The X Button
Zest for Life

by Todd Ciolek,
GameArts doesn't make much noise these days. GungHo Online Entertainment took over the company years ago, and they seldom bring up the Lunar games, the Grandia series, Thexder, GunGriffon, or any GameArts series other than Ragnarok Odyssey. Yet the powers that be at GungHo haven't forgotten entirely, and to prove it they put up a poll about old GameArts titles.

The poll lists titles from the GameArts catalog, asks about our all-time favorites, and, most interestingly, wants to know which one we'd like to see ported to the PC. If you've ever wanted to demand more Lunar or Silpheed (or even Grandia, which I never really dug), here's your shot.

After a good minute's thought, I voted for Alisia Dragoon, an innovative side-scroller from the Sega Genesis. I like the Lunar games, but I think they've run their course. The first two of them form a neat little RPG saga with few loose ends. Like the Ghibli films that inspired them to some point, the Lunars need no more sequels to chase them.

Alisia Dragoon, on the other hand, could use another visit. Alisia's multi-target lightning spells and strategically raised pet dragons would work well in a modern game, and the original's stage design always seemed to stretch beyond straight lines. So let's have more Alisia Dragoon. Lunar will keep.

NEWS

IDEA FACTORY ANNOUNCES AMNESIA: MEMORIES, YET MORE NEPTUNIA
Idea Factory has an obvious stake in the "otome" market of dating sims and visual novels. After all, the company maintains an entire label called Otomate, and it's dedicated to filling games with gorgeous male love interests and heroines of widely varying passivity, all aimed ostensibly at female players. Yet Idea Factory International hasn't localized any of these games just yet, preferring instead to let publishers like Aksys take up titles like Sweet Fuse. That will change in August, when Amnesia: Memories appears on Steam and the Vita. Digitally only, of course.

Seizing a common plot device, Amnesia: Memories gives players a blank slate for a heroine. She remembers little, but she has a handsome friend named Orion to help her recovery, and he isn't the only pretty sight in the game's cast. So goes a tale of a young woman finding out who she was and whether she still wants to be that person. Her journey is guided by measurements of Affection, Trust, and Suspicion, as she's hiding her affliction from many of her alleged male friends. Such interactions flow like the typical visual novel, but she'll also play rock-paper-scissors games at times.

Mindful of their bread and butter in the West, Idea Factory International also locked down releases for more Hyperdimension Neptunia games. The series began as an RPG where personified game consoles became high-tech superheroines and had comical, risque, and often disturbing misadventures. It branched out into other genres, however, and the latest offshoot is Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed on the Vita. It drops the system-girls into an action game courtesy of Tamsoft, makers of the OneChanbara series, the old Toshinden games, and the underrated Saturn shooter Steamgear Mash. That one could use a sequel, but the world clearly prefers more Neptunia. They'll get it when Action Unleashed comes out May 19.

Steam also gets new Neptunia titles, or at least ports of remakes of the second and third games. Re;Birth 2: Sisters Generation appears May 19 and Re;Birth 3: V Generation comes in the fall. The first Re;Birth is already available on Steam, for those who've dodged the Neptunia virus so far.

FALCOM DECREES A STATELY PLEASURE-GAME IN TOKYO XANADU
The original Xanadu is an influential old PC game and a cornerstone of Falcom's RPG catalog. So naturally it has sequels and spin-offs, from the PC Engine's The Legend of Xanadu to the PC's more recent Xanadu Next. Tokyo Xanadu, a Vita game due out in Japan this September, is part of the series in that odd nomenclature that Falcom so loves, but it's dramatically different from the company's typical fantasy-themed creations.

If it differs from Falcom's usual motifs, Tokyo Xanadu is still an awful lot like every other urban-Japan RPG about teenagers and hidden dimensions. Its protagonist, one Kou Tokisaka, has his high-school life warped when a pretty and perfect transfer student named Asuka Hiiragi turns out to be at war with a realm called Other World. This pocket reality is filled with labyrinths and dominated by creatures called Greed, and Kou's drafted into the war alongside Asuka. Their fellow teenagers Sora and Yuki join them on their nightly dungeon crawls, as they try to protect a Tokyo still in shock from a massive earthquake. And they all carry fancy mobile devices called…Xiphones.

It sounds like a duller version of Persona, but Tokyo Xanadu is very much a Falcom game. An action-RPG superficially reminiscent of the company's recent Ys titles, Tokyo Xanadu grants each of its heroes a different specialized Soul Device. Kou has an extending whip-blade, Asuka carries a sword, Yuki has a hammer, and Sora uses gauntlets in her hand-to-hand attacks. Yet they're not limited to these roles; each of them has different “Skills” that correspond to Power, Shooting, and Aerial. This plays to Falcom's knack for fast-paced, complex action in their RPGs, and that's reason enough to hope this extends past Japan. Given XSEED's large backlog of voluminous Falcom titles, however, Tokyo Xanadu should grab something from the snack machine while it waits for a localization.

BANDAI NAMCO'S GLOBAL GAMERS DAY: PART TWO

It made surprising sense for Bandai Namco to hold Global Gamers Day in the throbbing Vegas aorta of New York New York. Just as the casino industry draws cultural staples and turns them into slot machines and gaudy décor, Bandai Namco's 2015 lineup thrives in well-charted territory. Most of the games shown were based on anime properties, real-life racing licenses, Japan's third-biggest RPG line, or one of the most recognizable monsters in film history. In that light, it's a promising selection. Last week I ran down some of the newly announced games, and this week brings me back into more obvious Bandai Namco selections. And Godzilla.

GODZILLA
Making a Godzilla game is a challenge. The giant beast himself is rarely agile, after all. He's a lumbering, fearsome tide of destruction, and any game about him should reflect that. That's why so many Godzilla games fall victim to deliberately sluggish controls and pacing. Producer Shunsuke Fujita knows this, and he's tried to keep Bandai Namco's Godzilla title faithful to the films without crippling compromises. The cast already has a playable lineup that includes expected recruits like Space Godzilla and Gigan as well as lesser-knowns like the robotic Jet Jaguar. Fujita won't rule out any Godzilla character, not even Godzilla's nephew Godzooky.

“I didn't even ask for Jet Jaguar,” Fujita says. “I went into the office and saw him on the screen and I couldn't say no.”

The demo stage stuck with Godzilla, who stormed Tokyo and took on both Mechagodzilla and King Ghidorah while helicopters peppered him with gunfire. The full game allows players to control any of the available monsters and evolve, growing larger as enemies go down. The destruction isn't free, of course. As buildings fall, those pesky humans mount fiercer defenses. Should the player want to build Godzilla into a protector and friend to all children, the game allows monsters to turn face—so long as it doesn't go against the films' established tone. And for a further cinematic touch, players can unlock camera angles that simulate a humble civilian's view of the chaos.

The sole problem is Godzilla's speed. He moves with the accurate gait of a huge, city-wrecking monster, and players turn him with the shoulder buttons. It's an awkward approach, and Godzilla can't dodge attacks very easily. It's a little too much like the films in its effect, even if that's the whole idea.

“The whole thing is aimed at making it look like the movies,” Fujita says. “When you want to go in a certain direction, it's important that you don't have to worry about which direction Godzilla is facing. We tested it out using the stick alone for controls, and it was very confusing. As you play the game, I think you'll come to realize why we went with that.”

Moreover, a quicker Godzilla might recall his worst cinematic moments instead.

“Godzilla is not a super-fast monster,” Fujita notes. “If we had him running, it would be like the 1998 film.”

Godzilla seems the sort of game for fans to champion. The controls may stymie casual players and critics, but the cast alone seems to be enough for ardent followers of Godzilla. It'll also improve for the PlayStation 4 release in North America, which has an online multiplayer mode absent from Japan's PlayStation 3 version.

TALES OF ZESTIRIA
Tales of Zestiria isn't a direct sequel to anything, but the Tales games have many things in common. They're remixes of RPG cliches: steadfast heroes, mystic or conflicted heroines, ancient civilizations, prophecies, spirits, betrayals, and self-sacrifice. Oh, and lots of newly coined, perplexing fantasy terms like exsphere and spyrix and bodhi blastia.

If nothing else, Tales of Zestiria's opening moments keep the game's vocabulary at a comprehensible pace. Hackneyed, but comprehensible. As chipper protagonist Sorey and his dyspeptic friend Mikleo explore a floating ruin, it's easy to surmise from their dialogue that Seraphim are a powerful, insular race, humans are their spiritual inferiors, Hellions are monsters, and Shepherds are rare avatars of Seraphic power. This spawns an argument when Sorey and Mikleo find an unconscious human in the sky fortress. She's a spearfighter princess named Alisha, and she's all too eager to follow her rescuers back to their Seraphim village, no matter the trouble that may cause.

Another portioned-off Global Gamers Day demo set Sorey and even more companions loose in fields and towns. In contrast to the focused alleyway design of the Tales of Xillia titles, Zestiria offers wide areas to explore. Enemy encounters take place in those same areas, with no need for a battle sub-screen. The Fusionic Chain Linear Motion Battle System, as it's known, further sharpens the Tales idea of letting characters roam around freely and turn combat into big, button-mashing, semi-confusing melees. Zestiria tracks character combos and special moves with the Spirit Chain meter, while a Blast meter allows for attacks and healing. That's all typical Tales stuff, though Zestiria adds shapeshifting to the mix. Sorey (and apparently one other character) can morph into different elemental forms by combining their essence (innocently, I'm sure) with a Seraphim party member. The resulting celestial warrior feels like an all-new character as far as combat goes.

Battles are one thing Tales titles usually do well. Character interaction is another. Tales of Zestiria's cast is affable enough in their conversations and post-battle chatter, though any RPG veteran has encountered these people before. Even in limited demos, the archetypes and their target audiences are apparent. Sorey has a gentle enthusiasm, Mikleo is his super-serious companion, dutiful Alisha is armored everywhere but her thighs, Edna carries a parasol into combat and thinks everyone else is weird, and Lailah does her fangirl duty and finds Sorey and Mikleo's friendship just adorable. The English voices sounded competent, and the entire localization appeared rather far along for something not coming out until the fall. I only question the translator's decision to call the standard-issue rodent enemies “marmots.” Real marmots are not fearsome. They're made of fat and fur, like naturally occurring footballs ready to be punted.

Perhaps Tales of Zestiria will break from the norm later in its quest. Yet everything shown suggests the same standard of likeable characters and cheerful combat in familiar packaging on the PlayStation 3. I can't deny that it appeals to me with the same comforting sense of routine as my favorite sandwich at Panera Bread, but I suspect those demanding a genre revolution won't find it here.

ONE PIECE PIRATE WARRIORS 3
One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 hopes to be all things to One Piece fans. Its primary stretch covers the storyline from the start of the Romance Dawn plot to the current Dressrosa arc, and the characters lineup swells to include Fujitora, Shanks, Sabo, Donquixote Dflamingo, and a few that Namco Bandai didn't reveal just yet. Producer and director Hisashi Koinuma hopes that it pleases fans who found the first Pirate Warriors too hard and the second too slight on storyline.

“We tried to reproduce all of the storylines available,” Koinuma says. “As fan service, we also implemented more collectible aspects. It's not a true ending, but we believe that One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 is pretty much the grand finale.”

Yet the playable offering of One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 felt much like games before it. Even with Sabo and his pipe attacks available, it was all too simple to pull off elaborate moves and pile up defeated foes—here denoted as “K.O.s” to preserve that One Piece civility. Team-up attacks with partnered characters were never more than a button press away, and the stage layouts rarely ventured beyond wide arenas. At least the game's journey to the PlayStation 4 and Steam service allows more of that space—Koinuma estimates that the more advanced systems can put over 200 enemies on the screen at once.

I've realized what I want from the Warriors games, be they Dynasty Warriors 9 or Fist of the North Star: Tough Boy or Dynasty Warriors Gundam 0080 or the latest One Piece: Pirate Warriors. I want save points every five minutes. Warriors games are generally pretty good for quick, therapeutic violence, but that allure usually fades once you've slashed and pounded a few hundred enemies—which takes about five minutes in the rapid chaos of a Warriors battle.

J-STARS VICTORY VS+
There are times when a video game is the greatest possible friend to a manga or anime series. Chinyuki –Taro to Yukai na Nakama-Tachi- is a good case study. The series never saw release in North America, and protagonist Taro Yamada's grotesque man-baby look isn't in line with what fans really want on these shores. Thanks to J-Stars Victory VS+, however, Taro will meet players across the country. He's one of 52 characters in a Shonen Jump lineup that ranges from the days of Dr. Slump and Fist of the North Star to the current runs of Assassination Classroom and Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan.

“We didn't want to cut off the old series,” says producer Koji Nakajima. “But in order to develop the game, we had to stop somewhere, so I prioritized the most popular series. I think that most of the Western audiences didn't know about Chinyuki, but this comic was very popular in Japan. I was reading it.”

J-Stars Victory Vs+ gives players plenty of room to hash out long-term manga grudges. Instead of a two-dimension fighter, it's closer to the wide arena brawls of Power Stone or Anarchy Reigns, and they allow three-character teams to attack with both long-range moves and elaborately animated specials. The game proves visually impressive in turning disparate manga styles into superficially similar characters, and it's easy for defeated characters to bounce back into things. The stages are simple, and the game's more concerned with giving up to four players their pick of manga heroes, whether they're from Hell Teacher Nube or Gin Tama. To that end, fans shouldn't hope for drastic rebalancing in the North American versions (which span the current PlayStation family). When asked if Ichigo's attacks will be toned down, Nakajima responds that the characters are already balanced in terms of stats.

And what is Nakajima's favorite manga outside of Shonen Jump? After thinking about a safe answer, he replies, “Terra Formars. The one about cockroaches.”

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

OMEGA QUINTET
Developer: Galapagos RPG (Compile Heart)
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: April 28
Minmay Unlockable: Unconfirmed
MSRP: $59.99

Decades ago, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross taught us all that frilly pop stars can bridge cultural gaps and save the world from alien invasion. Omega Quintet refuses to argue with that. It finds the human race whittled down to a lone city, with the rest of the world devoured and mutated by the Blare. A monster-filled musical version of The Nothing from The Neverending Story, the Blare seeps across the land. The only balm: a pack of magically empowered idol singers--or Verse Maidens, as the game labels them.

As is consistent with the actual pop-idol industry, the stars of Omega Quintet aren't the ones in charge. The player controls Takt, childhood pal and bodyguard of neophyte Verse Maiden Otoha. Her bandmates are the uptight Kyouka, the rambunctious Kanadeko, the fretful Nene, and the bizarre veteran Aria. All six of them quest forth to destroy the Blare, and along the way they'll contend with creatures, middle-aged fans, and, of course, inter-group histrionics. Then one of them leaves the band and is stalked by an anonymous weirdo whose predations fray her sense of reality. Wait, that's a different pop-idol story. Sorry.

Takt may get the cover center and the status of player avatar, but Omega Quintet puts its five pop stars at the core of the battle system. They wander mazes and encounter monsters, and the resulting combat requires characters to attack, help each other, and stack the turns of combat to their advantage. The quintet also uses their music for extended Harmonics combo attacks (which scale well past the 10,000 damage mark) and impromptu concert battles where the audience feedback influences the conflict. This being a Compile Heart creation, the heroines' costumes shred as they take damage, which in turn plays badly with the city-wide crowd. And heaven help the player if the public finds out that one of the idols has a boyfriend…

ALSO AVAILABLE:
XSEED gives Steam, Good Old Games, and the Humble store a version of Ys VI: The Ark of Naphistim next week. It's an often overlooked spot in the Ys series, and not just because the title sounds like some drunken chronicler slurring the actual name of a made-up fantasy realm. It lacks the influence of the first three Ys games or the multi-character parties of Ys Seven and the recent Ys: Memories of Celceta. Yet Ys VI helped the series regain standing in North America when Konami released it for the PlayStation 2 and PSP years ago. Like most Ys titles, it's a solid game with a humdrum story. XSEED's release features a new translation and widescreen support, and it runs $19.99. Now all we need is an Ys V remake, but no one seems to like it enough.

An obscure import arrives on the 3DS eShop with Karous: the Beast of Re: Eden. Some may remember the vertical shooter Karous from its appearances on the Dreamcast, Wii, and Xbox 360. Others just remember that the game's developer, Milestone, went bankrupt after its president was arrested for illicit security exchanges. This new Karous is a snack-sized shooter, letting players equip their ships with bombs, swords, and standard guns before they jet through brief, overhead-view stages that branch off into differing plotlines. It seems intriguingly complex for a seven-dollar eShop shooter.


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


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