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First Impressions: Fire Emblem Fates

by Todd Ciolek, Feb 18th 2016
Controversy grips the game industry this week, and it all stems from a single shocking issue: the newly released Street Fighter V makes Chun-Li's chest preposterous.

This matter goes back to earlier exhibitions of Street Fighter V at E3 and Comic-Con, where many noticed that, when selected on the second-player side, Chun-Li appeared with breasts bouncing around as though she were a Dead or Alive test subject. It was obvious and weird, even in a series that rarely shies away from sexualizing female characters. Capcom assured people that this was a bug, and that the final game would correct it. It apparently didn't.

Frivolous and nerdy as this may seem, it's yet more evidence that Capcom rushed Street Fighter V. The game shipped without a proper story mode (which is due in June) and the existing one-player feature has clipped cutscenes with art that's a lot sketchier than Capcom's usual output. That, and online play is bogged down by poor matchmaking, unreliable connections, and even some corrupted player accounts. There's a lot to fix.

Granted, amending Chun-Li's presentation doesn't change the absurd T&A in Street Fighter V. Capcom actually tried to cut down a little by editing out lewd camera angles for Rainbow Mika and Cammy, but it's still a game full of revealing costumes and exaggerated physiques atop its other rampant nonsense. But at least people care enough to want a little more dignity for Chun-Li. She never was an explicit sex object in the older Street Fighter games, so it's unnatural that later ones would portray her this way, even by accident.

Another question remains: what's Capcom going to do about the unmitigated filth of Laura and Ryu's dialogue?

See? Filth.

NEWS

THE KING OF FIGHTERS ADDS A DINOSAUR, IS ONE
I'll give the producers of The King of Fighters XIV a little credit. They're trying. The backgrounds are simplistic, the characters look largely archaic, and Leona's new sports-bra getup is hideous...but whoever remains at SNK Playmore makes an effort to court existing fans. The gameplay looks acceptable so far, and the roster promises fifty characters, including the long-absent Angel. The King of Fighters XIV is a good way from filling out that lineup, but the four latest additions include the game's first seemingly original character: the Toronto Raptors mascot.

In truth, he's a wrestler called The King of Dinosaurs, and his colors, moves, and feathered costume all but spell out that he's Tizoc, the noble bird-masked grappler from The King of Fighters and Mark of the Wolves. Only now he's a heel in a T-Rex costume.

The other newly announced characters are cyborg Maxima (now looking more hi-tech), a less bulky version of soldier Clark Still, and Fatal Fury series hero Terry Bogard, who's wearing his classic red jacket and baseball cap ensemble. They're all older characters, but I expect SNK Playmore to trot out some brand new ones. A leaked roster had about ten supposedly unfamiliar names, plus the never-before-playable Alice Chrysler. Of course, it didn't have Kasumi Todoh or Eiji Kisaragi, so I hope it's not accurate.

There remains the question of just how much I'll care about The King of Fighters XIV even if it brings back all of my old favorites. The King of Fighters XIII felt like a good place to end the series, and we have over a dozen other games at our disposal if we want to revisit old characters. At this point The King of Fighters XIV is an old punk band interrupting another live show because the drummer has spin class and the lead singer's rheumatism acted up.

RAIDEN V EVOLVES FROM MOSS
The Raiden series would surely hate Street Fighter, if the Raiden series were a conscious being and not a line of vertical shooters free of any emotional capacity. The original Raiden had a prominent place in the arcades of the early 1990s, inspiring numerous imitators, and it might have risen even higher if Street Fighter II hadn't arrived and spawned the fighting-game craze. Had shooters stayed semi-dominant, Raiden might have worldwide acclaim, ample merchandise, and a live-action movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a fighter pilot and Kylie Minogue as that little dragon that shows up once you collect enough bonus medals. But hey, the Raiden games survived, and they can take solace in this: Raiden V is set to come out just a few weeks after Street Fighter V.

Raiden V retains the vertical-shooter template, though with modern 3-D graphics providing the two-dimensional gameplay. Three fighters are on hand at the start: the Japanese Azuma, the American Spirit of Dragon, and the French Moulin Rouge (calling it the Sacrebleu or the Ahon-hon-hon perhaps was deemed too blunt), and the weapons include the Raiden standards of spread shots, blue lasers, and that twisty purple beam. The game offers multiple storylines in its playthroughs, narrated by commanding officer Richard Maxwell and bridge operator Eshiria Portman. The game also lets players trace each other's routes through the game and cheer on fellow pilots with a button press. Isn't that nice?

Trailers of Raiden V are unimpressive, at least as far as the intensity of the whole thing goes. It even recalls Raiden III, which stands as a low point for the series in my book. For some reason, developer Moss (which includes some of the Raiden crew from the 1990s) made Raiden V an Xbox One exclusive, and as far as they've said, it's only coming out in Japan. That makes slightly less ostensible business sense than releasing a new PC-FX game in this era. Even so, Raiden V gets its chance on February 25.

SEGA CLASSICS COLLECTION DECORATES ITSELF
Playing Sega's 3-D Classics Collection is a little like finding a live and contented armadillo on a playground swingset. It shouldn't be there and it shouldn't be happy about it, but there it is. Sega always was an arcade company in mindset if not overriding practice. Many of their beloved games started off sucking quarters, whether they were expensive Outrun cabinets or little Pengo uprights shoved into a corner behind a wall of Pac-Man. Even Sega's home games often carried the quick, instinctive comforts of an arcade creation. Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, and scores of other Sega titles were made for consoles, but they're as quick to pick up and play as anything you could find at a bowling alley arcade in the 1980s.

Reducing Sega arcade games to handheld form should be as awkward as playing Metal Gear Solid on a pager, but the 3-D Classics line does remarkably well on the 3DS. M2 ports the games perfectly, adds plenty of extras, and makes the 3DS into a Sega gallery. And Sega's releasing a bundle of them here as Sega 3D Classics Collection on April 26. Fantasy Zone II W, Thunder Blade, Altered Beast, Galaxy Force II, and Sonic the Hedgehog are available separately on the Nintendo eShop, but Power Drift and Puyo Puyo 2 make their North American debuts with the collection. What's more, Maze Walker and Fantasy Zone 2 are entirely new to Sega and M2's lineup. And there might be another Fantasy Zone hidden away in there...

Sega also had a bonus set of decals for first-round buyers. They cover everything from Sega's Mega Drive logos to long-abandoned rabbit mascot Professor Asobin, and I always like to see old mascots revived. Of course, I also have an aversion to actually using promotional stickers, even if it's just some old Nintendo trading cards from 1988. Their adhesive is sacrosanct.

On that note, Sega has a Steam giveaway in progress. Jet Set Radio, Golden Axe, Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, and a Sega Classics pack are all available for free. Other games will follow. No, it's not Burning Rangers 2 or Gunstar Ultra Heroes or whatever you really want from Sega, but it's Jet Set Radio for nothing.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: FIRE EMBLEM FATES

By Heidi Kemps
Out of all this week's new releases, Fire Emblem Fates might be the biggest in terms of sheer scope. The whole Fates experience encompasses three huge strategy/RPG campaigns, which—depending on whether or not you have secured one of the much-coveted Special Editions—either comes packed on one massive cartridge or is spread across multiple game cards and DLC downloads. Nintendo was kind enough to send us a Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition package for preview, and we've been digging into it for a bit.

The way Fates is packaged normally is a bit confusing: You can buy either the Birthright or Conquest campaign on cartridge for $40, get the other campaign as a download for $20 once you've got a cart, and then get the final campaign (Revelation) as further DLC around mid-March. The Special Edition, meanwhile, offers all three campaigns on a single cartridge for $80, plus a lavishly illustrated 3DS pouch and a mini artbook. The SE is clearly the best value of the bunch, and the bonus goodies are simply icing on the cake. Of course, given that they sold out almost instantly, you're likely going to wind up paying a lot more to get one from scalpers at this point. Alas.

All of the campaigns follow a similar path for the first few hours. You create your player character (who, annoyingly, still has no skintone option beyond "white as the driven snow") and find yourself in the kingdom of Nohr, where it is made clear that you are a very special prince/princess with exceptional combat talent. You're just about ready to be freed from your castle, venturing for the first time into the outside world to fight with your brothers and sisters against the forces of Hoshido. You do seem a little bit different from your peers, though: when you're asked to slaughter Hoshido prisoners as part of a training exercise, you object strongly to cold-bloodedly murdering people who are half-dead at that point anyway - something that displeases your father Garon, the King of Nohr, greatly.

To redeem yourself, you're sent off to the front lines to scout out a fortress, only to have it turn into a full-on battle when one of your "allies" decides wholesale murder is a lot more fun than just staring at a fort all day. Things devolve quickly from there, and before you know it, you're in the realm of the dragons on the Astral Plane—a twist that your character seems weirdly nonplussed by. Maybe all those years of being holed up destroyed their sense of knowing when things are just plain strange.

Not long after your visit to another plane of reality, you awaken in Hoshido territory, where everyone is shockingly nice to you given that you and your family members just cut down a bunch of their troops. As you're taken to meet the Hoshido royal family, you learn the truth - you were stolen from them as a baby by Nohr forces, and they're your real blood family. This is the plot point that you'll have to keep in mind as you make a choice of who to side with a few chapters down the line: Do you go with your blood family, the family who raised you, or do you reject them both and try to solve the Hoshido/Nohr conflict your own way? No matter what you choose, you're going to have a lengthy quest ahead of you. (Then again, if you only bought a single-campaign version, you made your pick at the cash register and will have to get the other routes down the line.)

I'm still working my way through Fates—I sided with Hoshido initially, but I intend to go through all three paths—and so far, I've been greatly enjoying what I've played. The game places greater emphasis on pairing together units for attack and defense bonuses than ever before, making keeping your units grouped together a sound strategy in most situations. The new terrain-altering effect the hero character can use, called "Dragon Vein," has interesting strategic use as well: Do you alter the terrain to make a certain map location easier to get to, knowing that the enemy troops can make use of it to their advantage as well? While I haven't delved quite as far into the character relationship-building aspect as I'd like to yet, it seems to offer a lot in terms of amusing interactions and fun fanservice. Yes, even without the petting.

As for the Special Edition package itself, the extras in the box are a bit underwhelming - while the 3DS carrying pouch looks nice, the artbook feels like a weird, stripped-down selection of random concept images and cutscene stills that barely scratches the surface of the planning that went into this game's visuals. (You can bet that there will be a much bigger art book released in Japan that will contain a lot more material, and maybe if we're lucky, somebody like Udon will license it for abroad.) A lack of a music CD also seems like an oversight, given how much companies like Atlus love to toss those in with their games. But no matter how many other trinkets are included in the oversized box, the real draw is having all three campaigns on a single cart without having to futz with DLC and the like…and not having to wait another month for the third campaign.

The jury's still out on how nicely the three campaigns come together at this point, but so far, I've been enjoying Fates immensely. It strikes just the right balance of serious war drama and goofy character interactions, making sure that things never get too heavy or silly. The strategy gameplay is sound, with the new additions to the system feeling solid and well thought out. Fates looks like a solid contender for the best 3DS game of 2016, even this early in the year.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

MEGA MAN LEGACY COLLECTION
Developer: Digital Eclipse / Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 23
Best Boss: Bond Man
MSRP: $29.99 (basic edition) / $49.99 (already scarce special edition)

Are you a Mega Man fan who ignored last year's Legacy Collection because it was just reissues? Well, that was silly. You missed out on some fun original Mega Man challenges, trivia about many little googly-eyed robots, and, of course, the first six Mega Man games presented in everything from crisp hi-definition to deliberately fuzzy old-TV resolution. Or did you merely ignore Legacy Collection because it was digital-only and you couldn't stick it on the shelf next to your imported copy of Wily and Light's Rockboard and your custom Tornado Tonion figure? That's understandable.

Capcom amends that by reissuing Mega Man Legacy Collection in physical form on the Xbox One and PS4, plus an all-new 3DS version with a digital release, a physical one, and a special box set that includes a gold Mega Man amiibo. Yes, gold versions of toys are like soap-flavored candy, but people still want those gold Mario amiibo for some reason. Besides, both the regular and gold Mega Man amiibo unlock fan-created challenges in the collection's roster of stage-splicing bonuses.

And the Mega Man games are worth another look. They're all fun NES action games that lost little appeal over the years, and the Legacy Collection packages them handsomely. The American version doesn't come with a notebook, stickers, bookmarks, or some wet wipes in a tube shaped like Mega Man's energy tank, but you can import those from Japan if you're just that crazed of a collector.

ART GAME CONTEST ENTRIES

This week brings me to the last round of entries in the general games-as-art essay contest. I should point out that these write-ups appear in no particular order—except for the last one, which didn't even count in the contest. So don't feel bad if you're in this batch instead of the former one.

Mary A. Hodge would not be surprised to known that Smithy is the only Mario character to really creep me out.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a metaphor for foreign arms. It begins with a government which is powerless to keep Bowser in check, and must rely on Mario's help. Then, BAM! Superior weapons from another world destroy homes and infrastructure. The local peoples are thrown into chaos; Nimbusland orphans must be raised by frogs. The heroes are forced to work with morally ambiguous organizations - the Koopa Troop and pirates - in order to throw out the invaders. Previous non-entities like Booser and Valentina use the disruption as an excuse to gain power. (The implications behind Punchinello, bombs and mined resources are best saved for a longer discussion.) Other, benevolent superpowers, concerned over strategic interests such as the Star Road, send a soldier of their own - Geno - to help the cause and monitor affairs. It ends when all foreigners and their technology leave the world. The looming specter of a return to hostility between Bowser and the Mushroom Kingdom is ignored. Instead, all forces celebrate a short-lived peace with a joint parade.

Donatas Kiznis sees a lot in Dark Cloud 2, which is actually out on the PlayStation 4 now.

Art is educational as it is enjoyable. Let me review for you game that teaches you how to be a successful businessman. You guessed it; it's Dark cloud 2.

Meet Maximilian, a 13 year old rich, genius inventor who has a robot suit to fight tough adversary which still doesn't change the fact that his father never loved him (huh, when I think about it Max is the Japanese version of Iron man). Join him in his quest to wring out every single penny NPCs saved in their innocent lives. Employ racial minorities at the cost of apparently intoxicating grape juice to build settlements for you. Sell dreams to people and move them to your property far away from home letting only later to find out that you have monopoly over railways and that they will have to stay where you put them. Then just let taxes accumulate.

While capital grows enjoy leisure activity such as golf, fishing, photography, beating the crap out of wildlife and changing the future itself to suit your needs. Also you have that one revenge seeking companion whose family went bankrupt so she has to put up with you putting a bikini on her as soon as a costume is available.

So long story short, become capitalistic pig you always wanted to be in a fantasy world. Oink oink, Maximilian, oink oink…

Steven Farrell takes a swing at taking a swing at taking…well, you get the idea.

Art with a Capital A – Super Swing Golf

In 2004, Korean game developer NCSoft released it's entry into the MMO market, a golf simulation RPG titled PangYa (first released in the U.S. as Albatross18). It was unique for creating online golf tournaments between players all over the world. This was a different approach during the early 2000s boom of MMORPGs, which emphasized social interaction with the outside world from within a game.

Only two years after its release, however, NCSoft and Tecmo released a Wii version of the series, known in the U.S. as Super Swing Golf. In what may be the most underrated experiment in gaming to date, the team took the original PangYa, but removed the global connectivity from the formula, instead replacing it with a solo story mode. No matter how many times you scream as Uncle Bob's sweet putting skills ravage your chance of a victory in Round 2, all that can hear you is a plastic disc, quietly spinning in a disc drive. The gameplay and setting are lovely and engaging, but it's unsettling to know you're alone in this world of anime-esque golfers.

NCSoft and Tecmo highlighted the “disconnect” issue we worry about today, being addicted to connecting everything to the Internet and constantly checking screens full of social media. It's hard to be entirely alone with communication just a few clicks away. Almost as a warning for the next decade, Super Swing Golf, which I found for $0.99 at a local game store, has a deep, profound message that we may be too late to heed.

Joshua Dufour goes a little far in thinking about Yoshi's Island, but that was the point of the contest. Just remember that it's all a joke, folks!

Yoshi's Island, released in 1995 for the SNES and 2002 for the GBA, is a daring game that tackled a topic that was, and still is, controversial to this day: Abortion. Despite the story beginning innocuously enough with Yoshi and his friends saving an infant Mario from certain doom, the clearly pro-abortion slant as the player trudges through the game's many levels is undeniable. The Yoshis have no concept of good parenting and improperly care for Mario in numerous ways, such as taking him on an adventure filled with dangerous enemies, allowing him to run free after he has consumed a "star", and ignoring the cries of the distressed infant as he is whisked away by enemies to his kidnapper's home. These are just a few of many ways this game advocates abortion for parents unprepared to take on the responsibility of raising a child, and further proves the point that the Yoshis never should have taken the responsibility of caring for Mario. For an action game made by Nintendo of all companies, releasing this game was a progressive and bold move that risked alienating its consumers. However, the message was embraced with open arms and continues to be embraced by its players to this day. Truly a commendable move for Nintendo to allow the artistic vision of its game designers to shine through.

Ben Reser gets all political about Persona 4.

Reach out to the Youth: Atlus's Plea for a Revolution

A thick fog hangs over the city. It's yellow, gross, and imposes dread and paranoia to a place already distraught by a series of gruesome and seemingly random murders. No, this isn't 1880's London. It's a typical suburban town where you or I might live. A place where everybody knows your name. This is Atlus' vision of a town near the point of revolt. This is Inaba.

Inaba is a town on the verge of literally being destroyed by industrialism. Walking through the desolate town center, the corpses of family businesses surround you on all sides. The monolithic Junes looms in the distance like in a dystopian science fiction novel. The children sings it's greatness while the adults see what it destroyed in its wake. This unrest is represented literally, with the shadow of people's hearts coming out as monsters and later as insanity.

Most harrowing is the ultimate villain of Persona 4. An unassuming government worker, posing as a representative of the community, is ultimately a sociopathic serial killer. The complete moral corruption of the government is Persona 4's ultimate thesis. The answer to what's best for the town never lies in the leaders of it. The answer lies in everyday people, from high school students to a single father, revolting not against their town but for their town. Revolution is Persona 4's end game. Bernie Sanders 2016.

Bobby Bob sees patterns within circles within falling blocks.

Tetris is a masterwork social commentary that visually demonstrates the struggles of life.

From the very start, you are immediately faced with the blocks of responsibilities that keep falling onto your lap. You must align them the right way to properly clear them. Sometimes you can finish fast, sometimes a little slow. Sometimes it takes bit of rotation complete the deed. Every row of tasks you clear in life is rewarded time and space and a better life.

However clearing one part does not mean it is the end. The game of life continues, getting progressively harder. With more tasks to juggle, less time to think, and competition with others, many become overwhelmed by the fast-paced action, and are greeted by the dreaded game over screen.

If life/Tetris can get so hard, how do you deal with it? Simple.

What does “Tetris” really mean?

It is in fact, an anagram for:

“R-E-S-T-I-T; REST IT”

Resting your self is important.

When life bombards you with endless bricks, take a break.

Re-energize yourself with your loved ones so the burden may be lightened.

With love on your side, you take a step onto the line of success.

Thank you, Tetris. Thank You.

Dragon Quest V casts “will to power” when Myst Ser is playing it.
In Dragon Quest V the Main Character sets off on his journey to free all of mankind from its iniquitous final boss. All of this is a metaphor for the true metamorphosis that the hero undergoes throughout his journey.

Half-way into the journey the hero discovers the true meaning heroism. He is incased in stone by his nemesis. In this moment a irreparable schism and an epiphany occurs to him.

After just becoming a father and a happy marriage, all is taken away from him in one fell swoop. He has failed.

He may have become the Nietzschian camel, taking on the burdens of the world, but he has yet to defeat the dragon that will turn him into a lion. He has reached the threshold of what he can become and his stone form is the perfect desert in which he can ponder his existence. The “Thou shalt” of his cage is made apparent to him and upon arising from his stony prison the hero now sees the path he needs to follow. Only then can he supersede the bondage of the human condition and reach a liberated state — one of free play and creativity, a true Overman.

If you think this makes sense, you should read your Nietzsche better.

What's Azure Striker Gunvolt about, besides getting speedrun scores? Laura Lanford is glad you asked.

How Azure Striker Gunvolt is a skillfully smart advice on modern society's pitfalls.

Have you ever asked yourself how many people feel influenced by their much idolized musical stars? It may be something as simple as "Bono did a benefit concert, I am going to donate for charity as well."

In Gunvolt, the main villain chases after a virtual idol with the intent of controlling the minds of people by using the idol's songs as a mean of brainwash. You see, even the player might feel influenced by the game's idol character, as she starts to sing indicating you reached a high score, the average player often feels desperate, because in order to keep the song playing, they need to sustain the score, and then the player becomes gradually nervous and gets hit by a random enemy shot. There! The score is reset to 0 points, the song is gone, the player becomes frustrated in immediate abstinence from listening to the idol's song!

There's also a much educational advice on how people should be self-conscious of spending both electrical and physical energy wisely, as Gunvolt's hero is dependent on a battery gauge which, upon attack overuse, the hero becomes tired and must rest.

Nick Harrington probably did better at Frogger than I did on my first go. My mom let me play, but she told me that the frog had to hop on top of a car, and…well,this is Nick's essay, not mine.

Frogger is a game about navigating the daily obstacles and deadly pitfalls that life throws in one's way. On the surface, the amphibian themes seem straightforward: you play a frog going home to your frog-hole. Yet, in a historical context, you can see its true beauty: Frogger, released in the 1980s, secretly portrays those particular high-risk, high-reward back-stabbing capitalist ideals that peaked in the '80s.

In the beginning, you are just a fledgling stock broker, perhaps fresh out of school with an MBA, not really knowing how to “play the game.” It's a slow start as you learn the ins and outs, but it speeds up as you get better: the risks go up with the rewards and you may soon find yourself in over your head.

The first half of the level, dodging speeding cars, is actually relatively easy even when the difficulty ramps up. There are patterns and passing is fairly mundane. It is only when you get greedy and try to move to fast and hard that you lose everything.

The second part, moving on logs and swimming turtles, is much harder. You are literally stepping on other people to sate your own selfish ambition. Sometimes the turtles (your coworkers) roll over to sabotage you, and sometimes that log is actually an alligator. There isn't enough room for everyone at the top, so when you get there, you must stop your former associates in order to maintain your own position.

Insaneben's entry came in a day late and over the word limit, but I'll run it anyway!

I know this entry may be too late to qualify for the contest, but I have to get it out there (even if I'm ineligible to win anything).

The overarching theme of the Dead Or Alive series is that it's OK to play with dolls. Further examination into the franchise's evolution from Virtua Fighter knock-off to mega cash cow proves this to be true. Here's why:

The player gets to choose from a set number of characters (ranging from eight in DOA1 to 32 in DOA5LR). Upon choosing a fighter, they can then choose which costume they'd like to have. From the start of each battle to the final blow and subsequent winning pose, each combatant moves like a highly-articulated doll (or action figure, should the need for a manly excuse arise). The personalities each character exhibits (from Ayane to Zach and everyone in-between) are artificial enough that they could be mistaken for a talking doll.

Now here's the kicker: Following the success of DOA3, the creators decided to produce a spin-off in which only the female characters would be playable and take place on a beach playset (or desert island, as Tecmo's then-staffers would have others believe). In this game, while earning in-game currency playing volleyball, players could purchase different swimsuits for their characters (very much like hardcore doll collectors). Following the departure of (series creator) Tomonobu Itagaki and the merger with Koei, as well as the release of DOA5, the marketing staff decided to take things one step further, allowing players to use real money to buy new characters (or dolls) and costumes, further blurring the line between virtual and real dolls (a practice that continues even to this day), yet no one else seems to notice (even the game's patchwork storyline is an elaborate commercial for the dolls).

In conclusion, while the DOA series has never been considered high art, breaking down gender-specific barriers by having grown men (and sometimes women) play with virtual dolls could well be considered a step towards gender equality.

And that's it for the main contest! Come back next week and I'll have the Worst Entry division, such as it is.


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


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