The X Button
Cyber City

by Todd Ciolek,
Nintendo recently put a little The Legend of Zelda comic on its Play channel. It's drawn by Seitaro Komatsu, it's based on The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and it showcases a lazy, manipulative version of Link who uses time-travel to keep himself in an endless loop of playing 3DS games.

Or perhaps Link is wrapped in a grander fascination with his 3DS. He's presumably playing a Zelda game that depicts his accomplishments, and that raises all sorts of existential questions. If he's a video-game character, why shouldn't he spend eternity playing video games?

When it comes to Zelda comics, however, there's no beating Shotaro Ishinomori's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in my book. It ran in Nintendo Power throughout 1992, and it puts a colorful spin on the Super NES game. Ishinomori, a legend in Japan but relatively unknown in North America by the early 1990s, brought his exaggerated flourish to the game's typical fantasy quest, trimming and expanding the story when necessary. Long dungeon treks are covered in the space of a few panels, new characters liven up generic monster battles, and Link, always silent in the games, gets the voice of a doofy, likeable hero. He's shilling a game, of course, and even using Nintendo catchphrases in the process, but it's easy to ignore that.

Ishinomori, in the Osamu Tezuka tradition of reusing character designs, also gives Cyborg 009's Jet Link (coincidence?) a role in the manga as Link's were-bird rival, Roam.

My favorite piece of Ishinomori's adaptation may be the finale. In contrast to the game's happy little sendoff, the comic adds a downbeat epilogue that's sure to dismay those fans who liked the idea of Link and Princess Zelda as a couple. I read most of the comic before I finished A Link to the Past, and I was disappointed that the game didn't end on such a depressing note. In fact, Ishinomori's manga and the Game Boy outing Link's Awakening set the bar for bittersweet Zelda stories so high that I considered anything happy to be meretricious and disposable.

You can get Ishinomori's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past from VIZ at a pretty decent price, and it has the same translation used in Nintendo Power. It may not entice those who grew up free of Nintendo, but it's a fun comic just on the surface.

I hope that VIZ will follow it up by reprinting Nintendo Power's Super Mario Adventures comic, drawn by Charlie Nozawa and written by Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga co-author Kentaro Takekuma. People pay upwards of fifty bucks for it on eBay, so there's clear demand for a comic where Princess Peach is a suicide bomber.

NEWS

KONAMI OFFERS REVIVALS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Think Konami is ditching its major video game series? That seems to be the case if we go by news, rumors, and even the company's Comic-Con booth, which was almost entirely Yu-Gi-Oh! stuff. Yet Konami presented fans a glint of hope in a survey. It brings up a bunch of Konami series and asks for your opinions on them. I suggest choosing “I like it very much” for your favorites, not least of all because it makes you sound like the bootblacking kids from Prince of Space.

The list has high-profile Konami names like Castlevania and Contra and Suikoden, but it also brings up some long-dormant series, including Goemon and Sunset Riders. Rocket Knight Adventures gets a spot as well, though this reminds me how just about everyone ignored its remake a few years ago. For that matter, it's possible that Konami will ignore just about everything on this list and make more Yu-Gi-Oh! and the occasional Metal Gear Solid game. But at least we can fill out the survey and feel important. And if Sunset Riders is fair game, what else could be almost on the table? Martial Champion? Metamorphic Force? Maybe a re-licensed Wild West C.O.W.-boys of Moo Mesa?

DEAD OR ALIVE XTREME 3 PRESENTS POLL AND PURCHASES
From a cynical perspective, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 is long overdue. The Dead or Alive series of fighting games soldiers onward with its emphasis on curvaceous women, but we've seen only two spin-off beach volleyball games (and the similarly themed Paradise) that pare everything down to those women going on tropical vacations and wearing even less than they usually do. What's interesting is Tecmo Koei's method of picking which characters appear in Xtreme 3 on the PlayStation 4 and Vita. Similar to pop-idol merchandise gimmicks, the game's website offers downloadable themes for 15 characters. You vote by buying those themes, and the top nine choices will end up the game. The uninvited characters likely will appears as bonus downloads, so you can spend money on them in due time. It's just like a real election, with paid votes, graft, and cronyism!

I have no intention of voting, partly because I dislike the method…and partly because I don't care about any Dead or Alive characters enough to spend money. The roster above only reminds me that most of the women in the games all look far too similar, sharing mannequin-like body types and differing in personality only by stereotypical degrees. If this were a poll for a Street Fighter spin-off, I'd be canvassing neighborhoods for Chun Li and Maki and Twelve. If this were a King of Fighters poll, I could write a good five thousand words about why King or Leona or Kasumi Todoh deserved a vote. If this were a Tekken poll I'd back Lucky Chloe just to mess with fans. And yet I cannot care so much about Dead or Alive.

And if this were a Guilty Gear poll…hey, wait a minute…

GUILTY GEAR TAKES SUGGESTIONS IF YOU'RE SERIOUS
Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator's new characters are also up to fan decisions. We have Kuradoberi Jam now and I suspect we'll see Dizzy before long, but Arc System Works is open to suggestions for other roster additions. The only catch: you have to vote by playing the arcade version of the game, which came out in Japan this week and probably won't come West soon enough to register votes (if it comes at all). While Guilty Gear fans may grouse about that, this method at least ensures that anyone who votes will be willing to put money and time into the game.

So what character will I back once I fly to Japan, park myself in front of a Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator machine, and dump my savings into it? Leap, the cook for the Jellyfish Pirates? The educated and reptilian Dr. Paradigm? Millia Rage's fanboy, last seen a possessed lunatic? Well, I'd stick with a character who has a marginal chance of making it into Revelator. So I'd go with Baiken, the one-armed samurai who grouchily makes her way through Guilty Gear canon and the perhaps not-unwelcome advances of fan-wielding Anji Mito. And if they add Baiken, they'll have to put Anji in for a few cutscenes at least. So it's a two-for-one deal!

BANDAI NAMCO'S NEXT WAVE

Bandai Namco Entertainment has busy months ahead. The remainder of the year will bring Tales of Zestiria, Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden, Sword Art Online: Lost Song, and perhaps even Saint Seiya: Soldiers' Soul. And it'll continue into next year with Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. Yet there's even more to come farther down the line, and Bandai Namco showed off some of their strongest 2016 titles at a recent demonstration in New York City. Original games may be thin on the ground, but the company's catalog still seems adept at giving fans more of what they want.

DIGIMON STORY: CYBER SLEUTH
Developer: Media.Vision
Platform: PS Vita / PlayStation 4
Due Out: Early 2016

It's easy to sympathize with longtime Digimon fans, Twitter blowhards excepted. It would be one thing if Bandai simply didn't make Digimon games at all, but no, that's not the case. New Digimon games arise regularly in Japan and trickle inconsistently to North America. All too often, fans are forced to import a new Digimon title or go without. It's a sad state for a line that contended with Pokemon at the height of monster-raising media franchises, but Bandai Namco had a change of heart. No import shopping is necessary with Digital Story: Cyber Sleuth. It's headed here early next year.

In fact, Cyber Sleuth courts the older Digimon faithful almost as much as it beckons to a fresh and younger crop of fans. Compared to last year's middling Digimon: All-Star Rumble fighter, Cyber Sleuth is far more complex and consistent with Bandai's recent overhaul of the series in Japan. It's a full-blown RPG, one dressed with slightly more elaborate style. Its world is a layered virtual realm where the perky sanitized cityscapes of social networks bustle above darker digital hinterlands. Even Suzuhito Yasuda's artwork is more suggestive than the cuddly, TV-safe Digimon aesthetic that distracted Pokemon-obsessed kids over fifteen years ago.

That said, Cyber Sleuth still seems a simple presentation. The playable sample let players roam the clean, neon-streaked hallways of a digital dungeon with three Digital Monsters following behind like unsuspected ghosts. Battles were basic tests of picking menu commands and unleashing special attacks, though it proved easy and amusing to swap out monsters in the midst of combat. Much of the fun from these games emerges in picking and training creatures, of course, and this stretch of Cyber Sleuth alone offered a dozen monsters to manage. Cyber Sleuth by no means appears to be a Final Fantasy or Xenosaga in scope, but I suspect Digimon fans will prefer it that way.

DARK SOULS III
Developer: From Software
Platform: Xbox One / PlayStation 4 / PC
Due Out: Mid-2016

I am the wrong person to judge Dark Souls. It's a series that relies on killing the player in novel, suspenseful ways, and I'm a player who always tries to find ways to die for no reason. Give me an action game or an RPG, and I'll immediately walk toward a precipice or chasm just to see if I can fall. I think this defeats the point of Dark Souls and its reliance on players clinging to life in bleak little fantasy realms. My first demise in the original Dark Souls came not at the hands of a ghoul or dragon, but from a well. I jumped down that well. Because I wanted to.

Dark Souls III preserves the constricted, desperate allure that marked the first few games, though that's a harder sell now. I'll confess that the Dark Souls expanses of accursed kingdoms strewn with undead acolytes and decayed castles and general filth aren't as immediately compelling as Bloodborne, and the conventionally armed warriors of Dark Souls III are missing something...like semiautomatic flintlocks and spiked cleavers apparently made for filleting a Tyrannosaurus carcass.

Not that the armor-clad heroes and heroines of Dark Souls III go about helpless. The game offers a new system of stances in combat. Assume one pose, and from there you can break an enemy's defense or swiftly duck behind them for a sneak attack. It's easier to switch between melee weapons and bows, and easier to dodge while using the latter. And while I thought the setting initially mundane, the sight of an enormous dragon barfing hellflame across an entire citadel brought me around.

Of course, my avatar died, and it came when a towering knight slashed me from behind just as I reached the doorway of the demo's concluding sepulcher. I'm sure an equally swift fate awaited me inside.

PROJECT X ZONE 2
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Due Out: Early 2016

I liked Project X Zone for dumb reasons, and I think I that's OK. It was a dumb sort of game, a huge crossover of characters from Street Fighter and Tales and God Eater and Sakura Wars and other parts of a Capcom/Sega/Bandai Namco alliance. They quibbled, they joked, and they joined forces against generic monsters and familiar enemies. And if their battles were woefully repetitive, at least their chatter felt true. It spoke to me on the level of a child--a child who was always disappointed that the Cartoon All-Stars cartoon team-up of 1990 wasn't about wacky adventures but rather tiresome anti-drug vignettes.

Project X Zone 2 clearly knows that something was wrong with its predecessor. The demo offered a single battle with half a dozen character teams, and it flowed faster. Enemy counterattacks took less time to play out, and even the playable characters' excessive team-up moves, perhaps the highlight of the original game, seemed a little more brisk. There was, however, no real challenge apparent in the demo; of the variety of enemies on display, only Sigma from Mega Man X did any major damage, and that was rectified by a single healing capsule.

The demo mostly showcased returning characters from the first Project X Zone, though it offered the newly included Kazuma and Goro from the Yakuza series to belt around zombies and grumble about the youth of today. In fact, Project X Zone 2 appears to continue its predecessor's habit of separating everyone into good and bad camps. It's understandable why major villains wouldn't be recruited by the heroes, but the demo also showed Street Fighter's Juri as a foe yet again, and that struck me as a waste. Street Fighter never pitched Juri as a boss; a ne'er-do-well she is, but the cast is full of those. If Tekken's Kazuya Mishima and Darkstalkers' Demitri are among the good guys from the start, Juri isn't morally objectionable.

Bandai Namco also released new screens of the game, highlighting characters not seen in the demo. Felicia from Darkstalkers is among the lineup, complete with a special move straight out of her Pocket Fighter incarnation. I sure am glad that she's considered the “cute” female character from the original Darkstalkers, or else games like this might needlessly sexualize her!

Also included: Phoenix Wright and May Fey from the Ace Attorney series, Axel Stone from Streets of Rage, and, in a really obscure stroke, Aty from Summon Night. Some returning characters get even more nerd bait in their attacks. Space Channel 5's Ulala summons Alex Kidd, the Altered Beast hero, and Fantasy Zone's Opa-Opa. Namco's Valkyrie calls up a Wagan Land dinosaur, the Toy Pop heroes, and the ship from Xevious. She also drops upon the enemy in an unintentional breastplate attack, which I find horribly undignified for a Norse deity.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DANGANRONPA ANOTHER EPISODE: ULTRA DESPAIR GIRLS
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS Vita / PlayStation TV
Release Date: September 1
Alternate Title:
MSRP: $39.99 / $64.99 (special edition)

The two Danganronpa titles are some of the most compelling mysteries games have offered in recent years. They play with stereotypes and gruesome style, but they're clever stories beneath all of the Ultimate Princesses and outlandish, ironic executions. Now Danganronpa ventures into spin-offs with Ultra Despair Girls.

The mystery this time around concerns Komaru Naegi, sister of the original Danganronpa protagonist, Makoto Naegi. While her brother went to an allegedly prestigious school and ended up at the heart of a bizarre murder game, Komaru has spent the better part of a year locked inside a mysterious apartment. Her only chance for escape comes when a robotic bear breaks down her door—a bear that looks a lot like Monokuma, the murderously twee antagonist of the two previous Danganronpa horror shows. Before long she learns that the entire city is overrun by evil little mecha-bears, and that the ringleaders of the invasion are twisted and powerful children. How they're doing all of this is a mystery indeed, and why they're doing it leads to some severely disturbing revelations.

Ultra Despair Girls forsakes the visual-novel approach of the first two Danganronpas and opts for a survival-horror overtone. Komaru's best weapon is a megaphone that launches “truth bullets,” allowing her to immobilize and control the rampaging Monokumas. Her closest ally in this chaos is Toko Fukawa, the Ultimate Writing Prodigy from the original Danganronpa. Like all esteemed writers, Toko is insane and harbors a second personality named Genocide Jack Once unleashed via a stun-gun jolt, Jack slashes everything with murderous abandon—though only for a limited time. It's an interesting turn for the Danganronpa series, even if it seems to walk a path that dark comedies shouldn't tread unless they're very, very sure of themselves.

METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
Developer: Kojima Productions Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: September 1
The Reality: No Match For the Legend
MSRP: $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360) / $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain went through a lot during development. At first there was creator Hideo Kojima's semi-contentious decision to release the relatively short Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes as a prologue (and a creepy one at that) last year. Then there were rumors about Kojima leaving Konami, backed in no minor sense by Konami disbanding the Kojima Productions studio and folding it into the company. Konami isn't about to give up Metal Gear games, even as they neglect other series in their stable, but this may be the last title that Kojima controls so closely.

The Phantom Pain returns to the extended backstory of Big Boss. We met him as a commando in Metal Gear Solid 3 and saw grow him into an embittered rebel leader in Portable Ops, Peace Walker, and Ground Zeroes. He's the primarily villain in the very first Metal Gear game, however, and The Phantom Pain takes him one more step closer to that tragic role. Not long after the events of Ground Zeroes, Big Boss emerges from a coma, takes the name of Venom Snake, and heads into the wilderness of Afghanistan. In search of the people that destroyed his Millitaries Sans Frontieres group, he forges a new outfit called Diamond Dogs (Kojima loves that era of British pop) and recruits a number of misfit soldiers, including the silent, scantily clad sniper Quiet. Kojima promised some deeper meaning to Quiet's costume, but…eh, we'll see.

In contrast to the curtailed test drive of Ground Zeroes, Venom Snake's minor war in The Phantom Pain expands larger than any previous Metal Gear title. Players still sneak around to avoid guards and use non-lethal methods to subdue them if they like, but there's much more to do. Horses, cars, and tanks carry Venom Snake, helicopters swoop in for airstrikes when called, and supporting characters from Quiet to Snake's new pet wolf DD can join the player. It's also possible to build a base and use it to house wounded soldiers, among other amenities. And lest you think the game's limited in the weapons and accessories it offers, one can booby trap an enemy jeep with horse poop, hook it to a balloon, and watch the vehicle drift skyward. If Konami doesn't want more of that, they're nuts.

Also Available:
Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence continues a long tradition of letting players guide the feudal Japanese warlord on his quest to conquer the nation. As this is a realistic simulation and not one of those games where Oda Nobunaga is a demon lord or a Pokemon trainer, players guide him by building castles, maintaining towns, and forging alliances and military strategies. It's a richly complicated outing for fans of the genre, and it's available on PCs as well as the PlayStation 3 and 4. And that's fitting, since the series started off on Japanese PCs over thirty years ago.


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


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