The X Button
Bandai Namco's Anime Wave

by Todd Ciolek,
When the Pokemon craze enveloped children everywhere in the late 1990s, comedians and parents and cultural pundits opined that it would soon give way to some other fad. I wonder if any of them still predict that. Bolstered by Nintendo at every turn, Pokemon achieved a goal coveted by any toy, game, or TV series: it lasted long enough that the kids who enjoyed it in the '90s are now old enough to have kids of their own…who probably like Pokemon themselves.

That's why Pokemon fans of all ages eagerly watched the new trailer for Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon, which arrive on the 3DS this November 18. The games, presumably variants on the same general plot, introduce the 3-D environments of the tropical Alola region in which players capture and train their Pokemon. As tradition dictates, Sun and Moon also debut three all-new beasties for the player to select at the beginning of the game.

The new starters are the smiling seal-like Popplio, the dyspeptic fire-flecked cat Litten, and the utterly precious Rowlet, who sports a leafy bow-tie. Just about everyone loves Rowlet so far, who brings to mind the unsurmountable cuteness of Andy Runton's Owly comics.

Of course, the trailer also brings up the more unpleasant part of Pokemon: you're training these little creatures to fight each other. So when you pick Rowley or Popplio, just remember that you'll watch them suffer dozens of elemental and melee attacks throughout the game. Good thing that Litten, being a cat, doesn't care one way or the other.

NEWS

PERSONA 5 IS GORGEOUS AND PROBABLY CLICHED
Persona 5 brought several things last week: a new trailer, a September 15 release date for Japan, and at least three new characters. It's taking shape nicely, even if the game remains an RPG about high-schoolers moonlighting as thieves and facing monstrous creatures in Tokyo's abstract underworld.

On a visual level, the new trailer is stunning. The player-named protagonist and his fellow thieves race through twisted art galleries, collapsing pyramids, cascading art panels, futuristic fleets of hovering platforms, and high-society clubs. The monsters range similarly: a sleazy, fly-winged humanoid, like a Leisure Suit Baxter Stockman, taunts the heroes in one scene, while a towering griffin swipes at them in another. Even the ranking screens after a battle are slick pieces of work.

That said, Persona 5 still relies on a lot of old standards. The entire Shin Megami Tensei series is a mixture of novel, oft-grotesque imagery and storyline clichés, often grating down its twisted concepts to tales of teenagers once again taking down demonic forces.

You can see this in the three new characters introduced in the latest Persona 5 trailer. Makoto Niijima is a hardened honor student who dons spiked armor in her thieving forays. Futaba Sakura is a cocky computer genius driven to seclusion by some unfortunate mishap. Haru Okumura is a vain rich girl who styles herself as a “beautiful thief” and possible rival of the main characters. I'm sure they'll prove interesting beyond the usual RPG high-schooler archetypes, but I wish the Persona series ventured into less orthodox grounds.

Persona 2 and the spin-off Catherine explored the lives of adult characters, so why can't Persona 5 do the same? Most of the adults seen in the trailer are either mysterious gatekeepers (including the recurring Velvet Room staff), openly wicked antagonists, or clueless shmoes like the above egg-shaped man, who apparently has a heart attack just to exhibit the dangers of an evil presence. Or maybe the hero and his thieving friends are stealing this ovoid fellow's demon-infected soul. We have room to speculate.

Turning to a question that more people care about, I wonder when Persona 5 will arrive here. Atlus lists it with a 2016 release date, and some still hold out hope for a simultaneous release in all regions. That probably won't happen (mostly because it'd face off against Final Fantasy XV), but it's a comfort to think we'll be playing Persona 5 by the year's end.

STORY OF SEASONS GETS A SMALL FURRY ALLY
The Harvest Moon Wars now rage on three fronts. Story of Seasons: Good Friends of Three Villages is currently in development for the 3DS, Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories saw a disappointing early release on iOS and Android (with PC and Wii U versions ahead), and the spiritually similar indie game Stardew Valley might have usurped the crown with a successful Steam debut. When it comes to laid-back farming-dating simulators, however, Story of Seasons: Good Friends of Three Villages has one advantage: Hamtaro.

The cuddly little hamster and star of anime, manga, storybooks, and merchandise will appear as a pet in the next Story of Seasons outing. Players can raise him just as they would any other animal in the game, which finds the player starting a farm and supplying crops and other goods to three different towns.

XSEED Games hasn't mentioned if Hamtaro will make it into the North American version of the game. It seems likely, but these guest stars sometimes snag on rights issues. I can't see why any company would deem Hamtaro inappropriate for North America, though. Now, if Story of Seasons hosted Ebichu…

PHOENIX WRIGHT LANDS SUBTITLE, DIGITAL-ONLY RELEASE
I can understand why Capcom made the latest Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game a digital-only release in the West. The series is caught in that unpleasant mid-space where it's popular enough to localize, but not profitable enough to get an actual cartridge and case and some pre-order trinket. The game very easily could go untranslated, which is what happened to Ace Attorney Investigations 2 and The Great Ace Attorney.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice sends its endlessly beleaguered protagonist to the kingdom of Khura'in, which has no need for lawyers in its murder trials. That's because a mystic pool, overseen by royal priestess Rayfa Padma Khura'in, shows a victim's final vision right there in court. This introduces a new gameplay conceit and, more importantly, puts the visiting Phoenix Wright at odds with Rayfa and the rest of the Khura'in justice system. Meanwhile, his protégés Apollo and Athena try to handle cases of their own back in Japan a Western nation that's supposed to be Los Angeles, but the series is barely pretending anymore.

Spirit of Justice has another hook for series fans. Phoenix visits Khura'in in the first place so he can help Maya Fey, his former assistant and legally helpful spirit medium. Maya's one of the most prominent characters in the entire Ace Attorney series, and her absence was noted in both Apollo Justice and Dual Destinies. Fans actively debate whether her relationship with Phoenix is pure friendship or a case of stifled crushes, which may unfold now that both characters are older. With those fan arguments in mind, I suggest that Capcom give the game a new subtitle.

I suspect that Capcom will not listen to me, however, and so you'll find Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice on the 3DS eShop in September.

FEATURE: BANDAI NAMCO'S ANIME WAVE

By Heidi Kemps

One thing is clear about Bandai-Namco's global business strategy: their anime-based games aren't merely an afterthought. Those “Play Anime” displays you've seen in Best Buy and other big retailers? Those are part of a big push to get anime-themed games into the hands of more mainstream fans and buyers. It's paid off, too: Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 outsold the likes of Street Fighter V in its debut month, which is no small feat. And as a result of the Play Anime initiative's success, we're getting more localizations from Bandai Namco Entertainment than ever before.

The company held a big open house event recently, and I got hands-on time with a bunch of their upcoming anime- and manga-flavored offerings.

JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE: EYES OF HEAVEN
For their second outing in the Jojo universe, developer CyberConnect2 is taking a somewhat different approach. Rather than the one-on-one fighting of All-Star Battle, Eyes of Heaven is a two-on-two arena fighter where duos of Jojo characters battle each other in arenas lifted straight from the comics. While this shift might be disappointing to some who felt like there could have been some potential in ASB's fighting engine with proper tweaking, the change does allow for improvement in another crucial area: fanservice.

One of All-Star Battle's biggest disappointments was the single-player mode, which basically retold the manga in boring text dumps while tossing in some fights every so often. Thankfully, the team behind Eyes of Heaven realized just how bad that was and are giving Jojo fans a completely new story for this title. The two-on-two format allows for the timeline-meshing, dimension-shattering story to put some unlikely teams together, and—speaking as a massive Jojo fan here—seeing dual Josukes fight a team of Wamuu and Diavolo is satisfying on a giddy, fanfiction-fantasy level.

The game itself, from my brief time with it, seems like a perfectly serviceable arena fighter as well. There were a few nuances I didn't quite grasp in the matches I played—there's a lot of new things you can do with your CPU-controlled partner character assisting—but what I did manage to pull off was super cool. The Dual Heat Attacks in particular are a ton of fun: you and your partner character use a mix of your most powerful technique to lay down some serious hurt on the unlucky opponent in range.

Eyes of Heaven is probably not going to win any awards for exceptionally deep gameplay, but between the gorgeous visuals CC2 is known for and the heaps of fanservice, being simply fun to play ought to be enough to carry it to being a worthwhile time investment for series fans.

SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION
Hollow Realization is the next game in the series, making an appearance on both the PS4 and PS Vita. (Bandai Namco seems to be one of the last big publishers determined to support Sony's little portable to the end, and that's pretty darn admirable of them.) It was shown in a very early state: the title isn't even out in Japan yet, but they had an English demo ready to go for us. There wasn't much to see—just a single mission—but what was there felt a lot truer to SAO's core premise of MMORPG adventuring than previous games. You have a party of four characters (including a roster of numerous SAO favorites) and go out on various monster-slaying quests. In classic PC MMO style, your commands (and their various cooldowns) are spread across the bottom of the screen, adding to that “you're playing THE REAL MMO!” feel that's been weirdly absent in a lot of fake-MMO games.

That isn't to say the game is completely offline. There will be online modes, though details on those are still quite sparse. In single-player mode, you can issue advice and directives to your CPU-controlled partners and, through coordination, rack up a damage-multiplying combo counter. When your team synergy is running high you can unleash mega-powerful chain techniques. We're sure to be seeing a lot more of Hollow Realization leading up to its fall launch, so while impressions are a bit sparse right now, there will be a lot more down the line.

You might be surprised to hear just how well the SAO game adaptations have been doing for Bandai Namco: the rep I talked to mentioned that the Vita games have sold exceptionally well on PSN, ranking amongst the top games on the service. Not bad for a series that doesn't quite have the mainstream recognition of Dragon Ball or Naruto.

ONE PIECE: BURNING BLOOD
Those who only know Spike Chunsoft for the DanganRonpa series might be a little confused as to why they're involved with a One Piece title. The company actually does have quite an action pedigree, though: they're behind the long-running Kenka Bancho series of juvenile delinquent beat-em-ups. They're also behind last year's J-Stars Victory Vs.+, which means they already have a bit of experience bringing Luffy and friends to life. And from what I've seen so far, Burning Blood looks to have serious potential.

Like J-Stars, the game is a team-based fighter, though the scope has increased and you'll be managing teams of up to three fighters. The amount of characters in any given encounter ups the degree of chaos noticeably over J-Stars, which isn't a knock against the game; It's a game more or less built around chaos. Stringing attacks together for big, bombastic combos and Devil Fruit-powered special attacks is satisfying on both a visual and a gameplay level.

I'll admit that I'm not really up on One Piece—there are only so many long-running Shonen Jump series a single human is capable of keeping track of—but I'd think most fans would be pleased with the amount of cast members (forty!) in the roster here. Visually, it's not quite up to the same level of Eyes of Heaven, but CC2's graphical game is a tough one to top, so I won't fault them for that.

The best One Piece games on the market, I'd argue, are the Pirate Warriors games, but Burning Blood looks like it could put up a pretty solid challenge. The game will be hitting PS4, XBOne, Vita, and PCs later this month, so you won't have to heat up your plasma for too much longer.

AND THE REST
God Eater 2: Rage Burst and God Eater Resurrection were both shown at the event. It's been a long time since the series appeared on our shores, and seeing it return after a long hiatus is quite encouraging. The release schedule is a bit confusing to those who aren't familiar with the franchise: God Eater Resurrection, an enhanced version of the PSP God Eater Burst is coming to Steam, PS4, and Vita on June 28, while God Eater 2: Rage Burst will appear on the same set of platforms in August. That's a whole lotta Aragami-killing in a short timeframe, but after such a long drought, it's almost a relief to get a flood of God Eater related content. I played both games briefly and can confirm that, yes, they are God Eater games, and yes, they are a lot of fun. If you're looking for something in a Monster Hunter vein with a harder, more anime-influenced edge to hit, either (or both!) God Eater(s) ought to scratch your itch nicely.

Gundam Extreme VS Force on Vita was also shown, though I wasn't able to play very much of it. The demo on display was pretty simple: a few selectable mobile suits and a not-quite-fully-translated yet interface. While it might not be the console, online two-on-two versus console experience the diehard fans are clamoring for, its mere existence outside of Japan is an encouraging baby step to getting further installments in the series. The release date for this one is still up in the air. Hopefully we'll hear more about it at E3.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

VALKYRIA CHRONICLES REMASTERED
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: May 17
Racism: Is Bad
MSRP: $29.99

If you think Sega fell on hard times recently, take comfort in Valkyria Chronicles. It arrived on the PlayStation 3 in 2008 and continued through two sequels, an anime series, some manga, a PC port, and now this Remastered edition. Of course, it wasn't popular enough for Sega to localize Valkyria Chronicles III for the PSP, but that's a messy situation all around.

The original Valkyria Chronicles is essentially about World War II. Not the actual World War II, mind you. This is Europa, not Europe, and instead of nations warring over bellicose landgrabs and a baffling web of alliances, the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation are driven to bloodshed over a precious mineral called Ragnite. When the empire invades a small town in Gallia (not France) in 1935, Welkin Gunther finds himself in charge of a loose-knit squad consisting of officer Alicia Melchiott, his stepsister Isara, and a motley band of soldiers with their own quirks and ethnic biases. On the empire's side, we find Selvaria Bles, a blue-haired warrior who wields the near-mythic powers of the Valkyrian race.

So unfolds a tale that tries to blend tragic warfare, chipper anime style, and ham-handed plot devices. In that light it's possible that players may grow more fond of the side characters than the central cast. Main characters are spared permanent demises during gameplay, but the lesser-seen members of Welkin's unit still have their personal tales, and if you leave them injured and unevacuated for too long, they're dead and their stories as lost with them. You monster.

Valkyria Chronicles casts its battles in 3-D fields where characters move, target foes, and share quips often too perky for the horrors of a continent-wide war. As strategy-RPGs go, it affords far more freedom than the grids and limitations of other genre outings, as players can snipe, toss grenades, drive tanks, and otherwise move as long as their action meters allow. It all looks much sharper in the Remastered edition, and the game includes previously download-only extra missions, some about Selvaria and others about aspiring actress/singer Edie Nelson. Even the 1930s had pop idols.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
The PlayStation 4 remake of the Shadow of Beast arrives, revamping a 1989 side-scroller considered a classic by…well, people who owned Amiga computers, mostly. The original game isn't very good apart from its then-extravagant looks and soundtrack, but that doesn't rule out the new version succeeding.

Next week may also have the much-delayed PC version of puzzle-platformer htoL#NiQ, a sluggish yet gloomily compelling tale of an antlered heroine's trek through wreckage and memory. I hope the PC version finally comes out, because I'm tired of typing its title.


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


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