The X Button - Parts Foreignby Todd Ciolek,
Another April Fools' Day came and went last week, causing many to once again throw their hands in the air and moan about how silly and clichéd it is for game companies and websites to pull pranks. Those people are joyless whiners. April Fools' Day brings about some tiresome humor in the game industry, but points of wonderful absurdity always emerge.
My favorite this year is Taito's Darius Burst Another Chronicle 48, a special arcade version of the company's latest Darius shooter. Just as the older Darius games had play areas two screens wide, this experimental new Darius extends for 48 screens, with just as many players able to join the game at once. In Darius tradition, there's also a giant fish boss that's 48 screens long.
I think it's a nice tribute to an old arcade shooter, and I don't even like Darius games that much. It beats some of the other news from April 1st, including a game cancellation that I only wish was a holiday gag.
STEAMBOT CHRONICLES 2 CANCELED
Irem had a rough month. Japan's game companies were all affected by the recent earthquake, but Irem canceled one of their two major upcoming titles, Disaster Report 4 and then announced that they wouldn't reprint any of their older Disaster Report games. Last week, Irem shut down their other major upcoming title, Steambot Chronicles 2.
Steambot Chronicles 2 was “upcoming” for a very long time. Known in Japan as Bumpy Trot 2, the game was announced for the PlayStation 2 in 2006. It slipped one release date after another, moving to the PlayStation 3 and giving Irem time to bring out two spin-offs, Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament and Blokus Portable. And now Steambot Chronicles 2 is gone for good. The original game, also on the PlayStation 2, had players driving steam-powered “trotmobile” mechs through a pastoral world where they could take on odd jobs and join a local band. The sequel looked to improve on both the combat and visual style, with a wider range of activities for trotmobiles.
The only notable release left on Irem's schedule is Doki Doki Suikoden, a game that began life as an April Fools' Day joke. Based very, very loosely on the same Chinese legend that inspired Konami's Suikoden RPGs, Doki Doki Suikoden is a PSP dating sim with 108 female characters to be wooed. This isn't Irem's last chance to stay afloat, though, as the company does very good business with pachinko titles and other gambling software. But it doesn't bode well for the part of Irem that makes interesting games.
MEGA MAN UNIVERSE ALSO CANCELED
Capcom, jealous of the game-canceling going on at other companies, stepped up last week and ceased all development on Mega Man Universe. Mega Man creator Keiji Infaune first envisioned the game as a combination of every fan's favorite Mega Man features, allowing players to create their own levels on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. The first trailer for the game had plenty of in-jokes as well, showing Mega Man turn into Arthur from Ghosts 'N Goblins, Ryu from Street Fighter, and even the warped little Mega Man from the original game's NES box art.
What the public saw and played, however, was little more than an NES-era Mega Man remixed with new layouts and characters. The version shown at the New York Comic Con, for example, resembled some fan-remixed version of Mega Man 2, and it didn't draw much attention. Mega Man Universe's future became all the more grim when Inafune left Capcom last year.
Capcom disclosed no specific reasons for Mega Man Universe's cancellation, though one could point to Inafune's departure, the recent natural disaster in Japan, and the project's overall lack of direction. Whatever the cause, the loss of Mega Man Universe has some fans worried about the future of Mega Man Legends 3. The game's producers are clearly relying on fan support to get Capcom's higher-ups behind a new Mega Man Legends, and the past month hasn't been kind to projects that aren't bankable.
On the subject of Keiji Inafune, he recently founded two companies of his own. Intercept will focus on game development, while Comcept will handle the design and marketing for said games, along with any multimedia projects that arise. Odds are that neither company will be tapped for a new Mega Man game.
NINTENDO REMEMBERS XENOBLADE, STILL FORGETS THE LAST STORY
Xenoblade and The Last Story aren't all that similar in tone and gameplay, but they share one thing: they're both promising Wii RPGs that Nintendo's American and European branches ignored for some time. Well, things have changed for Xenoblade.
Nintendo's European branch revealed last week that Xenoblade's headed for a release there under the title Xenoblade Chronicles. North America likely won't miss out, either, as Nintendo of America registered the site xenobladechronicles.com. And there's good reason to look forward to Xenoblade Chronicles. Though its story brings up the dreadful clichés of a young man and a mysterious magic sword, the game's world is creative: all of its explorable hills, crannies, beaches, and grasslands lie on the upright corpses of two giant alien creatures. The game's also the work of Monolith Soft and director Tetsuya Takahashi, known for the action-oriented RPG battles and bizarre plot turns of Xenogears and the Xenosaga trilogy. Despite the title, Xenoblade has no direct relation to Takahashi's older pet projects. In fact, the director appears to be moving away from the ambitious, long-winded narratives of his past RPGs. With its fluid, three-character combat and emphasis on exploring wide-open regions, Xenoblade appears more the successor of Final Fantasy XII.
The Last Story's bid for a Western release remains much hazier. While Nintendo registered a site for the game last year, little information trickled out afterward. As recently as January, Nintendo's official line was that The Last Story wasn't leaving Japan, even though the game may have more appeal here than Xenoblade. It's the latest project for Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and his Mistwalker studio, and it aims for an old-fashioned RPG atmosphere with its restrained setting of a single medieval-fantasy isle. The battle system, by contrast, lets players take cover, destroy their surroundings, and do a lot of other things that RPGs typically don't allow. It even has a soundtrack by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. But that apparently doesn't get it a ticket overseas.
SOLATOROBO CLOSER TO A EUROPEAN RELEASE
Like Xenoblade and The Last Story, CyberConnect2's Solatorobo is an intriguing little game that many want to see outside of Japan. Rumors of a European release sprang up last November, when the DS game was rated under its original title, Solarobo. Now there's a new trademark in Namco Bandai's European records, and it's for Solatorobo: Red the Hunter.
As Solatorobo's lead, Red hops between floating islands on his Miyazaki-style flying robot. The game's a semi-sequel to CyberConnect2's PlayStation action title Tail Concerto, though with more substantial gameplay. Solatorbo is set in another region of the same world, and it pairs up a dog-man hero and his conflicted cat-girl rival just as Tail Concerto did. Solatorobo also has human characters in it, through some plot twist one shouldn't give away.
Namco Bandai's American branch vaguely denies any plans to bring Solatorobo to these shores, according to Siliconera. So the game might join The Last Window and Freshly Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland among the DS selections that unfairly skipped North America on their way to Europe.
IN BRIEF: RED BOUGHT, CHRONO TRIGGER AND MEGA MAN X HIT VC
In news that might be significant further down the line, Red Entertainment was recently bought by the Shanghai-based developer UltiZen Games. Specializing in planning and ideas, Red normally partners with other companies to handle the programming and grunt-work, and their past collaborations produced the Tengai Makyo games, Sakura Wars, Gungrave, Thousand Arms, the Agarest War series, and that Trigun game that's never coming out. UltiZen has a less extensive resume, primarily concerned with developing titles for larger publishers. But UltiZen wants to make their own game properties now, and they'll have a capable ally in Red Entertainment.
Nintendo's Virtual Console doesn't get much notice nowadays, mostly because it's lacking any standout releases of old titles. Fortunately, April brings Mega Man X and Chrono Trigger, both standout Super Famicom/Super NES games, to the Virtual Console in Japan. American releases are likely, though nothing's confirmed. While Square already brought an enhanced port of Chrono Trigger to the DS, the Super NES version has the better intro and the original translation where Frog says “thee” and “hast” a lot.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: MARCH
CLASSIC DUNGEON X2
The first Classic Dungeon, released here as ClaDun, was a bullet fired right at the heart of RPG nostalgia. It had deliberately primitive pixel-built graphics, a mocking overtone, and an option to hear its music as bleeping NES-like compositions. Classic Dungeon X2 has the exact same goal: appealing to dungeon-hackers who either care nothing for looks or specifically want a game that looks like an MSX title from 1986. And for those fans, there's twice as much of everything, with the weapons and the game's character-developing Magic Circle system expanded greatly for the sequel. Dungeon raids still fill most of the time, putting players and their chosen party into labyrinths full of monsters, treasures, and some clever traps, all shown in the same primitive style. The sequel jumps into customization quickly: players can design a character and use him/her/it from the start, and any heroes or heroines from the first game can be ported into X2. There's also the option to compose theme music to play during one's adventuring.
GUNDAM THE 3-D BATTLE
Gundam games are often lousy. Third-string games from a system's launch are often lousy. That stacks the deck against Gundam the 3D Battle quite a bit, but this isn't some tech-demo cobbled together for easily wiled, 3DS-owning Gundam fans. It's an extension of Artdink's Gundam Battle series, which stretched across five games on the PSP. The DS treatment promises 70 different missions and just as many mecha from the original Gundam films, Zeta Gundam, Char's Counterattack, and even that new, not-half-bad Gundam Unicorn series. While the missions recreate events from those anime series, players can create a pilot and improve him or her with experience points from each successful mission. Taking advantage of the 3DS, the game puts the robot-against-robot action on the upper screen while the lower one shows readouts of the mecha's condition and remaining ammo. There's also a gallery where models of the game's many machines can be viewed in 3-D, for those who bought the new Nintendo system primarily to look at giant robots.
RUROUNI KENSHIN MEIJI KENKAKU ROMANTAN SAISEN
Rurouni Kenshin had its day in the sun. It did well in Japan in the late 1990s, and the rising tide of American anime fans welcomed it in the following decade, even landing it on cable. Now it's found a revival, though not in the form of a new comic or a disposable one-off movie. Namco Bandai marked the 15th anniversary of Kenshin with a new PSP fighting game. While it's a 2-D fighter in gameplay, this Kenshin title shows off 3-D character models, shaded to closely resemble animation. The game doesn't hold back on effects, either, as attacks produce ornate ink-smear arcs and flashes of lightning. As for the play mechanics, nothing digs terribly deep. It's a simple fighter, like most anime-based affairs that aren't Fate/Unlimited Codes. There are special moves, combos, and the chance to lose one's weapon as in Samurai Shodown, but the allure here is more from the cast of playable characters and the steady challenge of unlocking them all. The complete roster features Kenshin, Kaoru, Yahiko, Saito, Hiko Seijuro, armed and unarmed Sannosuke, Misao, Aoshi, Shishio, Soujiro, Jinei, Anji, Raijuta, Usui, Kamatari, Fuji, Cho, Henya, Iwanbo, and Enishi. That covers just about every major character from Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga and ignores some rampantly disliked characters created just for the anime series. And that's what fans care about first and foremost.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Patapon 2 started a ruckus when Sony released it as a download-only game in North America, testing just how fans would react. Now that's all in the past: Sony gave us a UMD version of Patapon 2, download-only games no longer draw game-geek ire, and we're moving on to Patapon 3. The third game retains the cyclopean shadow-creature look and musical gameplay of the series, and the player still guides a one-eyed army into battle by rhythmically tapping the PSP's face buttons. The army's cut back for Patapon 3: instead of a legion of simple warriors, there are now four under the player's command, with a super-powered Patapon hero leading the charge. It's all part of a quest to revive the majority of the Patapon tribe, who were turned to stone by a malevolent evil force. Fortunately, the game keeps the same diverse occupations. The four soldiers can switch classes and equip different weapons before each battle for some strategic preparation. Patapon 3's online mode lets four play cooperate on the challenges of the main story, and there are player-versus-player battles and clan-based play. If those seem fairly standard features, just remember that Patapon's beat-based warfare isn't duplicated anywhere else.
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