The X Button State of the Nation
by Todd Ciolek,
So, uh, Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The fighting-game crowd has wanted it for nearly a decade, and it's been the subject of much speculation and prankery. Now there's a rumor, supposedly from a reliable Capcom-connected source, that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 will soon be announced. It's news that will surely have all dedicated Capcom and Marvel fans frothing with their choices of character lineup (more on this later), but it's important to remember that the game's still a rumor right now. And we don't report rumors here.
Well, not in the news section, anyway.
LAST STORY INTRODUCES HERO, HEROINE, AND HOBBES
Nintendo and Mistwalker's updates about The Last Story are growing quite oblique. The upcoming Wii RPG recently revealed its hero and heroine, but not their names. The director, who also appears to be unnamed as of yet, describes the two as kindred spirits who nonetheless have “a wall” between them.
It also seems they have a tiger behind them. The director outlined various subplots in the game, from a prison escape to political turmoil to one of those missing father figures that anime and RPGs and Disney movies do so love. The hero's tale forms the core of The Last Story, though you'll likely remember that the heroine was featured in the game's original title art. And so The Last Story inches toward a release date later this year, one detail at a time.
NEW VIDEO GAME IS ABOUT VIDEO GAMES, COLLAPSES INTO BLACK HOLE
There's a modern trend of personifying game systems, software, airplanes, and other inanimate objects as cute-widdle-wide-eyed anime girls. It's not seen in mainstream video games very often, but Compile Heart's Super Dimension Game Neptune makes the most of the whole idea. It's set in a cutthroat world of game companies, and a transforming game system named Neptune sets out to dethrone a cruel goddess named Magicon.
Aside from the whole “moe” matter, Super Dimension Game Neptune has an intriguing premise for an RPG. The last game to attempt such whole-scale parody was Sega's Segagaga, which included numerous fake games for a player-run company to release. Neptune's only one of several game-console girls in the game, and I expect all sorts of in-jokes, perhaps some not even intended. For starters, is Compile Heart mocking Sega's canceled Neptune system, which would've combined the Genesis and the 32X back in 1995? If so, we're in for some obscure references when Super Dimension Game Neptune arrives on the Japanese PlayStation 3 this summer.
MAMOTTE KNIGHT IS THE LATEST HOT NEW-OLD GAME
Yuzo Koshiro is best known for composing memorable music for Ys Book I and II, Streets of Rage, Actraiser, and other well-scored games of the 1990s. That said, he's also a game designer along with the rest of studio Ancient, and their latest project is an interesting throwback: Mamotte Knight, an Xbox360 Indies creation that hearkens back to a simpler time when action-RPGs were full of smiling little people and there was always a princess to rescue.
The four-player Mamotte Knight can be sampled in a demo right now, and it captures the basic appeal of '80s games. Granted, some of the sprites look a little too good to be from some NES game, but it's the overall atmosphere and the multiplayer aspect that one should enjoy when the game arrives this spring.
OPINION: THE STATE OF JAPANESE RPGS
Many think that Japanese RPGs have fallen. The days of industry-shocking Final Fantasy releases and Xenosaga magazine covers are long past, and the Japan-bred RPG now lags behind the modern cinematic shooters and action games often created by Western developers. What happened to this once-proud genre?
One easy answer lies in demographics: a 13-year-old who played Final Fantasy VII upon its release is now 26, living an adult life with finances and responsibilities that leave little time for 40-hour RPG crawls. The typical Japanese RPG is anime-infused escapism honed for a teenage audience, and that audience eventually stops being teenage. Then many of them stop playing RPGs, especially after they've seen all of the clichés that the genre foists repeatedly upon players. And then they complain online about the tired nature of J-RPGS.
Yet there's more to it. For one thing, Japanese RPGs were, in truth, never all that huge in North America. Final Fantasy was and still is a fixture of the games industry here, but it's the lone standout in a genre that typically harnesses only cult followings. RPGs were once the neglected kids of the console game industry, ignored during the Super NES and Sega Genesis eras. The years after Final Fantasy VII saw RPGs grow in popularity, but all of the Suikodens, Jade Cocoons, Grandias, and Wild Armseses were nothing to compete with the chart-topping franchises of the West. RPGs had come into their own, and their own was nothing more than a profitable niche.
More importantly, the Japanese RPG survives today in a smaller, more efficient form. During the PlayStation 2 era, companies went after the same territory as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest (and, to a lesser extent, the Tales games), with developers forcing themselves into big-budget RPG ventures like Shadow Hearts, Xenosaga, and Skies of Arcadia. None really succeeded at toppling the masters, and this latest generation saw Japan's RPG developers turn to safer ground: the DS and PSP. Portable RPGs cost less to develop, had waiting audiences among younger players, and didn't need to be smash hits. Developers were tired of losing out to Square Enix's big guns, and they took the easy way out.
In this generation, few companies have tried to make the next Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, and the greatest challenge came from Final Fantasy's own creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and his newly formed Mistwalker company. His first venture, Blue Dragon, earned its own toy line, cartoon, and sequels, but it didn't so much as dent the towering cultural monolith of Dragon Quest. Lost Odyssey, Sakaguchi's obvious attempt at reaching Final Fantasy territory, was quickly brushed aside, and Cry-On (above), an action-RPG with a promising concept similar to Shadow of the Colossus, was flat-out canceled. Sakaguchi's now seeking a change of venue, carefully positioning his next RPG, The Last Story, on a system without many: the Wii.
The other major competitor in RPGs is tri-Ace, a developer known for the austere Norse-inspired Valkyrie Profile series and the more generic Star Ocean titles. Tri-Ace and its off-shoot tri-Crescendo have made repeated stabs at the console-RPG market, with Eternal Sonata, Infinite Undiscovery, and Star Ocean: The Last Hope. All three faded quickly in the North American market, where Infinite Undiscovery will likely be remembered mostly for its painful comedy. Tri-Ace's latest, Resonance of Fate (below), might be its best shot: a grim, halfway realistic RPG driven by destructive gunplay and lots of customization. Of course, Sega released it here a week after Final Fantasy XIII, proving that some RPG publishers never really learn.
Other RPG companies caught on, however, and there's now a small industry of anime-heavy RPGs on handhelds and major consoles. Most of these games don't aim for Final Fantasy. Far from generously budgeted flash, they're old-fashioned adventures full of complex play mechanics and raw appeals to hardcore anime fans. From Disgaea to the salaciously marketed Record of Agarest War, publishers like NIS America, XSeed, Atlus, and Aksys Games clearly known their audience.
And that's why talk of the Japanese RPG's downfall rings a bit hollow. The modern game industry has room for Mana Khemia, Luminous Arc, Ar Tonelico, Eternal Poison, and many other RPGs that would've proven too obscure for Western publishers five years ago. When an unknown strategy-RPG called Laevatein Tactics can make its way to North America, Japanese RPGs can't be in bad shape over here.
The best evidence for Japanese RPG resilience is Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (above), which marks the first American release for a series long considered too slow, too text-intensive, and too distinctly Japanese to make it on this continent. It's completely and utterly within the Japanese RPG aesthetic, from its relationship-building elements to its overwhelmingly cornball atmosphere, and it's sitting next to God of War III on new-release lists. Perhaps it'll be the high-water point of the anime-RPG subculture that's grown up around us. Or perhaps it's just the beginning.
It's almost enough to conjure memories of the American anime industry, which failed in part because of hubris-driven companies buying countless no-name properties and selling them to a market that barely knew they existed. However, the anime-RPG subculture has run for years like this, and it shows no sign of stopping. And it may yet grow beyond the ranks of otaku in-jokes and bouncy anime comedy. Persona 3 and 4 are already breakout successes, while Demon's Souls proved a hit.
Perhaps we're all a bit too quick to mourn the Japanese RPG. They can no longer coast on the novelty of simply having translated Wild Arms and Tales games on store shelves where once they were rare sights, but that's for the better. Japanese RPGs are now a genre like any other, where the competition's nearly as tight as it is for the latest Halo knock-off or violent action game. If the Japanese RPG is a dinosaur, it's rapidly evolving into a bird: sleeker, smaller, and less likely to die off if a huge economic meteor destroys games as we know them.
RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 4-18
HARVEST MOON: HERO OF LEAF VALLEY |
The latest Harvest Moon game is a harrowing tale of agrarian dreams crushed by the consumerism of an amusement-park monolith. When the robber-barons of the Funland Corporation seize Leaf Valley and plot to fill it with Ferris wheels and roller coasters, it's up to the player-controlled farmer to fight back in the only way he can: violent protests, industrial sabotage, letters bombs, and, if all of that fails, a shooting spree. Actually, Leaf Valley's hero resists in the nonviolent Harvest Moon way, which involves tending crops, raising livestock, digging up ore, getting married, and perhaps penning a polite but critical Letter to the Editor. Players also rally the local townsfolk to their cause and raise funds by various mini-games. I doubt that this quest will end with the locals taking up pitchforks and torches to storm Funland's corporate headquarters, but I think it should.
MONSTER HUNTER TRI|
MSRP: $44.99/$59.99 (Classic Controller bundle)
The Monster Hunter series sets aside many online RPG pretenses. Sure, people enjoy the social aspects and exploring of World of Warcraft and Everquest and whatever the kids are into today, but there's a school of player who just wants to kill giant monsters. And that's where Capcom comes in. Like the games before it, Monster Hunter Tri wastes little time before it lets you arm yourself, grab some friends, and track down beasts that are roughly half dinosaur, half fantasy creature. There's always the chance for customizing characters and searching for hidden facets of hunting preserves, but Monster Hunter is really all about the shared triumph of taking down a towering Tyranno-dragon with a party of allies. Tri adds some new features as well: you can now hunt underwater, play offline split-screen with two players, and use WiiSpeak to yell at your teammates when they leave you to get torn apart by a pack of lizard-scaled wolves.
EXTRA LIVES: A MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3 WISH LIST
If anticipation is the best part of something, the high point of any Marvel vs. Capcom game lies in sitting around and imagining all of the characters that the two companies could throw into a flashy, hectic fighter. And with strong rumors backing a Marvel vs. Capcom 3, now's the time to get our requests ready and hope that Capcom is listening.
LINN KUROSAWA |
Appears In: Capcom's Alien vs. Predator arcade game.
The Case For: It's a shame that Capcom's excellent Alien vs. Predator brawler will never be reissued or remade due to licensing issues. It's even more of a shame that even Linn Kurosawa, the only original Capcom character from the game, can't escape those licensing issues. Partly a Capcom-ified version of Machiko Noguchi from the Alien vs. Predator comics, cyborg heroine Linn spends the game slicing through acid-blooded enemies, gliding through the air, and showing off a wide repertoire of moves. It's clear that someone inside Capcom wants to bring back Linn, as she appears in the backgrounds of Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Street Fighter III. High time the company made good on that promise, I say.
The Case Against: Capcom's likely barred from using any Alien vs. Predator characters, even when it comes to the independently created Linn. The shooter Cannon Spike featured Simone, an armored, sword-wielding woman who seemed to be Linn without the legal issues.
JON TALBAIN |
Appears In: The Darkstalkers games
The Case For: The sadly dormant Darkstalkers series is full of stylish monsters, though the ones most fondly remembered are the succubus Morrigan and the technically stark-naked catgirl Felicia. There's more to Darkstalkers, however, and werewolf Jon Talbain's among the best of the lineup. Though he's armed with nunchucks for some reason, Mr. Talbain also bounces around as a giant wolf fireball, linking moves together like crazy. And that sort of screen-filling attack is perfect for Marvel vs. Capcom. Besides, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 included the Darkstalkers franchise's Egyptian mummy-king Anakaris, and no one likes him.
The Case Against: If Tatsunoko vs. Capcom proved anything, it's that Capcom's more interested in promoting recent games like Lost Planet and Dead Rising than older titles like Darkstalkers.
MIKE HAGGAR |
Appears In: Final Fight and its numerous spin-offs.
The Case For: Poor Mike Haggar, valiant mayor of Metro City. Haggar's co-stars from his Final Fight days, Cody and Guy, are now recurring characters in Street Fighter, while Haggar must content himself with bit-part appearances in wrestling games and the cameo-filled Namco vs. Capcom. But Haggar is a Capcom original. Well before there was a Street Fighter II or an Anything vs. Capcom, Mayor Haggar defined the whole idea of the big, slow, and powerful guy in beat-'em-ups and one-on-one fighters. So Haggar deserves a spot in the next big Capcom crossover.
The Case Against: With his bodyslams and piledrivers, Haggar's not all that different from Zangief, and Zangief is pretty much a lock for a big Marvel vs. Capcom game. In fact, Zangief even wears Haggar's outfit in Street Fighter IV, which seems to be Capcom's way of telling us that Haggar himself ain't showing up.
Appears In: Breath of Fire
The Case For: The Breath of Fire RPGs are frequently mediocre, but at least they've resulted in some creative characters. Recurring hero Ryu's dragon transformations might make him a first-round pick for the next Marvel vs. Capcom, but there's something to be said for Bleu, the lamia sorceress who pops up in the first two Breath of Fire games (and possibly in the third). Her magical attacks would make for a neat gameplay hook, and there's also the novelty of playing a character who's a serpent from the waist down.
The Case Against: Breath of Fire's laid low since the underappreciated Dragon Quarter flopped in 2003, and Capcom never really treated the series like a major property. The aforementioned Ryu and the winged Nina appear in the games more often than Bleu does, anyway.
Appears In: Numerous X-Men series.
The Case For: To fans of the X-Men comic and cartoon, Jubilee provided two things: she was a teenage newcomer who served as an introduction to the X-Men characters, and she had a ridiculous character design that wasn't even cool back in 1988. With her yellow overcoat and knack for making semi-explosive fireworks, Jubilee was the lamest part of the X-Men lineup until they introduced that one guy with the huge mechanical maggots. In a way, that's what gives Jubilee her appeal. The Capcom side of Marvel vs. Capcom has its share of joke characters (Dan, Roll, Servbot, Amingo), and perhaps it's time for the Marvel half to get one. What's more, Jubilee already appears as a helper character in the original Marvel vs. Capcom.
The Case Against: Unlike the Capcom fans who venerate Dan as an unsung hero, Marvel comics fans don't have the same fondness for Jubilee. In fact, many will wonder just who she is and why they can't play as Nightcrawler or Mystique instead.
Appears In: His own series as well as other Marvel titles.
The Case For: Deadpool may not look like much. As a Rob Liefeld co-creation, he exemplifies the '90s comic ideal of taking a generic superhero and giving him all sorts of guns, swords, and stuff that looks totally cool when you draw it in your chemistry notebook during study hall. Yet Deadpool's the only good thing Liefeld ever touched, and he's proven to be a funny, unexpectedly popular staple of Marvel's superhero canon. True, his powers don't go beyond a healing ability and remarkable skill with weapons, but perhaps Marvel vs. Capcom needs a character who doesn't throw huge fireballs.
The Case Against: A lot of Deadpool's appeal comes from his quips, attitude, and other things that don't really matter much in a fighting game. Capcom might have trouble thinking of attacks for Deadpool, unless they went all-out with his habit of breaking the fourth wall.
U.S. 1 |
Appears In: A stunning 12-part comic series, inexplicably not available as a deluxe hardcover trade.
The Case For: Possibly the most undervalued hero in Marvel's history, Ulysses Solomon Archer was an ordinary trucker until an accident left him with a metal plate in his head and the ability to patch into radio signals. Armed with this new power and custom rig, he contends with blimp-riding Nazis, a hypnosis-using villainess, highway bandits, conniving lawyers, and the rigors of the road. In a last-issue spectacular, he's taken into space by trucker-hunting aliens and races his evil brother around the solar system…all in his trusty, remote-controllable 18-wheeler. If that doesn't earn him a place in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, you may as well just call off the whole game. U.S. 1 and his big-rig would be a valued addition to the cast, along with cameos by his friends Poppa Wheelie, Wide-Load Annie, and Taryn “Down the Highway” O'Connell. These are actual characters from an actual comic that was published for everyone to read.
The Case Against: There isn't one.
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