The X Button - Now Showing

by Todd Ciolek,

As a Nintendo-crazed kid, one of my favorite pieces of useless trivia involved the company's age. I liked telling people that Nintendo was over 100 years old and that it had started off as a playing card company in 1889. Most of my fellow Nintendo-crazed kids didn't care, and those who did refused to believe me. Yet I thought it was important. I'd read it in Nintendo Power so I knew it was true, and if the approximate age of Nintendo ever turned up in Final Jeopardy, I'd be the smartest one in the room.

Well, it's important this week. On September 23, Nintendo celebrated 125 years as a corporate entity dedicated to wringing profit from harmless entertainment. Of course, Nintendo didn't make video games until the 1970s, and playing cards, aided by the illicit gambling scene, filled their coffers and saw them through dubious ventures in love hotels and taxi services. Yet thanks to the video-game crash of 1983 and Hiroshi Yamauchi's vicious, iron-fisted acumen, Nintendo remains the biggest thing in video games as far as the capricious gaze of pop culture is concerned.

And how should you celebrate the occasion? If you grew up in Nintendo's empire, you might dig out an old favorite, be it Pokemon or Super Mario Bros. 3 or maybe even Wii Sports (some of you might be just that young). And if you're too old for that, you might recall for a moment how strange it was in the 1980s when every living room seemed to have a Nintendo system and every kid venerated it like an altar. How fortunate that their god was a benevolent and frivolous one.

NEWS SPECIAL: THE TOKYO GAME SHOW 2014

So what happened at the Tokyo Game Show? Well, not much in the way of big, industry-shaking revelations. Most of the key sights we already knew about: Final Fantasy XV, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, From's Dark Souls not-a-sequel Bloodborne, and Capcom's dungeon foray Deep Down and recently announced Resident Evil Revelations 2. That made it a stronger showing overall than the last few years, and we saw far less trepidation about Japan's game industry vanishing into a sinkhole of mediocrity and unexportable dating sims.

The only real shock of the Tokyo Game Show came at D3's booth, which mounted demo stations for Onechambara Z2: Chaos at the delicate points of a huge, bikini-clad Kagura. Maybe D3 can sell it to a museum as a savage and ironic statement about modern sexism. Aside from this, the Tokyo Game Show lacked surprises. It lacked scandal. It lacked impact. Most of all, it lacked Gravity Rush 2. I won't hold that against it, though.

FINAL FANTASY XV TAKES A GUYS-ONLY ROAD TRIP
Square tried hard to make up for the fact that Final Fantasy XV wasn't playable. The game has been Final Fantasy XV for only a year, but it was Final Fantasy Versus XIII long before that and many wanted to get their hands on it. Plenty of news emerged, however. A lengthy demo is on its way. Tetsuya Nomura is no longer the director, busy as he must be with Kingdom Hearts 3, and Hajime Tabata (Crisis Core, Final Fantasy Type-0) is now in charge. It's still very much a Nomura-style Final Fantasy in its hyper-pretty protagonists and equally pretty combat.

Final Fantasy XV steps away from the usual far-flung science fantasy realms. Its world mixed a modern tone with the hoverships and crystalline energies, and that's readily apparent in the Tokyo Game Show trailer. It shows rich-kid Noctis and his friends Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto driving around in a sports car that might've rolled off any recent auto show. While they find time to tackle monsters, much of the trailer arranges itself as a road trip. The foursome gawks at giant beasties and ruminates under the night sky, while Noctis finds a moment to brood over his relationship with the briefly glimpsed Luna, who may be related to (or perhaps the same person as) previously introduced heroine Stella Nox Fleuret. The snatches of gameplay look interesting enough; combat seems quick and cooperative, and Noctis warps around the scenery by chucking his sword at distant objects. That still looks like a lot of fun.

Square also confirmed something many suspected: Final Fantasy XV's playable cast is all-male. The character lineup already skewed in that direction, with only Stella, Luna, and one other woman seen so far. Well, now it's official. It seems a strange contravention of Final Fantasy tradition, which granted every game since Final Fantasy IV at least three playable heroines (Final Fantasy IX has four if you count Quina Quen). Yes, those heroines generally fall into the classes of Shy Yet Resolute Lead, Mysterious Yet Dependable Woman, and Energetic Young Girl. What's behind Final Fantasy XV's all-guys lineup? Square, I know that the whole Final Fantasy XIII thing didn't really work out for you, but it wasn't because the games had a lot of prominent women.

Of course, the real news about Final Fantasy XV comes from the heroes' roadside glances, which became one of those Internet memes the kids seem to like. Go ahead and try it for yourself! Pair them with another meme and you'll be twice as cool!

METAL GEAR SOLID V SHOWS QUIET, NOT MUCH RESTRAINT
We've already played Metal Gear Solid V to some extent. Its shorter first installment, Ground Zeroes, came out earlier this year. Yet The Phantom Pain is the longer, meatier, and possibly even more shocking chunk of the fifth proper Metal Gear Solid. It finds Big Boss, who we came to know as Snake in prior games, hunting down the forces who destroyed his Militaries Sans Frontieres (that's fancy talk for Soldiers Without Borders). In order to do that, Big Boss pulls himself out of a coma, slaps together a mercenary outfit called Diamond Dogs, and heads into the wilds of Afghanistan right when the Soviet Union is fighting the Mujahideen.

Big Boss has recurring Metal Gear characters Revolver Ocelot and Kaz “Master” Miller on his side, but the Tokyo Game Show footage focused heavily on scantily clad sniper Quiet. Cutscenes show her nonchalantly jumping into the Diamond Dogs forces and toying with them before Big Boss recruits her. Quiet is an optional companion during gameplay; should the Boss be on sufficiently good terms with her, she'll shadow him in battle and warp to remote places through her strange mist-makeup teleportation abilities (I can't wait for the series to explain that). She'll also wear ripped stockings and a bikini, which some fans find distasteful. Yet Hideo Kojima mentioned that Quiet's look and “the secret reason for her exposure” will have deeper and accusatory meanings. I just hope the twist isn't as horrid as the one Ground Zeroes pulled.

Quiet isn't the only ally available, as Big Boss can bring a wolfhound named D.D. and a previously introduced horse into combat. None of them is bulletproof, however, and once they die within the game, they're gone from the storyline. So they're effectively optional weapons in a game filled with them. Atop the usual arsenal of firearms, Big Boss uses extensive camouflage, a sonar sensor, an inflatable dummy, and a prosthetic arm that functions much like a taser. The game looks quite impressive as far as the detailed terrain and weather effects go, and it apparently enlists some smarter soldiers among its enemies. I'm sure they won't be too smart, though.

PROJECT SCISSORS IS CLOCK TOWER AGAIN
The most interesting new announcement of the Tokyo Game Show? Project Scissors, a revival of the Clock Tower series in everything but name. The Clock Tower games were pioneers of the whole survival-horror genre, though they always trailed Resident Evil and Silent Hill in the West. Creator Hifumi Kouno didn't forget the series, and his development studio, Nude Maker, has a spiritual follow-up in Project Scissors for the Vita, iOS devices, and Android systems.

Project Scissors puts the player aboard an ocean liner plagued by frequent murders. Every passenger and crewmember is a suspect, and the ensuing mystery drives much of the game. Silent Hill designer Masahiro Ito is part of the project, and director Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On, The Grudge) is producer. Clock Tower games occupied the helpless end of the horror spectrum; rather than gunning down zombies or bludgeoning bubble-headed nightmares in nurse uniforms, the protagonists often have no defenses beyond running away or using household objects to impede the horror at hand. That's a side of survival horror rarely pursued these days, and if anyone's fit to resuscitate it, Kouno is.

BRAVELY DEFAULT HAS NEW HEROES, COMPETITION
It was months ago that Square Enix announced a sequel to Bravely Default, the 3DS RPG that's pretty much old-school Final Fantasy made new. Set seven years after the original game, Bravely Second returns protagonists Tiz Arrior and Agnes Oblige to the tale, and it filled out a new party at the Tokyo Game Show.

Teenage swordsman Yu Zeneolsia and his fellow soldiers Jean Engarde and Nikolai Nikolanikov join the previously revealed lunar interloper Magnolia Arch. Yu serves as bodyguard to Agnes while managing the affairs of his highborn family, and he and his companions are known as the Three Musketeers of the Crystal Orthodoxy. Bravely Second is clearly being playful with its nomenclature. Whatever it calls the new characters, I hope it also brings back Ringabel and Mrgrgr (aka Edea). They were more fun than Tiz and Agnes.

The Bravely Default series has a rival, too. Shortly after the Tokyo Game Show, FuRyu formally announced The Legend of Legacy, an RPG from a number of former Square talents. It shoots squarely for the same territory as Bravely Default and Final Fantasy, as its large-headed characters include a knight named Garnet, an amnesia-stricken heroine named Bianca, a cocky sellsword named Owen, a thief named Liber, an “elementaler” named Meurs, a scantily dressed alchemist named Eloise, and, for the obligatory non-human, a princely frog named Filmia. Longtime RPG fans will recognize the artwork of SaGa series mainstary Tomomi Kobayashi, and The Legend of Legacy has Masato Kato (Chrono Cross, Baten Kaitos) on the script and Masami Hamauzu (Final Fantasy XIII, SaGa Frontier 2) on the soundtrack. And if that title isn't a jab at Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's fondness for sagas and odysseys and last stories, I don't know what it is.

D4 IS A BIG SURPRISE
One of last week's most pleasant shocks technically wasn't at the Tokyo Game Show. Microsoft abruptly announced that D4, the bizarre adventure game from Deadly Premonition's Swery65, would debut September 19. The digital first-season of the episodic game runs about fifteen bucks, and…well, it's weird.

D4, or Dark Dreams Don't Die, follows detective David Young as he investigates his wife's untimely demise. He does this by examining objects and psychically glimpsing past events, and players use the Kinect for various timed mini-games and other events. It plays much like any adventure game where you progress by finding clues and picking dialogue options, but D4 observes no staid rules. David's first real challenge finds him picking through bad memories in his living room, drinking Kinect-aided coffee, and fending off a good friend who shows up to attack him in his kitchen and spit her pet rat into his mouth.

Swery65 was at the Tokyo Game Show, and he discussed the future of D4. The first episode has as much of a concrete ending as Swery wanted to give it, but it's possible for the story to continue with characters other than David in the lead role. As of right now, however, it's all David's story. And it's one of the most interesting things on the Xbox One.

THE VITA'S NOT DOING SO BAD, REALLY
Sony showed clips of Gravity Rush 2 at last year's TGS, but the sequel to Keiichiro Toyama's inventive action game wasn't even on video this year. The Vita didn't suffer too much in its absence, as Sony still backed Absolute Despair Girl: Danganronpa Another Episode, Phantasy Star Nova, Luminous Arc Infinity, and Gundam Breaker 2 for the system. For those who adored D3's giant boob-centric Onechanbara display, Marvelous had Senran Kagura Estival Versus and its imitation of Dynasty Warriors gameplay. It's coming to the PlayStation 4 as well as the Vita, and a multiplatform focus held true for many other games on the handheld.

For example, Kobajo's newly announced RPG Zodiac is headed to mobile devices as well as the Vita. It packs in music from Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII, Tactics Ogre) and a story from Kazushige Nojima (a bunch of Final Fantasies), and it promises attractive 2-D fantasy vistas and optional online multiplayer. Characters cycle through specializations based on the Zodiac, and those classes can change at the player's command, even during turn-based battles. It's out in 2015, through Kobajo hasn't announced its release outlook. It sure smells like a free-to-play deal, though.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

NATURAL DOCTRINE
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4/PS Vita
Release Date: September 30
Anca and Vasily: Don't Like Each Other At First
MSRP: $39.99/$59.99

Natural Doctrine wants to be special. It's not so much that the game capitalizes itself NAtURAL DOCtRINE or that it includes King Crimson's “In the Court of the Crimson King” as a credits-roller. It's more that it attempts a curious and fragile fusion of strategy-RPGs and delightfully vicious adventure games.

Natural Doctrine applies some of that vicious side in its storyline, which envisions a medieval world where most of humanity huddles in one massive city. Explorers set out into the untamed lands and fierce underworlds, usually so they can move up in the ranks of civilized society. Swordfighters Geoff and Vasily have this in mind, so they throw in with the restrained expedition leader Anca and head out to swipe Pluton minerals from rival species. They gradually gather allies and uncover secrets about the massive, rapidly evolving creatures called titans Gorians, with invariably tragic results.

There's more than a hint of Valkyria Chronicles in Natural Doctrine. Running around in limited ranges, characters claim a battlefield map square by square and pull off attacks when they're within range. Combat relies heavily on teaming up, and linked units create little stat-boost diagrams that look like the strategy-RPG outlines of a protozoan's life cycle. It's here that Natural Doctrine unveils its dash of Dark Souls cruelty: it's possible to hit allies with friendly fire, it's very easy for enemies to overwhelm you, and it's all over if even one of your party members dies.

Natural Doctrine offers little of Valkyria's cartoon appeal. It seems a Vita title at heart, so the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 versions hardly impress in appearances. There's a similar grind to the battles: protracted animations and repetitive voices are in abundance. Is there more to Natural Doctrine than this rough surface? If there is, you'll have to dig for it.

PERSONA 4 ARENA ULTIMAX
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Release Date: September 30
God: Possibly a Hidden Character
MSRP: $59.99

Ah, the shameless expansion set. The problem that fighting-game nerds want to have. After all, your favorite fighter has to be a success in order to get an enhanced reissue, and such gouging always brings another spate of adjusted moves and fine-tuning for the truly devoted fan to digest. So it's good to pay sixty bucks two years after you paid that much for the original Persona 4 Arena!

If Ultimax is a refried bean of a fighting game, it's at least not stingy. The roster plucks seven more characters from Persona 3 and 4, plus the obligatory Original Character. Persona 3 contributes Yukari Takeba with a bow and a pink Char Aznable outfit, Junpei Iori with a baseball getup, and the team of staff-wielding kid Ken Amada and general-purpose dog Koromaru. Persona 4 offers Margaret from the game's otherworldly limo, bratty stylepunk Marie, pop star and erstwhile announcer Rise Kujikawa (who really should've been playable before), and daffy but seemingly harmless detective Tohru Adachi. The new face in this whole mess is Sho Minazuki, who carries two swords and knows an awful lot about Ultimax's new mysteries. The cast of Persona 4 Arena remains intact here, and a bunch of characters have “shadow-type” alternate forms. Labrys, the adorable tough-talkin' android introduced in the original Arena, has three incarnations. Because she deserves them.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax also throws in a new storyline—two of them, in fact. As another inexplicable fog settles around Inaba city and another martial-arts tournament looms, Persona 4's Investigation Team plunges in to rescue their Persona 3 compatriots while the new Persona 3 arrivals face the possible re-emergence of a familiar antagonist. Indeed, the game's various combat improvements, including more cancels and Skill Boost attacks, may come secondary to the storyline for many fans. Persona 4 Arena had one of the most extensive plots among fighting games, and Atlus won't skimp in that department. Atlus isn't denying fans pre-order trinkets, either. Reserving the game gets you a Teddie punching bag and the first set of several tarot cards. You get the other sets by reserving other Persona games. Of course.

SUPER SMASH BROS.
Developer: Bandai Namco/Sora Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 3
Snake: SNAAAAAAAKE?
MSRP: $39.99

That's right, Super Smash Bros. doesn't come out here until October 3. I know, I know. It feels like we have it already, between the demo, the numerous leaks, and approximately nine million hours of footage from he Japanese version, most of it showing Luigi ramming his head into the side of Mega Man's stage.

Such spectacle is what Smash Bros. players enjoy. It's a goofily barbaric conglomeration of Nintendo characters filling the screen with their attacks and all sorts of secondary references. The lineup this time has the expected crowd from prior Smash Bros. titles (minus such favorites as Solid Snake and the Ice Climbers), and the Internet bubbled with speculation about the newcomers. So we'll see Dark Pit and Palutena from Kid Icarus Uprising, Bowser Jr and Rosalina from the Mario series, Greninja from some Pokemon thing, Little Mac from Punch-Out, Robin and Lucina from Fire Emblem Awakening, the Villager from Animal Crossing, the Wii Fit trainer, Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles, Pac-Man, Mega Man, and three different varieties of customizable Mii avatars. Oh, and the snickering dog from Duck Hunt. He's joined by a duck and an off-screen hunter, and none of them has a proper name. Some icons don't need them.

The 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. appears months before the Wii edition, and this portable incarnation brings out new modes for four-player online matches. The “For Fun” option is a free-for-all where the power-ups and levels are random, and the “For Glory” mode sticks to stricter, item-free fights and tournament brackets. Why would anyone wait for the Wii U version? Well, it'll be out-of-the-box compatible with Amiibos, Nintendo's insidious line of NFC figures that will unlock certain characters within the game and launch a collector craze to rival Skylanders and Beanie Babies. Perhaps you're best off avoiding that.


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


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