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Missing Inaction

by Todd Ciolek,

This week brought some unexpectedly great news: a release date for Shantae: Risky's Revenge. This sequel to the cult-favorite Game Boy Color Shantae was originally slated for a late 2009 release, but that came and went with no word on Shantae's progress. It was enough to make one worry that the project had met the same fate as the canceled version of Shantae for the Game Boy Advance. I went down that road with games from Bounty Arms through Starcraft: Ghost, and it's never a pretty walk.

But Shantae: Risky's Revenge is now finished enough to get a release date, and we'll be playing the first chapter of this side-scrolling, RPG-flavored action game by Christmas. That'll give me plenty of time to buy a DSi, and I expect everyone else to do the same. We can't let another Shantae game get canceled, you know.


Atlus still isn't giving anyone a proper look at Persona 5, but at least there's another Persona game on its way. Well, it's another Persona 3 remake, to tell the truth. A Persona 3 remake for cell phones, that is. Persona 3 Social is a multiplayer RPG built for Mobage-Town, a social network that's huge in Japan. It's a trimmed-down version of the Persona 3 we know and buy repeatedly, and this version lets players gather Persona and tackle dungeons alongside other Mobage-Town users. Even devoted Persona fans might not want to buy the game again after the PS2 and PSP versions, but Atlus went through the trouble of redesigning the game's two main characters.

Persona 3 Social is one of those online games that's free to play at first, but Atlus will charge for items and other things to be used in the game. While there's no word of an English release for the game, Mobage-Town's parent company, DeNa, launched its own line of iPhone games earlier this year. So there's a chance that Persona 3 will be served up to us yet again.

Few games are as direct as NIS America's Cladun: This is an RPG. It was known by the slightly less blatant title of Classic Dungeon (CLAssic DUNgeon, in other words) in Japan, but it was still an attempt at dredging up nostalgia for the bleeping music and tiny pixel artwork of the early 8-bit era. It's deliberately primitive in its look, and it doesn't build a terribly complex story around players marching through monster-filled and randomly generated dungeons to turn up all sorts of artifacts and magic. That's where the game's malleable play mechanics emerge, as characters can outfit themselves with all sorts of special attacks.

Much like 3D Dot Game Heroes, Cladun goes well beyond the usual RPG customizing. Players can build their lead characters into just about anything, no matter how crude, with a pixel-by-pixel editor. The game's final boss can also be molded to suit the player's whims or personal grudges, and the soundtrack comes in both modern beats and optional old-fashioned beeping. Cladun's out as a PlayStation Network download in early September.

Last year's gloriously heavy-metal brawler Brütal Legend didn't sell well enough for a sequel, but developer Double Fine apparently took it in stride. They're now working on downloadable action games, with game animator Tasha Harris' Costume Quest first out of the gate. Much like Double Fine's Psychonauts, the new game's a demented vision of a childhood tradition; in this case, Halloween.

The player's avatar, who can be either a boy or a girl, spends the holiday fighting off potentially imaginary monsters and other kids. It's all to rescue his or her little sister, who made the mistake of dressing up as a candy corn piece and was snatched away by sugar-craving monsters. The quest leads to numerous battles and item-fetching tasks that mirror Double Fine's distant adventure-game origins, but the costumes play a major role in many things. The Halloween outfits transform their kid wearers into actual robots and ghouls just in time for battle, and the game's battles play out like violent, cartoonish childhood fantasies.

Of course, the true strength of a Double Fine game is in its bizarre humor, and Costume Quest shows some of that even in the few screens available so far. It'll be out for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live by this Halloween. Of course.

The PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is coming a little sooner than I expected. It'll hit Japan on November 11, which means that an English version might arrive in the first half of 2011.

Japan also gets a pre-order bonus: a set of Tarot cards illustrated by Akihiko Yoshida. This fits the series well, as Tarot cards and Ogre games go all the way back to the original Ogre Battle. Square might pull something similar for the game's North American release, though I think I'd prefer a T-shirt that says “Let Us Cling Together!” without any game logos or other explanation.


It's a time of plenty for Japanese RPGs. They're still a niche genre that rarely cracks the best-seller lists in North America, but all sorts of once-obscure titles are filtering over here. Fifteen years ago, the RPG-playing youth of this continent could only muddle through imports or stare at magazine previews for Seiken Densetsu 3 or Tales of Phantasia. Today, just about any respectable RPG stands a good chance of leaving Japan.

Of course, a lot of RPGs still get left behind, and that's often for a good reason. Yet there are inexplicable absences, particularly when it comes to DS games that seemed bound for great succ…well, modest cult success in North America. They didn't make it here, and we can only guess why.

Released in Japan: September 2009
Square's SaGa series has a rocky relationship with North America, where the most prominent SaGa games are the widely loathed SaGa Frontier and Unlimited SaGa. But there's another side to the series, and it started with the three GameBoy SaGa games that were rebranded as Final Fantasy Legend titles over here. SaGa 2 is perhaps the most ambitious and cohesive of the three, as it presents a sprawling, multi-world quest for characters that include robots and monsters alongside more standard RPG humans. So it was Saga 2 that received a DS remake in 2009. Built along the same lines as the DS versions of Final Fantasy III and IV, Goddess of Destiny turns the original game into 3-D, albeit with a cel-shaded cartoon look. The battle system also adds in a lineup of combat muses to aid the main characters, and the game's elaborate dungeons now let players see enemies before they attack. SaGa 2 still has the same mix of locations, with Greek gods giving way to Japanese fantasylands as the characters evolve their way through a war between heaven and humans.
What happened? Square Enix's plate is usually pretty full with other RPGs that don't have quite as much baggage as the SaGa titles. The DS revamp of SaGa 2 might've turned that reputation around in the West, but it's not likely to get that chance now.

Released in Japan: March 2009
The dungeon-hack is alive and well here, at least when it comes to a subculture of fans who enjoy rummaging through brutally designed and often randomly generated mazes. Sega and imageepoch's 7th Dragon is very much a product of this minor craze, and it really takes after Etrian Odyssey in its cutesy, customizable characters and the influence of director Kazuya Niinou, who oversaw the first Etrian adventure. The game's distinctly patterned off old RPGs, with a menu-driven battle system and randomly occurring combat. As in Etrian, there's a limited storyline, and 7th Dragon just slaps players with its premise of humans trying to survive in a dragon-dominated world. The character classes come in seven basic flavors, but their appearances can vary widely. And for that last bit of RPG atmosphere, the soundtrack's a part-perky, part-operatic mixture from Yuzo Koshiro of ActRaiser, Ys, and Protect Me Knight.
What happened? Well, the dungeon-hack isn't all that alive. It's still the province of publishers like Atlus and XSEED, and 7th Dragon is apparently Sega's child to neglect however they choose.

Released in Japan: December 2008
Has Namco given up on the Tales series in North America? No, it's just that Namco's picky about what it releases here, as the last Tales game to make it here was the Wii follow-up to the relatively popular Tales of Symphonia. Besides, it's a bit much to expect Namco to release every Tales game over here, as a new installment of the series launches in Japan every nineteen days or so. Of the recent passed-over Tales titles, though, Tales of Hearts would've suited the American DS market. That's because it tries to cram in all manner of RPG conventions. It nearly succeeds: there's a socializing Soma Link system, a weapon-evolving system, a psychic-diving system, and a battle system that takes combination attacks to reckless new heights. The story is…well, a mishmash of living weapons and ancient secrets swirling around a hero named Shing Meteoryte. Fans of previous Tales might care more about the in-battle cameos by characters from just about every game in the series.
What happened? Tales games tend to be heavy on voice acting, anime atmosphere, licensed music, and other things that make for somewhat complex localizations. And, well, Tales of Hearts sounds like a Care Bears RPG.


Developer: Prope
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: DS/Wii
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $19.99/$29.99

Despite the question mark in its title, we know exactly what Ivy the Kiwi? is about: a young flightless New Zealand fowl is separated from her mother, and the player guides her home by drawing vines across the screen. Not that the game is a simple dot-connecting affair. These vines can be used to swing Ivy around, bounce her across levels, and even turn her into a drilling, enemy-mauling kiwi machine. It's a simple mechanic turned into complex gameplay by Yuji Naka, who did much the same thing back in Sonic the Hedgehog. Ivy the Kiwi? doesn't play it graphically simple, either, as the game's backgrounds are lush with tapestry-like detail. There's also a four-player mode where players draw vines to block each other from helping their kiwi friend, and that sounds more fun than bird-tormenting should.

Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: Natsume
Platform: DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

Somewhere out there lives a Harvest Moon fan who remembers the games not by their storylines or minor differences in gameplay, but by the stuffed animals given away with pre-orders. That fan will be glad to know that Grand Bazaar comes with a plush horse to add to the menagerie. As for Grand Bazaar's actual content, it plays up the merchandising angle of the typical Harvest Moon. Players can raise crops, tend animals, race horses, marry, start a family, and play as either a male or female entrepreneur. Yet they can also take their goods to market and herd in customers, not unlike the recently localized Recettear. As usual, this is all part of reviving a failed farming village, only now it's also about bringing the blessings of commerce and retail drudgery to a cute little Harvest Moon town. And you get a free horse.

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Wii
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $29.99

It must be said that noisy, short, arcade-bred gun games like Gunblade NY and L.A. Machineguns lose a little something when they're brought to home systems. Perhaps it's the fact that you're not paying for each credit with a few quarters. Or perhaps it's the lack of a big, boxy, manhood-reinforcing plastic assault rifle mounted on the cabinet. In the Wii ports of Gunblade and Machineguns, players can use Wii remotes clipped into gun-like frames, but it's just not the same. That doesn't keep either game from being a satisfyingly destructive experience. Both titles hurl the player through cityscapes full of terrorists and robot enemies, all of which must be liberally sprayed with gunfire. Granted, these are '90s arcade games, so they don't look particularly great next to, say, House of the Dead Overkill, but they're good examples of the sturdy Sega craftmanships that worked so well in arcades over a decade ago. With any luck, Sega will consider some other light-gun arcade games for Wii ports, including Let's Go Jungle!, a 2006 release that didn't get half the attention a dating-shooter deserves.

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