The X Button How Suda Is Now
by Todd Ciolek,
Iwata's time at Nintendo saw many momentous things: the DS replacing the Game Boy family, the Wii breaking into the mainstream like few game consoles have, and Nintendo finding surer footing than it had known during the Nintendo 64 era. Moreover, Iwata became Nintendo's spokesman in many ways. Showing humor and humble charm in speeches and Nintendo Direct appearances, Iwata struck a genial contrast to his predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi. While Yamauchi had made Nintendo the sprawling company it was, his distant, disdainful, business-shark persona always clashed with the cuddly image projected by many Nintendo games. Iwata brought that appeal to Nintendo's highest position. He cut his salary twice when Nintendo was in danger of laying off employees. He led Nintendo conferences told through Muppets and action figures. He stared at bananas. He made us feel better about liking a company that, of course, exists to sell us games. And he reminded us that “above all, video games are meant to just be one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone.”
Iwata wasn't just a company bigwig, however. He was a programmer from the earlier days of game development, when he wrote a baseball game for his HP calculator. Working for HAL Laboratory, Iwata helped make Balloon Fight, NES Open Tournament Golf, and various Kirby titles. Even after he became head of HAL and began rising through the Nintendo ranks, Iwata continued to work his programmer instincts. He salvaged the cult favorite Earthbound when its code was a mess, and he expanded Pokemon Gold and Silver to include the entire Kanto area, broadening the game greatly in size. As he said in 2005, “On my business card I am a corporate president. In my mind I am a programmer. In my heart I am a gamer.” And while the term “gamer” may have been rendered laughable in some usage, it never seemed silly when Iwata said he was one.
Many in the game industry and outside of it offered heartfelt statements on Iwata's passing, but I like this one from comedian and Game Center CX host Shinya Arino the best: “Today's a day for playing lots of games together as a family until you can play no more, only to do it all over again tomorrow. And as we do that, those games will light up our rooms. That's how it should be. We can't keep them in the dark because in my mind, more than anything, that's what games are all about: keeping the house lit up.”
STREET FIGHTER V NEWCOMER INVITES AWFUL HAIR-THEMED PUNS
Street Fighter V spent most of its time covering the bases: it had Ryu, it had Chun-Li, and it had a bunch of other returning characters, the least obvious of which was Birdie. He hadn't been seen since the Street Fighter Alpha games. Now, shortly after introducing a redesigned version of Street Fighter mainstay Ken, Capcom rolled out an all-new character with Nicalli. Sporting a head full of dreadlocks and a brooding wildman disposition that makes him seem a more stoic version of Blanka, Nicalli uses his own crazed form of martial arts, which includes a ground explosion that the player can aim. He looks a little bit like Street Fighter III's boss Gill, but I imagine that's a coincidence.
Some might think that Necalli is based on such inescapable cultural avatars as Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz or Brendan Fraser's caveman character from Encino Man. Yet I wonder if Necalli and his shirtless, massively coiffed look come from Capcom's failed attempts at putting a Brazilian capoeira practitioner into Street Fighter IV. That game's official artbook has a section of rejected characters, and among them is Brazilo, a cheerful fellow with a lot of hair. Make him angrier and whiter, and you're halfway to Necalli.
The important question is this: if Capcom is digging into their unused character files from Street Fighter IV for the next game in the series, will they give Street Fighter V a new version of the previously rejected Mr. Canada?
I sure hope so.
RED ASH INVITES MEGA MAYOR ELECTION
I'm backing Red Ash: The Indelible Legend on Kickstarter. I understand if you're not. You probably can devise several reasons to avoid giving money to this reboot of the Mega Man Legends series, even if you're a fan. The Kickstarter has its faults: the mock-ups of the actual game are few, the price of a physical copy is a little high, and the Kickstarter's initial goal only funds the first chunk of the story. Plus the whole thing seems overextended by popping up before we even have Mighty No. 9, Keiji Inafune's reboot of the more popular central Mega Man games. But dammit, Red Ash is the closest we'll likely ever get to another Mega Man Legends, and the game's concept sounds like lots of fun.
Red Ash has its heroes raiding a huge walking mecha-city shortly before the local military hopes to destroy it, and the giant machine has a village of humans aboard. The Kickstarter asks supporters to vote on the Mayor of this imperiled town, and the candidates are defensively minded Natasha Mille, florist Elena February, 10-year-old economist Masha Sisenoch, and disciplinarian Alisa Primaya. I say vote for Natasha (left), whose willingness to take up arms in defense of her town sets her apart from the typical chickenhawk politician. That, and she looks the most like Mayor Amelia (right) from Mega Man Legends. That's comforting in this big, mean world of canceled games and potentially unsuccessful Kickstarters.
On the subject of Mighty No. 9, I played the game at the recent Comic-Con. It seems a solid Mega Man title with a dashing maneuver that adds an absorption feature to the side-scrolling gameplay and…well, makes it all feel a little like Mega Man X. So that's two renewals in one. And while Mighty No. 9 has a staff largely different from the people who hope to create Red Ash, it makes me a little more comfortable throwing money in the latter's direction.
ODIN SPHERE RETURNS, MIGHT BE BETTER
I wanted to like Odin Sphere. I liked Princess Crown, Odin Sphere's Sega Saturn predecessor, so when an even prettier game arrived on the PlayStation 2, I lined up for it. Yet Odin Sphere never sat right with me. It's a gorgeous thing, with magnificent artwork, 2-D animation, and a Norse mythology angle that pokes up in the storyline here and there. But the gameplay frustrated me all over. It's hard to control your character and track enemies that are frequently off the screen, and it's far too easy to take damage as a result. I disliked the repetitive stages, beautiful as they were, since the game had a bad habit of reusing bosses and scenery. But hey, I'd give it another chance.
That's pretty much what Odin Sphere: Leiftrasir is. It's no mere HD upscaling of the original game, but rather a recreation of the original with allegedly better gameplay systems. It's headed to the PlayStation 4, the PlayStation 3, and the PS Vita early next year, and I wouldn't be surprised if Atlus brought it West. So Odin Sphere fans can rediscover the game, and its critics can take another shot at liking cursed prince pookas and cooking mini-games.
INTERVIEW: GOICHI “SUDA51” SUDA
Goichi “Suda51” Suda pushed boundaries everywhere. From his earliest days at Human Entertainment, he worked depressing finales into wrestling games and turned the company's Syndrome series into a mind-warping psychological drama. After forming his own studio, called Grasshopper Manufacture, he made his mark on the worldwide market with the gruesome, convoluted layers of Killer7, seen by many as an exemplar of an art-house video game. He's also the one behind the more humorous No More Heroes titles, satires of pop culture in video games and beyond. In all of these things, Suda51 tries to put new spins on the field, and it's made him a cult hero.
Suda51 came to the recent San Diego Comic-Con to sign autographs, pose with fans (such as cosplayer Maddie Smith, pictured with him at right), promote publisher PIE International's new The Art of Grasshopper Manufacture, and appear at a panel called The Art of Japanese Video Game Development. Beyond hosting the panel, I caught up with Suda51 to ask a few more questions about his work and his affection for a certain cherished British pop outfit.
What sort of things inspired you when you were a kid? You seem to be a fan of Violence Jack, since the bag at the end of Moonlight Syndrome has “Violence Jack” on it.
Pretty much everything! As far as manga is concerned, Go Nagai and Doraemon. Yes, Violence Jack is definitely special. Nagai and Fujiko Fujio are probably my favorites. Nagai gave me a lot of energy as a child. It was really memorable. It was like a Spartan education!
And pro wrestling, of course! As far as movies are concerned, my mother preferred American movies rather than Japanese ones, so she showed me a lot of them. Superman, Star Wars…I saw a lot of them directly.
Would you say that Moonlight Syndrome was the first time you had a game all to yourself?
Because I couldn't give a lot of input for Twilight Syndrome, I wanted to put a lot into Moonlight Syndrome. Twilight was a horror game, but I thought that humans were scarier than ghosts. So that's why Moonlight Syndrome is psychological horror.
Moonlight Syndrome, Silver Case, and Flower, Sun and Rain are part of a trilogy called Kill the Past, united by a theme of people wanting to erase something in their history. How did you devise that?
For myself, I didn't really want to be dragged down by the past titles. I wanted to create something new each time. So I didn't want to pay attention to the past too much. That was all I wanted to do.
Is that why some of the characters from Moonlight Syndrome die in The Silver Case? And some from The Silver Case die in Flower, Sun, and Rain? Some fans believe it's sort of a tradition in your games.
Yes, if some fans feel that way, it's great. It's sort of intentional…but not really.
At the end of No More Heroes, a character who looks like Garcian or Emir from Killer7 shows up and gets offed rapidly. A lot of your fans wonder if this is really Garcian or just a lookalike. Do you prefer to leave it vague?
Vague is good, I think. [laughs] Garcian is definitely a good character, so I don't want him to die! It's nice to see them fight together, though.
You stopped that tradition after No More Heroes, though, because you haven't killed off Travis yet.
Well, I definitely want to see Travis again. Not just in the sequel, either. His life is really interesting, so I want to talk about his story again. I want him to grow up as I grow older. I'm not sure when it will be, but I want to talk about his life. So Travis is very important to me. I think he's the most loved of my characters.
Killer7 has a lot of themes running through, including the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. How has your opinion of that changed in the ten years since the game came out?
During the Killer7 project, I imagined what the relationship might be like in the future. So it's a serious theme. I think Japan is a country where we should never have a war, but I'm afraid there might be some incident where we have to go to war. But the key is definitely the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, and I know the treaty is changing drastically. And that's probably another reason why Killer7 is kind of important to a lot of people. The theme is not something that a lot of people talk about or use.
With the amount of creative freedom you had with Killer7, were there any ideas you had to leave out?
No, I think most of what I thought of is still in there. But if you want to go into detail, the riddles were originally a little harder to solve. So some of them were cut off.
Killer7 also suggests that its characters can't escape violence, even in the distant future. No More Heroes has some of that in its ending, as Travis can't escape people trying to kill him, but it's more lighthearted.
Yes, he'll have to keep fighting. But at the end of No More Heroes 2, Travis sort of escapes from his saga. In Killer7, though, that's definitely something I was trying to express. No matter how the two powers try to change, the individual saga will continue on.
So what might happen to Travis in No More Heroes 3? Will he continue to grow or fall back into his old ways?
My image is that he'd be living in a place where not many people would reach him, and it would be a peaceful life. And the story starts from there…
How did your original plan for No More Heroes change? It had a visual style similar to Killer7 in its original trailer, but the final game looked different.
At the beginning, we had that art direction. But because we decided to release this game on the Wii, the shader that we were thinking of wasn't possible to achieve. Also, the stage was set in the West Coast, so I figured the shade should be very strong and the weather is very good. So I wanted to use a lot of black shading.
Travis is an interesting clash of “moe”-obsessed otaku and a sort of rock-star cockiness. What do you think of modern otaku?
Let's see…I don't really understand “moe” that much myself. Even a friend of mine, [Chiyomaru] Shikura at Mages…he did Liberation Maiden Sin and Steins;Gate, which was a big hit…he's really into “moe” himself, and he tells me “you don't understand 'moe.'”
Your works play a lot with sex and violence in a satirical way. Do you have a rule for handling these subjects?
Personally, I don't believe in violence. I believe violence or death needs some explanation or reasoning behind it. I always try to talk about the people who are close to death, like assassins or other killers. So in that sense, I guess violence or fighting cannot be avoided. Of course, I create action games, but I always question why each character wants to fight or why each character should be killed.
As far as sexuality is concerned…I'm not that interested. I'm aware that I use a lot of it, but I actually want to create something different, and as long as it has some core meaning to whatever is expressed, that's fine. Even for sexuality, there has to be a reason why a man and a woman love each other. If you don't have a lot of reasons for it, it's not really necessary. I'm not talking about the industry in general, of course, but it's just my opinion in general.
How does making modern action games compare to making text-heavy adventure games like The Silver Case or Flower, Sun, and Rain? Do you feel that you have more or less freedom?
At the beginning, we had very limited staff. When you create action games, you really need know-how and experience. It's not just about having time or money. At the beginning, Grasshopper didn't have those. What we could create was rather limited, so we came up with The Silver Case first. But after that, when we worked on Flower, Sun, and Rain, we did more of an action-slash-adventure. And after that we did Killer7. So the staff grew, and the studio grew, and we shifted to action games. I always wanted to create action games, so the shift toward action games was natural.
Given your desire to make “new” games, do you dislike sequels? Or is it more of a desire to have each game stand on its own?
I don't really have anything against sequels, especially for Travis. No More Heroes is very much loved. And it was ported before, but it wasn't really done by us. A small studio under Marvelous did that. That studio is not there anymore, but Konami was the publisher.
Yes, No More Heroes made it to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Did you have input about it?
I was there, but I couldn't get involved too much.
Do you prefer that people play the Wii version, then?
The Wii version, definitely. One hundred percent.
Grasshopper made but never released a Silver Case port for the DS, and later the 3DS. How is it different from the PlayStation version? Did you add anything to the plot? Did Masahi Ooka work on the DS version?
Well, the interface had to change a bit for the DS touchscreen. At the same time, in order to release it, the game needed to be more complete. Because it was our debut title, I really wanted it to be better before shipping, so I figured we needed more time. There was no extra storyline. Ooka created a version of Silver Case, 25 Ward for cell phones, so there wasn't a need to add anything to the original.
In The Art of Grasshopper Manufacture, you mention that you're a big fan of layered storytelling in the style of Jean-Luc Godard's Nouvelle Vague. How do you think your style has changed from your earlier games to Killer is Dead and Lollipop Chainsaw?
I think the stories are becoming more simple. I think the cores of our recent games are the action, and not so much the story. Of course, the story is still important, but the setting, characters, and other things tie into the action.
In the book, you're very forthcoming about the changes publishers required for certain games, such as them asking you to put guns in Shadows of the Damned.
I think most of it was good. A lot of people had a different image for the character, and by collaborating, I think it kind of gives us a good way to bond for the project.
Some people criticized Killer is Dead for its Gigolo Mode, where you essentially stare at women and romance them. In the book, you mention that a lot of this mode was due to Kadokawa Games' suggestions that you add sex appeal. How did your original version of the game and Mondo Zappa's romances differ?
First of all, Gigolo Mode was not there to begin with. I was surprised when I saw Gigolo Mode for the first time. I was all “you really made this?” The team were really good sports and played along. But at the beginning, I don't think there was any Gigolo Mode. The setting was all about fighting, and the mini-games were all about fighting. I think the focus was more on the sword, and the mini-game was to make the sword stronger.
You recently had a game called Lily Bergamo that turned into Let It Die. But the trailers for Lily Bergamo showed a different game from what Let It Die became. Lily Bergamo was more anime-like compared to Let It Die. How did Grasshopper and GungHo Online Entertainment decide to change Lily Bergamo into Let It Die?
Originally, we wanted to a make a hack-and-slash, so the concept for that is still the same as Let It Die. As we tried to think of good gameplay, we had this side mode for Lily Bergamo which was really interesting. So we decided to develop that idea, and that turned into Let It Die. And when we came up with that idea, the world needed to change.
You've said that Lily Bergamo's protagonist, Tae Ioroi, won't be in Let It Die. What was her storyline originally like?
[Confers with GungHo Representative] Hmmm…that's a tough question to answer!
You're a fan of The Smiths and Morrissey. Do you have a favorite song or album of theirs that you often go back to for inspiration?
There are so many…”Bigmouth Strikes Again”…”Still Ill”…and “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”…
Yes! That's a great one!
“The Queen is Dead”…”Meat is Murder”…there are too many! I actually like most of them! And the one that's not sung by Morrissey…”Draize Train.” The instrumental one. That's good too.
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
ONECHANBARA Z2 CHAOS
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: July 21
Best Part: Cowboy Hats
MSRP: $39.99 (digital) / $49.99 (limited physical edition)
Bikini Zombie Slayers? Never heard of it. This is Onechanbara Z2: Chaos, an action game where woman in skimpy swimwear and even less wade into hordes of zombies and dice them apart with swords, fists, chainsaws, and anything else they might find. Completely unrelated, it is.
The Onechanbara series is, of course, all about exploitative undead slaughter, and several installments were named Bikini Samurai Squad and Bikini Zombie Slayers. But if XSEED wants subtlety in a title, we shouldn't blame them. Heaven knows there's little restraint within Onechanbara Z2: Chaos. It finds four selectable heroines at war with a legion of monsters, from standard ghoul throngs and zombie clusters to enormous dragons and griffons and scimitar-wielding crab-men. The player chooses from the efficient slayer Aya, her pensive sister Saki, meek Saya, and the hotheaded Kagura. The four vary slightly in their methods of attack, but all of them build up energy by slaughtering creatures and use said energy to transform into high-powered superheroines who glow even brighter and damage even more. Players can also switch between characters mid-battle, effectively controlling a quartet of warriors at once. And those warriors wear precious little while doing this. In fact, the Banana Split edition garbs them in little more than carefully placed strawberries, bananas, and accessories.
That aside, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos may well be a reliable font of aggression if all you want is to slice apart monsters with reckless abandon, salacity optional. Tamsoft worked the gameplay into a smooth flow of whirling sword arcs, undead bloodsplashes, and melodramatic comic-panel cutscenes where the catchphrase “time to revenge” fits perfectly. XSEED also put together dual-language tracks for the North American release, for those who appreciate their nonsensical war cries in different flavors.
Journey arrives on the PlayStation 4. I still find it a fascinating game: a simple platformer where two players communicate through peeps and symbols and actions, helping each other through wastelands, ruins, vicious snowy peaks, and the lands beyond. It's an exceptional piece of work, and I'd recommend it to any PlayStation 4 owners who somehow missed it on the PlayStation 3.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Platform: PS Vita / PlayStation 3
Release Date: July 28
Traitor: A just-OK episode of Blake's 7
Lost Dimensions scavenged its parts from familiar sources. Its introductory footage recalls a Persona or Shin Megami Tensei title with its rapid cuts, speedy text, anime stylings, primary colors, and extended J-pop number. The resemblance even carries over into the premise: a seemingly mystical terrorist overlord named The End vows to destroy the world quite soon, and only a squad of mostly teenage psychics can take him down. The End secrets himself in a tower at the heart of a destroyed city, so the heroes ascend his lair one floor at a time, a pace that recalls those dungeon hacks that enjoy a cult following these days.
Step into the opening battle of Lost Dimension, however, and you'll find it very similar to the ranged, semi-open combat of Valkyria Chronicles (or the seemingly already forgotten Natural Doctrine). Characters wander and attack within a limited range, and positioning them correctly lets them gang up on enemies or unleash their specific powers. Every member of the S.E.A.L.E.D. military has a different specialty, be it Himeno Akatsuki's pyrokinesis, the vaguely British Mana Kawai's rapid-fire fists (for which she compensates by wearing a cute bear backpack), or George Jackman's sword-aided ability to copy other powes and talk like some corny Roger Ramjet superhero parody.
The player's avatar here is team leader Sho Kasugai, and he faces a tough decision. There are five traitors among his group, and he's forced to figure out who they are. Ascending the tower requires him to sacrifice one comrade on each of the five floors, just to give him another reason to ferret out the turncoats. Sho converses with his teammates in between battles, and his precognitive ability affords him limited gazes into the future…and, presumably, the traitors' identities. The game also changes the traitors with each playthrough, so it's a challenge to detect them each time. The interstitial conversations try to develop the characters beyond their blatant stereotypes, just so players will feel bad if the wrong person is sacrificed. Telepathic Yoko Tachibana just wants to be a singer, after all, and she's too darned nice to be a traitor, right? Right?
BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Extend arrives on the Vita, while platformer N++ debuts on the PlayStation 4. The first chapter of the King's Quest revival also ships for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xboxes, and PC next week. It's an adventute game that fills in some of the untold stories of King Graham's history, bookended by scenes of the aged ruler sharing the tales with his granddaughter. Kids will listen to anything if it keeps them from going to bed.
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