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The X Button
Way of the Warriors
by Todd Ciolek,
Video game magazines don't have it so good. GamePro folded, EGM is bimonthly, and only a few domestic rags remain. But hey, print can still show up the high and mighty online world of game journalism now and then. In fact, that happened this week when the new issue of Nintendo Power broke the news that Aksys Games will release Extreme Escape Adventure: Good People Die in North America.
Aksys Games hasn't commented on the news, so it's possible that they changed their minds after Nintendo Power went to press. But it's a good sign. Extreme Escape Adventure: Good People Die is Chun Soft's 3DS and Vita sequel to their entertaining puzzle-adventure 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and it uses a similar formula. Nine individuals are forced to cooperate in escaping a cruel series of traps, and their bracelets allow them to cement their survival by tricking each other. I hope it'll make it out here with the same morbid title. Seeing Good People Die on the shelf would remind the casual shopper of life's inherent cruelty.
STREET FIGHTER X TEKKEN GETS MORE CHARACTERS, BUT NOT RIGHT NOW
It's only a half-truth to say that Street Fighter X Tekken is out for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 next month. In fact, only the first version of the game is out. Capcom surprised few fighting-game fans by announcing that the Vita edition, arriving in the fall, will have twelve more characters. And while Capcom didn't explicitly say that this expanded roster will be available as a downloadable extra for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, that's the safest bet you could make.
The Vita version adds Elena, Dudley, Sakura, Blanka, Cody, and Guy to the Street Fighter camp. The Tekken side gets Christie, Brian, Lars, Jack, Alisa, and Lei. Most of these names correspond to a roster that leaked out last year, though that rumored list had a few other characters that we haven't seen, including Karin, Makoto, Sodom, and Rainbow Mika (supposedly a favorite of producer Yoshinori Ono). At any rate, it's nice to see Elena back, even if she's the only addition who wasn't already in Super Street Fighter IV.
All of this may drive people away from the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Street Fighter X Tekken next month. The Xbox 360 release seems especially paltry, as the PS3 one at least has a round of exclusive characters: a robot-riding Pac-Man, a pudgy American-box-art Mega Man, Cole from Infamous, and Sony mascots Toro and Kuro. Early adopters can at least get the game's limited edition (above), which has an admittedly cool-looking coin bank shaped like an arcade machine.
Meanwhile, Street Fighter itself makes an appearance in a future bonus for Asura's Wrath, due out this week. A shot from a downloadable extra mode shows Asura facing off against Ryu (and possibly other characters) in a simulation of Super Street Fighter IV. How much will it cost? And will Asura show up in Street Fighter as a quid pro quo? Unfortunately, Capcom's stingy with the details at the moment.
FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 CONTINUES WITH CHARACTERS WE ACTUALLY LIKE
Final Fantasy XIII-2 has many attractions, but there's one thing it doesn't have: enough of Sazh, a gunslinging pilot and the most likable of Final Fantasy XIII's main characters. He was only a side player in XIII-2, but you can put him center stage as long as you're willing to pay for it. The game's first downloadable side story, Heads or Tails transpires during Final Fantasy XIII-2's main quest and finds Sazh in the casino city of Serendipity, where the game adds poker and the less conventional Chronobind to the mini-game lineup. Heads or Tails is out February 28 for five bucks.
This isn't the only Final Fantasy XIII-2 extra due next week, as there's a “Spacetime Guardian” costume for Noel and a frilly swimsuit for Serah. More are on the way, including an Ezio-style Assassin's Creed getup for Noel and a Mass Effect outfit of unspecified make. There's also a stylish “Attack and Defense” costume for Serah, designed by AKB48's Yuko Oshima.
GUILTY GEAR XX FINALLY ONLINE, X BUTTON AUTHOR FINALLY HAPPY
Fighting-game nerds are fortunate in this era. They can play a number of SNK and Capcom's classic 2-D fighters online, from Garou: Mark of the Wolves to Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Yet one major name of the last decade is conspicuously absent: Guilty Gear. Arc System Works shifted a lot of their attention to BlazBlue in recent years, but now Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus, previously released on the PlayStation 2 and Wii, is headed to Japanese arcades…and to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
Of course, this isn't a new Guilty Gear. It's merely the best specimen from the series served up with online play and, perhaps, a few adjustments to the game engine (I still think Millia's underpowered). It all makes me quite happy, and I only hope that the online versus mode is as extensive and reliable as the one in BlazBlue. And less like the one in Mark of the Wolves.
IN BRIEF: EUREKA SEVEN AO GETS A GAME, ATLUS USA GETS PERSONA FIGHTER, 3DS GETS ETRIAN ODYSSEY
Eureka Seven inspired a few video games during its day in the sun, and the upcoming Eureka Seven AO's doing the same. Namco Bandai has a website that doesn't say more than “Game Project,” but there'll be more up by the time the new series arrives in April. I could compare this to the PlayStation 2's Eureka Seven games, but I only played the first one for five minutes and never made it past the airboard race. I hated it that much.
As a fighting game, Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena was a bit of a surprise for a Persona spin-off. Far less surprising was Atlus clearing it for a U.S. launch. After some teasing, Atlus announced the game as a summer release under the title Persona 4 Arena, thus sparing many non-fans from wondering just what a Mayonaka is.
A few big announcements are supposedly in store at this week's Nintendo Direct broadcast. They'll happen after this column's deadline, but there's some 3DS-related news right now: Atlus has Etrian Odyssey IV prepped for the system. Subtitled Legend of the Giant God, the latest in the line of tough dungeon hacks has a new "casual" difficulty setting. Trauma Team director Daisuke Kaneda heads the project, and both character designer Yuji Himukai and monster designer Shin Nagasawa return from previous games. Etrian Odyssey IV also has a fast-approaching release date of July 5 in Japan.
INTERVIEW: DYNASTY WARRIORS' KENICHI OGASAWARA
The Dynasty Warriors series is an oft-overlooked pillar of the game industry. If each title is merely about cutting through entire armies of foes, the formula has yet to wear thin for Koei, and it's inspired such spin-offs as Empires, Strikeforce, Xtreme Legends, and a smattering of anime adaptations. Dynasty Warriors is one of the few sure things in Japan's market, and that's important in an age when the country's game developers frequently struggle for direction.
Of course, it wasn't always like that. The original Dynasty Warriors was a PlayStation fighting game based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the same tale of second-century Chinese history that inspired many of Koei's strategy games. It wasn't until the second Dynasty Warriors that the series found its feet in wide-scale battles where heroes of ancient China (and other eras, depending on how loose the game plays with history) hack through legions of unfortunate enemies. While the series is most successful in Japan, Dynasty Warriors games come here at a steady pace, with Dynasty Warriors Next arriving for the Vita launch this week and the crossover Warriors Orochi 3 next month. So the time was ripe to ask producer Kenichi Ogasawara a few things about the series.
When did you first come to Koei? You were there for the first Dynasty Warriors, right?
It was about 19 years ago, when Koei was just a stand-alone company. I was the game designer for the first Dynasty Warriors, yes.
Why did Koei decide to turn Dynasty Warriors into an open-field brawler with Dynasty Warriors 2?
When the PlayStation 2 came out, we looked at how we could evolve the series. Just taking the existing fighting-game formula from the first Dynasty Warriors and putting it on the PlayStation 2 would have been just a visual touch-up or something along those lines. What we really wanted to do was make full use of the Emotion Engine, and we came up with the idea of the tactical action franchise.
How do you devise different spin-offs for Dynasty Warriors? How did you come up with Strikeforce?
Well, my team has always been in charge of doing different things with the Dynasty Warriors series. When we started making Strikeforce, there were a few criticisms that the series wasn't changing. So we used a different kind of engine to bring something over from different genres.
Dynasty Warriors has expanded to include anime licenses like Gundam and Fist of the North Star. How do you decide which anime to adapt? Do you just go with what's popular, or do you specifically look for anime and manga that lend themselves well to the Dynasty Warriors formula?
Well, the first step in deciding really depends on the popularity, of course. That's the entry point, but once we decide on what we want to do, we have to look much deeper into the anime and how it links to a game's battle system in a Dynasty Warriors. We usually look at the main characters and their strengths and break that down. And then we dig even deeper.
Of the licenses or historical periods that Dynasty Warriors hasn't featured yet, which would you want to tackle in a future game?
If we're talking about history, that's a sensitive topic. The reason we originally went with Chinese history is that…well, in Japan it's massive and a very well-known kind of story, and most of our current fans are in Japan. We do think about the whole of world history, and in BladeStorm we focused on that. But outside of history, one thing we really wanted to do was Star Wars in a Dynasty Warriors engine. We thought it'd be great. We were all positive about it, and we started making contacts with the IP holders. We didn't manage to do it, but it remains one of the best “what-if” projects we've considered.
Is one spin-off more popular in the West than others?
Looking at past games, the numbered titles are always the strongest in the West. Right now, though, we're making a new crossover with One Piece, so I think that has a lot of potential in Japan and in the West.
And how are you adapting One Piece to the Dynasty Warriors engine? Did it present any problems?
In Dynasty Warriors and Gundam, everything took place on a battlefield, so adapting it to a game was quite easy. With One Piece, the manga and anime isn't set on a battlefield. It's one character going after another character. So we have to adapt our game engine to that. For example, in One Piece we have a lot of quick-time events where characters go head to head. Things like that propel the gameplay. Fist of the North Star was the same way.
You also worked on Destrega as well as the first Dynasty Warriors. Would you ever want to make another one-on-one fighter?
I think Koei's joining with Tecmo brought us Dead or Alive, and that's always been one of the top fighting franchises. So rather than us making one, we want to focus on making Dead or Alive bigger.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Platform: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360
Binary Domain is yet another case of a Japanese developer taking on the whole realm of cover-based shooters, popularized by Gears of War and its ilk. This is a road that Sega tread before with Platinum's Vanquish, which stood out on account of a really fun sliding technique. Binary Domain, developed by the crew behind the Yakuza series, doesn't go for the speed of Vanquish. No, Binary Domain's trick lies in talking. When controlling hardened soldier Dan Marshall in a war against sentient robots, players command their AI teammates through the microphone or on-screen displays. These orders cover both idle squadmate banter and mid-firefight tactics, and players' choices can influence the story as well as the relationships between Dan and the rest of the team, oddly named the “Rust Crew.” Sega promises that the supporting cast can recognize all sorts of commands, and one hopes they'll at least be more responsive to player input than, say, the heroine of Lifeline.
That aside, Binary Domain has the marks of a cover shooter, complete with the ability to pop up and fire when crouched behind concrete or steel. The game's take on a destroyed future Tokyo isn't anything new, with the mechanical opposition resembling Terminators crossed with the iPod-ish things from the I, Robot movie. Yet producer Toshihiro Nagoshi hopes to set Binary Domain apart by emphasizing “human drama” and building bonds between the player and the Rust Crew. Then again, a recent demo and cutscene samples suggest some rather routine video-game cinematic stabs, from the pack of junk-scavenging children to the completely nondescript-looking hero who wryly remarks “These guns are way bigger than yours.”
HYPERDIMENSION NEPTUNIA MK2
Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
MSRP: $49.99 / $64.99 (Special Edition available through NISA's website)
The original Hyperdimension Neptunia revolves around one joke. It's set in Gamindustri, a world where patron cyber-deities and their respective kingdoms all represent video game systems and companies. Of course, this results in a bunch of squabbling, scantily clad cartoon superheroines who symbolize the Wii, the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the failed Sega Neptune. Once the premise and the humor (“Neptune does what you all don't!”) wore off, however, the underlying RPG was widely detested. Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 has the same idea and the same setting, but it finds all of the game-system goddesses from the first captured by an insidious criminal syndicate that in no way represents piracy. Their younger sisters set out on a rescue mission, and all of them stand for handhelds: Uni is the Sony PSP, Ram and Rom are the two halves of the Nintendo DS, and the new heroine, Nepgear, is a certain old Sega system with Gear in its name.
It may never appease those who hated the first game, but Neptunia Mk2 aims to improve its predecessor's battle system. Random encounters are gone, dungeons are larger, and combat moves much faster. The game's combo attacks fall into three different types of impact, and players can break them up with extra moves, even introducing their own customized retro-game emblems into play. The first game's stiff portraits are now 3-D models, and there's an even larger lineup of characters representing game companies; Falcom and Cave heroines appear alongside veterans like the overeager heroine Nisa (no points for guessing whose avatar she is). And there are jabs aplenty at the game industry, including Brain Age jokes and countries with names like “Lowee.” There's also an appearance by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, who shows up in a Twitter-like dimension. Perhaps he'll send the player to rescue a parody of Mega Man from a cruel game company-country.
Platform: Xbox 360
Here's one for the “unlikely U.S. release” folder. Phantom Breaker is a 2-D fighter with little name recognition, as developer 5pb rarely brings any games to the West—and rarely makes anything but visual novels, for that matter. In fact, the most famous faces from Phantom Breaker are guest stars from those visual novels: Chris Makise comes from Steins;Gate, and Rimi Sakihata comes from Chaos;Head. The remainder of the characters are original…technically. But really, they encapsulate all of the usual fighting-game roles. Mikoto's a sword-wielding college girl! Mei's a magical girl! Yuzuha's a ninja girl! Waka's a priestess girl! Itsuki's a hammer-wielding maid girl! Cocoa's a claw-brandishing cosplaying girl! Fin's a laser-shooting, time-traveling winged girl! One can sense the theme by this point, but there are at least two male characters in the mix.
Phantom Breaker's gameplay offers two different forms of each character. One's fast and combo-friendly, while the other is slower, tougher, and harder-hitting. Beyond that, the game has a fairly standard array of attacks and special moves, and the graphics aren't as fluid as other titles on the market. It does, however, have the screen-filling character portraits that signify many anime-styled fighting games, and a story mode's available alongside the other features. The North American version of Phantom Breaker sports the re-balanced engine and online multiplayer rooms found in the recent Japanese-market update, and new publisher 7sixty also shows shrewd choice in extras. They're offering the game with a soundtrack, an art-filled strategy guide, and a desk calendar, all at a price point lower than usual.
SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI: DEVIL SURVIVOR 2
Platform: Nintendo DS
Ah, the Shin Megami Tensei series, where even the spin-offs are confusingly arranged. To clear it up, this is the sequel to the original Devil Survivor, which was recently reissued on the 3DS as Devil Survivor Overclocked, even though Devil Survivor 2 is going to the DS. Not that we'd put it past Atlus to do another version of Devil Survivor 2 for the 3DS in the future, but here and now, the DS is where it's planted. As with many a Shin Megami Tensei, the second Devil Survivor deals with a plague of demons in modern-day Japan. Those demons are an intrusive race of extra-dimensional creatures called Septentriones, and the best defense is an organization called JP's (which stands for “Japan's Meteorological Agency, Prescribed Geomagnetsim Research Department, believe it or not) and a trio of high-schoolers consisting of the player-named hero, his jokester friend Daichi, and a class genius named Io. As the story broadens and over a dozen recruitable characters come into focus, the player's able to forge Persona-style social bonds with allies, boosting their stats and opening new in-battle skills. Then there's a strange website that seems to show the precise moment of someone's demise, and a lot of the main characters are on the playlist.
Devil Survivor 2 replicates the original's strategy-RPG mechanics, with characters once again summoning demons to do their earthly bidding in combat. Devil Survivor 2 plays off its Fate System of character interaction, and exploiting an enemy's weaknesses opens up additional turns for player, with a “double extra” turn emerging if you've chosen the right demon allies and used the right attacks. Much of Devil Survivor 2 looks the same as the first game, down to the turn-based direct fights and the character portraits by Suzuhito Yasuda, who isn't nearly as well-liked as regular Shin Megami Tensei artist Kazuma Kaneko. But hey, Devil Survivor was a good game despite that, and the sequel shows the same promise.
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