This Week in Games - In Memoriam: Hiroshi Kajiyama

by Heidi Kemps,

I hate to start this week's column out on a downer note, but I feel like I need to make the most of an opportunity to eulogize a creator I really admired who suddenly passed on this week.

If you're a longtime fan of Sega's Shining series, you likely have played a game that featured the character design work of the late Hiroshi Kajiyama. I first became aware of Kajiyama's work through the gorgeous cover illustration for the Saturn game Shining Wisdom. While the game itself has aged pretty horribly, the cover art remains beautiful and memorable to this day.

Kajiyama contributed designs to several other Shining games, most notably Shining Force CD and Shining Force III. It was always easy to pick his artwork out of the mix – his style had a very distinct look to it. I became a fan of his through this stuff, but it wasn't until many years later that I learned just how talented Kajiyama really was.

Long before his Shining series work, Kajiyama was doing a wide variety of illustration work under the name Kensuke Suzuki. He was often contracted to do fantasy and sci-fi themed illustrations, particularly things like video game covers. He proved to be quite a versatile artist, and his ability to make more “western” style illustrations even helped land him a few gigs doing art for international releases of games.

This cover from Dragon Warrior II? Yep, that's him. Look back at that Shining Wisdom cover above – hard to believe it's the same guy!

Not only was Kajiyama capable of doing attractive character designs for games like Shining Force and obscure PC-98/Saturn RPG series Dragon Master Silk, he was also one hell of a mechanical and monster artist, too. (I've seen several English language obituaries mistakenly credit him for the character designs of the Golden Sun games, but he actually did the monster and creature artwork.)

Over the years I'd come to respect Kajiyama a lot. His body of work covers so many different mediums and genres – sci-fi, fantasy, and yes, erotica – yet it felt like he didn't get the same type of recognition as contemporaries like Jun Suemi, Hitoshi Yoneda, and Katsuya Terada. I encountered him at Comic Market selling his doujinshi a couple of times, and I'm feeling tremendous regret for never really telling him how much I appreciated his work.

When Kajiyama passed, he was working on a fantasy manga called Curse Blood. It's one of many original series he's done, though most have been published as doujinshi. We don't know what's going to happen to that manga at this point; sadly, it may remain unfinished. But even though Kajiyama's incredible talent has left us, many of his creations live on through the games he contributed to.

I should also note the passing of another artist. Kaori Fujita was a manga artist and illustrator who was the lead character designer for Konami's Suikoden V. While her contributions to games were limited compared to her manga and illustration output, Fujita undoubtedly deserves recognition and remembrance for her work.

Now that we've paid our respects, let's move onto happier things.

SHIRONEKO NEW PROJECT IS HEADED TO SWITCH

Shironeko Project is one of those mobile games that's a big hit in Japan, but just completely failed to make much traction in North America. You may remember the game getting released as Rune Story, but the English language version shuttered way back in 2016. The game's still going in Japan, though, and it's popular enough to spawn a console spinoff, tentatively titled Shironeko New Project.

The game, like the mobile title it's based on, is a fantasy action/RPG with co-op elements. It's still quite some ways off – the estimated release date is 2020 – but producer Hiroki Asai has talked a bit about the game in a recent issue of Famitsu, bringing up how the Switch's portability and full-fledged controller support make it an idea platform for expanding the Shironeko Project universe.

Speaking of mobile-to-console spinoffs…

GRANBLUE FANTASY PROJECT RE:LINK IS ALMOST DEFINITELY COMING TO THE US AND EU

For a game that's never officially been released outside of Japan, Granblue Fantasy sure has a devoted English-speaking audience. Developer and publisher Cygames seems very aware of this fact, as they carted truckloads of Granblue merchandise over from Japan to Anime Expo, where it sold like hotcakes. When people are perfectly willing to download Japanese APKs and buy Japanese iTunes cards to roll on your gacha, why even bother with the rigmarole of launching an official international version?

The console market, however, is a very different beast, and Cygames is approaching the launch of their big-budget, PlatinumGames-developed console spinoff Granblue Fantasy Project Re:Link very differently. Speaking with Gematsu, Cygames confirmed that the game will be localized into (at least) five major languages besides Japanese: English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. They didn't make any further mention of release dates or specific territories they plan to launch the game in, but it seems obvious that Cygames sees Re:Link as their way of bringing GBF into more mainstream consciousness on a global scale. The question is, will GBF Re:Link herald a true global release of the mobile game as well? We'll just have to see.

CYBERCONNECT2 IS BRINGING FURRY BACK

You probably know developer CyberConnect2 best from the Naruto Ultimate Ninja games. Or the .hack games. Or the recent Jojo games. Or the FF7 remake, before director Tetsuya Nomura yanked it away from them for lord knows why. Hell, you might even know them for the cult hit Asura's Wrath. But if what you associate CyberConnect2 most with is the Little Tail Bronx series (consisting of Tail Concerto and Solatorobo), then you are 99% likely to be a furry. That's just a fact.

But there's something special about CyberConnect2's critters. Despite handling so many big-name properties, the true passion of CC2 definitely seems to lie in their original Little Tail Bronx world. While only two games in the series have seen release up until now, CC2 has kept the setting alive through comics, illustrations, dramas, even a disaster preparedness mascot named Mamoru-kun. The other games pay the bills and grow the company, but Little Tail Bronx is the labor of love.

It appears that since CC2 has more time on their hands post-FF7 remake, they've decided to really ramp up the work on a new Little Tail Bronx installment – along with two considerably less fuzzy adventures. Entitled the Trilogy of Vengeance, the three games – Fugue on the Battlefield, Tokyo Ogre gate, and Cecile – are all scheduled to release sometime in 2019. Rather than try to describe each game, I can just link you to this trailer CC2 cut showing early footage from each. After seeing it, I'm pretty stoked for all of these titles.

FIGHTING GAME NEWS ROUNDUP: MORE CHARACTERS ARE FLEXIN’, GOKU AND VEGETA ARE BASED

Fighting EX Layer released not long ago, and it seems to have found its niche among fighting game enthusiasts. In the past, Arika hinted that additional modes and characters getting added would depend on the game's performance. I guess it's doing well, because not only is a traditional Arcade Mode getting added, but two more Street Fighter EX alumni are joining the cast: the delightfully flamboyant Vulcano Rosso and cute-n-cheerful circus girl Pullum Purna. These updates will be coming free to people who've already bought the game, so look forward to hearing more details at EVO this year.

Meanwhile, over in Toriyama World, the new characters to Dragonball FighterZ keep on coming. Actually, “new” should be in a whole lot of airquotes, since it's just Goku and Vegeta again… only without only sort of Super Saiyan transformations. Yep, just plain ol Vegeta and Goku, how about that? Now, please argue amongst yourselves as to whether or not regular-ass Vegeta would really be able to win in a fight against Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan Goku even with two others backing him up.

NEW RELEASES

SONIC MANIA PLUS (XBONE, PS4, SWITCH, PC)

Sonic Mania was one of my favorite games of last year, and now we've got more Sonic Mania… in an actual retail box you can physically hold! Wow! It also comes with two additional Classic Sonic characters: Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo.

If you want more details on the new things in Sonic Mania Plus, as well as my thoughts on the stuff that was added and changed, I reviewed it over on IGN. Disclaimer, because people want every excuse they can to get mad on the internet: I reviewed Plus as DLC for the original Sonic Mania, not as a full-on packaged version. If you don't own Sonic Mania yet, then… jeez, what are you waiting for? Go buy Plus already, sheesh!

GROOVE COASTER (PC)

Asian-style arcades such as Round 1 have been popping up in major metropolitan areas across North America in the past few years. If you've been to one of these anytime recently, you have likely encountered Taito's Groove Coaster. It's a greatly expanded version of the mobile rhythm game of the same name, featuring a huge variety of songs ranging from pop hits, anime melodies, Touhou mixes, Vocaloid songs, and most importantly to me, remixes of a lot of old and new arcade game music. This arcade game is the basis of the Steam port, which offers 36 tracks in the base game and promises more coming as DLC. (Early adopters get the Touhou favorite “Bad Apple!” for free, indicating that we can probably expect a fair few more Touhou tunes down the line as add-ons.) I'm playing this now, and I should have some better impressions to share next week, so stay tuned.

That wraps things up for this week. Don't forget to get out and enjoy the summer sun a bit… but bring some water, too!


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