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Tactical News

by Todd Ciolek,

I've returned from this year's San Diego Comic-Con, where I managed to write about some of the ways the once comic-centric convention related to video games. I didn't get to everything, but I did edge into the Street Fighter IV panel to see Street Fighter X Tekken debuted to a crowd of screaming fighting-game fans.

It reminded me that some things are best appreciated amid the ravenous enthusiasm of devoted geeks. The Street Fighter X Tekken demo looked decent enough, but it was pretty much what you'd expect from such a company crossover. What made it exciting was the throng of fans who yelled and shrieked and tore their clothes at the sight of something new related to Street Fighter. This new-fangled Internet thing may bring us trailers and game demos in the comfort of our homes, but there's no substitute for live mass hysteria.


The original Tactics Ogre is a cult classic in Japan, and with good reason: it's a sweeping, challenging, highly complicated strategy-RPG with only a few flaws to deny it greatness. It's far less known in North America, where the only officially released version is a now-rare PlayStation port of the 16-bit game. That will change if there's any justice in this gray world, because Square Enix announced a PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, assembled by the original's staff and already slated for a U.S. release.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was the game that put director Yasumi Matsuno on the map back in 1995, and it has a lot of his favorite things: a huge stage of medieval war and politics, a large cast of scheming royals and suffering peasantry, and extensively customizable characters. It's the tale of one Denim Powell, who's at first merely fighting to survive alongside his initially level-headed sister Kachua and his increasingly ruthless pal Vice. Their story grows to span the entire land of Valeria, with a huge cast of characters caught up all of the plottings and goings-on. Each of the game's chapters ends with a key moral decision for Denim, and it changes both the game's storyline and the characters the player can recruit.

More importantly, Tactics Ogre is a depressing game. All of the story paths lead to massacres, assassinations, and various other horrors. No matter what you route you take, some trusted friend or ally will be killed. Oh, and every character, from the major players to the disposable soldiers, breathes out some tragic last words when dying on the field of battle. And that death is permanent, so you'd better plan your grid-based battle strategies with care.

The PSP revamp finds Yasumi Matsuno handling the story and game design, with the director's seat filled by Hiroshi Minagawa, art director on the original game (and the co-director of Final Fantasy XII after Matsuno departed). Original character designer Akihiko Yoshida (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII) is joined by Tsubasa Masao (Final Fantasy Gaiden: Four Warriors of Light) for the remake, and composers Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto are adding 15 new tracks to the original game's score. The game's graphics will be remodel while keeping the large-headed-sprites look of the original, and the gameplay will feature new skills, new character classes, and a wider range of battles. There's also a new character, a Walstanian spear-wielder named Ravness Loxaerion, and she'll have her own motivations, swayed loyalties, and despondent death quotes.

The remake's staff sounds intent on making the game accessible to modern gamers, which almost certainly means fixing the original's sometimes tedious battle animations, dull level-grinding, and frequently harsh difficulty. Tactics Ogre always was a cruelly challenging game (much more so than its descendant Final Fantasy Tactics), and yet it was satisfying in its complex, gloomy way. I can only hope that's kept intact for the remake.

For fans of Yasumi Matsuno, the real shock in all of this is seeing him back under Square Enix's auspices. In 2005, Matsuno quit directing Final Fantasy XII and left the company due to “health reasons,” which may have had something to do with Square Enix's producers and conflicts within the game's massive development staff. Well, he's apparently gotten over that to the point where he can rewrite and redesign Tactics Ogre.

The PSP remake is technically called Tactics Ogre: Wheel of Fate in Japan, but Square Enix seems to be going with the original subtitle, Let Us Cling Together, for North America. No matter what it's called, it's good to know that the game's English localization's in the hands of Kajiya Productions, the same translators who worked on Matsuno's Final Fantasy XII and Vagrant Story. The game has no release date anywhere at this point, and I doubt we'll see it until next year.

I recapped some of the San Diego Comic-Con's game news last week, but one story stands out: Street Fighter X Tekken for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was rumored beforehand, but it was still quite amusing to see Tekken director Katsuhiro Harada crash Street Fighter IV director Yoshinori Ono's panel, with both of them dressed like each game's lead characters.

Following the trailer, Harada and Ono surprised a few fans by announcing two versions of the game; a Tekken vs. Street Fighter made by Namco and a Street Fighter X Tekken made by CAPCOM. The CAPCOM version of the game was briefly shown, and it surprised no fans at all by pitting Ryu and Chun-Li against Kazuya Mishima and Nina Williams. The background was really cool, though, and I hope that the game will show some ambition and include Street Fighter characters who aren't yet in the fourth installment, along with the more ridiculous (and therefore best) Tekken representatives.

Other details from Ono's panel: there's no new Darkstalkers yet, Street Fighter III 3rd Strike is coming to XBox Live/PlayStation Network, and none of the new cast additions for the Super Street Fighter IV arcade release will be announced until the Tokyo Game Show at the earliest. And now I'm going to go write CAPCOM some more pleading letters on official Darkstalkers stationery.

Boy, I'm quite the asshole. In my last column, I made fun of Ninja Studio's creatively bankrupt DS fighter Windy X Windam. This week, there are signs that Ninja Studio might be gone. Some are speculating that the developer, best known for the Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja dungeon-hacks, is out of business now that its website is no longer around. Of course, one can't assume that Ninja Studio's gone just because it lacks an Internet presence. The Japanese sites for Windy X Windam and the Izuna games are still up, so it might be that Ninja Studio's now merely part of Success, the publisher of all of Ninja Studio's titles, including the recent cosplay strategy-RPG Tactics Layer. Even if it's true, we should all be nice and avoid making jokes about unemployed ninja.


Developer: Imageepoch/Type-Moon
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

One could perhaps argue that the Fate/Other Noun series was always an RPG at heart, since the original Fate/stay night was a story-driven adventure game with an RPG-ish cast to its fights. Well, now it's a proper Japanese RPG, one where the scenario of the original Fate/stay night reworks itself into a dungeon-crawling escapade. And it does so without its main character, Shiro Emiya. Instead, there's a player-named male-or-female lead to see all of the game's plot twists firsthand and meet the various sorcerers and servants involved in the War of the Grail. Most of the remaining characters are on hand, though some are noticeably redesigned: Rider's a scar-faced redhead in pirate garb, and Saber's now wearing a red dress that's shockingly open at the front. Rin Tohsaka, of course, looks like she always does. The gameplay follows many of the rules of traditional RPG combat, with plenty of flashing, extensively animated attacks. While the characters look a bit primitive, their story's conveyed through artwork and dialogue much of the time.
Import Barrier: As with previous Fate games, there's a lot of dialogue that'll be lost on anyone who doesn't read Japanese
Chances of a Domestic Release: CAPCOM's Fate/Unlimited Codes didn't catch on over here, so there won't be much interest in Fate/Extra.

Developer: Crea-Tech
Publisher: Enterbrain/Kadokawa
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

It's an alliance long foreshadowed. After decades of selling Hello Kitty and other cutesy characters to children, Sanrio noticed this “moe” thing peddling a creepier brand of cute to older consumers, and now Sanrio wants in. For the past year, Sanrio's worked with popular “moe”-style artists like Okama, Shimeko, Aoi Nishimata, and POP to reach out to Japan's moe fans and create exuberant little girls who just happen to like Hello Kitty merchandise. Hello Kitty to Issho! Block Crash 1-2-3 is basically a Breakout title with about a hundred different levels, but that's not the selling point. The selling point is the cast of aren't-they-precious anime girls, all drawn in varying styles and shapes. Players guide balls through block-hitting stages craftily positioned before illustrations of the characters, and there's a share of themes and digital accessories for the PSP included with the game. All of this is designed to endear players to the heroines and, of course, their fondness for Hello Kitty hats, pins, and other products available for purchase. It's so shameless that it will almost certainly work.
Import Barrier: The dialogue's all in Japanese, but the game's perfectly playable unless the ball-and-blocks concept of Breakout still eludes you after all these years.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Uh…

Developer: Crea-Tech
Publisher: Enterbrain/Kadokawa
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1

Let's compare the covers of Metal Max 3 and the second-most-recent proper game in the series, 1995's Metal Max Returns. Metal Max Returns displays a brawny warrior woman armed with a katana, a submachine gun, and a meter-high '80s hairdo. Metal Max 3 presents a willowy lass wearing an impractically long white gown as she revs the engine of a massive bike and hauls ass to the Metal Max equivalent of Lollapalooza. Different as the covers may be, Metal Max still has the same idea that drove it back in the 1990s: a standard RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world instead of a fantasy stage. Metal Max 3 first gives players control of a young man awakened from a long cryogenic sleep. Revived and turned loose, our hero wanders a monster-filled and frequently desolate world, gathering mercenaries, medics, and powerful armored vehicles the same way other RPG protagonists acquire clerics and paladins as allies. There's a standard menu-based battle system beneath the surface, but the game's still a good bet for anyone looking for different themes in the RPG world, and for anyone who enjoyed Atlus' release of Metal Saga, a Metal Max spin-off, back in 2006.
Import Barrier: An RPG requires some knowledge of its native language, but at least you can run it on a North American DS with no trouble.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not too bad, since Atlus picked up Metal Saga, and an RPG with tanks and mercs is right up many an American player's alley.

Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1-2

Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting started out as The King of Fighters Sky Stage, a simple-looking shooter starring a few signature combatants from SNK's only enduring fighting series. After making its way through arcades, the game's turned into Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting, a larger-staffed and more interesting game. The PSP version features shooter incarnations of popular SNK characters: King of Fighters staples Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami, Kula Diamond, Athena Asamiya, Terry Bogard, and Mai Shiranui are joined by Akari Ichijou from The Last Blade, Marco from Metal Slug, SYD III from Armored Scrum Object (a.k.a. Alpha Mission), and Iroha, the combat maid who helped bury Samurai Shodown for a few years. The game contains the original arcade title in all of its neon-bullet glories, but SNK added such new features as a story mode and, interestingly, a two-player versus mode. Players even have the option of rotating the PSP to play a tall-screen “TATE” version of the game, just like in them fancy arcades.
Import Barrier: You'll miss little beyond the nuances of the game's storyline, such as it is.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Fairly good, since SNK has a modest following over here. Perhaps a U.S. release of Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting will take some minds off of The King of Fighters XII's mass letdown.


Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: DSIware
Players: 1-4
MSRP: 500 Points (Five Bucks)

There's a lack of particularly interesting games coming out next week, so it's time to bend the rules and focus on this week's download-only highlights, starting with the super-deformed multiplayer brawler BlayzBloo. Players are dropped into arenas with three other opponents, either computer-controlled or manned by other DSI owners, and…well, everyone pounds each other with cutetified versions of their regular BlazBlue attacks. Other modes invite the cast to play for points or toss a panda around, even though the playable cast is limited to giant-headed versions of Ragna, Noel, Rachel, Taokaka, and that unappealing jerk Jin. It's a simple little brawler that's part Power Stone, part Poy Poy, part Rakugaki Showtime, and part Smash Brothers mini-game. But hey, it's also five dollars. Five bucks won't even buy the squirrel-girl in regular BlazBlue.

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: XBox Live
Players: 1-6
MSRP: Whatever $15 is in XBox Live money

I don't want to say that Harmony of Despair, also hitting this week, looks like a fan-made game, but...well, it looks like someone, officially employed by Konami or not, took graphics, characters, and gameplay from previous modern Castlevanias and mashed them all into one big online multiplayer XBox Live game. The game welds together huge HD levels with traditional pixel-based art and turns them into tests of boss-slaying, action-platformer prowess, and it actually uses its giant levels in its boss battles. There are several paths available to reach the boss in each stage, though it's a far cry from the exploration of other current Castlevanias. Fortunately, up to six players can tackle the game at once, controlling such series stars as Jonathan Morris, Soma Cruz, Shanoa, Alucard, and Charlotte Aulin. It's one of the stranger takes on the Castlevania franchise in recent years, though all signs point to it being better than that Wii fighting game everyone's already forgotten about.

Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PlayStation Network/XBox Live
Players: 1-4
MSRP: About $14.99

And now for something hitting next week, when the Scott Pilgrim marketing push will be even more of a juggernaut. I won't mince words: I'm just a weensy little bit less than completely amazed by the Scott Pilgrim comic. That's odd, considering how its scenes of video-game callouts and modern wasted lives should interest me. Maybe the movie will change that. Or maybe the game will. As one might expect for a comic that staged a flashback as a River City Ransom tribute, the Scott Pilgrim game is a 2-D brawler with a deliberately sprite-styled look courtesy of Paul Robertson, who's made some seriously insane pixelly game art. Its playable cast features Scott. Ramona, Kim, Stephen, and one character who we're not supposed to reveal, and each has a distinct set of attacks. In keeping with the River City Ransom idea, all of the cast can gain levels and grab coins to purchase new stat-boosting items, while mini-games pop up in the form of the storyline's subspace excursions. This'll add to the game's local four-player mode, where you can actually be nice and share your loot. It's available on the PlayStation Network next week, but it's not on XBox Live until the end of this month. You'll just have to read the comics or watch the movie. Or play River City Ransom.

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