The X Button Trigger Discipline
by Todd Ciolek,
Many of you surely followed the controversies surrounding Eurogamer, Tomb Raider, Halo 4, Doritos, and the all-too-close relationship between game journalists and game companies. The short version of it, summed up nicely by Forbes, is that the press is far too dependent on publishers and far too enamored of all the free stuff and special privileges they get. Perhaps it's time for a reassessment of just where we all stand.
To that end, I should come clean about a promotional knickknack that Namco Bandai gave me at the New York Comic Con. It's a Tales of Xillia teacup. And in order to maintain my journalistic integrity, I'm going to review it.
A teacup may not seem the most obvious piece of merchandise when it comes to Tales of Xillia, but there's nothing particularly misguided about the idea. And I admit to not having played Tales of Xillia yet, so for all I know tea is a recurring plot point in the game, much like coffee in a Coleman Francis film.
Thematic relevance aside, the teacup features nice enough art of the game's leads, Jude Mathis and the improbably coiffured Milla Maxwell. I can't be sure if the illustrations are the work of Kosuke Fujishima (who designed Jude) or Mutsumi Inomata (who designed Milla), since both names are in the copyright. They're charming little renderings, though, displaying perfect contentment with their beverages. In an odd choice, the teacup itself uses red for the artwork, instead of the black shown on the box.
There's a larger problem, however. The teacup is a stable little thing, but I very much doubt that anyone who acquires it will put tea or any other liquid in it. It's a collectible piece, the sort of thing one displays instead of using it to brew hot chocolate and then wedging it in the dishwasher. And that's the question would-be buyers must ask: is it worth getting a Tales of Xillia trinket you'll never really use? I imagine the answer is yes for many fans, and to them I can recommend this teacup.
Score: 8.297/10 (not an average)
HAKUOKI: WARRIORS OF THE SHINSENGUMI BRINGS PRETTY SAMURAI TO THE U.S. ONCE AGAIN
Were you skeptical when Aksys Games released Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, a visual novel full of oh-so-pretty heroes? Did you snort and sneer at the idea of the Western game market welcoming a title where a young woman is surrounded by handsome anime versions of the Shinsengumi, Japan's 19th-century secret police? Well, you were sort of a jerk. And wrong, besides. Hakuoki evidently did well enough for Aksys to set up its action-game derivative, Warriors of the Shinsengumi, for a PSP release next year.
In a rather obvious venture, Warriors of the Shinsengumi drops the Hakuoki cast into an action game much like Dynasty Warriors. Toshizo Hijikata, Soji Okita, Hajime Saito, Heisuke Todo, Sanosuke Harada, Chikage Kazama, and other Shinsengumi members carve their way through battlefields and streets stocked with undemanding enemies, and the characters grow stronger as a last-ditch tactic when their life meters run down. The game features two different story modes: one covers the same general plot as Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, while the other is an original tale about the Shinsengumi. It's due out next year, and Aksys hasn't disclosed if it'll be a PlayStation Network exclusive or a physical release.
SQUARE ENIX PUTS DRAGON QUEST VII ON A NINTENDO PLATFORM AFTER 16 YEARS
Dragon Quest VII was tied to Nintendo at first. In the mid-1990s, well before anyone had actually seen the game, the word was that Dragon Quest VII would appear on the Nintendo 64. Of course, things changed. The Nintendo 64's cartridge format scared off publishers, Square and Final Fantasy VII jumped ship, and Enix did the same with Dragon Quest. Well, now Dragon Quest VII is coming to the 3DS.
Originally released on the PlayStation in 2000, Dragon Quest VII offers a massive tale in which the player unlocks a world one continent at a time. The gameplay sticks with the turn-based system common to 16-bit Dragon Quests, and a class-change featuer provides different pursuits for the game's half-dozen party members. The 3DS version is a full remake, featuring 3-D graphics and a soundtrack by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. It's due out next February.
SHANTAE RETURNS YET AGAIN, SOMEHOW BECOMES A PIRATE
It took about eight years for the original Shantae to get a sequel, but the next one won't be so long in coming. According to the latest issue of Nintendo Power, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse will arrive on the 3DS eShop next year, continuing the storyline of 2010's Shante: Risky's Revenge.
The game sends its adorable half-genie heroine (well, former half-genie) on a quest to save her buccaneer nemesis Risky Boots from a mutiny. Not to spoil the end of Risky's Revenge, but it saw Shantae lose her Genie powers, which were apparently picked up by Risky's Tinkerbat underlings. In her struggle to reclaim her abilities, Shantae makes do with the more crude implements of piracy: bone daggers, a sword, and a flintlock pistol. These are shockingly direct methods for a character who previously whapped enemies with her hair, but losing genie powers can take its toll.
SCREENSHOT OF THE WEEK: SHINING ARK
The latest in Sega's long and diverse Shining series is an RPG called Shining Ark. The PSP title unfolds in an island kingdom called Arcadia, where a young man named Freed discovers a girl washed up on the beach (shades of Phantasy Star III, eh?). The girl goes by Panis, and she has a single black wing protruding from her back. As mysterious RPG heroines are wont to do, her presence soon draws danger to the isles, in the form of a massive stone titan.
Ark features a fairly standard RPG battle system, plus the usual Shining stereotypes of a resolute hero, am enigmatic girl, and a blonde elf maiden. However, it also has a number of diversions straight out of Harvest Moon, allowing Freed to raise crops and sell goods. And as this important screenshot suggests, it's the first Shining game where the hero can target and attack his own rear end.
That aside, Shining Ark is also the first installment of the series developed by Media.Vision, makers of the Wild Arms series. Perhaps they'll add more to the Shining formula before the game arrives in Japan this winter.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: OCTOBER
BRAVELY DEFAULT: FLYING FAIRY|
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy technically isn't a Final Fantasy game, but let's not kid ourselves. It's very much the successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, a DS throwback to the older crop of Final Fantasies. Bravely Default may set out on its own, yet it still has the marks of a classic Final Fantasy. The game begins in a realm called Luxendarc, where some great calamity recently destroyed the entire nation of Gardisra. The lone survivor, a boy named Tiz Oria, joins up with military brat Edea Lee, amnesiac oracle Ringabell, and Wind Crystal caretaker Agnes Oblige. They're pursued by an armada of imperial airships, a gang of bandits, and various cadres of warriors. While the four of them remain the only playable characters, there's a huge array of classes for them to adopt by defeating certain foes. Categories like Knight, Monk, and Time Mage pop up in just about any Final Fantasy with a “job” system, but Bravely Default adds merchants, pirates, valkyries, magi, devouts, and pop-singer superstars to the whole curriculum.
The title of Bravely Default isn't just some odd neologism, either. During battle, party members can use a “Brave” command to pull off two moves in one turn, while the “Default” command lets them defend and build up their Brave Points. Characters who use Brave without any points are left unguarded and useless for one turn. The game's enemies follow the same system, and they're just as prone to taking advantage of it. When not thinking through battles, players can explore a rather pretty world, one that recalls the details of Final Fantasy IX in its fairy-tale designs and squat characters. And it's always nice to see Akihiko Yoshida (Final Fantasy XII) create some new faces for Final Fantasy.
Import Barrier: The combat system and job list aren't too hard to decipher, but the story requires some Japanese knowledge. Oh, and playing the game at all requires a Japanese 3DS or some less-than-legal tomfoolery.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Square is alarmingly silent when it comes to Bravely Default's possible U.S. debut (and possible renaming). It's a big game in its scope and voice acting, and some speculate that it's too expensive for its own good. Surely Square can find space in a catalog lacking in 3DS titles.
PROJECT X ZONE|
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
There's no lack of crossover games out there, from the multi-company mecha smorgasbords of Super Robot Wars to the cult mash-ups of Chaos Wars and Cross Edge. Project X Zone turns more heads than its cohorts, however, as it's a three-way collision of Sega, Capcom, and Namco Bandai. Reminiscent of Monolith's Namco X Capcom title, Project is a strategy-RPG that heavily emphasizes team-up attacks. Once positioned correctly on a battlefield, characters can all join together in button-mashy combo attacks that juggle opponents in the air, rack up hundreds of hits, and allow the cast to show off their signature moves.
And that cast is the real reason anyone's picking up Project X Zone. The game's tale of cross-dimensional warfare and overlapping realities features dozens of characters from just as many series. Out of the Sega stockroom, we have Akira and Pai from Virtua Fighter; Gemini Sunrise, Ichiro Ogami, Sakura Shinguji, and Erica Fontaine from Sakura Wars; Kurt Irving, Riela Marceris, and Imca from Valkyria Chronicles; Cyrille and Toma from Shining Force EXA; Vashyron, Leanne, and Zephyr from Resonance of Fate; Not Bruce Willis Guy from Dynamite Cop; Ulala from Space Channel 5; Rikiya from Zombie Revenge; and Bahn from Fighting Vipers. Capcom offers Dimitri, Morrigan, and Hsien-Ko from Darkstalkers; Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine from Resident Evil; X, Zero, and Iris (yes, the girl Zero was fighting forrrrr) Zero from Mega Man X; Dante and Lady from Devil May Cry; Arthur from Ghosts 'N Goblins; >; Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li from Street Fighter; Tron Bonne and her Servbots from Mega Man Legends; Frank West from Dead Rising; Devilotte from Cyberbots; and Batsu from Rival Schools. Namco and Bandai have Jin, Xiaoyu, and Alisa from Tekken; KOS-MOS and T-elos from Xenosaga; Yuri, Flynn, and Estelle from Tales of Vesperia; Kite, Aura, and Black Rose from .hack; Valkyrie from The Legend of Valkyrie; Sanger Zonvolt from Super Robot Wars; Soma, Lindow, and Alisa from Gods Eater Burst; Haken Browning and Kaguya Nanbu from Super Robot Wars Endless Frontier; Neneko and Neito from Yumeria; and Reiji and Xiaomu from Namco X Capcom. A game like Project X Zone needs at least two new characters, and so we get staff-fighter Kogoro Tenzai and gun-packing Mii Koryuji. Maybe they'll stick around like Reiji and Xiaomu did. There's also a selection of villains from many of the same titles. Games like Yumeria and Rival Schools don't contribute any bad guys, but you'll see Street Fighter's Seth and Juri, Valkyria Chronicles' Selvaria Bles, antagonists from Namco X Capcom, and numerous others. The game's original villains are the haughty Duwei Frabellum and her hench-beasts Ain and Dorai (a tradition we can trace back to Time Bokan). It's an overwhelming cast, but the game's just as much about seeing Mega Man talk with KOS-MOS as it is about stringing together lengthy attacks. A shame that the in-game art is a bit drab, especially when compared to the Takuji Kawano illustrations from Namco X Capcom.
Import Barrier: Without knowing Japanese, you'll miss out on the conversations, and with them the game's biggest attraction. Then there's the 3DS region lock…
Chances of a Domestic Release: Better than expected. Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada seems rather optimistic about the idea of the game being localized, though he maintains on Twitter that it's “not decided yet.”
Platform: Sony PSP
Imageepoch is growing rather ambitious. The developer, which still refuses to put a space in its name, started off with strategy-RPGs like Luminous Arc and dungeon hacks like 7th Dragon. Sol Trigger, however, is a full-bore RPG aimed at Final Fantasy country. It's staged in Kaiserhald, one of those RPG cities that's half in the future and half in the 19th century. Here the Machine Church holds sway by harnessing the “sol” energy given off by the city's own inhabitants. This is precisely the sort of thing that leads to rebellion, and so a squad of gothic-garbed teenagers bands together and rebels to their hearts' content. Farel is the slightly insecure new leader of the team, Gustaf is a hotheaded axe-wielder, the sensitive Ema uses acrobatic gunplay, child-mage Cyril hurls sol energies in battle, revenge-driven Valter carries a scythe, and the underdressed Sophie lugs a multi-purpose cannon (and apparently wants more than a working relationship with Farel). Naturally, there's a lineup of church-backed heavies to hunt down these rebels, and the opposition includes the red-eyed cyborg Fran, scientist Littler, general Istvan, and the big, mean sword that Istvan carries. And there's a lineup of esteemed voice actors behind all of them.
Sol Trigger packs in anime flash wherever it can: the introduction's a big, dramatic clip animated by J.C. Staff, and the battles provide plenty of chances for the characters to show off. Party members can wield normal weapons, but they're at their most effective when using their “sol” essence to deliver stylish and perhaps overly elaborate attacks. Pull off too many of these, however, and a character dips into a coma. It's a fairly standard HP-sacrificing ploy that's been around as far back as Paladin's Quest, but it makes combat more of a balancing act than the standard attack-and-heal RPG interface.
Import Barrier: The PSP's region-free, though you'll need to puzzle out a battle system that's mostly in Japanese.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Imageepoch's usually open to bringing games Westward, but they still haven't released their Black Rock Shooter: The Game over here, despite announcing it over a year ago. Perhaps Sol Trigger and its mainstream bent stand a firmer chance.
TOKI TO TOWA|
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Toki to Towa seems tailored for those who lament the lack of 2-D animation on major console games. All of its characters are large, traditional-looking sprites in 3-D environments, creating a strange mixture of anime-like characters and less flat scenery. There's also a curious premise at work here. The game begins with a wedding between a demure, red-haired woman named Toki and a prince with a name of the player's choosing. Assassins strike during the ceremony, and the player-identification prince is stabbed. The sight of blood brings out Toki's previously unsuspected alter-ego Towa, an aggressive blonde who fights off the wedding crashers.
After some confusion, the prince's soul is temporarily dumped into the body of a little dragon, and he and his fiancée roam fields and cities in search of the truth behind the nuptial interruption—and Toki's split personality, for that matter. In battle, the two halves of her come into play, as Towa goes for knife fighting while Toki prefers a rifle. When not afield, she chats with her friends and, well, generally acts cute. In truth, much of the game seems engineered for an anime fan rather than an RPG enthusiast. The battles are simple affairs, and the same goes for most of the environments. The game's most-vaunted point doesn't really pan out, either; the mix of 2-D and 3-D graphics is a unique idea, but the actual 2-D animation is stiff and repetitive. Perhaps this isn't the most compelling argument for traditional animation in games, but Toki to Towa may sell a few copies on its strange duality.
Import Barrier: With much of the game consisting of Toki prattling with her friends, there's a lot of dialogue to endure if you're not up on your Japanese skills. At least you can run it on a domestic PS3.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Producer Kay Hirono let slip that an English version of the game is indeed in the works, and Imageepoch president Ryoei Mikage confirmed as much on Twitter. No publisher or release date was specified, but the fact that it's getting localized is a surprise in itself.
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
DRAGON BALL Z BUDOKAI HD COLLECTION|
Developer: Dimps/Pyramid Inc.
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
It's the holiday season of 2002, and I'm part-timing at an EB Games. What game does everyone want? And what game can't we keep in stock? It's not Metroid Prime or Kingdom Hearts or even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It's Dragon Ball Z Budokai for the PlayStation 2. It's the first domestically released Dragon Ball Z fighting game that isn't some dreadful relic from the 1990s, and it's on the wish list of every kid who's spent the last few years devouring each preciously protracted moment of Dragon Ball Z.
So began the Budokai franchise of Dragon Ball Z fighters. The original wasn't a great game, but it distilled the anime series into an approachable, cel-shaded slugfest that even the youngest fans could play well. By the time the series got to Budokai 3, it had improved its controls, expanded the cast to include Dragon Ball GT, and added the Saiyan Overdrive Fighting System. Aside from looking sharper, the HD revamp adds new soundtracks to replace Kenji Yamamoto's plagiarized original score. As the simpler of the two games, the original Budokai gets a few more additions: a new title sequence, a custom-character option for the second player, and several minor touch-ups. Both games have been outpaced many times over by their successors, from the Budokai Tenkaichi series to the Raging Blast titles, but they're still fan-pleasers in their own ways, with extensive rosters and aptly cartoonish style. At the very least, they might make young Dragon Ball fans happy once again this Christmas.
HARVEST MOON: A NEW BEGINNING |
Developer: Marvelous AQL
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Harvest Moon games usually offer blank-slate heroes and heroines for the player's selection, but A New Beginning expands the whole idea. The protagonist's appearance can be customized in a variety of ways, and the local tailor and barber are on hand to alter appearances once the game's underway. Players exercise similar control over the farm and the surrounding town, as buildings can be remodeled and fields can be easily transplanted. A good chunk of the game is still about the farm, of course: the care and feeding of lifestock, the growing of crops, and the selling of it all to finance your bucolic life. You're also free to enjoy fishing, architecture, festivals, and other rural attractions.
The other big piece of any Harvest Moon lies in finding a husband or wife and starting a family. The single guys of A New Beginning are pet-store owner Rod, arrogant hairstylist Allen, misunderstood loner Neil, hypochondriac reporter Soeki, and visiting prince Amir and his manservant Sanjay. The available women are the hard-working blacksmith Iroha, news-carrier and scandal-monger Tina, aspiring magician Michelle, gourmand waitress Felicity, distant tailor Yuri, and the recurring Harvest Moon witch princess. Winning them over requires conventional dating plus presents appropriate to your love interest, and the game offers more venues in which to take a vacation or honeymoon, including beaches, snowy mountains, and ruins. Yes, Ruins. Quite romantic.
And for those of you keeping track of the stuffed animals that Natsume provides with every Harvest Moon, two are available with A New Beginning. The 15th Anniversary Edition, available through Natsume's website, comes with a large cow plushie, while reserving the normal edition gets you a stuffed yak. I'm sure some fans will finagle their way into getting both.
RAGNAROK TACTICS |
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Sony PSP
Why yes, this Ragnarok Tactics game is indeed based on the massive Ragnarok Online franchise. That makes it the second such title arriving in a month's time, following XSEED's release of Ragnarok Odyssey on the Vita. Tactics is much lower in profile, but it may well interest those who prefer single-player strategic RPGs to online co-op adventures.
Much like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre, this take on Ragnarok portrays battles on grids where squat characters position themselves and strike. There's an assortment of allies to upgrade and guide through combat, and their job classes reflect the same professions of Ragnarok Online. This isn't the work of a neophyte strategy-RPG maker, either. Developer Apollosoft was formed by employees of the now-defunct Flight-Plan, which created the Summon Night and Black Matrix series as well as one-offs like Eternal Poison, Sacred Blaze, and Shining Force Feather.
As with most straight-faced strategy-RPGs, Ragnarok Tactics conjures up a world of brutal struggles, conniving nobles, and ancient conflicts begun anew. In ancient times, a war between gods and demons drove humans to create a barrier between themselves and the supernatural realm. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before humans started their own wars, and the game begins in the Grantria Pennisula, during a brief lull in the conflict between the conquering Brandshaldo Empire and the confederated tribes of the Aura Republic. At the heart of this new conflict lie mercenary knight Yuri, brawler Toren, wizard Cynthia, priestess Fiona, archer Berkut, and their various allies. One can expect several betrayals, conspiracies, and almost certainly some ties to the deities mentioned in the game's backstory.
Aksys might also interest collectors with the release plans for Ragnarok Tactics. It'll be available over the PlayStation Network, but physical copies can be had only through online stores. Perhaps it'll be a rare and valuable treasure when PSP collecting takes off some ten years in the future.
A little game called Halo 4 is out this week, complete with Doritos and Mountain Dew and Xbox Live's low tolerance for sexist behavior online. A remake of Jordan Mechner's Karateka is also coming to Xbox Live, with PlayStation Network, Steam, and iOS versions following later this month.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
PAPER MARIO: STICKER STAR|
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
We haven't seen a Paper Mario game in five years, and some would contend that it's been eight years since the last Paper Mario RPG. Super Paper Mario, released on the Wii in 2007, was more of an action-platform game, wasn't it? Well, Paper Mario: Sticker Star is an RPG in the familiar fashion. A truly two-dimensional cutout of Mario scuttles through equally flat stages, and he takes on Goombas and Koopas and other foes in side-view battles. This time around, everything's carried out with stickers. All of Mario's attacks, from fireflowers to simple head stomps, are carried by decals that he carries in a handy little book. He can buy these helpful symbols in stores, but it's much more to find them in the world around him. Many stickers are just stuck to the scenery, waiting for Mario to pull them off and add them to his collection. His arsenal also expands beyond the usual Mario stomps, and his attacks include spike-proof Iron Jumps, POW blocks, ice flowers, Goomba's Shoes (or Kuribo's Shoes, for those of you who love Super Mario Bros. 3), and a whole bunch of hammers. Mario can wield the sleep-inducing Baahammer, the multi-hit Eekhammer, the fiery Burnhammer, and the impressive-sounding Megaflash Hammer, among others.
Naturally, all of this is propelled by a sticker-centric storyline. During a festival celebrating the Sticker Comet, Bowser attempts to steal the celestial body and becomes a sparkling, powerful turtle overlord in the process. Seeking to put things right, Mario is accompanied by a crownlike sticker fairy named Kersti, and the two must retrieve six royal stickers. Sticker Star diverges from previous games when it comes to the supporting cast. Mario gets help from a chain chomp, several Koopas, a Boo, and others, but they don't join him in battle like Goombella and Admiral Bobbery did back in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Instead, it's just Mario and his stickers when it comes to fighting. But that likely won't stop the game from following the series tradition of amusingly lightweight storytelling.
Sony's augmented-reality Wonderbook arrives for the PlayStation 3 with its first title, the Harry Potter-themed Book of Spells. To use it, you'll need a PlayStation Move as well a PlayStation Eye, and both are included in the special edition of the game.
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