The X Button
Long Division

by Todd Ciolek,
I didn't expect another Nintendo controversy so soon. A few weeks after the company stirred debate by replacing bikinis with Zelda and Metroid outfits in Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, a similar fuss arose over Nintendo's upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles X.

The game has a variety of costumes for the members of the player's adventuring party, and the Japanese version lets one of them, 13-year-old Lin, wear skimpy combat bikinis. The European version of Xenoblade Chronicles X does not, according to a Twitter user who I'll assume is not merely toying with fan outrage. Instead it gives her mil-spec tank tops and shorts while adjusting Lin's profile to make her 15 years old. The U.S. version likely follows suit.

Once again, some fans are upset. And once again, I note that while censorship is undesirable in spirit, these changes do nothing but improve the game. It was downright creepy that the Japanese release of Xenoblade Chronicles X let players garb Lin in next to nothing, and while the new costume remains questionable, the game's better off. Should players demand the Constitutionally mandated right to put female characters in incongruously slight costumes, the bikini outfits for the much older Elma apparently remain unchanged.

This is why I prefer to consider editing, censoring, and other mollifications case by case. Nintendo can be draconian in its attempts to present a cuddly façade, but I don't think this particular change detracts from the game. One could make a some small argument that Fatal Frame's bikinis tie into the game's watery atmosphere and sense of vulnerability, but there's no such rationalization for thong armor in Xenoblade's alien world of giant monsters and transforming mecha. Battle swimwear is just a silly and often sexist bonus, and when applied to an underage character, it's uncomfortable.

Rampant squabbling may ensue over this, but we can take comfort in the North American version of Xenoblade Chronicles X adopting something less controversial: free pizza. Reserving the regular edition of the game at Best Buy gets you a ten-dollar voucher for any pizza shop that accepts MasterCard. A pizza has no thematic relation to Xenoblade, but in this case I won't complain. It's the best pizza offer video games have seen since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game.

NEWS

NEW STREET FIGHTER CHARACTERS FOUND
Capcom has a schedule when it comes to Street Fighter V characters, and they're standing by it. The latest official revelation is Dhalsim, the rubbery-limbed yogi and long-time Street Fighter mainstay. He now sports a beard, a turban, and a new arcing fireball attack. I was mystified back in 1996 when Street Fighter Alpha 2 brought in Zangief and Dhalsim instead of more popular characters, but I later realized why: no one in the series plays like Dhalsim. And then I learned I'd been mispronouncing his name as “Dhal-ism” for years.

Dhalsim's debut is undercut by Street Fighter V players delving into the game's beta test and finding a bunch of new additions. The returning names spotted are Alex (who already shows up in one stage background), Ibuki, Urien, Guile, Balrog, Juri, and two presumably all-new fighters: one named Tut and the other named Fan or Fun. Those may be tentative monikers, too, because a persistent rumor had it that the game's final original character will be called Zen. Street Fighter V is due to reveal its boss and one more original character, plus six initial DLC characters. That fits with the extrapolated data, and it ruins Capcom's surprises a little.

ABSENT GUILTY GEAR CHARACTERS RANKED
Spoiled or not, Street Fighter V's new revelations are more interesting than Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator's recent announcement of Dizzy joining the playable cast. She's partly there because she came in first in a character poll logged by the game's arcade version, but it was obvious from the get-go that she'd be in the new game. She showed up in the original Xrd, and she's a prominent part of the game's storyline, being the wife of Ky Kiske and the mother of the carefree, unflatteringly named adventurer Sin.

I think that's a waste. I have no particular resentment toward Dizzy, even if her marrying Ky makes as much narrative sense as Princess Peach marrying Pikachu. But Dizzy was all but guaranteed a spot anyway, and now the poll's runners-up, Bridget and Baiken first among them, will have to wait.

At least the poll itself, translated above by Shoryuken.com, is an interesting gauge of where Guilty Gear characters stand. It includes just about every prominent and playable name from the series—even Fanny from the Guilty Gear Petit titles. Holy Order Sol, a variant of protagonist Sol Badguy, actually beats out original characters like A.B.A., Anji, and Zappa. And who comes in last? The awesome mecha Justice and the doughty old warrior Kliff Undersn. Sorry, Kliff. It's a youngster's game.

KING OF FIGHTERS CHARACTERS...SURVIVE
This brings us to the third major revival of a 1990s fighting series. The King of Fighters had it rough these past few years, and so did their parent company, SNK. In fact, the latest cruel scrap of scuttlebutt is that SNK Playmore is scaling down their pachislot division—which was reportedly their major source of profit for a long time. That aside, SNK is mounting a new King of Fighters, and it still looks drab.

The latest trailer shows some early gameplay, most of it involving series headliners Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami. Yet there are flashes of two other additions: the towering Chang now wears an orange prison suit to go along with his ball-and-chain, and the hyper-efficient mercenary Leona Heidern appears for a few seconds, looking much like she did in The King of Fighters XIII. It's due out for the PlayStation 4 next year, and fan reaction ranges from polite delays of opinion to proclamations that SNK is dead for the fourth or fifth time this decade.

NIER AUTOMATA IS ABOUT ROBOTS, RUIN, REVENGEANCE REMNANTS
A new Nier title shocked plenty of us at E3, and the actual game likely holds many more surprises. It has a firm title, NieR: Automata, and plenty of elaboration now, but director Taro Yoko remains playfully obtuse about some details. And that's OK. The original Nier is a deceptively wonderful action game, a gentle and tragic counterpoint to Yoko's vicious Drakengard titles, and it's best to experience its secrets without any hints whatsoever.

NieR: Automata is set long after the events of the original Nier, though it'll reference the first game's characters here and there, with the sturdy Emil reappearing at some point in the story. Automata finds the earth overrun by a mechanized alien force that drove humanity to the moon. Mankind sends android warriors to reclaim the planet, and one of them is the game's most visible protagonist, YorHA 2B.

In the machine-against-machine war, YorHA wields melee weapons and carries a Pod device that supplies long-range attacks and momentary gliding. And since Platinum Games is behind the actual mechanics, Automata looks exceptionally quick and stylish as its heroine dashes around robotic foes, floats through the air, and dodges a storm of projectiles. YorHA herself seems a modern stereotype of action-game women, with silly high heels and a destroyable skirt, but designer Akihiko Yoshida reportedly aimed for a “cosplay-quality” look.

Other questions remain, of course. Recent interviews have Yoko and producer Yosuke Saito discussing NieR: Automata's main characters: Saito says there are two, counting YorHA, but Yoko alludes to three. Are they playable characters? And what connections might the game have to Drakengard 3, since the original Nier spins out of the original Drakengard's nuttiest ending? And what about riding animals? Yoko and Saito confirmed that YorHA can ride boars, just as the original Nier allowed, but what about deer and other wildlife in this robot-wrecked world?

INTERVIEW: INDIVISIBLE'S CREATORS

LabZero's Indivisible makes no secret of its inspirations. Their Indiegogo pitch mentions Valkyrie Profile and Super Metroid several times, and the similarities are clear. Like Valkyrie Profile, Indivisible sends a determined heroine through branching, side-view stages, and battles let each of four characters attack when the player taps their assigned buttons. It creates fast-paced combat that allows for plentiful combos and enemy-juggling strikes, and it would be entertaining enough if Indivisible simply imitated Valkyrie Profile's formula without alteration.

Yet Indivisible is its own game. Instead of the Norse fantasy of Valkyrie Profile or the labyrinthine alien caverns of Metroid, LabZero's creation follows its plucky heroine Ajna through a detailed world inspired by East Asian mythology and many stages of civilization. Ajna herself discovers a rare gift when warlords attack her village: she can carry other warriors within her as Incarnations, and they people a city in Ajna's spirutal inner space. Ajna's allies range from gunslingers and shamans to a watery-haired martial artist and a tokusatsu superhero. They travel with her into battle, and they're animated with the same flourish that powered LabZero's Skullgirls and backed by music from Hiroki Kikuta of Soukaigi and Secret of Mana.

Indivisible now exists as a playable prototype where a full dungeon stage introduces the game's platforming level design and battle system. Labzero was inspired as much by fighting games like Guilty Gear as they were by Valkyrie Profile, and combat relies heavily on an Iddhi meter. It fills when the player attacks regularly, and drops when characters defend or employ special moves. It's a novel idea for an RPG, and it's hard to get through the dungeon without getting the hang of Iddhi usage.

There's plenty of promise within Indivisible's colorful artwork, intriguing battles, and remarkably polished demo. That makes it all the more depressing that the Indiegogo funding sits far from its $1.5 million goal with little over a week left. It's an ambitious project that calls for more money than most Kickstarters and Indiegogo accounts demand. To find out just how the final game might fare, I asked LabZero's designers about battles, Indivisible's world, and, of course, Valkyrie Profile.

THE STORY: ALEX AHAD

What can you tell us about the civilizations of Ajna's world? Is it like a chaotic warring-states period? Is it all old-world fantasy or will we see the typical anime-RPG dashes of high technology? One background is a city built with giant gears…

Alex Ahad: Ajna's world is a fantastical setting, but with civilizations that could be comparable to examples in our world. The primary themes and focus from Ajna's perspective are in a world that has a dharmic inspiration, such as Buddhist and Hindu mythology. The most prominent example is the presence of Sumeru, a massive, cosmic mountain at the center of the world. However, many of the regions she will come across are not limited to a single setting. For example, the city built with giant gears is from the Iron Kingdom, an empire rapidly expanding as the result of a rigorous industrial revolution, based on Victorian-era London. Also, the politics of this world are indeed with much turmoil. Various large political entities are vying for power and resources, and Ajna will definitely run into them along her journey. Even at the beginning, she will feel the effects of war when her village gets attacked by forces of Lord Ravannavar and the Navar State, who have taken over the region that she lives in.

What sort of threats is Ajna up against? Who is Supreme Lord Ravannavar and what is Kala?

After the attack on her village, Ajna wages war against Supreme Lord Ravannavar and his Navarian forces. Kala is a goddess of destruction that had attacked the world some years ago. During that attack, Lord Ravannavar had somehow appeased the goddess and received a boon from her, granting him incredible power, durability, and mastery in both magic and combat. Even though she has since been sealed away, he has been an advocate of the dark goddess, silencing any in his nation who do not side with Kala. He and his dark armies have been gaining strength as of late. Perhaps the seal placed upon Kala is weakening...

What is Ajna's ultimate goal in this? Is she avenging someone, trying to find herself, or searching for something?

While avenging her father and village is part of her motivations, Ajna's main driving force is doing the right thing with the power she has.

Ajna is driven by a sense of duty and justice, and powered by mysterious abilities she has yet to fully understand.

The Indiegogo is purposefully vague about just what these Incarnations are. At the risk of spoiling too much of the story, can you tell us more about how Ajna recruits them? Are they ghosts? Are they incarnations that she's helping toward enlightenment?

The Incarnations seem to have some sort of spiritual connection to Ajna. They are not dead, and are living individuals with their own lives and stories. Yet, they also seem to represent aspects of Ajna as well. However, in order for Ajna to truly take them into herself, she has to gain a better understanding of what kind of people they are.

Valkyrie Profile introduced each recruited Einherjar with a story sequence. How much storyline will we see for the warriors Ajna picks up?

Rather than every Incarnation's story being introduced as an independent story sequence, they're all tied together into Ajna's main story. You will encounter their story from Ajna's point of view as she encounters them. Some Incarnations will have more robust stories than others, though.

THE GAMEPLAY: MIKE Z

You've listed Super Metroid as an influence. How complex will the dungeons be in terms of puzzle solving? Will you use enemies as tools, as Metroid's Ice Beam (or Valkyrie Profile's ice magic) allows? Will we see anything like the crystal switching from Valkyrie Profile 2?

Mike Z: It's difficult for me to answer a question like "How complex will this be?" since a lot of my design comes from iteration and experimenting. But I can say that I greatly prefer the Metroid style of "What do I need to do to get where I need to go?" rather than the traditional RPG "Find and destroy five statues to open this door" puzzle setup. So most things will be organically presented as progression rather than specifically presented as "solve this.”

I do expect lots of "organic" problem solving, though, since one of the other major things we're doing is making every weapon and upgrade have an impact on your movement in the world, either by adding a new movement technique, allowing you to pass obstacles, or combining with another movement technique to make it more effective. For example, when you have the bow and arrows, and later on meet Razmi [the fire mage in the prototype] she'd teach you how to shoot fire arrows. Super Metroid was excellent at combining powers like this, and is what I see as the gold standard.

Using enemies as tools is definitely going to be a part of Indivisible! Ice Beam, Crystal Hunter, and other similar weapons are not only fun, they allow designers to make puzzles that at first glance don't even look like puzzles. I love that! You can already see this used in the Indivisible prototype, even without a weapon specifically for it. To complete a Zen run [no enemies killed, one of the two speedrun contests running] you need to bring an enemy from earlier in the level down to the boss to help you pass the boss without fighting it.

As far as crystal switching...well, remember up there I mentioned new techniques combining with old ones? One of the things I've been imagining since we started brainstorming this game is, after you have the bow, meeting a mage who is able to teleport to places or objects they've already contacted. This skill would be your fast-transport skill to return to earlier areas, but Ajna would also be able to combine it with the bow, allowing her to shoot arrows and then teleport to where they land.

That exact skill may not make it into the final game—though I'm not going to forget about it—but I hope it helps illustrate our approach for Indivisible.

How easy will it be to avoid fights? Will the later dungeons force you into more encounters?

There will of course be enemies that you simply can't avoid, like mooks blocking passages or boss fights, but I don't want to force fights on you, rather I'd like to give you incentives to fight. Leveling up is the obvious one, but that's sort of downplayed in Indivisible. Ideally combat is fun enough that people would choose to fight anyway, but learning new attacks, effectively healing, gathering drops, and training your Incarnations are also reasons to fight. And since enemies are visible and chase you, there's the fact that in order to avoid fights you'll have to be very good at movement, because the enemies are, after all, trying to catch you.

I am toying with the idea of running from battle also being detrimental, not in the usual "oh you dropped some money, poor you" way, but for example fatiguing your characters some in the next fight you encounter, so your actions come back slower, and having that stack. Or incrementally increasing the rewards you get for consecutive fights. Things that encourage you not to run, rather than simply requiring you to fight.

I should mention that in the prototype it's possible to clear the entire thing without defeating any enemies, via a trick at the end to get past the boss. I've been asked multiple times if that can be possible in the final game, and the answer is a strong maybe, but it would require significant skill to accomplish and not be possible without being intimately familiar with how the game works. It would definitely not just be just walking past enemies.

Will the player be able to decrease battle speed to make the game easier—or increase it to make combat more like a crazy-fast fighting game?

Variable battle speed is something I hadn't thought about until this question! I don't see why not, although if I did it, it would probably only affect the speed of the action bars, rather than slowing down enemy attacks so they are easier to defend or anything like that.

I guess I'm sort of hesitant to say yes, just because I think it's possible to strike the right balance without offering that option. My philosophy for gameplay design is simple: If you have to offer an option, you should go heavily think about why, and see if there is some way to solve the problem better, or if it really is a matter of taste and can't be solved otherwise. In the prototype, battle actually speeds up as you earn more characters and actions, to the point where having all four characters with all their actions makes battles almost twice as fast as they are at the beginning. This sort of solution, where you gradually acclimate players to a new system and then push them harder once they know it, is my preferred method of design.

Now that you reminded me it's a possibility, though, we'll definitely experiment with it.

The Indivisible demo didn't seem to have healing items. Will the final game feature expendable items of any kind, or do you prefer to leave them out?

Me, honestly, I'd prefer to leave them out. I dislike relying on expendable items and I really dislike the "kill enemies…get money…buy expendable items…go tank battles using those items" game loop. Being able to heal outside battle is nice, but perhaps that could use leftover Iddhi instead, or require visiting your Inner Realm, which can be done anywhere, to utilize your stored calmness, rather than just buying and using potions. That's not everyone's view here, though, so I am sure they will feature in some form.

As much as possible, though, I would like to avoid having fixed resources like MP and instead rely on renewable resources. Wild Arms 4 does this to an extreme, where you just heal to full after every fight and you can't even use healing items outside battle, except to restore the reduced max HP of allies who were K.O.'d. I think that's a bit extreme, but I would much rather have healing and restorative items be the exception rather than the norm. The prototype already restores your party's health based on how much Iddhi remains at the end of a fight, so even allowing that mechanic to increase in potency as you level can go a long way.

You've said you want to put Dual Tech attacks, in the ol' Chrono Trigger style, into the final game. How would those work?

We want to try, yep! But rather than just being given the attack for knowing some skills and then selecting the dual attack from a menu to do it, I want to try a more active-participation style. I always liked the spell combining in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, where timing mattered.

Of course it would take iteration to come up with a final design, but the basic framework I'd start with would be: having the appropriate characters in your party, either during enough battles, events, or at significant times, would increase their affinity for each other—having them contribute to enemy kills together would probably also help. Once their affinity is high enough, executing the appropriate attack with both characters simultaneously would trigger a small, "Hey, let's try this, how 'bout it?" cut-in and they'd learn the skill and do it once. After that, attacking appropriately with the two characters simultaneously would do it any time.

If that turns out to be annoying, there is the alternate method of having team attacks be boosted supers –so, once you learn the skill, you do a super with Zebei and during the superflash press the button for Ajna, and they would do the dual attack that way. Like I said, I prefer to create a prototype and iterate, rather than design on paper.

With Indivisible designed to be an RPG that rewards and encourages skill and familiarity, how do you think it'll do with fans of traditional RPGs that emphasize leveling up and messing with stats?

I prefer not to try to predict the future. I think we'll make a fun game, and the people that enjoy it will enjoy it. Indivisible will still have stats, they just won't be affected by traditional RPG means—that is, grinding is not recommended the way to overcome difficulty in the game. A lot of the RPGs I love have stats, they just don't place a huge emphasis on min/maxing. Better equipment in Secret of Mana or Legend of Legaia is better, but you don't necessarily have to care how much if you don't want to - just know that it is better.

If your idea of a good time is spending ten minutes per turn optimizing your Calculator attack in Final Fantasy Tactics, Indivisible may not be the game for you, sure...but if you enjoy a fast-paced combat system where skill, reactions, and quick thinking matter, then it totally is.

ART: ALEX AHAD

How do you go about designing characters with pop-culture references, like Naga Rider's tokusatsu look or Phoebe's warrior-princess outfit? What sort of designs have you discarded because they didn't fit with Indivisible's aesthetic?

Alex Ahad: Right now, we technically aren't throwing out any designs because we would like a large pool to choose from for the final headcount. That being said, I don't mind characters that have an inherit humor and/or clever absurdity to their concept. It makes them more fun and interesting.

Yan, who appears to have no arms, is a unique character. What was the inspiration for her?

I suppose you don't normally see characters like this represented in games that often. Plus having characters whose style and abilities are immediately visible is always fun. Obviously, Yan would be very agile and incredibly adept at doing various kinds of kicks. It's also pretty fun draw her, because of her unique shape and the fact that she is relatively simple to sketch.

Most of Indivisible's characters appear less overtly sexualized than the Skullgirls cast. What motivated that?

“Less is more” is one way to put it. We are aiming to have a larger variety of character designs and shapes, in comparison to the overall shapes of the characters found in Skullgirls. While we will still have sexy characters for sure, it will be a more diverse roster, with characters that have different types of appeal.

Is Roti wearing a diaper, or is that an eggshell? A cloud? That's actually just the fur pattern, similar to the fur pattern on adult tapirs. It just happened to look like diapers to me, so I kinda played that up a bit when designing Roti.

NERDY VALKYRIE PROFILE QUESTIONS: MIKE Z

[Spoilers follow]

In the original Valkyrie Profile, do you think Kashell and Celia had a thing going?

Mike Z: It's very heavily implied that they had feelings for each other, but to me it's one of those strong-friendships-where-nobody-says-anything-until-it's-too-late things, because it just seemed to me like they'd have made it more explicit if the characters themselves knew they were together. Llewelyn and Millia hug, etc, but those two never even hold hands. I felt really horrible for Celia, although I never actually liked her, so that might be why I think of it this way.

I imagined Kashell with Jayle, myself, after they were recruited, because they seem like they would work well. That and I looooooooved Jayle.

What do you make of the wedding dress at the beginning of the first Valkyrie Profile?

Oh, that part was really clear to me! The thread goes from Platina's death in the field of flowers, to the wedding, then that scene cross-fades to Lenneth standing in the field of flowers. So that field of flowers brought back partial memories of a very strong love for someone, but since they're sealed she can't remember who it is. She sees herself as a bride waiting expectantly in an (empty!) chapel for her groom to show up, not knowing if he will.

We're shown later that the weeping lilies are strongly associated with Lucian, a memory strong enough to break her seal, so the similar setting evoking partial memories even at the beginning makes sense.

Which path did you like best in Covenant of the Plume?

Honestly? I wasn't a fan of Covenant of the Plume, to the point where I didn't finish it. So this isn't a good question to ask me. The battle formation stuff and the choice of permanent deaths affecting the plot were neat, but it really didn't grab me the way Valkyrie Profile did. And it was the third game but wasn't about Hrist—it wasn't even really about a Valkyrie! What the heck. I didn't care about...what's his name, Wylfred? at all. Poor guy. What would you want to see in Valkyrie Profile 3: Hrist?

Hah! Plot or systems?

Plot? I'd like to see VP3: Hrist's Humongous Hibernation take place across the multiple periods she's awake, instead of focusing entirely on one period. Maybe even start from before Lenneth and Silmeria exist—Hrist is the eldest, that's gotta mean something. Show me her side of the events of the other games. Show me why she's so harsh. Show me where her disdain for mortals comes from. Weave everyone's story together. Let me wear that dope black armor! And definitely tie up some things. I wanna know why Brahms has Silmeria in that crystal, and why that's apparently a good thing. I wanna know why mortal Arngrim is present in separate events hundreds of years apart. I wanna know why Odin is such a jerk...I'd like Hrist's Hamstrung Horrorshow to provide perspective about the overarching Valkyrie Profile universe. Why is sympathy for mortals discouraged? Why do gods get to be gods? Who created the Valkyries?

Systems: Should I say I'd want battle to be more like Indivisible? Probably not, but I'd want battle to be more like Indivisible. Get rid of attacks giving me more AP for longer combos like in VP2 ("Get a load of get a load of get a load of this!"), and give me some set rules so there is a box within which players need to experiment and optimize. But make it less strictly turn-based, like Indivisible (sorry), and allow me to combo after PWS's—Freya can sort of do that in VP1. Leave me able to position my team around enemies, that was really fun. Don't require me to over-attack enemies, eww. And I actually liked the Charge Turn mechanic from VP1 better than the "do anything whenever" from VP2, but I would really like to see mages be differentiated instead of all having the same spells.

Er. So y'know, I haven't given it much thought.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ANIMAL CROSSING: AMIIBO FESTIVAL
Developer: ND Cube / Nintendo EPD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 13
One Bell: 5000 Dollars
MSRP: $59.99

Some will tell you that Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival is just an attempt to push Nintendo's interactive and collectible figures. They're right. The game is playable only with Amiibo and their cards. That's hardly a problem, though. Amiibo Festival comes in a bundle with two figures, just like the Super Scope 6 bundle came with the Super Scope. Or perhaps it was the other way around.

Amiibo Festival arranges itself like an Animal Crossing board game, with each location bringing up a different piece of daily village life. One event might seeing you trafficking in turnips, another could just let you catch a fish, and a third roll of the dice could see you playing a video game at home—within the game, that is. The important thing is that good events grant you bells (Animal Crossing's unit of currency) and Happy Points. These can be used to expand the board with new events, buy costumes and other merchandise, or simply win the game in terms of emotional conspicuous consumption. It's a much more laid-back experience than a competitive and maddening session of Mario Party.

As for the Amiibo, Nintendo released eight figures. Isabelle and Digby come with the game, and Tom Nook, K.K., Mable, Lottie, Cyrus, and Reese are also available in Amiibo form. You'll find a much wider selection of Amiibo cards to collect, with over 100 spread across the first series. Amiibo figures summon characters when they're tapped on the Wii U controller, and cards unlock special events in the same manner. So they're a little more useful than the Garbage Pail Kids and Power Rangers cards you might've spent a summer amassing.

FALLOUT 4
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: November 10
Fallout: Ugly
MSRP: $59.99 / $84.99 (Socks Edition) / $119.99 (already-gone special edition)

“The Death Zone is a desolate, radioactive wasteland that separates Polaria and Scorch. Little is known about the Death Zone, as those who enter its borders never return. Although a founding member of the Planet Alliance, the Death Zone has not been an active member for many centuries. When the call to the provinces went out announcing the BloodStorm Contest, the Death Zone was forgotten. As the contest day neared, a figure emerged from the toxic mists. Fallout, the most feared quasi-leader of the Death Zone, demanded his rightful place in the competition. Although his participation in the tournament is strongly protested by the rest of the Planet Alliance, Fallout is allowed to fight through a centuries-old document created at the inception of the Alliance.”

Wait, that's the writeup for Fallout, the mysterious mutant warrior from BloodStorm. My mistake. Fallout 4 is the latest in a series of post-apocalyptic RPGs far more elaborate and successful than a widely mocked mid-1990s fighter like BloodStorm. Like its predecessors, Fallout 4 envisions a future apocalypse, in this case the wastelands and ruin that ensued after a nuclear war in 2077. The player actually sees the cataclysm first-hand, as the game opens with the bombs falling and the player's avatar scrambling toward a shelter. Some two hundred years later, the player emerges from the underground vault and explores the wreckage of civilization, or at least the parts of it around Boston.

Fallout 4 presents a vast world crawling with monstrous hazards and fellow survivors, and combat plays out in either first or third person, with a dog sidekick helping and a V.A.T.S. targeting system slowing down the real-time pacing at the player's direction. That's only one part of the journey, because players can build structures and form entire towns, supplying them with power, crops, and trade. There's a lot to the game, though leaked footage has fans worried over unconvincing character animation. Well, attempts at video-game realism tend to age poorly, anyway.

RODEA THE SKY SOLDIER
Developer: Prope / Kadokawa Games
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Wii U (and Wii) / Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 10
Chili Dogs: No
MSRP: $59.99 (Wii U/Wii) / $39.99 (3DS) / $74.99 and $54.99 (limited editions)

As a machine warrior protecting the aerial Garuda kingdom, Rodea the Sky Soldier lies deactivated in ruins for a millennium. As a video game, Rodea the Sky Soldier spent years in hiding. It first appeared in 2010 as a Wii and 3DS action game by Yuji Naka (Sonic, NiGHTS) and his Prope studio. It dropped out of sight for a good while, despite Naka's reports that the Wii version was complete. Kadokawa Games revived Rodea in 2014, announcing that it would finally appear on the Wii U and 3DS…and that the initial round of the Wii U game would include Naka's original Wii edition of Rodea the Sky Soldier. It's not quite a thousand-year slumber in moldy rubble, but in the game industry it's a complicated journey.

Revived from his long sleep, Rodea finds that little has changed. The Naga empire returns to threaten the skylands of Garuda, and their conquest still hinges on a Time Key of which Rodea has half. He's even accompanied by Ion, a young inventor who looks a lot like Rodea's long-dead Princess Cecilia. Rodea's battles take him across floating isles, airship fleets, and other elevated sights, and he gets around by zipping from one point to another. Rodea stays airborne as he jumps and aims, but only so long as his Gravitron gauge stays full—either through him grabbing crystals or landing on terra firma to recharge. He damages foes with boost attacks while flying, and it's set up much like a traditional Naka action game, with simple controls that lead to more complex stages and boss battles. And, unlike Sonic, Rodea is human enough to kiss a princess without it being weird.

Rodea the Sky Soldier follows the same storyline regardless of platform, but the gameplay differs. The Wii U version gets Rodea around by manual re-orienting and aiming him, while the 3DS edition has players tapping aerial points on the lower screen. The Wii version, Naka's original vision for the game, has players pointing the Wii remote to direct Rodea's flight. That Wii edition is, of course, only available with the first-round Wii U pressing of the game (though it might not get a second run), so there's a good reason not to wait for a price drop here.


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


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