destiny the biggest game of the year? Does that even matter? Well, I'm sure it matters to someone, and I can't think of any other game that seemingly scared off as many other releases as Destiny has this week. So if it makes some developers feel good and gets people debating, I will say that, yes, Destiny is the biggest game of the year.

There's a lot of hyperbole surrounding Destiny, and it invites comparisons to Halo. Destiny shares Halo's developer Bungie, Halo's first-person shooter approach, Halo's desire to balance solo modes with multiplayer, and Halo's vision of cyber-suited soldiers battling an alien invasion somehow linked to an ancient and mysterious planetoid that just happens by the Earth one day. The artifact is called the Traveler, and its arrival terraforms Earth's neighboring planets and inspires humanity to establish colonies. Then the Traveler's big nasty rival shows up, and civilization barely survives the ensuing battle between the two godlike entities. Long after this, the player's customized soldier heads through the wreckage of civilized planets, seeking out the truth behind the ancient calamity. Well, at least they didn't built cities directly ON the enormous deities, as they did in Xenoblade.

Bungie extolls Destiny's size at every opportunity, and it seems more open than Halo. Player-created soldiers can be conventional humans, android Exos, or pale elfish Awoken, but race doesn't matter as much as the available classes that correspond to fantasy archetypes: the nimble Hunters (aka the Thieves), the sturdy Titans (aka the Knights), and the techno-mystic Warlocks (they didn't even bother renaming that). Each division has some classes, and all characters get a little floating Ghost machine to follow them around and help out. It sounds like a nice place to explore with friends, but Bungie also made the strange choice of locking off the multiplayer mode at first. Co-op play appears at the start, but you can't get into huge free-for-alls until you've spent a few hours taking in this nice story-driven mode that Bungie made for you.

Destiny also invites special editions too numerous for me to stick in the stats above. Sony's bundling the game and a PlayStation 4 together for $449.99, hoping that you'll see it as the PS4's own Halo and forget that it's on other systems. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions can be had in “Ghost Editions” with a steelbook case, a star chart, postcards, and a huge replica of the Ghost. It runs $150. The regular limited edition has the starmaps, the steelbook, the postcards, and a $100 price tag. Crazy.

EXTRA LIVES: STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE (THE GAME!)

Who is the most obscure playable Street Fighter character? The currently running contest (send in your entries!) made me wonder this, and it's a difficult question. Might it be Captain Sawada from the Street Fighter: The Movie fighting game? Perhaps Joe or Geki from the first Street Fighter? We could dig through various Street Fighter bootleg titles if we're reaching deep. Yet my choice would be the Monitor Cyborg from CAPCOM's Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie game, itself a little-known fragment of a time when a fighting game could get a movie, a second movie, and games based on each.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie invariably comes up when people discuss the rare decent anime based on a fighting game. CAPCOM commissioned an animated Street Fighter film in 1994 to compete with SNK's Fatal Fury TV specials and possibly accompany the fascinatingly awful live-action Street Fighter: The Movie. CAPCOM didn't go cheap, either. The film shows lavish fight scenes and the practiced touch of director Gisaburô Sugii, who at that point was coming off prestigious work like Touch and Night on the Galactic Railroad. So Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie stands above the cheap fighting-game OVAs of its day. It may not be that much smarter than, say, Psychic Force, but it's a treat for fans who want to see their Street Fighter favorites in a movie that at least looks great.

CAPCOM got a little extra mileage out of the film's budget by putting together Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie game, or “Street Fighter II Movie,” as the spine says. Released for both the Saturn and PlayStation, it's not the first time CAPCOM turned a game into a movie and then into a game again.

The animated movie doesn't introduce many new characters; you have Senoh, a toady scientist of the evil Shadaloo syndicate (or “Shadowlaw,” as the movie and game call it), and you have the Monitor Cyborgs that Senoh and the vile Shadaloo overlord M. Bison send out to spy on the world's best martial artists. And since no one would want to control Senoh puttering around a lab, the animated movie-game casts you as a Monitor Cyborg.

True to its movie appearance, the Monitor Cyborg doesn't do that much for most the game. It just spends a lot of time watching the other characters fight. So the player sees clips from the film bordered by the cyborg's ocular frame of green grids and flickering lights. In order to learn moves, the cyborg's sight brings up a targeting indicator, and the player has to highlight special moves and damaging hits when they show up in the movie's animation. The Cyborg has a limited number of tries, and successful shots raise its power levels in various categories.

In this manner the game plays out major scenes from the movie, boxed and grainy and interactive only through the Cyborg's little crosshairs. A fighting game emerges only during the film's climactic battle between M. Bison, wandering hero Ryu, and a brainwashed version of Ryu's old pal Ken. Using the stats accumulated by watching clips, the Cyborg wields Ken's special moves in a fight against Ryu. The match uses the Super Street Fighter II engine and graphics, complete with a complete sprite for the Cyborg and a nice new background.

Lose the fight, and Ken and Ryu triumph just as they did in the movie. Win, and you'll get one of two endings. The bleaker one has the victorious Cyborg taking Vega's place among M. Bison's sub-bosses (Vega apparently not having survived his fight with Chun-Li). In the better ending our Cyborg hero, now knowing what it is to be like the hu-man, helps Ken and Ryu defeat Bison. And then it wanders off, having learned Ryu's special technique for stoic walkaways.

It makes for an interesting piece of Street Fighter memorabilia, though it's not that great of a game. The movie segments are pixelly and cloistered while the point-and-click interface rarely seems like actual gameplay—though it's better than most of the alleged “interactive movie” titles one saw in the mid-1990s. At least CAPCOM and Group TAC made new animation for the endings, plus an intro that features Cammy perhaps more than the actual movie does.

Atop the regular movie-watching mode, the game has a plain ol' fighting-game arena for two players to spar, and you can pit the built-up Cyborg against holograms as much as you please. There's a database as well, both in the movie and without. It'll please those who've ever needed in-game readouts for Street Fighter luminaries' measurements, though Chun-Li's weight is still just question marks. You know how women are. Haw.

In game form, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is strictly for those devoted types who want to know T. Hawk's bust size. The scaled-down footage is no substitute for a nice, full version of the actual film (where's our domestic Blu-Ray?), and the whole thing has little value beyond a collection showpiece.

It has Monitor Cyborg, though. The robot never appeared in later Street Fighter games, not even in backgrounds or endings. You'll see Senoh briefly in a Street Fighter Alpha 2 scene, but not the Cyborg. At most, its appearance re-emerged in the bald, grimacing Seth from Street Fighter IV. Yet the Cyborg has its moment here, and it has a place among the stranger characters in the Street Fighter roster.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie isn't terribly common, and it hangs around the $25 range when it shows up. The PlayStation version seems to be a touch more rare than the Saturn one.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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