The X Button - Attorney Boutby Todd Ciolek,
So Atlus has a big announcement prepared for the Persona series this Friday? That'll be well after this column goes up. But don't worry. If I can't break the news, I'll predict it.
Some might suspect that the big new will involve the upcoming Persona 5, but I think Atlus will go deeper into their past, back to the tumult of 1995 and Nintendo's first failed system. Yes, Atlus will make a new Jack Bros.
For those of you who weren't around for the Virtual Boy's five minutes in the spotlight, Jack Bros. is a cute little action game and the first piece of the Shin Megami Tensei series released in North America. It's technically a spin-off and very lighthearted, so much so that the localization changed all possible mentions of “demons” to “fairies.” It puts Jack Frost, Jack Lantern, and Jack Skelton (a.k.a. Jack Ripper) in an overhead puzzle-shooter, and it's one of the most enjoyable Virtual Boy games. A shame it's also one of the rarest Virtual Boy games in North America.
So I'm calling it. We'll see Jack Bros. Remixed for the 3DS, reinventing an old Atlus classic just as Sega revived Outrun and Space Harrier with 3-D remakes. And don't worry about Persona 5. They'll get to that in due time.
TALES OF ZESTIRIA IS A TALES RPG, ALL RIGHT
Where does Tales of Zestiria land in comparison to other games in Namco's inexhaustible RPG series? Well, it has a war between two empires, a race of legendary monastic beings, a legion of monsters created from negative human emotions, and a good-hearted young man named Slay (yes, really) at the center of the whole conflict. He joins up with his detached, silver-haired friend Miclio, a lowborn princess named Alicia (as lowborn as royalty can get, anyway), and some other monks who can command the elements. That covers all of the bases. Zestiria even seems a mash-up of past Tales games in its character design. Tales of Xillia had both Kousuke Fujishima and Mutsumi Inomata, but even more artists come aboard for Zestiria: Fujishima drew Slay, Inomata drew Miclio, Daigo Okumura (Xillia 2, Symphonia: Dawn of the New world) drew Alicia, and Minorushi Iwamoto (Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology) drew the prim and gentle earth-elementalist Edna.
The latest trailer shows off all of the characters, plus flashes of the game's Fusionic Chain Linear Motion Battle System. In this new LiMBS, human characters get up close and violent with their attacks, while the magic-monk part members do better with magical attacks. I think the characters look a bit stiff in comparison to Tales of Xillia and Xillia 2, but perhaps that's just because it's still a PlayStation 3 game. How biased we become in the light of a new video-game generation.
Tales of Zestiria has no North American release date just yet, but Tales is going full-force in North America. Tales of Hearts R is due out for the domestic Vita sometime late in 2014, and Tales of Xillia 2 arrives in August with a $130 special edition. It has a Ludger figure, a plush Rolo, and a mirror-compact replica of Elle's watch in addition to the usual artbook-and-soundtrack extras. That's not the stuff of a dilettante release.
PERSONA 4 ARENA ULTIMAX LOOKS BETTER
I thought I would ignore Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. I picked up the original Persona 4 Arena on the admittedly foolish notion that it would be a one-off fighter, like Arc System Works' Fist of the North Star or Capcom's Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. Of course, Persona 4 Arena was successful, and that meant a sequel with Yukari, Junpei, and the all-new Sho Minazuki, none of whom tilted me toward caring. Yet Ultimax seems a slightly better deal now that a fourth new character is aboard, and it's Rise Kujikawa.
Rise was curiously absent from the actual fighting in the first Persona 4 Arena. Every other major Persona 4 character jumped into the fisticuffs, but Rise just sorta sat back and played announcer. She's wasn't my favorite or anything, but I still thought she got a raw deal. In Ultimax, however, she'll wield a microphone, her Persona Himiko, and the agonizing weapon of pop music. Her suggestive Shadow incarnation also appears, continuing one of the creepier internal struggles of Persona 4.
Fortunately, Rise is not the only recent addition to Ultimax, as Atlus also brought out Golden Arena Mode, an RPG-like diversion where a chosen character gains levels, upgrades skills, and faces bosses. That's atop a new storyline that retells Persona 4's aftermath from the viewpoint of Persona 3's characters. So Ultimax looks less and less like a shameless and minimal upgrade and more like…well, a shameless and substantial upgrade.
SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW FRAGMENT GETS TRANSLATED, GOES PLACES
It may seem that anime-based games in North America begin with Naruto and end with Dragon Ball, but we're not completely dry when it comes to other titles. We got a bunch of One Piece games, we're getting Jojo's Bizarre Adventure this week, and we'll get Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for the Vita later in the year. Sure, Bandai Namco will release it only as a digital title, but that's somehow fitting for a game that's all about futuristic online RPG players trapped in a computerized fantasyland.
Hollow Fragment is an expanded version of the first Sword Art Online game, expanding Infinity Moment's tower-clearing gameplay with a new “Hollow Area” segment and, as of this summer, a huge chunk of new downloadable material. It's all set up as an online RPG in the style of Phantasy Star Online, as up to four players team up and take down enemies. Players can customize the main character's hair, eyes, and clothing, but he's still Kirito, and he still spends a good portion of gameplay romancing many female characters—including newcomer Philia, a criminal-class Orange warrior.
Namco Bandai hopes to have Hollow Fragment out this summer, though it won't be the first English release. The Asian version of the game, due out later in May, will have English subtitles. Will Bandai Namco use the same translation for North America? Possibly.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: APRIL
ACE ATTORNEY 123: WRIGHT SELECTION
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
In some ways it's a shame that Gyakuten Saiban 123: Naruhodo Selection isn't poised for a North American release. It's a convenient repacking of the first three Ace Attorney games in one 3DS cartridge, binding together the trilogy that started the comical, captivating adventures of endlessly put-upon defense lawyer Phoenix Wright (and would've stopped there, according to creator Shu Takumi's original vision). Better yet, its translated title would be Ace Attorney 123: Wright Selection, and that perfectly suits a series thick with delightful puns.
On the other hand, Ace Attorney 123: Wright Selection doesn't have much that's new. It adds some higher-definition upscaling, making the three games look a bit like the iOS versions, and there's a rudimentary 3-D feature. It's nice that we have another way of going through the foundation of the series, which manages the daring juggle of stand-alone legal dramas and broader, trilogy-long plot threads. Yet the only original material lies in a separate drama CD that is, of course, in Japanese.
Import Barrier: The Japanese release lets you play all of the games with the same English translation as the DS titles. The only problem is in the regional lockout on the 3DS.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Capcom's silent about that, though an eShop release of the game would be quick, easy, and pretty consistent with the low-profile release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. But if it never comes here, plenty of alternatives await: the iOS bundle is cheap (if a bit rough), and the DS versions of the games can be had for twenty bucks apiece.
Frivolous Trinkets: The forenamed special edition comes with an artbook, the drama CD, and a pixellike keychain of Phoenix, Francisca, or Godot. By three sets to collect them all, suckers!
GE-SEN LOVE PLUS PENGO
Developer: Triangle Service
Publisher: Triangle Service
Platform: Xbox 360
The 3rd Super Robot Wars Z took up most of the attention in imports this month, and our own Dave Cabrera gave it a full review. But who needs a glorious pileup of anime robot references when the return of the first truly great arcade game is at hand? I speak of Pengo, Sega's early festival of penguins pushing ice blocks and dancing to classical overtures. And this isn't just regular Pengo; it's Pengo RingWide Edition, which brings the game to modern multiplayer glory.
Ge-Sen Love isn't limited to Pengo, of course. Three other titles lie in this compilation. Action Skills Test is a series of mini-games where the player guides sentai-suited superheroes through whack-a-mole, track meets, side-scrolling brawlers, and other button-mashing challenges. Shooting Skills Test sets out various old-fashioned tests in the tradition of Triangle Service's older Shooting Love titles. CombatZeal is a more elaborate take on the same idea, stringing together longer forays through asteroid fields, tank battalions, and other typical shooter stages, complete with a split-screen mode where players send enemy bullets hurling at each other.
And then there's Pengo RingWide Edition, which does for Pengo what Pac-Man Championship Edition did for that particular Atari-era icon. The Pengo playfield now covers a huge area that up to eight little penguin opponents can explore, and new rules join the old ones. Pengo still shoves blocks to squash Sno-bee blobs, but giant enemies and resurrected penguins (complete with little halos) complicate things. A pity there's no online multiplayer.
Import Barrier: Ge-Sen Love Plus Pengo is region-free, and only a few of the shooter levels present obtuse concepts.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Very slight, but an Xbox Live version of Pengo Ringwide Edition would delight us all. Or just me, I guess.
Frivolous Trinkets: The special edition of Ge-Sen Love Plus Pengo comes with a soundtrack CD. Presumably it doesn't include the original Pengo music—or Gershon Kingsley's “Popcorn,” as it's better known.
TOKYO TWILIGHT GHOST HUNTERS
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platform: PlayStation 3/PS Vita
Some of you may remember Tokyo Majin, a teenagers-versus-monsters show that ADV Films trotted out during the deflating phase of the Big Anime Bubble. It was but one part of the larger Tokyo Majin Gakuen series, which includes video games, manga series, and other proof that it's far more successful in Japan than it was over here. Its creator, Shuhou Imai, plumbs the same depths with Tokyo Twilight Ghosthunters, a mixture of visual-novel storytelling and odd RPG combat. He's accompanied by Tomio Kanazawa, best known for his work on everyone's favorite awful game, Deadly Premonition.
Imai and Kanazawa stick to off-the-shelf premises: you're the newest transfer student at Kurenai Academy, and your first look around the school brings you face to face with ghosts and a secret society that hunts them. As their latest recruit, you explore psychological labyrinths in a bizarre dimen—no wait, that's Persona. Your role in Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters has you planting traps for ghosts and directing your teammates. The storyline progresses through the character cutouts and dialogue common to any visual novel, but here the portraits animate with a pulsing detail reminiscent of the shopkeeps in Dragon's Crown. Your interactions also go into some depth, with each response picking from five different emotions and five different senses.
When not chatting with concerned teachers or romancing classmates, you guide fellow demon-hunters through stages rigged with traps that render ghosts visible and vulnerable. You can switch between area maps and first-person viewpoints, and battles play out in the latter perspective. Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters also sports some music by Nobuo Uematsu, plus an in-depth board game for a side attraction. There's lot to it, no denying that, but will it entice Western audiences when Tokyo Majin didn't? We may never find out.
Import Barrier: All of the in-game dialogue is Japanese, and you know what that means for monolingual anglophones. But both the PS3 and Vita are region-free!
Chances of a Domestic Release: Not too good, considering how Tokyo Majin disappeared in a hurry. Still, it's an Arc System Works release, and that gives Aksys Games an inside chance at snagging it.
Frivolous Trinkets: There are no gewgaws to speak of just yet, but give it time. A music CD wouldn't be a bad idea, what with Uematsu aboard.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
THE DENPA MEN 3: THE RISE OF DIGITOLL
Developer: Genius Sonority
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop)
Release Date: May 6
They Look Like: Super Magnetic Neo
The Denpa Men series belongs on that short list of video games apparently derived from paranoid delusions: the titular men are impish, pajama-clad creatures that live in the Wi-Fi waves all around us. Yes, it's just the game's way of generating characters, but I still wouldn't show it to that guy who wraps who raves about CIA Internet assassins and passes out incomprehensible pamphlets in front of the post office.
As in past Denpa Men outings, the little folk are born from the player's 3DS detecting Wi-Fi signals. The resulting Denpa Men come in varying sizes and colors: red ones take less damage from flame attacks, large ones are slower, and antennae-sporting Denpa Men can use various skills. The Denpa Men march forth single-file like Pikmin, engaging in RPG battles as they explore their world. Among the new abilities in Denpa Men 3 is a monster-capturing talent that lets the little guys snare and summon creatures in battle.
Battles aren't the limit of Denpa Men 3, either. Players build worlds around their crew of multicolored, goofy-faced explorers, letting them plant gardens, catch fish, sell items at a market, and decorate their rooms with wallpapers, furniture, and arcade games. It's a bit like a small-scale Animal Crossing, and players can even rent out their Denpa Men to other 3DS owners for in-game money. That's all part of the conspiracy, I'm sure.
HAKUOUKI: STORIES OF THE SHINSENGUMI
Developer: Otomate/Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: May 6
Real Shinsengumi: Kinda fascist
Hakuouki is clearly a Thing on these shores with the release of Stories of the Shinsengumi. The series now has the multiple re-issues, the spin-offs, and of course the lavish special edition. Stories of the Shinsengumi's pricier package comes with a comb, a hair pin, an omamori charm, and a nice lacquer-esque box. That's a Thing.
The core of Stories of the Shinsengumi is Hakuouki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom, the original tale of a young woman named Chizuru meeting up with the handsome ranks of the Shinsengumi and unraveling the secrets behind her father's disappearance. Numerous plot threads and endings lie in the visual-novel flow of character interaction, and this PlayStation 3 port has improved character animation. Stories also includes Zuisouroku, a semi-sequel that goes into further depth about the various Shinsengumi warriors. Aksys promises some 20 additional hours of content, though we must remember that game-length estimates have been on the liberal side ever since the days of Chrono Trigger's purported 70-hour playtime.
Yet there's a lot of material within Stories of the Shinsengumi. Most interesting is an unlockable extra story where the characters become high-school students and teachers in modern-day Japan. This isn't quite as elaborate as the recent Sweet School Life, which had the same premise and is currently available only in Japan. But if Stories of the Shinsengumi does well enough, Aksys might just bring another chunk of the series over here.
Nicalis brings Kemco's Grinsia to the 3DS eShop on May 8. It's one of many deliberate throwback RPGs that Kemco released for the Android platform, and it has all the hallmarks of an old 16-bit epic: a world crafted by twin goddesses, a clan of treasure hunters, a mass of ancient secrets, a procession of menu-driven battles, and a party of characters with names like “Elysha” and “Grieg.” Kemco's grown these games like dandelions on the Android system, and Nicalis hopes to put down the same roots on the 3DS. It couldn't hurt to try.
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