The X Button
Artful Ways

by Todd Ciolek,
I was at the New York Comic Con for about five hours total last weekend. That gave me time to do little more than wander the floor and take part in the Anime News Network panel. My thanks go out to the audience members who picked Dog Soldier and the dreadful Korean animated film Armageddon for their prizes. You're in for…memorable viewing.

There were fun things to see on the floor as well. I particularly enjoyed checking out the toy dealers and looking over Stone Protectors and Visionaries and Transformers as though I'd warped back to 1991. My favorite booth, however, was the Gemr display that had a 1990 Nintendo World Championships cartridge up and running for a high-score contest.

For those too young or too disinterested, the Nintendo World Championships called together players at various cities and gave them a three-part challenge on a single cartridge: grab 50 coins in Super Mario Bros., complete a Rad Racer course, and score as high as possible in Tetris. I'd played the NWC cart emulated, as the actual thing is ridiculously rare and expensive, but Comic-Con marked the first time I tried out the real thing.

I almost beat the high score on my first attempt, but I couldn't even come close on my two subsequent tries. I now have much more sympathy for those poor starry-eyed kids who entered the Nintendo World Championships and bungled their score. It's easy to grasp when you're playing it emulated, but on actual hardware you're much more prone to screwing up. In order to get decent time with Tetris, the only game where your score really counts, you'll have to rush through Mario and Rad Racer with perfect precision. And kids were supposed to realize this on the spot? Maybe it's best that I never went to the Championships back in 1990. I would've wiped out on Rad Racer.

NEWS

ACE ATTORNEY 6 HAS APOLLO JUSTICE, BUT WHO ELSE?
The sixth proper Ace Attorney game offers details at a mere trickle. We know that it'll take place in the fictional Kurain Kingdom as well as Japan (or Los Angeles, for us Americans), and that it'll feature laid-back lawyer Phoenix Wright and at least two new characters: monk Bokuto Tsuani serves as a tour guide, and priestess Leifa Padma Kurain appears in court cases to operate a water mirror that shows a victim's final glimpses.

This week's Famitsu revealed a little more. Apollo Justice, Phoenix's pseudo-successor, will appear in Ace Attorney 6, as will the inept prosecutor Gaspen Payne. It raises the matter of how many familiar Ace Attorney characters will return for the next game—and, for that matter, how many of them we want to return. The series often reuses characters, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies had a number of awkward and unnecessary cameos. I'd be fine if the sixth Ace Attorney, already confirmed for a U.S. release, went with a largely new cast. Except for Athena Sykes, who was the third main character in Dual Destinies. And Maya Fey, who's been gone from the main series for quite a while. Oh, and Dick Gumshoe. Just because.

YO-KAI WATCH LAUNCHES DEMO NEXT WEEK, DANCING LAST WEEK
Nintendo decked out an entire New York Comic Con room with Yo-Kai Watch attractions, including lumbering Jibanyan and Komasan mascots that joined the staff in dance numbers. I braved the chaos to try out the Yo-Kai Watch demo, which sets players to wandering a town and ferreting out Yo-Kai.

Yo-Kai Watch is clearly aimed at younger audiences, but it brings some neat innovations. Players take six Yo-Kai into battle and cycle between them with a wheel on the lower 3DS screen. The creatures pull off their special moves once the player outlines a symbol with the 3DS stylus, and it's a nice addition to the typical automated RPG battle system.

I assume the demo I played is the same that Nintendo plans to release on the eShop next week. Nintendo and Level-5 clearly hope for another Pokemon with Yo-Kai Watch, complete with toys and cartoons and even smartphone apps. While the series is considerably popular in Japan, I note that kids weren't mobbing the New York Comic Con room like they would have a Pokemon display during the heyday of Pikachu and Bulbasaur. Then again, Yo-Kai Watch is just getting started.

BANDAI NAMCO SHUTS DOWN RISE OF INCARNATES JUST LIKE THAT
Rise of the Incarnates looked ambitious upon its July debut, when it was a flashy, free-to-play arena fighter full of preposterous superhero-anime stereotypes, backed by a Marvel comic. It reminded me a lot of Anarchy Reigns, a similarly overloaded brawler that became much more fun in its multiplayer mode. Yet we had only a few months to explore Rise of the Incarnates. Bandai Namco dropped the game from the Steam store yesterday, and its servers will shut down on December 15.

Rise of the Incarnates clearly wasn't the success Bandai Namco anticipated. Its microtransactions turned off some players, and the game never ventured beyond PCs, even though it looked like the sort of over-the-top fighter usually released on consoles. And Rise isn't the only free-to-play Bandai Namco game to go under this year. Ridge Racer Driftopia evaporated on August 15.

INTERVIEW: SWORD ART ONLINE'S YOSUKE FUTAMI

Sword Art Online was never content to stop at Reki Kawahara's light novels. It was always about video games, specifically a huge online RPG that sucks players into a virtual world where dying kills them in real life and just about every major female character is in love with the protagonist, Kirito. Having established itself in anime and manga, Sword Art Online expanded into games with Hollow Fragment and Infinity Moment.

Sword Art Online: Lost Song is the latest game to spring from the series, and it's perhaps the first to fully explore the online RPG envisioned there. In contrast to the single-player, Kirito-centric approaches of the prior two games, Lost Song offers a wide-open version of Alfheim Online with multiplayer, player-versus-player, and character customization.

Lost Song is due out on the PlayStation 4 and Vita next month, and I spoke with producer Yosuke Futami about the game's evolution.

Todd: You've served as producer on several anime series, including Sword Art Online and Captain Earth. Do you have the role of a game producer or anime producer?

Futami: So I'm employed by Bandai Namco Entertainment. I'm part of the producers for the animation, but my main task is to create the video game for that animation. Basically my main duty on Sword Art Online is bringing the animation element into the gameplay and developing the game…well, not at the same time, but close enough to the airing that people who saw the animation can easily get into the video game. Also one of the tasks as an animation producer is to give advice on the storyline and how we can make better screenplays.

How did the idea for Lost Song come around? Did it just sort of grow out of Hollow Fragment or evolve as its own thing? It seems to be a side-story of sorts…

Well, Lost Song is a sequel to Hollow Fragment, and the whole game storyline just sort of branches off from the original anime story, because the game starts after Kirito and the others have defeated all of the levels of Aincrad. They continue to stay in the MMO world. But they get away from Sword Art Online and jump into Alfheim Online. So that's how we branch out from the anime story. But it's all been planned.

How challenging was it to implement PvP and multiplayer in Lost Song?

Well, it's not that much of a leap, since in Sword Art Online the main theme is about MMO RPGs. So I had to put some sort of element into the game, and Lost Song was the first chance I had to put in the online co-op and PvP. So it's much close to the experience that people see in the original Sword Art Online.

And Alfheim Online's main theme is the collision of the various races. So that's also seen in the animation. Similar to the online element, I needed to create that conflict and put it into the gameplay. So it's easier for them to immerse themselves.

In Svart Alfheim, how did you go about creating the various floating islands?

When I tried to weave the Alfheim Online element into this game, I was considering how to make floating islands. So we have four floating islands, and each stage gives the player some different element, so I think the fans will find a great experience there. And I was thinking “What if Kirito and the others, having played Alfheim Online, had a huge update to the game?” That was my imagination, and I discussed it with the original author, Kawahara, about what he thought of it. So we talked to a supervisor, and finally it was possible to bring this into the gameplay.

And how large is Lost Song compared to Hollow Fragment and Infinity Moment?

In Lost Song, if I gathered up all of the island stages, it's about six or seven kilometers of area. And because it lets the player fly around in the sky, it's much more space when compared to Hollow Fragment, which only let you walk on the ground. And when you see the whole map, the stages are much bigger in Lost Song.

How did you develop the flying gameplay in Lost Song?

Well, this game was built by Artdink…

Oh yes, Artdink! The developer of the recent Macross games!

Yes, so I tried to refer to games like Dragon Ball: Battle of Z and Macross games made by Artdink. So they made games with flying in a futuristic fashion. We also wanted players to feel like they're floating in the air, so we had to make this to adapt it to Sword Art Online and its human characters.

What inspired the new characters in this, like Seven and her guard Sumeragi? Was it the original author who created them, or someone on the design team?

The new characters, like Sumeragi and also Rain…those two I came up with myself. Then I was thinking of how we could bring up some new experience in the game that wouldn't feel awkward to players, and it was a challenge for me, but I think they fit into the storyline.

And Seven…she was born in the U.S. and studies the online game. Kawahara and I created the character as someone who would easily fit into the Sword Art Online world. I think those three characters fit perfectly.

So does Rain start off the game as an adversary, since she's a Leprechaun-class player who follows Kirito and his group around?

People might think she sounds like a traitor, since she's chasing after Kirito and the others. But she becomes part of Kirito's team quite soon in the game. When we had a promotion in Japan, we said that she was a liar. So maybe people will be interested in seeing why she becomes part of the team even those she's set up as a liar…and why Kirito and the others are accepting her. So it's a secret.

What about Lux? She's not original to the game, but she only showed up in a manga series so far…

Yes, she's from the original manga. Because I myself really liked her, I went to Kawahara and the other teams and they said OK. So I had to quickly go and find a good voice actress for her…and finally I realized my dream!

What did you like about her?

I think in the original manga, she's a survivor from Aincrad, the original game. Because this game, Lost Song, is a sequel to Hollow Fragment, which was about the original story...because most of the people in Lost Song are survivors from Aincrad, it makes sense that Lux is here. So it'll inspire the players and expand the possibilities about what she'll do in Lost Song.

In Hollow Fragment and Infinity Moment, you played as Kirito only, and you could date and carry around female characters. There's nothing like that in Lost Song, is there?

So in the other games, Kirito is the main character, so it's possible to carry and sleep beside those other characters. But now in Lost Song, it's possible for players to select characters other than Kirito. And I want the storyline to focus on not only Kirito, but Kirito and his friends. So the story proceeds with a different perspective and shows what the characters do in their daily lives. So this time I made fewer features like that.

Also, when the players see characters other than Kirito carrying Asuna around, they would wonder “why are you doing that?”

Right, since they're married…

[laughs] So if you were playing Klein and carried Asuna up like this, the core fans would say “that's not true!” and “Oh my God, why did you let us do that?”

Why do you think Sword Art Online has such wide appeal?

Well, as a team we try to expand it into games and animation and manga. I think it's great timing. After the fans see the anime, they have the game, then the original novels, and then the manga. It's a great momentum that makes them want to see what's next. In Japan, we announced a new movie for Sword Art Online, so the fans can wait for the new movie when they're done with the game. So I think our planning gives value to the fans with the different types of media.

So who's your favorite character overall? Lux?

Any character?

Any.

Do you know Alice? She's from the Alicization Arc, which is continuing in the novel right now. Alice is the main heroine in that arc. She's not in the game yet, but she's the first one who became a rival of Asuna. And she's not a human, but an AI character.

Like Strea…

Yes. So AI characters can have strong hearts, but there's also some relationship with Kirito. So the way she develops in the story and becomes a rival of Asuna is very interesting.

So we might see her in the next game?

[laughs] I hope so!

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DRAGON BALL Z: EXTREME BUTODEN
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 20
Guilty Gear Cameos: Nope
MSRP: $29.99

Today's Dragon Ball Z fighting games are fast, faithful to the anime, and probably better than similarly inspired titles of prior decades. Yet most of them are 3-D fighters, and those lack nostalgia. A 2-D Dragon Ball Z fighter like Extreme Butoden stirs memories of first seeing a Dragon Ball Z game for the Super Famicom, one that your friend imported and hacked out his Super NES lockout tabs to play. And then that friend claimed to have actually seen the show and filled your head with nonsense about Piccolo being Vegeta's evil brother. That won't happen with Extreme Butoden. And it's made by Arc System Works, too!

Granted, one shouldn't expect a 2-D fighter to rank with the complexity of Guilty Gear or BlazBlue or other Arc games. Extreme Butoden concerns itself with Dragon Ball Z fans first and fighting game enthusiasts second. It drops two fighters into a familiar Dragon Ball Z scene, where they can fight either on the ground or, once the appropriate command or attack is available, brawl in mid-air. It's possible to toss fireballs, launch opponents upward, and recreate the fiercest show-off moves of a good twenty Dragon Ball Z characters.

The may be the strongest point of Extreme Butoden. Players can take three characters into battle and swap between them, and the roster features Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Piccolo, Krillin, Frieza, Android 18, Raditz, Nappa, Ginyu, Buu, Cell, Trunks, Bardock, and others, plus some alternate Super Saiyan forms. That's standard issue for a Dragon Ball Z fighter, but the lineup of assistant characters, who briefly jump in to deliver an attack, is much broader. Regulars like Master Roshi, Bulma, Yamcha, Chi-Chi, Tien, and Mr. Satan probably should've been fully playable, but at least the assistants also include Bubbles, Spopovich, Babidi, Mr. Popo, Chilled, and even Puar, who doesn't get enough credit.

FATAL FRAME: MAIDEN OF BLACK WATER
Developer: Koei Tecmo / Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U (eShop only)
Release Date: October 22
Not Related To: Bethesda's now-forgotten Wet
MSRP: $49.99

You could complain about Nintendo making Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water an eshop exclusive in North America—and a full-priced one at that. It's fifty bucks, and you don't have the option of selling it if you dislike it or if your cat needs an operation after eating the most mouselike of your little cousin's Pokemon toys. But just remember that the Wii's Fatal Frame title, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, never came out in North America. It didn't even come out in Europe, where Nintendo released the Wii remake of Fatal Frame II! This means that, despite the Wii U offering far fewer interesting games than the Wii, we're much luckier here when it comes to Fatal Frame this console generation. Just don't remind yourself that Europe gets a physical version of Maiden of Black Water. Maiden of Black Water is, aptly, all about being wet. The game follows three protagonists as they explore Hikami Mountain, a land supposedly teeming with cursed lakes and the ghosts of suicide victims. Ren Hojo is researching a book, Yuri Kozukata is drawn there by her ability to pull departed souls from the shadowy murk of the netherworld, and Miu Hinasaki is the daughter of previous Fatal Frame protagonist Miku Hinasaki. That doesn't leave her with much choice in careers.

All of them ward off ghosts through the Camera Obscura, which damages the specters when it captures them in its view—which in turn corresponds to the Wii U gamepad's touch-screen. The characters' dryness also affects their battle with the unhappy spirits; getting wet makes them deal more damage (the Camera Obscura is apparently waterproof) but it also attracts more ghosts and makes it harder for our mortal heroes to see. The Fatal Frame series often sets itself apart from other survival-horror games with its patient atmosphere and effective scares, and Maiden of Black Water certain has the look of its predecessors. It also has a bonus story where Ayane from Dead or Alive saunters about in her ninja bustier, but even that gets eerie.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: TRI FORCE HEROES
Developer: Grezzo / Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 23
The Real Hero: Roam
MSRP: $39.99

You could complain that The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes isn't a real Zelda game. It's one of those cooperative Zelda titles, like Four Swords. It has three color-coded versions of the plucky elvish hero Link wandering a dungeon and helping each other get through typical Zelda puzzles and monster-infested rooms. The premise itself is similarly slight: the Link trio must rescue a kingdom cursed by a witch's taste in fashion.

Tri Force Heroes isn't a lazy side project, however. It lets players combine their talents in creative ways, even if they're playing solo with two follower Links at their direction. These Links can stand atop each other to form a totem pole or toss each other about, and on an individual level, the Links gain new powers from the dozen or so outfits they obtain. A Big Bomb suit lets them toss bombs, an Ancient Egyptian Dunewalker getup lets them tread across quicksand, and a dress much like Princess Zelda's makes enemies drop more restorative hearts when defeated. Yes, Link can wear a dress. It's not just for fan art and Nendoroid toys anymore.

The game's Drablands quests span many dungeons, with bonus challenges popping up once they're cleared. It's also possible to join up with other players over local wireless, download play, or regular online connections. Oddly, you'll need three for the multiplayer mode; two players can't quest with a third servile Link for the dungeons. There's a bonus mode where two players can compete, but that's not quite the same.

TALES OF ZESTIRIA
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios / tri-Crescendo
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PC (Steam)
Release Date: October 20
Best Name: Alisha Diphda, by default
MSRP: $49.99 (PS3) / $59.99 (PS4) / $129.99 (Special Edition)

Hmm, what's this controversy around Tales of Zestiria? It's hard to imagine Tales games, which usually possesses easygoing and predictable RPG storylines, being controversial, but some fans weren't pleased with Zestiria. At the risk of giving too much away, the spearfighter-princess Alisha Diphda isn't in the player's party for as long as the game first suggests. That may sound like a minor problem, but it's a risky move for a series as comfortable as the Tales line, where half the appeal is in watching the character grow closer as they travel together and quibble in little skits.

Of course, Tales producer Hideo Baba issued a vague apology to fans, who probably should've known better. Alisha isn't even in the front row on the game's cover, after all.

Alisha's contributions aside, Tales of Zestiria lays down its story with series traditions. The world of Glenwood is full of humans occupying themselves with petty medieval-fantasy wars, but it's also home to vicious monsters called Hellions and an aloof, humanlike race called the Seraphim. Such times call for a human-Seraphim intercessor known as a Shepherd, and Sorey, a human raised among Seraphim, fits the bill. After raiding a floating ruin, he sets out to exterminate the Hellion menace, and he's aided by Seraphs in the form of his grouchy friend Mikleo, the idealistic and fluttery Lailah, the distrustful Edna, and the rogue Dezel. He's also accompanied by the princess Alisha and the gifted assassin Rose. If you'll notice, Rose has a front-row spot on the cover.

Tales of Zestiria further refines the open-field battles seen in its predecessors. Characters once again run around and attack freely, and this time there's no break in scenery when the player touches an enemy. Party members can attack, use Artes, and dodge within this 3-D combat space, and the whole thing soon starts to feel more like an action game than a Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest contemporary. Sorey and Rose also get one other battle option: Armitization, which lets them combine with their Seraph comrades and change into fancier-looking forms that launch fire spells, aqueous arrows, stone strikes, and damaging gusts of wind. Perhaps Alisha just didn't fit into that. Or perhaps Bandai Namco just wanted to sell her bonus story for an extra charge, along with the Evangelion and Idolmaster outfits and other DLC. That's a tradition well beyond the Tales series.

Fortunately, Alisha's personal chapter will be a free download until November 18 in Europe and possibly longer in North America. Should you want even more, the Collector's Edition for Tales of Zestiria is stocked with a hardcover artbook, a music CD, a steelbook case, a DLC pack, 8-bit-style keychains, a half-hour anime Blu-Ray, and Chibi Kyun figures of Sorey, Mikleo, Edna, and…actually, Alisha (instead of Rose). That's just for the PlayStation 4 edition, however. PlayStation 3 owners could import the slightly different collector's set from Europe, which loses the keychains, changes the steelbook cover, and adds a cloth illustration. Yes, European collectors get the better deal twice next week.


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


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