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Interview: Tekken 7

by Todd Ciolek,
It's hard to know where to start when discussing Prince. He leaves behind an immense body of work, even if you ignore the massive archive of material he never released in his lifetime.

Well, this is a column about video games, so I'll head there. Prince inspired only one game directly as far as I know: Prince Interactive, a 1994 adventure game and multimedia bundle featuring all sorts of video clips, music, and trivia about Prince. And a free tattoo!

The game portion of Prince Interactive finds the player wandering a stylized Paisley Park estate, solving puzzles in Myst fashion. Each challenge reveals a new piece of the symbol that Prince used as his actual name for several years to piss off record-company executives. In gameplay, it's no more complex than the multitude of Myst knockoffs that surrounded the home-computer industry like a dandelion haze in the 1990s. Yet it's interesting to pick through a virtual simulacrum of Prince's mansion and find everything from a little red corvette to a door that morphs into two scantily clad women. I presume it's just like the real Paisley Park.

But what about the video games less directly inspired by Prince? It's hard to calculate. You can point to Mortal Kombat's Rain, a purple ninja and disguised prince (get it?), or you could point to the Prince references in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, which of course influenced all sorts of games.

On that note, I'll go beyond video games and delve into this site's main focus by watching Boogiepop Phantom once again. The bleak, blurry 1999 TV series remains fascinating today, and its multiple references to Prince just add to the mystique. Perhaps that's not the most immediate way to remember Prince, but it's proof of just how far he reached.

NEWS

SUDA51'S THE SILVER CASE SPAWNS REMAKE, U.S. RELEASE, CONFUSION
Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture craft viciously satirical and satirically vicious action games these days—in fact, they showed off their latest, Let It Die, at PAX East. Yet Suda began his career with more abstract adventure games like Moonlight Syndrome and his first Grasshopper game, a PlayStation outing called The Silver Case. And PAX East brought another revelation: a PC remake of The Silver Case, in English.

The Silver Case follows the 24-Districts Police Department, whose investigators track a notorious killer thought to be long dead. The game unfolds in conversations and text options much like a visual novel, but it also features 3-D environments for the player to navigate, and the imagery is a sometimes surreal mixture of polygons, artwork, and live-action footage. While it was Suda51's first game at his own company, The Silver Case has several links to Moonlight Syndrome, the adventure game he wrote and directed as his last project at Human Entertainment. It's all part of his thematically linked Kill the Past series, which includes his oddball Flower, Sun, and Rain as well as his cult-favorite Killer7.

The remake of The Silver Case heads to Steam and the Playism store on PCs, and the announcement specifies that it'll keep most of the hand-drawn artwork while revamping some of the 3-D scenes and perhaps reworking some puzzles for the sake of the English localization. Fans already speculate about the game's live-action sequences, which may be tied up in rights issues.

Even if The Silver Case remake isn't the same as the PlayStation outing, it's a welcome sight. Suda51's earlier works aren't well-known in the West, but they're strange, story-driven experiments in contrast to his current carnivals of bloodshed and irony. A DS version of The Silver Case even went unreleased, so a new version of the game's been a long time coming.

COMMODORE 64 REVIVAL TAKES TO INDIEGOGO, X68000 STILL THE BEST '80S COMPUTER
I was a Nintendo child through and through, but the first games I ever played at home came from my grandparents' Commodore 64. Even though the selection went no further than the likes of Jumpman Junior, Lode Runner, Archon, and some educational fare, they made an impression. So I understand how the system is remembered fondly for its games as well as its ability to launch nuclear warheads and contact aliens from the comfort of the family den. That's what movies told me as a kid, anyway.

A UK-based company called Retro Games Ltd. recently started an Indiegogo campaign for a reissue of the Commodore 64 as both an old keyboard model and a handheld unit. The 64, as it's called, is only slightly smaller than the original Commodore 64 model, with a cartridge slot and all, but it adds USB ports, HDMI, and an SD card slot to allow expansions and easy game-loading. The portable version has similar inputs, plus a d-pad and two action buttons. Only two? How will it run Street Fighter II?

It doesn't look like a bad treatment of a revered computer, but The 64 comes shortly after the self-destruction of the Coleco Chameleon, an over-ambitious retro-console that collapsed in a heap of faked prototypes and desperate blame-throwing. Granted, Retro Games Ltd. has few of the Chameleon's blatant warning signs; the only curious point is the way three company directors resigned just this month. It's also true that other system-modders have similar Commodore 64 adaptations, though they don't have an Indiegogo campaign or a $150 price point.

If nothing else, it bears watching. Fans of the Commodore 64 might find it worth a donation if the backers post more specs and show off a reliable prototype, and fans of crowdfunding trainwrecks might have another spectacle if the project goes the other way.

EXIST ARCHIVE WILL EXIST IN THE WEST
For a little while Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky looked like it might fall by the wayside. The Vita and PlayStation 4 RPG comes from tri-Ace and bears more than a superficial resemblance to cult hit Valkyrie Profile, but it's not backed by a huge publisher. Well, no need to worry. It's due out in North America on October 18.

Exist Archive wastes little time in killing off its protagonist, Kujo Kanata, and his fiancée in a Tokyo explosion. Yet they regain consciousness in the ethereal realm of Protolexa, where they're drafted into a war on behalf of all-powerful beings. And they're not the only ones press-ganged into afterlife battalions, as most of the game's other playable characters hail from the mortal realm.

Such a premise resembles Valkyrie Profile without the Norse trappings, and the same goes for Exist Archive's gameplay. Bobbleheaded characters explore side-view dungeons, and battles let the player control four characters with four corresponding action buttons, thus allowing for extensive combos. Even some of the sound effects seem pulled from Valkyrie Profile. And that's not a bad thing entirely, though the game's characters all look a little too super-deformed; not quite Bravely Default cute-ified, but too big-headed to be conventional. It's all due out in both physical and digital editions thanks to Aksys Games, and they'll throw in both English and Japanese voice options.

And since I'm already talking about Valkyrie Profile, I'd be remiss not to mention the latest developments on that front…

VALKYRIE ANATOMIA IS OUT, AND I SORTA LIKE IT
Good news: I won't take up column space with speculation about the latest Valkyrie Profile game every week. I don't have to speculate, because it's already out. The preview version of Valkyrie Anatomia – The Origin showed up on the Japanese iOS and Android stores yesterday, and the full game appeared in the wee hours of April 28.

I braced myself for disappointment. Though I may not have mentioned this before, I really like the three Valkyrie Profile games; the first and third are favorites, and I greatly enjoy the second one's gameplay even if its storyline is a fumbling attempt to tie up the first game's plot strands. So the idea of a new Valkyrie Profile game made for modern smartphones and tablets set me to worrying.

In many ways, Valkyrie Anatomia is a faithful attempt at a prequel. It does its best to evoke otherworldly gloom in an opening mix of familiar Valkyrie Profile music and a new storyline. We meet Lenneth Valkyrie, apparently an older incarnation of the recurring series heroine, as she anguishes in the darkness and hears a voice lecturing her about the future. She's then summoned forth by Odin and his fellow Norse gods, who face hard times and decide to release a Valkyrie once sealed away.

Newcomers may wonder what the fuss is about; in traditional Norse myth, Odin had scores of Valkyries at his beck and call. Well, the Valkyrie Profile series mixes that idea with the Norns and decides that there are only three Valkyries: rebellious Silmeria, coldly efficient Hrist, and the ever-conflicted Lenneth. Still haunted by her time in netherworldly stasis, Lenneth heads out to recruit dead mortals for the Norse army.

Going by the tutorial and the first quest, Valkyrie Anatomia puts Lenneth on a path of floating isles where she bridges gaps and stuns enemies by expending points (which I'm sure the player can buy). Once in battle, the old Valkyrie Profile system emerges as players tap the screen to make party members attack. With correct timing, they'll juggle enemies and pull off spectacular attacks—including Lenneth's Nibelung Valesti.

The game appears to dole out weapons and armor as random trinkets, much like any free-to-play app provides new characters or gear and invites the customer to just buy it outright. I'm largely OK with that, because the game actually tries to tell a semblance of a story and makes the Einherjar, Lenneth recruited souls, actual characters instead of cliché templates. In that sense, it's already an improvement on Valkyrie Profile 2.

I didn't really expect Valkyrie Anatomia to fully capture the spirit of the older Profile games, and in some ways it certainly doesn't. The straightforward level layouts don't look to offer any of the jumping mechanics or puzzles of previous games, and the artwork is largely average, with occasional forays into bizarre anatomy and cheap recycling. Odin, in his unsteady earlier years, looks like he should be romancing some beleaguered heroine in a pretty-boy dating simulator…based on Valkyrie Profile. I'd play that.

Of course, I sympathize with the artists. Kou Yoshinari and Yoh Yoshinari's gorgeous illustrations for the other Valkyrie Profile games stand apart from the typical anime casts and CG mannequins we often see in RPGs. That's a hard ball to pick up running.

Despite all my misgivings, I like Valkyrie Anatomia so far. It's cheap around the edges, and the most effective moments come entirely from music filched out of earlier games. But it's Valkyrie Profile, and it's fun. That might be all I need.

INTERVIEW: TEKKEN'S KATSUHIRO HARADA

Katsuhiro Harada's been with Tekken all the way. He started off providing voices and overseeing the original Tekken in 1994, and he's seen the series through its major installments, its spin-offs, and his humorous rivalry with Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono. Currently he's at work on Tekken 7, which saw an arcade run and is headed to the PlayStation 4 at some unspecified point in the future.

ANN's Heidi Kemps met up with Harada for a Q&A session. You'll note that Tekken X Street Fighter, which was put on hiatus not long after this interview, doesn't come up, but Harada still had plenty to say about Tekken 7 and the current state of the fighting game industry.

Heidi Kemps: We've been seeing a bit of a trend lately, spearheaded by games like Street Fighter V and King of Fighters XIV, where new fighting games are skipping an arcade release entirely. Tekken, however, is still going strong in arcades. What are your thoughts on the situation?

Harada: For a lot of companies, it's not really a choice of being able to release first in the arcades or not. An arcade operator has to purchase a game for several thousand dollars, hoping that they'll be able to recoup their investment. Many fighting games couldn't have an arcade release even if they wanted to, because nobody would buy them at that sort of price. Tekken is one of the few still able to command that sort of premium. While Street Fighter IV had an arcade presence, Tekken had five times the amount of machines running - and Street Fighter is one of the stronger ones! If you compare it to other fighting games, we have ten times more machines in operation than them.

The arcade is also a very different business model because the player pays for each time they play a game. If the game isn't fun, then they don't put in more money. That allows us to create a game that's more polished - if people keep playing it, that means it's interesting. Also, it generates quite a bit more profit than many people might think. That, in turn, allows us to take that very polished fighting game and use the income from the arcade version to add bells and whistles like CG movies to the eventual console ports. It's a very good pattern for us that maybe isn't available to other fighting games.

What are your thoughts on the current state of fighting games as an eSport? I get the feeling that more people are actively watching games, but I'm not sure if that's really translating into sales of said games.

It's hard to say. There's the game itself—Tekken has sold three million copies with each installment, on average. Back in the day, you couldn't easily watch tournaments that you couldn't physically go to. Nowadays, there are popular players who have their own streaming channels.

In the years before streaming really took off, out of those three million copies sold, around 2.5 million would be more casual players, and maybe about 500,000 would be the more dedicated fans who were into competitive play, and 100,000 of those players would be hardcore enough to attend tournaments and such. But now those tournaments are being seen by more people. It's difficult to judge if that's impacted sales of the game, but it has shifted those ratios around a bit: the people interested in competitive play, either going to tournaments or watching others, might have been 500K before, maybe it's more about half now. So, maybe sales themselves aren't changing much, but the reasons why people are buying the game are.

So, about that Nina Williams redesign in Tekken 7: Fated Retribution… Why the bride motif?

Well, the fact that you're even asking that question means that we succeeded in what we were trying to do! We wanted people to see her and have their interest piqued as to why she's dressed like that, and what kind of story elements might cause that to happen. If you take a look back at the Tekken series, the 1P costume has always had a “fighting gear” sort of look while the 2P side outfit was more everyday clothes. A lot of those 1P costumes went on to be iconic for the characters that wore them. Later games gave you the ability to further customize those outfits with items. Recently, we saw a shift in the tastes of our players. Nina's had her battle outfit for a while, and people wanted something different. With the wedding dress, and other outfits in general, we try to give them a tie-in to the background story, and add a few elements that might get people excited about what's happening: “Hey, why is she wearing this?” It was my idea. I'm glad it's working!

Here I was thinking it might be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “ore no yome” or “mai waifu” otaku meme that's been circulating in Japan and abroad.

Well, that wasn't my intent, but the fans certainly latched onto it! [laughs] It makes me happy.

So Akuma is a guest character in Tekken 7: Fated Retribution. Why did you pick him specifically?

There are many ways to go about having this sort of collaboration. The first is leaving on impact on people who see it. You can do this in a variety of ways: Soul Calibur IV achieved this to great success by having Darth Vader in the game. For us, we felt it had to be a collaboration with another fighting game. Giving it some thought, we felt that it had to be a character who looked cool and felt natural to the Tekken series. Some games might refer to these sorts of characters as “guest characters,” but for us, Akuma's not just a guest. He's an enemy our characters have to face! Not only is he really cool, he doesn't feel out of place at all in Tekken. Story-wise, he blends into Tekken as well, though nothing's really been shown yet regarding that. Maybe you'll be seeing more Akuma-related story bits in the future!

Were any other characters being considered?

Nope, just Akuma. We knew we wanted him from the get-go. It wasn't “hey, let's add on outside character to the game,” it was “hey, let's add Akuma to the game!”

Okay, let's wrap this up. I've noticed that the number of 3D fighting games seems to be on the decline. There are a lot of 2D fighters using 3D visuals, but they still play on a side-scrolling plane. Why do you think 3D fighters have fallen out of favor, and what do you think can be done to reverse this?

This discussion doesn't happen very often, but we've actually been thinking about this very thing for a long time. It might not have so much to do with the “playing” aspect but the “watching” aspect. With 2D fighters, you tend to have a lot of over-the-top techniques like fireballs and energy blasts. Tekken is more like watching something like boxing or UFC grappling. Using boxing as an example, you have several different weight classes, and some of the weight classes are much quicker, but not as hard-hitting as the heavyweights.

In America, though, the heavyweights tend to be more popular—their punches are slower, but when they connect, they have a lot more impact. When you really get deep into boxing, though, you realize things like what jabs are for, the strategies they're employing against each other, and so on, but that can be hard to see if you're just watching on TV.

It's the same story with UFC and grappling. Someone might not be interested in what's going on, they just want to see a KO. If you don't know who's doing what, who's trying to get advantage, then it's not very exciting. Perhaps 3D fighters are similar—you don't have those flashy skills, and it's not always easy to understand why a person's doing a jab or similar technique. Unless you know these elements and understand what's going on, it's harder to be entertained compared to a 2D fighter.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

Next week has little to offer in the way of new games, but there's something coming along this week for old ones, at least over in the UK. The Mega Drive Classics Hub releases there today, repackaging a bunch of enjoyable games (and some lousy ones) from Sega's cherished 16-bit system. Granted, these are the same Genesis games available on Steam for months…and also available in Sega classic compilations, plug-and-play machines, and those ROM sets that you downloaded when you were a trepidatious preteen convinced that the police would haul you away for not deleting Streets of Rage 2 within twenty-four hours.

What makes the Classics Hub new? Two things. It introduces a new virtual gameroom where the player peruses Mega Drive/Genesis games and puts them into a console. The simulated home looks rather dark, and it lacks such authentic early 1990s adolescent décor as Pearl Jam albums, badly drawn hyperviolent comics, and a poster of Pamela Anderson in Baywatch attire. But it's a nice gesture.

The more interesting new feature of the Classics Hub is Sega's promise that players can upload ROM hacks of the games available. Astute nerds have edited old games for a long time, yes, but it's truly rare to see a company officially embrace the idea and appropriate it as a feature. It's a good move for reissues of old games, most of which just offer the game emulated without frills. I hope we'll see the Classics Hub in America soon, along with a fan hack that, say, turns Gunstar Heroes into an Ice Pirates game.


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


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