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First Impressions: Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

by Todd Ciolek,
I wasn't kidding when I mentioned that Fire Emblem Fates spawned the first real video-game controversy of 2016. Nintendo's localization of the game changes a few things: the translators rewrote a scene where the player's avatar drugs a female mercenary to shake her fixation with beautiful women, and a mini-game where players use the 3DS touch-screen to tap and stroke characters' faces loses the interactive fondling. I don't think either change is a grievous aesthetic sin, but there's more to this brewing controversy.

The complaints about Fire Emblem Fates are broader among certain subsets of fans, who want to retranslate the game without any of Nintendo's alleged alterations, whether it's the facial flirting or a conversation between two assassins. They find that the solution is a straight, unflavored translation that sticks close to the Japanese text.

That's where I raise an eyebrow. It's one thing to complain about just how a game gets localized or how content is removed. It's another to contravene the actual process of localization—adapting, interpreting, and rewriting dialogue so that it sounds natural to a native speaker of the language concerned, all while maintaining the spirit of the original work. Perhaps I've suffered too much at the hands of carelessly translated games in my childhood, but I want companies to localize something to the point where I don't even notice that it was localized at all.

Some may prize authenticity above actual writing quality, but the truth is that any translation adulterates the text. If you want it the way it was in Japanese, you'll have to learn Japanese. Most localizers work with a game's original Japanese staff to some extent, so it's not as though we're in the same territory as Warriors of the Wind or Robotech.

Of course, there are rare cases where games are translated by multi-lingual creators. That's what happened with Wurm: Journey to the Center of the Earth, an oddly enjoyable multi-genre NES game that follows explorer Moby and her crew through a hostile subterranean world. Producer Shouichi Yoshikawa oversaw the game's English script, and if it's not flowery, it's mostly comprehensible, especially for a title just a few years after “THE TRUCK HAVE STARTED TO MOVE” was typical.

If nothing else, I'm glad that Fire Emblem Fates gave me an excuse to bring up Wurm, one of those games that I like more than it deserves…and more than just about anyone else does.

NEWS

SUPER ROBOT WARS TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH…IF YOU IMPORT
Every new Super Robot Wars game raises the same question: why aren't more of them translated for North America? The answer usually comes down to some speculation about licensing and localization costs. Then we face the fact that it's easier for Banpresto, Bandai Namco and everyone concerned to put their resources toward making the next Super Robot Wars game for the Japanese market than it is to localize an existing game for a continent where even the typical anime fan might mistake the Aestivalis and the Layzner for obscure Gundams.

It's likely the sheer volume of text and dubious marketability that keep Super Robot Wars games from North America, as Banpresto even avoids localizing the Original Generation games that have no licensed anime robots (Atlus experimented with two in the Game Boy Advance days). Yet there is hope within Super Robot Wars OG The Moon Dwellers. It's out on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 this year, and Banpresto plans to release an English version for the Asian market. The first trailer shows translated text during the characters' attacks, even if it runs right under the Japanese lines. I assume the final game will look smoother.

Part of the Super Robot Wars 25th anniversary, The Moon Dwellers finds the Earth devastated by meteor strikes and terrorized by invading aliens. Naturally, giant robots are the weapon of choice among the resistance fighters. One of them is Touya Shiun, who finds himself allied with the mecha Granteed and its two pilots, Katia Grignard and Melua Mena. The rest of the roster has original characters as well as returning mecha and pilots, the latter including Calvnia Coulange from Super Robot Taisen J.

Of course, Banpresto hasn't announced an English version for the North American market, but the Asian release should be region-free and accessible. That's likely the best deal Super Robot Wars will get until the Western world makes the Weissritter as popular as Voltron.

YS VIII ADDS A BLUE-HAIRED HEROINE FOR A CHANGE
Falcom's Ys series cemented many RPG clichés, among them a blue-haired woman with an otherworldly secret. Ys began with the disguised goddess Feena, and other games followed: both Lunar and Lufia imitated it right down to the hair color, and numerous other RPG series reworked the archetype in subtler ways. This isn't to say that Ys did it best or anything—Feena isn't as memorable as Lucia or Lufia or the brown-haired Aerith—yet the idea is Falcom's to use as much as they like, so Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana presents a blue-tressed warrior as a counterpart to recurring hero Adol.

Yes, every Ys game introduces at least one new female character with all the emotional permanence of a Bond Girl. Ys VIII goes further, though. The heroine is the Dana of the title, and she's playable in a story of her own. Her exploits take over Adol's dreams, and so her tale alternates with Adol's. Actions made in the distant past of Dana's visions affect Adol's present life, and the reverse also appears true.

Dana and Adol aren't the only playable characters, either. Stranded on the ill-omened Siren Island, Adol meets up with other castaways, and the first two to join him are the highborn fencer Raksha and the anchor-swinging fisherman Sahad. Players can switch characters mid-battle, and combat maintains a rapid pace with three attack methods: swordlike Slashes, blunt Hits, and long-range Shoot methods. Falcom hasn't yet said if Dana will have sidekicks, but it'd help.

GUILTY GEAR ADDS A LESS-THAN-STATELY RAVEN
Guilty Gear's backstory plays a long, long game. Take the latest playable character, Raven, for example. He's only now available among the Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator lineup, but he appeared in Guilty Gear X Plus over 15 years ago, and he wasn't a sideline gawker, either. He's one of three mysterious, long-lived figures who serve the series antagonist known as That Man, and he has the troublesome ability to regenerate his form no matter how badly he's damaged.

After that much buildup, Raven's Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator debut is disappointing. He's covered in knives and belts and robes, and he even licks one of his blades in an introductory screenshots. He's trying a little too hard, and he lacks the rock-reference playfulness of his fellow servants I-No and Jack-O.

That said, Raven's mannerisms could make for an interesting fighting style between his healing mechanic and high-risk, high-reward methods. And now we can take bets on just how many Guilty Gear games we'll see before That Man is actually playable. I'd guess…five.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: DIGIMON STORY: CYBER SLEUTH

By Jacob Hope Chapman

Despite my insanely rabid love for the Digimon franchise, I haven't played many Digimon video games for longer than an hour or two each before throwing in the towel. (Thanks to its addictive Korean MMO qualities, I got deepest into Digimon Battle Online, although enjoyment of the experience was rocky.) The franchise's games have often been plagued with wearisome leveling, unattractive graphics, or even clunky battle dynamics in the case of its fighting game entries. However, the old truism "Pokemon for the games, Digimon for the anime" may be less true as of Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth. Now 20-plus hours into the experience, I can wholeheartedly recommend Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth as the monster raising and battling experience all Digidestined at heart have been waiting for.

Mind you, when I say Digimon fans, I do mean Digimon fans only, although anyone from casual to obsessive can easily find something to love here. The biggest thing Cyber Sleuth brings to the table is its incredible variety of digital monsters from every generation to choose from (240!), and a freshly inviting ease and joy to raising and evolving them. The 15th anniversary celebration has done a lot to bring the worlds of Digimon games and the Digimon anime back together, resulting in new games like Cyber Sleuth (and the unlocalized Adventure PSP game) that finally feel like they were made for kids that grew up on those cartoons but never had access to the stylistically different past games. The PS4's graphics are more than up to the task of rendering every Digimon into perfect 3-D versions of their anime models, and the devs have done a terrific job animating their attack sequences to match the original animation right down to little camera angle changes. If you've always wanted to see Gabumon, Kyubimon, or even Metalseadramon duke it out as crisp, shiny, and cuddly as they've appeared in your imagination, Cyber Sleuth is finally able to make your childhood dreams come true.

So there's a purely cosmetic but extremely satisfying glee in watching each monster toddle along behind you in their own unique way, from Baby form all the way to Mega, but grinding is also far more fun and rewarding than it was in past games. Combat is based around a simple (but just complex enough to keep things fresh) series of attribute triangles combined with different stats and growth variables for each Digimon to pick and choose from when building your team. Since you can carry a party of 11 with 3 monsters on the field, and all members in the party gain experience together (with in-battle experience relegated to a separate "friendship" variable), filling a party with all your personal favorites can happen within a few hours even at relatively low dungeon levels, and you'll have no shortage of extra monsters to experiment with to learn the digivolution system's many branching paths.

Above all else, Cyber Sleuth has streamlined the "fight and evolve!" aspect of Digimon gaming to the most rewarding and exciting version of itself. For most Digimon fans who came to love the series through its anime, this is the end-all-be-all of what they want from a Digimon game: the ability to jump right in and have fun with as many of their favorites as possible, in the most attractive graphical quality that reflects their glossy monster memories. So what is it about this game that will keep Digimon lovers so pleased but push away the uninitiated? Well, as a JRPG, Cyber Sleuth's story and worldbuilding are not its strong suit. In fact, the deficiencies in the writing and explorable environments are kind of embarrassing. Dungeon environments are basically identical bland cyber-blue maps, distinguished only by the level and type of monsters you can battle there. Even if you adore the combat system, you'll get extremely tired of looking at the digital environments, but there's nothing but shopping and story information to be found in the more engaging real-world environments of Nakano Broadway, Shibuya, and many other Tokyo locales.

The plot is fun to progress through when it revolves around monsters and battling, but basically interminable when it doesn't, which is shockingly often. The story and characters are boilerplate D-list late-night anime cliches that don't really resemble the spirit of the Digimon series, with sidequests about high-school occult clubs and subliminal messages in pop songs that belong in the lamest episodes of forgotten mystery anime serials that no one cares about. It's pretty bizarre to see Agumon and Gabumon innocently asking a bland anime girl what fanservice or chuunibyou are supposed to mean in between awful infodumps from ghostly bishounen or wild-eyed mad scientists. Cyber Sleuth is best experienced as a Digimon dream factory with a mandatory story you should plow through with minimal engagement to unlock more awesome Megas.

As a hardcore Digimon fan who's had little patience for its past experiments in RPG gaming, I can't recommend the revolutionary experience of Cyber Sleuth enough. As a nostalgia-driven monster battler, it's immensely rewarding and addictive to jump right into for casuals, while still offering enough complexity to make intensive customization rewarding for JRPG veterans. The plot is confusing and lame, and the environments are monotonous, but as a playground for creating tons of lovable monsters and watching them become powerful enough to blow away enemy monsters, I don't think Media.Vision could have done any more right by Digimon.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

RETURN TO POPOLOCROIS: A STORY OF SEASONS FAIRYTALE
Developer: epics / Marvelous
Publisher: XSEED GAMES
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: March 1
Deeper Meaning: Filthy Monarchism
MSRP: $39.99

Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale revives a game series long dormant in Japan and rarely seen at all in North America. The PopoloCrois RPGs flourished on the Japanese PlayStation, but the West saw only a PSP port that mashed together the first two games. Then the series went silent, at least as far as games were concerned. It revived through a partnership unforeseen but entirely logical: a crossover with the Harvest Moon series. Well, Harvest Moon is called Story of Seasons here in North America due to company infighting, but the important thing is that PopoloCrois is back…and with gardening.

PopoloCrois, rooted in a manga series that dates back to 1978, follows the adventures of young Prince Pietro and the witch Narcia in the kingdom of PopoloCrois and beyond. A Story of Seasons Fairytale sees their land threatened by beasts who contaminate the very soil, and to combat them Pietro heads to the realm of Galariland—where he's promptly stranded. On his journey home, Pietro gets into RPG battles that utilize tactical grids and, in a welcome point, let players adjust the overriding difficulty as they go.

Despite its RPG heritage, PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale inevitably earns comparisons to the Rune Factory line of action-farming hybrids. When not questing around, Pietro grows crops, tends animals, catches bugs, digs up minerals, makes citizens happier, and befriends maiden avatars of the deity Lady Galariel. Not that PopoloCrois has a dating simulator in the usual sense. Pietro compliments and offers gifts to the divine emissaries he meets, but he's always true to Narcia.

XSEED Games went above the call in promoting the return of PopoloCrois. The U.S. version preserves the two Japanese voice tracks, one with traditional actors and the other with “anime style” casting, plus an English track. XSEED also put up the 1981 edition of the PopoloCrois manga, and its charmingly illustrated tales are the best promotion the new game could want.

Also Available:
The Witch and the Hundred Knight previously came to the PlayStation 3, but the Revival Edition arrives on the PlayStation 4. For one thing, it turns the witch of the title into a playable character; the original game cast players as her doughty, abused warrior servant, but the PlayStation 4 release makes her playable and offers an extensive new challenge in the Tower of Illusion. That may not tip the scales for those who already bought the game on the PlayStation 3, but at least the PS4 outing is forty bucks instead of full-price.

Nintendo has a reissue of their own with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for the Wii U. It's the same Zelda outing that appeared on the GameCube and Wii over ten years ago, and the Wii U version improves the look of it while adding new control options, extra challenges, Miiverse support, and a tougher Hero Mode available from the start. It's also compatible with Zelda amiibo and comes with an exclusive Wolf Link figure…which will work with the next major Zelda game as well. The amiibo craze may have died down a little, but Nintendo isn't about to let up.

ART GAME CONTEST ENTRIES: THE WORST

Now that I've run the main entries from the games-as-art contest, it's time for the essays that people specifically submitted for the Worst Entry division. As expected, I didn't get very many entries. And yet the ones I received were true to the spirit of the contest in all its possible interpretations.

Jessi Porras has the shortest entry of all.

Video games are art because

It's a slightly longer entry, but Kyspniel gets right to the point.

Video games are art because they a pretty. Please give me bullet witch and the other one please

Tamara Hudson put some effort into hers, so she was my second choice for the category winner.

Bomberman, Explosive Art!

He explodes things and when explode they look pretty! Pretty explosive sparkles, especially when you explode with your friends! The bombs are round and round is a shape and a shape is ART! That feel when you leave multiple bombs as you run around the arena and see them explode at different lengths is freakin' Michelangelo! When your friends trap you with a bomb inside with no way out, is the perfect Human Body as ART moment!

Lastly, Youssef Tobah makes a colorful argument.

WHY VIDEO GAMES ARE OBJECTIVELY ART

Two words:

And that ends the games-as-art contest. I enjoyed it a great deal, and I'd like to thank everyone who entered. I wish I had enough copies of Bullet Witch for you all.


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


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