The X Button - One Sleuth Prevailsby Todd Ciolek,
I haven't minded most of the publicized changes made to games in the past month: the Fatal Frame bikini deletions, the Street Fighter V butt-slap removal, and the above-mentioned Xenoblade wardrobe changes. This time, however, I think Nintendo's overdoing it. The cup-size selector is a minor, inconsequential feature, but that also makes it a very odd thing to delete. Xenoblade Chronicles X isn't targeted at children, and if some players want to give their characters moderately unrealistic Barbie-doll proportions, that's fair. If anything, Nintendo should've added more customization options, hiding a potentially objectionable feature amid sliders that changed a character's chin, knees, feet, ears, and every other feature.
But isn't it sexist? Yes. If Nintendo is worried about that, however, Xenoblade Chronicles X has bigger problems. The European and American editions leave the Japanese verison's costumes intact for the adult characters, and that includes battle bikinis like the one modeled by Elma above. So Nintendo and Monolith Soft reached strange compromises. Dress a heroine in demeaning techno-lingerie if you like, but don't you dare adjust her measurements.
CLOUD IS IN SMASH BROS., LINKLE IS IN HYRULE WARRIORS, DRAGON QUEST IS IN LINE
Last week's Nintendo Direct was short on major releases. Nintendo revealed no new details about the NX console, and there was only the vague confirmation that the next big Zelda game is still headed to the Wii U next year. Yet the presentation got people talking with two minor revelations, the first being Final Fantasy VII's Cloud upcoming appearance in Super Smash Bros.
The spiky-haired swordsman and itinerant moper will join the Super Smash Bros. lineup on both the 3DS and the Wii U, and the sight of a Final Fantasy VII character has fans worked up. Final Fantasy VII never appeared on Nintendo hardware (indeed, the game's 1996 leap to the PlayStation caused a Square-Nintendo rift that reached into the next decade), but there's a Final Fantasy VII remake in the works for the PlayStation 4. Might it also come to the Wii U or the NX? Probably not. Square just went with Cloud because he's the most iconic Final Fantasy protagonist. But we'll get him in Super Smash Bros.
The second most discussed announcement is a female version of Link, that elfin hero from nearly every The Legend of Zelda outing. She'll be a playable character in the 3DS version of the Hyrule Warriors brawler, and her name is…Linkle. Really. She sports pigtails, carries twin crossbows, and wears slightly less clothing than the male version of Link. This has stirred some debate over whether she's a bold step for gender inclusiveness in games (which I doubt) or just a minor addition to the cast of Hyrule Warriors, which already plays fast and loose with Zelda archetypes. I can confirm this much: she has nothing to do with the obscure Sega Saturn RPG called Linkle Liver Story.
Nintendo filled in a few spots on its 2016 calendar, and it brought good news for 3DS owners. The system's remakes of Dragon Quest VII and VIII are headed here next year; the former in the summer, and the latter at a fall-to-winter date. Before that, the 3DS gets the Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam RPG in January, while Fire Emblem Fates appears in February. Fates splits into two different full-price versions, each reflecting the player's allegiances: the Conquest edition favors the warlike Nohr family that abducted the protagonist as a child, while the Birthright version returns the player's avatar to his or her rightful clan in the Hoshido kingdom. There's a third option, and it'll be available in the Revelation edition for $19.99. Nintendo meets the devoted Fire Emblem fans halfway, as all three versions are available, along with an artbook and 3DS XL carrying pouch, in a $79.99 collector's set. Fire Emblem Fates also includes weirdly intimate face-touching scenes with the player's comrades, and many wonder just how Nintendo will handle those in the localized version.
VALKYRIA CHRONICLES GETS SPIT-SHINED AND SPUN-OFF
Sega has a great many games for which fans demand sequels, whether it's Burning Rangers 2, a modernized Altered Beast, or the long-awaited return of Dynamite Dux. Well, Valkyria Chronicles isn't one of those games. It's a viable Sega series, and it doesn't stay dormant for long. Sega plans two installments for the PlayStation 4: a remastered version of the original game, plus the all-new Valkyria: Azure Revolution.
Calling Azure Revolution a sequel might be inaccurate, since it's more of a spin-off set in a realm apart from the previous three Valkyria Chronicles. It's very similar in concept, however. Azure Revolution opens in an alternate European land where the bellicose Rus Empire has the small kingdom of Jutland in its grip. Commander Amleth and Princess Ophelia stand in Jutland's defense, while Valkyria warrior Brynhildr finds herself on the side of the imperial Rus. Maybe she'll join up with the heroes, though. Y'know, just like the original game's Selvaria Bles should've done.
Azure Revolution's biggest change is a move toward RPG mechanics. Prior games adopted strategic battles with direct control over the characters, and Azure Revolution director Takeshi Ozawa (who also helmed the original) describes the new game as having a similar concept in its combat, even though parties are limited to five characters. However, things proceed more like a dungeon hack, where players take a squad on missions and fulfill different objectives. It's a slightly new direction for the Valkyria series, and it stands a pretty good chance of coming to North America. Y'know, just like Valkyria Chronicles III should've done.
GRAVITY RUSH REMASTERED IN PHYSICAL FORM
Gravity Rush Remastered may not seem an important release. It puts PlayStation 4 polish on a 2012 Vita game, and it doesn't add any new material. Yet it's important to some people, myself included. So important that we'll demand a physical release for the game in North America. After announcing Gravity Rush Remastered as a digital-online release, Sony reconsidered in the wake of fan objections. And so thirty bucks will get Gravity Rush fans a physical copy of Remastered when it arrives in February, though Amazon seems to be the only place to stock it so far.
Of course, what fans really want is a Gravity Rush Remastered special edition like the one soon to be available in Japan (and possibly Europe). It comes with Figma treatments of heroine Kat and her pet Dusty—plus a box with that lovely Gravity Rush art that I still use as my desktop background. Sony evidently isn't releasing any such collector's sets in North America, but I think we expected that.
INTERVIEW: DIGIMON STORY: CYBER SLEUTH'S KAZUMASA HABU
Digimon never really ended. It just stopped traveling. As a legion of video games and anime series and little Tamagotchi-like pocket pets, Digimon was the biggest and best competition for Pokemon during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Unlike Nintendo's precious conquistador, Digimon didn't stay an international hit. The series dwindled down to the occasional game release and then vanished from sight.
Or so it seemed in North America. In Japan, Digimon continued onward with regular games, manga, and anime series. In recent years, Digimon bounced back on the international stage. The new Digimon Fusion TV series aired on cable networks, and Bandai Namco Entertainment released the Digimon All-Star Rumble fighting game last year. Yet the biggest attempt at a full revival may be Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, an RPG for the PlayStation 4 and Vita. It follows a hacker hero or heroine through a virtual world of recruitable Digimon, and it returns to the full experience of training and commanding little digital creatures.
As Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth heads for a February release in the U.S., I spoke with producer Kazumasa Habu about the game's history, its new features for North America, and just why it's making the trip here.
How did you come to be the producer on Digimon games? Before that you worked on some action games and fighters, like Knights Contract and Tekken. Was Namco your first job in the game industry?
Kazumasa Habu: I first entered Namco as a graphic designer and worked on titles like Tekken and Soul Calibur. After Bandai and Namco consolidated, I had an opportunity to get in touch with Digimon and I became a producer.
Yes, Namco was my first job in the industry.
How did development of Cyber Sleuth begin?
I've been the producer for Digmon games over seven years, and during that time I've found out that our core fans have grown up for a while. The first Digimon anime was eighteen years ago, so those who watched it are grown up now. And I thought that we should think about something new in Digimon games. At the same time, we wanted something original that the core fans and newcomers would accept.
We have tons of Digimon games and different series, such as the Digimon World series and the Digimon Story series. This time we picked the Digimon Story series system because we are slightly changing the target customers. The Digimon Story series has a lot of features that are easy to get into. So I think it's a great entrance for the newcomers.
How did you conceive of Cyberspace Eden and its dark underside?
The first Digimon gadget was a digital toy that you could raise and customize…
Right, and connect it to other Digimon...
Yes, exactly. The idea for the toy was that hackers created these programs that we call the Digimon. So we thought we'd still use that idea. For the narrative, we think that this cyberpunk world fits the Digimon games. It was created by hackers, so that's why we made this place called Eden.
When Digimon began, we had nothing like today's social media. How have changes in social media influenced Digimon?
When Digimon was created in the 1990s, the Internet was starting to spread in the world, and kids got very interested in it. And that was one of the reasons why Digimon got so successful. Right now people are talking about virtual reality and virtual worlds, so we think that this new step in technology suits our vision of the game.
How many all-new monsters did you make for the game, and how many are returning Digimon?
Well, we have so many Digimon from past games. If we talked about a number, we'd have about a thousand of them. In Cyber Sleuth, we thought that we'd bring out the nostalgia in our core fans by putting mostly recognizable Digimon in the game, while we created one special new Digimon called the Mastemon. It actually evolved from two previous Digimons, the LadyDevimon and the Angewomon. In past games these two Digimon didn't have natural paths to be evolved, so we let them get evolved in this new game.
How difficult did you make the game, since you want to make it accessible to older fans and new ones?
The concept was to create something easy to enjoy, so you don't have to put in a lot of time to see the story. So we set the difficulty at a level just right for everyone to get through the story. After that, if you want to encounter more rare Digimon, you have to put more time into it. In the Japanese version, we didn't have many difficulty levels, but in the localized English version, we have a Hard Mode that you can select from the start, and also a New Game Plus mode after you beat the game once. We think that'll be fun for the core players.
And both the hard mode and the new game plus mode are new to the English version?
Any other new features? Will there be changes to the storyline or the gameplay?
[Laughs] We can't say just yet! But the game has been rebalanced for the localized version to fix some things that the fans in Japan had issues with.
Concerning the battle system balance, we made some changes to the strength of the skills of the Digimon. Concerning other matters…well, please wait and find out in the game!
A lot of the Digimon games in the last seven years didn't come to North America. How do you think Cyber Sleuth will be received here? The original Digimon had a cartoon airing in America, but I don't think Cyber Sleuth has its own TV show…
Yes, seven years is a long time. We had a hard time in America and other places outside Japan. But this time, the localized version of Cyber Sleuth was approved because of a passionate campaign run by fans that had a petition signed by 65,000 people. We didn't know that, and when we found out we were so cheered that we decided to bring a localized Cyber Sleuth to North America. So the passion of our fans gave us a lot of strength in creating new Digimon. So we think that thanks to the fans, we can do more.
Are there plans to expand Cyber Sleuth into anime and toys and translated manga in North America, or will it remain just a video game?
If the English version gets rated really well, we would like to make toys and animation based on this narrative and world. But the first is to see if we can be successful in North America!
How did you come to work with artist Suzuhito Yasuda on Cyber Sleuth and other Digimon games?
The first Digimon game where we were collaborating with Yasuda was Re: Digitize. We wanted to target a higher age of customers, so we wanted to make a different sort of game. At the time, Yasuda was very popular among the 20-something crowd, so we thought that fit very well with our strategy.
There's one more thing about Yasuda. In our new Digimon games, the monsters have really strong characteristics. We don't want the human characters to be that complicated, and Yasuda is really good at making characters that are really simple but still leave strong impressions in players' minds.
Do you have a favorite Digimon? Or a favorite human character?
My favorite would be the LadyDevimon and Angewomon. Those two were designed by Kenji Watanabe, and he's very good at making characters that suit the American fans. As for the human side, there's a character called Kyoko Kuremi. She gets very interesting…but I can't say how interesting. Please play the game and see!
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
UMIHARA KAWASE SHUN: STEAM EDITION
Publisher: Agatsuma Entertainment
Platform: PC (Steam)
Release Date: November 27
Fishing Line: Relic Arm
Next week is short on new releases, as most of the relevant games will be special reissues for the Christmas shopping season. If you wisely choose to avoid all of the chaos that ensues as living, sentient humans trample each other for bargain-bin DVD players on Friday, you can relax with the latest Umihara Kawase game to arrive on Steam: Umihara Kawase Shun. It's more fun than a discount stampede.
The Umihara Kawase series is a very modest creation in which a heroine named Kawase (or Yumi) wanders 2-D mazes of ladders, platforms, and walking fish. She's equipped with a fishing line that hooks into just about any surface and lets her swing around with ease…in theory. In practice the mechanics of Umihara Kawase take a little getting used to, as Kawase's line is a rapidly elastic thing. It launches her all around and springs back and forth, all in a world full of empty pits, conveyor belts, pointy spikes, and slow but undeniably hazardous monsters. It's a challenge, but there's a reliable sense of physics in Umihara Kawase, and it turned a simple Super Famicom game into a persistent cult-favorite series.
The original Umihara Kawase and its most recent Sayonara Umihara Kawase (a.k.a. Yumi's Odd Odyssey) already sit on Steam, so Shun fills in a gap nicely. A PlayStation outing, it uses 3-D graphics in its side-view stages and feels slightly less precise on account of that. The Steam release includes three versions of the game: the original, the Second Edition expansion, and the 2009 Kanzenban DS version. It doesn't have the glitchy Umihara Kawase Portable, but no one wanted that in the first place.
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