This Week in Games - SoulCalibur VIby Heidi Kemps,
The thing about writing a weekly column is that you can plan a bunch of stuff to write about far in advance… only to have all of your planning get completely scuttled by news that drops. I mean, I was going to publish my follow-up DoA6 interview with Yohei Shimbori this week, but then the Senran Kagura thing happened, and… well, it'd be remiss of me not to editorialize about it.
Over the weekend, XSEED published a notice on their Twitter account informing consumers that Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal would be delayed because Sony had requested the removal of the Intimacy Mode. Intimacy mode is basically “dress the characters up in goofy outfits and then use in-game controls to jostle around virtual boobies.” It's crass and stupid, but Senran Kagura is a series that's all about being crass and stupid while constantly getting cartoon bazongas up in your face. It's always been fanservice with a game in it rather than the other way around. (Basically, getting super mad over rude titties in Senran Kagura is a phenomenal waste of time because it's just giving you what's advertised on the tin.)
But yeah, there's a small but notable chunk of the game going bye-bye. As you might recall, the similarly breast-centric Omega Labyrinth was recently cancelled on Sony platforms after encountered some problems with local ratings boards: it was basically banned in certain territories, which is probably a good reason why Sony put the kibosh on it. This delay, however, is clearly the sole decree of Sony. Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal, in its original form, made it through the ESRB and, to my knowledge, the European ratings boards without a hitch. Most of the time if there's stuff getting cut from games, it's to stave off the sales-tanking Adults Only rating from the ESRB, and they've got their own set of standards as to what will push a game to that level. SK made it through with an M rating… but despite that, Sony has officially decided that nope, we don't want this mode on PS4, take Intimacy Mode out or you can't release the game. Even though, well, Intimacy Mode has been in these games before and Sony didn't really care until now.
(Of course, you can get the game completely intact on Steam, but a bunch of folks have preordered the PS4 limited editions of the games that come with a variety of goodies. Those buyers now must decide if they want to double-dip to get the uncut game.)
My thoughts on this are a bit complex. I have no problem with Sony Computer Entertainment America and Europe setting content standards for their platforms, they have every right to do so. I'm also not a big fan of the Intimacy Mode in these games, either: poking and prodding virtual boobs and butts to get a rise out of in-game girls feels rather distasteful. At the same time, I really don't like what's happened here.
My issue is primarily with the way Sony's gone around enforcing this: telling companies who have already invested a lot into these projects – to the point that they're near release, even – that suddenly, things have changed, and we aren't allowing this stuff anymore, sorry! But Sony can't even tell consumers about these content policy changes themselves, leaving the publishers as the ones stuck telling players their games are going to be cancelled or edited at the last minute. There's a chilling-effect component to it, too: Sony has now shown that they can force you, the developer and/or publisher, to change things about your game on a whim, and there's jack squat you can do about it except eat all the costs involved and be subjected to the vitriol of your fanbase.
So, to summarize: I'm not going to weep over the loss of this mode in particular, Sony has a right to say what sort of stuff they do and don't want on their platform, but the situation sucks for XSEED and consumers alike, and these sort of last-minute content restrictions foisted on devs and publishers set a really distressing precedent where Sony could just decide, for whatever reason, that they don't like a controversial element in your game at any time and have it pulled. Yeesh, what a mess…
CORPSE PARTY SPINOFFS ARE HAUNTING PCS
Oh man, Corpse Party! That game is great. It's a delightfully wicked and twisted little horror adventure that cleverly uses a lot of elements (spite-based visuals, superb sound design, multiple character viewpoints) to tell a very good horror story. It's available on a variety of different platforms, and if you're craving some excellent frights this spooky season, it will definitely scratch that itch.
There have also been quite a few Corpse Party spinoffs, which range in quality from “Weird, but pretty cool if you enjoyed the original” to “Yeah, I'm just going to try and forget this exists and keep my memories of the first game, thanks.” And guess what – they're all coming to Steam!
The first is Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, a series of side stories told in visual novel format. It's hard to recommend if you haven't played the original, as you'll be missing a lot of the original context, but it's got a lot of neat character moments. Next up will be Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko's Hysteric Birthday Bash, a bizarre dark-comedic spinoff centered around series antagonist Sachiko giving the victims she's sucked into her pocket dimension some time off from being horribly murdered to join her birthday party. Whether or not this one will be up your alley depends on your personal tastes.
I'm most looking forward to Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient, which is the first in a brand-new episodic horror series from the original Corpse Party developers that takes place in a disturbing hospital rather than a haunted school. Everything I've seen from the game gives me the creepy vibes of the original Corpse Party, and a new setting and cast should do wonders for fresh scares. But then there's the last game in the set, Corpse Party: Blood Drive, which is the follow-up to the original Corpse Party, and… well, unless the PC version gets a serious overhaul over the Vita original, I can safely say that it's pretty bad.
Still, though, that first Corpse Party! It's real good!
SEGA'S OVERSEAS EFFORTS PAY OFF
Sega-Sammy recently dropped a big financial report, and overall, things are looking rosy at the company. The acquisition of Atlus is a bright spot that gets highlighted a lot in the papers: when Sega-Sammy acquired them in 2013, they also got Atlus USA's experienced localization branch, and that extra manpower lead to a lot more of Sega's Japanese catalog getting overseas releases.
Persona and Yakuza are highlighted as two series that have been waking waves globally, selling around 9 million and 11 million units respectively. There's also this interesting quote:
“During the product development stage, game content is shared with the localization team for translation before the development is finished, facilitating the rapid release of foreign language versions of the game. We will strengthen such collaboration further with the aim of simultaneously releasing games around the world, which is an objective of Road to 2020.”
Wow, Sega might actually be aiming for global releases of big titles! Of course, simultaneous global localized releases are a lot easier said than done, but if they can't pull that off, they can hopefully cut localization time down a bit while still putting out stuff on par with the work seen in Yakuza and Valkyria Chronicles.
The report is available online and full of interesting info, provided you can wade through all the dull corporate-speak. Most excitingly, there's a hint that Sakura Wars (which, by the way, is being featured in a Love Live collaboration) might not be the only dormant IP Sega's working to resurrect. We all know what this means, folks: the return of DD Crew!
Impressions: Soul Calibur VI
By Zac Bertschy
I'm so happy Soul Calibur is back.
It's been six long years since the release of the last SoulCalibur game, long enough to make me wonder if Bandai Namco had any intention of resurrecting the series after SoulCalibur V seemed to let everyone down back in 2012. That was a pretty depressing thought – like a lot of other aging nerds, I've been banging my head against the series since Soul Edge on the OG Playstation; once Namco renamed it and overhauled both the cast and the gameplay to incredible effect for the Dreamcast in 1999, I've been under the impression that SoulCalibur is the most gorgeous, accessible and downright fun 3D fighting game franchise in existence. That's something the series continually proved to me, particularly in the dynamite second installment, and yeah, even the one that had Yoda in it. Then came SoulCalibur V, which was brimming with a bunch of really strange choices – the game's story mode was kind of a joke, big chunks of the classic roster were ripped out and replaced with a new, younger cast that had the same movesets anyway, and most crucially, they monkeyed with the game's 8-way run system, which resulted in a game that just wasn't anywhere near as much fun to play. Even as much as I didn't like all those changes, though, I wasn't ready for the franchise to enter perma-sleep; surely its soul still burned, somewhere. Hopefully not just as a pachinko machine or something.
Thankfully, after many hours with SoulCalibur VI, it's clear Bandai Namco took all that feedback from the fifth one and really dug deep. This feels like the best SoulCalibur since the second one.
It might just be my own palpable relief that 8-way run is back, but SoulCalibur VI instantly feels like coming home, with a few new fun gameplay twists that deepen the game for both hardcore and casual players. Everything I know and love from the best entries in the series seems like it's in here – my muscle memories from countless hours spent playing the first four SoulCalibur games instantly became useful again, but it isn't just a rehash. The most instantly noticeable tweak is Reversal Edge, a new rock-paper-scissors mechanic that allows you to first absorb a bunch of hits and then launches you into slow-motion melodramatics with the R1 button. Once the sparks are flying, you make a choice – a kick will defeat a vertical attack, but a horizontal attack will defeat a kick, a vertical attack will triumph over a horizontal attack, and then there are combinations and complications within. It's a pretty simple idea, executed well, with deeper implications for expert gameplay that still manages to enhance the surface-level experience for casual players. They've made a few other changes too – Critical Edges are easier to pull off now, Soul Charge has been overhauled, and all of it – every last one of these gameplay changes – feel like they're in service of making the game more fun.
Story-wise, if you're here for the lore, you're about to be drowning in it – SoulCalibur VI has not one but two distinct story modes, each of them an unrelenting firehose of visual novel-style slides with endless dialogue, touring you through this reboot of the original SoulCalibur story from a whole smorgasbord of perspectives. One mode basically mirrors the story modes of old – pick your favorite SoulCalibur drama queen from a timeline, and fight your way through their personal tale while intersecting with the stories being told by the rest of the cast. Then there's Libra of Souls, a much more elaborate single-player campaign where you create your own glamorous warrior and have them fight across an entire RPG map, complete with a robust character and weapon upgrade system exclusive to that mode. It's more single-player content than these games have had in a while – maybe ever, given just how involved Libra of Souls can get. Personally, I found the endless slides to get a little monotonous – I found myself skipping dialogue to get to the fighting already, but the folks who show up to Soul Calibur for the storytelling will doubtlessly be pleased by the sheer excess here.
Excess has always been key to SoulCalibur, though, and if I have one complaint, it's that design-wise, this one just doesn't feel quite as ambitious in its visual execution. In SoulCalibur II you fight inside the hidden ruins of a glittering desert temple, the dripping, atmospheric Roman underground, and an enormous spinning clockwork contraption with automatons ringing the edge. Soul Calibur III featured an actively burning library to fight in, while the fourth one gave you the Death Star hangar bay. Even the fifth one had stages that felt more in line with what you might expect from SoulCalibur – over-the-top explosive design that doesn't so much suggest a location as it does mash your face in it, and that feels largely absent here. The arenas all feel a little too bland – you're fighting on a generic pier, or on a desert monolith surrounded by bland, forgettable ruins. None of it really stands out.
From a performance perspective, I didn't really expect to appreciate the Steam version the most – I'm used to playing SoulCalibur on consoles, and this is the first time any entry in the series has been made available on PC, but they clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into the port. I played the game on my base PS4 and it seemed a little framey and low-res to me, but the PC version ran like a champ on my now-extremely-old GTX 970 – which managed to run the game flawlessly on ultra settings at 1080p. It was a smooth and beautiful experience on PC, and I couldn't recommend it more. I haven't tried the game on a PS4 Pro, but if fidelity and framerate are as important to you as they are to me, you might want to consider the Steam version.
Environmental nitpicks aside, this feels like the Soul Calibur game I've been waiting for. There's something fundamental about this series, about what it provides – I've always felt that Soul Calibur functions best as a party game, something anyone can pick up and have a great time, something you huddle around the TV and enjoy with your friends on a rowdy Friday night. That sensation disappeared with the fifth game, but this one feels – immediately – like that experience is what it's built for. Every choice that was made steered it toward fun and accessible, and that's really what stands out. Heidi will have a full and much more compete review out early next week, but personally, I couldn't recommend this thing enough.
Zac's already written some words about Soul Calibur VI, but if you hand to hack and slash up more dudes at a time – like, hundreds of ‘em – you'll probably want to look into Warriors Orochi 4, the odd crossover between Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and, uh… Greek and Norse mythology. Yeah, it gets kinda weird. You can grab that on PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. The 4K remaster of Resonance of Fate is also appearing on Steam and PS4 this week, so grab that if you missed this fine JRPG the first time around.
I assume a lot of you are still plowing through Valkyria Chronicles 4, but Switch owners can now snag the original Valkyria Chronicles Remastered as well – plus, if you own the Switch download version of VC4, you can get a discount! Switch fans with a taste for interesting indie titles have some great stuff to look forward to in the form of Black Bird, an arcade shooter from Onion Games and Yoshiro Kimura, and WILL: A Wonderful World, a visual novel where you play God… literally. Finally, Switch owners will at long last get Dark Souls Remastered, though I think we're all really in it just for the Solaire amiibo.
And that wraps up another week of fun and games. Don't forget to step outside and enjoy some nice fall weather sometimes, too!
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