The X Button Cleanup Crew
by Todd Ciolek,
Square Enix showed off their upcoming Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD remasterings at E3, though they were overshadowed by other things Final Fantasy. Perhaps that was because the two games are largely cosmetic re-skinnings for the PlayStation 3 and Vita. Even if they use the International versions that added a few extras to the games we saw in North America, the underlying Final Fantasy X and X-2 remain the same.
I still hope they do well. That's because Square Enix seems open to the idea of a Final Fantasy XII remaster if enough of us buy Final Fantasy X and X-2 in their new trappings. I'd like that. Final Fantasy XII is one of my favorites from the series, and I'd buy it all over again. What's more, the International version of the game goes a bit deeper than other such Final Fantasy retakes. It's called Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System, and it replaces the original game's single license board (which made everyone the same if you played long enough) with twelve different arrays that each explore a traditional Final Fantasy character class. Battles also allow more control over guests, and there's even a masochistic mode where characters never get past level one.
I suspected that Square Enix would ignore Final Fantasy XII, as the game hit many snags in production and even saw director Yasumi Matsuno leaving Square partway through. But a Final Fantasy is still a Final Fantasy as long as Square might profit. And I wouldn't mind a recycled Final Fantasy XII, because it'd give a deserving game the best treatment possible.
Also, it'd give us another chance to argue, and isn't that the best part of any Final Fantasy?
NEWS: E3 ODDS AND ENDS
It's always a hassle to clean up after E3. The show remains such a busy undertaking that it's easy to miss stuff, particularly in the wake of this year's huge clash between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Last week covered the titanic announcements and snide jabs, so it's time I turned to some E3 elements that didn't involve bloody console wars.
ATLUS: ETRIANS SERVED UP QUICK AND EASY
Atlus spotlighted several summer titles at E3, including Dragon's Crown, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and the newly announced Etrian Odyssey revamp. Though it was unveiled in Japan this Spring, the game was fastracked for a North American release under the name Etrian Odyssey Untold: Millennium Girl. I sorta liked the alliterative subtitle Millennium Maiden, but perhaps that was sexist in its implications.
Etrian Odyssey Untold: Millennium Girl lacks a number, as it's a retelling of the original game in the series. The events of the first Etrian Odyssey now unfurl before an established party of adventurers with their own foibles, specialties, and Madhouse-animated cutscenes. The player still names the protagonist, but he's set in place as a highland adventurer who encounters Frederica, a seemingly nice girl lacking in the memory department. They're joined by suitable Etrian archetypes: library investigator Simon is a medic, his arrogant underling Arthur is an alchemist, and highborn gourmand Raquna is the armored paladin of the team.
The game further softens in its dungeons, which now let players warp to a floor's staircase if they're in dire straights. While this seems anathema to the punishing tone of previous Etrian Odyssey titles, Millennium Girl maintains traditions; character change classes with grimoire stones, so you can make Simon an sniper or Raquna a thief (and a bad joke) if you so desire. To better silence grumpy veterans, there's a “classic” mode that sends you through the game with a party of your creation. Which you presumably did in the first Etrian Odyssey.
What We Didn't See:
Some held out slim hope for a big Persona 5 announcement, but that wasn't to be. Once again, all we have are rumors that the game started development back in 2011.
EA: MIRROR'S SEQUEL
There was seldom a surprise at EA's showing: Dragon Age: Inquisition, Battlefield 4, and a round of sports titles. Even Respawn's new shooter Titanfall was expected, and its use of giant military mechs doesn't really set the sci-fi game apart. Yet there was a pleasant tidbit at the end of everything: another Mirror's Edge.
The first Mirror's Edge remains a critical and cult favorite thanks to its mix of parkour, fluid combat, and comparatively tasteful style. But it's also lacking in the demographics so openly sought by modern games, and fans waited for some sign of a sequel. Headed for the next-generation systems, the new Mirror's Edge looks to address heroine Faith's background as a versatile urban courier, a thief, and a tattoo enthusiast.
What We Didn't See: What little worries fans have about Mirror's Edge 2 are currently focused on firearms and just how much Faith will use them. The trailer's generally promising in that regard, as Faith clearly favors hand-to-hand. Perhaps fans are fretting over nothing, but they've seen too many guns in just about every other first-person action game at this year's E3.
XSEED GAMES: YS FACTORY
XSEED Games didn't announce anything new at E3, but they came through for one system that didn't look too good at the convention. Sony's Vita saw little beyond a lineup of previously announced indie games and ports, but XSEED's Ys: Memories of Celceta may well be the best Vita game in the near future.
Memories of Celceta marks Falcom's first attempt at an in-house Ys IV, which was previously farmed out to two separate companies. This modern fourth Ys finds hero Adol wandering a mysterious forest in an attempt to revive his lost memories (which gives him an excuse for being a blank-slate protagonist), and he's accompanied by the thief Carna and other allies. As in Ys Seven, players effectively control three characters at once, and now they can switch off and set up combos with the Vita touch screen. Falcom's recent Ys updates are all strong on dungeon design (though weak on the story), and Memories of Celceta has the same idea with its branching stages and unique character skills. Perhaps this'll put Ys into the all-American big time at last.
XSEED also showed off Rune Factory 4 for the 3DS, latest in Marvelous and Neverland's fusion of Harvest Moon and fantasy RPGs. The game broadens the choices of previous installments. You're still controlling a hero or heroine who starts a family, starts a farm, and explores dungeons, yes. But you're also getting to know prospective spouses by dating them, and once you've had children, the entire clan can join you on countryside ambles or monster-slaying quests.
XSEED's third major title for the summer is Killer is Dead, a characteristically strange offering from Goichi “Suda51” Suda. The game resembles a shinier version of No More Heroes in its vision of an assassin contending with everything from cyborgs to lunar gods (really), and its hero Mondo Zappa could be Travis Touchdown as far as swordplay goes. However, Zappa also uses a cybernetic arm that transforms to suit weapons of Mega Man caliber: a drill, a chargeable shot, a freeze ray, and a minigun. Killer is Dead also includes a “gigolo mode” wherein Zappa dates the game's various women, sneaking looks at them in bars and building up intimacy meters to score special items. So yes, it looks like the usual Suda51 outing.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Every E3 stirs up reports of games shown in secret by publishers who haven't announced them just yet, and Sayonara Umihara Kawase supposedly lurked somewhere off the show floor. No U.S. publisher has announced the game, a 3DS sequel to the beloved grappling-hook puzzle-platformer, but Agatsuma Entertainment previously mentioned plans to release it on these shores.
Hearkening all the way back to the original Super Famicom title, Sayonara Umihara Kawase presents side-scrolling levels to be navigated with a fishing line and hook. Kawase herself returns in both an adult and child forms, and the latter makes the game slightly easier with checkpoint continues. Kawase's young friend Emiko has a similarly forgiving time, while the fourth playable character, police officer Nokko, actually slows the game's sense of physics. It's set to arrive in Japan this summer, and perhaps Agatsuma snagged a Western publisher during the E3 festivities. No, that was not a fishing pun. Good heavens.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
GAME AND WARIO
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Release date: June 23
Nintendo's "Crowdfarter" promo for Game and Wario struck some people as uncharacteristically crude, but this is a series of cynical origin. The original Wario Ware built on a brilliant start: cheap, seconds-long games knocked together at the behest of Mario's avaricious doppelganger. The parade of brief challenges with single-sentence instructions involved everything from eye droppers to Nintendo's old toy guns, and the idea proved strong enough for a second-tier Nintendo franchise. And what's better suited to the Wii U and its focus on multiplayer party games? Well, Mario Party. But until that arrives, there's Game and Wario.
The sixteen mini-games of Game and Wario make extensive use of the system's touch-screen controller, employing it for tilting interactions or multiplayer sessions. The diversions cover a broom-based flight, a bowling attraction, a tilt-based platformer, a skiing course, a photojournalist expose, a taxi-shooter, a drawing challenge, a pirate-themed musical interlude, a puzzle series, a base-defense shooter (with strawberries and robots, no less), and the return of a fruit-eating game seen in Mega Microgame$. Perhaps the most intriguing is Gamer, in which recurring Wario Ware character 9-Volt sneaks in sessions of familiar games, played on the touch-screen, while his mother periodically pops by his room to make sure he isn't wasting time with those darned Nintendo thingamabobs. While some of these mini-games suit two players, the game hosts only three offerings for the full five-player experience: a hide-and-seek game about fruit thieves, a Pictionary-style drawing game, and a tournament wherein players hurl little Fronk creatures at each other. Early reviews paint the collection as a disappointing retread of Nintendo's prior party titles, though one suspects that Gamer will resonate with those who kept their Game Boys close during sick days.
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PS Vita
Release date: June 25
How do you remember Muramasa: the Demon Blade, last seen on the Wii in 2009? Perhaps you like Odin Sphere, Vanillaware's prior effort, and see Muramasa as lacking in playable characters and fairy-tale charms. Perhaps you hate Odin Sphere and see Muramasa as an improvement in cohesive gameplay. Or perhaps you just remember the Play Magazine cover that showed a giant octopus groping Muramasa's heroine, Momohime. And that was official art from Vanillaware president and chief character designer George Kamitani.
At the very least, you remember Muramasa as a very pretty game. Yes, all of Vanillaware's games are pretty, but Muramasa's 2-D characters and lush backdrops evoke one classic Japanese legend or artistry after the other, whether it's a screen-dominating dragon or Kamitani's comedic version of Raijin and Fujin. All of this pageantry serves the amnesiac ninja Kisuke and the possessed princess Momohime as they hunt down 108 demonic blades throughout the gorgeous countryside. Muramasa's a side-scroller beneath everything, and characters equip up to three weapons (out of the aforementioned 108) when heading out into the spacious levels.
The Vita version of Muramasa retranslates the game and touches up the controls, which were originally designed for the Wii and its classic controllers. Most of the interesting additions cost extra, however, including new scenarios and four new characters: cat-girl Okoi, hoe-wielding farmer Gonbee, the ninja Arashimaru, and the imp Rajaki. The game's also upscaled to be much prettier on the Vita, and it wasn't exactly hideous to start with. But I think I already mentioned that.
PROJECT X ZONE
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: June 25
The gargantuan crossover is a staple of Japan's game industry, where the Super Robot Wars series habitually rounds up all the robot shows more popular than Galvion and crams them into one big strategy-RPG bonanza. This is far more rare in North America, where the only Super Robot Wars titles are free of anime licenses. The closest we've come are radar-blip RPGs like Chaos Wars and Cross Edge, and those left us unsatisfied. We wanted the massive rosters and obscure references of Namco X Capcom (which isn't all that great), and we didn't get it. But we'll get the voluminous four-company crossover of Project X Zone.
Thanks to some convoluted plot about alternate dimensions, Project X Zone pulls in characters from Sega, Namco, Bandai, and Capcom series. All of them face down equally familiar enemies in large strategic battles, with many of the heroes and heroines fighting in pairs. As in Namco X Capcom, each attack brings up a side-view clash where the characters pile up their attacks in downright bewildering combos. Nearby units can join in, making their positioning just as important as the timing of all those button-mashing blows.
Of course, many of us are after Project X Zone to see just how all of the characters mix it up, both in their combat teams and the overarching storyline. Capcom throws in Jill and Chris from Resident Evil; Dante and Lady from Devil May Cry; Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, and Juri from Street Fighter;
Moving on to the Namco Bandai side, one finds Jin, Xiaoyu, Heihachi, and Alisa from Tekken; Lindow, Soma, and Alisa (no relation) from Gods Eater Burst; Yuri, Flynn, and Estellise from Tales of Vesperia; Haken and Kaguya from Super Robot Wars OG Saga Endless Frontier; Kite and Black Rose from .hack; KOS-MOS and T-elos from Xenosaga; Valkyrie from Legend of the Valkyrie; Neneko and Neito from Yumeria; and Sanger from Super Robot Wars: Original Generation. Project X Zone also throws in Reiji, Saya, and Xiaomu from Namco X Capcom, and two new characters named Kogoro Tenzai and Mii Kouryuuji. Mind you, that lists only the playable characters. There's a separate lineup of villains from the same games, ranging from a bunch of Sakura Wars demons to Lord Raptor, the zombie rocker-lifeguard from Darkstalkers.
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