The X Button In the Details
by Todd Ciolek,
I realize I have to maintain some level of decorum for this column, so I shall be calm about discussing Darkstalkers coming back YES YES YES OH YES FINALLY THANK YOU.
OK, it's really just Darkstalkers Resurrection, an Xbox Live and PlayStation Network collection of Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3. But it's a thorough treatment of the two games, featuring various challenges and online play that will, with any luck, do them justice. Like the recent Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, Resurrection also has various visual filters, from unnecessary HD polishing to a viewpoint that mimics the fuzzy, tilted look of an arcade monitor.
The only thing missing is a complete Darkstalkers 3. See, the arcade version of the game went through several different iterations, each dropping and adding certain characters. The Saturn and PlayStation ports combined everything into one lineup, but Resurrection uses the original arcade edition of the game, if the New York Comic Con demo was any indication. This means it won't have the Darkstalkers 3 versions of Donovan, Pyron, and Huitzil. We'll also miss out on Cecil, the little orphan boy that Huitzil carries around with him.
Darkstalkers Resurrection is also the keystone in Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono's plan to fully revive the series. At Comic-Con, he showed a brief (and admittedly primitive) test clip of Lord Raptor and Dimitri, making it clear that buying Resurrection is the best way to convince Capcom that we want more Darkstalkers. And I rather think I do.
CARNAGE HEART EXA COMES IN SECOND IN AN UNLIKELY LICENSE RACE…
Carnage Heart is the perfect example of a cult-favorite series. It's a line of strategy games where players program mecha instead of commanding them directly, and this complicated method of hard-wiring robots keeps the games beyond the realm of casual players. In fact, the only North American release for the series came in 1996. That's why a lot of people didn't expect Carnage Heart EXA to be licensed.
Yet licensed it was, and Natsume's the publisher. Released on the Japanese PSP in 2010, Carnage Heart EXA carries on the franchise's habit of building robots (called “Overkill Engines”), programming them, and then turning them loose in battle. EXA also features a story mode, complete with a tutorial for first-timers. Natsume's localization of the game is due out next year on the PlayStation Network.
…AND ELMINAGE COMES IN FIRST
As obscure as Carnage Heart may be, it at least came to North America at some point. One can't say that about Elminage, Starfish's line of dungeon crawlers. Yet UFO Interactive rose to the challenge and snagged the rights to Elminage Original, a PSP remake of the first game in the franchise.
Elminage Original spins some yarn about six lost rings that hold godlike powers and the salvation of all civilization, but it's all an excuse to send players through one harrowing dungeon after another. A party can be assembled from sixteen character classes spread across a dozen different races, and players can even create customized portraits for their warriors and monks and other characters. The game currently has no solid release date at UFO's site, but the fact that it's coming at all is a surprise.
SCREENSHOT OF THE WEEK: TALES OF XILLIA
Tales of Xillia has no firm release date either, but Namco's clearly dedicated to bringing it out for the domestic PlayStation 3 next year. To prove it, they've released several new English screenshots, and I'm most amused by this line from trainee nurse Leia when she meets suave mercenary Alvin.
I'm sure there's a more elaborate joke behind the "little buddy" term, but for now I can only assume it's a reference to Gilligan's Island.
INTERVIEW: DMC: DEVIL MAY CRY'S MOTOHIDE ESHIRO, HIDEAKI ITSUNO, AND ALEX JONES
It's always a risk to reboot a popular franchise, and DmC: Devil May Cry took a bigger chance than most. Capcom and developer Ninja Theory revamped the semi-hokey Devil May Cry series in several ways, turning cocky, half-demon hero Dante into a younger, mouthier protagonist who's now half demon and half angel. This drew some criticism from series fans, who felt that the cheesy-yet-stylish Dante was now an obnoxious punk.
Less ire was directed at DmC's gameplay, which uses Dante's heritage to enable angelic or demonic attacks with a press of the controller's shoulder buttons. The game's new setting also breaks from the Devil May Cry standard, presenting a somewhat modern world where demons walk the corridors of power. For details on the franchise's new direction, we met with producers Motohide Eshiro, Hideaki Itsuno, and Alex Jones.
What led you to make a Devil May Cry reboot instead of another sequel?
Motohide Eshiro: We started to examine Dante as well as Devil May Cry and the world it takes place in. We thought it natural to take a "rebirth" sort of approach where we revisit the character and who he is.
Why did you choose Ninja Theory to make the game?
Alex Jones: Well, their work prior on Heavenly Sword was standard-setting in terms of cutscenes, and that's essential to a good DMC experience. And we felt that they were on the cusp in terms of their ability to do character-based combat. There was enough raw material that aligned with what DmC needs to do well that it was a no-brainer.
What would you say has changed the most with the new game?
Hideaki Itsuno: I'd say the biggest difference lies in Dante himself. In this version, he's half-demon and half-angel, and this links closely with the gameplay. It's not just a story element. By using the triggers on the controller, you can choose to use these demon weapons or angelic ones. You also have a human mode, and you're able to shift very quickly between them. It's similar to the styles that have been added in prior games, but this is a new way to do it.
How do you respond to complaints that the new Dante is, well, kind of a jerk?
Eshiro: Visually he's changed quite a bit, but I wouldn't describe him as a jerk personality-wise, and when you play the game you'll see what I'm talking about. But the original Dante was designed from a Japanese perspective. It was very much what Japanese people at the time thought was cool. So we took that core concept of coolness and viewed it through a Western lens and had the designers at Ninja Theory give us their spin on it. I think you'll see he's not as much of a jerk as he might seem.
Which Devil May Cry games inspired DmC the most?
Eshiro: We like to think of it as its own beast, but if you held a gun to our head, we'd say it's closest to Devil May Cry 4. But the mode-changing has a deeper effect on gameplay this time around.
Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya stated that Dante was originally inspired by Buichi Terasawa's Space Adventure Cobra. Is there any character, perhaps a Western comic hero, who inspired the new Dante along the same lines?
Itsuno: I think the best way to describe the current Dante is that he doesn't come from pop fiction. It's more like “if this guy was a real guy, what would he be like?” If you saw him walking down the street in London, you wouldn't do a double-take. That's more what we were going for: a sense of reality.
And how do you balance a more realistic hero with the angel-devil dynamic and the monsters he has to fight?
Eshiro: If you look at the way demons are treated in Japanese fiction, they're sort of cartoony and unrealistic. What we wanted to do this time is work them into this world. One of the motifs for this game is “what if things were being controlled from behind the scenes by demons?” The way some of the enemies appear might be on the fantastic end of the spectrum, but all of this is rooted in a sort of reality or surreality.
On top of the angel and devil powers, what types of swords and firearms can we expect Dante to have?
Eshiro: Well, we have the real world and the world of limbo. The guns certainly are realistic, but the way the melee weapons work is that Rebellion itself morphs into different shapes based on Dante's will. It's not what you'd describe as real, but these weapons aren't used in the real world. In some ways, it's a part of the limbo world. So we're sticking with the motif of reality, but a step removed from that.
How about supporting characters?
Itsuno: You'll see Kat as sort of Dante's Bond girl. She plays a role similar to what we've seen of other ladies in the series. Did any particular city inspire DmC's setting?
Jones: If you wanted to generalize, it's a generic European city. Someplace with gothic overtones, but it still feels modern. It has enough of the classic DmC look to maintain some visual continuity, but we are setting it in a literally relevant location.
Devil May Cry has a reputation for being fairly hard. How do you think DmC will compare?
Jones: Well, it probably won't be as hard as the original version of Devil May Cry 3. Even though we want to broaden the appeal outside the hardcore, at the same time we're careful about the fact that people expect a challenge. So we've done things to make it more open while retaining the depth for people who want that experience, and one way is the style ranking system. Unlike the older games, where you didn't know what the score was and you sort of had to reverse-engineer it, we open it up in DmC. You can see how your gameplay and the combos you're using are building it up. We hope it doesn't detract from the hardcore; they'll still be able to do their combos and jump canceling and all that.
Will the stages be more mission-based or will we see more exploration?
Eshiro: It's structured very similar to other games in the series where you have discrete missions. It's not an open-world game.
How do you expect the game to do in Japan?
Eshiro: We think it'll do really well with Japanese audiences. During our collaboration with Ninja Theory, we made sure that it'll feel really familiar. I don't think we've closed it off to the Japanese market at all.
What's your favorite of the older Devil May Cry games?
Itsuno: I directed Devil May Cry 2 and 3, but I have to go with Four.
Jones: I'll go with Devil May Cry 3, the special edition. I could not finish the original one.
Eshiro: Devil May Cry 3 as well for me.
And your favorite Capcom titles?
Itsuno: I'm going to go with Dragon's Dogma.
Eshiro: Shadow of Rome on the PlayStation 2.
Jones: Street Fighter II. I spent many a quarter in the 7-11 across the screen from my house.
Mr. Eshiro, you recently worked on Okamiden, do you think we'll see another Okami game after Okami HD?
Eshiro: I would love to do another Okami, but unfortunately I don't make all the business decisions at the company. If you want it, go out and buy extra copies of Okamiden.
Mr. Itsuno, you worked on several fighting games, including the Rival Schools titles. Do you think we'll ever see another game in that series or perhaps a port for Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network?
Itsuno: I happen to have certain plans to do things like that. I don't know if it'll come to fruition, but it's on my agenda for sure.
Did you come up with the idea for Rival Schools? What inspired it?
Itsuno: When looking at fighting games, it seemed they were focused on worlds that people were unfamiliar with. But everyone's gone to school. So I felt that people could relate to that.
You were also the director of Capcom vs. SNK 2. Might we see that again for a current console? Itsuno: Funny you should ask. I'm also planning some things there.
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
DRAGON BALL Z FOR KINECT |
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Many a child has spent recess pretending to be some Dragon Ball hero, posing and shouting and arguing over who gets to be Trunks or Krillin. Even for those who've long since left playground Super Saiyan-isms behind, Dragon Ball Z for Kinect taps into that juvenile fondness for imitating an anime superhero. The Kinect picks up the player's mimicry of Dragon Ball Z moves, and there are apparently over a hundred different attacks to be unleashed, from standard blows to the Kamehameha and the Spirit Beam Cannon. The Kinect also scans QR codes to unlock extra characters. Get used to QR codes, folks, because they're not leaving any time soon.
Namco Bandai promises over 50 characters from the series, with a central storyline that recreates much of the Dragon Ball Z saga. While the game adopts a first-person perspective for inputting commands, it freely breaks into anime-like action shots of a player's chosen warrior pelting an enemy, all to show off the game's cel-shaded character models. The Kinect has endured some disappointments lately, but at least its Dragon Ball Z outing demands less than the likes of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. Perhaps the little motion-sensing peripheral will have an easier time reflecting the player's motions as they block, punch, or charge up a wave of ferocious energy. The game doesn't use the Kinect's voice sensor, so it doesn't do much good to scream out the names of attacks. I am certain sure many young players will do it anyway.
FAIRY BLOOM FREESIA|
Publisher: Nyu Media
Platform: PC (GamersGate, GameStop, the Capcom Store)
Fairy Bloom Freesia was tentatively called Fighting Fairy in North America. It's since abandoned that name, perhaps to avoid confusion with a similarly titled game that we shan't discuss here. “Fighting” was, however, a rather solid estimate of just what Freesia's all about. In the forest of Lita, a blushing fairy defender named Freesia protects her home from monsters and human alike. She accomplishes this with a mixture of magical attacks and reliable ol' fisticuffs, pounding enemies from one end of the screen to the other. Explosions and glowing energy streaks follow the little sundress-clad pixie's trail of destruction, all to the accompaniment of perky music and majestic forest backdrops. It's a rather amusing mixture.
Armed with all the moves you'd expect from a modern fighting-game character, Freesia can juggle enemies in elaborate combos and knock them around in packs. Matches are arranged in one big survival mode, and Freesia upgrades her moveset and stats with each victory. There's an ongoing story about the fragile relationship between humans and fairies, though the game's extra modes offer the chance to ignore it. As with Ether Vapor Remaster, Edelweiss assembled an impressive-looking indie title with Fairy Bloom Freesia. And it's hard to think of another brawler based around humble wood sprites.
Mugen Souls kicked up a bit of controversy, as its original Japanese release features scenes where the player “bathes” the game's alarmingly young-looking heroines. Eww. When NIS America announced that it would “edit certain aspects of this title for its North American and European releases,” it was easy to tell which aspects they were talking about. The resulting uproar overshadowed other features of Mugen Souls, which follows would-be conqueror Chou-Chou's journey across seven worlds. In her struggle, she gathers an army that includes a hopelessly devoted fanboy, an angel desperately trying to do evil, a clumsy explorer, and several narcissistic demons. Chou-Chou herself is several characters in one, as she can transform into different personalities: Bipolar, Masochist, Hyper, Graceful, Terse, Ditz, and Sadist. All of these tie into the game's “Moe Kill” feature, in which Chou-Chou's various forms turn enemies into allies by playing to their particular fetishes. Yes, an otaku-targeted RPG is once again pandering to its fans by mocking them.
Beyond the cutesy stabs at satire, Mugen Souls follows Disgaea's lead in cramming combat with overblown and insanely damaging attacks. During the turn-based battles, attacks will bounce enemies around the screen. Then characters can join together for linked attacks that inspire everything from tag-team moves to artillery shelling, and the combos get downright absurd in their hit totals. Even a “Moe Kill” is complicated; winning over an enemy involves a series of keywords and emotional matchmaking. Add to this a mobile base and a system where characters can be customized in a variety of ways, and Mugen Souls comes up with a lot of material. But how much of that material will be downright creepy?
Capcom has yet to bring a Monster Hunter game to the Vita, a fact that's caused much disappointment. This detail was clearly not lost on GameArts, GungHo, or XSEED Games, as all three gathered together and delivered a potential Monster Hunter usurper in Ragnarok Odyssey. Based on the Ragnarok Online series, Odyssey finds the kingdom of Rune Midgard (the first of many bowdlerized Norse-myth references) facing an invasion of giants from a land beyond the limits of their world, and it falls to various adventurers to save the human realm. As this is a cousin to an online RPG, saving the human realm involves a lot of wandering about, slaying monsters, and fulfilling fetch quests. With no pre-determined protagonists, players are free to create and customize an avatar, and the options lean more toward the stylish medieval-anime looks of a Final Fantasy than the more primitive accoutrements of Monster Hunter.
Ragnarok Odyssey also plays it fast and pretty with the teamwork so common to multiplayer monster-slaying. In battle, characters can launch creatures and pummel them in mid-air combos, finishing up by belting them into other foes. The beasts are predictably large and impressive, and the character classes cover familiar stereotypes, with Hammersmiths and Assassins taking the respective roles of heavy hitters and quick-strikers. Ragnarok Odyssey also has online support for parties of up to four players, and that may be the most important step when it comes to standing beside the likes of Monster Hunter and Gods Eater Burst.
SILENT HILL: BOOK OF MEMORIES
Are you among the discontented Silent Hill fans? Have you been thoroughly let down by all recent attempts to capture the psychological mystique of the first three Silent Hill games? Well, then you'll be either relieved or horrified by Book of Memories. It's a Silent Hill game, but it's not an eerie, solitary plod through a haunted town of mist and dimensional shifts. No, Book of Memories is a multiplayer dungeon hack, and it's not all that far from the likes of Diablo. The game concerns a haunted tome that chronicles the life of the player's avatar, and it once again leads to the rusting, filthy confines of some grotesque alternate world. Players make their way through abattoir mazes, forests of living trees, and demon-filled city streets, all of which resemble Silent Hill in some way.
In effect, the gameplay isn't quite so far removed from a Silent Hill. The potentially doomed heroes and heroines find basic weapons as they wander about, solving puzzles and crudely fighting off creatures that include the disturbingly popular Pyramid Head. The perspective, however, makes everything feel just a bit different; the whole affair is viewed from overhead, and that puts some distance between the player and the supposedly harrowing environments. And then there's the fact that up to four players can join together to explore the nightmare. It's just not as scary when you're with others.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
GUILTY GEAR XX ACCENT CORE PLUS
The Guilty Gearseries lags behind its competitors when it comes to the modern era. You can get Street Fighter III, all sorts of SNK fighters, and even JoJo's Bizarre Adventure on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, but consoles haven't had an online Guilty Gear game since Microsoft dropped Live play for original Xbox games back in 2010. Well, we're deprived no longer. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus may not be very different from the Accent Core Plus that hit the PlayStation 2 and Wii a while back, but its online mode adds the competition that fighting games prize so highly.
But why play Guilty Gear over other fighting games? Well, it remains one of the most endearingly insane showpieces in the genre. Guilty Gear blends the heavy-metal overkill with post-apocalyptic anime overkill, resulting in a world where a yoyo-wielding boy nun might take on an assassin armed with billiard balls and a cue, or a bounty hunter with a cigarette-lighter sword and a boatload of Queen allusions might battle a woman who uses her hair as a weapon (and is named after the Boston-area metal outfit Meliah Rage). Beneath all of this wonderful chaos, there's a fairly solid fighting system that allows for speedy, intense matches full of cancels, air dashes, and even instant-kill techniques that are appropriately hard to pull off. Even in the face of successors like BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena, Guilty Gear has an appeal that's hard to find elsewhere.
Many looked at the four-game collection of Guild 01 and thought they'd never see it on store shelves here in North America. They were right. Guild 01 won't be on sale at the corner GameStop, but three of its four games are apparently primed for release on Nintendo's 3DS eShop. Crimson Shroud and Air Porter may follow, but the first release is the most marketable of them: Liberation Maiden, the work of No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw creator Suda51. In Liberation Maiden, the president of Japan is a teenage girl named Shoko Ozora, and her battle-mecha Kamui is all that stands in the way of an invading force. It's not quite as silly as Metal Wolf Chaos, but it's dressed up like a well-budgeted anime, with character designs by Yusuke Kozaki, animation from studio Bones, and a battleship drawn by Mahiro Maeda. I hope that's one impressive battleship.
After the anime introductions have their way, Liberation Maiden finds Shoko soaring over Japan's cities, downing enemy ships with a lock-on system and a chargeable special-attack gauge, both of which recall Rez and Panzer Dragoon. In a flicker of strategy, Shoko's mecha uses the same power meter for shields and weaponry. As the game equivalent of a short from an omnibus film, Liberation Maiden isn't particularly long. Yet there's something to be said for a leader who governs through robot warfare. Here's hoping
STREET FIGHTER X TEKKEN |
Platform: PS Vita
Capcom stopped short of calling this Street Fighter X Tekken: Apology Edition, but this Vita revamp js indeed an attempt at fixing problems with the crossover fighter. When Street Fighter X Tekken was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 earlier this year, fans had complaints, and the Vita promises repairs. Street Fighter X Tekken had a dozen characters sealed away so Capcom could sell them as separate downloads later on. The Vita version has all of the characters unlocked, and it'll also release them in the PlayStation 3 edition of the game, should you own both. Street Fighter X Tekken had some odd glitches and balance problems. The Vita version has the latest gameplay patch, which supposedly rectifies some (if not all) of these issues. Street Fighter X Tekken doesn't feature Mike Haggar or Maki from Final Fight. The Vita version still doesn't. Oh well. You can't win 'em all.
The core of Street Fighter X Tekken remains much the same as previous versions, of course. It brings the most memorable Tekken characters into a tag-team fighter set in the Street Fighter universe, with a glowing, totally non-canonical magic box drawing together 55 playable fighters. Granted, most of the Street Fighter characters were already seen in Street Fighter IV, but you'll also find Poison, Rolento, Hugo, and, with the Vita version, Street Fighter III's Elena. The game also uses the Vita's touch-screen to simulate attack buttons (don't worry, you can still use the standard keys), and players can face off against PlayStation 3 owners as well as the usual round of online Vita cohorts.
ZERO'S ESCAPE: VIRTUE'S LAST REWARD
Visual novels are still rare and often misunderstood in the domestic game market, but Chunsoft's 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was an important breakthrough. Its storyline was bridged by the puzzles and logic tests you'd expect in a point-and-click adventure game, but it was still a plot-driven affair in the dialogue choices and the overall tale of nine strangers trapped in a dangerous game. Virtue's Last Reward returns to the same world and the same idea, and with slightly more twisted stakes. Nine characters once again awaken in some bizarre maze, and all of them are wearing bracelets that store points. Acquiring nine points lets a bangle's wearer escape, while dropping to zero brings a rather nasty death. The involuntary participants gain points by interacting with fellow players; mutual cooperation brings points to both characters, but deceit gives the betrayer more points and takes points away from the victim. If both parties betray each other, no one gets any points, because there's no honor among thieves.
With that system in place, Virtue's Last Reward relies heavily on its characters. Players control brash college guy Sigma, who's first paired up with a mysterious, white-haired woman named Phi. They're joined by former astronaut Tenmyouji, stylish jerk Dio, all-too-gentle doctor Luna, equally nice kid Quark, metal-suited amnesiac K, and two familiar faces from 999: Alice and Yotsuba (a.k.a. Clover). Their antagonist in this whole affair seems to be a cute little robot bunny, and we all know there'll be a shocking revelation somewhere down the line. Perhaps that revelation will also be downright silly, but it's all part of a compelling visual-novel hybrid. And with its unique trust-based system and the standard range of puzzles, Virtue's Last Reward might push that sort of hybrid even further than 999 did.
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