The X Button
Heaven Sense

by Todd Ciolek,
Some loyal readers may be tired of hearing about Red Ash, Keiji Inafune's Kickstarter attempt to relaunch Mega Man Legends in just about everything but name and storyline. You must forgive me, as I really enjoy the Legends games and want to see more in their general vein. Besides, I suspect you won't have to tolerate much more on the subject. The Kickstarter isn't going well. It sits about $300,000 shy of its goal with four days remaining, and that seems too great a gap for even last-day donation rushes to fill.

Perhaps things will pick up now that the Kickstarter has a playable demo of the game. It's very early and limited to a small stretch of a hallway in a town (the one that's atop a giant lumbering superweapon). Mighty No. 9 characters stand in for the chatty citizens as well as playable characters Beck and Call (the latter of whom has dumb running animation). There's not much to see, but exploring will lead you to the actual Red Ash versions of Beck and Call, and Beck is playable once you locate him. Bare-bones as it is, the Red Ash demo supplies one essential component of any Mega Man Legends game: kicking things. You can boot around cans and a human-sized balloon as much as you please. In those moments, everything feels right. Even if Red Ash's future is grim.

Some may look at the Kickstarter and conclude that there simply isn't that much demand for a new Legends game, but other factors come into play. The Kickstarter hasn't done a great job of selling itself, as most of what we've seen of the game involves design documents, character renders, and pitches about what Red Ash and its story will entail. The recent Shenmue III and Bloodstained Kickstarters had a little more to show, even if their screenshots and footage were mock-ups.

More to the point, other revivals didn't have to prove as much as a Mega Man Legends reboot. Shenmue seizes on an unfinished storyline still important to many, Bloodstained works the long-deprived Castlevania crowd, and Inafune's Mighty No. 9 went right for the nostalgic jugular of Mega Man fans everywhere. Legends never was as popular as the other Mega Man sub-series. It's a cult favorite, and its Kickstarter needed to push things further.

I hope to be proven wrong. Perhaps the Kickstarter will rally with fan donations or some publisher swooping in to save the project—which was perhaps Inafune and Comcept's greatest hope in the first place. Yet I suspect that we'd better save the demo, screenshots, artwork, and assorted scraps from the Red Ash Kickstarter. That may be as much as we'll get.

NEWS

EXIST ARCHIVE IS YET ANOTHER RPG THAT…WAIT A SEC
Tri-Ace hasn't gone away. Nepro Japan bought them earlier this year, but tri-Ace soldiers on, perhaps in better shape than they were in the past few years. Instead of background labor on Final Fantasy XIII sequels, tri-Ace has a new Star Ocean game and and an original PlayStation 4 and Vita RPG called Exist Archive. Its premise seems mundane. Wealthy scion Ryoji Kujo and his equally upper-crust fiancée Ranze Kamikawa meet terrible fates and find themselves in a land called Protolexa. Part fantasyland and part afterlife, Protolexa houses departed souls who contained some ancient and unpleasant power within them, thus marking them as warriors in a netherworld struggle. Ryoji and Ranze are two such recruits, and they encounter white-haired Mayura and rough-edged Tokihisa among their fellow Protolexa spirits. It sounds like a better deal than Narnia gave, even if the game's artwork is standard anime exaggeration.

But what's this? Exist Archive is also an RPG where characters run and jump through side-scrolling stages? And battles let players control up to four party members, each synced to a different controller button? And they all work together to pull off damaging combo attacks? And the game forces us to choose which characters to send back to the realm of the living, which influences the battle between the Protolexa gods? And the story eschews typical good-versus-evil overtures in favor of character-driven plotlines?

That, folks, is Valkyrie Profile. It may not say Valkyrie Profile anywhere, but Exist Archive sounds precisely like tri-Ace's best creation in gameplay and progression. It also has tri-Ace co-founders Yoshiharu Gotanda and Masaki Norimoto aboard as lead programmer and director/scenario writer, respectively, and Spike Chunsoft is publishing it. Exist Archive may not have everything that made Valkyrie Profile great (artists Kou Yoshinari and You Yoshinari are nowhere to be seen), but a game that plays much the same is better than no Valkyrie Profile descendants at all.

MONSTER BOY DITCHES SUBTITLE, HEADS TO NEXT YEAR
As Red Ash struggles in Kickstarter circles, I take heart that another cherished series looks to return in style. Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze emerged earlier this year as a spiritual rebirth of Westone's Wonder Boy and Monster World games, all fine side-scrolling adventure games. Monster Boy was originally Flying Hamster II, but the game went into a chrysalis and emerged with a Wonder Boy overhaul and the support of Westone co-founder Ryuichi Nishizawa. In the months since its announcement, Monster Boy showed off pieces of its handsome opening animation, refined its characters with a softer focus, detailed more of the hero's shapeshifting powers, and added composer Yuzo Koshiro (Ys, Streets of Rage, dozens more) to its team of musicians. Best of all, the developers dropped that Wizard of Booze subtitle for something more appropriate: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.

This good news isn't without counterbalance, though. Monster Boy will miss the initially projected 2015 release window and arrive some time next year. Delays rarely concern me, though, and Monster Boy's development blog suggests a game that's healthy as well as faithful to the Westone classics. It even replicates the classic games' habit of giving each little enemy a sad pose when they're defeated and blink out of existence. Sometimes it's cute, and sometimes it's unsettling.

DRAGON QUEST XI APPEARS, WINKS AT THE NX
New Dragon Quest games are inescapable…provided you live in Japan. The online RPG Dragon Quest X arrived there in several different versions, spanning the Wii, Wii U, 3DS, PC, and smartphone platforms. Meanwhile, America sees no sign of the game. But Dragon Quest XI: In Search of Departed Time might be different. It's coming to the PlayStation 4 and the 3DS next year in Japan. The director is Takeshi Uchikawa, who worked on the scenario for Dragon Quest IX and Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2. Square Enix also showed the game's hero. If past Dragon Quests are any indication, he'll be overshadowed by the supporting cast because they'll have actual personalities. Best he gets his moment now.

The two games share the same plotline, but they'll differ in appearance as well as the development staff. The PS4 version is co-developed by Orca, while Toylogic helps out on the 3DS release. Orca worked on several Dragon Quest games, the tenth included, and as far as I can tell, they're not the same Orca that brought us the colossal disaster of the Gundress movie. How disappointing.

News of Dragon Quest XI came in second to the invocation of Nintendo's next console, the NX. Square Enix mentioned that both Dragon Quest X and XI are “being considered” for the NX, and this set everyone to crowing about the first official NX gams. That's not accurate, but it suggests that Square Enix is aboard for Nintendo's new console.

In other dubious speculation news, rumors have it that the NX may arrive as early as July of next year. Others point out that someone probably confused Nintendo's announcement of the system with an actual launch. Still, I hope Nintendo holds off on the NX for a while longer. The Wii U is only in its third year, and retiring it in 2016 would make it the shortest-lived Nintendo console this side of the Virtual Boy.

INTERVIEW: FINAL FANTASY XIV'S NAOKI YOSHIDA.

Final Fantasy XIV saw more than its share of problems. First released in 2010, the online RPG came under such heavy fire for its glitches and design flaws that Square extended the game's free-trial period and overhauled the development team. Producer Hiromichi Tanaka was out, and producer Naoki Yoshida was in. Under Yoshida, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came along in 2013, and its reception proved far more positive in every sector.

This revived Final Fantasy XIV saw its first major expansion with Heavensward in June, and ANN's Heidi Kemps sat down with Yoshida to discuss just where Final Fantasy XIV is going.

Heidi Kemps: It's been a little over a year since A Realm Reborn was launched. How do you feel about the player reaction since the original game relaunch?

Players have reacted differently to a lot of different things… Hmmm, I guess what struck me the most was the reaction from players for whom A Realm Reborn was their first MMO. It wasn't just in Japan, but in the West as well. When we go to events and talk to fans, the people who say “Wow, this is a great game, and it's my first MMO! I hope it continues for a long time!” It's really heartening to hear that, especially given how bad the game's original launch was. Moving from that to a game that people love and want to continue playing for a long time is probably the biggest thing.

Another thing… well, I guess this might not really be a reaction… but it kind of is a reaction, is, well – look at the numbers. A lot of MMOs will have big numbers to start with, then a dropoff. With A Realm Reborn, you see a gradual increase. We have more players now than we did at launch. It's because we have great content and regular updates. The players are staying with us, and they're bringing friends in, too.

It seems like this sort of packaged, subscription-based MMO is becoming rare, with free-to-play becoming the major force in the MMO field. Do you anticipate ever having to change the payment structure in FFXIV in the future?

It's not the amount of subscription-based MMOs are becoming fewer, necessarily… it's just that a lot of MMOs have to change their payment structure partway through their life cycle. It's not inherently a better business model: because the game wasn't as successful as they hoped with subscriptions, they're forced to change their business model. Would FFXIV move into a hybrid or F2P model? Well, currently, there are no plans. That's not to say that the market won't change to the point where most players don't want subscriptions and want entirely in-game purchases. Then we might have to think about it. It's all about the player needs. We've done surveys, and eighty-five percent of our player base prefers the subscription model, so there doesn't seem to be any need to change it at this time.

It feels like MMOs in general have fallen a bit out of favor with the online gaming audience. Multiplayer online battle arenas are really the hot thing in North America and Asia right now. What are your thoughts on the genre, and how are you addressing this new source of competition?

We're not thinking too deep about that. There are so many things that are different about MOBAs: the size of the game, the scope, how long sessions last, and so forth. The current generation of gamers have very busy lifestyles, and seemingly less time to actually sit down and play games. The amount of time they can spent on each game is a lot less. They're wanting more excitement in a shorter period of time.

In MOBAs, you get into the game and match up with players quickly, play a battle, and then you're done. We've tried to implement things like that in FFXIV as well. Not because MOBAs are doing it, mind you, but because it fits with player lifestyles. For example, in League of Legends you'll have PvP “seasons.” We're thinking of doing something like that in FFXIV as well. We want to see what other games are doing and adapt the concepts for our game, but it's not “us vs. them,” it's “let's see what we use.” Again, it's adapting to what the players want, not just copying another successful genre.

Though, in general, like you said, people moving to MOBAs likely means less large-scale MMOs in the future. It's rather unfortunate.

A couple months ago, you showed off the new race, the Au Ra… but you also showed concept art of the Viera, who appeared in Final fantasy XII and other games. Why did you decide against their inclusion as a playable race?

The issue with the Viera is that, if you look at them, they're basically humanoid save for their long rabbit ears and their heels. We already have a mostly humanoid race with animal ears in the Mi'qote. When we looked at those initial Viera concepts, it just seemed like a Mi'qote with bunny ears instead of cat ears. It simply wasn't different enough. Especially when we did the male designs… they didn't look beastly enough, they were just a little too cute. We wanted to make something that was original to the Final Fantasy series, and to do that, we decided to step away from the Viera.

I was actually strongly against showing the Viera concept art at the event we unveiled the Au Ra at. I knew that people would be like “why didn't you include them?!” [laughs] We feel we have a good thing with the Au Ra, though. If you don't like them, though, let us know and we'll take it into consideration with the next race we bring in.

The promotion of the Au Ra has been very low-key in comparison to how other MMOs introduce playable races. Why is this?

We had so much content that needed to be focused on! But the big reason is that the character race is something a player chooses. Not everyone who picks up Heavensward is going to choose to reroll an Au Ra character. Other features, however, are things all players will be experiencing, so it makes more sense to put the promotional focus on those.

You can experience these new things as an Au Ra, too, of course! Part of their design concept was based on the new classes and how they would fit. A lot of players, with the benchmark, got to go in and make an Au Ra character and see how they'd look as a Dark Knight. Players are getting excited for it, and we're hoping a lot of them are going to Fantasia it up. [laughs]

Ah, here's a very specific question… since the Alexander Savage raid comes one month after Heavensward, will 3.1 be three months after Heavensward or Alexander Savage?

[laughs] I can't say anything definitive. But, well… the dev team has been working super hard on Heavensward, and I kind of want to give them a rest! [laughs] Because again, there's just so much content in the expansion. In fact, one of the team goals for the next few months is to change the workflow a bit, to make things easier on the team. We're going to head back to Japan and try to work that out. Players are always hungry for new content, and expect it quickly, but it's also about finding a balance between giving the team the rest they need and getting new content to our fans. I can say that the raid we have for 3.1 is about 80 percent done, so please look forward to it!

One last question: is there any update on the benchmark of the Mac version?

Y: It might be a bit after launch, but we're definitely working at it. The hardware architecture is different, so we'll have to tweak things to make sure they work OK on Macs… but yeah, we're putting our TransGaming middleware to work. We'll look more into it once we get back to Japan.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ETRIAN ODYSSEY 2 UNTOLD: THE FAFNIR KNIGHT
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: August 4
Guest Director: Oliver Stone
MSRP: $39.99

I cannot help but see the cover for Etrian Odyssey II Untold: The Knight of Fafnir as an RPG evolution of those traditional romance novel illustrations. Instead of a railroad tycoon's wayward daughter in a low-cut dress, we have a princess gasping in shock. And instead of some chiseled army deserter with a preternatural gift for horse-raising, we have the protective embrace of the titular Knight of Fafnir.

In a sense, Etrian Odyssey II Untold is for those Etrian Odyssey players who wanted more melodrama in their dungeon-crawling RPG. Just as the first Untold broadened the plot of the original Etrian Odyssey, the second digs into the storyline of Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard. The game's new Story Mode finds the sheltered princess Arianna of Caledonia traveling to a special ceremony and meeting up with the unspeaking protagonist and his goofball friend Flavio. They're eventually joined by the laid-back knight Bertrand and dry-witted war magus Chloe. The hero possesses some secret hidden power, and he, the princess, and Flavio were all childhood friends before an incident induced short-range amnesia. I can't confirm if the game works in a joke about the princess being a bad cook, but such clichés wouldn't be out of place.

Of course, you can ignore all of the narrative stabs if you just want to romp through a lineup of tough Etrian Odyssey dungeons. The overall approach stays true to previous games: either pick a party from various classes or the storyline's provided heroes, and then guide them through increasingly dangerous mazes teeming with monsters. The Knight of Fafnir brings in some classes from later Etrian Odyssey (Arianna herself is a Sovereign), battles load faster, and the menu-driven combat adds some auto-battle options tested out in Persona Q. There's an all-new labyrinth named Ginnungagap, in keeping with long-term series references to Norse myth. And if you're not pleased with the game's inbuilt attempts at romance, feel free to imagine some between your randomly named hexer and troubadour.


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


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