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Watch Words

by Todd Ciolek, Aug 14th 2013

Xenoblade Chronicles may inspire complaints forever, and through no fault of its own. For starters, people complained when Nintendo balked at releasing the game in North America. It finally came out exclusively through Nintendo and GameStop, and then people complained when copies became hard to find and expensive on eBay. Now you can buy Xenoblade at GameStop once again…for ninety bucks.

Rumors soon emerged about GameStop deliberately exploiting the demand by reprinting brand new copies of Xenoblade Chronicles and selling them as used. While GameStop's higher-ups have yet to confirm this, it makes a good deal of sense for the company: they're now the only ones selling the game at retail, and they can effectively control the price there. And $89.99 is just a little bit less than you'll pay on the eBay average.

This isn't new to the GameStop model, as rare games occasionally see major markups. The retailer sold Game Quest Direct's new reprints of obscure titles at somewhat inflated "used" prices, and that lousy Dragon Ball GT Final Bout fighting game once went for over $100 in the pre-owned racks. Perhaps that's why the response is somewhat mixed. Some are outraged that GameStop would gouge them forty dollars for an opened copy of Xenoblade Chronicles, while others point out that it's just how the market works. Still others point out that Xenoblade has about 100 hours of gameplay if you take in all the side attractions, so it's priced at less than a buck an hour.

NEWS

BREATH OF FIRE RETURNS AS A…OH DEAR
There was something decidedly tragic about the way CAPCOM's Breath of Fire series died off right after its best game arrived. The first three Breath of Fire RPGs were a bit generic, the fourth was a notable improvement, and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter was a daring and enjoyable approach to RPG traditions. After that, CAPCOM let the Breath of Fire games subsist as spin-offs on cell phones (including one game dedicated entirely to fishing). Now there's a Breath of Fire 6, and it's coming to Android, iOS devices, and PCs.

CAPCOM bills Breath of Fire 6 as a “simple touch-style online RPG.” This presumably denotes an absence of distinct characters and a forceful storyline, but the game's designed for solo play as well as online interactions with others. The character art also looks a little more generic that the classic Breath of Fire milieu of ox-men and bird-women, yet it's still possible for heroes to change into dragons. While some fans are a bit upset over this, they must realize that there was small chance of CAPCOM reviving the series as a full-blown RPG. At least the disgruntled will have an easy time of ignoring Breath of Fire 6. CAPCOM hasn't decided if it'll get a U.S release or not.

PROFESSOR LAYTON VS ACE ATTORNEY GETS A US RELEASE DATE AT LAST
There was some understandable trepidation over Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney coming to North America. Professor Layton has clout in Nintendo's camp, but Ace Attorney's pull among CAPCOM's ranks is a tad uncertain…and it's been that way since CAPCOM declined to localize Ace Attorney - Investigations 2. If CAPCOM is reluctant, Nintendo sure isn't, as the recent Nintendo Direct gave the crossover a new trailer and a spot in the company's 2014 schedule.

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney takes both franchises to a place called Labyrinth City. Layton and his assistant Luke are transported to this realm of magic and medievalism by a magic book, as are Phoenix and his sidekick Maya. As both parties try to clear a young woman of witchcraft charges, the game spans both Layton-style logic puzzles and Phoenix Wright's courtroom drama. It's all scripted by Shu Takumi, creator of both Phoenix Wright and Ghost Trick. That along makes this something to look forward to, as far as I'm concerned. However, there's the question of whether the game will see a physical release or a mere eShop download. I imagine Nintendo will watch the sales of the upcoming Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destines before deciding.

KING OF FIGHTERS XIII ARRIVES ON STEAM NEXT MONTH
In the Department of Rumors Coming True, we find that The King of Fighters XIII is headed for a Steam release on September 13. Preorders are available for a decent cut off the thirty-dollar price tag, and that'll get you the extra characters: Mr. Karate, NESTS-era Kyo, and traditional flame-powered Iori.

But isn't thirty bucks a bit much for a fighting game that's been out for over a year? It seems that way, but there's one important promise in the Steam release: the netcode. Both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of The King of Fighters XIII suffered from problematic online play, and SNK Playmore vows that this new Steam launch will run much smoother. If that works, it'll make a huge difference in the competitive ranks, and perhaps it'll get a consistently underrated fighter a little more attention.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: JULY

DANBALL SENKI W SUPER CUSTOM
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

So how does Level-5 finance unique, potentially unprofitable little games like Crimson Shroud and Time Travelers? It doesn't hurt that the company has hit franchises like Professor Layton, Inazuna Eleven, and the one on display here, Little Battlers. Also known as Danball Senki, this series wraps video games, toys, and other things around that unyielding rock of Japan's toy industry: the combat mecha. True to the title, the robots of Danball Senki are tiny things made of highly durable cardboard (which suggests that the title should be “danboru,” but I'm not arguing with the Internet). In the future, kids have taken to dueling through their LBX mecha, little machines once deemed too powerful even for military use. This makes for some mysterious plot devices in the anime series and, more importantly, a plethora of battle-droids for children to customize in both video games and the real world.

Danball Senki W Super Custom is a port of the franchise's second game, which arrived on the PSP last year. It finds series hero Ban Yamano and his retinue of LBX players facing down a terrorist network that hijacks LBX mecha, meaning that the world can be saved only through the use of Danball Senki products and services. Players outfit their mechs with various parts and weapons, and the resulting arena battles find the tiny machines slashing and jumping and shooting for all they're worth. The Super Custom version doesn't expand on the original that much beyond making some new robots more accessible. It's mostly just to get 3DS up to speed on Level-5's big robot show.

Import Barrier: That wily ol' 3DS is still region-locked, and Level-5 might want to keep its Danball Senki games under control. That's because...

Chances of a Domestic Release: The Little Battlers eXperience is coming to America in several ways. Dentsu Entertainment USA licensed the TV anime, and Namco Bandai signed on for the toys. If the games follow, it's likely they'll start with the 3DS titles.

Moral Quandaries: There's a long and lucrative history of selling robot toys to kids, but isn't it a little lazy to make a TV show that's literally about kids playing with those toys? Sadly, that idea is nothing new.

TORIKO GOURMET GA BATTLE
Developer: Crafts & Meister
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Toriko isn't the first anime to go the Smash Bros. route when it comes to games, but it's hard to argue with the formula. The side-view stages and multi-character battles bring in all sorts of recognizable characters and their signature moves, and, truth be told, that's what an awful lot of fans want most in their 3DS recreations of popular anime and manga. Gourmet Ga Battle offers over 20 playable characters, ranging from the animal-devouring hero Toriko to the anime-only antagonist Girim. They're joined by another 20 or so supporting characters, who flit onto the stages to provide power-ups or tag on extra attacks. While it always strikes me as somewhat cheap when sidekick characters aren't playable, I suppose it'd be hard (but amusing) to work characters like tagalong reporter Tina and the baby penguin Yun into full-blown combat.

Gourmet ga Battle does its best to perk up the copious brawling. While characters are free to pound each other while leaping around multi-tiered stages, the game pays homage to Toriko's somewhat senseless staples of food and hunting. Giant creatures periodically burst onto the scene to attack the characters, and these lumbering beasts can be pounded into easily consumed foodstuffs. Other food-based power-ups emerge during the fight, adding even more variables to the combat.

Import Barrier: Remember how 3DS games are region locked? Yeah, this one doesn't change that.

Chances of a Domestic Release: The Toriko manga and anime may be licensed by American companies, but they sure won't pull any video games over here.

Moral Quandaries: As with the other pieces of Toriko canon, the game raises questions about slaughtering wild animals for the sake of gourmet satiety. Is it really right to pound creatures into meaty chunks when you, the player, are the one invading their natural habitats? Probably, but that actually happens in a lot of games.

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

As mentioned above, Level-5 banks on at least three major franchises, and they could always use another one. This led them to Youkai Watch, a fusion of Gegege no Kitarō's monstrous lore and Pokémon's marketable collections. There will be Yōkai Watch anime and manga in due time, but right now it's just a game. It begins with a fifth-grader name Keita discovering the best way to enter a magical world: buy something. Upon dropping a coin into a prize machine he finds in the middle of the forest, he's able to see various ghosts and other monsters wandering the earth. Of course, these aren't fearsome youkai who'll devour humans or throw sand in their eyes. These are cuddly little sidekicks suitable for stuffed animals, keychains, and other merchandise.

Yōkai Watch resembles Level-5's recent Ni no Kuni more than a little. As Keita gathers otherworldly allies with his Yokai Lens, he takes any six of them into battle with him. Three of them battle away on the upper 3DS screen at at time, and the player swaps them out by rotating a wheel on the lower screen. Every little youkai has a specific attack or advantage, and Keita can recruit 250 of them to command in battle. The game also looks quite sharp in its cutscenes and environments, perhaps another side effect of Ni no Kuni. Yōkai Watch doesn't have the Studio Ghibli touch that made Ni no Kuni such a visual treat, but Level-5 is clearly hoping for the anime tie-in to come along later.

Import Barrier: You know the drill by now. All 3DS games are region-locked, no matter how easy they'd be for Western players to understand in the raw.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Level-5 always has an eye on international audiences, so there's a good chance that Yōkai Watch will emerge over here at some point.

Moral Quandaries: Assuming that some of these youkai are ghosts, is it right to capture and train them, thus denying them their eternal rest? Or is this actually the afterlife in full? Good or bad, do we all become adorable little monsters in some child's RPG daydream?

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

HATE PLUS
Developer: Love Conquers All games
Publisher: Love Conquers All games
Platform: PC (Steam)
Release date: August 19
MSRP: $10.00

What's this? A parody of the Love Plus dating sims and the fans so moved to romance and wed their virtual girlfriends? Well, the title is, but the game's much more than that. Hate Plus is the third pf Christine Love's visual-novel ruminations about artificial intelligences gone awry. While the original game, Digital: A Love Story, unfolded in the 1980s, the loosely connected second one, Analogue: A Hate Story, went millennia into the future and hopped aboard a derelict colony-ship called the Mugunghwa. Investigating this mysterious craft, the player juggled two anime-girl AI assistants while learning that the vessel's society had once devolved into a simulacrum of Korea's Joseon Dynasty in all its barbarous misogyny. The game detailed much of this cultural downfall through *Hyun-Ae, one of the two functional AIs aboard the ship. This time around, the player delves into the history of the other computerized counterpart, *Mute. Yes, the asterisks are part of their names. Like a laugh that wasn't laughter.

Hate Plus begins roughly where Analogue: A Hate Story left off, save files and all. This time around, it looks into the reasons behind the Mugunghwa's bizarre societal shifts, and players spend three days (real-time, apparently) sifting through records alongside *Mute and *Hyun-ae. While Analogue had players piecing together histories as the AIs revealed new information, Hate Plus reportedly involves deeper methods of research. Much of the uncovered clues seem connected to a third entity called Old *Mute, who surely has nothing whatsoever to do with a woman named Heo Seo-yeong and the ship's descent from modern society to an unsettling mix of Korean history and The Handmaid's Tale.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Skullgirls, last year's impressively animated 2-D fighter, arrives on the PC. But hey, you can play it right now! Reserving the game on Steam gets you the beta version, including some color-palette options and a sample of newcomer Squigly. You can even pretend she's an exported Darkstalkers character and thereby numb the pain of knowing we'll never get another Darkstalkers game!


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter, where he is no longer afraid to use his full name.


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