The X Button
Tales Spin

by Todd Ciolek, Nov 20th 2013

Crimson Dragon remains the most interesting piece of the Xbox One's launch as far as I'm concerned. That's primarily because I'm a huge fan of the Panzer Dragoon series and their ornate approach to on-rails shooting. Yet I also like how Crimson Dragon doesn't resemble something summoned from adolescent fantasies and leached bland by the meddlesome machinations of marketing. I think it exists because creator Yukio Futatsugi wanted to make another Panzer Dragoon and couldn't get the rights from Sega, not because someone saw an opportunity to pump a decent idea for every cent.

I might be wrong.

A number of Crimson Dragon reviews already hit, and most aren't kind. Some complain of grinding level structure, where you're forced to pay accumulated credits to attempt each stage (on top of using them to upgrade your dragon mount). Others point out the awkward viewpoint, as though the game's journey from the Kinect's motion controls to traditional means was a hasty one. Many also note that the game doesn't look like a proper, prettied-up Xbox One title. That we knew. It was an Xbox 360 game for years before Microsoft shifted it to the new system.

Further disquiet arises in the form of microtransactions. Apparently Crimson Dragon lets players use real money for all sorts of in-game items, including gems that power up dragons and erode any real challenge. It's the same model you'll see in games from Candy Crush Saga to the latest online RPG, and it's one of the most irksome little things about the game industry as it is today.

I might enjoy Crimson Dragon despite all of this worriment, but I dislike the idea of buying my way through a game that encourages it at every turn. The Panzer Dragon games were focused, comfortably offline creations. If you finished Panzer Dragoon Orta, you unlocked some secrets; if you finished it again on hard, you unlocked even more. No real-world charges apart from the main price of the game itself. It's sad that we can't have things like that anymore.

NEWS

RIVER CITY RANSOM TURNS TO TOWER DEFENSE
On the subject of cherished old video-game friends going places they probably shouldn't, we have Nekketsu Taisen Kunio-Kun TD. The Kunio-Kun games are best known over here through River City Ransom, Super Dodge Ball, and other NES classics with square-headed toughs getting into street fights and soccer games. The “TD” part refers to the tower-defense aspect of this new game. It's arranged a bit like an old-school NES brawler; as the player's goon avatar manages a tower of bricks, money, cars, or some other staple of city life, minion thugs pace around below and punch each other.

It's no surprise that this simple affair is an iOS and Android game, built with character sprites in the 8-bit style. It seems a needless expansion of the Kunio-Kun name, and I have no doubt that there'll be numerous extras to buy. But fans of the Kunio-Kun tradition can't complain too much. The recent River City Ransom Underground Kickstarter, a sequel to the NES game, passed its goal despite some downright awful jokes in the promo video. And there's the recent Kunio-Kun: Fighting Concerto that hit the 3DS in Japan. It probably won't come here, while this tower-defense game might.

ATLUS ANNOUNCES CONCEPTION II, THE BABY-MAKER RPG
If someone barged into my apartment the Official X Button Offices and yelled that Atlus was localizing Conception II for 2014, I would laugh…and then probably believe it. Spike's original Conception followed a teenage hero to a distant planet where he “spiritually” spawned children with twelve different girls and took his offspring on dungeon crawls. It was a somewhere creepy concept made creepier by one of the baby-making partners being the hero's cousin. Conception II has much the same idea without the incest angle, thus making it slightly more palatable for a North American release. Nor does it hurt that the game's hitting both the 3DS and the Vita.

Conception II's main character is among the select Disciples of the Star Gods, warriors dedicated to clearing the Pandora Labyrinth of its various monsters. With their ranks thinning out, the Disciples join up and generate Star Children. This boils down to the hero euphemistically spirit-mating with seven female Disciples (one of whom looks like a child herself) and forging deeper bonds with them. One can't have Star Children born into loveless relationships, even if the whole birth process is handled by a machine, a doll, and glowing, suggestively entwined silhouettes of the parents.

Once born, the little munchkins follow their spiritual parents into the labyrinth and its seven layers, all based around deadly sins. Conception II wisely lets players see enemies before battles unfold, and combat revolves heavily around enchaining foes and hitting them at their most vulnerable angles. The hero's Disciple allies specialize in various weapons, from bubbly Fuko's dual handguns to the lab-raised Tohri's unreasonably large assault cannon. Their abilities also pass down to their various offspring, so there's a fair bit of planning involved in gestating the next generation of warrior children. Conception II looks to fall somewhere between intriguingly ridiculous and downright repulsive, but Atlus is at least letting us see just where it lands.

DEAD OR ALIVE 5 ULTIMATE ARCADE EDITION DISCOVERS MAID TRENDS
The Dead or Alive series is never one to shy away from shamelessly catering to the male gaze, and some may find it surprising, stupefying even, that the games never before featured a gothic-lolita-maid character. After all, far too much of the anime industry is focused on alarmingly young women in maid outfits, so why shouldn't Dead or Alive join in the trend? I can think of several reasons why Dead or Alive shouldn't, but none of them apparently matters to Tecmo. Dead or Alive 5 Ultiimate Arcade Edition adds Marie Rose, who follows the Russian military martial art of Systema and puts frills on whatever she wears.

Some will point out that the smaller-frame Marie Rose seems a realistically proportioned woman among Dead or Alive's line of pneumatic amazons, but others will counter that this new character, despite her given age of 18, is intended far more for an unsavory contingent of fans than it is for, say, the gothic-lolita cosplayers. This is Dead or Alive, after all, and it can't leave any exploitive sector untouched. So the latest update for the series will feature Marie Rose in both its arcade and home editions.

She cries when she loses, doesn't she? This sort of unsettling child-woman character always cries when she loses, right?

Yes, she does.

VOICE ACTOR TIPS US OFF TO PERSONA 4 SEQUEL
Ah, the voice actor's resumé, a favored source for leaked game news. We've seen actors reveal Resident Evil 6 and Kingdom Hearts: Recoded before the companies were ready, and this week Zeboyd Games' Robert Boyd spotted a “Persona 4, Vol. 2” on Karen Strassman's list of roles. Strassman played Nanako in Persona 4, Persona 4 Arena, and Persona 4 Golden, all of which are mentioned alongside this mysterious “Vol. 2” of the game.

If this gives away a Persona 4 sequel, it doesn't spoil it by much. Atlus already put up a teaser site for a new game to be announced on Sunday, November 24, and, surprise surprise, it already has images of Persona 4's mascot Teddie. A second Persona 4 game, with recycled assets and all, might make sense to Atlus, since fans are clearly willing to buy more and more of the game. It also lets Atlus delay any news about Persona 5 even more, and Atlus seems to like doing that.

Or perhaps, as the Teddie pictures imply, the new game is just a Persona pachislot machine.

INTERVIEW: TALES' HIDEO BABA

The Tales series has long flirted with wide success in North America. A perpetual hit in Japan, the line of RPGs filtered out to the West at a much slower pace, and fans could never be quite sure of what they'd get. They missed Tales of Hearts and Tales of Innocence on the DS, the PlayStation 3 version of Tales of Vesperia, and many spin-offs from the series.

Yet things are looking up next year. Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, an HD repackaging of two older titles, gets the special-edition treatment in February. Then Tales of Xillia 2 hits later in the year. Tales games may never know the same popularity here that they do in Japan, but perhaps we'll see the day when they're localized as speedily as a major Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid.

We chatted with Tales series producer Hideo Baba last year, and we returned for another interview now that Tales of Xillia is out and the series shows greater ambitions for these shores.

What do you think of Tales of Xillia's reception in North America?

Hideo Baba: With the support of all the development team members and the individual fans, I believe that Tales of Xillia can be a big step toward the series' popularity in Western countries.

Tales of Xillia gives Jude and Milla separate and slightly different storylines, and it seems as though players have to go through the game twice to see everything. Was that your intention, or do you think players could just go through it once?

From a developer's perspective, I really want the users to play through both the Jude and Milla routes, because this is the first Tales title where two character designers collaborated on a single game. So I really want them to see it from both perspectives.

But of course I understand that many fans don't have time to play both routes, so if you pick Milla or Jude alone, you can enjoy the storyline anyway. But there are some exclusive events that are only available in the Jude or Milla route.

As you mentioned, both Kosuke Fujishima and Mutsumi Inomata worked on the character designs for Tales of Xillia. How do they different in their approaches? Was it hard to unify their designs?

[laughs] Honestly speaking, it was very hard work. When we received the first concept art of the characters, Mr. Fujishima and Ms. Inomata's character-drawing scales were very different. Mr. Fujishima is a comic artist, so his characters' heads are a bit bigger than they are in Ms. Inomata's artwork. Ms. Inomata is a veteran illustrator and she has a very unique style, so with her characters the heads tend to be a bit smaller.

So when the two of them worked on a single title, we had to utilize the good points of their art styles together. We didn't ask one artist to follow the other one's direction. When making key artwork like the cover art, we keep their art as it is, but with the in-game modeling, we had to make adjustments in their scale. So I think when Mr. Fujishima drew the art for Tales of Xillia 2, I think he had the intention of making the characters' heads a little smaller.

How did the character designs change from that early concept art? Were your original ideas all that different from the final game?

When we saw the original concept art, we talked about things like Jude having a pen in his pocket. When the designers are working, I always visit their studios to help with the character design.

With the Tales series, we always want to reflect some social issue or a problem that young people are suffering from in the current era. So to convey those messages, we need to make a very detailed image of the characters, such as the color of the hair or the eyes.

Tales of Xillia has far fewer puzzles in its dungeons, particularly when compared to older titles like Tales of Symphonia. What's the reason for that?

In previous eras, the gimmicks and puzzles were one of the most important features in the dungeons. But recently we've seen that some users cannot clear the puzzles, and they give up going through the dungeons. So mainly we focused on the atmosphere of the dungeons, and we put some not-so-gimmicky puzzles in the dungeons.

For example, players can enjoy the Uncharted games as if they're watching a movie. Of course there are some dungeons and story events, but they shouldn't be harder for the players. I think the primary thing among mainstream RPGs is that the player can enjoy the game very smoothly.

With all of the recent Tales spin-offs, would you want to make an action game like Uncharted?

Throughout the Tales series, we need to have unique and attractive characters, a good storyline, and an exciting battle system. We've had games like Tales of VS., which focus on the battles, so if I wanted to make an action game, we'd have to focus on only one character instead of the party.

When we last spoke, you mentioned that Tales of Symphonia was the most popular part of the series in North America, and you're releasing it in a new edition next year. Why do you think it caught on over here?

Tales of Symphonia was a turning point in the series. Before it came along, the games were pixel-based, but Symphonia turned everything to 3-D. I think that made it easier for Western fans to accept it. At the time it came out, Nintendo really promoted Symphonia for the GameCube, so that also helped.

And Tales of Symphonia Chronicles will have the same voice acting that it had in the English version?

Our idea is to reproduce the same game content on the PlayStation 3, so the same voice-overs as the GameCube will be implemented in Chronicles. And we finally can include the original Japanese voice-overs for the first time in the series! There's also an exclusive animated opening created by ufotable, who did the animation for Xillia and Xillia 2.

For the special edition, Symphonia Chronicles will have the same items as the Japanese version, but we'll include a soundtrack for North America. Maybe some Japanese fans will be jealous!

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

YS: MEMORIES OF CELCETA
Developer: Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: November 26
The True Hero of Ys: Tomoyoshi Miyazaki
MSRP: $39.99/$59.99 (Special Edition)

Here's a good look at the thick, fudgy layers of the Ys series. Memories of Celceta is not only a remake of the fourth Ys game, it is in fact the fourth version of the fourth Ys game. Here's what happened: back in 1993 Falcom wanted to make as much money from Ys IV as possible, so they handed off their ideas to two developers on two different systems. Hudson Soft and Alfa System made Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine/TurboDuo, while Tonkin House made Ys IV: Mask of the Sun for the Super Famicom. Taito even remade Mask of the Sun for the PlayStation 2 over ten years later. Yet Falcom's Ys-makers never got to dig in their hands and sculpt an Ys IV entirely on their own. That's where Memories of Celceta comes in. It's the Ys IV that really counts.

Superseding all prior attempts at Ys IV in series canon, Memories of Celceta once again revolves around recurring adventurer Adol. This time, however, he has an excuse for being a blank slate of a hero. Adol has amnesia, and only a good bout of action-RPG questing will revive his memories. In exploring the land of Celceta, he uncovers ancient horrors and meets up with unconventional allies—some straight from the old attempts at Ys IV, some not. Mischievous warrior Karna should be familiar to anyone who tried Ys IV back in the day (or looked at the trailers for the never-made Ys IV anime OVAs), but silver-haired fighter Duren appears to be new to this retelling.

In fact, most of Adol's playable companions make their Ys debuts, and they all figure ably into battle. Memories of Celceta uses the same three-member party system as Ys Seven, allowing players to swap between the characters and their varied methods of attack, and this polished-up Vita entry adds new ways to customize AI-controlled allies, dodge attacks, and use the “flashguard” maneuver. Falcom doesn't tie itself to the terrain of older Ys games, either, as the player can swim, slide, and fight during all of these interludes. It's the Ys IV that Falcom always wanted to do. And the Silver Anniversary Edition? It includes a cloth map, an Ys-branded compass, a “travel journal” full of artwork and other notes, and a three-disc collection of classic Ys music. Yes, every RPG special edition comes with a music CD these days, but this is Ys music, dammit. Ys had amazing music back when most games barely had actual music.

Also Available:
Ys pretty much has the week to itself, though Air Conflicts: Vietnam arrives on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Ubisoft also ships a “Founders Pack” for The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, but I'm mentioning that just so I can point out how much I hate the game's title.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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