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Break Beat

by Todd Ciolek,
I was disappointed with the recent news that tri-Ace, the source of Valkyrie Profile and other RPGs, is now effectively owned by the mobile-game outfit of Nepro Japan. I imagine many others felt the same. Well, there's some consolation this week: tri-Ace isn't completely put out to cell-phone pasture.

Nepro Japan clarified their objectives for future game development, and the takeaway is that tri-Ace will continue making console games while enhancing their mobile-game prowess. Meanwhile, the MGS division of Nepro will focus on arcades and mobile titles. No, this isn't the same as tri-Ace and Nepro announcing Valkyrie Profile 3: Aelia's Quest for Pants, but it's good news in some minor way.

Now that tri-Ace's future is a little brighter, we can concentrate on the true pressing issue: what's up with the wedding scene in Valkyrie Profile?

This is the first we see of the game's heroine, Lenneth Valkyrie. After a tearful prologue leaves a girl named Platina dead, we glimpse Lenneth dressed in a bridal gown and posed forlornly at an otherwise empty altar. Then Lenneth wakes up on a hillside in Valhalla, says “How nostalgic,” and heads off to meet Odin.

Valkyrie Profile eventually explains the connection between Platina and Lenneth, but it never revisits that wedding dress. It is the afterimage of some fantasy Platina had in her dying moments, spent near her would-be boyfriend, Lucian? Is it a reference to the legend of Brynhildr and Sigurd? Is it related to some plot twist that the developers had to cut from the game? Is it just there because it looks nice? And will I have to replay the game or sift through the official Valkyrie Profile artbook to get an answer? That's entirely possible.

NEWS

MEVIUS FINAL FANTASY IS PRETTY IN PORTRAIT MODE
Mevius Final Fantasy is an ambitious creation—for a smartphone game, that is. Square Enix openly wants to make it as visually amazing as a full-blown console Final Fantasy, and it's not too far from that goal. The latest trailer shows off the protagonist and his beefcake armor, which changes in accordance with the various jobs he learns. Whether a ranger or black mage, he'll likely inspire silly complaints about his attire. Armor bikinis are for everyone, Square Enix says.

The main character of Mevius starts off in an unfamiliar land, with only a disembodied voice and a floating Moogle to guide him. As he wanders, he gains elemental abilities and magic spells by defeating enemies, and the game provides simple touch-screen controls to enable this. It's rather sharp for a mobile game, though some of the monsters look directly lifted from Final Fantasy XIII.

And the Moogle isn't very imaginative. It looks like a Hello Kitty fetus instead of the cuddly bat-winged Ewoks of Final Fantasy VI or the rabbit-eared munchkins of Final Fantasy XII. Step up your Moogle design, Square Enix.

RODEA'S WII VERSION COMES WEST AFTER ALL
In other news that's very important to me, NIS America announced that their localized Rodea the Sky Soldier will mirror the Japanese release. This means that first-run copies of the Wii U version of the game will include the original Wii edition.

It interests me on two fronts. The Wii edition supposedly saw the greatest input from Rodea creator Yuji Naka (who we always have to link to his Sonic the Hedgehog work), and it sat in a Kadokawa Games locker for years before the game moved to the Wii U. Aside from looking different, the Wii and Wii U versions sport slightly different gameplay approaches when guiding Rodea around a steam-tech empire and the floating islands it ensnares. The Wii U and 3DS treatments of the game see Rodea storing up Gravity Energy by collecting rings Gravitrons or destroying blue gems. The Wii original doesn't use Gravity Energy, and Rodea jets across shorter distances as the player uses the Wii remote. If nothing else, it's a fun way to sneak out one more game for the old vanilla Wii.

The 3DS version of Rodea the Sky Soldier doesn't include the Wii version, by the way. Perhaps NISA will make it up to buyers with a special pre-order…uh, cog? Rodea's world has a lot of cogs.

BATTLETOADS RETURN IN THE BRIEFEST POSSIBLE CAPACITY
We suspected that the Battletoads might be back. Microsoft hinted at a possible revival for the goofball heroes, not seen much since that embarrassing age when every company slapped together a Frankenstein collage of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sonic the Hedgehog. Well, they've reappeared, though not in the place we quite expected.

The Xbox One version of Shovel Knight, last year's excellent retro-styled platformer, will include some guests. Zitz, Rash, and Pimple (for those are the Battletoads' names) show up in a short preview for Shovel Knight's new edition, complete with the NES Battletoads theme music and one of those accursed speeder bikes. Microsoft also hints at additional appearances for the amphibians, which very well could mean a full-blown Battletoads sequel. If a new Killer Instinct can make it, what's to stop Battletoads? Not good taste, that's for sure.

CROWDFUNDING FILES: COSMIC GROOVE TRAIL

COSMICBREAK 2
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: Windows
Ends: Sunday, March 15

The mention of CosmicBreak 2 may set some straining to recall the first CosmicBreak. It's an online multiplayer arena combat game crammed with robo-swimsuit anime heroines, and it has an evident cult following. Developer CyberStep is counting on that fan base to back a sequel in both North America and Japan, and their new game builds on the original's ideas. There's some backstory about a Cosmic League of combat, but it comes down to mecha-suited girls and squat robots battling it out with larger levels and more elaborate moves. A fair portion of the scenery can be destroyed, and characters can fly and wall-jump around the environments. Wall-jumping has been a favorite of mine ever since Strider on the NES.

The most impressive thing about CosmicBreak 2 is, in my opinion, its soundtrack. CyberStep brought aboard veteran composers Shinji Hosoe (Ridge Racer, Zero Escape), Nobuyoshi Sano (Tekken, the Korg DS-10), and...Hiroki Kikuta. The last inclusion should be of note for anyone who remembers Kikuta's excellent work on Square's Secret of Mana and Soukaigi. He hasn't been as prominent in the West since his creative turn on Koudelka, so it's darned good to have him on any Kickstarter.

CosmicBreak 2 shows some potential beyond the music. True, the female characters come from the same roboticized space girl milieu as Hyperdimension Neptunia or Xenosaga's KOS-MOS, and the game goes further into uncomfortable turf by using torn clothing to signify battle damage. Even so, the mecha and girls span six different classes of combat, and the little machines can be customized with new parts. The original CosmicBreak drew some fire for its monetized system, and CyberStep seems vague about the sequel's paid extras. It's possible that the game, already far long in development, will be finished even without the extra funding, but it likely won't have everything promised by the Kickstarter.

ORION TRAIL
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Ends: Thursday, March 12

Some Kickstarter games do their best to mask their influences. Orion Trail is having none of that. Its pitch trailer makes plain its borrowings from Star Trek as well as Star Control and any other game where you're made to negotiate with hostile aliens. And just in case the link to the old Oregon Trail edutainment classic isn't obvious, there's a shot of a tombstone with gags about “peperony” and dysentery.

Orion Trail can afford to be obvious about it, though, and that's because it looks great. The sprite animation is adorable, from the simple figures of the bridge crew to the encounters with Warp Weasels and the dreaded Spacesquatch. The tactical decisions are amusing, and the player's chosen areas of expertise, be they tactics or bravado, influence the outcome. It's a shame that Orion Trail is short over $20,000 as the Kickstarter heads into its final two days, but we've seen greater comebacks.

TOEJAM AND EARL: BACK IN THE GROOVE
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Ends: Friday, March 27

I must confess something here: I never got into Toejam & Earl during the heyday of the Sega Genesis. That's largely because I didn't get a Genesis until the mid-1990s. By that point, I had a meters-long list of Genesis titles that I'd wanted to play for years, and poor Toejam & Earl ranked somewhere down around Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude! and Air Diver. I came to enjoy the games in time, of course. The original Toejam & Earl is a cute overhead action title starring two aliens, the octopoid Toejam and the sluglike Earl, as they dodge humans and rebuild their ship. The second game switched things up by putting the heroes in a side-scroller, and the third is an Xbox title that…well, I'm sure some people like it.

Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove sees co-creator Greg Johnson pitching the sequel he never quite got to make. The two extraterrestrial rappers once again try to put together their crashed ship, and their quest takes after the original game. The levels are overhead mazes, and Toejam and Earl gain new power-ups and allies (at least two of whom can be controlled in the four-player mode). As Kickstarters go, the promo videos are amusing and the rewards are nice, including vinyl figures of Toejam and Earl themselves. The actual screenshots and footage of the game show something very early, however, and that may be why the Kickstarter hasn't hit pay dirt just yet. If you liked Toejam & Earl from the early days, now's the time to show it.

ALSO RUNNING
Of all the new-retro, pixel-work games inspired by Cave Story, Holobunnies might be the most blatant. That's not bad, though! The playable heroes are tubby Totoro-Snorlax things, the stages are multi-level side-scrolling challenges, and the game levels up the character voices as they collect enemy souls. That last part sounds just a touch grim, but I'm sure the holobunnies will make it precious.

Slain! sits on the other side of retro-like games, thematically speaking. It's a murky, gore-strewn vision of old side-scrollers, one where brutal deaths at the hands of piston walls and tentacle creatures replace those harmless scenes of the hero just blinking out of existence. Things were much more innocent back then.

Lastly, another 1990s staple re-emerges with Descent: Underground. It looks pretty and promises new ways to customize levels and the armed dropships that roam them, though it emphasizes multiplayer before solo modes. It's also a little strange that the Kickstarter blames consoles for Descent's long absence—and that it references the staff's work on the yet-unreleased Star Citizen.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

THE AWAKENED FATE ULTIMATUM
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: March 17
Worst Fate: That Chrono Cross Thing
MSRP: $39.99 / $54.99 or $59.99 (special editions)

Video games rarely dig into the roots of the Madonna-Whore Complex. Most of them mollify it into a less judgmental relative: the good girl / bad girl dichotomy. The Awakened Fate Ultimatum embraces that idea from first blush. Go to the official website, and you're faced with an impromptu decision: click on a sweetly smiling, frills-coated blonde girl or a feistier, more suggestively clad redhead. Not since Grandia II has an RPG laid its women cards on the table so quickly.

Of course, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum dresses up the player's decision with more than a website click. It follows Shin Kamikaze, a grouchy young man who meets an end worthy of a Shin Megami Tensei protagonist. Demonic forces murder him on the way home from school one day, and he awakens as the prime deity in a war between demons and angels (the denizens of purgatory are apparently either neutral or apocryphal here). He owes his life and his new powers to two women: the angelic, studious blonde Jupiel Soraumi, and the self-absorbed, red-haired renegade scientist Ariael Agarie. Shin meets other angels, demons, and assorted oddities as he joins the conflict, and it resembles a straighter-faced version of Disgaea. It's also staged just a few years after the original The Guided Fate Paradox, so there's ample potential for cameos. And since Noizi Ito is the character artist, you'll also see the heroine of Shakugan no Shana and that Haruhi girl from that one protest poster.

The Awakened Fate Ultimatum uses a dungeon-hack approach, tracking characters around labyrinths filled with unpleasant monsters and power-ups. Aside from touching up his stats behind the scenes, Shin can “deitize” into two different alter egos: Jupiel's soul grants him more powerful close-up strikes, while Ariael's gives him better attack spells. Despite the promises of extensive mazes and abilities, the game makes plain that it truly hinges on the choices Shin makes. The most important determines which of the two heroines will die. It's like The Granstream Saga's ending, only this time the conundrum itself is not a surprise. The player's decision is.

For the special-edition collector, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum offers three options, one more than our hero gets. Angelic and Devilish versions come with a soundtrack, a box, an artbook, and a corresponding five-card set. The Ultimate Fate Edition, priced at five dollars more, has both card sets and a special-edition coin.

By the way, the game's website showed Ariael leading Jupiel by about 4000 votes at this writing. I approve, but I'm also mystified. I always thought people preferred Betty to Veronica.

BLADESTORM: NIGHTMARE
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: March 17
Best Joan of Arc: World Heroes
MSRP: $59.99

Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War is a notable game in at least one way. Released in 2007, it turned the collected 14th and 15th conflicts between England and France into a tactical action title full of wide-scale horseback duels, battlefield carnage, and corny accents. It gave the likes of Christine de Pizan and John Talbot and that weirdo Gilles de Rais the Dynasty Warriors treatment, and taught impressionable youth everywhere that Joan of Arc escaped immolation and drove England out of France, provided that you're playing as her.

Nightmare enhances the original game for the newer consoles, though it's less a cosmetic upgrade than a larger gameplay expansion. The new version doesn't look all that much better than it did eight years ago, and the rhythm of battle stays largely the same. Players lead their troops, balance out varying units from archers to cavalry, and reap the strategic benefits of victory. More options await when creating lead characters, and a two-player mode allows both co-operative play and competition. The tactical element also benefits from new Guardian soldiers, a skill-point system, and the ability to switch between four large battalions in the midst of combat.

The true reason for this semi-sequel's existence is the actual Nightmare campaign. While the original Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War is absurd and melodramatic, it sticks to historical bedrock at many points. Not so Nightmare. The new storyline finds England and France besieged by a demonic army of skeletons, dragons, giant ogres, and other creatures. At the head of this unspeakable tide is an evil version of Joan of Arc, complete with revealing evil-empress attire. Call it absurd, but you'll find stranger things in the fantasy pits of Barnes & Noble.

FINAL FANTASY TYPE-0 HD
Developer: Square Enix 1st Production / HexDrive
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One
Release Date: March 17
Likely Best Character: Seven
MSRP: $59.99

Is Type-0 destined to be a forgotten Final Fantasy? It's certainly spent enough time backing from the spotlight. At first it was the least prominent part of Square Enix's big Fabula Nova Crystalis Final Fantasy experiment, but the contentious Final Fantasy XIII quickly unraveled that and set Type-0 off on its own. Though the game emerged on the PSP in 2011, Square Enix declined to release it here, and only now does it arrive—for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, no less. Final Fantasy Type-0 also comes with a demo download for Final Fantasy XV, so this prettied-up PSP game may endure the same fate as Tobal No. 1. You remember Tobal No. 1, right? The fighting game that absolutely no one played without first trying the Final Fantasy VII demo that came with it?

Final Fantasy Type-0 at least deserves to escape Final Fantasy XIII's shadow. It tosses aside the garish metaphysical futurism of its now-distant relative. Instead there's a world closer to the early 19th century mixed with Final Fantasy catalysts. Airships soar overhead, chattering newscasts play to both sides of a war, and one bellicose nation tries to grab world-sustaining crystals from its three neighbors. It's also a little harsher than the bloodless Star Wars overtones of Final Fantasy XIII. Even Type-0's introduction is full of gory city invasions and a poor doomed chocobo steed.

That said, the protagonists are mostly teenagers, and the game still sticks them with that “l'Cie” nonsense from Final Fantasy XIII. The fourteen playable heroes form Class Zero, an elite unit trying to fend off the brutal advances of the Militesi Empire, and they're distinguished less by their uniforms and more by their weapons. Some are conventional, such as the spear-toting Nine and the sword-carrying Jack and Queen. Others get more elaborate arms, like Seven's jointed whip-blade and Ace's playing cards. Only the gunman Cater seems sensibly outfitted to go against an empire that totes artillery and automatic weapons, but if you want purest realism in your game, a Final Fantasy is delicious poison.

The battles of Type-O also ignore staid menu-driven methods. Players directly control the leader of a three-character party while the other two are guided by AI routines, and the lead can switch off at any time. Combination attacks and timed moves present themselves, and magic spells can take varied arcs when reaching the target. From what I played of the PSP original, it's a fluid and promising battle system. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are prettier, even though they lack the older game's multiplayer options. Why didn't Square Enix bring the PSP version to the Vita? The long of it is that director Hajime Tabata and the rest of Square Enix prefer the home consoles when it comes to realizing the best version of Final Fantasy Type-0. The short of it is that a three-year-old PSP game won't make as much money on the Vita, even if it has Final Fantasy in the title.

MARIO PARTY 10
Developer: Nd Cube
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Release Date: March 20
Missing: Porcupo
MSRP: $49.99

I suspect that Mario Party 10 will be a big deal. That's not so much because it's another appealing multiplayer game from the Hudson Soft expats and other staffers at Nd Cube. It's not because it'll have a variety of mini-games and boss fights designed to have players at each other's throats. It's not because it introduces playable versions of Rosalina, Bowser, and Spike (that little green turtle who disgorged barbed balls and threw them in Super Mario Bros. 3). And it's not because the playable version of Bowser is a destructive monster that one player controls with the Wii U gamepad while the others try to survive. Those are all good points, but they're not the most important thing about Mario Party 10.

No, Mario Party 10 is important chiefly because it gives maniac collectors another reason to buy Amiibo. A new line of electronically coded figures will accompany Mario Party 10's release, and already the Amiibo hunters are scrambling to get their fill. Previously released Amiibo of the playable characters will work with the game, allowing access to special power-ups. Yet the hordes will not be stopped in their quest to buy the first-ever Toad Amiibo or a Luigi who isn't posed like he's ski-jumping or wafting around in a Krazy Kat strip. Nor will they believe rumors that these new Mario Party Amiibo won't be all that rare.

Materialist crazes aside, Mario Party 10 has the same overall attraction as previous games. Up to four players (five in Bowser Mode) trek around a game board and launch themselves into mini-game duels. These little challenges range from item hunts and raft races to submarine duels and enormous roulette wheels. The Mario Party games are often stable sources for casual multiplayer enjoyment, and now they evolve. Instead of half-playfully, half-bitterly arguing over a round of Boo Burglars, you can argue over Amiibo toys.

RESIDENT EVIL REVELATIONS 2
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PS Vita / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: March 17
Steve: Possibly Forgotten
MSRP: $39.99

Resident Evil protagonists tend to blur together for me. They're all cut from the same action-hero pulp, and they share a penchant for staring down horrors and reciting shocked lines of varying hokum levels. If I had to pick a favorite, though, I'd go with Claire Redfield. I liked the Ripley-Newt dynamic she and Sherry had in Resident Evil 2, and Claire was a little more relatable due to her lacking the police training of just about every other Resident Evil lead. What's more, Capcom kept Claire from overexposure by sidelining her after Code Veronica, restricting her to remakes, spin-offs, that unnecessary CG movie, and the even less justified live-action Resident Evils.

No longer playing surrogate mom, Claire starts Resident Evil 2 Revelations as a big-sister figure to Moira, daughter of burly goofball Barry Burton. They're both members of the global network TerraSave, but a drably pleasant company reception is soon interrupted by armed men and slow-motion. Claire and Moira end up on a dilapidated island facility, with a bizarre woman called Overseer watching their journey. Meanwhile, Barry heads off to the isle and encounters a girl named Natalia, orphaned by the events of the first Resident Evil Revelations.

The pairings back the more interesting points of Resident Evil Revelations 2. You're free to switch between characters the while solo and share them in multiplayer, and only one partner is armed. Claire and Barry use firearms and other weapons in the Resident Evil tradition, while Natalia shows off helpful psychic abilities. Moira? She has a flashlight, a crowbar, and a supply of improvised profanities that recalls Angel Cop.

Capcom released the first episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 in February and doled out a new entry each week. Now we're facing the last episode and the all-in-one package deal. If you nab it off the PlayStation Network early, you can reserve the whole thing for $24.99 and get some extra episodes and a Raid Mode version of Hunk, the faceless special ops soldier. Like Claire, he's underused.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
The second episode of Blade Kitten hits Steam. The first episode came along in 2010 and ended with a big To Be Continued teaser, and the second continues the journey of intergalactic bounty hunter Kit Ballard. It looks a lot like the original game, which has some presentable side-scrolling gameplay if you can get past the plastic-anime-catgirl aura. Kit looks like the mascot for some short-lived Bay Area “Japanimation” store from 1998.


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


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