The X Button - Disposable Heroes

by Todd Ciolek,

I mentioned the Power Team last week. It's not a very good cartoon, and it's notable mostly because it gave animated exposure to some video-game characters destined for obscurity. So perhaps I should cover an older cartoon of slightly more merit.

It's true that the Dragon Quest series never caught on in North America even half as well as it did in its native Japan. For a short time in the early 1990s, though, the games had their place here. Enix localized the first four titles under the name Dragon Warrior, and Nintendo Power even gave away the original game with subscriptions. That's probably why Saban Entertainment nabbed a Dragon Quest anime series and brought it over as Dragon Warrior.

Many American kids missed Dragon Warrior on the airwaves. Only 13 episodes were shown in syndication, after which it abruptly departed. Rumors have it that legal issues shut down the series (possibly because character designer Akira Toriyama wasn't properly credited), though I've never seen that confirmed. Whatever the reason, Dragon Warrior dropped off quickly in the English-speaking world, and it remained a bizarre memory until YouTube and tape-trading resurrected it.

It's not a bad show, either. Very loosely based on Dragon Quest III, it finds a hero named Abel and a heroine named Tiala caught up in a mystical prophecy and a reptilian warlord's schemes. Soon Abel forms a typical Dragon Quest party, and everyone literally levels-up as they adventure forth. The designs are cute, the animation's crisp for a late 1980s TV anime, and director Rintaro's competent hand guides most of the series. The dub ranges in acting quality, but the humor emerges intact. It's better the most of the cartoons that greeted kids in the early 1990s.

One might note that Dragon Quest's fortunes dipped in North America just as the related cartoon exited TV schedules. Dragon Quest V and VI went unlocalized during the Super NES era, and Final Fantasy usurped its role as the premier imported RPG series. Would the cartoon have helped? I rather think it would have. Dragon Ball Z sold Toriyama-style action to American kids less than a decade later. The Dragon Warrior show could've had the same success and spread it to the games. Every kid in America would've wanted a plush slime!

It's too late to matter now, of course, but it'd be nice to see more of the old series. Perhaps Saban dubbed additional episodes that never hit the air! Hunt those down, I say!

NEWS

AZURE STRIKER GUNVOLT GETS A SEQUEL, A TOUCH-UP
Azure Striker Gunvolt worried me. It was a solid side-scroller in the tradition of Mega Man Zero, and I hoped that it would do well for Inti Creates, especially after they gave away a Mighty Gunvoltmini-game along with it. Inti Creates won't abandon it, as they plan to reissue the original with enhancements on the New 3DS. New songs, faster play, and extra control options are among the minor tweaks.

Azure Striker Gunvolt apparently did well enough to get a sequel, as Inti Creates announced one at their Fan Festival in Shibuya last Saturday. Little was revealed apart from the fact that it'll be a 3DS game and it'll feature the masked fellow shown above. I think we can all conclude that he's really Casval Rem Deikun…or Milliardo Peacecraft…or Carozzo Ronah…or…

IntiCreates also announced another Gal Gun title. I found the premise of Gal Gun amusing: you're a high-school dope made irresistible by an angel's arrow, and you have to fend off adoring girls as you would zombies in a light-gun shooter. Of course, your weapon is a pheromone shooter that produces salacious results—so much so that the game has a button that'll switch the screen to an innocuous placeholder, just in case someone walks in on you playing. Perhaps the sequel will find actual comedy instead of excuses to entangle schoolgirls. I doubt it, though.

POPOLOCROIS FARM STORY ENTERS THE FRAY
We shall witness the Harvest Moon Wars later this month, when Marvelous and XSEED's Story of Seasons arrives and contends with Natsume's Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley. Yet another challenger awaits in the summer, and it has a heritage of its own.

Based on Tamori Yousuke's manga, the PoPoLoCrois games appeared on the PlayStation in Japan, and that's where most of them stayed. The first game's PSP version later made the trip to North America, but it attracted little attention. That wasn't entirely deserved. The games can grow tedious, but they have a cute look reminiscent of European cartoons—a look that suits a Harvest Moon title quite well.

The storyline in PoPoLoCrois Farm Story finds young Prince Pietro seeking a possibly mythic menace called the Dark Beast, and the journey leads through the four regions of Galariland. Each fief is locked into a different season; there's a village where it snows all year round, and it's not far from one lit by perpetual summer. Here the game introduces farming and livestock reminiscent of a Harvest Moon. It's no coincidence that it's backed by Marvelous, makers of the Harvest Moon series (except for Natsume's new, internally developed The Lost Valley). PoPoLoCrois Farm Story falls into the Marvelous camp in the Harvest Moon Wars, but it might not get to take a side. It's scheduled only for release in Japan this June, and the PoPoLoCrois name lacks allure on these shores.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: FEBRUARY

DORAMOJI: NOBITA'S MAJOR KANJI MISSION
Developer: Bullets
Publisher: Shogakukan
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
A.k.a.: Doramoji: Nobita no Kanji Daisakusen

A simple kanji-tutoring game normally wouldn't demand much notice. But this is a Doraemon kanji-tutoring game, and I always notice Doraemon. I realize that the Doraemon franchise is aimed at children, but I like the underlying ideas. It amuses me that Doraemon himself is a benevolent screw-up version of the Terminator (predating it, even), as he's a bargain-bin robocat sent back in time to help a pathetic boy become a better person. And now that Doraemon is airing on Disney XD, kids all over this nation can delight in Doraemon's trans-dimensional robot pouch and the inevitable minor chaos he creates. If I had children, I'd sit them down with Doraemon. They'd probably turn it off to watch Johnny Test or play Angry Birds, but at least I'd have tried.

DoraMoji also targets young audiences, as it's a guide for writing hiragana and kanji. The player (or rather, student) can test his or her writing in simple tasks or a more elaborate story mode where Nobita, Doraemon's young and frazzled charge, has to perfect his calligraphy in order to defeat monsters and solve whatever problem his blue cat-bot guest has caused. The 3DS stylus and touch-screen tests are timed and measured, but Doraemon isn't so harsh a taskmaster.

Import Barrier: While it's not hard to draw the lines needed, you'll need a little knowledge of Japanese to know what Doraemon wants you to create…and what you've done wrong. The 3DS also has a regional lockout.

Domestic Release: Very slim odds there. If any Doraemon game were to be localized on the 3DS, it'd be an action game like last year's movie-base Nobita in the New Haunts of Evil.

Usefulness: If translated, DoraMoji might provide a fun way for young players to learn about kanji. Of course, the Disney XD version of Doraemon has the usual mild Americanizations in its animation and character names, so it's not exactly out to promote Japanese language.

DRAGON QUEST HEROES: THE DARK DRAGON AND THE WORLD TREE CASTLE
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4
A.k.a.: Dragon Quest heroes: Yamiryu to Sekaiju no Shiro

It's strange how Nintendo's Zelda series beat Dragon Quest when it came to exploiting the market's fondness for Dynasty Warriors beat-'em-ups. Zelda always was a relatively straitlaced series, while Dragon Quest, the older of the two, had a broader history of enabling spin-offs like Torneko: The Last Hope and Rocket Slime. But Zelda sank teeth into the Dynasty Warriors developers first and tore off Hyrule Warriors last year. So Dragon Quest Heroes: The Dark Dragon and the World Tree Castle has to make up that lost ground.

Dragon Quest Heroes plays catch-up by imitating Hyrule Warriors and every anime given the Warriors treatment: draw favored characters from throughout the series and dump them into battlefields spilling over with easily pulped enemies. This being Dragon Quest, the enemies are the same monsters players encountered many times before in menu-driven battles. They'll face merry drackies, grinning slimes, squarish golems, goofy-eyed demons, leering cyclopses, and skeletons who dress pretty well for entirely defleshed corpses. And there's a lineup of playable characters with the same appeal. Warriors Act and Meya (Meer?) headline a list of half a dozen original new faces, but the lineup fills out with past characters. Martial-artist princess Alena, warrior-priest Kiryl, demonic swordsman Psaro, and dancer Maya hail from Dragon Quest IV. Archer Bianca and gentle rich-girl Nera were possible wives for the hero of Dragon Quest V. Swordsman Terry showed up in Dragon Quest VI and a Monsters spin-off. Lastly, sorceress Jessica and adorably loutish club-wielder Yangus come from Dragon Quest VIII. It's strange that the game skips Dragon Quest VII, less strange that it ignores most of the Dragon Quest protagonists. They didn't have much personality, anyway.

Heroes stocks itself with the same brand of excess seen in Dynasty Warriors, tuned for a Dragon Quest audience. Characters take on routine throngs as well as towering cyclopean giants in city streets, and their special attacks all seem extracted from the prettiest possible versions of their respective games. It's not uncommon for Maya to morph into a dragon and set a city block aflame, or for Yangus to whirl through several dozens slimes at once. Players can choose a party of four characters and switch from one to the other, and their assistants include monsters as well as privileged humans. Oddly, there's no multiplayer option.

Import Barrier: The battle gameplay requires little language comprehension, but the customization behind the scenes proves a little more complex.

Domestic Release: The PlayStation 4 version will arrive here later this year, but the PlayStation 3 game stays in Japan. Square Enix mentions that a localization would take longer if both releases were brought over. I wonder if similar reasons kept them from putting Final Fantasy Type-0 on the Vita.

Usefulness: Dragon Quest traditionally isn't a huge hit in the West, but a massive brawler might be a good introduction to the series.

GOD EATER 2: RAGE BURST
Developer: Shift
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita / PlayStation TV

The God Eater games remain my favorite things inspired by Monster Hunter. There are many multiplayer action games that pit friends and nearby strangers against lumbering creatures, but God Eater Burst (known as Gods Eater Burst to those of gentle religious constitutions) mixes everything just right. It frames its monster battles with a modestly compelling post-apocalyptic world, it introduces actual characters and plot twists alongside the player's avatar, and it moves everything along with a crisp pace. It alsI gives you a giant weapon that can change from a cannon to a blade to a huge pair of monster-jaws. That helps a lot.

God Eater 2 debuted on the Vita in 2013, and it enhances a lot of the original game's strengths. New weapons arrive, old ones improve, Blood Arts amplify combat, and sidequests develop specific characters in greater detail. It picks up three years after the original, introducing new characters (including some downright ugly designs) alongside the old ones. It's still not particularly deep in plot, but as a Monster Hunter clone it's among the best.

Rage Burst packs in the entirely of God Eater 2 and adds an extra chapter for the story as well as campsite scenes where characters chat (possibly about fate and time, as in Chrono Trigger). In gameplay, it offers customizable God Arc skill slots plus a new Blood Rage technique that lets characters move faster, hit harder, and sprout glowing wings. Technically, they activate Blood Rage by defeating enemies and building up a meter, but in narrative terms, they boost their stats by making contracts with their monstrous God Arc weapons. Fiction has taught us that we can trust inhuman, fang-sprouting creatures with our legal agreements.

Import Barrier: Aside from menus and dialogue, Rage Burst isn't hard to figure out if you survived the original Gods Eater Burst.

Domestic Release: Its chances are slightly better now that God Eater is on the PlayStation 4 as well as the Vita. Bandai Namco has said nothing, however.

Usefulness: It's an expansion pack, and thus a lesson in how the game industry works.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ATELIER SHALLIE: ALCHEMISTS OF THE DUSK SEA
Developer: Gust
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: March 10
Dilly Dallie: Shilly Shallie
MSRP: $49.99

Why do these Atelier games invariably put cute young heroines on their covers? If they're about ateliers, the box art should show nothing but the spread of an alchemist's workshop, with tinctures and phials and decanters bubbling in catalytic fervor! That's what the fans want to see! Or so I assume. Why else would they buy things with “atelier” in the title and alchemy in the gameplay?

Yes, I know that the Atelier games are about more than that. They're RPGs heavy on the item-crafting, and Atelier Shallie has a crisis more pressing than most of its predecessors. It finds the Dusk World caught up in a rapacious drought, and small bastions of civilization are worn down by doomed crops and famine. Here the player controls two heroines. Shallistera hails from a beleaguered clan and seeks an end to the suffering around her, and her story is a more grave quest that reveals mysteries of the world. Shallotte is an energetic alchemist who hunts for success and fortune, so her arc puts a more comical spin on a parched and dying land. The two meet eventually no matter who the player first selects, and their supporting cast includes warriors, thieves, magicians, a pilebunker-wielding girl, a foxlike homunculus, an even a thirty-something mother. Atelier Shallie is also the third game in a sub-trilogy, so one might see characters from Atelier Escha & Logy and Atelier Ayesha. I expect that the game will end with the heroines brawling over who gets the title of Shallie, much like the finale of Double Dragon.

Atelier Shallie sends its heroines out to wander fields, finding items and fighting monsters as they go. Shallistera uses a dowsing relic to locate treasures while Shallotte just pushes a broom around, and both of them drag their retinues into battles. Six characters can join in the turn-based battles, assisting other fighters and boosting their stats with that temporary Burst Mode that other RPGs seem to enjoy. Naturally, there's an elaborate system for crafting items, including weapons and armor, and that's once again a major draw of the game. So there's no need to stick it on the cover, I suppose. Fans know it's there.

CODE NAME: S.T.E.A.M.
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: March 13
Bonus: Cyborg Franklin Pierce
MSRP: $39.99

A special unit of historical and literary figures fighting aliens in a steampunk 19th century? That's not massively surprising, since you can find steampunk overhauls everywhere in comics, science fiction, video games, and webcomics that outfit Thomas Jefferson with a gear-powered helicopter backpack and call it a day. Yet Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. comes from Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, a team known for making decent strategy-RPGs and rejecting the trendy, begoggled, come-hither gaze of steampunk. So it was an unexpected sight at last year's E3.

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. takes players to a Victorian London where steam technology ushered in an age of automobiles and airships several decades early. After an alien invasion disrupts teatime, President Abraham Lincoln, complete with eagle-adorned battle garb and a looming zeppelin, recruits Captain Henry Fleming (from Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage) to head up an anti-alien task force. His fellow soldiers are heroic, clockwork-armored extractions from popular fiction: a cowardly lion-man, a combat falconer version of Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, and a kid named Tom Sawyer. I hope the final boss is The King in Yellow, but I doubt we'll go that deep.

There's greater promise in the gameplay. Instead of the battle-grid movement that Intelligent Systems used in Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, the soldiers of S.T.E.A.M. move freely within a limited range. Steam power (of course) determines just how characters maneuver or attack or use special abilities, and it's easy to take back moves before ending your turn. The game's Overwatch feature tracks the Steam that troopers still have after concluding their battle turns; should they have enough, they'll automatically strike at enemies within range. It's all dressed up in comic-book effects and cel-shaded graphics, and the game's steam-tech environments play into the flow of battle. The good designers of Intelligent Systems know their way around a strategy-game, and the Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. demo is promising. And perhaps there'll be some subtle satire in all the steampunk trimmings. Lincoln's eagle chestplate almost looks like a Nazi standard.

ORI AND THE BLIND FOREST
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox One / Windows
Release Date: March 10
The Great Owl: Not so bad
MSRP: $19.99

I have some bad news: The Last Guardian probably won't come out this year. We can hope for some surprise E3 unveiling that puts Fumito Ueda's elegantly restrained title as a September release, but the odds of that remain hazy. However, we'll see a number of games that give off that same ornate simplicity and gentle visual storytelling. Ori and the Blind Forest is the first of them.

In fact, Ori and the Blind Forest is not so heavily inspired by Ueda's games. One gets a distinct Shadow of the Colossus sensibility from the giant, steel-masked owl glimpsed in the trailer, but other sources come through much stronger. The creators cite Ghibli movies and The Iron Giant in their inspirations for the game's glowing forest environments, where a foxlike forest spirit sets out to find his proper place in the world.

Ori and the Blind Forest is a side-scroller at heart, and there it leans toward the Metroid formula. As its hero traverses caverns and treetops and labyrinths, new abilities present themselves and open new venues to explore. Ori can race up walls, deflect projectiles, and launch radiant beams at enemies—though his most useful ability may be a mid-air move that launches him off of hanging gems and enemy projectiles. The gameplay has a spritely, acrobatic look, and it seems to seldom break into long cutscenes. Perhaps it's not a Fumito Ueda tribute. That won't matter if it lives up to its looks.

TOKYO TWILIGHT GHOST HUNTERS
Developer: Toybox Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PS Vita / PlayStation TV / PlayStation 3
Release Date: March 10
Needs: A Gorilla Sidekick
MSRP: $39.99

As I continue seeing influences where they might not lie, I detect more than trace amounts of Persona within Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters. True, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters directly descends from director Shuho Imai's earlier Tokyo Majin games (you might remember the anime series if you have a penchant for obscure ADV Films licenses). Moreover, its kids-fight-demons premise was around in the larger Megami Tensei series well before Persona spun off. Yet I suspect that Persona's cult success made companies far more willing to localize unconventional games that pit teenagers against the supernatural. So you should thank Persona, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters.

You, or at least the protagonist you'll name, are a new student at Kurenai Academy, and it takes little time for you to discover that two of your classmates work a ghost-hunting trade. Class President Sayuri Mifune and academic genius Masamune Shiga are members of Gate Keepers (there's another flashback to forgotten anime series). They stake out haunted buildings and defuse the apparitions there. A good chunk of the game finds you talking with characters through the Sensory Input system. It adds emotional options as well as one of the five senses to your replies, and the combinations involve everything from collecting evidence to the inevitable romances. For their part, the character portraits show more vivid animation than the usual visual-novel cutouts, and some of the soundtrack comes from Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu.

Ghost hunts present a grid map of a building floor, and players have to arrange their characters to predict just when and where the spirits will strike. Once battles begin, the party faces down monsters in first-person combat. If the fights are more simplistic than other RPGs, the overriding strategic element seems stronger, and much of the challenge comes from positioning characters so they won't get slimed get the best possible angle of attack. It'll remind many people of Persona, but I suspect that's what Aksys wants.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition sharpens up 2013's contentious Devil May Cry reimagining for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Aside from sharper graphics and all previous downloadable extras, there's a new mode featuring Vergil, brother of cocksure protagonist Dante. Fans remain divided between those who disliked the game and those who just disliked the bratty new Dante, so here's another chance to pick a side.

You'll also find the third chapter of Resident Evil Revelations 2 in the usual places next week. If you can wait, though, the whole thing should be out in one lump on March 18.


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


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