The X Button
by Todd Ciolek,
This July marks a depressing anniversary in the game industry. It was one year ago that Capcom canceled Mega Man Legends 3.
It all started quite well. Capcom promoted Mega Man Legends 3 with a “developers' room” blog that showed many little steps in the making of the game, and that game seemed to capture the same cartoonish appeal as the first two Mega Man Legends (and the Tron Bonne spin-off). Legends 3 also picked up right where its predecessors ended, as it found new characters Aero and Barrett joining old ones in a race to retrieve Mega Man from the moon. Enemies were designed, voices were recorded, and a paid demo of the game was set to hit the 3DS. And just before Comic-Con 2011, it was all over.
It was soon revealed that Capcom hadn't really canceled the game in the traditional sense, since it was never technically greenlit in the first place. The developers' blog was an attempt to drum up support for the project, and it was all in line with Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune's style. He'd previously bamboozled Capcom's higher-ups by working on Dead Rising and Lost Planet even after both titles were dismissed, forcing the company to approve the games or else lose money. But this didn't work for Mega Man Legends 3. Inafune left Capcom in October of 2010, and Mega Man Legends 3 couldn't survive on its own. In fact, it appears that no Mega Man games can.
Some rumblings within Capcom suggest that Legends 3 wasn't shaping up, though all the gameplay shown looks on par with the two Legends games from the PlayStation. More importantly, this was one of those happy games, full of speeder bikes and big eyes and general anime nonsense. Its absence seemed all the more acute at this year's Comic-Con, where Capcom's booth was dominated by the grim Resident Evil 6 and the relentlessly combative DmC. While fans still keep vigil (and plan a rocket launch), Mega Man Legends isn't coming back, no matter how much we might need it.
Capcom also canceled Mega Man Universe, but…eh, it wasn't that good.
BRAVELY DEFAULT GETS JOB SYSTEM, SPECIAL EDITION
As someone weary of seeing Final Fantasy pasted on every RPG from Square Enix, I'm pleased to see their 3DS game Bravely Default: Flying Fairy standing on its own. Of course, it clearly grew out of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, and it's very much like a Final Fantasy, down to the squad of heroic youngsters attempting to save their world from an encroaching darkness. They include spiritual adventurer Anies Oblige, catastrophe survivor Tiz Oria, and soldier-turned-rebel Edea Lee. Naturally, their world also includes a giant empire, a bunch of airships, and some downright gorgeous backdrops.
Bravely Default adopts a turn-based battle system similar to older Final Fantasies, adding in two new options to direct the flow of battle. The “brave” command gives a character an extra turn at the cost of Brave Points, which the character can accumulate by skipping turns with the “default” command. On top of that, there's a job system similar to Final Fantasy III and V, with the classes spanning mages, knights, and, one hopes, some more inventive pursuits.
The game arrives in Japan this October, and there's a special edition with the standard art book and soundtrack. More interesting is the included AR poster. It apparently functions like a huge version of an Augmented Reality card, projecting images through the 3DS camera. Perhaps that's why this deluxe set costs over $150. Or maybe it's just the exchange rate.
TOKITOWA GETS UNIMPRESSIVE VIDEO, SPECIAL EDITION
Imageepoch sells its new PlayStation 3 RPG Toki to Towa, or Tokitowa, as a playable cartoon of sorts. Using 3-D backgrounds and 2-D characters, it's designed to resemble an anime production at all times, not unlike Level-5 and Studio Ghibli's Ni no Kuni. If Ni no Kuniaims for family-film territory, Tokitowa is more of a teenager-oriented TV series, one starring a heroine who switches from a demure redhead named Toki to a violent, blonde-haired warrior named Towa. This change kicks in early in the game, when an assassin crashes her wedding and stabs her groom.
Tokitowa's newest characters are the witch Makimono and the rebel leader Bikodo, both of whom are involved with the wedding-day attack. The dual-personality heroine chases the two villains across time, aided along the way by a coterie of girlfriends and a little dragon sidekick. Their appeals to anime fans are shored up by a special edition box set with the not-so-special extras of a soundtrack and artbook.
Along with the new antagonists, Imageepoch put out a new trailer showing Tokitowa's action-oriented battle system, and that's where the trouble starts. The game's cutscene animation, produced by Satelight, is decent, and the character sprites look just fine in screenshots. In motion, however, it all seems strangely off-kilter, and the battles look terrible, as Toki and Towa fire and slash at enemies with a blurry, badly animated pace. It's as though the game's running on an original PlayStation. Perhaps there's some saving gameplay behind it. Or perhaps it'll end up like The Last Rebellion.
IN BRIEF: FINAL FANTASY VERSUS XIII NOT CANCELED, NEITHER IS U.S. VERSION OF BLACK ROCK SHOOTER
The long-delayed Final Fantasy Versus XIII endured its share of ridicule and speculation during the past six years. Last week saw its first cancellation scare, when Kotaku relayed a rumor of the game's axing. Several days later, Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada assured folks that the game's still in the works and looks great. He didn't actually show any of this allegedly great footage, so we're back to where we were before. Final Fantasy Versus XIII is still in development, and we still don't know that much about it.
What else isn't canceled? The English version of the Black Rock Shooter PSP game, it seems. Imageepoch CEO Ryoei Mikage recently told a fan that the developer's still working on a North American version of the unimaginatively titled Black Rock Shooter: The Game. NIS America planned to publish it, but this is the first news we've heard about the game in a long while.
INTERVIEW: STREET FIGHTER X TEKKEN'S TOMOAKI AYANO
Street Fighter X Tekken stumbled out of the gate back in March. It was hardly a bad fighting game, but fans were put off by unbalanced play mechanics, a rushed engine, and the fact that the roster hid a dozen characters to be sold at additional cost further down the road. The Vita port of the game is a second chance. It features the extra twelve characters for free, and Capcom promises a better balance to the gameplay. We met Street Fighter X Tekken producer Tomoaki Ayano at Comic-Con and asked him about the Vita version of Street Fighter X Tekken, due out in October. We also asked about Wild Arms, surprisingly enough.
How did you first come to Capcom? Was Media.Vision's Wild Arms 4 your first game?
Yes, Wild Arms 4 was my first game. Not many people know I was involved in Wild Arms. I was part of that development team, but once my contract ran out after we finished the game, I had to look for work in a new company. I hadn't put a lot of thought into being accepted at Capcom, because when I graduated college, I applied for Capcom and got rejected. When I did grad school and applied, they rejected me again as well. So this was my third time applying for Capcom. Luckily, the Tokyo office had room. They brought me onto the team, and I was able to work my way up to being involved in Street Fighter. Looking back on it, maybe it was a good thing that I was rejected first.
How did you decide on the differences between Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter X Tekken? Where did you get the idea for the Gem System?
When we were developing Street Fighter IV and moving on to Street Fighter X Tekken, a big challenge was to differentiate the two games. We wanted to create the biggest fighting-game festival in history. It was great to bring on Namco and finally have the Tekken characters get into a fight with the Street Fighter characters. We wanted to pit them against each other in a really serious setting. So we thought about Pandora falling from the sky and every character having their own motivation to find the box.
In terms of gameplay, we wanted to create the tag battle to make things more interesting for the users. One thing that came up often in Street Fighter IV was that mirror matches between, say, Ryu and Ryu, a lot of it came down to player skill. To make that more interesting, we introduced the Gem System to allow players to customize their character. It brought a lot of gameplay variety to the characters, even if you're playing the same characters against each other.
Were the Marvel vs. Capcom games or Rival Schools any influence on Street Fighter X Tekken?
We looked at our past catalog of games as well, and the Marvel series was a huge reference for us during some parts of the game, especially the battle system. But even though it's a tag-battle game, if [in Marvel] two of your characters die you can still fight with one character. In Street Fighter X Tekken, we really wanted to play up the tag-battle aspect of it. We introduced the Cross Rush, which launches your opponent in the air and tags the other character in. If one of your characters dies, you lose the round.
How do you respond to fans who say that the game's unbalanced because of the Gems and other problems?
Some people love the game, some are more critical. We announced at our panel that we'll release a balance patch that fixes a lot of the problems users are having with the game. It'll go up on July 31 with the release of the twelve downloadable characters. A lot of people were complaining about character balance issues. For example, Rolento has very strong jab attacks, so we'll be nerfing his jabs to make it more fair. We're definitely looking at all of the feedback. We also know that people are having problem with the timer, where matches end in time-outs without a clear winner. With regards to larger, system-related changes, we don't have a time-table of when or if we can fix these issues, but we're definitely aware of them.
How did you adapt Street Fighter X Tekken to the Vita? Was there any temptation to simplify the gameplay to use only the system's four face buttons?
The Vita has fewer buttons than a PS3 controller, but we never thought about making a simpler version of Street Fighter X Tekken. What we did instead is utilize the touch functionality. We added in virtual buttons that use not only the front screen but also the rear touch screen as well. You can customize these to your liking and change the size and placement of the virtual buttons. As for people who accidentally push the virtual buttons, you can also set them to be nothing.
We have other features in the game that use the touch screen. It's not just pressing the touch-screen, it's also other gestures like swiping. We fully intend to use the Vita's capabilities, and we'll announce more in the future.
The PlayStation 3 version of the game has several extra characters that the Xbox 360 version does not. Why did that happen?
This wasn't because we hate the 360 or anything. We approached both Sony and Microsoft about having extra or exclusive characters, and it just so happened that Sony was more open towards this project. So we worked with them.
Have we seen all of the characters for Street Fighter X Tekken? Will more be added for the Vita version later on?
We know that many users want new characters and stage for Street Fighter X Tekken. However, we are focused on the twelve new characters that come out on July 31, and we want to make the battle system that players can really get behind. So we're more focused on balancing the game.
What do you think of the Vita's capabilities and how it's done in the market?
It's an interesting machine. It's powerful enough to handle Street Fighter X Tekken so faithfully. For a fighting game, it's important to have a smooth frame rate, and we were able to port the game very smoothly. We really think the Vita has a lot of potential.
Super Street Fighter IV was ported to the 3DS. Could the same be done for Street Fighter X Tekken?
As developers, it's our mission to bring the game to as many people as possible. With Street Fighter X Tekken, it was our goal to bring in some new, maybe casual fans in the market. It doesn't have anything to do with the machine's specs, because we're also putting out an iPhone version of Street Fighter X Tekken. The 3DS is definitely a challenge I'd like to try, because we want as many people as possible to try our games.
Of the new Street Fighter characters added, all of them are reused from Street Fighter IV except Elena, who's from Street Fighter III. Why did you decide to include her?
We always look at how popular a character is with the community. Elena was up there among the top characters. The same thing happened with Hugo, who was also last seen in Street Fighter III. Poison was a really highly requested character, and we though about who should be the tag partner for Poison. Hugo was a really natural choice.
Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono often teases fans about adding certain characters, such as Karin and Rainbow Mika. Are there any characters from Street Fighter, Tekken, or Final Fight that you'd want to add to the game?
I like R. Mika and Karin as well, but I'd like to see some major characters included in Street Fighter X Tekken. From the Street Fighter side, E. Honda's a very popular character that didn't make it this time. On the Tekken side, they have their own sumo wrestler, Ganryu. He's popular, and we wish we could put him in. We can always add more characters, but I look at it like this: we can add over a hundred characters, but we really want to fix the gameplay first.
Did you get into the Street Fighter craze back in the 1990s? Or were you more into slower-paced games like RPGs?
I played both, actually. After class I would run to the arcades and play Street Fighter until the shop closed. Then I'd go home and play Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest until the wee hours of the morning.
Would you want to make another RPG?
It would be cool to go back to my roots and make another RPG. It wouldn't have to be a franchise, though. It'd be good to make something original. But right now I'm so busy with Street Fighter X Tekken.
Who's your go-to character when you play Street Fighter?
I like Ryu and Kazuya in Street Fighter X Tekken. In other Street Fighter games, I really love using Ryu. As I mentioned before, I'd always play in the arcades coming home from school, and I'd always use Ryu. So I think of Ryu as an inspirational character who changed my life. If it wasn't for Ryu, I wouldn't be working at Capcom today.
Ono dressed up as Poison at his Comic-Con panel last year, and he dressed up as Blanka this year. Are you going to do something similar next year?
Tough question. In Super Street Fighter IV, I really like Hakan, so perhaps next year we'll set up the panel with a bunch of oil and I'll be slipping and sliding all over the place as a Turkish wrestler.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
GROWLANSER: WAYFARER OF TIME |
Developer: Career Soft
Platform: Sony PSP
A brief history of the Growlanser series is in order. It's the child of Langrisser, a groundbreaking line of Japanese strategy-RPGs seen only in the U.S. through Warsong on the Sega Genesis. Langrisser was buried a decade ago, but Growlanser took up its mantle of extensive battles and the ever-shiny, ever-suggestive character designs of Satoshi Urushihara. The original Growlanser, a 1999 PlayStation title, never came here, but Working Designs (in its final release) put out the second and third games in a PlayStation 2 bundle. This was followed by an Atlus localization of Growlaner V on the same system. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a PSP revision of the fourth game in the series. It stands alone in terms of plot, but it fills a gap all the same. With its North American emergence, we're missing only the first and sixth Growlanser games. Not bad for a series with such an odd title.
Wayfarer of Time observes the laws of clichéd RPG backstory. Two thousand years ago, an advanced human civilization was laid waste in a war with creatures known only as Angels. In the years that followed, humans built themselves a decent new civilization and decided that the Angels were mere legend. This makes it all the more surprising to a soldier named Crevanille when he's named an Angel-slaying savior and sent on a quest. Much of that quest puts Crevanille and his allies in tactical skirmishes, and there's an unconventional system of armaments working behind the scenes. Each character can equip a Ring Weapon that morphs to suit his or her particular brand of attack, and these instruments of war are further enhanced by a wide variety of stat-boosting spellstones. Crevanille himself gets additional bonuses from his chosen familiar, a little sidekick that sits on his shoulder. Our hero's bolstered attributes help both in battle and the game's plot-forking events, as Wayfarer of Time features several diverging paths in its story. Crevanille's also free to romance a number of his fellow adventurers, and the resulting relationships affect the game's ending.
Wayfarer of Time is technically a PlayStation 2 game from 2003, and the small sprite characters and effects won't really impress modern RPG fans, with their Crisis Cores and Tales of Xillias. Most of Growlanser's enhancements lie beneath the surface in new plot twists, new endings, a new playable character, and at least one more supporter who can become Crevanille's lady-love. This brings us to to Urushihara's artwork. From the main cast to the tiny familiars, the game's crammed with buxom women who gallivant around in ridiculous outfits, their hair agleam like fresh chrome. And yes, that's all part of Growlanser's history.
KINGDOM HEARTS 3D: DREAM DROP DISTANCE|
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Again we must caution fans that this is not an actual Kingdom Hearts III in disguise. It is Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, another step in between Kingdom Hearts II and its yet-to-be-made sequel. In a move that gingerly sets up that sequel, Dream Drop Distance revives recurring ne'er-do-well Xehanort and puts recurring franchise leads Sora and Riku through the RPG-hero equivalent of grad-student work. In order to finish their Mark of Mastery exams, the two of them journey to several worlds overtaken by Dream Eaters. This being Kingdom Hearts, those worlds are all based on Disney cartoons, including Pinocchio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron: Legacy, and The Three Musketeers (the one with Mickey Mouse, not the one with Tim Curry). Square contributes mostly original Kingdom Hearts characters to Dream Drop Distance, but the game's Traverse Town now features some downcast faces from The World Ends With You.
Sora and Riku fight in the often chaotic style of previous Kingdom Hearts, complete with rampant spells, air dashing, and new scenery-sensitive attacks called Reality Shifts. The two of them can turn certain Dream Eater enemies into valuable party members, and players can unlock a few of these allies through AR cards and the 3DS camera (reserving the game also nets some cards for the insatiable Kingdom Hearts materialist). Players can also share allies and other features through the system's StreetPass, or they can clash in oddly named “Flick Rush” fights. Don't worry, they're all in the PG-rated tradition of Kingdom Hearts.
ARTBOOK GALLERY: PERSONA 3 OFFICIAL DESIGN WORKS
It wasn't so long ago that video-game artbooks were a rarity. You might get a slim one when you reserved a game, but landing a thick, informative illustration collection usually meant a trip to an import site or a Japanese bookstore, with considerable markups involved. Times have changed. Artbooks for popular series are more and more common on these shores, and most of these books come from Udon Entertainment. As with their comics, the publisher started with Capcom properties: Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Mega Man, and so forth. Recently, they've branched into other series and their attendant fandoms. And there's no fandom quite like one wrapped around the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and its best-known scion, Persona.
Udon previously published a collection of art by Persona illustrator Shigenori Soejima, but the more recent Persona 3: Official Design Works focuses on a specific game, and an important game at that. When it arrived on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007, Persona 3 earned cult success with its well-blended solution of social simulator and dungeon-hack RPG, and that success at long last opened the North American door for other games in the Shin Megami Tensei family. Presented with Udon's typically high paper quality, the Official Design Works collection profiles every character that Soejima drew for the game, with biographies and sketchwork for the major players. It also includes a compendium of typically bizarre monster designs, scenery sketches, promotional art, a breakdown of the game's animated trailers, and even the lyrics to the theme song. As with other artbooks, comments from the illustrator are sprinkled throughout.
It's all an impressive and thorough look at the game, right down to the early designs for the pistol-shaped Evokers. Soejima's characters may fall within the realm of standard big-eyed manga denizens, but he stands out in the details, shading, and colors. His designs for the various Persona entities are ornate and grotesque, providing the most visually fascinating pieces in the whole collection. Another intriguing feature is an interview with Soejima and producer/director Katsura Hashino. Their discussion reveals all sorts of influences behind the game: the innate fear of death, the psychological nature of a Persona, and some depressing revelations about how the two of them related to girls during high school.
There's only one notable absence from Persona 3: Official Design Works. Those who played Persona 3 Portable will note that the game's player-named heroine is nowhere to be seen in these pages. That's understandable, because the Japanese version of Persona 3: Official Design Works was released several years before Portable and its new main character actually existed. Udon likely couldn't splice any illustrations from the Portable Fan Book into this anthology, and it doesn't hurt the collection as it is. Persona 3: Official Design Works still comes highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed the game.
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