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King for a Game

by Todd Ciolek,

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned game system rivalry, and that's what Final Fantasy XIII stirred up this month. The game's available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and the PlayStation 3 version apparently looks better. But which one is really superior? Let's find out.

Here we see the Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII and its PlayStation 3 counterpart evenly matched against each other. Now let's kick the table.

And it's the Xbox 360 edition that comes out on top, even though it has slightly less amazing graphics and inconveniently spans three discs instead of one. You can always trust this column to get to the heart of the issue.



There were many reasons to dislike The King of Fighters XII: a small cast, no new characters, and the pervasive sense that the game wasn't finished. Yet the fiercest complaint aired by fans was that Mai Shiranui, generously endowed ninja and a staple of SNK fighters, was nowhere to be seen. SNK unveiled The King of Fighters XIII last week, and the company's first move was to silence the “No Mai, No Buy” crowd.

Yes, Mai's in the game. And so are Yuri Sakazaki and King, forming the same team with Mai that they did in the original The King of Fighters back in 1994. They look just as good as the amazingly redrawn cast of The King of Fighters XII, Mai's strangely large forehead aside, and most of their moves are intact. Six empty spots remain on the game's selection screen, and it's a safe bet that Vice will join the team that already includes her frequent co-stars Mature and Iori. Don't be surprised if K', Kula, and Maxima fill out the last unidentified team (especially since Kula was in the recent The King of Fighters: Sky Stage shooter), while Takuma will probably join Ryo and Robert on the perpetually lame Art of Fighting team. I have no idea who might fill the last slot on the Kim-Raiden team; perhaps it'll be Chang, Jhun Hoon, or May Lee. Or maybe the game will actually introduce some new characters. But that's crazy talk.

At any rate, The King of Fighters XIII seems to be the game that XII should've been. It crams in most of the popular KoF mainstays and adds much-needed little details, including plenty of alternate character colors and pre-fight conversations. Several characters have new moves, though I'm none too pleased with Leona's Voltes V tribute being nerfed. SNK fans will have plenty to complain about when the game hits arcades this summer, with a console port supposedly coming shortly after that.

Sting's Dept. Heaven series is an interesting study in strategy-RPG gameplay, bizarre subtitles, and deliberately out-of-order games. Riviera: The Promised Land is the first game in the franchise, Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone is the second, and Knights in the Nightmare is apparently the fourth. The latest in the series, Blaze Union: Story to Reach the Future, might not be an official installment, since it's a prequel to Yggdra Union. It'll also skip the DS and head straight for the Japanese PSP this May.

Blaze Union carries over the same idea of Yggdra, with desperate warfare and bloody revolutions shown through clashes of big-eyed, huge-headed warriors. Players use cards to power-up their troops (which run the fantasy-archetype gamut from archers to mermaids) and send them again squads of foes. The resulting battles play out like the skirmishes of Dragon Force or Advance Wars, as each squad's combatants fall until one outlasts the other.

In contrast, the storyline's mostly new material, and it stars a young warrior named Garlot commanding the Blaze Knights against the savagery and general rudeness of the Bronquian Empire. Garlot spends a lot of time staring defiantly ahead and howling at the sky, if the game's opening is any indication. Garlot is also a man, going by early reports, but early reports have been wrong about this sort of thing before.

All right, Virtual Console, I can no longer say you're irrelevant. This month you released Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, and now we're getting Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber.

Yasumi Matsuno's original Ogre Battle quickly gave way to the more technical, grid-driven style of his later creations, including Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, yet Ogre Battle 64 preserves the first game's style. Players recruit and dispatch squads of characters into battle, all while orchestrating a long-term military campaign. Fortunately, Matsuno gave Ogre Battle 64 a characteristically elaborate story, with frequent royal backstabbing and multiple endings.

Ogre Battle 64 isn't quite Final Fantasy Tactics, but it's a first-rate strategy title and, sadly, the last we'll probably see of the Ogre Battle series for some time. As one of the few decent RPGs on the Nintendo 64, Ogre Battle 64 cartridges are somewhat expensive. The Virtual Console release? Ten bucks.


Developer: KOEI/Omega Force
Publisher: KOEI Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Players: 1-2
A.K.A. Hokuto Musou

The game's proper name is Hokuto Musou, but it's evident that Tecmo and KOEI will call this Fist of the North Star when it arrives in North America. Still, they could always dub it Dynasty Warriors: Fist of the North Star, since the game takes the Dynasty Warriors schtick of fighting off a hundred-man army and applies to Fist of the North Star's ideal of fighting off a hundred-man army and making all of their heads explode. Like most Fist of the North Star action games, this one has Kenshiro exploding most of the murderous-thug population of a nuked-out world, but he's not the only playable character. Rei slices through foes, Toki politely butchers attackers, and a grim-looking version of Mamiya kicks her enemies' heads in. The game even features playable villains: Jagi uses shotguns and rocket launchers, while the formidable Raoh just stomps all over everything. Hell, even Raoh's war horse, Kokuoh-Go, is playable. Not that the game skips over the opposition, as nearly a dozen Fist of the North Star villains also show up.
Import Barrier: The finer points of the storyline may elude players, but they can always wait. And that's because...
Chances of a Domestic Release: An English release was confirmed for Europe, and a North American version is almost certain. Barring censorship, there's no reason to get the Japanese release. Well, not unless you want the limited-edition clock that awakens you with the screams of post-apocalyptic slaughter.

Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Platform: DS
Players: 1
A.K.A. Everyone's Aquarium.

There are animal-raising games and there are theme-park games, and somewhere between them lies Minna no Suizokukan. Just as Harvest Moon has players tending a farm and caring for animals through mini-games, Suizokukan is all about managing an aquarium and water park. From the penguins to the dolphins, the creatures require the usual feeding, cleaning, and training, and all of that falls to the player. On the other hand, that player is also in charge of picking which fish to stock, which events to promote, and just how to spin things to the press and visitors when an unruly orca breaks a trainer's leg. The Harvest Moon connection seems even more apparent in the game's big-headed characters and normally cooperative animals, though it might be more satisfying if you could play as the marine life, doing tricks and gradually plotting a glorious escape.
Import Barrier: Without some Japanese knowledge, tending to the aquarium's attractions will require a lot of trial and error. And perhaps virtual animal-rights violations.
Chances of a Domestic Release: It's approachable enough to appeal to casual DS players, but no company has taken a chance yet.

Developer: Tales Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: DS
Players: 1
A.K.A. Keroro RPG

Sgt. Frog's new DS-based RPG has the look of a typical anime-character vehicle, as it finds the space-invader amphibian and his rivals/allies cavorting around as medieval warriors and buccaneers (the human cast of Sgt. Frog seems strangely absent from combat, but they don't move merchandise like the goofy alien frogs do). Yet this RPG is more than just a cash-in; it was created by Tales Studio, and it plays a lot like a traditional Tales game, with fast-paced battles that involve plenty of button-slamming and team-up attacks. Of course, half the fun of Sgt. Frog lies in the manifold nerdy references, and this game delivers those in the form of Namco character cameo. Special appearances are made by Klonoa, Pac-Man, Katamari Damacy's Prince, .hack's Haseo, The Legend of Valkyrie's Valkyrie, and even that boring sky fortress from Xevious.
Import Barrier: You'll find lots of Japanese text, but you won't need much knowledge of the language to flail away in battle.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal. American anime publishers spent years struggling to sell Sgt. Frog over here, and until you see the yellow-hatted creature on TV, you won't see him in any domestic video games.


Developer: Extreme Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PSP (Download-only)
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $19.99

Cho Aniki Zero: M.U.S.C.L.E. Brothers hit the PlayStation Network last week, but this isn't the sort of game you should ignore for long. The entire Cho Aniki series of shooters is known for its ridiculous, mock-homoerotic style, and it's typified by recurring heroes Samson and Adon, who fly around in speedos and shoot flowers and laser beams from the crowns of their heads. And that's perfectly normal compared to the enemies they face. However, Cho Aniki Zero is a remake of the first game in the series, so Adon and Samson are merely the sidekicks of the more conventionally handsome hero Idaten, and they follow him through various side-scrolling stages. The other playable lead, the curvaceous Benten (yes, a woman), is joined by two grotesque little cherubs who never got starring roles in the series. That's not to say Cho Aniki Zero is mild in its humor, as the game's crawling with half-naked (and mostly male) enemies and weird fusions of bodybuilder and machine. Then there's the game-over screen, where Samson and Adon manfully embrace while the player slams a button over and over in order to continue.
Get Excited If: People complained about Radiant Silvergun and Policenauts never coming out in English, but all the while you just wanted a Cho Aniki game to be translated.

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