The X Button - Pirate Licenseby Todd Ciolek,
The new year calls for resolutions, and I'm going to list some here. It may seem silly to focus efforts of self-improvement around something like video games, but I've always felt that every little bit helps. So here's what I hope to do in 2013.
STOP COMPLAINING SO MUCH ABOUT MEGA MAN LEGENDS 3
Yes, it's been about 18 months since Capcom killed Mega Man Legends 3, and I should probably get over it. The whole affair deserves plenty of criticism, of course, and the game's demise is made all the harsher by the transparent manner in which Capcom chronicled the development of this long-awaited sequel. Yet it's not coming back no matter how much we complain, and perhaps it's time to move on and hope that Capcom has better things in store for Mega Man. They probably don't, but dwelling on the past won't help.
SUPPORT ORIGINAL IDEAS MORE OFTEN
We critics do like to commend imaginative games and spur the public to buy them, but sometimes we forget to spend our own money on them. And sometimes we don't notice them and all. Then we go back to griping about how nobody appreciated the unique and wonderful games that we didn't actually buy. I've done this, and I'd rather not mention which games I ignored. Well, no more of that.
IMPROVE THIS HERE COLUMN
I tried a few new things here in 2012. Some of them (like the artbook section) will stick around, and others (like the screenshot-of-the-week thing) probably won't. As I look for ways to improve this weekly disgorging of my game nerdery, I'd like to hear from you, the reader. What do you like about the X Button? What do you want from it in the year to come?
TRAILS IN THE FLASH IS ANOTHER LEGEND OF HEROES GAME THAT PROBABLY WON'T COME HERE
The announcement of Trails in the Flash is both good news and bad news for fans of Falcom's The Legend of Heroes series. A lot of them enjoyed Trails in the Sky, and Trails in the Flash continues the series-within-a-series. On the other hand, the odds of seeing it in English are slim at best. We still haven't seen translations of the second and third Trails in the Sky games, and there's no word on the follow-ups Trails of Zero and Trails of Blue. So XSEED Games and other localization outfits probably aren't lining up for Trails in the Flash.
Opening prior to the events of other Trails games, Flash is set in the Erebonian Empire, source of an invasion in the broader Trails storyline. Falcom claims it's the lengthiest Legend of Heroes yet in terms of cast size and overall text (which would be both impressive and discouraging to potential translators). The game's also heavier on Active Voice Events and other opportunities for characters to strengthen relationships.
Trails in the Flash speeds up the battle system used in previous games, as players can plot out their combat actions while characters mill around the field. Other moves involve two characters attacking in unison, which happens a lot in modern RPGs. Trails in the Flash is also playable across platforms; while it's hitting both the PlayStation 3 and the Vita in Japan this year, save files are compatible between the two versions.
PLAYSTATION 2 ENDS PRODUCTION
This holiday season brought a milestone in Japan's game market. On December 28, Sony announced that it would stop manufacturing the PlayStation 2, ending a 12-year production run. There's still an awful lot of stock sitting around, of course, but that'll be the last retail supply of the PS2 in Japan.
The PlayStation 2 is still being made for other markets, but this is as good a time as any to look back on the system. It's led a remarkable life, going from an over-hyped DVD player at launch to the strongest console of the past decade. And what was the final game anyone actually bought for the PS2? Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love? Mercenaries 2? The latest FIFA?
COOL NEW MACROSS GAME HAS HIDEOUS NEW VALKYRIE FIGHTER
Macross 30: The Voice That Connects the Galaxy is a thorough tribute to its source material, throwing its own Super Robot Wars party exclusively for the Macross universe. The PlayStation 3 games opens in the time of Macross Frontier, and it finds S.M.S. pilots Leon and Aisha downed on a mysterious world called Ouroboros. Upon awakening a girl named Mina in some ancient ruins, the pair find themselves at the heart of a Macross crossover, as major characters from previous series are time-warped to the planet.
The game picks out the key characters and mecha from the original Macross, Macross Plus, Macross 7, Macross Fronter, and Macross Zero (the non-canon Macross II is politely ignored). They're not all on the same side, either, as the game's villains have brainwashed some of the heroes, and it's up to players to unlock new characters by besting them in combat. The game's a 3-D shooter at heart, though the ample customization and dialogue led Namco Bandai to dub it a “flight action RPG.”
As for new mecha, Macross 30 features the YF-Chronos (above), a Valkyrie fighter designed by longtime Macross designer and mad overlord Shoji Kawamori. First-run copies of the game include a YF-29 with a “Marking” design, and a special edition has similar paint jobs for the VF-1S and VF-25F. The Marking pattern is apparently the Macross version of those race cars decorated with anime-girl artwork.
Tacky designs and all, Macross 30 is due out at the end of February. That's in Japan, of course. Several obstacles still keep new Macross outings from North America (the shadow of Robotech largest among them), and none of them will bend for a 30th-anniversary video game.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: DECEMBER
Developer: Brownie Brown
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Well, Fantasy Life is finally out. Level-5 announced the game for the DS way back in 2009, when it was still a viable platform. While it's switched over to the 3DS, Fantasy Life hasn't changed all that much in its premise: you're a humble citizen of a fantasy kingdom, and there you'll live out your life in one of two dozen different professions. Many of your fellow commoners are worried by an inauspicious shadow seen on the moon, but you can't fret much about that when there's a job to do. And that job will be chosen from an extensive list that includes knights, students, postal carries, hunters, fishers, tailors, fortune tellers, farmers, merchants, alchemists, miners, cooks, loggers, ruin explorers, blacksmiths, and acrobats. It's a bit like the Fable series, though your customizable Fantasy Life avatar is a bit cuter and less detailed. Like a Mii or a Professor Layton character, the people of Fantasy Life are little munchkins of all capabilities, and they can be customized to suit any calling. It's appropriate that their world is a uncommonly charming place of watercolor-like backdrops and Nobuo Uematsu music.
Fantasy Life mixes the familiar pursuits of a video game with more intriguingly mundane ideas. Taking on the role of a warrior leads to relatively simple quests and battles with monsters, while adopting a farming life results in a Harvest Moon experience. Yet Fantasy Life isn't about the complex mechanics so much as it is the little details: customizing an avatar, raising pets, and building up “Happiness Points” while gaining rank and money. The game also allows four-player quests, bringing to mind Dragon Quest IX more than anything. Despite all of the comparisons, however, Fantasy Life has its own little style, and open-world experiments in games rarely come cuter.
Import Barrier: There's a good deal of Japanese text to get through, and then there's that region-lock that the 3DS has going.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Despite Level-5 promoting the game with English press releases, there's no sign of a North American version of Fantasy Life.
INAZUMA ELEVEN GO 2: CHRONO STONE|
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
It's time to check in with the Inazuma Eleven series. Along with the Professor Layton franchise, Inazuma Eleven ensures that Level-5 has enough money to throw at potentially unprofitable projects like Guild01 and the above-mentioned Fantasy Life. Inazuma Eleven's expanded well into anime and manga, and it's now launched its second generation of soccer-centric melodrama with Inazuma Eleven Go. Set ten years after the original series, Go (or GO, as it's capitalized) introduces a new protagonist in Matsukaze Tenma. He's inspired to take up the sport after witnessing one of the original Inazuma team using his soccer skills to rescue a puppy. The second Go game, Chrono Stone, finds Tenma back at his junior high, where all is not well. The school no longer has a soccer club, and Tenma soon learns that it's part of a mad scheme hatched by a cabal of time-traveling villains who want to erase the sport of soccer from the very fabric of time. Of course, this can only be countered by Tenma and his teammates playing soccer games throughout different eras of history.
It may be the first soccer game to feature Oda Nobunaga and Joan of Arc, but Chrono Stone's still an Inazuma Eleven title. This means that it follows the conventions of a soccer RPG as the player recruits new team members and manages their tactics. It also means that all of the characters pull off ridiculous special moves, and it's not uncommon to see Tenma armor up like some Saint Seiya superhero when he takes a goal shot. As with many games pitched for the younger set, Chrono Stone comes in two varieties, with certain teams, players, and special moves available only in the Neppu or Raimei edition. If it works for Pokemon, it can work for soccer games in the age of dinosaurs.
Import Barrier: Relatively high, considering all the text-intensive commands and customization. Oh yeah, and the 3DS region lock.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Slim. None of the previous Inazuma Eleven games was released here (though the first made it to Europe), and Chrono Stone probably won't go against that trend.
ONE PIECE: ROMANCE DAWN|
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Sony PSP
Early reports had it that Romance Dawn would adapt the One Piece prototype manga, a test-drive that author Eiichiro Oda called Romance Dawn. This would've been an interesting concept and a first among anime-derived games, but such was not to be. Romance Dawn is just another One Piece game.
Well, let's be fair. Most One Piece games are action-adventure titles, while Romance Dawn frames the manga's earliest story arcs as an RPG. It's also voluminous in its scope, apparently using the lengthy genre-favored format to include every One Piece plotline from the East Blue Saga to the Paramount War. That's about sixty volumes of manga and several hundred anime episodes. The game opens with Monkey D. Luffy's first steps as a pirate, and his party grows to include Nami, Usopp, Franky, Zoro, Sanji, Nico Robin, Brook, and the various forms of Tony Tony Chopper. Their story is accompanied by half an hour of new animation, and much of it involves characters crying, from a young Luffy to a slightly older Nami.
Romance Dawn follows modern conceits in turning One Piece into an RPG. Enemies are visible outside of combat, negating any random encounters. The game's battles are turn-based and menu-driven, with an understandably heavy emphasis on special attacks that recreate characters' signature moves. So it follows that the game's character models all look fairly sharp. Romance Dawn is a basic attraction as far as RPGs go, but it may well be one of the longest One Piece games on record.
Import Barrier: There's no region lock on PSP games, and I'm confident in saying that anyone who brings a copy West already knows the One Piece story by heart.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal. The game's done well in Japan, but there's little interest in late-stage PSP/Vita games based on anime. We might well see the upcoming One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 over here, but not Romance Dawn.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Anarchy Reigns walked a rough road. It arrived in Japan under the name Max Anarchy back in July, but Sega curiously delayed its North American and European releases until 2013 (despite the Japanese release being region-free and translated). Daunted by the game's low sales in Japan, Sega dropped the price of Anarchy Reigns to thirty bucks and positioned it as the first big release of the new year in North America. Such hardships often befall Platinum Games, whose stretch of underappreciated fare goes all the way back to their Studio Clover days of Godhand and Okami. No flowery endeavor, Anarchy Reigns is a follow-up to the hyperviolent MadWorld, and it plants itself in the lawless urban expanse of Altambra. The game's single-player mode bifurcates, focusing on MadWorld's vicious Jack Cayman in the Black Side and the somewhat more moral Leonhardt Victorion in the White Side. They're both in Altambra to hunt down a gentleman named Maximillian Caxton; Jack at the behest of Max's daughter, Leo as part of a murder investigation. Finish the game with both, and a Red Side opens.
The storyline of Anarchy Reigns merely frames the real attraction: a whole bunch of multiplayer modes. There's a standard selection of tag-team deathmatches, cage matches, survival modes, the sportsmanlike Death Ball, and a 16-player brouhaha. All of this makes thorough use of the game's extensive cast. Alongside Jack and Leo, you'll see MadWorld expats Blacker Baron, Mathilda, Rin Rin, and Big Bull, the latter two of whom apparently survived their gruesome demises. The newcomers run the gamut of MadWorld-inspired outlandishness: silver-clad Sasha Ivanoff uses ice in her attacks, Nikolai wears and wields Tesla coils, cyborg Durga packs a revolver-like cannon in his knee, Garuda transforms into a jet, the ninja Zero is…well, comparatively generic, the unflatteringly named Oinkie morphs into a were-lizard, the mutant Douglas (yes, Douglas) carries two pilebunkers, Rin Rin's older sister Fei swings a trident, and her younger sister Ai packs electric nunchucks. Bayonetta's witch-gunner heroine also appears, though she's initially available only with GameStop reservations.
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