San Diego Comic-Con International 2013
The X Button at Comic Con: Saturday, July 20

by Todd Ciolek,
Lightning Returns smacks of desperation in its title. So maybe you didn't like Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII, and maybe you actually wanted her back after spending most of Final Fantasy XIII-2 controlling her less interesting sister, Serah. So now she's front and center in the last chunk of Final Fantasy XIII, and Square Enix will make you care about her, even it it means sticking her in all sorts of costumes.

Those costumes are key to the battles that unfold throughout Lightning Returns. Our heroine makes her way around with jumping and slashing abilities that would suit an action-game lead, and combat now maps attacks and spells to the controller's face buttons. It's still an RPG, of course, so Lightning has to wait for each move to regenerate before she can use it again. Fortunately, she's also able to switch costumes rapidly to change her repertoire of moves. Her basic (and ugly) outfit includes both magic bolts and sword strikes, but a switch to the more revealing sorceress getup grants more powerful spells...and a sultrier victory pose. Which seems at odds with the no-nonsense Lightning we met in prior games.

If the demo sets up an interesting battle system, it also suggests that the overall storyline of Final Fantasy XIII goes unrepaired. Lightning chases Snow around, chats a bit with Hope, and intersperses her dialogue with gibberish about chaos and energy and whatnot. Then a girl shows up, looking like Lightning and Serah's youngest sister, and the conversation gets pretentious even for Final Fantasy. At least the gameplay suffers little for it. If Square Enix can keep up the pacing through Lightning Returns, it may be the best of Final Fantasy XIII's experiments.

The good news: Crimson Dragon is a lot like Panzer Dragoon. Everyone expected this from the game's first appearance, since director Yukio Futatsugi was behind the first three Panzer Dragoons. Yet it's nice to play the proof, just as it's nice to see the game working with an actual controller instead of the Kinect interface that confined it back when the game was an Xbox 360 title.

Well, Crimson Dragon is now an Xbox One game, and it's pure Panzer. The player steers with one analog stick and aims with the other, a improvement on the original Panzer Dragoons. The demo also gave the creature two attacks at any time: the typical lock-on lasers and a broader, lighting-bolt release seemingly made for large flocks of enemies.

This brief look at Crimson Dragon had the monstrous bosses and arcane science-fantasy scenery any Panzer fan might want, but it also didn't feel terribly new. The Panzer Dragoon, classics they may be, are built on the old idea of a rail shooter, and Crimson Dragon doesn't venture far from that. Will longtime fans be satisfied with the same thing just because they've been so long without it? Yeah, I'd say so.

Worries about Bayonetta 2 watering down the original's nuthouse carnage are allayed seconds into the Comic Con demo of the game. It dumps the title heroine (and her new bobbed hairstyle) onto a F22-ish jet fighter that screams through a city. Glittery angel-centaurs board it, and Bayonetta fights them off with her familiar arsenal of gun-heels, slashes, and hair-based magic. Then something nasty appears to slice the jet in half, something even nastier appears to chase Bayonetta on a train, and an especially nasty skyscraper-sized dragon demon shows up to close out the demo.

As with the original Bayonetta, the whole thing feels as though it might come off the rails at any second. The hair-witch heroine moves so quickly and so fluidly that it sometimes takes seconds for you to realize that she's miraculously dodged an attack or slammed an angelic warrior into a system of magically summoned gears. In other words, it's the same Bayonetta that many loved in the past. The demo didn't mix in any missile-hopping shooter stages or show off many new attacks, but it didn't need to when Bayonetta glided around a lizard-beast the size of an international airport.

Being a Wii U game, Bayonetta 2 uses the system's touch-screen controller for special attacks and spells, and it was telling that few at Nintendo's demo even bothered with the option. They went straight to the traditional control setup, much like Bayonetta 2 itself seems to favor.

There's talk that Sega waited too long on the Hatsune Miku phenomenon, that the green-haired virtual idol isn't quite as popular now as she was two or three years prior. I suspect they're wrong for two reasons: Miku's still big enough in Japan to show up on Domino's Pizza boxes, and Project Diva F is a rather enjoyable rhythm game even without any knowledge of who the hell Hatsune Miku is.

In fact, Project Diva F might even be more enjoyable if you're unfamiliar with the insidiously cute pop icon who grew out of the Vocaloid music-synth programs. That way she'll be just another anime girl who capers in the background and starts West Side Story-esque street dance-offs with her Vocaloid rivals, and not an eerie reminder of how the world grows less real by the day. Existential quandaries aside, Project Diva F isn't bad. It's a simple case of pressing buttons as they fly across the screen, but the levels shown in the demo mixed things up by hurling buttons from every angle. Harder modes require more timing and double-button presses, and like most music games it's unwilling to give you a good score without some practice.

Miku's music is still bleepy pop, but it seems well-matched to a video game, as are the backdrops of Miku and her relations twirling and prancing about their virtual domains. There's little question that this will please existing fans of Miku, but it also deserves notice from anyone who enjoys a rhythm game.

This being the last column for the convention, it's time to recognize some of the standouts in Comic-Con's video game selection.

MadCatz threw an amazing party at a local science center, thoughtfully letting attendees play with the exhibits as much as they did the fighting games. But the most blatant adventure in advertising was aboard Ubisoft's pirate ship outfitted entirely to shill Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

It wasn't just the sails and rigging, either. The entire ship was littered with displays and information about the alleged “golden age of pirates” and just how it relates to the next major Assassin's Creed. True, the DJ and dance pit were perhaps historically inaccurate.

Seeing Nintendo back the hyperviolent Bayonetta 2 was surprising. Seeing it playable alongside the latest Pokemon and Pikmin games at Comic-Con was a tad curious. Seeing a woman dressed up as Bayonetta and posing with attendees was surreal for anyone with a childhood dominated by Nintendo's squeaky-clean image.

Sadly, this Bayonetta did not stage absurdly over-the-top battles with Nintendo's giant Pikachu or Luigi, but the costume is very impressive.

Nintendo's elaborate lounge celebrated the Year of Luigi with banners, demos of Super Luigi Bros. Wii, and a guest book where visitors could write out messages wishing Luigi well.

Most of the messages were pleasant (aside from some strangely personal ones), but a few would-be comedians denigrated Luigi upon the occasion. Nintendo reps weren't always there to stop their unkind scrawlings, and the book had a few entries redacted with white-out. Well, no one ever said Luigi had it easy.

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