The X Button New Day Rising
by Todd Ciolek,
It's always a fun time when a new model of a game console arrives, mostly because every argument about the system starts up afresh. The PlayStation 3 was due for a redesign at some point, since Sony released new versions of the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 when each system's popularity crested. The PS3 Slim, however, is arriving only a few years after the original PlayStation 3, making it a more interesting design choice for Sony. The Slim is billed as 36 percent lighter and 33 percent smaller (mostly in vertical measurement) than the older PS3, with Sony even emphasizing its reduced heat and power consumption. It comes with a 120 GB hard drive, though users apparently won't be able to install any third-party operating systems on it. The Slim's out on the first of September for $299, which is apparently the new price for all standard PlayStation 3 systems, regardless of their heft.
As someone nerdy enough to care about game consoles' appearances, I like the look of the PS3 Slim. There was nothing particularly wrong with the PS3's initial design, but I prefer the slightly darker, less shiny style of the Slim. Then again, I always preferred the sleek second version of the Sega Genesis over the original one (with its volume knob and headphone jack), and no one ever seems to agree with me there.
PERSONA 3 FES GETS PSP PORT, NEW HEROINE
Atlus, apparently tired of seeing NIS recklessly bring PlayStation 2 RPGs to the PSP, announced a portable version of Persona 3, a PS2 RPG which by this point is almost too popular to label as a mere cult favorite.
Portable, based on Persona 3 FES, introduces a heroine (complete with a female Orpheus persona) in addition to the original game's boy protagonist. That's the greatest change so far, and it appears to affect the storyline in numerous ways, even generating a new male assistant to accompany the new lead in the Velvet Room. Also helpful is the game's battle system, which will actually let players command characters individually, as things are in Persona 4 (and as they should be). These additions might well make Persona 3 Portable worth trying again for the game's devoted fans, and many of them will surely pick it up in Japan this November. Still, I can't help but note that Atlus has skipped Persona 2: Eternal Punishment and Persona 2: Innocent Sin, the latter of which never came out in English.
PRINCESS ANTIPHONA HAS APOLOGETIC RETREATS
The upcoming Princess Antiphona has much in common with other NIS games, and indeed other PSP RPGs across the board. Yet there's one innovation to its staid-looking battles: when you run away from enemies, you're forced to apologize to them with a bit of button-flailing. Perhaps there'll be a DS version that makes you talk into the system's microphone.
There's little news about a mysterious NIS game that apparently features customizable Prinny penguin-demons and a Disgaea-like Gatchaman hero. All we have is a flyer, albeit one that could suggest a sequel to this year's Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? PSP platformer.
ESP GALUDA II, MUSHIHIME-SAMA FUTARI SCHEDULED FOR 360
Cave is a strange company. Cave's responsible for some of the most amazing modern 2-D shooters in arcades, but Cave doesn't bring them to home systems as often or as quickly as a profit-minded developer should. Dangun Feveron, Guwange, Muchi Muchi Pork, and the stunning ESP Ra. De. have never been released on consoles, and it's only recently that Cave announced an Xbox 360 version of ESP Galuda II with improved graphics and some undisclosed new features.
The third in whatever trilogy was started in ESP Ra. De., Galuda II is a stunning little shooter with first-rate visual design and butterfly-winged heroes who can slow enemy bullets, thereby setting up point-building combos. Sadly, ESP Galuda II doesn't seem as popular as other Cave shooters, perhaps because it doesn't have pig-eared lingerie models or gothic grade-school witches or purple-haired schoolgirl princesses riding bugs.
Cave's Mushihime-sama Futari, however, has exactly that sort of schoolgirl princess to back its 2-D shooting, and it'll be coming out on the Xbox 360 first. A regular version and a soundtrack-bearing special package will ship in Japan this November. ESP Galuda II Black Label is out in the spring, and there's no U.S. release in sight for either. I've never been more annoyed by the Xbox 360's region-locking, which pretty much forces you to buy a Japanese system if you want to play Japanese games. How I miss the days of pass-through Super NES import adapters.
NEW BLAZBLUE CHARACTERS...MAYBE
So are we getting new BlazBlue characters or aren't we? No one really seems to know, though whoever wrote the press release for the game's European launch seems to think so. Said release alludes to “new gameplay content” that's “like new characters,” which is almost too dreadfully vague to get excited over.
Yet this is BlazBlue, and BlazBlue is building itself up a crazy fan base. New characters could mean anything from upgraded versions of lead duo Ragna and Jin to playable versions of the game's supporting cast: special agent Tsubaki, cat-people Kokonoe and Jubei, the butler Valkenhayn, or even Makoto (right), the squirrel-girl who's gotten a lot of attention for a character that fans can't even play. For now, though, this is all speculation. It's a little too early for a BlazBlue sequel, and an upgrade would likely add only one or two easily recreated characters. In other words, the smart money says no squirrel-people.
WEIRD-ASS IMPORT ROUNDUP: AUGUST
BLEACH DS 4TH FLAME BRINGER
Sega's new Bleach game is a little confusing. It's not by Treasure (or if it is, it's well-hidden), but it sure looks like the pair of 2-D fighting games that Treasure built around Bleach. Yet Bleach DS 4th: The Flame Bringer (Sega's wobbly numbering system sets it after Bleach: The 3rd Phantom) is more of a side-scrolling action game. Ichigo, Rukia, and a few other Bleach mainstays dart through stages that fill both the lower and uppers screens of the DS, and all of them unleash moves similar to the ones they possessed in Treasure's fighting games. There's more platforming jumping at work here, though, along with a card-based system of power-ups. The story, sure to have a wide-reaching effect on Bleach canon, involves Rukia being hijacked by a fiery sword to the point where Ichigo's required to snap her out of it by all possible violent means. At least she won't spend the game sitting imprisoned in a tower, wallowing in trite self-pity and driving away readers.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Pretty good. Bleach: The 3rd Phantom comes here next month, and it's a text-heavy strategy-RPG. The Flame Bringer has far less dialogue. Worry more about Treasure's upcoming Bleach Wii fighter not making it over.
DOKI MAJO PLUS
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Some see SNK's Doki Doki Majo series as a herald of some minor apocalypse, though I think it sounds more like an industrial prank: a game where the player talks to young women and examines them for the telltale signs of witchcraft. This deductive process involves the DS stylus poking and prodding the girls, who pant and shriek in humiliation. It'd be horrifying even if the hyper-cutesy artwork didn't make all of the characters look 10 years old. Doki Majo Plus, the third game in the series, basks in the shame of its predecessors, but with a tropical setting and a cruel joke at the expense of longtime SNK fans. See, one of the new suspected witches of Plus is Renge, a girl who just loves old video games (so much so that she has both the CD and cartridge versions of SNK's dear dead Neo Geo). Renge's storyline involves Star Radish, a self-contained 2-D shooter than SNK at first created as an April Fools' gag. Later, the company decided to make the game for real and put it inside another game. That larger game is Doki Majo Plus, in which you'll have to sit through copious witch-brutalizing if you want to play an old-fashioned shoot-'em-up. Then again, I doubt most of the Doki Doki Majo fan base will mind.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Not without a media outcry and some possibly justifiable arrests.
IROZUKI TINGLE NO KOI NO BALLOON TRIP
Nintendo has no character more divisive than Tingle. Fans ignored him in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, but The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker left many players either detesting the red-nosed fairy cosplayer or celebrating his pathetically amusing habits. For the latter party, Nintendo made Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupee Land and then released it everywhere but North America. Now Tingle returns with a new DS game that translates to “Sexy Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love.” Surprising a few fans, Tingle spends the game trying to win the affections of numerous women, most of whom reject him (and all of whom look as bizarre as Tingle and the world he inhabits). The game approaches such romance as a puzzle-based adventure, with Tingle wandering scenes, picking up items, and clearing obstacles with the help of three allies based on The Wizard of Oz. It's Tingle as he's always been; walking around in his underwear before he finds his green bodysuit, and then courting strange women with stranger gifts. I often get the impression that Nintendo has a few demented comedians that occasionally break out of the company's staid confines, and Tingle's new game does little to dissolve that idea. Chances for a Domestic Release: Tingle isn't popular over here, but Nintendo's been known to take a few chances. Unless you're talking about Mother 3, that is.
RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 8-23
DISSIDIA: FINAL FANTASY
Strange that it took Square Enix, master of exploiting all things Final Fantasy, this long to mix up another fighting game involving the franchise. Perhaps that's because 1999's Ehrgeiz is remembered for its Final Fantasy VII cameos and little else. Yet Dissidia isn't a generic 3-D fighter with Cloud and Tifa tossed in as bonuses. It's an arena brawler that features heroes and antagonists from throughout the Final Fantasy series, all of them shown in fairly impressive 3-D visuals on the PSP. Battles involve standard power meters and fighting-game attacks, with the environments also coming into play for some maneuvers. The roster plays it almost disappointingly straight, plucking each Final Fantasy's main character and villain instead of the more interesting fighters. Dissidia draws in a “warrior of light," Garland, and Chaos from Final Fantasy; Firion and the Emperor from Final Fantasy II; an onion knight and an evil cloud from Final Fantasy III, Cecil and Golbez from Final Fantasy IV; Bartz and Exdeath from Final Fantasy V; Terra and Kefka from Final Fantasy VI; Cloud and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII; Squall and Ultimecia from Final Fantasy VIII; Zidane and Kuja from Final Fantasy IX; and Tidus and Jecht from Final Fantasy X. You'll also see Shantotto from Final Fantasy XI, Judge Gabranth from Final Fantasy XII, and the all-new “Cosmos.” Do you want the most memorable of Final Fantasy's supporting characters, like Rydia and Balthier and Yuffie? Well, wait for the sequel.
HARVEST MOON: FRANTIC FARMING|
Free Stuff: What? No stuffed animals for preorders?
Harvest Moon has been a successful game franchise for well over ten years. And what's the first step in spin-offs for a successful game franchise? Puzzle games. Puzzle De Harvest Moon went in that direction back in 2007, and most critics were unimpressed with its somewhat bizarre combination of tile-switching puzzler and farming simulator. Frantic Farming is a bit more approachable: the DS stylus moves crops around on the lower screen, providing them with water and making it easier for a traveling sprite to harvest them. If all of the crops are positioned right, the sprite will set off combos and high-score surprises on his/her/its journey. The story mode has 12 characters, and Natsume promises actual plots for each. Don't expect the spouse-courting, livestock-raising elements of the previous Harvest Moons.
MANA KHEMIA 2: FALL OF ALCHEMY|
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 2
Free Stuff: The Limited Edition includes a soundtrack and a poster.
I'll give Mana Khemia 2 credit for doing something with an old RPG cliché. You know how countless games have floating castles and islands? Well, Mana Khemia's setting, the Al-Revis Academy, actually plummets from its aerial home and ends up in dire condition at the start of Mana Khemia 2. In this beleaguered center of learning, players control one of two students: the angsty swordsman Rozeluxe or the more easygoing Ulrika. Each lead presents a pleasantly separate storyline, featuring different central bunches of students and teachers. As in the first Mana Khemia, there's a heavy reliance on alchemic item generation, with the main characters getting assignments and grades in simulated classes. When not in classes, Roze and Ulrika build relationships with other students, explore nearby areas, and hack through the game's somewhat rudimentary battle system. It's as close to the Harry Potter blueprint as you'll find in an anime RPG, and I imagine that suits many fans of the genre just fine.
PROFESSOR LAYTON AND THE DIABOLICAL BOX|
Developer: Level 5
“Diabolical Box” sounds like the mistranslated foreign title to a Hellraiser movie, but this is the second game in the Professor Layton line, which has turned gentle understatement and taxing puzzles into a profitable game series (and even an anime off-shoot). The box in question comes to Layton and his assistant Luke's attention when it apparently murders a man, the latest fatality in a curse that follows the object's owners. While investigating the ensuing mystery, Layton is faced with all sorts of puzzles; not Tetris-style block puzzles, but the sort of logical challenges that involve visual reasoning, spatial deduction, and other elements of any free IQ test. The ancillary diversions also increase in Diabolical Box, as Layton can now train a pet hamster, build a camera, and accomplish other day-to-day tasks by earning Picarats with each puzzle solved. New puzzles might also be available to download, but....ehhh, we'll see.
EXTRA LIVES: ANIME-BASED GAMES THAT SHOULD'VE BEEN
(Note to readers: From now on, Extra Lives will appear in The X Button every other week, to spare me from a madness brought about by playing too many horrible old anime cash-ins. The rest of the column will still run weekly.)
Most anime-based games fail for the same reasons: they're cheaply made, they're unimaginative, and they do little with the material they're adapting. All too often, a game takes a gripping, energetic anime series, prime ground for an equally hectic shooter or brawler, and completely sucks the life out of it. At other times, a game tries to turn a mediocre anime series into something entertaining, with rare success. This is all a blatant injustice, and we can at least call some attention to it by brainstorming the games that we'd like to see. Feel free to suggest your own.
Rei Hiroe's giant manga paean to violent crime cinema is all about shooting things, with occasional forays into knife-throwing, chainsaw-slashing, or general explosions. Its anime version is practically a hyperviolent video game already, albeit one that clings to some measure of reality. Mercurial Revy, easygoing Rock, and their assortment of rivals and half-crazy allies all inhabit a thoroughly Hollywood world, with just enough actual-life references to give the narrative some weight, or, in the minds of its critics, drag the whole thing off the rails.
Just as Hiroe's creation strives for a hard-boiled criminal air, any Black Lagoon game might be better off sticking to the ideals of Max Payne or Mafia instead of exuberant anime styles. Or perhaps Black Lagoon would work best in the vein of Sega's Yakuza series, with mobster politics and side quests eating up as much of the game as bloodbaths.
No one's bothered with Black Lagoon games just yet. The manga may be popular enough for a third season of anime, but it's far from the hallowed ground where proven shonen or seinen comics become games. Given the usual results of anime mingling with low-profile games, perhaps it's all a blessing for Black Lagoon.
CYBER CITY OEDO 808
There is, in fact, a Cyber City Oedo 808 game for the PC Engine, and it's a stiff, talky “graphic adventure” that plays like Konami's Snatcher on a low budget. It's a disgrace to its source material, a hyperviolent three-part OVA series from Ninja Scroll's Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Cyber City Oedo 808's bleak future has everything a game of the 1990s could need: prisoners turned police officers, overpowered handguns, monowire whips, garishly clad street punks, cold-sleep vampires, killer androids, murderous computers, and sabertoothed, laser-spitting cyborg panthers.
Cyber City Oedo 808 even has the same trio of leading archetypes you'd expect to see in a Final Fight-style beat-'em-up, from the quick, androgynous Benten to the slow heavyweight Goggles and the decent all-arounder Sengoku. It begs for a Cyber City brawler littered with special moves and fierce attacks, in the vein of Winky Soft's Guardians or Capcom's Alien vs. Predator. Was one ever made? Of course not. Cyber City Oedo 808 never really caught on, so it's lucky that even a boring point-and-click game sneaked out to the market.
Trigun creator Yasuhiro Nightow built his defining manga with all the venues of nerd culture in mind: toys, anime, and, of course, video games. Trigun in all its forms is stocked with strange, memorable cyborg gunslingers and superheroes, like a Wild West version of Battle Angel Alita. It's also driven by a hero who specifically doesn't kill people, which may explain why progress on a Trigun game has stalled.
Instead of going straight for a Trigun shooter, Sega and Red Entertainment (the same pairing that brought about Sakura Wars), enlisted Nightow to create Gungrave, a tale of revenge that felt a bit like Trigun, only with more futuristic sights, gloomier themes, and lots more killing. Gungrave and its sequel Overdose are Nightow productions through and through, from the flashy gunplay to characters with names like Bob Poundmax and Rocketbilly Redcadillac. However, Gungrave isn't exactly Trigun, and Gungrave hasn't been seen since Overdose hit in 2004.
Not that Sega and Red didn't try to make a Trigun game. Perhaps realizing that Vash would be too nice for a murderous game protagonist, the two companies announced a PlayStation 2 online RPG called The Planet Gunsmoke. It was reported to be an ambitious exploration of Trigun's world, but that's all anyone learned before the game went into hiding. At this point, the public doesn't even know what it looks like. Perhaps the upcoming Trigun movie will make Sega and Red care a little more.
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