The X Button
Lumine Nation

by Todd Ciolek,
Nintendo has a depleted lineup for this holiday season, with a new Star Fox, Yoshi's Wooly World, and Xenoblade Chronicles X occupying space that normally would go to a new Mario or Zelda game. Of course, Nintendo has to promote these apparent second-stringers all the harder, so the uninventively named Xenoblade Chronicles X gets a special edition.

At first it seems like nothing special as far as these editions go. For $89.99 you get the game, an illustrated matte card, and an artbook with pieces from Armored Core's Takashi Kojo, among others. The unique part of it is the soundtrack. It's contained on a USB drive shaped like one of the game's Lifehold pods. That's a nice touch, though it raises the question of why the drive holds only ten songs. You could easily fit the entire score on a low-capacity USB stick.

What I find intriguing is the Lifehold Pod itself. In the game, these pods contain cryogenically preserved refugees from Earth, and a starship crash spreads them all over the planet Mira. But they're also shaped a little like the Zohar, the mysterious artifact at the heart of the Xenosaga trilogy's jumbled backstory. And as all followers of the Xeno-prefixed games know, a device called the Zohar also figured into Xenogears and its outlandish concepts. Xenosaga shares stylistic similarities with Xenogears and even looks like a prequel if you squint and extrapolate a lot, but I doubt there's a similar connection between those earlier games and Xenoblade Chronicles X. Monolith Soft started fresh with Xenoblade Chronicles, and I'm not even sure we'll see much common ground between it and Xenoblade Chronicles X. But we'll have that oddly shaped USB drive, at least.

NEWS

CAPCOM ANNOUNCES ACE ATTORNEY 6, FORGETS SOMETHING
We often gripe about Capcom's reluctance to localize Ace Attorney games. Ace Attorney Investigations 2 never made it into English, and Capcom hasn't said anything about The Great Ace Attorney's possible trip West (though their French arm said it's not coming and then retracted that statement). But Capcom announced a domestic release for the fifth central Ace Attorney game in short order, and they did the same for Ace Attorney 6.

Famitsu revealed the first details on the new Ace Attorney. It's set in a mysterious foreign country, offering an easy out to the localizers who inadvertently switched the series setting from Japan to America in the first game. Visiting this land, Phoenix Wright gets wrapped up in a new case (or several) and ends up working with a priest and tour guide named Bokuto Tsuani. Judging by the initial preview, the courtrooms of this nation use a mystical water-mirror method as well as the usual cross-examinations and evidence during trials.

It's interesting to note that Phoenix's fellow lawyers Apollo and Athena appear nowhere in the magazine preview. Ace Attorney needed some changes after the fifth game, and we saw them with the spin-off Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney and the historical prequel The Great Ace Attorney. Perhaps the sixth central game has Phoenix sharing the lead with no one.

The important question, of course, is whether or not Maya Fey is coming back after a two-game absence.

THE WORST STREET FIGHTER CHARACTER RETURNS
It was likely that we'd see Rainbow Mika in a new Street Fighter game. Producer Yoshinori Ono professed his fondness for her, and Mika's one of the few Street Fighter Alpha series characters who hasn't re-emerged in a modern Street Fighter. So she's back in Street Fighter V.

One problem: I can't stand Rainbow Mika. I disliked her immediately in Street Fighter Alpha 3, and I never warmed up to her. I came to appreciate similarly shrill-voiced, crassly sexualized fighting-game women like Guilty Gear's Kuradoberi Jam and SNK's B. Jenet, but I would grant Mika no reprieve. It wasn't happening. On the one hand, she's an amusing parody of pro wrestling. On the other hand, every little detail about her annoyed me, from the stupid boob-hearts on her costume to the way she whomped opponents with her butt—and rubbed it after she hit the ground. Street Fighter is never a dignified series, but…well, there's a line between delightfully stupid and just plain nauseating.

Street Fighter V's version of Rainbow Mika seems even sillier in ways both good and bad. She's still wearing a goofy costume, minus the hearts, that leaves even less to the imagination than her Alpha garb, and she now pulls off a butt attack with the help of her frequently called-upon partner, Nadeshiko. This provides an interesting point, however, as it's rare for Street Fighter warriors to incorporate other characters into their moves. That, along with Mika sporting some legitimately hilarious wrestling moves, almost makes up for the unpleasant mixture of clown ruffles and unrelenting T&A shots.

I'll remain a stick in the mud about this and say that Mika is the worst Street Fighter character this side of Captain Sawada. Yet I'm halfway intrigued by the possibility of Nadeshiko becoming a playable character, since she's already in the game. I'm fully intrigued that Mika's inclusion aligns with a roster leak from several months ago, one that also mentioned the oft-requested Karin Kanzuki, Street Fighter III protagonist Alex and, for some reason, Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact's Urien. I'd like to see Maki or Remy come back, but judging by the reaction to Rainbow Mika, my Street Fighter opinions aren't popular.

Meanwhile, controversy stirred after Capcom unveiled a Street Fighter V collector's edition and pre-order bonuses. The boxed set has a Ryu statue, a hardcover artbook, a soundtrack sampler, a Twitch subscription, and some free comic downloads. Reserving the game also ensures a bonus costume that varies by retailer: GameStop delivers a bearded Ryu, Amazon has a dapper M. Bison, the PlayStation Store and PC offer Chun-Li in a black dress with her hair down, and Best Buy has Cammy in a belt-covered (but still pantsless) combat outfit. It's the last of these that has people talking.

Earlier versions of Street Fighter V gave Cammy a fairly sharp chin (left), but fans pointed out that new screenshots of the bonus costume show her with a more rounded visage (right). Was it changed to appease Japanese fans who, according to Kotaku, disliked Cammy's initial look? Or is it just a case of different angles twisting perspective?

Either way, I'd go with GameStop's deal and get Ryu cosplaying as the newly resurrected Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. He looks ready to break a skyscraper across his head.

DEGICA BRINGS CAVE TO STEAM, WHICH MAKES SENSE, I SWEAR
In the watch-this-space category, we have Degica's website for Cave shooters coming to Steam. Cave has long been a favorite name among shooter fans, since the developer clung to the genre after many other companies fled. Too bad Cave hasn't made a new arcade game since 2012 and now prefers to traffic in mobile games. Yet their catalog teems with fun bullet-hell shooters, and Steam reissues would make us forget about Cave's current dry spell.

Degica's website mentions no specific titles and doesn't even ask for fan input, but it's reason enough to be excited. While logic suggests that we'll see recent Cave games adapted first, I hope Degica also brings out some older shooters never ported to home consoles. Progear would be nice, Capcom ownership aside, and my number-one pick is ESP Ra.De. (above), a psychic teenager odyssey with marvelously intense gameplay. I'd buy it the moment it went up, and in these days of inevitable Steam sales and hefty discounts, that's saying something.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: AUGUST

LUMINOUS ARC INFINITY
Developer: Felistella
Publisher: Marvelous
Platform: PlayStation Vita

Great art survives its creators. Luminous Arc is a series of strategy-RPGs that couldn't be called great art on any scale, but the DS outings caught up some fans of anime-infused tactical games. More to the point, Luminous Arc has outlived its developer, Imageepoch. Burdened by debt and its CEO's curious absence, Imageepoch shut down earlier this year. Months before, Felistella and Marvelous announced Luminous Arc Infinity, a Vita release that preserves the longstanding traditions of colorful strategic battles and bevies of magically empowered heroines.

Witchery played a major role in past Luminous Arc outings, and Infinity envisions a world preserved by the Nine Pillars of Lapis. They're actually young women with magical affinities, and their prayers maintain a supernatural power called Lapis, a vague plot device worthy of a Tales RPG. Our hero is a warrior, or rather a Tone Echo Specialist, named Seed, and an afternoon nap in a castle leads him to rescue a young woman and launch himself into a full-blown RPG quest. The cast soon fills up with women, ranging from the antlered warrior Jioka to the android C-9 (who looks a lot like Aigis from Persona 3). All of them have sorcerous methods and personality quirks, whether it's the worldly, playful Violet's drinking habits, innocent Feilang's superstitions, or the knifefighter Hisoka's practical jokes and endurance tests. This being a modern RPG, the player can socialize with the voluminous female cast whenever free time arises.

During battle, the game follows strategy-RPG conventions in its grids, its special attacks, and its squat, large-headed representations of the characters. In an unsurprising stroke, combat revolves around the song-spells of the party's various maidens. They can enhance other allies, team up for special attacks, and join together in harmony to multiply magical effects. The more elaborate moves seldom want for flash, as the heroines summon giant tanks and dive-bomb enemies from far above. When not in the midst of combat, Seed can roam the halls, gardens, and swimming pools of the hovering city Floatia, which is powered by Lapis magic. Enjoy that while you can, I say. Floating cities often don't last long in RPGs.

Import Barrier: Luminous Arc Infinity may not be as complex as Tactics Ogre in storyline or gameplay, but it still requires some language ability. At least the Vita has no region lockouts on physical cartridges.

Domestic Release: No word on one yet, but it's not out of logical bounds for Atlus, XSEED, NIS America, or any other Western publisher with a grounding in cult strategy-RPGs.

Extras: The first edition of the game includes a CD soundtrack and a volume of background materials, as these RPGs often do. And to think that some people waste their time collecting first-edition books. Did the initial print run of Catcher in the Rye come with an artbook or soundtrack? I don't think it did.

RAY GIGANT
Developer: Experience
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PS Vita

Like a lot of RPGs on the PlayStation Vita these days, Ray Gigant is a dungeon crawler. Players shuffle through angular labyrinths, maintain maps to guide them, and meet monsters in menu-driven battles. It's all very much like Experience's prior RPGs, including Demon Gaze and Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy. The difference lies in how it all looks.

Ray Gigant unfolds in a future where cities are overrun by enormous monsters called, aptly enough, Gigants. One seemingly ordinary Tokyo kid, Ichiya Amakaze, defeats a Gigant—with a power that levels the entire city. This pyrrhic victory gets him recruited by two other powerful Gigant-slayers, the British Kyle Griffen and the unplaceable Nil Phineas. The game's told in chapters focused on one of the three characters, though they always have two sidekicks to fill out the adventuring party. Nils wades through half-submerged Caribbean labyrinths, Kyle raids a computer-run military base in Europe, and Ichiya hangs out with his childhood friend and rival. The characters also ally with Yorigami, nether-beings that chat with their human avatars and allow different combat specialties.

Battles play out with menu commands and special attacks, but they seem more vibrant than the usual static combat imagery of a dungeon hack. Enemies twitch and breathe before the party, and the characters are rendered with shading and fluidity that resembles actual anime. Combat also has three different scales depending on the player's distance, and battles against Gigants pull back for that impressive kaiju atmosphere. Unfortunately, the above-average animation isn't uniform. Characters and enemies don't really move when they attack, and there's even less motion during cutscenes. Perhaps it's a matter of pacing, but it detracts from the grim overtones and detailed style that Ray Gigant first shows the player.

Import Barrier: It's a dungeon-crawler, so be prepared to memorize menus and spell names if you want to survive.

Domestic Release: Western companies are surprisingly quiet on that front. Fingers point toward NIS America, which localized Demon Gaze as well as Operation Abyss.

Extras: Reserving the game got you a download code for the soundtrack. And it's a decent soundtrack, too.

SUPER ROBOT WARS BX
Developer: B.B. Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
AKA: Super Robot Taisen BX

My apologies to those of you who didn't grow up U.S. Air Force brats, but I can't see the suffix BX on the new Super Robot Wars game without envisioning a saga of miniature Gundams and Mazingers and Aestivalises shopping for shoes and cookware tax-free at their local Base Exchange. A lot of those robots are in the military, you know.

Super Robot Wars BX follows the massive crossover theme of prior games, and it crams a lot of robot-anime pandering into a small 3DS screen. Players guide the machines on grids during battle and manage their stats, but the real attraction lies in the fighting. While the robots are super-deformed little machines when in battle and tiny when in the field, their attacks explode into fully animated cutscenes as their theme music plays and their pilots spout catchphrases and helpfully recite the names of their weapons.

To that end, Super Robot Wars BX is stocked with anime headliners. In the returning column, we have Aura Battler Dunbine in the original and New Story forms, Mazinger Z: The Impact!!, Mazinkaiser SKL, the Macross Frontier films, Matchless Raijin-Oh, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, the Mobile Suit Gundam 00 movie, and Martian Successor Nadesico. The newcomers are Panzer World Galient, SD Gundam Gaiden, Mobile Suit Gundam Age, Giant Gorg, Panzer World Galient, and that Macross 30 game. And we have the obligatory original characters with the headstrong Youta Hiiragi, who pilots the Falsaber, and his amnesiac adopted sister Yuki Hiiragi. No points for guessing that she has a mysterious past.

It's a formula that's fed mecha fans for over two decades. While the strategic element is clearly there, this always was a series less for RPG enthusiasts and more for fans who want to see Giant Gorg toss huge boulders, or the Nadesico spew a massive gravity beam, or Mazinger launch his “Breast Fire” without sanitized Western renaming.

Import Barrier: Japanese proficiency is needed to get the most out of the storyline and battle system, but it's not hard to figure out the attacks and general strategy. By the way, the 3DS is still region-locked.

Domestic Release: Unlikely, due to the confluence of licensing requirements and general apathy toward mecha anime. If a company was to take another chance on Super Robot Wars, however, they might go for a smaller-scale 3DS game like this.

Extras: Bandai Namco doled out pre-order bonuses, including 3DS background themes and extra maps, based on how many orders the game received. The top reward is a download code for 2nd Super Robot Wars, the Famicom game that helped establish the series in the early 1990s.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

SUPER MARIO MAKER
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 4
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: September 11
Requested: Metroid Maker
MSRP: $59.99

You might upbraid Nintendo for not offering Super Mario Maker decades ago. Games presented level editors as far back as Lode Runner and Nuts & Milk, so why didn't Super Mario Bros. go that route during the Super Nintendo era? The system even had a mouse for easy level-building, after all. Yet an earlier Super Mario Maker wouldn't be as elaborate as what Nintendo has right now.

Super Mario Maker makes good on those childhood ambitions of creating our own Mario levels. Most of us got as far as graph-paper layouts or ROM hacking, but Super Mario Maker can make them official, like a king legitimizing all of his bastard children. Through the Wii U touch-screen, players can use enemies, power-ups, and stage décor from various points in Mario history to craft their own stages. Those envisioning setpieces based on Paper Mario or Hotel Mario may be disappointed that the selections stick to Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U.

Even within that framework, there's a wealth of experimentation. Level designers can manipulate just about anything: the layouts, the foes, and, of course, the music. It might be as mundane as an airship where cannons fire Buzzy Beetles. It might be a harrowing gauntlet of Thwomps and Bob-ombs and a version of Bowser's helicopter shielded by spikes and piloted by bullet-spitting piranha plants. It might be a stage with hundreds of coins that you'll have to ignore to reach the end in time, symbolizing the fatal pursuit of wealth.

Yes, Super Mario Maker players can delight in forcing their friends and strangers to endure pretentious layouts or spin-jump across a field of Spiny turtles and straight into a sudden barrage of magma balls, though any course shared online must have a reachable ending…technically. It's also true that the design elements aren't all available from the start, as players earn them by spending time in the course-maker each day. And Nintendo employs the Amiibo in Super Mario Maker. Certain figures unlock new characters, including Link and Kirby, though they still behave like Mario. And there's a pixel-like 30th Anniversary Mario figure who unleashes a giant Mario in the game. Nintendo couldn't pull that in the Super NES days, either.

HATSUNE MIKU PROJECT MIRAI DX
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: September 8 (maybe sooner)
Could be Worse: Could Be Sonico
MSRP: $39.99

False alarm, folks! Sega's all right! They may cancel E3 showings and roll back their operations and lay off perfectly decent employees, but at least they've got Hatsune Miku! Sega doesn't need fancy trade-show booths or good Sonic games when they have Japan's hottest virtual idol! Actually, that's not sarcasm alone. It's heartening to see Sega release something that isn't as commonly known as Total War or Alien.

Not that Hatsune Miku is an underground artist or anything. For newcomers to the burgeoning industry of non-existent virtual pop stars, one might introduce Miku as “that green-haired anime thing from the Letterman Show” or “some computer singer who started off as a Vocaloid mascot.” Yet she's a full-blown idol in Japan, and she appears on pizza boxes, in concerts, and in all sorts of merchandise and video games. Unsurprisingly, those games are rhythm-action titles that guide Miku and her Vocaloid friends through music videos as players match beats. When not staging dance-offs or whirling through a neon wonderland, the chipper pop starlets sit around in rooms that the player decorates.

Project Mirai DX is actually Project Mirai 2 in Japan. Like the original, it casts Miku and her fellow stars in big-headed mode (all the better to push Nendoroid figures) instead of their slightly more realistically proportioned forms. The song selection remains extensive, though, and of the 47 total tracks, 19 of them are new. The Vocaloids go through their home-designing modes, and there's a new Puyo Puyo mini-game for them to play. Project Mirai DX also uses the 3DS's Augmented Reality feature to put Miku in footage of the tangible world—as though it's a good idea to make her any more real.


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


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