The X Button Zoning Regulations
by Todd Ciolek,
Hey, folks. There'll be no standard X Button column next week, so that I may deliver instead a look at this year's San Diego Comic Con. I must also point out that there's one more week for all of you to submit your suggestions for Persona 5 and perhaps win quasi-fabulous prizes in the process. You can also win something terrible if you're willing to submit the worst possible ideas, and there's no limit on that. You can write the word “booger” fifty times and still have a valid entry.
Unfortunately, last week brought some rather bad news. Giant Bomb co-founder Ryan Davis passed away at the age of 34. Stories about him showed up all over the mainstream press as well as gaming sites and personal tributes, and it's all a testament to the considerable appeal that Davis brought to Giant Bomb's podcasts and features. They're remarkable for their ability to balance trenchant criticism with comedy that was…well, actual comedy, and Davis was behind a lot of it. Damn.
NISA LANDS DANGANRONPA'S MURDER MYSTERY, ALSO DEMON GAZE
Two welcome bombshells dropped during the recent Anime Expo. The first was NIS America's announcement of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for the Vita. Originally released on the PSP back in 2010, the game is one of Spike Chunsoft's story-driven creations, and it's already drawn a bit of a fan following here in the West.
Danganronpa unfolds at an exceptionally highbrow highschool that gathers the top students in all sorts of disciplines. The academy also accepts one average kid chosen by a lottery, and the player controls this unremarkable entrant: a teenager named Makoto Naegi. He awakens inside the school to find that he and the rest of the students are imprisoned there. A creepy black-and-white bear soon appears and tells them that there's only one way for a student to leave: kill someone and avoid being caught by the others. The group is initially aghast at the idea, but then the first of them is murdered.
A cursory look at Danganronpa suggests a dialogue-heavy visual novel, but it also takes after the Phoenix Wright games and their methods of exploration. When a murder investigation's on and the accusations are flying, players use a cursor to shoot words in mid-air, zeroing in on suspicious statements or revelatory lines. Particularly intense questioning becomes a rhythm game wherein players match musical beats to counter someone's arguments.
Danganronpa also tweaks and explores stereotypes to interesting effect. Among the student suspects are an elite gang member, a gambler, a fashion model with an unnerving smile, a militant hall monitor, a pop idol, an obese doujinshi author, a wrestler who looks like she stepped out of Fist of the North Star, a fortune teller with dangerously sharp locks, and a girl whose super-accomplished specialty is unknown. As in Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward and similar arrangements, there's a hidden side to just about everyone and everything.
NIS America will release Danganronpa next year, along with Experience Inc.'s Demon Gaze for the Vita. A dungeon-heavy RPG in the style of Etrian Odyssey, Demon Gaze centers on an adventurer named Oz and his demon-sealing eye. He recruits party members of various races and classes, and all of them trudge through demon-haunted labyrinths. Conversations strengthen Oz's relationships with his party members, and it's particularly important that he grows closer to Fran, the innkeeper who was nice enough to pick him up off the road and give him a room on credit.
JAST USA GRABS STEINS;GATE AT LAST
The second big game announcement of Anime Expo came from JAST USA, and it ended long-running rumors about the publisher licensing the oft-praised visual novel Steins;Gate. JAST will release an English version of the game for domestic PCs, and, according to an interview over at Siliconera, they're employing the people behind the game's fan translation. I was sorta hoping they'd get game-industry maverick Nick Des Barres to do it, but this'll work out just fine.
Originally released on the Japanese Xbox 360 way back in 2009, Steins;Gate grew to encompass ports for just about every non-Nintendo system on the market, plus an anime series. FUNimation already released said anime series over here, but fans seem to prefer the visual novel's take on the storyline. It follows a goofball science student named Rintaro Okabe, a straight-faced science student named Chris Makise, and a time machine built from a microwave oven. Might its emergence here launch a new era of localized visual novels? It's worth a shot.
AKSYS GAMES HAS A COOKING QUEST
Aksys Games was overshadowed a bit by the announcements of Danganronpa and Steins;Gate, but the publisher still laid claim to the Vita's only dungeon-hack RPG driven by curry recipes. Sorcery Saga: The Curse of the Great Curry God follows Purupu, a young woman hunting the magical spell that'll help her neighbor's ailing curry shop. Undaunted by her expulsion from the local magic academy, she heads off into dungeons with a creature called Kusii at her side.
Sorcery Saga follows the rules of such action-oriented roguelike slogs as Shiren the Wanderer and Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. Monsters move only when Purupu does, and all of her stats revert to level one if she leaves a dungeon. Dying is even harsher on her. In accordance with the rules of dungeon hacks, she'll lose all of her items and money.
INTERVIEW: PROJECT X ZONE'S AUSTIN KEYS
Project X Zone is a modest historic achievement. It stems from 2005's Namco X Capcom, which combined two company lineups into one strategy-RPG, an idea that many painted as too bold and legally troublesome to come to North America. Project X Zone surprised those same pundits by mixing together a cast from Namco, Bandai, Capcom, and Sega games—and then showing up on these shores. With the game now available for the 3DS, I tossed some question at Austin Keys, localization producer at Namco Bandai Games America.
What was it like localizing a game that involves so many characters from different series? Did it involve a lot of research into the various franchises and their storylines?
Yes, it involved a lot of research into all of the franchises, and a lot of working with others to make sure we got things correct. Everything in this game has some sort of reference or history, including a lot of the humor and jokes written originally by the development team. We did multiple passes on the text making sure terminology was correct, making sure the English characterization was correct, and making sure the Japanese jokes and references even exist in the Western releases of the same content and then if those jokes and references have the same gaming cultural references that they did in Japan. It was a lot of work, especially when dealing with some of the more classic series and franchises.
Aside from removing the vocals to the opening song, were you forced to make any major changes to the North American version of the game for legal reasons?
There were changes made to the game to better fit the Western market, such as Bruno Dillenger's clothing being updated to what he was wearing in his first Western release [Dynamite Cop, which is Dynamite Deka 2 in Japan] but that was simply changing his attire to represent how he has historically looked like in our territory.
One thing that appears new in the American version of Project X Zone is the use of text boxes that translate each character's quips just before a side-view combo battle. How did you decide to integrate those? There are actually a lot of different things the characters will say during Special Attacks, which are different from all of the things they say during Support Attacks or Multi-Attacks, and a lot of what they say is entertaining. In addition, since a lot of the time playing the game is spent with the characters in combat, it really helps in establishing the voice of the character to communicate what everyone was saying in their big dramatic cut-in sequences. All the praise really goes to the development team, since they were the ones that created this new subtitle feature for our release and allowed players to be able to turn the subtitles off if they want to enjoy the cut-in sequences free of subtitles.
Some of the characters in Project X Zone are from games that were never translated, such as Imca, Kurt, and Riela from Valkyria Chronicles 3. How did you go about establishing the right voices for those characters? A lot of the decisions came down to researching as much as possible and trusting the translators. The characters are in the military, so we did work in that feel to the characters, but there is also a very fantastic and human side that was well reflected in the original Japanese script. The translators did a good job of incorporating this personality into the final English, so there wasn't really much we felt needed to change. It is really a testament to the strength of the original text to properly concentrate the feel of the characters into the voice and text that gets communicated to the player.
Project X Zone has a lot of in-jokes for fans. What's your favorite? Which do you think is the most subtle?
Everything in Project X Zone is an in-joke or a reference, so it's really hard to reference only one as my favorite. I love the entertainment value that characters like Saya and Bahn bring to the battle segments, so I try and include them as much as possible. One of the most interesting things that I didn't notice till about midway through localization, are the various amounts of references to the Japanese voice actors that are made in Project X Zone. One of the more major in-jokes is about Kikuko Inoue (Valkyrie) and the number 17, but some of the most subtle entertainment can be found by making Pair and Solo teams consisting of characters voiced by the same actor, and listening to what conversations ensue, knowing that is one person having a complete conversation.
Which characters do you think were unfairly left out of Project X Zone? Who would you want to see in a sequel?
The current roster is great, and the longer you are with the characters the more they grow on you. From a personal perspective, for a Project X Zone sequel, there are a lot of characters from all of the publishers that would make for interesting entertainment in a future crossover game. From NAMCO BANDAI Games, Bravoman would be an interesting addition, as would the entire cast of [email protected] as one playable unit. Don't ask me how that would work. Representing Sega, I would say that Agent G from House of the Dead would be pretty cool, or Blaze Fielding from Streets of Rage. From Capcom, Samanosuke from the Onimusha series or Wayne Holden from Lost Planet would make for a strange, yet balanced, mix.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
ATTACK OF THE FRIDAY MONSTERS
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: July 18
There's something sad about Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale, and it's not just the game's wistful sense of a childhood summertime, the sort that's never recaptured in adulthood. No, it's also the fact that this is the first of Kaz Ayabe's games to see an official English release. Ayabe's Boku no Natsuyasumi games chronicle a boy's adventures in a country town over a month of vacation, and they're driven by gentle exploration and down-to-earth characters. Attack of the Friday Monsters has a similar idea. It's told through the eyes of a young boy during a peaceful summer…where giant monsters and Ultraman-style superheroes do battle.
Young hero Sohta is just a normal kid, and his family's just a normal family running a dry-cleaning shop in the town of Fuji no Hana during the 1970s. Yet strange things are afoot, particularly when a giant monster appears each Friday. Sohta finds himself on a scavenger hunt for Monster Cards, which he wields in various duels with the other children in his neighborhood. This ties back to the giant creatures on the rampage, but it's all part of a stronger theme: the escapism of childhood, when a city-wrecking creature didn't seem as unrealistic or as dangerous as it would in the grown-up world. In that capacity, Attack of the Friday Monsters makes for an interesting counterpoint to, say, Pacific Rim.
DYNASTY WARRIORS 8
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Release date: July 16
Some contend that the Dynasty Warriors games are the same thing over and over, as repetitive in content as they are in play mechanics. That's mostly true, but let's be fair in this; to the outside observer, the majority of fighting games, RPGs, first-person-shooters, and other video-game genres all look identical. Besides, repetition shouldn't bother any long-term fans of the Dynasty Warriors series. They're far more interested in the many little additions made by Dynasty Warriors 8: the new “what if” paths that explore alternate visions of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and a playable cast that bulges up to 77 characters. True, there aren't any crossover fighters from Samurai Warriors or, dare we dream, Fist of the North Star, but that sort of silliness usually falls to the Warriors Orochi games. When it comes to Koei's fantasies of throwing hundreds of rock-stupid soldiers across a battlefield, Dynasty Warriors is the serious one.
The eighth part of the series builds on the same engine as Dynasty Warriors 7, and it doesn't exactly tear down and rebuild the whole idea of smacking around dozens of enemies at a time. Rather, Dynasty Warriors 8 smoothes out the surface and refines the underlying gameplay with some new ideas. The Three Point System pushes a character toward the alignments of Heaven, Earth, and Man, and it sets up a rock-paper-scissors system (or, if you will, a Battle Beasts system). When the player's chosen warrior whales sufficiently on an enemy of a weaker affinity, a Storm Rush attack pops up and bids the player mash buttons for extra-credit damage. And when the player's attacked by a stronger-aligned opponent, characters can pull off a Switch Counter to return the attack. Combat also benefits from a new rage system and an extra slot for Musou attacks, and every character has his or her own particular EX weapon. The U.S. version of the game doesn't look to include the Japanese release's 7-Up and Vocaloid costumes, but I suspect no one here would want the former. The latter…maybe.
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Platform: PlayStation Network
Release date: July 16
G.Rev rarely gets noticed outside of the devoted shooter-nerd niche, but the whole of North America's game market will have two good opportunities to sample their creations. The first is Kokuga, a tank shooter that just arrived on the 3DS. The second is Mamoru-kun Curse! for the PlayStation Network. It finds a newly dead boy and six other big-eyed characters rampaging through a colorful underworld, facing storms of bullets and some fairly creative boss duels. It's all arranged not as an auto-scrolling shooter, but rather as an overhead-viewed game where a character proceeds at his or her own pace—much like Commando, Ikari Warriors, Outzone, Shock Troopers, Heavy Barrel, FixEight, and…well, a lot of other arcade titles.
Mamoru-kun is far more than an anime redeco of old Rambo theatrics, however. Its characters all use a “Curse Bullet” that generates an enemy-weakening area on the screen. Once defenseless, however, an enemy will throw out nastier streams of bullets—and also create more score-boosting candy upon defeat. Curse Bullets also power up a character's own attacks and briefly wipe the screen of oncoming shots, but this is more taxing on the Curse Bullet's charge time. It's a rather complex system that grows more intricate amid the game's heavy patterns of enemy fire and such obstacles as giant steel spheres and the fists of an angry level boss. It's always nice to see a shooter with actual level design instead of just more and more bullets.
SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI IV
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: July 16
Amid all of the spin-offs and remakes and loosely related tangents of Shin Megami Tensei, it's hard to remember that the RPG series is only on its fourth officially numbered game. The whole line began back in 1992 as a successor to the even older Megami Tensei games, and it's reached everywhere from the popular Persona line to such minor notes as the Pokemon-ish Devil Children. Yet Shin Megami Tensei IV reflects the original vision of the games, in all their semi-futuristic, demon-gathering RPG grandeur.
Not that things go entirely according to routine. Instead of hatching its plot in some modern high school or post-apocalyptic realm, Shin Megami Tensei IV starts in the medieval kingdom of Mikado. The realm operates on a caste system of wealthy Luxurors (haw) and laboring Casualries, with the military class of Samurai providing the sole means of upward mobility. The player assumes control of a young Samurai named Flynn (or whatever moniker you choose) and his fellow warriors. Passive Isabeau, nice-guy Jonathan, and jerkass Navarre come from the upper class, while the uncouth Walter and the protagonist are a lowborn lot. These social issues lead to another curious problem: someone foments revolution by passing around books that turn their readers into demons, and the trail leads to a mysterious present-day Tokyo. Suffice to say that the game covers a good deal of ground as the party roams everything from castle depths to city streets to the twisted innards of a demon's lair. Battles follow the menu-dependent and first-person perspective of past Shin Megami Tensei games, and players can recruit and raise all sorts of demons. Characters can also “smirk” during combat to raise the payoff from a critical hit, and a slightly less goofy-sounding feature called “skill whispering” allows the human characters to take on the abilities of various demon recruits. Yes, it's a game about becoming more like a demon. Good thing the Moral Majority isn't around today.
TIME AND ETERNITY
Developer: Imageepoch/Namco Bandai
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release date: July 16
There's no lack of video games that emulate anime, but Time and Eternity cuts it far closer than most. Its characters are all large 2-D sprites animated much like today's anime cels, while the backgrounds are all 3-D environments. It's an unconventional approach to aping anime, but it hasn't met with the reception that the developer presumably wanted. While the characters look inoffensive in screenshots, the animation itself is jarring, and preview footage of the game is already something of a laughingstock among RPG fans and game critics. That's not a good start.
But what is Time and Eternity actually about? Well, it starts with a princess named Toki all set to marry her jerky fiancé Zack (who the player can rename), but assassins interrupt the wedding and stab the groom. This leads Toki to reveal a second personality called Towa, who's much more aggressive and ruthless in putting down the intruders. Yet Zack dies from his wounds, and there's only one thing Toki and Towa can do:
Time and Eternity avoids a menu-driven battle system, instead imitating action games in a rather stilted fashion: Toki or Towa faces one enemy at a time, pelting a foe with rifle fire from a distance or switching to up-close attacks. She can dodge and block attacks if the player times things right, and her dragon sidekick assists here and there. It's all a bit lightweight, and that seems to be the idea. Namco Bandai producer Kei Hirono described the game as “a different take on a stale genre,” and Time and Eternity is certainly...different.
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