This Week in Games - The Sudden Rise of Fanservice Games

by Dustin Bailey,

Before anything else, you need to start your day off right. There are unlockable videos in Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World, and Nintendo put one of them up on Youtube. It is so utterly, incomprehensibly adorable that it even elicited an audible “d'aaawww” from my cold heart.

I've spent the weekend digging into Gravity Rush Remastered in preparation for the sequel's upcoming release, and I like it a lot. The back half of the story is resulting in a lot of repetitive objectives, but the core gravity-bending is so entertaining I'm even going back to get gold medals in all the challenge missions, which is a rarity for me. One question remains, though: How does Kat put on her ridiculous outfit? Luckily, character designer Shinsuke Saito has you covered. (Which is more than we can say for Kat.)

I also played the free part of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone, which shows off a couple tracks before you have to buy either of the two 100+ song packs. And, well, look. I may have said some dismissive things about Miku and Project Diva in the past, but that seems like a real good rhythm game.

Here's a fun curiosity—it looks like a legit copy of Stadium Events, the ultra-rare NES title Nintendo forced Bandai to recall, hit eBay this week, complete and in incredible condition. Barring the possibility of a troll bidder (the winner has over 500 feedback), this gem went for a cool $30k.

We've got a few news bits (and butts) down below, but the biggest news of the day has yet to hit. The night after this article is published, Nintendo will run their official Switch presentation, which is expected to reveal price, a specific release date, and actually confirm what games are coming to the platform. Reminder: if Nintendo sticks with their original announcement, that thing's out in like two months. The stream is broadcasting from Tokyo, so it'll be a late night for Westerners—11PM Eastern. (If you're European, you have my sympathies.)

You can watch it yourself on Nintendo's site. Next week's column will run down all the hot details.

Opinion: The Sudden Rise of Fanservice Games

In my year-end column, I gave a special distinction to Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 as the “game most not worth the fuss.” It was certainly 2016's hottest import title, despite stripped-down features compared with previous releases and a general air of mediocrity. The reason why is obvious—boobs. But it's not just boobs. No, these boobs are filled with moral outrage.

If you're unfamiliar with the controversy—though that's statistically unlikely given that you're reading a gaming column attached to an anime site—these are the basics. Koei Tecmo announced that DOAX3 wouldn't be coming to the west despite the worldwide release of both previous titles. When asked why, someone involved with their social media said it was because of “issues” in “regard to how to treat female in video game industry.”

That was late in 2015, and given the wider, uglier culture war that was going on in gaming circles at the time—far too wide and ugly to talk about in more detail here—the non-release of the game became “A Thing.” Certain import outlets were happy to capitalize on the controversy, especially given the full English translation that came with the title's Asian release.

Was the controversy justified? There has certainly been a push in mainstream Western gaming to avoid the cartoonish sexualization of women that, for better or worse, defined female game characters throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Just as Lara Croft was a digital sex symbol in the 90s, her transformation in the Tomb Raider reboot to an actual human form became emblematic of a larger change in the gaming world.

The adage goes that “sex sells,” but Tomb Raider and the game industry as a whole started to change because sex wasn't selling quite enough anymore. Sexy women only sell to an audience interested in sexy women, and a strong majority of that audience is made of straight, young men who were already saturated with products catering to their interests. For AAA games to continue growing, they had expand the audience beyond that, and that meant toning back elements that would alienate non-traditional players from enjoying their games.

If you're into fanservice in your games, that's a bummer, especially as gaming media is increasingly disposed against holdovers of the old model like Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V and Cindy in Final Fantasy XV. Localization changes - with resultant controversy - have meant a little less sex appeal in games like Street Fighter V, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions.

When you happen to be watching with disappointment as all these things happen, it's easy to see the kerfuffle over Xtreme 3 as the latest fun thing the mainstream gaming nanny state won't let you have, and the anti-outrage outrage has gotten even louder than the voices that spawned it in the first place.

The dramatic irony of all this controversy is that it's actually created something akin to a golden age for games about boobs. The specific example of DOAX3 notwithstanding, 2016 saw the US release of a Senran Kagura for home consoles, the Valkyrie Drive game, and multitudinous fanservice-laden RPGs and fighting games. 2016 was also the year that a Gal*Gun game got an English release. Stop. Think about that for a second. Gal*Gun, a game completely predicated on "hey, schoolgirls" saw release outside of Japan.

Where AAA development saw diminishing returns on catering to a specific part of the fanbase, niche publishers saw a perfect way to market game that would previously never have been released outside of Japan to a market hungry for them. Those businesses don't have to expand their audience—rather, they're far better served by selling to their specific niche.

While cartoonish sexiness has largely been squeezed out of mainstream gaming, it is alive and well in a cavalcade of titles that would never previously have seen release outside of Japan, and regardless of any moral judgement you might have, it's hard to argue against the business realities that have made the divide what it is. In short, don't expect Senran Kagura to disappear from Western shores anytime soon.

NEWS

SCALEBOUND IS DONE

Not “done” as in “finished,” but “finished” as in “cancelled.” Microsoft Studios, which had partnered with Platinum to bring out the dragon-raising stylish action game, Scalebound, announced earlier this week that they were cancelling the project. They said the “decision was not made lightly,” but offered no specific reason for ending production.

That's surprising. Scalebound had gotten tepid responses in regards to anything beyond its fun concept and stylish look, but it seemed to be quite far along in development, and director Hideki Kamiya has been in charge of some of the greatest Japanese-developed games of all time. On Twitter he said “Sorry to bring you such bad news at the start of the year. All I can do for you is to promise to keep delivering fun games.” Kamiya added, “I'll work extra hard to never have to let you down like this again, so I hope you will keep watching over us in the future too.”

AWESOME GAMES DONE QUICK IS AWESOME, QUICK, AND GAMES, AND IT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW

Speedruns are cool. They bust open your favorite games and exploit things you never even thought were possible. You know what's also cool? Charity. Games Done Quick agrees with both of these suppositions, and they run a biannual weeklong marathon of speedruns, this time benefiting the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

It's been a productivity-busting companion throughout the my week, and if you haven't tuned in before I strongly recommend checking it out. I haven't had the chance to see it for myself, but the Super Mario Sunshine four-player race comes highly recommended.

2B'S BUTT, OR NOT 2B'S BUTT? THAT IS THE QUESTION

The new Nier: Automata demo is awesome. It's also been the butt of a few jokes. An image recently made the rounds that showed a peek up robot-protagonist 2B's skirt, and it seemed that digital booty was rendered with a little extra loving detail, with a shades of a robo-butthole strung up in a thong. Of course, that's asinine—robots don't poop—and once it turned out the added detail was a Photoshop, we thought that would be the end of it.

But like Tracer before her, 2B demonstrated that the internet won't stop obsessing with a butt once they've started thinking about it. Taro Yoko, Nier director and creepy moon mask enthusiast, was a bit perturbed by all the difficulties this controversy was causing. “Due to 2B's butt controversy, many outrageous drawings are being uploaded,” he said. “But collecting and passing them around is a pain, so it would be great if someone could zip them all up and distribute them every week.”

According to a later tweet, the internet obliged. Yoko was pleased.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

FATE/EXTELLA: THE UMBRAL STAR
Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: XSEED
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: January 17
MSRP: $59.99 / $39.99

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star is an action adaptation of the Fate franchise, set after the events of the Holy Grail War. You're cast in the role of a customizable master, but control one of sixteen playable servants on the battlefield in Musou-style action.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, originally released for PS3 back in 2015, makes the leap to Vita on the 17th.

Catch you next week, when we will at last put the rumors to bed and talk hard facts about the Switch!


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