The X Button - The Underexplored

by Todd Ciolek,

The previous X Button featured predictions for 2015. I thought about prophesying consumer frenzies over Nintendo's Amiibo toys, but I decided not to mention that. Because it's already happening. The third wave of interactive figures seems primed for scarcity, with GameStop closing reserve orders for the February release of the toys (including GameStop exclusive Shulk). That isn't the strangest Amiibo development, either.

A website called Nintendo Nuggets put up an interview with a determined Amiibo collector named Daily Dose. He's spent thousands on Amiibo toys already, and he vows to spend thousands more, particularly when it comes to Super Mario Galaxy's Princess of Space Rosalina and her star sidekick Luma. He does this not out of love, but out of hatred for the character and other Nintendo women (I can't imagine why). So he'll buy up Rosalinas in bulk and sell them at a profit to her fans.

It sounds like a prank, built on the same toy-scalper routine that's dominated since the Star Wars figure relaunch of the late 1990s. Only the Nintendo fan-baiting is remotely new. I doubt our collector is serious, anyway. Nintendo Nuggets took down the interview, and someone who truly hated Rosalina wouldn't directly support merchandise based on her. I wouldn't put too much stock in a single buyer creating a Rosalina shortage, at least not until we see hundreds of Rosalina Amiibo figures buried in the earth like the terracotta legions of an entombed emperor.

At the very least, this episode made me consider what video-game characters I truly, purely hate to the point of wishing doom to their related products. I can't think of very many. For example, I dislike Momoko from The King of Fighters and everything she stands for, but I'd never conspire to inflate toy prices just because of that.

NEWS

MEVIUS FINAL FANTASY MARKS FASHION FOOFARAW
Narrowly into 2015, we have the year's first big scandal about nothing. Square Enix's ambitious Mevius Final Fantasy aims to be the most impressive Final Fantasy yet seen on mobile devices, and that includes the typically bizarre fashion choices of the series. Its protagonist, yet unnamed, is a white-haired warrior in what appears to be an armor bikini. The the fact that it's a male character has raised some hackles among fans who find him repugnantly effete or gaudily presented.

It's amusing, of course, because the hero of Mevius dresses much like women regularly do in grandiose fantasy titles, with a hodgepodge of armor that showcases more flesh than it protects. Still, those familiar with Final Fantasy character design may wonder why anyone's complaining. Mevius Man's exposed sixpack and battle bib recall Vaan from Final Fantasy XII and Ashley Riot from Vagrant Story, both designed by Akihiko Yoshida (who reportedly starts with the ass first when modeling characters in-game). I don't really think too much of the Mevius design in terms of aesthetics, as it lacks the dusty medieval style and unique decoration of Yoshida's art. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary if Mevius Final Fantasy were, say, a visual novel named at the “otome” crowd. Yet I admit it's a rarer sight in a video-game mainstream often afraid of anything beyond the aura of a summer blockbuster or beer commercial.

And what about the rest of Mevius? Well, it dumps the player's avatar, minus memories, in the land of Paramatia and issues a vague quest to return hope to the realm. The rest of the game remains in “To Be Announced” mode according to its website, though you can read some promises from director Yoshinori Kitase. He's been part of many Final Fantasies, though fans prefer to remember him more for directing Final Fantasy VI through X than producing Dirge of Cerberus or Dawn of Mana. Frequent Final Fantasy scribe Kazushige Nojima is plotting out the game, and those (not really) contentious designs come from Toshiyuki Itahana, who helped out with characters on Final Fantasy IX and Lightning Returns. So Mevius evidently isn't some cheap mobile doggerel (though no Square Enix mobile title is cheap), and it stands a good chance at coming here, judging by the game's English website.

BRANDISH: THE DARK REVENANT WANTS TO BE A SURPRISE
Digital releases have a nasty habit of sneaking up on this column, and the first to do so this year is XSEED's Brandish: The Dark Revenant. It's out on the PSP and Vita right now for twenty bucks. Fans of older RPGs will recognize the game as the work of Falcom, esteemed makers of Ys, The Legend of Heroes, Popful Mail, Gurumin, and other series praised more often than Brandish. Not that Brandish and its first two sequels are necessarily bad as far as dungeon-crawlers do. They just have a strange way of showing it. Instead of rotating a character at the player's direction, the Brandish games rotate the surroundings. It's a confusing choice of perspective, and some players never adjust.

Brandish: The Dark Revenant remakes the original, finding adventurer Ares Toraernos stuck in a labyrinth full of the usual terrors: monsters, traps, stingy shopkeepers, and ancient secrets. Dogging his every step is Dela, a sorceress who wants revenge for her master's demise (and who wears even less than the Mevius hero up there). The 3-D overhaul of the game makes the player's viewpoint much smoother, though the challenge and action-RPG approach remain intact. Falcom also throws in the original soundtrack as well as the nice new one, and Dela gets her own subquest after the main story ends.

It's not a bad package, though I wish Falcom had revisited the first three Brandish games all at once. The third game had both Ares and Dela playable, plus the inadvisably orange-clad ninja Jinza and the sinewy martial artist Umber (whose name could be Romanized as “Amber” just as easily, but I'm not the one deciding these things). I expect we'll see the full cast only if Falcom rolls out a third Brandish remake.

XSEED REVEALS NEW LICENSES WITHOUT REVEALING THEM
Game companies just can't keep secrets these days. It's not their fault. Between trademark filings and rampant rumors, fans ferret out every new license before it's official. And sometimes companies invite this speculation. XSEED Games, for example, put out this New Year's card with tantalizing silhouettes pertaining to four mystery licenses. Let's see if you can guess what they are.

The answers, nailed down by fans shortly after the card went up, are Lord of Magna for the 3DS, Corpse Party: Blood Drive for the Vita, Onechanbara Z and/or Onechanbara Z2 for the PlayStation 3 or 4, and Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, which will probably be a Steam release. There are also four spots for which XSEED refuses to provide even hints, so it foretells a busy year in their catalog (addendum: it turns out they're just for decoration). Blood Drive returns to the cast of the original Corpse Party for a gruesome epilogue, while Onechanbara Z is D3's line of zombie-slicing action games. It most recently drew notice for a Tokyo Game Show booth where visitors played demos by sticking their heads inside the breasts of a giant standup of the series' bikini-clad heroine, Aya. I don't expect XSEED to try that here.

Lord of Magna remains the most interesting title revealed, I think. It finds the remnants of Neverland, the recently dissolved makers of Rune Factory and Lufia, at work on a hybrid of RPG and innkeeper simulation. The hero quests around while meeting spirit maidens who help run his inn, and its artwork plays to the virtual-girlfriend ideal a little more obviously than the cuddly Rune Factory games ever did. Neverland's former staffers aren't taking chances when it comes to today's RPG market.

LUFIA: THE LEGEND RETURNS TRUDGES ONTO THE 3DS
Speaking of Neverland, the developer's cult-favorite Lufia series makes a small resurgence this week. Lufia: The Legend Returns, a Game Boy Color RPG, arrives on the 3DS Virtual Console this Thursday. It's hardly the best of the Lufia games, but there's a story behind that.

Neverland started working on Lufia III: Ruins Chaser in 1998, planning out a full-blown PlayStation RPG with a cast of adventuresome heroes and heroines. Natsume, the North American publisher for most Lufia games, even hyped it for a domestic release well before it was finished. Then Neverland's publisher and business partner Nihon Flex went under, and things changed. Lufia III slimmed itself down into Lufia: The Legends Returns, a Game Boy Color RPG with far humbler surroundings. It's not a terrible game: the story shows director Masahide Miyata's fondness for quarrelsome leads, and there's a lot to see. Unfortunately, it tried to cram a grand-toned RPG and a randomly generated dungeon-crawler into a handheld game that can't quite handle either. But take heart, Lufia fans: it's a lot better than Lufia: Ruins of Lore.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: DECEMBER

FINAL FANTASY EXPLORERS
Developer: Racjin/Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Square Enix hasn't made many deliberate stabs at the multiplayer melee genre popularized by Monster Hunter. That's probably because Square Enix has Final Fantasy XIV to fulfill the need for ganging up on giant creatures with the help of friends and strangers. But an online RPG lacks that immediate, portable, grab-and-play appeal of a Monster Hunter or Gods Eater Burst (which, I will remind readers for the eight billionth time, is my favorite Monster Hunter clone). Final Fantasy Explorers is built for that slot.

Explorers should not be mistaken for one of those melodramatically plot-driven Final Fantasies. It sets a player-created character free to hunt crystals on the monster-filled aisle of Amostela. There's a central arc to play for about ten hours, and once it's over players can explore the real meat of the game. Square Enix counts on multiplayer to drive the game, as characters gather in four-person groups to tackle quests and monster hunts. The typical Final Fantasy job system is in effect, so characters can gain abilities as Knights, Monks, Geomancers, Dragoons, Ninja, Blue Mages, Machinists, and…oh heck, a whole mess of skillsets. Also typical are the cameos: when party members flash into their special Trance mode attacks, they might temporarily morph into Cecil from Final Fantasy IV, Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, or Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII. Or you can dress your character as a familiar Final Fantasy hero or heroine for an extra charge. Of course.

Final Fantasy Explorers ventures outside of Monster Hunter's template a little, and it doesn't always find something better. For one thing, there's a lot of ground to cover, and dashing uses the same action-point meter that fuels a character's attacks. Perhaps Square will release an upgraded version, as they so often do. I just hope it doesn't keep developer Racjin from making that long-anticipated sequel to Trap Gunner.

Import Barrier: The 3DS is region-locked, and menus and dialogue are all in Japanese.

Domestic Release: Square Enix said nothing official, but the company filed trademarks for the game in North America and Europe. True, they did the same thing for Final Fantasy Type-0 five years before releasing it here, but I still wouldn't jump on an import too readily. Square Enix might even fix some of the flaws with a domestic version.

Missed Opportunities: It doesn't let us play as actual Final Fantasy characters, even though we can dress as them. It's all right, Square. No one's going to cry about canonicity if Cyan, Quina, Penelo, Sazh, and Rydia all end up hunting monsters on the same island.

GUNDAM BREAKER 2
Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: PS Vita/PlayStation 3

The Gundam Breaker games are about Gundam in its most mercenary sense. They don't bother so much with orbital colony politics or the robot-backed wartime horrors they inspire. No, Gundam Breaker cuts right to the reason the whole franchise persists after three decades: toys. It's all about building your own mobile suit from bits and pieces of mecha just as you might snap together a Gunpla kit. In fact, Gundam Breaker makes it much easier than fitting parts and sanding off the nubs and putting little details on with one of those pens. Here it's just a matter of fiddling with menus.

Gundam Breaker presents its toy playpen as a battlefield brawler. While not as heavily stocked with enemies as Dynasty Warriors Gundam, the stages offer plenty of opportunities to show off the player's chosen robot. Turning and moving is easier than it was in the first Gundam Breaker, and each mecha has greater choice in its Awakening attacks. Robots can ride vehicles now, and the game stays true to the idea of scaled robo-toy bosses. Humble 1/100 scale mecha are foot soldiers, but the larger toys like G Gundam's Devil Gundam and Victory Gundam's Adrastea rolling battleship fill the stage with their expensive and complicated frames.

Of course, the allure of Gundam Breaker lies in its sheer variety of parts. Bandai promised 100 varieties of arms, legs, backpacks, and other major Gundam components, so players can customize just about any piece of space-mecha hardware. And that goes a long way with some Gundam aficionados. An occasionally sluggish framerate and somewhat simple gameplay are small prices to pay for outfitting a Beargguy's body with Gundam Alex's minigun arms and Gundam Double X's cool wing-laser whatsits.

Import Barrier: Not so bad. You might not take in all of the minimal storyline, but the Gundam-building is just a matter of trial-and-error.

Domestic Release: Minimal chances, but hey, Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn made it over here.

Missed Opportunities: Not many when it comes to Gundam toys, though I still wish it included all of the oddball G Gundam pieces, like Mermaid Gundam and the windmill-based Nether Gundam.

SEGA 3D FUKKOKU ARCHIVES
Developer: Sega/M2
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Sometimes it's nice to have a physical version of a game. I think that holds particularly true when it comes to classic reissues. If one likes a game enough to revisit it and enjoy it years down the road, it's worth having in material terms. So Sega fans, devoted as they often are, will find much satisfaction in displaying their shelved titles like a Criterion set while they recline by the fireplace and swirl some expensive cognac around in an old Sonic glass from Burger King.

Sega's 3D Classics line is like that. It's a series of exceptionally sharp revisions of cherished old games, undertaken by the meticulous M2. They're cosmetic enhancements, yes, but they use the handheld's 3-D capabilities very well. Space Harrier and Out Run look particularly good, as they played off a 3-D sense of vision anyway. The 3D Fukkoku Archives release doesn't have all of the titles from the 3D Classics line, but has Space Harrier, Out Run,Fantasy Zone, The Super Shinobi III (which we call Shinobi III), Ecco the Dolphin, and Bare Knuckle (that'd be the original Streets of Rage). Missing are the 3D Classics versions of After Burner II, Thunder Blade, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Hang-On, Galaxy Force II, and Altered Beast. I suppose Sega's holding them for a second anthology, though I maintain that Thunder Blade didn't really deserve a 3D revision in the first place.

Import Barrier: All of the games are immediately playable even if they're in Japanese. All you need do is get around the lockout. Then again…

Domestic Release: …You could just get the North American editions. The first round is available on the 3DS eShop right now, and the second wave arrives with After Burner II very soon. An imported boxed set is probably the domain of elite Sega devotees, but I know they're out there. Someone must like Out Run that much.

Missed Opportunities: Sega has many precious old games that could use 3-D overhauls, and I hope that M2 is eyeing Golden Axe, Streets of Rage 2, the original Phantasy Star (it had great 3-D mazes), and perhaps even Gunstar Heroes, if Sega can work out the rights. And why aren't the SeHa Girls in this?

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

RESIDENT EVIL HD REMASTER
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PC (Steam)
Release Date: January 20
Most Wanted Extra: Trevor's Playable Skeleton
MSRP: $19.99

We kidded ourselves about the original Resident Evil back in 1996. We groaned over the live-action introduction. We laughed at the halting, cornball acting. We mocked the strange puzzles. We fussed over the awkward controls. But beneath all of that, Resident Evil scared us. It might've been something as cheap as a dog jumping through a window or a spider the size of a pool table scuttling up to us, but it worked. Resident Evil, stiff and crude as it was, deserved to launch the entire video-game breed of survival horror.

The Resident Evil remake, released on the GameCube in 2002, took out a good deal of the silliness. It remains cheesy in its horror, but everything goes smoother. The members of the STARS police unit look cooler and sound like real actors, and the mansion that traps them is beautifully detailed in its grimy, ill-lit foreboding. It preserves all of the good design choices from the PlayStation original (including the ingenious load screens that show doors creaking open), and it adds various little enhancements. Protagonists Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield get new close-range attacks to go along with their pistols and knives and shotguns, and some of the original game's puzzles are different. The remake also uncovers a subplot removed from the PlayStation title, and that introduces a new and disturbing enemy. In some ways, I prefer the rougher edges of the original game; like a low-budget horror film, the first Resident Evil had a ramshackle charm to it. Yet I can't deny the remake's superior look.

Capcom's HD remastering aims to make a gorgeous game look even better. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions run in 720p, while the Steam, Xbox One, and PS4 editions run at 1080p. The Wesker's Report clip collections are among the extras, as are Chris and Jill's more modern BSAA outfits. It seems superficial, but Resident Evil can't improve too much more without becoming less scary.


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


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