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Talent Show

by Todd Ciolek, Sep 27th 2012

Recent years have seen more and more concerts that bring classic game music to full orchestral life. The next major one appears set for October 7, when Video Game Orchestra comes to Boston Symphony Hall. The playlist features music from Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, and other games, plus four esteemed composer guests. And you've heard their work before.

The music of Hitoshi Sakimoto, Yoko Shimomura, and Noriyuki Iwadare should be familiar to anyone who's ever bought an RPG soundtrack, and Kinuyo Yamashita really ought to be equally well-known. She's responsible for some majestic Castlevania anthems, those striking Power Blade themes, and the peppy beats of Pocky & Rocky. And while neither Pocky nor Rocky seems to be on the schedule, I'm sure the evening will prove interesting for game-music geeks.

NEWS SPECIAL: THE 2012 TOKYO GAME SHOW

E.X. TROOPERS IS LOST PLANET GONE ANIME, BUT IT'S NOT GOING TO AMERICA
E.X. Troopers wears several hats. It's a spin-off of CAPCOM's Lost Planet series. It's a multiplayer portable game that clearly feeds off Monster Hunter's success. And it's a manga-style action game that might comfort those still distraught over CAPCOM canning Megaman Legends 3 (which I am required to mention once a month). Like prior Lost Planets, it's set on a frigid world full of biologically improbable giant bugs, but E.X. Troopers breaks free by covering everything in slick cartoon style. The cel-shaded look fits a cast of teenage anime archetypes from the outgoing, pink-haired hero Bren to the nature-loving TeeKee, who thinks nothing of wearing a skirt in sub-arctic weather.

This nonsense seeps into the gameplay of E.X. Troopers, and it enriches the whole affair. Players take on giant insects and heavily armed pirates in wintry landscapes, and the characters use lock-on firing, jet packs, Vital Suits, grappling hooks, and short-range strikes to destroy foes. It's all fast-paced and colorful, with overblown special attacks and comic-book sound effects. And for that Lost Planet 2 touch, enemies can be taken down with the help of other players as well as AI-controlled sidekicks.

It seems like exactly the sort of game the 3DS needs, and this just makes it more likely to stay in Japan. CAPCOM currently has no plans to release E.X. Troopers in North America, though that may change once Lost Planet 3 makes its entrance.

GOD EATER 2 TRIES BUILDING A BETTER MONSTER HUNTER ONCE AGAIN
Among other games chasing Monster Hunter, God Eater 2 has wisely branched out to the Vita as well as the PSP. Unfolding two years after the events of the original God Eater (which we knew here as Gods Eater Burst), the sequel follows members of a special unit called Blood as they stalk Aragami monsters in a thoroughly wrecked world. Several of the first game's teenage hunters return as well. Alisa and Kota are among them, and it's strongly hinted that supporting characters like mechanic Licca and operator Hibari will also reappear.

God Eater 2 retains the original's multiplayer clashes with giant, ferocious creatures who wouldn't be out of place in a Final Fantasy game, and the PSP and Vita versions are entirely compatible. The sequel introduces a number of new God Arc weapons, including hammers, spears, and heavy blades. As in the first game, all of them can transform from melee implements to firearms in the midst of battle. It's hard to say if God Eater 2 will come Westward, but being on the Vita gives it substantially better odds.

MONSTER HUNTER 4 GOES TO THE BUGS
And what of Monster Hunter itself? CAPCOM rolled out the series on two fronts at the Tokyo Game Show. Monster Hunter 4 drew most of the attention, and it wasn't just on account of the massive booth CAPCOM set up. It looks impressive, particularly for a 3DS title. The environments are spacious, the creatures are equally huge, and the game's latest trailer has a very imposing scene of a sand-serpent bursting from the desert and spinning overhead. The game also adds an insect-summoning staff to the player's arsenal, and the bugs its calls up can siphon energy from monsters. In fact, the game's hunters can now garb themselves in armor that resembles some cross between Dynasty Warriors and the more buglike Kamen Riders.

The game's producers also promise more “adventure” in its story, which seems to involve a roving caravan instead of a static village. Full online play might be the biggest mark in Monster Hunter 4's favor, as its 3DS predecessor, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, only had local play. CAPCOM's fixing that with the Wii U version of Ultimate, which allows online hunts with up to four players. Both the 3DS and Wii U editions of Ultimate are headed to North America next March, though there's no word yet on Monster Hunter 4.

YAIBA IS PART DEAD RISING, PART NINJA GAIDEN, PART EVERY MODERN GAME
Keiji Inafune and his studio Comcept unveiled Yaiba earlier this month, and the initial trailer paired zombie imagery with a ninja hero. At the Tokyo Game Show, Inafune revealed that the game is actually Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, a zombie-centric installment of Tecmo's long-running franchise. The main character isn't Tecmo's recurring hero Ryu Hayabusa, though; it's a ninja named Yaiba, and he's hunting down Ryu for potentially grim reasons. The game was shown only in trailers and screenshots, both with a particularly gruesome bent.

The game's development background is intriguing, as it's a three-way project carried out by Comcept, Tecmo's Team Ninja, and U.S. outfit Spark Unlimited. It just so happens that another team at Spark Unlimited is developing Lost Planet 3 for CAPCOM, and Inafune was one of CAPCOM's major producers for years before leaving in 2010. At CAPCOM, he co-created Megaman and shepherded projects from Onimusha to Lost Planet, and one of his last major inventions was the zombie-heavy Dead Rising. So it's pretty easy to see Yaiba's inspirations.

PHOENIX WRIGHT NOW CAN SEE YOUR SOUL
The first news of Ace Attorney 5 leaked well before the show, but CAPCOM revealed a playable demo at the TGS, exhibiting the game's new 3-D graphics, a new emotion-sensing feature, and a new partner who replaces Maya Fey as trial lawyer Phoenix Wright's sidekick.

Phoenix's new legal assistant is the yellow-clad Kokone Kizuki, and she wears a wrist-mounted device called the Heart Scope. The gadget scans a witness and depicts his or her emotions through the use of smiley faces, thus allowing players to tell when a subject has something to hide. This comes to the fore with the game's opening case, in which Phoenix defends one of Kokone's friends against charges of blowing up a courthouse.

The game also uses 3-D models to mimic the sprite animation and courtroom drama of the older Phoenix Wright outings, and it's hard to tell the difference in many of the screens. The TGS demo had no voice acting, so perhaps CAPCOM's trying to preserve the feel of the earlier titles a bit too well. Or maybe they'll add voices before Ace Attorney 5 arrives in Japan and the U.S. next year.

NISA ADDS HYPERDIMENSION NEPTUNIA VICTORY, PLUS CHAOS
NIS America spent the show announcing two new titles for these shores. Idea Factory and Compile Heart's PlayStation 3 RPG Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory was a foregone conclusion, perhaps. NISA released the two previous titles here, and the third employs much the same formula. It returns to the world of Gaminustri, where various game systems and companies take the form of scantily dressed anime superheroines. Victory, however, warps its Sega stand-in Neptune back to the 1980s, and the world around her reflects the game market of that era.

Victory features a faster-paced battle system, which could go a long way toward fixing a common complaint about the previous two games. As for those who gripe about the franchise's sexualized, hyper-cutesy characters, there's no solace in Victory. It has another lineup of big-eyed, costume-changing women who unleash such bizarre attacks as a space battleship with the head of Keiji Inafune. NISA plans to release all of this in the spring, along with an iPhone app that lets players converse with Neptune and Noire…or the Sega Neptune and Sony Playstation, going by the game's symbolism.

NISA also announced Generation of Chaos: Pandora's Reflection, the latest in Idea Factory's strategy-RPG series. Headed for the PSP as a download-only release, Pandora's Reflection follows a terminally cursed woman named Yuri and her brother Claude as they search for a cure. Unfortunately, they're stuck in a hostile land called Hades.

Pandora's Reflection stages its combat on elaborate maps, with battlefield positioning and weapon upgrades being vital to a player's tactics. It also scales back the dauntingly complicated menus of past Generation of Chaos titles, proving a little more accessible in the process. It comes here in February, thus ensuring the PSP's survival for another year.

SONY AND NINTENDO CROUCH IN WAIT FOR THE NEXT SYSTEM WAR
Sony used the Tokyo Game Show to unveil a new PlayStation 3 model, one that doesn't look all that different from the current “slim” version of the system. The primary difference involves the disc drive, which shuns the front-inserted style of its predecessors and instead features a top-loading mechanism with a sliding door.

It doesn't differ much in price, either. A standard slim 160GB PS3 will run you about $250. The new version of the console packs in 250GB for $269 or 500GB for $299, and both models are now available. In other words, it'll cost roughly what you'll pay for a Wii U this November 18.

Meanwhile, Nintendo confirmed that the Wii U will indeed be region-locked when it arrives in North America, Japan, and Europe. This isn't all that daunting, really. The Wii was originally region-locked, but it wasn't long before talented souls had it running Wii games from all over. The feature will dissuade some from importing Wii U systems in the fall, however, and that may be foremost among Nintendo's concerns.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

NIGHTS INTO DREAMS HD
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network/XBox Live
MSRP: $9.99

In an alternate reality, NightS is Sega's biggest mascot. Sonic the Hedgehog remains a one-shot obscurity while NightS claims a variety of games, t-shirts, action figures, beach towels, vending-machine toys, Saturday morning cartoons, and disturbingly obsessed fans. This, of course, is not how things went after NightS debuted on the Sega Saturn in 1996. It was an inventive new action game from Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka, but the public didn't bite. Perhaps NightS and its purple jester protagonist were just a little too strange for Mario fans. Or perhaps the game's sense of cartoonish, carefree flying wasn't what people wanted after they'd come off Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. Whatever the reason, NightS went back in the box while Sega played with Sonic, and there was no NightS sequel until 2007. But now the original NightS can be had easily and cheaply. Sega's new HD revamp sharpens up the game, adds leaderboards and achievements, and includes an option to use the somewhat rough graphics of the Saturn version.

Beneath the new features, NightS remains the same oddity it was sixteen years ago. It's a flight-action game where two awkward children, Claris and Elliot, join a vaguely ominous jester-spirit on a trip through a dreamlike fantasyland. NightS jets through the air on a two-dimensional playfield, looping and darting and forming mid-air warps. If NightS runs out of time, the game reverts to the kid heroes, who clumsily hop across the 3-D fields that NightS soared above. It's a brief and brightly shaded trip through a psychedelic carnival, and there's little else like it in the industry. The HD bundle also includes Christmas NightS, a two-level expansion that manages to make the game even more aggressively upbeat.

RESIDENT EVIL 6
Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
MSRP: $59.99/$89.99 (collector's edition)

CAPCOM made big promises with Resident Evil 6. There's the standard press-release promise of a “giant stride forward in the evolution of the series,” but it's easy to see a more calculated ambition in Resident Evil 6. It openly tries to be everything to everyone who follows the franchise. Spanning three nations, it offers intertwined storylines that pair recurring Resident Evil characters with newcomers. Leon Kennedy and Secret Service agent Helena Harper are stuck in a zombie outbreak that recalls earlier Resident Evils, with lightweight puzzles and pileups of sluggish undead. For those who liked Resident Evil 5, Chris Redfield and his compatriot Piers Nivans headline a team of soldiers who rely on cooperative exploration. The game's third arc melds the two gameplay styles. It tracks Jake Muller, son of general-purpose villain Albert Wesker, as he and Resident Evil 2's Sherry Birkin race across an Eastern European nation, dodging undead drones, a hulking mutant, and an avalanche along the way.

Resident Evil 6 also plays on a much larger stage than before, tossing its six main characters (seven if you count Ada Wong) from North American college towns to a made-up Balkan nation to the crowded streets of a city that's not quite Hong Kong. In all of these vistas, things flow from heated zombie battles to encounters with huge bosses, whether it's the towering Ustanak or a snakelike monstrosity that snatches up squadmates of Chris and Piers. Even the game's run-of-the-mill creatures are re-examined. Resembling sharper versions of Resident Evil 4's Ganados, the multi-eyed J'avos wield more weapons and burst into even more freakish forms, sprouting Thing-like body mutations at a moment's notice. The multiplayer mode of Resident Evil 5 returns here, as two different characters can be controlled through split-screen and online options. It's limited to two players for the most part, but six can participate in online matches—and play as the J'avos and zombies in the process. Perhaps it doesn't shake Resident Evil's bedrock that much, but CAPCOM might be content to recapture the best parts of the series.

SONIC ADVENTURE 2 HD
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network/XBox Live
MSRP: $9.99

Some pundits see the Sonic Adventure games as the start of Sonic's rougher years. The two titles elevated once-supporting characters to the same level as Sonic, and they marked the franchise's first major struggle to integrate 3-D gameplay and camera angles (Sonic R notwithstanding). Perhaps all of this led to terrible games and horrific fan art, but Sonic Adventure 2 is hardly a bad specimen. It follows three playable characters on either side of a Manichean story: Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles form the heroic roster, while Rouge, Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, and the perhaps-unnecessary Shadow the Hedgehog make up the villainous half of the story. Like many modern Sonic games, that story mixes typical Sonic lore with sci-fi trappings, resulting in some bizarre tale where space colonies and vengeful spirits are discussed alongside a tubby scientist who gathers up magical Chaos Emeralds.

Sonic Adventure 2 makes a little more sense in its blend of genres: Sonic and his shadowy alter-ego race through action-platform levels, Eggman and Tails shoot things in their path, and Knuckles and Rouge have to scour levels for emerald fragments. These stages can be played with two players as well, and there's an extra mode dedicated to raising a bloblike little Chao creature. The HD version is based on the GameCube edition of the title, though the extra Battle Mode material costs three bucks.


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