The X Button - Shining Forcedby Todd Ciolek,
Oh boy, it's a new game with Namco's Valkyrie! Well, it's a port of an older cell-phone game, but it's new to me, dammit. It's also important because the Valkyrie games are very under-appreciated in North America: the 1989 Legend of Valkyrie arcade game wasn't even released here until a Namco Museum collection a decade later, and the awesome PlayStation-based Adventure of Valkyrie action-RPG (a remake of a lame Famicom title) was never translated. They're both very good games, and if I squint while playing I can pretend they're new Valkyrie Profile titles.
This most recent Valkyrie game, the Glory of Walkure, is available on Android smartphones. Hey, I have one of those! The iPhone gets most of the good games for over-devoted geeks, but now the shoe's on the other foot! I'll just head over to the website and…
Oh. Well, uh…I didn't want to play it anyway. I mean, it's just an old cell-phone game. It probably sucks. Yes.
UNCHAINBLADES REXX COMES HERE WITH SLIGHTLY LESS SILLY NAME
UnchainBlades ReXX looks fairly interesting in concept: a dungeon hack where the characters are all monsters and the “dungeons” are stone giants with coliseums and mazes growing out of them. Plus it's an RPG on the 3DS and PSP, two systems that could use more releases nowadays. That's probably why XSEED picked up both versions for a download-only American release. But first they teased the new title with pictures of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a blade of grass, and a shot of the “Unchained Melody” scene from Ghost. And then Nintendo Power listed the 3DS game under the title Unchained Blades.
The main character of Unchained Blades is Fang, a dragon cursed with human form, and all of his comrades are similar creatures: a phoenix princess, a golem prince, a nine-tailed fox-girl, and a gorgon who apparently wears as little as possible so people won't look her in the eyes. Each main character was designed by a different artist, so you'll see the relatively mainstream look of Toshiyuki Kubooka's fox-girl and Kumichi Yoshizuki's grim reaper next to the jiggling, giant-eyed garishness of Suu Minazuki's mini-Medusa. The battle system has a first-person perspective, a turn-based flow, and an “Unchain” command that binds up to four monsters to each party member. It's not quite Etrian Odyssey IV (which hits Japan this July), but it's a little more creative than the usual RPG.
XBLAZE IS A GAME, POSSIBLY AN ADVENTURE-Y ONE
Arc System Works has a new game. It's not Guilty Gear. And it's not a new BlazBlue—at least not a new BlazBlue fighting game, that is. Xblaze looks similar to an adventure game, with a bunch of static images of standard-issue anime characters flashing all over the preview trailer.
And that's about all we know now. Arc System Works describes Xblaze as an “Adventure Project” and the first of several such creations. They haven't yet announced a platform, but it's headed for a Japanese release this year.
FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 DLC CONTINUES WITH ULTROS, TYPHON, MASS EFFECT
Final Fantasy XIII-2's downloadable extras span just about every important category: extra outfits, extra subquests, and extra bosses. The latest of these bosses is a familiar one from Final Fantasy history. He's Ultros, the purple octopus who antagonized players throughout Final Fantasy VI. Now he's in Final Fantasy XIII-2.
His design technically hasn't changed much since the original game, but the transition to a modern 3-D Final Fantasy turned Ultros into the horrifying monstrosity seen above. True to his Final Fantasy VI antics, Ultros calls upon his fellow monster Typhon (“Chupon” in the original translation) when players battle him in the game's coliseum, and the two of them can join Noel and Serah's party once defeated. The beasties are available for download this week, along with costumes based on Mass Effect. Now Noel and Serah can embody two dissatisfied fan bases.
GAIJINWORKS AND MONKEYPAW PITCH A JAPANESE RPG TO THE MASSES
Did the runaway success of Doublefine's Kickstarter project change the way games are bankrolled? It's far too early to say, but there's another interesting fundraiser on the horizon: a Japanese RPG localization pitch from MonkeyPaw Games and Gaijinworks. The two companies launched a Kickstarter page to propose an English version of Class of Heroes 2 for the PSP, complete with an actual physical release and plenty of extra trinkets. And J-RPG fans only need to raise $500,000 to make it a reality.
It's a bold step for two companies that have long pushed Japanese games. MonkeyPaw Games brought over most of the import PlayStation titles now available on the PSN, while Gaijinworks was founded by former Working Designs head Victor Ireland. Yes, that's the same Working Designs that brought the Lunar series, Popful Mail, Magic Knight Rayearth, Dragon Force, and many other RPGs to North America. The same Working Designs that localized those RPGs so that most of the townsfolk spouted goofball jokes and enraged purists to no end. Aside from helping with Hudson's swiftly faded Miami Law DS game, most of Gaijinworks' recent projects were older Sunsoft titles released on the PSN and WiiWare.
Acquire's Class of Heroes 2 seems an odd rallying point for Japanese RPGs, since the first game came here through Atlus and gained few fans. Yet some claim that the sequel's an improvement, and MonkeyPaw believes in it enough to license it. Even if the Kickstarter falls, there'll be downloadable versions of the game and a remake of the original, Class of Heroes 2G. But the two companies clearly hope that you'll prefer a PSP game you can hold in your hands—or a trip to Japan where the game's developers will put you into Class of Heroes 2. Yes, that's what awaits you if you donate enough.
IN BRIEF: XILLIA TRADEMARKED IN THE U.S., THEATRYTHM ALSO GREENLIT
Are you enjoying Tales of Graces F for the PlayStation 3? And are you complaining that we won't see any more Tales games in North America for a long time? Well, you're probably wrong. Siliconera dug up Namco's filing of a North American trademark for Tales of Xillia, the latest game in the RPG franchise. There's no official announcement, but those things usually come months after the trademarks appear.
Square Enix's Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy seemed like a lock for a U.S. release, and now all the guessing is over. It arrives on the North American 3DS this summer, and Square Enix promises 70 tracks of familiar Final Fantasy music integrated into battles and exploration. Surprisingly enough, they're not changing the title.
Finally, this week sees the first of two downloadable extra episodes for Asura's Wrath. Well, they're more like sub-episodes that fill the gaps between the game's levels, but they're sharp little pieces of anime. The first is 11.5: Forging Ahead, and it's directed by Shinya Ohira. The second one, 15.5: Defiance, is the work of Kazuto Nakazawa, and it arrives on April 3. You may now commence to make jokes about Asura's Wrath being more anime than game.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: MARCH
GIRLS RPG: CINDERELLA LIFE|
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Girls RPG: Cinderella Life went through a strange identity crisis. At first it was a fairly successful cell-phone game called Cabaret Girls, where players took charge of a young woman's career as a club hostess. Then Level-5 brought it to the 3DS and recast it as a “Girls RPG,” suggesting it was aimed at kids. The hostess-club angle was smoothed over with a storyline about a legendary butterfly and other elements, making the game look more like Cave and Natsume's Princess Debut. Under the surface, however, it was still a girl-oriented title about a hostess club, and that's only a few steps away from making a kids' game about the fun and profit of a career in stripping. Level-5 simply didn't know who the game was for, and problems continued up to its release: its price dropped, it was branded with a Cero-C rating (for ages 15 and up), and the cover girl changed from a wide-eyed munchkin to the less jarring illustration seen here. And then it flopped.
Despite its muddled history and questionable premise, Cinderella Life (a.k.a. Cinderellife plays out much like other career simulators. Players start off in control of a country bumpkin who moves to the city and lands a job in a cabaret called Neosienne. As their newest member, she dresses up, buys new accessories, and chats with the club's clientele. Here the game invites a variety of anime characters along with the regular guests. Lupin III, Fujiko Mine, Sailor Moon's Tuxedo Mask, Inazuma Eleven's Endo and Kido, and even the freakish star of Warau Salesman are among the recognizable visitors who spend time with the player's avatar. And then they're charged a thousand dollars for a single bottle of champagne and pay it because they're embarrassed that they went to a hostess club in the first place.
Import Barrier: Cinderella Life keeps everything simple, presumably for a young age. That also helps people who know little Japanese, but 3DS games are still region-locked.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not good, given the game's retail belly-flop and subtly inappropriate underpinnings.
MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM UNICORN|
Developer: From Software
Platform: PlayStation 3
The prestigious Gundam Unicorn anime series started a little over two years ago, so it's high time that it got a video game of its very own. And the first Gundam Unicorn title wasn't tossed to some under-experienced developer. No, it's the work of From Software, makers of Armored Core and Chromehounds and the anime-based Another Century's Episode titles. Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn offers two central modes. One follows the storyline of the anime series, in which a lad with the unlikely name of Banagher Links lands in the middle of a vicious power struggle between the Earth Federation and the remains of the Zeon forces. More to the point, he's also the pilot of yet another mysterious Gundam robot. All of this mode's missions and battles stay true to the anime, so players are stuck with that path no matter which character they're controlling, from Banagher to Marida Cruz to Full Frontal. The last of these proves that “Chronicle Asher” wasn't the most ridiculous nickname for a Char Aznable stand-in.
However, the game also has a “Custom Cast” mode where players head into battle with three fellow pilots, and things aren't nearly as restricted. Unencumbered by plot, players can tear through battles while their sidekicks accomplish minor objectives. This makes it easier to enjoy the game's free-roaming space combat and unique use of asteroids as cover. It's hardly Gears of War in that department, but it's an interesting addition to the usual straightforward style of a Gundam game. Bandai and Sunrise also packaged it well: a special edition includes not only a Blu-Ray disc that compiles the story of the first three anime episodes, but also a novel that sets up the game's bonus downloadable “War After the War” mission.
Import Barrier: It's all region-free, though you may need to know some Japanese (or at least find a decent FAQ) to understand some mission objectives.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not all that great. The Gundam Unicorn anime itself has a hard enough time in North America.
ONE PIECE: PIRATE WARRIORS|
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
At this writing, Dynasty Warriors has embraced Gundam, Fist of the North Star, and now One Piece. While I feel that Ruin Explorers is still unfairly overlooked for game adaptations, there's no denying that One Piece is better suited to a title where you pound hordes of enemies senseless on a battlefield. Pirate Warriors is essentially that, though the whole Dynasty Warriors formula is reworked a bit to allow for more boss battles in the spirit of One Piece's most memorable clashes. It's also a fairly ambitious game in the territory covered, since it starts at the very beginning of Monkey D. Luffy's pirate odyssey and ends at the time-skip that leads to the New World Saga. Of course, the game doesn't bother with every little plot point along the way, but it features all of the major enemies, including Buggy, Don Krieg, Crocodile, Akainu, and Blackbeard. And that's what the fans are after, isn't it?
Like the Gundam Unicorn game above, One Piece: Pirate Warriors includes a manga-accurate central storyline as well as an extra mode that throws plot fidelity out the window. Called “Another Log,” this second mode allows players to explore various scenarios with the game's controllable cast: Luffy, Nami, Sanji, Zoro, Usopp, Tony Tony Chopper, Nico Robin, Franky, Brook, Jinbe, Boa, Whitebeard/Edward Newgate, and Portgas. The play mechanics do a respectable job of recreating the One Piece characters' comical attacks, even though the packs of rival pirates and marines and prison guards are just as stupid as the blade-fodder of any given Dynasty Warriors.
Import Barrier: The gameplay's quite easy to pick up, and One Piece fans have already seen most of the story.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Between a U.S. trademark and Dynasty Warriors producer Kenichi Ogasawara mentioning the game's potential in the West, you can count on seeing Pirate Warriors here before long.
Platform: Sony PSP
My, how time can change a series. Fifteen years ago, the Shining games were mostly cute little strategy-RPGs with elf wizards and centaur knights all rendered in charming storybook style. Today, Shining games are mostly action-RPGs stocked with all sorts of scantily dressed heroines and the art of Tony Taka. Shining Blade changes things yet again, since it's an RPG with a combo-driven battle system. During combat, characters roam freely and use a power gauge to attack (which is sorta like Valkyria Chronicles). They also join up for combination moves where each party member's strike is controlled by a different PSP face button (which is sorta like Valkyrie Profile). That's all a little bit different from the previous Shining games, though Shining Blade keeps Tony Taka as its character designer.
There's far less invention in Shining Blade's storyline, which finds the world threatened by a cult's plot to revive an ancient evil called the Dark Dragon. The solution lies in the Shining Blade sword and a diva, a woman who can presumably sing the big bad menace back into oblivion. At the center of all this is Reiji (or “Rage”), a swordsman who traipses around the world alongside swordswomen Yukihime and Sakuya, elf archer Altena, dragoon Roselinde, wolf-man rebel Fenrir, and others. The divas are all particularly useful, as their songs function as spells during combat. And they aren't even the limit of Shining Blade's large cast of female characters, which also includes bakers, schoolgirls, nuns, knights, and what appears to be a gun-toting android girl named Cerberus. Many of them will look familiar to fans of the past few Shining titles. Old-school Shining Force holdouts will surely cringe at what the series has become, but even they must give Shining Blade a little credit for trying out some new gameplay for the franchise.
Import Barrier: As a rule, RPGs don't make for smooth sailing unless you understand the text. That applies to Shining Blade.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not terribly good, considering that Sega abandoned any plans to translate Valkyria Chronicles 3 for the domestic PSP. Perhaps some downloadable version could be worked out for the Vita, but don't hold your breath.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platform: Nintendo Wii
One could call Xenoblade Chronicles a Japanese RPG for people who hate Japanese RPGs, but that's not really true. It's a game for people who frequently complain that modern RPGs, not just Japan's, are too derivative, too tedious in their exploration, and too reliant on overblown, overlong melodramatic bluster. For one thing, Xenoblade's probably the first ever RPG set upon two giant alien creatures whose bodies were frozen in mid-battle long ago. In the ages that followed, life developed on both alien corpses: the Mechonis now hosts machine beings, while the Bionis is home to a variety of flesh-and-blood animals, including humans and other sentient races. The Mechon hordes routinely attack Bionis, but the beleaguered “Homs” (humans, in other words) find protection in the Monado, a mysterious blade that harms only inanimate objects and grants occasional glimpses into the future. During a particularly tragic Mechon assault, the sword ends up in the hands of Shulk, one of those thoughtful RPG heroes who's more than most suspect. Joined by half a dozen stereotypes, Shulk roams through valleys, dungeons, and spacious grasslands—all of which are located on a giant creature's dead body.
Xenoblade is very much the opposite of Monolith's other major RPG project, the Xenosaga series. While Xenosaga was relentlessly cinematic in its storytelling, Xenoblade tilts much more in favor of someone playing the game. There's an extravagant world to explore, and you're seldom hemmed in: feel free to head any direction you like, and don't worry if you leap over the railing and plunge off a cliff and into a lake. And there's a reason to look around, as Xenoblade has a few hundred side-quests. The combat system also fits nicely into all this roaming: battles are quick and rely on characters' unique abilities. Similar to Final Fantasy XII minus the automated Gambit system, Xenoblade puts three party members into real-time clashes that demand quick tactical choices and teamwork. It's a polished experiment in a genre that normally sticks to the tried and true, and it might be a rare experiment as well—the North American's version available only through GameStop stores and Nintendo's website.
The Devil May Cry HD Collection brings upscaled versions of the first three games in the series to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Yes, it has the second game, even though Capcom would prefer to forget about that one.
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