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The X Button
Sola Survivor

by Todd Ciolek,

If there's one truly under-appreciated developer from Ye Olden Days of Video Games, it's Compile. They created excellent shooters like M.U.S.H.A. and Spirit Soldier Spriggan, clever action-RPGs like Golvellius, and great virtual-pinball games like Devil's Crush. Hell, they even made the best shooter-RPG ever with The Guardian Legend. They lacked the money and profile to compete with Konami or Capcom or Tecmo, but Compile's best games were second to nothing.

Compile was doomed not by failure, but by success. In 1991, Compile president Masamitsu “Moo” Niitani introduced Puyo Puyo, an enjoyable falling-blob puzzle game, and it was a massive hit. The game spread worldwide, with Nintendo remaking it into Kirby's Avalanche and Sega calling it Doctor Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. Around 1993, Compile set aside shooters and action games in favor of making one Puyo Puyo sequel after another. Like many of Japan's smaller old-school developers, Compile didn't survive the last decade, and their employees scattered to the winds after the company's 2002 disbanding. Some went to Eighting. Some formed Milestone Inc. And “Moo” Niitani formed Compile Heart.

Compile Heart is particularly interesting of late, as they announced that they've acquired the rights to Compile's back catalog, minus the Sega-owned Puyo Puyo. Niitani retired from the company years ago, but this still means that all of Compile's most interesting titles, from Aleste to Zanac, are now in the hands of people who evidently want to use them.

Of course, Compile Heart now makes games for its parent company, Idea Factory. Those games include a Windaria dungeon hack and a Megaone 23 action game, but most of them are middling cutesy anime-girl RPGs. Their latest is Hyperdimension Neptunia, shown above and discussed below. I could say that I don't want a sequel to The Guardian Legend if it's mediocre and pandering, but the truth is that I don't care. Just about any Guardian Legend is fine with me.


A PSP version of Persona 2 was to be expected. Atlus already brought the original Persona and Persona 3 to the PSP, so now they're just filling in the gaps. And they're doing it one step at a time. Instead of bundling the two Persona 2 titles, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, they're starting with a port of Innocent Sin.

Like other Persona offerings, Innocent Sin finds demons crawling around the cracks in modern Japanese society. A handful of teenagers join up with two tabloid journalists to investigate a serial killer known as the Joker, who's supposedly summoned when people call their own cell phone numbers. Combat has the standard attacks and supernatural abilities (which involve the characters' Persona alter-egos), but the various devils encountered can also be won over if players negotiate well enough.

In the days of the PlayStation, the American branch of Atlus skipped Innocent Sin entirely and went straight to Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, the second self-contained game in the sub-series. No one's ever explicitly said why, but some point to a Hitler cameo, student-on-teacher violence, a possibly homosexual character, and other things that are freely allowed in games today. Atlus has yet to announce a North American release, though I doubt anything will prevent one this time.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin looked a lot better than the original Persona, and it's less likely to undergo any real changes. The PSP version will get new animated cutscenes, the widescreen treatment, and an indicator to show enemy emotions (oh, and a bonus soundtrack in Japan). Perhaps that's why it'll be out this winter. Atlus has said nothing about porting the second half of Persona 2, but it's rather obvious that Eternal Punishment's chances depend on Innocent Sin's PSP outing.

In other news not very surprising, Keiji Inafune left Capcom. The creator of Mega Man and the producer of many Capcom titles, Infaune was arguably the company's highest-profile talent that hadn't yet struck out independently. His resignation comes a little over a month after he complained about Japanese developers showing “awful games” at the Tokyo Game Show, where he even mentioned “Capcom is barely keeping up.” Inafune has more criticism for the game industry in a recent interview with Japanese site 4gamer, where he mentions that staying at Capcom left him “not doing anything new so as to avoid failing, not doing anything outstanding.”

Inafune's projects will apparently continue development. The team behind Mega Man Legends 3, which Inafune reportedly wanted to make for years, already released a statement affirming that the game's still in the works for the 3DS. Mega Man Universe has a less certain future; it was Inafune's biggest project, and Capcom's made no statement about it one way or the other.

Shenmue 3 belongs next to Wurm 2 and BloodStorm 2: Nekron Strikes Back in the list of games we'll probably never see, but Sega's still willing to torture fans. Sunsoft will help publish Sega's latest concoction in this sadistic field: Shenmue Town, a side-story online game that explores Yokosuka, the city where Ryo spent the first game playing Space Harrier and learning about sailors. It won't continue the story of the first two games, but Town's still under the guidance of Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki and his studio, Ys Net.

This online Shenmue is apparently in the works for the PC and the cell-game network Mobage Town, and Japanese users will get the basic game for free. They'll have to pay for extra items, though. There's not much chance for a North American release, even though both Mobage and Sunsoft are increasing their presence overseas. So when you send Sega your impassioned missives and online petitions for Shenmue 3, remember to spare a few for Sunsoft.

NIS America made no secret about wanting the PS3 RPG Hyperdimension Game Neptune, and now they've locked down the license. Shortened to Hyperdimension Neptunia for these shores, it has the marks of a typical NIS release: giant-eyed anime girls, RPG mechanics, and scads of in-jokes.

Yet Neptunia's in-jokes are of a rarer breed, as most of its characters personify game companies and consoles. Neptunia herself is a purple-haired, Sega-console heroine, and she's tasked with saving the land of Gamindustri (subtle!) from a villainous entity known as Arfoire. Along the way, she'll meet the avatars of modern game systems as well as companies like Idea Factory, Nippon Ichi, and the game's developer, Compile Heart.

The battle system sticks to routine commands, but players can customize their summonable allies, turning stored photos into simple attacks. Some familiar Sega characters are loaded into the game, and it's probably the most anyone's cared about Alex Kidd in years. Neptunia arrives here in the spring.

Rurouni Kenshin isn't as dormant a series as you might think. Sure, the manga and anime dropped out of the spotlight years ago, but Banpresto and Eighting revived it for a 3-D fighting game on the PlayStation 2 back in 2006. And it's coming back on the PSP, with Rurouni Kenshin: Second Hirameki. It's a 3-D fighter, it'll be out in the spring, and Kenshin, Sannosuke, Aoshi, and Saitou are confirmed thus far.

Nintendo was probably planning on some grander announcement for the release date of the 3DS in the West, but someone checked the company's financial details. The handheld's coming to North America and Europe in March, and the confirmed launch titles thus far are Steel Diver, Nintendogs & Cats, Pilotwings Resort, and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.


Developer: ArtDink
Publisher: ArtDink
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1-6

Carnage Heart EXA's cover resembles that of any other mecha-piloting game, with a concerned woman and a steadfast man posed dramatically over a sensibly designed robot that belies no emotion. But anyone who played the original Carnage Heart (or any of its Japan-only sequels) knows the truth: this isn't just another mecha-action game. Instead of piloting robots, you're designing and programming them. These war machines, called Overkill Engines or OKEs, are outfitted with weapons and features that would suit a Front Mission behemoth, but it's the internal AI of the machine that truly counts. Using a flow chart of interconnected squares, players decide just how a mecha behaves in battle, figuring out, for examples, just how much damage it should take before it retreats, or whether it'll respond to attacks with defensive or offensive countermeasures. And then those mecha are sent off into battle, where you'll watch them triumph through your strength of programming or just sit there because you forgot to teach them to walk. But if you're worried about that, you can always control the robots manually as they trudge through the game's story mode. Naturally, Carnage Heart EXA makes it easy to show off the results of your mecha-design: six players can compete over ad-hoc connections.
Import Barrier: All of the programming directions are in Japanese, and there's no enjoying the game properly if you can't understand them.
Chances of a Domestic Release: North American publishers don't care much about Carnage Heart. The original PlayStation game was released here, but no one bothered translating the four sequels between that and EXA.

Developer: Culture Brain
Publisher: Culture Brain
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1-4

I admit that I find the majority of Leiji Matsumoto's works bland and repetitive. But I do like Galaxy Express 999: it mixes space opera with existential themes and just a bit of surrealism. So it deserves to be popular enough for frequent revivals and merchandising. Here's the latest such exploitation: a DS game that spans several genres. It also spans the original storyline of Galaxy Express 999, as a vengeful young man named Tetsuro hops a space-bound train in the hopes of getting an immortal mechanical body. He instead finds personal revelations on all sorts of planets while in the company of a mysterious woman named Maetel. The DS game features RPG-like exploration and item collecting, along with mini-games that can be played with four other DS users. Most of the game emphasizes the story, however, with lots of conversations and true-to-anime scenes. Which means it's largely for devoted fans of the series.
Extra Stuff: And those fans can pick up a special edition of the game with a desk clock and Maetel figures.
Import Barrier: All menu commands are in Japanese, though anyone who's been through the anime or manga could work out the plot.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Zero, but Discotek will release the two Galaxy Express 999 movies on DVD next year. They'll take you on a never-ending journey.

Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1-2

It's taken over ten years, but CyberConnect2 finally got the go-ahead for a sequel to Tail Concerto, a PlayStation action-RPG remembered fondly by many. That's because it skillfully covered up mediocre gameplay with an endearing atmosphere where animal-people cavorted in a steam-tech civilization of floating islands. Solatorobo is set in the next floating country over, and it tells a similar story with dog-and-cat characters, once again designed by Nobuteru Yuuki. Hunter-for-hire and “inuhito” (dog-person) Red Savarin is attacked on a mission in his homeland of the Shepherd Republic, and it leads him to a far-reaching storyline and a critical “nekohito” (cat-person) named Elh Melizee. Their journey's carried out aboard Red's robot, the Dahak AZ103, as it fends off enemies and tosses around whatever it can grab. Red also traverses towns, airships, and dungeons on foot, as he wields a sword and occasionally boosts his attack powers by morphing into human form like a reverse werewolf (and he's apparently not the only human running around). Solatorobo features aerial racing and puzzles in addition to its 3-D combat, and Red's mecha can be modified in various ways. It also looks really impressive for something confined to a DS screen, and Madhouse animated some detailed cutscenes for the game.
Extra Stuff: The special edition of Solatorobo includes the soundtrack, a book of production materials, and, if you were quick with your pre-order in Japan, a DVD “Prelude Disc” of bonus information.
Import Barrier: Dialogue and menus require knowledge of Japanese. All bets are off when it comes to throwing things around in a giant mecha.
Chances of a Domestic Release: U.S. publishers are surprisingly quiet about Solatorobo, even though an early demo of the game was translated into French. Maybe it's the whole “furry” thing that scares them off.


Platform: Xbox 360
MSRP: $149.99

Yes, it's Microsoft's answer to the Wii, one that doesn't require a pesky controller. All you need do is gesticulate wildly in front of the Kinect sensor attached to your Xbox 360. Intriguing as the premise is, the first round of games lacks a real standout. As with the Wii, there's a decent showcase in the pack-in: Kinect Adventures puts player avatars in various mini-games, including a raft ride and a mine-cart challenge. Other modest highlights of the Kinect launch are the rhythm-game Dance Central, Ubisoft's underground brawler Fighters Uncaged, and the pet-raising Kinectimals, the special edition of which comes with a stuffed tiger that you can name Hobbes and bring to life in your imagination. There's also Sonic Free Riders, a Kinect version of the hoverboard-racer Sonic Riders. Not much, but most of the Kinect's early adopters are likely curious just to see how it works.

Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $49.99

Babysitting Mama has a novel control scheme: the game comes with a big plush baby, into which players put the Wii remote. Thus the game is played, with the remote sensing just how well players are rocking, holding, or burping the on-screen baby in accordance with Mama's instructions. In fact, the big stuffed noseless infant-beast will even make noises in response to the player's actions. Babysitting Mama features six different infants and over 40 mini-games, all of which make baby-tending as challenging as possible. It sounds like something invented for a high-school class aimed at preventing teen pregnancy, but the Mama series specializes in turning the mundane into tests of player reflexes. I'd normally joke about the game leading to Child Protective Services Mama, Alcoholic Rehab Mama, and Illegal Adoption Mama, but I think those are coming next week.


Developer: Sting
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

I'm still not sure if the DS version of Knights in the Nightmare is a strategy-RPG or any other easily identified genre sample. Sure, it had characters moving and fighting on grids inside a massive dungeon, but it also had something rarely seen in strategy games. During battles, players moved the dot of a wisp around the screen, dodging various enemy projectiles and thereby affecting the flow of battle. It was a concept both novel and vaguely confusing, as Knights in the Nightmare is the rare game that actually needs a lengthy and detailed tutorial. For those who follow Sting's Dept. Heaven series, Knights is the fourth game in the saga, and it focuses on the wisp and a curious valkyrie's exploration of Castle Aventheim, where an awful lot of people are dead and waiting to be resurrected. The real question is how well the game's bullet-dodging will play in this port. The original game used the DS stylus, but the PSP has no such luxury. However, it has Princess Yggdra from Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone as a third main character, along with a bonus download of the full Yggdra Union strategy-RPG for first-round buyers. Sting will not be satisfied until everyone has played Yggdra Union.

Developer: Neverland Company
Publisher: Natsume
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

In 2007, Natsume released Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon and Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon. Harvest Moon fans preferred the trappings of a fantasy RPG to mild science fiction, and Innocent Life never saw a sequel. Meanwhile, we're on the fourth Rune Factory, counting the un-numbered Wii version. The latest in the series introduces another young protagonist to a village, one where humans distrust the neighboring Unvir monster-folk. The game's hero bridges the divide by farming and making dungeon raids, the latter of which see him transforming into a monster-ish form. Of course, the regular Harvest Moon duties rear their heads, requiring players to raise crops, run a business, and stay on good terms with the villagers. If you're on especially good terms with one of the game's female leads, who range from a narcoleptic village girl to an actual mermaid, you can marry her and raise a family. I have no idea what sort of children result from the union of one half-monster human and a different kind of half-monster human, but I'm sure Rune Factory will show us.

Also Shipping: Beyblade: Metal Fusion (DS) and Call of Duty: Black Ops (Xbox 360/PS3/Wii/DS).

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