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The X Button
Extreme Conditions

by Todd Ciolek,

Some folks are worried about Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, a new Square Enix RPG without any official plans for a trip to North America. It arrived on the Japanese 3DS a month ago, and most of those who imported the game praised its reinvention of old-fashioned Final Fantasy staples. The only evidence that Square Enix might bring it to North America is a new trademark that Siliconera discovered: All the Bravest.

It's possible that All the Bravest refers to a Bravely Default PC off-shoot or some other Square Enix project, but the 3DS game is the most likely suspect. It's not a terrible title, but I think the game needs a name more in line with North America's tastes. I suggest Legend of the Bloodship: Furyman's Conquest, Magical Flying Fairy Queen Princess Duchess Aerie Tickleblossom, or Saber Rider and the Sky Sheriffs.


Level-5's Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch arrives here next month, and Namco Bandai put up a demo on the PSN this week. It showcases two dungeons and two bosses, providing a decent glimpse of the game's battle system and, more importantly, its Studio Ghibli looks.

The demo doesn't pay much mind to the game's story; Oliver's already in the parallel land of Ni no Kuni, and he's already made some friends in Esther and Mr. Drippy. They're more concerned with showing off the battle system, in which Oliver and Esther command cute little Ghibli-esque familiars (including a Totoro-ish “Tokotocold”). Everything moves speedily, though I suspect that Oliver's mid-battle exclamations will annoy in short order. It must be said that the game's cartoon style is also gorgeous. It may not be touched by the hands of Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, but Ni no Kuni clearly benefits from Ghibli's involvement.

The PlayStation Network also got the PlayStation 2 gem Chulip, plus a generous dump of Japanese PSOne titles. Those imports come courtesy of GungHo Online Entertainment, which chose some intriguing obscurities. Art Camion Sugorokuden is a board-game simulation all about the dekatora phenomenon's hyper-flashy customized trucks. Finger Flashing, despite its filthy title, is a cute vertical shooter with a combo system paced on rock-paper-scissors. The similarly precious Lup Salad is a block-shoving puzzle game, and Vehicle Cavalier is a 3-D arena brawler where customized mecha hash it out. Makeruna! Makendo 2 is a goofy 2-D fighter starring all manner of magical girls and sentai superheroes, and it may look familiar to anyone who played the odd side-scroller Kendo Rage on the Super NES. Kendo Rage was known as Makurena Makendo in Japan, and the fighting game is its sequel.

The highlight of this import batch is easily Zanac X Zanac, one of the last releases by esteemed shooter developer Compile. It contains two versions of the original Zanac, which saw release over here on the NES. That's all well and good, but the best part is Zanac Neo, a vintage-2001 creation that captures everything that makes Compile shooters great: plentiful power-ups, hectic enemy patterns, and lots of whirling, maddening bullets coming from every angle. Sadly, the game was a farewell to Compile shooters. The company went bankrupt and fragmented not long after, and their properties now lie with Compile Heart. Zanac X Zanac was even an expensive title several years back, but you can enjoy the PSN release for six bucks. Then you can look up what Compile Heart is doing right now. Then you can cry.

On the subject of demos, there's a sample of Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 up on XBox Live and the Playstation Network, provided you have a Japanese account. Like the original Ken's Rage, this sequel is a Dynasty Warriors deal where the burly stars of Fist of the North Star slay post-apocalyptic thugs by the truckload. Judging by the demo, developer Omega Force addressed some complaints about the first game by removing things. Ken doesn't jump now, he moves a bit faster, and his boss-slaying Hyakuretsu-Ken (a.k.a. the ATATATATATATATATATA-WAH-TAAA move) no longer requires bunch of timed button presses. Most shockingly, enemies actually seem to be afraid and back down after Ken gorily slays a few dozen of their comrades. Are thugs actually allowed to do that in Fist of the North Star? Did Buronson and Tetsuo Hara approve?

Ken's Rage 2 also adds a few more new playable characters, including Juza, Fudo, Falco, Ein, grown-up Bat, and Ken's strangely suicidal rival Ryuga (above). Most surprising is the news that Rin, the psychic girl that Ken meets in his travels, is also playable. Of course, she's an adult in the story covered by Ken's Rage 2, but she's rarely (if ever) a combatant in Fist of the North Star games. Perhaps she'll just ask nicely for her enemies to stop fighting, which would make for some novel gameplay.

The Ken's Rage 2 demo probably will be available domestically in the coming months, as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game show up in North America this February. The Wii U edition has a vaguer summertime release date.

Many an innovative game is made by sandwiching a bunch of old ideas together. So we shouldn't judge AppBankGames too harshly for their creation Dungeons & Golf. It's essentially a Hot Shots golfing simulator where all of the characters, hazards, and accoutrements stepped out of a fantasy RPG.

And it's somehow hard to dismiss a game that reduces beastmen and demons and armored warriors to putting and driving their way around a course. It's out right now for iPhone 5 in the Japanese market, but there's no American version at this writing.


Developer: Banpresto
Publisher: Banpresto
Platform: PlayStation 3

It's fair to introduce the Super Robot Wars: Original Generation series as a remarkable exemplar of just how healthy giant-robot geekdom is in Japan. The entire Super Robot Wars line started as an all-star battle of popular anime mecha, plus a few original characters for novelty's sake. But there were so many anime-filled Super Robot Wars titles that Banpresto just took all of their original pilots and robots and packed them into the Original Generation sub-series. Being an Original Generation piece, this new PlayStation 3 outing lacks the Gundams and Gunbusters and other anime icons that many associate with the Super Robot Wars games, but fans are excited all the same. Part of that's due to this being the first new Super Robot Wars in HD, which makes the mecha battles look all the prettier. And part of it is due to some fans growing attached to Excellen Browning and Axel Almer and Ing Egret and all of the other goofy-named characters and delightfully over-armed robots.

Dai-2-Ji Super Robot Wars continues from the PlayStation 2's Super Robot Taisen Original Generation Gaiden, and the game offers two (or three) protagonists: Super Robot Wars D's Joshua Radcliffe and Cliana Rimskaya, the latter of whom has two separate personalities, Riana and Chris, dwelling within her. They're just the start of the dozens of characters within the Original Generation universe, which spans subterranean worlds, alternate dimensions, and all sorts of other nonsense. This might not be the best point for newcomers to jump in, but there's a wealth of robot-battle-porn on display in the game's strategy-RPG levels. Players can pair up various characters in the field, and the new Maximum Break maneuver lines up four mecha for to attack in succession. Of course, the real fun comes from upgrading robots, customizing pilot skills, and then watching all hell break loose as those robot pull off elaborately animated attacks on some poor enemy drone. And boy howdy, does Dai-2-Ji Super Robot Wars have a lot of that.

Import Barrier: You can appreciate the mecha-combat chaos without knowing Japanese, and you can also run the game on a U.S. PlayStation 3 without much bother. But you'll still need to figure out the battle menus and upgrade system. Good luck.

Chances of a Domestic Release: The lack of licensed characters gives it a shot at North America, but publishers don't seem interested.

Developer: CAPCOM/Hexadrive
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: Nintendo 3DS/PlayStation 3

Let us compare the upcoming Lost Planet 3 with the recent Lost Planet spin-off E.X. Troopers. Lost Planet 3 is a slow and dramatic game that chronicles the early colonization of planet E.D.N. III, as told through the eyes of an honest working stiff named Jim Peyton and his trucker-like comrades. E.X. Troopers is a cel-shaded action game where grinning teenage explorers jet across the icy wastes of a distant planet, with comic-book cutscenes detailing their rivalries, crushes, and camaraderie. The lead teenager is Bren Tanner, a pink-haired doofus who heads to the planet in search of fame and mecha-piloting opportunities. His trip there finds him piloting an experimental Vital Suit (that's what robots are called in Lost Planet), and he's joined in his explorations by his uptight rival Chris, walking textbook Luan, chipper mechanic Julie, and sensitive snow-pirate mystic TeeKee. Of course, there's a colonial network to support them with upgrades, missions, and power-up snacks.

Embracing a faster pace than its Lost Planet brethren, E.X. Troopers makes it easy for its characters to maneuver through wintry environments and tackle the giant, insectile Akrid in battle. Jetpacks allow for double-jumps and dashing, and attacks involve both melee hits and lock-on weaponry. It's won comparisons to a speedier Mega Man Legends (one supporting character also resembles Grill from the unjustly canceled Mega Man Legends 3), and the whole thing's painted with a bright anime gloss down to the onomatopoeic sound effects, and it fits both the PlayStation 3 and 3DS well. The game's also big on multiplayer, with online play on the PS3 and local stuff on the 3DS. The modes include co-op missions, plus team-based matches for up to twelve participants.

Import Barrier: The PS3 version is region-free, the 3DS one is region-locked, and both are comprehensible even if you don't understand Japanese. But you'll miss out on the subtleties of, say, Chris and Bren's competitive quibbling.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Right now? Not good. CAPCOM's said no to both versions of the game. Their tune might change once Lost Planet 3 arrives here.

Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Some might see this crossover as a clear and dirty cash-in on two established franchises: the steadily popular Professor Layton puzzle-adventure games and the recently revived Ace Attorney legal-simulator series. But consider that this game is designed and scripted by Shu Takumi, the creator of Ace Attorney and last year's wonderful Ghost Trick. Takumi wisely didn't try to cram one series into the other's ongoing storyline. Instead he warps them to another locale entirely. Technically, both Layton and Phoenix Wright visit London at the start of the game, but they're soon transported to the curiously medieval Labyrinth City, where most of the denizens look somewhere between the people of Wright's world and the more abstract designs of Layton's. Seemingly crafted by the whims of mysterious storyteller, the city is in the grip of hysteria over an alleged secret society of witches, and a girl named Mahone is currently on trial for witchery.

The “versus” part of the title isn't quite accurate. While Layton and Phoenix are surely at odds in some plot points, the two of them are mostly on the same side. Phoenix finds himself defending Mahoney against the skilled accusations of knightly prosecutor Barnrod, while Layton investigates the city's darker side and secret societies. This involves gameplay from both franchises. Logic puzzles crop up in the style of Layton games, with both Layton's assistant Luke and Phoenix's sidekick Maya seeking solutions to the various challenges. Meanwhile, the courtroom scenes unfold as a superstitious witch hunt pulled off in Phoenix Wright fashion, where each witness is delightfully eccentric and shocking arguments are hurled back and forth in a fistfight of legal statements.

Import Barrier: Between the regional lockout on the 3DS and the plentiful dialogue, this one will leave English-speakers mystified.

Chances of a Domestic Release: CAPCOM's danced around the idea of bringing Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney over here, and it's unlikely that any Layton game will go unlocalized. In fact, the title already showed up in some European release lists. Perhaps someone's jumping the gun, but there's good reason for that.

Developer: Furyu
Publisher: Furyu
Platform: Nintendo 3DS/Sony PSP

The original Unchained Blades covers a lot of ground, both in terms of game territory and calculated geek preferences. It's a dungeon-hack with a variety of monstrous characters, most of them transformed into stock anime-RPG faces by notable industry artists. Exxiv attempts an even broader array of styles in its gameplay and character lineup. Another round of artists was recruited not only for the player's party, but also for the villains who harry them throughout the game's numerous walking labyrinth-creatures. Suzuhito Yasuda supplied the game's lead, Ryuga, and Yoshitaka Amano himself crafted a dark knight. Ryuga's allies were similarly designed by other artists: the angelic Sofia by Haruyuki Morsawa (Dream C Club), the gloomy Hilda by Yūsuke Kozaki (Fire Emblem: Awakening), beast-man Sieg by Kunihiko Tanaka (Xenogears), the birdlike Mint by KEI, the gothic Emil by Minako Iwasaki (Rune Factory), and the demon-horned Reisled by Katsumi Enami (Baccano!). Then there's Diane, a dragon woman (or is she a dragon-phoenix woman?) drawn by Luminous Arc artist Kaito Shibano. The villains include a reckless warrior designed by Ace Attorney artist Kumiko Suekane, plus mages designed by Senmu, Mizuki, and Eiji Kaneda. They're led by the imposingly armored Zagan, drawn by Etrian Odyssey's Shin Nagasawa.

Exxiv also explores some new venues in its combat. Dungeons are charted and battles are fought with a first-person view reminiscent of the original Unchained Blades, but some new hazards present themselves during those maze-dives. Boss battles also break out of the static interface, as players have to switch perspectives to attack different sections of towering creatures. Enemies can be recruited by players once again, but the wide-scale Judgment Battles of the first game are replaced by monster-versus-monster duels where button-mashing often decides the victor.

Import Barrier: Exxiv requires some reading comprehension in both its battle text and character customization. Plus there's that lockout if you go for the 3DS version instead of the region-free PSP.

Chances of a Domestic Release: XSEED's still caught up in releasing the first Unchained Blades on these shores. It's out for PSP at the moment, but the 3DS version is taking its time.

Also Available:
Tales of Xillia 2 hits the PlayStation 3 to considerable fanfare. While Jude Mathis, Milla Maxwell, and other characters from the first Xilliaappear, the sequel's lead role is filled by the woefully in-debt cook Ludger Will Kresnik, who's launched into battle to help the eight-year-old Elle Mel Mata. The battle system sticks close to Xillia's Dual Raid Linear Motion Battle System, but it lets Ludger switch weapons in the midst of a fight. It'll come to North America if Tales of Xillia does well, so all of this continent's Tales fans clearly know what to do.


Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop)
MSRP: $7.99

Crimson Shroud is the most intriguing of the four games that Level-5 packed into the Guild01 omnibus. Yes, Liberation Maiden had the president of future Japan piloting a mecha, Aero Porter is a luggage-sorting simulator, and Omasse Rental Weapon (which we won't see in America) is a unique spin on RPG capitalism. However, Crimson Shroud is the first new Yasumi Matsuno RPG in a long while. Matsuno has quite the reputation thanks to Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, and the Tactics Ogre series, all games complex in both mechanics and storytelling. Yet Matsuno hasn't done much since he gave up directing Square's Final Fantasy XII about three-fourths of the way through. He wrote the script for MadWorld, oversaw the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre, and then joined Level-5. He actually left the company about a month ago, but he was at Level-5 long enough to craft Crimson Shroud for the Guild01 get-together.

The game has the marks of a Matsuno title, and it plunges deeper yet into his fondness for tabletop RPGs. It unfolds in a darkly medieval world where magic is tied to mysterious artifacts called Gyfts rather than natural forces, and the player controls a party of Chasers--that's what the game calls all-purpose bounty hunters. In the Matsuno tradition of arcane character names, the protagonist is a gentlemanly Chaser called Giauque, and he's joined by an archer known as Lippi and Frea, a woman of the heretical Kush tribe. They're tracking the original Gyft, the Crimson Shroud, and their search leads to all sorts of dungeons. Battles are carried out with menus and character turns, but the game frequently breaks out dice rolls to decide an action's success. This isn't the only way Crimson Shroud evokes tabletop games, as all of the characters and monsters are represented like little Warhammer or Dungeons & Dragons figures. They even stand on bases and wobble as they attack and cast magic. This results in some stilted battles that might disappoint those in search of Vagrant Story's dynamism, but there's a lot going on below the surface. And if you find the tabletop-game atmosphere unconvincing, just crack open a bag of Doritos and have two of your friends argue about charisma-spell effects for twenty minutes.

Also Shipping:
The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 get a retail collection of The Walking Dead, Telltale's lauded episodic prequel to the equally acclaimed TV series. It's arranged much like one of Telltale's adventure games, as players progress by examining the scenery, using items, and tapping buttons in quick-time events. The concept works shockingly well for chronicling a zombie outbreak, and the game builds a compelling story out of the player's responses. The entire series is available on XBox Live and PlayStation Network, but there's something to be said for tangible ownership.

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