The X Button
by Todd Ciolek,
You may notice that one major February import isn't covered below. That import is Gravity Daze, or Gravity Rush, as it'll be called in North America. I'm not leaving it out because of its quality. No, I'm just leaving it out because it's already scheduled to come here in June, and unlike a lot of the imports mentioned, you can actually play it right now with minimal effort. Just find a store with a PS Vita demo and mess with the menus until you're looking at a game like this.
Gravity Rush's comic cel-shading and modern gothic cityscapes are striking at a glance, but what really impresses is the heroine's ability to suspend a fundamental law of physics. Kat can float through the air, anchor herself to various surfaces, and explore and attack as she pleases. The demo is short, but it makes Gravity Rush feel like the Vita's first notable original game. It also makes Vita owners feel a little better about that ugly and probably untrue rumor of at least one big Japanese developer canceling its Vita projects. After all, Gravity Rush shows plenty of potential for the system.
THE LAST STORY COMES IS COMING HERE, THE SECOND SEAL IS OPENED
Well, Operation Rainfall is two for three. The fan organization petitioned Nintendo for American releases of three Wii games last year, and now they've got two: Xenoblade Chronicles arrives in April, and The Last Story comes out this summer. Even though Nintendo published The Last Story in Japan and Europe, the company handed over those duties to XSeed Games, making for a rather unexpected alliance. Nintendo rarely lets other companies publish or localize its titles (just ask any Mother 3 fan), so this news is intriguing beyond a simple RPG release.
Not that The Last Story is small stuff. As the latest RPG attempted by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, it's an ambitious Wii offering that rethinks a lot of the genre's concepts. During combat, the party leader can use special techniques to draw enemies away from more vulnerable allies, and characters can even take cover behind nearby structures. The story, which hasn't won quite as much praise, concerns some mercenaries that befriend a highborn woman on a bleak little island, and it's all sewn up as a genuine fantasy tale, with few signs of steampunk gadgetry or high-tech anachronisms. Most of the characters had their names changed for the English version: merc leader Elza is now Zael (an anagram), and the noble heroine went from Kanan to Calista. It's otherwise very similar to the Japanese release, and it's likely to be one of the last highlights of the Wii library.
That's “one of the last” because there's still an unlocalized game in the Operation Rainfall ranks: Pandora's Tower, an action title by Ganbarion. It doesn't have the pedigree of The Last Story or Xenoblade, but it drew attention for its gruesome combat and curious focus on the relationship between a cursed woman and her monster-hunting friend. Perhaps Nintendo and XSeed will work something out if The Last Story does well enough.
PROJECT DRACO MORPHS INTO CRIMSON DRAGON
Microsoft's Project Draco was overdue for a name change. The word “project” just doesn't evoke the air of a soaring, bullet-dodging, shape-changing dragon, you know? Well, now it's called Crimson Dragon, and it's looking more and more like the Panzer Dragoon successor we thought it was. Created by Panzer's Yukio Futatsugi, Crimson Dragon has the same rail-based shooting as that cherished franchise, and it broadens the idea of guiding a dragon's growth. Players can customize six different main types of beast with over 100 different skills, equipping three at a time.
Dragoon Dragon is still played only with the Xbox 360's motion-sensing Kinect attachment, and it'll come out on Xbox Live Arcade later this year. Microsoft may change the plan and sell a packaged version of the game, but those hoping for a conventional, controller-based revision should prepare to pick up a Kinect. Crimson Dragon is still the best-looking title for the peripheral, and Microsoft will likely keep it there.
THAT SABER RIDER AND THE STAR SHERIFFS GAME IS STILL ALIVE
Let's check in with the most unlikely anime-based game in development right now: Firehazard Studio's take on Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs. It was tempting to write the whole thing off as a pipe dream, as Firehazard is a fairly small and fan-motivated German outfit that started this Saber Rider project on the Game Boy Advance, later switching to the DS. The game moved to the 3DS, Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, the Wii, the Wii U, iOS, Android, and the Vita last year, but actual images of the project were hard to find. However, one shouldn't underestimate the dedication of anime fans (or the popularity of Saber Rider in Germany, it seems). The game is still in the works, and Firehazard released some alpha footage reportedly salvaged from the 2011 E3.
Two distinct styles of play are shown, and the first is a rail shooter that recalls Charge N' Blast and the on-foot segments of Sin and Punishment. It's primitive in appearance, but it's not bad for a small project that was vaporware for years. Perhaps the final game will show the villains evaporating when they're shot.
The second gameplay mode depicts Ramrod, the show's main robot, pounding an enemy mecha in a rather stiff punching match. Firehazard is quick to point out that this is all year-old preview footage, and they're promising a final game with music and voices straight from the animated series—this would be the version adapted by World Events Productions for Western markets, of course, and not Japan's original Star Musketeer Bismarck. At the very least, it's heartening to see a bunch of fans making an officially licensed game, and it gives me hope that someday I'll get to finance a Final Fight-ish brawler based on Cyber City Oedo 808.
IN BRIEF: EXTREME ESCAPE ADVENTURE RENAMED, JET SET RADIO RETURNS, STREET FIGHTER MONOPOLIZED, PERSONA 2 PORTED
Last week, Nintendo Power broke the news about Extreme Escape Adventure: Good People Die coming to the U.S. through Aksys Games, and the game's new title was confirmed this week. The sequel to Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors will be called Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward in North America, and it'll be out in the fall. It doesn't have the same ring, but the new title gains a reference to the primary villain of the two games.
Sega's Jet Set Radio isn't quite the groundbreaker it was back in 2000, since its cel-shaded graphics are now standard in many venues of the game industry. But it's still a good and endearingly unorthodox action game, one where players skate through a city, spray-paint tags everywhere, and totally stick it to the man. Now it's headed for the PC, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network this summer, complete with eighteen new graffiti designs.
One of these days, Square Enix will learn not to use the word “Chrono” in anything but an actual follow-up to Chrono Trigger or Chrono Cross. Much fuss was made this week when the company registered a site called “Chrono Bind,” but it soon became clear that the name refers to a downloadable version of the mini-game from Final Fantasy XIII-2. Sorry, Chrono fans.
Well, Street Fighter reached that hallowed ground of major entertainment franchises: a Monopoly set. A Street Fighter edition of the board game is now in the works at USAopoly, and players can vote to decide which characters become game tokens. Sadly, the poll is limited to the twelve fighters from the original game. It's not 1994 anymore, and I'd like to choose characters from the entire Street Fighter franchise. Perhaps no one would vote for Monopoly pieces based on Juri, Rolento, or Dan, but at least they'd have a chance.
Atlus was bound to bring the second half of Persona 2 to a portable system, as the first half, Innocent Sin, arrived on the PSP last year. Instead of jumping to the Vita, Atlus is sticking with the PSP for their upcoming port of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and it'll be out in Japan on May 17. It'll get a new sub-story and a fresh, Madhouse-animated opening, but will it get an American release? We don't know just yet.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: FEBRUARY
THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY|
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
As much as we all mock Square Enix's constant strip-mining of the Final Fantasy name, it's hard to deny the cosmic sense that Theatrhythm makes. Final Fantasy games are known for their grandiose scores, so it fits that Square Enix made a game that's all about the soundtrack. Theatrhythm turns all of the franchise's RPG elements into musical mini-games. Cinematic cut-scenes become backdrops as chains of sounds unfold on the screen. Characters wandering about the overworld are accompanied by a string of beeping notes. Battles line up four characters and make them flail at oncoming streams of music in order to attack enemies or deflect blows. And all of this is accomplished much like other rhythmic action games: players tap at the 3DS touch screen and jab the directional pad to stay in tune with whatever's on display.
As in Dissidia, Theatrhythm rounds up the leads of many previous Final Fantasies, picking at least two from each numbered game. Tactics is once again left in the cold, though it's nice to see supporting characters like Rydia, Vivi, and Faris get some recognition (even in weirdly uniform doll-faced form). The game's selection of music is a bit more obvious. While each game contributes over a dozen tracks, they're all apparently chosen more for their familiarity than for how well they fit the gameplay. Still, popular Final Fantasy beats like “The Man With the Machine Gun” and Celes' theme work fairly well amid the screen-tapping and button-clicking.
Import Barrier: It's all easy to pick up as far as the gameplay goes. Unfortunately, Japanese 3DS games are region-locked.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Despite the lack of an official date, it's very, very likely that we'll see this here. I would say that a U.S. launch is certain when it comes to any game with Final Fantasy in its title, but we're still waiting for news about Type-0.
GENSO SUIKODEN: THE WOVEN WEB OF A CENTURY|
Platform: Sony PSP
Suikoden is one of those ill-fated series that's spent the past decade or so trying to recapture the heights of its earliest games. Most agree that the first two Suikodens were excellent, unexpectedly well-structured RPGs where players raised an army of over 108 characters. Series creator Yoshitaka Murayama departed during the development of Suikoden III, however, and from there it was a struggle to keep the series in fans' good graces. And the newest entry, Suikoden: The Woven Web of a Century, makes a valiant attempt on the PSP. Apparently set within one of many worlds referenced in the DS-based Suikoden Tierkreis, this new Suikoden deals with some unpleasant monster that shambles out of bed and tries to destroy the world every century or so. But there's a solution: the player-named hero, along with his pals Jino and Myura, is sent 100 years into the past. Without picking up on the finer points of the plot, I assume that it all makes sense somehow.
Konami clearly spent some decent money on Suikoden: The Woven Web of a Century. The animated cutscenes and the soundtrack are quite nice, and the game's battle system offers some new ideas. As the hero and his friends train alongside their ancestors, they'll gain new skills and master various jobs. Players can also see enemies roaming around before battles, and that's a welcome change from the frequent random fights of Suikoden V. Yet all of these strengths don't really evoke the same mood as the best Suikodens. For all of its production values, the game never seems to be more than a half-decent RPG that's straining to fit into the Suikoden mold. With Murayama gone, though, this is the best the Suikoden name may ever get.
Import Barrier: There's plenty of Japanese dialogue to take in over the course of the story, and even the game's battle menu is in kanji. Oh well. At least the PSP's region-free.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Vague. Konami's released every main Suikoden game over here, but they've apparently ditched the fading PSP in favor of the Vita. Any English version of The Woven Web of a Century would most likely show up there.
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai/Banpresto
Platform: Sony PSP
Nendoroid Generation has curious origins, being a PSP game based on a toy line based on a plethora of anime series and related properties. It's an RPG, but the huge pile-up of characters is the main attraction, as players will see squat Nendoroid versions of heroines from Black Rock Shooter, Steins;Gate, Lucky Star, Kannagi, Haruhi Suzumiya, the Touhou Project, K-On!, Death Note, The Familiar of Zero, Fate/Stay Night, Dog Days, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai, and, of course, the Hatsune Miku universe. All of them meet up at a school, venture forth into the wild, get into battles, and unleash a variety of attacks. And then they topple over because their heads are so large and unwieldy. No, wait...they just have humorous little adventures with plenty of in-jokes for the fans.
As an RPG, Nendoroid Generation casts party members as either hard-hitting attackers or supportive performers who dance to power-up the attackers. The dancing element also appears outside of combat, as player make their virtual Nendoroid figurines better fighters by putting them through rigorous dance mini-games. Players can also customize the giant-headed munchkins with a variety of costumes and accessories, much like the real-world toys they resemble. And just to bring the semi-insidious merchandizing full circle, the special edition of the game comes with eight Nendoroid figures: Fate/Stay night's Saber, The Familiar of Zero's Louise, Steins;Gate's Kurisu (Chris?), Touhou's Reimu, Dog Days' Millefiori, and the main characters from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Haruhi Suzumiya, and Black Rock Shooter.
Import Barrier: There's the usual round of Japanese text that comes with an RPG, but the game's essentially one big toybox.
Chances of a Domestic Release: None to speak of. Many of the franchises sampled in Nendoroid Generation aren't even available commercially in North America. And with many different companies involved, pesky legal issues will keep this one in Japan.
TALES OF THE HEROES: TWIN BRAVE|
Developer: Namco Tales Studio
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Sony PSP
The Tales series can have pretty much whatever it wants in Japan. If it wants merchandise and manga and perhaps an anime series based on its latest game, those are never out of the question for Namco's biggest RPG series. And if it wants to take a page from the Dynasty Warriors series and make a battlefield brawler where popular Tales characters slash away at droves of enemies…well, no one's going to stop the Tales series. The result is Tales of the Heroes: Twin Brave, a PSP showcase that recreates the direct combat of a Tales RPG as a full-scale action game. The titular heroes pair up and dive into the fray with the same hyper-flashy swordplay and spells used in the main Tales games, though special moves from the grander console games are scaled down a bit for the PSP.
It would be folly for the game to include every last character from every last Tales game, but Twin Brave picks the two most popular from each. You'll see Cress (formerly Cless) Albane and Chester Barklight from Tales of Phantasia; Stahn Aileron and Leon Magnus from Tales of Destiny; Kyle Dunamis and Reala from Tales of Destiny 2; Reid Hershel and Farah Orested from Tales of Eternia (which was Tales of Destiny 2 in the U.S., just for the record); Lloyd Irving and Zelos Wilder from Tales of Symphonia; Emil Castagnier and Marta Lualdi from Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World; Senel Coolidge and Chloe Valens from Tales of Legendia; Veigue Luhnberg and Tytree Crowe from Tales of Rebirth; Luke fon Fabre and Guy Cecil from Tales of the Abyss; Caius Qualls and Rubia Natwick from Tales of the Tempest; Yuri Lowell and Flynn Scifo from Tales of Vesperia; Luca Milda and Spada Belforma from Tales of Innocence; Shing Meteoryte and Kohak Hearts from Tales of Hearts; Asbel Lhant and Cheria Barnes from Tales of Graces; and Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell from the recent Tales of Xillia. That should be plenty for any…wait, Shing Meteoryte? That can't be a real name, not even in the Tales series. Oh…I guess it is.
Import Barrier: You pick characters, you slash things, and you listen to everyone's Japanese voice-overs. It's not that hard to grasp.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal. Namco often needs a push to release even the major Tales titles in the U.S., and they're certainly not going to bother with a spin-off.
This month brought the PlayStation 3 version of GalGun, the Inticreates shooter notorious for its premise; imagine House of the Dead with lovestruck schoolgirls instead of zombies, and suggestively incapacitating pheromone shots instead of bullets. The PS3 edition features PlayStation Move support (for that light-gun element) and supposedly less censoring of the game's copious exploitation. But I'll abstain from verifying that personally.
Under Defeat will be familiar to any Dreamcast owners who stuck around to the bitter end. It was one of the last games released on the console in the Japanese market, and that gave it a special place in Sega history. It's a decent shooter from G.Rev (which is apparently pronounced “Grev”), offering three different weapons and the option to slightly rotate the player's helicopter. The new Xbox 360 and PlayStation versions of the game don't have the same romantic finality to them, but they at least they're upscaled for HD displays.
The first major anime game of the year, One Piece: Pirate Warriors, ships this week, but it technically arrives on the first of March. So it'll be covered in the future—perhaps with a date for North America.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
MASS EFFECT 3|
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360/ PC
MSRP: $59.99/$79.99 (Special Edition)
The cover of Mass Effect 3 is a disappointment. In a space-opera RPG that's all about winning many diverse alien races to the side of humanity, Electronic Arts went with a shot of the player's avatar Commander Shepard at his most generic, with not a lizard-like warrior or blue-skinned creature in sight. But there are indeed plenty of them within Mass Effect 3's story. This third Mass Effect opens with a full-scale invasion by the Reapers, a race of machines that spent the last two games getting ready to wipe out all advanced organic life in the galaxy. As they have a go at Earth, Commander Shepard (whose sex and appearance depends on the player's preferences and Mass Effect 2 save data) heads off to rally as many alien cultures as possible and form a fleet capable of defeating the Reapers. So there's a good bit of traveling to do, and nearly all of the supporting characters from previous Mass Effects return—as long as they survived the player's playthrough of previous games.
Mass Effect 3 offers Shepard a good deal of choices in the quest for an army, including a diverse array of responses to other characters' questions, threats, or conversational remarks. If you care nothing for the RPG element of this, you can dispense with dialogue options and go straight to the Action Mode, where the party-based cover-shooter combat is tough and Shepard has predetermined hardass responses. The direct alternative is Story Mode, with its lighter challenge and emphasis on talky plot. RPG Mode lies between the two, using the mixture of decisions and combat that's pretty much the Mass Effect standard. BioWare also promises that Mass Effect 3's elaborate main quest and numerous side adventures will wrap up most of the plot threads from previous games. That could mean that they'll just start a new Mass Effect trilogy before long, but let's not be cynical about it.
STREET FIGHTER X TEKKEN |
Platform: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360
MSRP: $59.99/$69.99 (Special Edition)
Street Fighter X Tekken was announced in a brilliant flourish when Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada mock-crashed Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono's panel at Comic-Con 2010. In early glimpses, the game looked to be an amusing crossover as well as a potentially competitive fighter. And it delivered on the first part. Capcom's comical preview videos introduced an extensive (if predictable) lineup of Street Fighter characters. From Street Fighter IV, Capcom pulled Ryu, Ken, Abel, Chun-Li, M. Bison, Juri, Vega, Ibuki, Guile, Dhalsim, Sagat, Cammy, Balrog, Zangief, Rufus, and Akuma. From Final Fight and past Street Fighters, we get Poison, Hugo, and Rolento. And the Tekken side has Kazuya, Jin, Heihachi, Nina, Xiaoyu, Law, Asuka, Paul, Lili, Hwoarang, Julia, Bob, Marduk, Raven, Yoshimitsu, King, Steve, Kuma and Ogre. All of these Tekken folk are fashioned in the distinct style of Street Fighter IV, and the game's tag-team feature lets player pick two characters and mix their attacks together.
But there are problems. A vast number of competitive folk already dislike the game's Gem system, which lets players equip up to three little jewels that boost their stats or simplify the game's more intricate maneuvers. Used to level the playing field for newcomers, the Gem system may degrade Street Fighter X Tekken's traditional competition, especially when certain gems and their advantages can be bought as downloads. Slightly less criticism is thrown at the game's Pandora mode, where one character is removed in order to give his or her partner extra attack power for a limited time. Also contentious is the fact that the Vita version of the game, due out in the fall, will have at least twelve new characters including Elena, last seen in Street Fighter III. For those who take the plunge next week, the PlayStation 3 package seems the better choice, as it has five bonus characters: Sony mascots Toro and Kuro, Cole from Infamous, Pac-Man, and an amusingly accurate version of the Mega Man from the first game's NES box art. The Xbox 360 version has…uh, a bigger case.
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