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Interview: One Piece: Burning Blood

by Todd Ciolek,
The Electronic Entertainment Expo unfolded this week. I wish I'd gone, but that's only because I'm certain Sony gave away Gravity Rush 2 trinkets on the show floor.

What did I want from E3 besides that? I was content with news about my three most-desired games. And I was satisfied. The Last Guardian has a new trailer and, at long last, a release date: October 25 of this year.

The best sight from the trailer is a second griffin-puppy beast. Previous footage showed a boy and a griff-kit named Trico escaping from a fortress together in the grounded, naturalistic gameplay that drove Fumito Ueda's previous games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. As Trico is a living weapon, it only makes sense that there would be more such creatures, but I was floored at the sight anyway. It's that moment in a movie that you know is coming and love even more because of it.

Nier: Automata's trailer held no major revelations. As Square Enix described months before, the game shows android 2B and her compatriot 9S roaming an Earth dominated by machines, all in a proxy war between aliens and lunar-based remnants of human civilization. The trailer showed off some nice desert scenery and a battle against a shrieking mechanized opera diva wearing a dress festooned with android corpses. It had developer Platinum's usual grace, and I assume director Taro Yoko's sadistic, incisive humor lurks deeper within.

The most blatant slight of E3, in my unbiased option, came when Sony omitted Gravity Rush 2's trailer from their main presentation. It slipped out afterward, and it shows gravity-controlling superheroine Kat in her vacation to a tropical floating city. The new trailer focused more on the enemies she faces, which include familiar shadowy creatures, less familiar mechanized foes (including the above-pictured sphere), and even a few human thugs, one of whom Kat kicks off the edge of the city so he can fall to his apparent death or tumble ceaselessly through a void until madness consumes him. Maybe this is Kat's “edgy” '90s superhero phase.

The trailer also showed Kat's rival Raven a lot, so much that anyone unfamiliar with Gravity Rush might assume that Raven's also playable. Director Keiichiro Toyama has confirmed nothing like that yet, saying only that Raven joins Kat as a partner in battle. But if Raven's not playable, Gravity Rush 2 sure is dangling that carrot close.

E3 HIGHLIGHTS

DEATH STRANDING IS…UH…WELL…MAYBE…
Few game directors get blank checks in this industry, but I suspect that's what Sony handed Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima and his newly formed studio. Kojima's series did wonders while he was at Konami, and Sony clearly hopes for that same magic. If Kojima had wanted a tapir to wander onstage and defecate atop a Konami logo at Sony's E3 presentation, Sony would've called the nearest zoo and asked about rentals.

What did Kojima show for his new PlayStation 4 action game, titled Death Stranding? A naked and extensively rendered version of actor Norman Reedus awakens on a beach of black sand, cradles an infant, and watches it change to oil-slick palm-stains and handprints that crawl toward the ocean and piles of dead fish. Then small objects appear in the sky. It's a bizarre, enticing vision, as though Alejandro Jodorowsky stopped by Kojima Productions, even if it tells us very little about what sort of story it'll have. Will it be a successor to Metal Gear in everything but copyrighted names? Or will it be a strange and bloated creation that'll erode the idea of big-budget creative license like a video-game Heaven's Gate?

Either way, Sony has what they wanted: Kojima's on their side, and people are talking.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD HAS PLENTY OF SPACE
Nintendo stopped playing by E3's rules a few years ago. Instead of big on-stage exhibitions, the company put together online presentations with cute themes: one had Robot Chicken's stop-motion figures, the next had Muppet versions of Nintendo's corporate and creative leaders. Their 2016 showing was far more subdued. With Nintendo's NX in the makeup room, the company had little to show for the waning year of the Wii U, so much of the presentation concerned The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild drops another version of green-clad hero Link in a spacious world of fields, forests, mountains, and malleable puzzles. Link can snipe animals for sustenance, climb all sorts of surfaces, ride horses, cook with foraged ingredients, and change his surroundings to solve puzzles. He can also jump freely, which is a feature I've wanted in just about every Zelda since Link's Awakening.

It's very impressive in its size and scope. Link retains most of the attacks he had in previous games, and he now has much more space to explore. Weather conditions affect his mobility and health as well as the creatures around him. Even so, it seems a little empty and derivative of other open-world games. The Legend of Zelda usually lets players roam, but it's careful to keep its dungeons and puzzles focused. If Breath of the Wild can sustain that and expand its world, it could be the best possible closing number for the Wii U…and an opener for the NX.

Nintendo spared some time for other games, of course. Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon appeared in playable form, and the company announced Mario Party: Star Rush for the 3DS. The most interesting new sight was Ever Oasis (above), a 3DS dungeon-crawler where players build their own desert town while venturing into arid wastes and monster-choked depths.

MICROSOFT ANNOUNCES SLIM CONSOLE, PC PORTS GALORE
Microsoft's showing paled before Sony's in some ways; while the PlayStation 4 had a lineup of exclusives in all varieties, Microsoft seemed confused and narrow. The company announced the Xbox One S, a smaller $300 version of the console due out in August, and atop that a new console called Project Scorpio. It arrives in 2017, and it has eight cores, six teraflops, 320 gigs of memory bandwidth, and other stuff that makes for nice 4K presentation. It'll also be compatible with the S and the existing Xbox One as far as games go.

And what about those games? Microsoft showed off some impressive titles with Platinum's medieval-fantasy action game Scalebound and Comcept's Re:Core (above), plus the next Gears of War and the pirate adventure Sea of Thieves. They had one thing in common, though: they're all scheduled for Windows as well as the Xbox One family. Microsoft isn't afraid of its audience forgoing the Xbox One for a high-end PC (which would have access to more games, anyway), but perhaps they should be. The PlayStation 4 is the only place you'll find The Last Guardian, God of War 4, Gravity Rush 2, Until Dawn, or the kaleidoscopically beautiful Bound. Nintendo alone has the latest Zelda, Mario, and Fire Emblem titles. And what about the Xbox One?

WILD GUNS RELOADED INTRODUCES DOG, ROBOT, FOREST RANGER
Of all the games at E3, Wild Guns Reloaded intrigued me the most. Really. Natsume showed little of it beyond a logo and two character illustrations, and that left me to speculate wildly. Yet Wild Guns Reloaded isn't a sequel to the 1994 Super NES shooter. It's a remake, and it looks great.

For starters, the developers at Natsume Atari preserved the original game's hand-drawn pixel artwork and apparently stayed close to the stage layouts. Any Wild Guns fan should recognize that saloon where you can snipe out the chandelier, the bottles behind the bar, and even the individual letters of the neon sign. Natsume expanded the game where it counts, adding four-player support and enough characters to match.

Joining Clint and Annie on the roster are two new faces. Bullet is a dog riding a robotic drone (or maybe the drone is Bullet), and Doris is a steel-fisted woman wearing a hat that evokes either a sheriff or a park ranger searching for Yogi's picnic basket horde. The E3 demo doesn't make them playable or show any of the game's new stages, but I commend Natsume for not going cliche and making the new characters a robot and a little girl or whatever. It's enough to make me glad Wild Guns is back.

INTERVIEW: ONE PIECE: BURNING BLOOD

One Piece: Burning Blood is a rare sight in the sea of games based on Eiichiro's vast and goofy pirate adventure series. While most of the One Piece titles released here are action games or brawlers, Burning Blood fashions a more direct fighting game from its extensive lineup of pirates, bounty hunters, sailors, and general weirdoes.

With Burning Blood now available in North America, we asked director Hiroyuki Kaneko and series producer Koji Nakajima about the challenges of turning One Piece into a fighter.

How would you compare Burning Blood to previous One Piece fighting games, such as the Grand Battle series, in terms of complexity?

Koji Nakajima: One Piece: Burning Blood features a higher level of strategy than past One Piece fighting games with the inclusion of Guard Breaks to counter Logia users with Haki, Range Attacks, and doge steps. However, even though the combat system may be more complex than before we wanted to make sure all level of players could have fun, which is why each character's special attack, their Devil Fruit ability, can be executed by a single button.

How did you balance a fighting game with so many characters?

Hiroyuki Kaneko: It was difficult to adjust the balance since there are so many original characters with diverse abilities as in the source material. In the end, we came up with the Pirate Grade system to balance the gap between each character's ability.

Also, since the game's combat system is 3 vs. 3; team selection, character usage, and support character selection play a bigger role in the overall strategy rather than individual character balance.

One Piece has a very cartoony style. How difficult was it to recreate that in Burning Blood?

Nakajima: One Piece is one of the most popular anime and manga franchises around the world and its style is instantly recognizable. We took great care to make sure everything from character animation to attack effects were done accurately to the series. An example of the detail fans of the series would appreciate is normal attacks can't affect Logia users such as Crocodile when he is in his sand transformation.

One Piece has a lot of fighting, but it's also about voyages to new places. How do you think Burning Blood will suit fans who like the One Piece story?

Nakajima: In the game's main mode, Paramount War, players will be able to experience the Marineford Saga from characters' perspectives that were not seen in the manga or anime series. We hope fans have fun with this brand new take on the Marineford Saga.

Also, in the Pirate Flag Battle online mode players sail out into the world with their pirate crew to overtake territory from other online players. We hope this mode conveys the voyage aspect of a pirate crew as they make their way across the map seizing territory from rival pirates.

Mr. Nakajima, now that you've made the One Piece fighting game you wanted to make, what other genres would you like to explore with One Piece?

Nakajima: I've just finished One Piece Burning Blood so I'm not thinking about anything at the moment. [laughs] Since One Piece: Burning Blood is focused on battles, it may be interesting to create a title where we can be completely immersed in the beautiful One Piece world drawn by Mr. Oda.

Mr. Kaneko, you worked on several horror games, including Clock Tower. How do you think the market for that sort of suspense game has changed? Are there any Bandai Namco anime series, not necessarily One Piece, that you'd want to turn into a horror game?

Kaneko: If I were given the chance, I would be more than happy to take it. The quality of graphics has improved to the point that the representation of dread and the anticipation of knowing something terrifying may occur at any moment is truly frightening. I think it would be interesting to infuse one of Bandai Namco Entertainment's anime series with horror elements. But don't take this as confirmation of anything. [laughs]

Of all the special moves and powers in Burning Blood, which are your favorites?

Nakajima: Drake turning into a dinosaur is my favorite power. From the beginning I thought it would be very interesting to fight as a dinosaur in the middle of a One Piece battle. I was very excited when I saw it on screen for the first time.

Kaneko: Bartolomeo the Cannibal is my favorite. There are three provocative motions and one motion against Straw Hat Crew. Each motion represents Bartolomeo's personality from the original series.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

GRAND KINGDOM
Developer: Monokuro Corp.
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita
Release Date: June 21
Best Kingdom/Luck Dragon: Valkyr
MSRP: $39.99 (Vita) / $59.99 (PS4) / $79.99 (Special Edition)

Do you still miss Grand Knights History, the gorgeous PSP strategy game denied an English localization back in 2012? Well, you can console yourself two ways: you can try the fan translation, and you can check out Grand Kingdom. Tomohiko Deguchi, director of Grand Knights History, went on to make Grand Kingdom with developer Monokuro.

Grand Kingdom sets itself on the continent of Resonail, one hundred years after the Uldein Empire disintegrated. Four nations squabble over its remains, with the neutral, mercenary-filled Guild tied to all of them. The aristocratic kingdom Landerth follows warrior-queen Gladius Ringland, the tribal confederation of Valkyr falls under warrior Graham Berngarde, the sorcerous queendom of Fiel has mage-regent Precia Teller to lead them, and the northern realm of Magion has the technological wizard Julius Wiseman. In the midst of their squabbles and tenuous alliances, the descendants of the Uldein Imperium emerge in the form of scheming Teterva and her brainwashed daughter Corona. They're up to something.

Grand Kingdom isn't the work of Vanillaware, though its characters and backdrops at times have a hint of the marvelous visual work seen in Odin Sphere and Dragon's Crown. Players choose their mercenary band and seek conflicts, and battles pit them against enemies in a side-view field where characters can move between three different planes. Attacks and spells correspond to button combinations on the controller, which makes for a pleasant alternative to picking them out from menus.

The physical edition of Grand Kingdom saw a one-week delay due to packaging problems, but you can find the digital version next week. And if you're in Europe, you'll note that the limited edition of the game includes the wrong sampler CD. I suggest that buyers request a replacement from NIS while the window's open. I never replaced the soundtrack from my Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex set, and two of its tracks are stuck together.

MIGHTY NO. 9
Developer: Comcept / Inti Creates
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 3/ Xbox 360 / Xbox One / Wii U / PC
Release Date: June 21
Robot Onions: No
MSRP: $19.99 (Steam) / $29.99 (Everything Else) / $59.99 (Special Edition)

Will Mighty No. 9 be this year's biggest disappointment among video games? The question really isn't whether or not it'll be a good game. Based on what I've seen and played, it'll be a cheap-looking but modestly enjoyable game in the tradition of Mega Man (or perhaps Mega Man X). I'm far less certain about how its Kickstarter backers and the wider spectrum of Mega Man fans will take it. Keiji Inafune drew in $3.8 million to make a spiritual successor to Mega Man, and I suspect many will vituperate him when the game doesn't look or play exactly like the Kickstarter promised.

Mighty No. 9 doesn't try to reinvent Mega Man so much as it imitates Capcom's once-proud series. The protagonist is a robot named Beck, the only one of nine Mighty Number robots to avoid a computer virus that turned most of the world's automatons violent and rebellious. Aided by two scientists and his counterpart Call (get it?), Beck treads through side-scrolling stages in a futuristic, robot-run world.

Like Mega Man, Beck can absorb enemies' powers with more opportunities; blasting even a low-level robot with Beck's basic shot weakens it to the point where Beck can dash (like Mega Man X's title character) and take a brief boost in power, speed, or defense from the machine. And when he defeats one of the level bosses, Beck gains an all-new weapon. It's the same formula that powered dozens of Mega Man games, and Mighty No.9 captures the idea in its jump-and-shoot gameplay starring a character who can't duck. He isn't alone, either. Call has slightly different powers (including jet-boots and a shield), and Beck's overdesigned rival Ray has a spinning jump-attack and a lot of spikes on his costume.

Mighty No. 9's failing may be that it doesn't look sharp enough. Compared to the Kickstarter mock-ups, the final game looks like a standard-issue PlayStation 2 game, with some downright amateurish models for the supporting characters. That, combined with the routine gameplay, may sink Mighty No. 9. But it Mega Man followers give it a proper chance, they might like what they find.

TOKYO MIRAGE SESSIONS #FE
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: June 24
BloodStorm's Mirage: Possible Hidden Character
MSRP: $59.99 / $79.99 (Special Edition) Mighty No. 9 may not be next week's most controversial release. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is Atlus and Nintendo's obliquely named fusion of Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, and the two result in a dizzying modern carnival of pop-star warfare and summonable allies. In localizing it, Atlus made some outfits less revealing, removed bonus swimsuits, and altered one dungeon's portraits of bikini-clad idol singers. In fans' eyes, that's more upsetting than Mighty No. 9 falling short of its legacy.

Accusations of censorship aside, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is an ambitious crossover. Instead of dumping the Fire Emblem cast into a Persona-style world (or vice versa) through a dimensional portal, the game revolves around a glitzy Tokyo talent agency called Fortuna Entertainment and its clashes with supernatural beings called Mirages. The protagonist, young Itsuki Aoi, unassumingly becomes an employee there, working alongside his classmate and aspiring pop star Tsubasa Oribe, plus a gaggle of music industry misfits and artistes. Their conflicts arise from malevolent beings called Mirages messing with human affairs, but friendlier Mirages ally with humans and appear during battle. Oh, and these nice Mirages are all Fire Emblem guests: Chrom, Tharja, Virion, Cain, Draug, Navarre, Caeda, and Tiki—who's a virtual idol in the vein of Hatsune Miku.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE has the mindset of a modern Persona, sending its cast through neon dungeons littered with hostile monsters and grotesque bosses (including a street punk who detaches his head and spins it around like something out of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen). Battles pit three characters against foes, with Itsuki's allies switching off with reserve members during their turns. They also summon and merge with Mirages for more powerful attacks, and the game follows the same damage tree as Fire Emblem swords and arrows, plus the varied stat boosts and vulnerabilities of a Shin Megami Tensei title. Perhaps it'll cast some dark satire on the pop-idol industry as Rise's storyline did in Persona 4, but don't expect Perfect Blue.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Regardless of how the actual Rio Olympics unfold, Mario and Sonic's exploitation of the games shall continue. The latest meetup arrives on the Wii U with most of its character lineup intact. Compared to the 3DS edition of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games released earlier this year, the Wii U one loses Birdo, Ludwig Von Koopa, Roy Koopa, Cream, Eggman Nega, Dry Bones, and Omega. But you get to play Toad!


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


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