The X Button
Import Roundup With Digimon World

by Todd Ciolek,
I think I'll get my inevitable Valkyrie Profile update out of the way at the start of this column. I'm still playing Valkyrie Anatomia, the mobile-game series prequel that hit Japan last month, and I'm still enjoying it.

I concluded long ago that I'd like any new Valkyrie Profile game simply for existing, but Valkyrie Anatomia has more than just a name attached. Its stages are simple archipelagoes that could barely be called dungeons, but the battles retain the button-tapping pace that looks chaotic but actually requires expert timing to properly exploit.

Valkyrie Anatomia stages itself before any previous Valkyrie Profile game, giving heroine Lenneth two raven sidekicks and a variety of valiant, dead mortals to recruit. The tales of her Einherjar range so far from clichéd to succinctly depressing, and they clutch the same compelling despair and fascination of the original Valkyrie Profile. Sure, it's bleak to watch a doomed warrior sacrifice herself for her sister's sake or see a chipper young swordswoman stabbed in a meaningless tavern squabble, but that's not where their stories end. You take them in, level them up, and watch them grow in Odin's service. Anatomia even adds side-quests that explore the Einherjars' lives after they die and join the Asgardian army—something I really wanted to see in the original Valkyrie Profile.

So I'm not bothered by the game's limited range, its mediocre recycled artwork (the same viking guys appear as at least three different characters), or its fidelity to the Valkyrie Profile tradition of women warriors who look cool and sensibly armored only from the waist up. I'm bothered only by the fact that this is a mobile game that apparently relies on Square's servers to function, which means it'll be hard to stick it on my Valkyrie Profile Shelf and play it whenever the mood strikes over the decades to come.

And that's not so bad, because I at least can play it now. If mobile games are a Faustian bargain, I'm glad someone worked one out to produce Valkyrie Anatomia.

It leaves me to ask: What dormant series would you accept as a mobile game that might not even come out in English? Would you take another Mystical Ninja game if it stayed in Japanese and ran only on recent smartphones and tablets? Would you want Darkstalkers back if it were a simplified free-to-play card batter instead of a fighting game? If, by some unfathomable stretch of favoritism, Nintendo announced a fourth Earthbound only for a unique Japanese smartphone, would you import that little device and find a way to play it?

NEWS

THE NX IS COMING, BUT NOT AS SOON AS YOU'D LIKE
The press, the public, and a fair chunk of the industry still don't know that much about Nintendo's NX. Yet we know a few things that it won't be. It won't be out until March 2017, it won't be very prominent at Nintendo's exhibitions around E3, and it won't be sold at a loss.

Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima mentioned the NX's seemingly frugal launch plans during a meeting with investors. The company clearly hopes that the NX won't go the way of the Wii U, which struggled to move even a tenth as many systems as the Wii. But then the Wii U often seemed like a mere upgrade of the Wii in appearances and capabilities. The NX, rumored to be a novel fusion of handheld devices and game consoles, shouldn't have that disadvantage.

The NX library also remains largely unannounced, though Nintendo's next major The Legend of Zelda title will ship for both the Wii U and the NX, much like Twilight Princess did for the Gamecube and Wii. It'll also figure into Nintendo's E3 pre-show, though they're quick to specify that it's the Wii U version in their schedule.

Even with the NX slated almost a year away, Wii U owners plainly see the imminent retirement of their console. But take heart, Wii U owners. Odds are that you didn't buy your Wii U immediately at launch, and you'll probably wait a year or two before you get an NX. And if you did get your Wii U at launch, you'll have a good four years of support. That's a short life for a Nintendo console, but a long one in the grander scheme of game systems.

CAVE SHOOTERS FILL SCREENS IN TWO PLACES
Fans of Cave often remind us that the company, esteemed for its intense shooters, hasn't made a new game since 2012's DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou. But Cave keeps busy. They brought older shooters like Deathsmiles and Mushihimesama to Steam, and the next in line is a game with a title that I always enjoy saying out loud: DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu.

DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu is a vertical shooter in Cave tradition: pick a jet fighter, weave in between heavy storms of day-glo bullets, and destroy whatever stands in your way. Of course, Cave adds plenty to the formula, of course: you can shoot down enemy bullets or block their laser beams if your hyper-counter gauge fills up, the levels branch into two paths depending on how well the player does, and only the truly adept will see the true final boss. The storyline involves a war across time and space, and it results in enormous women called Element Daughters serving as the mechanized, oft-transforming level bosses. It's due out on Steam at some point in the fall.

More surprising is Cave's announcement of Dangun Feveron for the PlayStation 4. DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu, like many of Cave's post-2004 shooters, came out on a home system and mobile devices. Not so Dangun Feveron. It's a 1998 vertical space shooter with a disco-cyborg theme, and it never before appeared on a console. It's heading to the PS4 this winter, and M2, the porting experts behind Sega's 3D Classics and other restorations, will handle Dangun Feveron's new iteration.

This should interest Cave fans who want to see more of the company's older shooters. Nothing against DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu, but my favorite Cave titles lean more toward ESPrade and Progear no Arashi, neither of which ever came to a console. In fact, I'd even like a perfect port of the original DonPachi, just for that announcer who tells you when you need a couple 'more shots to finish off a boss.

THE KING OF FIGHTERS 2000 SWEATS ONTO PS4
Once again we have reason to debate the best game from The King of Fighters series. The competitive fighting-game fans in the house would name the most polished versions of The King of Fighters '98 and 2002, since they have the largest rosters and most refined gameplay. Others might point to The King of Fighters XI, which has a neat tagging mechanic. And some wag might mention The King of Fighters: Days of Memories dating simulator. Very funny.

Yet there's something to be said for The King of Fighters 2000. It was SNK's last game in the series before they went under and resurfaced as SNK Playmore (a name they recently reverted back to plain ol' SNK), and it has lots of the little touches that made SNK games so fun to watch. The character lineup is also strong, as it has most of the good fighters from the '90s installments (minus Eiji) and even sneaks in Kula Diamond at the bottom of the select screen.

The PlayStation 4 got The King of Fighters 2000 this week, in the form of its PlayStation 2 port. It has adjustable scanlines and borders, and it will be compatible with PlayStation 3 joysticks. It is, however, censored in the same way as the North American version for the Neo Geo and the PS2. You won't see the Japanese version's flashes of blood, and notoriously jiggling ninja Mai Shiranui may seem oddly stiff during her standing animation. Neither feature really affects the gameplay, but they're irksome anachronisms when one looks at the other uncensored King of Fighters titles widely available on the market. At some point, SNK must've wanted The King of Fighters to be as kid-friendly as a game about beating people unconscious could be.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MARCH & APRIL

DIGIMON WORLD: NEXT ORDER
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita

Bandai Namco likes to keep slightly older Digimon fans in mind, as they aimed the recent Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth at those teenage-and-above types who liked Digimon in their youth but since drifted away. Aptly enough, that's a fair description for Takuto, the male protagonist of Digimon World: Next Order. Once a champion-level Digimon trainer, he's now occupied by teenage concerns. Yet both he and female protagonist Shiki are ideal for buying new Digimon ga…er, raising Digimon in the computerized lands of Digimon World: Next Order.

Upon choosing a protagonist, the player gets two starting Digimon: Takuto gets Agumon and Gabumon, while Shiki gets Biyomon and Palmon. Those are just the introductory pairs, of course. Soon the heroes roam fields and cyberscapes to meet dozens of Digimon and their human companions. They can even recruit characters to people a player-created town, growing it from a few high-tech huts to a full Digimon metropolis.

Digimon World: Next Order offers many creatures, including the catlike Meicoomon from Digimon Adventure tri, and two of them accompany the player's avatar when wandering. Raising them proves more complicated than Cyber Sleuth's Digimon-tending system, as it relies on a web of stat requirements and possible evolutionary paths. Digimon never were low-maintenance pets.

Import Barrier: Not so bad for Digimon fans, though the story's all in Japanese.

Domestic Release: Very possible. With Cyber Sleuth just out, Bandai Namco is no doubt watching its reception closely, just to see how well Digimon does in North America.

Best Detail: Meicoomon's slightly deranged cat eyes.

GUNDAM BREAKER 3
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita

There's something amusing about a game called Gundam Breaker dealing largely with the art and culture of Gundam model kits. One might assume it's all about the disappointment of accidentally snapping a Gundam piece in half when you're trying to fit the arm into the torso just like stupid instructions said.

But no, Gundam Breaker is all about Gundam models and virtual combat as seen through the innocently obsessive eyes of adolescents. Gundam Breaker 3 casts you as the new kid in town, and you soon fall in with a girl named Misa and her Gundam-fixated friends. As since this is the near future, your town has robot assistants and virtual Gunpla Battle arcades. Here you're dropped into Gundam arena battles where your assembled battle-mech roams around with melee weapons, firearms, shields, and other Gundam accoutrements.

You start off with a basic GM, but the game's toy-store selection of machines ranges everywhere from the Universal Century Gundams and Zakus to the comical Street Fighter-ish machines of G-Gundam and the mechas of poor neglected Gundam X, plus a bunch of little SD Gundams. And it's possible to customize them even more than Gundam Breaker 2 allowed. Arms and legs and heads are still interchangeable, and players can now mount weapons to just about any part of a Gundam's frame.

Import Barrier: There's some text to get through if you're playing the Japanese version, but you needn't bother. There's an Asian release of Gundam Breaker 3 with English menus and subtitles for the story scenes.

Domestic Release: Bandai Namco seems to favor Gundam Extreme Versus Force for now. It's due out here later in the year, and they don't want another Gundam to distract from it.

Best Detail: The arcade-owning old woman who uses Asimovian laws to rip off little kids at the prize-catcher machines.

ROSE AND THE OLD CASTLE OF TWILIGHT
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PS Vita
AKA: Rose to Tasogare no Kojo

I like some things about htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. It has a frustrating trial-and-error mindset, but it casts a compelling atmosphere over its tale of an antlered girl and her firefly companions treading through a dilapidated factory. The creators liked the idea so much that they returned to it in the slightly more conventional Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight.

As in Firefly Diary, Rose and the Old Castle of Twilight finds a silent girl with strange surroundings and stranger powers. She has thorny vines growing from her back, and she's stuck in a mysterious castle seemingly leached of all color. Her only ally is an egg-shaped stone creature with a swirly emblem on it. I'd say it represents the Dreamcast, but this isn't a Neptunia game.

Rose and the swirly giant make their way through the castle's mist-shrouded confines in a side-scrolling fashion. Rose can drain the blood-red energy from certain things and give it to others, thus slowing down enemies or powering dead machines. The giant can't do that, but it can lift heavy objects and tote Rose around undamaged. The castle environs reveal little vignettes, and everything's wrapped in an eerie, abstract aura that enhances the somewhat mundane pull-this-lever puzzles. It's creepy and compelling, even if the slow pace leaves it far from Mario or Sonic's antics.

Import Barrier: The gameplay itself relies little on text, but the backstory's revelations need some knowledge of Japanese. And the Vita's still region-free.

Domestic Release: Likely. Nippon Ichi hasn't announced any plans for Rose and the giant, but they believe in Firefly Diary enough to port it to the PC.

Best Detail: A little crown on the giant's head in promotional artwork. It doesn't have one at the start of the game, so questions arise.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
So what happened with Dead or Alive Xtreme 3? The game, a beachside spin-off of Tecmo Koei's fighting series, touched off a real firestorm after the company let slip that it wouldn't come to North America. The reason? Its depictions of women in revealing swimwear and suggestive mini-games…and perhaps the mediocre sales of previous Xtreme games. Fans vowed to buy the import PlayStation 4 and Vita versions, including an English-language Asian release. What they have is a predictable exercise in titillation, where camera angles swing to the player's choosing and bikini tops can snap away if one of the Dead or Alive women moves too carelessly. Yet it's lacking in comparison to previous Xtreme cash-ins, as it offers no multiplayer features or jetski races. Even the casino has fewer diversions. But hey, the pole-dancing scenes are back.

Summon Night 6: Lost Borders landed on the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 in April, delivering a strategy-RPG with a sharp cel-shaded look. It's set in the world of Fillujah (wait a sec…) and stars a number of Summon Night characters, including Aty of recent Project X Zone 2 guest spots. Those interested in a translation might want to wait; news of an English-version for Asia was quickly retracted, but someone spotted English PSN trophies for the game.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

MEGATAGMENSION BLANC + NEPTUNE VS ZOMBIES
Developer: Compile Heart / Tamsoft
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: May 10
Zombies: Prevalent on the Dreamcast
MSRP: $39.99

The Neptunia games are parodies in theory, and nothing parodies pop culture trends these days like sticking zombies somewhere for no good reason. Of course, one could easily argue that Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies wallows in the trend just as much as it satirizes it, but this wouldn't be the first time a Neptunia game tried to double dip. It's a series where anime heroines transform into sexed-up high-tech goddesses that symbolize game systems, and it mocks as much as it exploits.

MegaTagmension takes place at Game Academy, where the heroines of the Neptunia series try to prevent their school closing amid declining attendance and plummeting nationwide birth rates (timely, no?). Goofball heroine Neptune decides to make a zombie movie to get attention, with the normally distant Blanc deigning to write and direct it. Yet an actual zombie outbreak occurs, and the Neptunia heroines are left fighting for their comical lives while trying to make a horror flick turned documentary.

Like Neptunia U Action Unleashed, MegaTagmension sheds the RPG mechanics of the central Neptunia titles. Instead, it's a brawler where heroines roam arenas thronged with a mixture of undead beasts and typical Neptunia series enemies—such as blob-bears with zombie makeup and stitches. The playable cast is large, including everyone from twins Ram and Rom (they're the DS) to Peashy (who's the TurboGrafx/PC Engine), and it's possible to switch between two character mid-battle or tag-team with four players (hence the “tag” part, I presume). Sadly, the zombies in question don't include game-system metaphors, so you won't get to hack away at a legion of brain-eating Atari Jaguars or Bandai Pippins. These zombies appear to be ashen-skinned ghouls resembling obese otaku or apelike version of Large Marge from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.

If nothing else, MegaTagmension is a small victory for those who still consider the PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo 3DS at war. Blanc is the avatar of Nintendo consoles, but the game with her first starring role lands on the Vita. Good for you, Vita.

RAIDEN V
Developer: Moss
Publisher: Moss
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: May 11
Miclus: Yes
MSRP: TBA

I'm not one to pretend that games were uniformly better in eras past, but I will say that the years ate away at a Raiden game's appeal. In the 1990s, Raiden was a quarter-sucking ubershooter, luring us with the spectacle of blue lasers and machine guns destroying flights of jets and tanks and aerial battleships all more detailed than any other shooter at the arcade. And even if you died on the first stage, your ship at least burst apart with a dramatic crackling explosion that destroyed nearby foes. Very satisfying.

Twenty-five years and dozens of imitators later, developer Moss remembers a lot of the traditions for Raiden V. It has the tiny jet fighter navigating a storm of projectiles, the little medals (and Miclus dragon) that appear in wreckage, and the straight blue laser and tangling purple beam (and the red gattling barrage that I always avoided getting). And while it's still a vertical shooter with the usual doses of perspective twists, Raiden V evolved to match modern genre fixations. The weapons now upgrade extensively as the player gathers power-ups, and they can assume new targeting methods, like the purple lasers homing spheres. There's some minimal attempt at a storyline, as your commanding officers perpetually stare at you from one of the game's border displays.

The other side of the screen might prove more interesting, as it has readouts for the mission's progress and a section where fellow players can cheer each other on in a social-media simulacrum. Of course, they need to be playing at the same time to take full advantage of that system, and Raiden V seems a niche title. So shooter fans should stick together.

RAY GIGANT
Developer: Experience, Inc.
Publisher: Acttil
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: May 3
Best Monster: The Biggest One
MSRP: $29.99

Experience Inc. is a force in dungeon-hack RPGs, and Ray Gigant may be their most ambitious yet...at least in appearances. It unfolds in a world that's once again laid waste by enormous monsters and once again given its only salvation through young man with a mysterious power. His name is Ichiya, and he soon meets up with like-minded saviors of the world, including the rough-edged Kyle and the gluttonous Nil. The storyline spans three different arcs, each focusing on one of the three protagonists and a new assortment of supporting characters.

Ray Gigant follows the Experience template for dungeon-crawls, as the player's trio of explorers forages through angular mazes and endures turn-based battles with various monsters. Yet it all looks sharper this time around: enemies show more detail, characters look like anime cutouts, and the titular Gigants get utterly enormous. Battles revolve around managing action points, and if you can't destroy foes within ten turns, Parasite Mode will deplete your life energy with each action. Faced with such a choice, you can ignite Slash Beat Mode, a rhythmic mini-game involving music-matching and self-mutilation. Fun times for all.

The more elaborate visuals of Ray Gigant come with a price, as it seems a little easier than Experience's previous RPGs. Still, it's an attempt at bringing dungeon hacks to an audience that demands more striking melodrama with their RPGs, and at that it may yet succeed. Ray Gigant is technically out already, but it's one of those games that tends not to get noticed. It's a digital-only release from Acttil. Or is it acttil? Either way, they're a small, quiet publisher.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
May is full of big-name releases, and the first is Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. It finds protagonist Nathan Drake retired and married, but his presumed-dead brother shows up to kick off a scheme about some mythic pirate colony out by Madagascar. And so Uncharted 4 continues the series tradition of gorgeous action sequences, though this time around it adds dialogue options so Drake can quip more diversely.

It's a quiet month for Nintendo, but you'll find Pocket Card Jockey on the 3DS eShop right about now. It's a horse-racing sim where players supply their chosen steeds with energy by…playing solitaire. The combination works far better than you might expect, as it's the work of Game Freak. You might remember them as the developers of Mendel Palace, Pulseman, and something called Pokemon.


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


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