The X Button
by Todd Ciolek,
It's not every week that the most interesting game news turns out to be a hoax, and I must congratulate the person or persons behind the recent announcement of a new Bloody Roar. It looked legitimate: a convincing Twitter account in Hudson Soft's name talked up a revival of Bloody Roar, the 3-D fighter series where martial artists morph into various were-beasts. A fifth installment of the series was rumored earlier this year and then apparently canceled when Hudson's American branch closed. The new twitter post gave hope to fans, seeing as how the series saw its last entry back in 2003.
But it was all a prank, and a long-term prank at that. The Twitter feed was apparently set up back in March of this year, which means that someone kept the Hudson act going for months, all to show Konami, Hudson's new master, that people actually want a Bloody Roar 5. If Konami doesn't accede, I blame Alice, the annoying bunny-nurse-girl who appeared in every Bloody Roar game. How I hated her.
PSN GETS GOOD AND RARE PS2 GAMES, ALSO ODIN SPHERE
One of the more frustrating things about the Playstation 3 was its sudden loss of backwards compatibility with PlayStation 2 games. Early models had it, but Sony dropped it without much explanation. Now there's a stopgap, provided you're after some lesser-seen games from the PlayStation 2. Sony put up five “rare classic” games on the PlayStation Network this past Tuesday: Capcom's God Hand and Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, Vanillaware's Grim Grimoire and Odin Sphere, and Konami's Ring of Red.
The games, all priced at $10, are the first wave of Sony's plan to bring more PlayStation 2 titles to the PSN. The games are strictly the PS2 versions, without any enhancements or new trophies (or a physical copy of Ring of Red's amusingly suggestive cover art), which means that there's no reason to re-buy them if you already own them. A real-world copy of Maximo is perhaps easy to find used for a few bucks, but the other four games are all conveniently priced. It's a helpful way to see just what all the fuss is about God Hand or to give some underrated strategy-RPGs their due. Grim Grimoire is a cute real-time combat game, and Ring of Red is a grueling, unique battlefield simulator.
CAPCOM BRINGS BACK DARKSTALKERS, BUT NOT REALLY
In a fighting-game comeback that's almost worse than a cruel hoax, Capcom returned to the Darkstalkers franchise long enough to put Morrigan and Demitri's costumes into Monster Hunter Frontier Online for the PC and the Xbox 360 in Japan. Yes, they're just costumes. Capcom did a similar thing with the outfits of Ryu and Chun-Li from Street Fighter, but at least there are still actual Street Fighter games coming out.
This Darkstalkers thing is a horrible tease, though you can pause the video at certain points and just pretend that it's a new Darkstalkers game, albeit a mediocre-looking one where Dimitri and Morrigan are generic fantasy heroes. And then you can boil with resentment.
IN BRIEF: PHANTOM BREAKER POSSIBLY COMING TO THE U.S., HATSUNE MIKU COMING TO A LOT OF THINGS
Phantom Breaker, a 2-D fighter with a mostly female cast, is exactly the sort of things that normally stays over in Japan. Southpeak Interactive might think otherwise, though. An Amazon listing for the game recently popped up with a release date for the end of the year, with Southpeak as the publisher. It may all come to nothing, but it's possible that the releases of Arcana Heart and Blazblue emboldened some North American publishers.
Hatsune Miku, the insatiable computer-voiced mascot of the Vocaloid software series, once again expands her virtual-idol empire. She'll appear in the upcoming PlayStation 3 version of The [email protected] 2, and her own game, project diva, is reportedly headed to the PlayStation Vita. Neither game is coming to North America just yet.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: SEPTEMBER
EVANGELION SHIN GEKIJOBAN: 3ND IMPACT
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Sony PSP
Evangelion games cover all sorts of territory and rarely do it well, but Grasshopper Interactive found some unexplored country in the musical genre. Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: 3nd Impact is a rhythm-action game that re-imagines major scenes from the new Evangelion films as music-based mini-games. Battles against Sachiel, Samshel, and other grotesque Angels? They now come down to tapping the PSP's face buttons in time with a revolving energy field. Rei's introspective monologue? It's played out against a field of musical pulses and crystals. A lot of the challenges don't evolve far beyond simple timing, with hexagonal symbols flitting onto the screen while animation from films plays behind them, driven on like the events in one of those old full-motion-video titles.
Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: 3nd Impact gets its music from the films themselves, adding interactive layers to Shiro Sagisu's original soundtrack as well as numbers like “Today is the Day for Goodbye” (a.k.a. That Happy Kids' Song That Plays While an Eva is Ripped Apart). It's all overseen by Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill notoriety, and the music at least sounds sharp even when the gameplay's standard rhythm-game material. As for the title, “3nd” is a play on 'san,” the Japanese pronunciation of “3.” So it's “San-nd Impact.” It makes sense if you remember your Evangelion terminology.
Import Barrier: The PSP's still region-free, and the musical nature of the mini-games is easily deduced.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Due to licensing costs or some other reason, Evangelion's popularity never roped in any game publishers on this side of the ocean. Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: 3nd Impact won't change that.
THE LEGEND OF HEROES: AO NO KISEKI
Platform: Sony PSP
The Legend of Heroes franchise may at long last find a foothold in North America. Namco Bandai's release of the Gagharv sub-trilogy dried up several years ago, but Xseed's more recent debut of Trails in the Sky generated a bit more buzz, plus anticipation for Xseed's promised releases of the next two games in the Trails in the Sky arc. Of course, Falcom is far ahead of them in Japan, where they're now in the middle of yet another Legend of Heroes trilogy. The first of the new line, Zero no Kiseki (“Trails of Zero”) bucks the usual RPG setting in favor of a more modern stage with cars, large cities, and a design style that recalls the later Wild Arms games. It follows rookie police officer Lloyd Bannings, his crack-shot partner Elie MacDowell, and their retinue of cops, mercenaries, magicians, and other misfits.
The sequel, Ao no Kiseki, or Trails of Blue, picks up shortly after the events of the previous game, bringing back the same cast and introducing a few new faces—including the green-haired Kia, seen on the cover. Trails of Blue also refines earlier games' complex Orbment System, which allows a character to develop basic skills while pushing them toward one broader school of combat arts. The battle system flows in menu-driven ways, and players can now skip the animated snippets that unfold during special attacks, much like Super Robot Wars. Falcom also threw in plenty of sideline distractions: a customizable police Humvee, a Columns-like puzzle game, and a carnival shooting gallery.
Import Barrier: Between the reams of dialogue and the detailed character development, this is one game best approached with some Japanese proficiency.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not bad, considering that Xseed signed on for more Trails in the Sky. Falcom's also supporting the Vita, and a port of Trails of Blue might find its way to the new handheld.
TALES OF XILLIA
Developer:Namco Tales Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I want to note something about the Tales franchise. Did you ever notice how some of the games are tales of actual words, like Tales of Destiny, while others are tales of made-up words, like Tales of Vesperia? And others have words that are sort of made-up, like Eternia and Legendia? Tales of Xillia is the made-up contingent, and it's set apart in other ways. Prior Tales games clung to some older anime-styled shorthand when it came to building a world, but Xillia has much more expansive scenery, and its character designs unite two halves of the series. Some games had art from Kousuke Fujishima, while others used the illustrations of Mutsumi Inomata. Xillia puts Inomata designs right next to Fujishima's, and the resulting cast looks a lot more consistent than one might expect.
As another self-continued chunk of the Tales series, Xillia follows two leads through a world where humans and various spirits live in civilized stations comparable to 19th-century Europe (only with more flashing, glowing technology). Jude Mathis is a medical student who ends up following the spiritually attuned Milla Maxwell into an investigation of a military lab, and they soon gather a varied lineup of party members. Every Tales game needs an oddly named battle system, so Xillia has DR-LMBS, the Dual Raid Linear Motion Battle System. It's similar to the action-oriented approach from past Tales titles, but there's a new emphasis on team-up attacks. Xillia also brings back the Over Limit feature for powering up characters in battle. If it's not new territory for the Tales conglomerate, Xillia was at least received fairly well in Japan.
Import Barrier: The battle system isn't terribly hard to figure out for English speakers, but the storyline is. PlayStation 3 games are region-free, by the way.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Fair. Namco's trying out Tales of Graces F next year and the 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss this winter, and their sales will doubtless influence Xillia's shot at North America.
Marvelous Entertainment's Senran Kagura: Portrait of Girls breaks new ground on the 3DS—ground that was perhaps best undisturbed. It's the first game to use the system's 3-D display to emphasize cartoon breasts, specifically those of high-school ninja heroines. The game is technically a brawler: those five girls and their rivals clash with generic thugs as well as each other throughout 2-D stages. Their battles give rise to aerial combos, cinematic attacks, and other opportunities for the characters to rip their costumes, which range from formal wear to bikinis to relatively dignified giant catsuits. Yet this can't compare to the game's biggest surprise: Marvelous actually hopes to release it in North America. So far, nothing official.
Dragon Quest observed its 25th birthday this year, and Square Enix saw no more profitable way to recognize it than the Dragon Quest 25th Anniversary Collection for the Wii. Granted, it's only the first three games in the series, but they're available in several different flavors: the Famicom versions of all of the games are here, plus the Super Famicom's Dragon Warrior III revamp and the bundle of Dragon Warrior I and II. For the devoted fan, the best parts are likely the “Treasure Trove” of production documents from the series, detailing the original games' development. Think of it as the Criterion treatment for old Japanese RPGs.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
ACE COMBAT: ASSAULT HORIZON |
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is a curious reminder that 2015 isn't so far off. In fact, the game's vision of that particular year isn't all that far removed from contemporary matters. In Assault Horizon, the nations of Africa are gripped by mass rebellion, and NATO and the U.N. intervene to violent effect. Of course, there's a conspiracy surrounding a massive superweapon and a rogue Russian ace, and the conflict spreads to New York, Dubai, Paris, Washington D.C., Moscow, Tokyo, and other major cities. And that's where Assault Horizon launches the usual Ace Combat veins of dogfights and other aerial battles. It's still a flight sim in many ways, but Ace Combat has often leaned to more approachable, arcade-like controls, and Assault Horizon continues down that path.
In fact, Assault Horizon aims to reboot the entire series. For one thing, it offers a new close-range mode of combat, where players circle in tight and engage enemies easily. It dispenses with a lot of the long-distance chasing, and a new optional method of control serves the new up-close system. A good selection of aircraft is also available, including stealth bombers and helicopters. The multiplayer even supports 16 players in its Capital Conquest mode, with eight on each side in the roles of bombers and fighters.
ALIENS: INFESTATION |
Platform: Nintendo DS
There's a certain cosmic equilibrium to WayForward's Aliens: Infestation. It's an Alien game inspired by Metroid—which is, of course, the most popular game series inspired by the Alien films. And it's a welcome homage. A break from the first-person shooters that dominate Alien-derived games, Infestation is a side-scroller rooted in the most game-friendly of all Alien films. The game sends a squad of colonial marines through the dark, acid-dripping corridors of the colony from Aliens (and the Sulaco ship above it), and the environments offer just about all of the familiar sights and weapons from the film, right down to the power-loader, the pulse rifle, and the acid-blooded monstrosities.
Infestation is a challenging affair as well. The game offers nineteen playable marines of differing skills and strengths, but each is permanently dead if they fall in the line of duty. There's also more than one way to fall, since xenomorphs can either slaughter them on the spot or drag them off to be cocooned for chest-burster hatchlings. In the latter case, marines can be saved if the player frees them in time. And there's plenty of territory to cover, as the game unfolds in the Metroid fashion: new items open up new sectors of the colony or spaceship, and the game can be explored in non-linear ways. WayForward's exquisite 2-D style, seen in cartoonish wonders like Shantae and Sigma Star Saga, is surprisingly well suited to the corners of the Alien world, from the recesses of spaceships to the decaying husk of the Space Jockey. I suspect that anyone who remembers the Space Jockey will be well-served by Aliens: Infestation.
DEAD RISING 2: OFF THE RECORD|
Developer: Blue Castle
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Very well, Dead Rising fans. You complained when Dead Rising 2 starred heroic single-dad Chuck Greene instead of the original Dead Rising's hero: gruff, vaguely sociopathic, Michael-Madsen-esque journalist Frank West. Well, now you have Off the Record, a revision of Dead Rising 2 that's all about Frank. Frank runs around zombie-filled Fortune City in goofy outfits. Frank takes photos of the carnage and gets points for anything especially gruesome or lurid. And Frank destroys the undead in all sorts of ridiculous ways. If that's the Dead Rising 2 that everyone wanted, Off the Record is it.
Not that Off the Record is an all-new game or anything. It's essentially Dead Rising 2 through Frank's eyes, without a strong motivation for his zombie-slaying habits. Like Chuck, he's out to rescue survivors and endure all sorts of violent game-show challenges, but the high point of all this fuss is an new open-world mode. That's where Frank is free to punt zombies around with dozens of different weapons, most of them improvised from common commercial and sporting accessories. Those who picked up Dead Rising 2 will find a lot of familiar material, but seeing it through Frank's war-covering eyes will likely make a big difference to some fans.
GUARDIAN HEROES |
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
MSRP: 800 Points in Microsoft Money
There's a bit of debate over whether or not Treasure's still got it. Most of their games from the past few years were sequels to classics from their heyday, and some people think that Gunstar Super Heroes and Advance Guardian Heroes are weak pretenders to the Treasure legacy (spoiler: those people are wrong, wrong, wrong). Yet we can all agree that Guardian Heroes is an excellent Treasure showpiece. Originally released in 1996, Guardian Heroes is a marvelous extension of the basic brawler. Characters of varying abilities progress through side-scrolling stages and pound the crap out of enemies, but they do it by unleashing fighting-game moves, jumping across three different planes of movement, picking their way through a branching storyline, pulling off fast-paced and ridiculously overblown attacks, and arriving at one of several bizarre endings.
The Xbox Live version of Guardian Heroes doesn't change much beyond appearances: the graphics were all sharpened, the dialogue was retranslated with a slightly more medieval ring, and there's new artwork of the characters. Treasure also re-recorded some voices and adjusted the game's versus mode. No mere extra, the versus mode is one of the best attractions in Guardian Heroes, as it lets twelve players control any characters seen in the story mode, whether they're angels, demons, a lumbering village-god robots, or unarmed peasants. And for those who don't care for the game's smooth new filtered look, the original graphics are easily enabled.
Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny, delayed from last month, arrives on the Wii and PlayStation 3 with its mix of farming, dating, and action-RPG exploring.
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