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The X Button
Absolute Values

by Todd Ciolek,

Still waiting for Fumito Ueda's The Last Guardian to come out? Worried that it wasn't shown at The Tokyo Game Show? Soon you may not care so much. Each major convention seems to bring a new game with a restrained palette, a gentle style, or looming, cooperative creature that recalls Ueda's Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and the forever-in-development The Last Guardian. We've already seen Rime, The Girl and the Robot, and Ori and the Blind Forest. Now we have Vane.

Vane's Tokyo Game Show trailer features many Shadow of the Colossus staples: realistic tones, entrancing music, a subtle link between a young hero and a mysterious beast, and a majestic wasteland unclouded by lifebars or numbers. There's a good reason for that, as some members of studio Friend & Foe worked on The Last Guardian before they started making Vane for the PC (and possibly other systems). Their exodus may suggest further rough sailing for The Last Guardian, but it serves Vane quite well.


Why did Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day take a while to reach North America? I suspect some behind-the-scenes quibbling. The game, a crazy-colored platformer about a fratricidal young assassin, is technically part of the Short Peace anime anthology that also includes Shuhei Morita's Possessions, Hajime Katoki's A Farewell to Weapons, Hiroaki Ando's Gambo, and Katsuhiro Ōtomo's Combustible. Those four chunks of Short Peace came out on domestic Blu-Ray and DVD in August, but there likely were licensing snags and changes of plans when it came to releasing it on the PlayStation Network.

Perhaps that's why Bandai Namco Games decided to sell Short Peace as a forty-dollar package that has all four films and Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day. There's no option to buy Ranko's title separately, and that's not good news for those who already bought the Sentai Filmworks version of Short Peace. At least the game's a unique piece of work. It finds Ranko whirling, slashing, and hoverbike-riding through side-view stages, accompanied by animated cutscenes and audacious manga sound effects. It's the sort of thing that might easily fly under the radar, so I hope that a few delays haven't doomed it.

Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day isn't the only game sneaking out. Nyu Media slipped The Sacred Tears TRUE onto Steam when a lot of people weren't looking, and it's another entry in the retro-RPG tradition. Developer AlphaNuts specializes in smartphone games (and not entirely family-safe ones, either), yet this appears to be their first Steam release.

The Sacred Tears TRUE has the RPG-maker look of many smartphone releases when it comes to overhead graphics, and its freshman-thief protagonists and Takashi Konno designs don't look to break many molds. However, the battle scenes show a decent diorama perspective similar to early Tales titles, and combat relies on cards for commands. That's a nice change from most of the menu-driven affairs jockeying around the retro-RPG landscape.

It's abundantly clear that SNK Playmore isn't what it used to be. The headstrong days of SNK's arcade showmanship are over, the Playmore rebirth has slowed, and the gorgeous The King of Fighters XIII is over two years old. So SNK Playmore keeps up appearances with pachinko and smartphone titles. Their latest repackages Samurai Shodown (yes, that's how they always spelled it) for mobile devices and…well, at least it's not a pachislot game.

Samurai Shodown Slash brings the old Neo Geo fighting game series into a scrolling run-and-attack affair, offering cute versions of Haohmaru, Shiki, Nakoruru, Galford, Charlotte, Hanzo, Genjuro, Ukyo, and others. There are weapons to upgrade and cameos from The King of Fighters mainstays like Mai Shiranui, Kyo Kusanagi, and Iori Yagami. I'm sure they'll cost extra. It's an interesting study for those who follow SNK's decline, but it might not come out here—at the moment, it's just for the Korean market. I won't miss this one if it stays overseas. Now, if SNK made a cute puzzle game based on The Last Blade, that'd be another matter.


Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PlayStation Vita

How about that Danganronpa, eh? It seems to be the biggest thing in visual novels since Phoenix Wright came to Los Angeles, and NIS America localized the second Danganronpa quite rapidly after bringing out the first one. Spike Chunsoft is not about to let a popular thing go to waste, so Danganronpa gets a spin-off. It's called Another Episode, and it's a different sort of game.

Nestled chronologically between the two previous games, Another Episode returns to that Danganronpa fondness for amoral, isolated teenagers. It follows Komaru Naegi, sister of the original Danganronpa's Makoto Naegi. While her brother got to attend an elite high school run by the murderous bearlike mastermind Monokuma, Komaru just finds herself locked in an apartment and denied any contact with the outside world. Her sequester ends when a robotic Monokuma breaks through her door. It's one of a veritable horde of two-tone bears overrunning the city, and Komaru soon learns of a creepy cabal of kids who want to slaughter the adult population. Well, it worked in all of those Children of the Corn movies, didn't it?

Komaru's best weapon in this mess is a megaphone-like Hacking Gun that turns her voice into varied attacks: she might fire electric bolts at the marauding Monokumas, or she might command them in a number of useful and self-destructive ways. Another Episode shuns the heavy conversations and cross-examinations of previous Danganronpas, and instead the game runs like a limited survival-horror action game as Komaru makes her way through a colorful and disturbingly abstract apocalypse. She also encounters Toko Fukawa, the frustrated author from the first Danganronpa, and the young writer can switch to her Genocide Jill persona during gameplay. Together they'll figure out just what happened and how it connects to the rest of Danganronpa…though it may be already clear to those who played the first game.

Import Barrier: It's not quite as heavy on the text as a full-blown visual novel, but there's ample dialogue. Besides…

Domestic Release: NIS America likely has Another Episode in its sights, though they can't confirm anything. While the heavy dose of graphic and disturbing child-centric violence makes it a riskier project, I suspect we'll see this localized before long.

Marketability: Monokuma is already on his way to merchandising, with plush toys and Nendoroids and carrying bags featuring the scheming, abusive little monster.

Developer: Tecmo KOEI/Nintendo SPD Group 4
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U

The most accurate translation of Fatal frame V's subtitle is The Black-Haired Shrine Maiden, according to those people who didn't squander their Japanese 101 classes arguing about Saber Marionette J or Galaxy Cyclone Bryger. This is far less inspiring than earlier embellishments of the name, which were closer to “The Wet Crow Shrine Maiden.” Not only did that sound more inventive, it was close to the actual gameplay of the latest Fatal frame.

Fatal frame V's squad of distressed citizens includes young medium Yuri Kozukata, abandoned girl Miu Hinasaki, and author Ren Hojo. Yuri has the uncanny and unwanted ability to see past events merely by touching objects, and her powers even go so far as to revive the dead. A client's request and an absent shopkeeper send her into the ominous Mount Hikami region. Miu heads there as well, seeking the mother who disappeared long ago. And Ren? He's just researching a new book. The Hikami area is admittedly intriguing: it supposedly spans the realms of the living and the dead, and suicides go there in the hopes that they won't return as malcontented ghosts. This being a Fatal frame title, the latter part of that legend clearly isn't True.

As with prior Fatal Frames, a ghost-sighting camera is the finest defense at hand. The Wii U's touch-screen controller functions as the lens and viewer, revealing horrors in ostensibly mundane surroundings. Photographing ghosts and their spiritual shrapnel damages them, and Yuri's ability reveals just how the wandering souls met their ends. Fatal frame remains a series all about slow suspense and the lurking unknown, and The Black-Haired Shrine Maiden adds to this a good amount of water. Downpours and waterfalls and rivers await throughout the Hayami wilderness, and getting wet increases a character's camera-based attacks while attracting more and more ghosts. It's also meant to make the heroines more alluring, as though they're putting on some drippy haunted car wash.

In fact, Fatal frame V aims for sex appeal more overtly than past gloomy photographic horror games. The game even includes Ayane from Dead or Alive, and she's debilitated to bring her in line with the less ninja-like characters. At least Tecmo KOEI made sure the cast moved faster this time around.

Import Barrier: The backstories and dialogue are all in Japanese, and an off-the-shelf Wii U is region-locked.

Domestic Release: Early reports had it that Fatal frame V would show up only in Japan, but official livestream footage hints that a localization may be in the works, possibly with the title Fatal frame: Oracle of the Sodden Raven. I like that title.

Marketability: Fatal frame seems on the up-and-up, as the new game arrives with a manga, a novel, and the announcement of a live-action film. Lots of video-game movies stall out, but I'd say there's a better chance for a Fatal frame flick than, say, Tim Burton's Mai the Psychic Girl musical.

Developer: Falcom
Publisher: Falcom
Platform: PSVita, PlayStation 3

If North America's Danganronpa games are dangerously near to catching up with their Japanese versions, there's no such neck-and-neck among Falcom's RPGs. XSEED Games and Carpe Fulgur labor long and hard on The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter, but Falcom is already deep into the second part of the distant follow-up Trails in the Flash. At this rate, we'll never get that long-awaited localization of Dinosaur for the FM Towns! Trails in the Flash plopped itself down at Thors Military Academy, a proud institution of the Erebonian Empire. It remains a land divided between snooty aristocrats and unprivileged commoners, and both classes mix in a special detachment of student-soldiers. The sequel picks up right after an assassination closed the first Trails in the Flash, and it adds new characters with Tovar Randonneur and Claire Rieveldt. Well, both of them showed up in the first game; Tovar as a member of the investigative Bracer Guild, and Claire as a captain in the Erebonian prime minister's Iron Breed division. But now they're playable party members. So are the secretive Altina Orion, the pyrokinetic McBurn (very funny, Falcom), the Emperor's daughter Alphine, and the armored warrior Dubarry, who has a feathery circlet that reminds me of Valkyrie Profile. Trails in the Flash II also brings in Lloyd Bannings and Rixia from Trails of Zero, the previous course on Falcom's The Legend of Heroes platter. This isn't a cameo, either, as Flash and Zero take place at roughly the same time.

Trails in the Flash II retains the original's varied approach to battles, where characters can attack rapidly, link up with fellow party members, and exploit the turns of battle. Players now have a little more freedom in what they can do outside of combat; enemies are again visible before you encounter them, and you can slash at them multiple times prior to the actual fight.

Import Barrier: There's plenty of text to go through, but the general exploration and combat is familiar RPG stuff. And the Vita and PlayStation 3 have no region lockouts to stop you.

Domestic Release: If there is to be an English version, it's a long way off. Once the Second Chapter of Trails in the Sky is localized, the translators have its third chapter, plus Trails of Zero and Trails of Blue, and then the first piece of Trails in the Flash to go through. But Falcom's preparing a Korean version!

Marketability: Falcom often goes for low-key promotions, so there's no Trails in the Flash anime or Coca-Cola bottlecap figures just yet. There is, however, a typically excellent Falcom soundtrack.

September brought potential Wii U savior Bayonetta 2 to Japan, and it'll be right along to North America later this month. The same cannot be said of the Vita and PSP's Bakumatsu Rock Ultra Soul, sequel to the rhythm game that inspired an anime series with its vision of rock-star samurai clashing in the last days of the shogunate. Ultra Soul even has a glammed-up Matthew Perry Jr., who styles himself a godlike music legend instead of an imposing foreign naval commander. Yet that won't get it a ticket to North America.


Developer: The Creative Assembly
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: October 7
Best Alien Toy: The Scorpion one that exploded
MSRP: $49.99 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)

I forever shall be a sucker for the Alien franchise. And the Predator franchise. And the Alien vs. Predator franchise. I am at best a casual fan when it comes to Star Wars and Star Trek and Batman and what have you, but I'll gleefully dig into whatever Alien or Predator detritus floats my way. This leads me and other Alien nerds to depressing places, and Sega and Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines is one of them. It's a miserable attempt at evoking the action-movie perfection of Aliens. Fortunately, Isolation chooses a different path.

Isolation seizes one of the few Alien movie characters not yet heavily extruded into comics and games and spin-offs. It follows Ellen Ripley's daughter Newt Amanda fifteen years after the events of the first movie. Searching for the flight recorder from her mother's ship, Amanda is stuck in the grimy confines of a deep-space trading station. She's hunted by her fellow humans, hostile androids, and…one creature.

Much like the original film, Isolation sticks to a single Xenomorph and a hardscrabble bid for survival. Amanda isn't a soldier with state-of-the-art firepower and an entire marine squad at her back; she's just a regular Weyland-Yutani worker in a horrible situtation. So the game leans on subterfuge. Amanda's forced to move slowly, stay aware of her surroundings, and avoid any sounds or routes that might give her away. She finds a motion tracker and improvises other tools, but any weapons she wields are largely ineffective against...that thing (I never liked calling them aliens). No mere fodder for a pulse rifle, the Xenomorph here is a fearsome, seemingly indestructible hunter much closer to the nightmare that H.R. Giger intended. That seems a nobler aim than the typical Alien vs. Predator shooter or Predator vs. Santa comic, and I hope it'll create more than just another regrettable sideshow.

Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 7
Best Attack: Bubblegum Slapshot
MSRP: $29.99

It's somehow comforting to know that a series like Tenkai Knights is airing on Cartoon Network. Robots are still a hard sell among North American anime fans, but kids never will want for goofy mecha cartoons that sell them toys. Tenkai Knights is part of a big international co-production foisting Spin Master construction sets on the youth of today, so it stars a foursome of grade-school boys who transform into squat Gundam-Lego hybrids. Maybe Doozybots was just ahead of its time.

Brave Battle puts its heroes through the paces of a side-scrolling action game. As the pint-size mecha scuttle through levels and defeat enemies, they'll amass parts (that look like Spin Master's Ionix blocks, of course) and upgrade themselves with wings, new weapons, and generally higher stats. The game also breaks out into one-on-one battles that play like a traditional 2-D fighting game, and characters can transform and invoke their larger, more powerful Titan modes during battle. Two players can take on the game together, and four can join in for competitive matches. It appears to be simple stuff, but I suspect I'd love it dearly if I were a seven-year-old pacing the building-block aisle of TOYS R US and looking for something just a little more serious than Bakugan Battle Brawlers.

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

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