This Week in Games
Just Say No

by Heidi Kemps,

Life comes at you fast sometimes. You might be mentally preparing a fun featurette for your weekly column since it's looking like it'll be a slow news week, when suddenly, BAM! A celebrity involved with a highly anticipated Japanese game release gets busted for drugs and triggers a big domino effect that leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

So yeah, let's talk a lot about what's easily the biggest news story in Japanese games this week.

JUDGMENT'S RELEASE JUST GOT REALLY, REALLY MESSY

Do you know Pierre Taki? Unless you live in Asia or follow Japanese celebrities, you probably don't, but you've likely been exposed something he's worked on. He's part of synthpop band Denki Groove, and a celebrity by himself, doing a lot of acting and voicework alongside music.

Well, maybe I should put that in the past tense. Pierre WAS doing a lot of acting, voicework, and music. And then he got arrested for cocaine possession earlier this week.

So, here's the thing about drug busts in Japan. Here in North America, learning of a celeb's drug habits seems almost routine – hell, we pretty much expect everyone who was involved in music and Hollywood in the 80s and 90s to have snorted an 8-ball at some point in their career. It's only when the drug problem gets really bad and lengthy stints in rehab happen that their image is impacted. If they kick the habit, bounce back, and reclaim their fame, it feels like a real triumph.

Japan is very different. As Justin Sevakis explained in an old Answerman column, an arrest for drug use and/or possession – or even the mere suspicion that you may be involved with imbibing illicit substances – is enough to kill your career, full-stop, especially if you have any sort of fame. You don't just stop getting work after a drug arrest: people and companies who had worked with you in the past will essentially erase your work from existence, yanking CDs and movies off shelves, deleting mentions of you online, and so on. We've seen this happen in anime: the Studio Ghibli produced Chage and Aska music video On Your Mark was vaulted after Aska got nailed for drugs, as did the 2000 Pokemon short Pikachu and Pichu when narrator Noriko Sakai was arrested.

Unfortunately, Pierre Taki was also involved in games. Some pretty big games, the most notable of which is Yakuza series spinoff Judgment, aka Judge Eyes in Japan.

Pierre not only voice acted the character of Kyohei Hamura in the game, he's also the base for the character model, as you can see above. And once the news broke of Pierre's arrest, people who knew how the Japanese-celebrity-drug-arrest-song-and-dance goes were quick to act by ordering and downloading copies of Judge Eyes as soon as they possibly could.

Sales on Amazon Japan of both Judge Eyes and Kingdom Hearts III immediately began to spike (the latter due to Pierre being the Japanese voice of Frozen’s Olaf) based on predictions that the games would soon be removed from the market. Speculators were at least partially right on predicting what would happen, as Sega of Japan soon announced that all shipments and promotion of the game would be suspended. In fact, to show just how serious they were taking their “self-restraint,” they went back and scrubbed their web pages and social media accounts of any mention of the game.

(Square-Enix, however, hasn't said anything regarding Kingdom Hearts III, though it's a snowball's chance in hell that Pierre's coming back for Frozen 2.)

Is Sega going to re-release the game with a recast actor, as they are doing with the Yakuza 4 remaster? They haven't said anything yet. Perhaps of more importance to us outside of Asia, however: What's going to happen with the Western release? Seeing as how Pierre isn't a big celebrity here, the game should be okay, right?

Well, it's hard to say, since the game uses a lot of real-life talent, particularly star Takuya Kimura, and all of them are represented by agencies who are very keen on maintaining the “image” of their actors. It doesn't matter if Pierre is a relative nobody in North America, these agencies may no longer want their talent associated with him in any form, including a Western release.

Takashi Mochizuki of the Wall Street Journal tweeted that Sega is still deciding what to do with regards to the Western games, and the Twitter accounts of folks involved with the Yakuza series localization haven't said anything. It's probably a tough subject that's stressful for a lot of folks both in Japan and here right now, so unfortunately, we're going to have to wait to learn what's going to happen to Judgment.

NIS AMERICA ANNOUNCES A BUNCH OF NEW RELEASES

Onto something a bit more positive, we've got NIS America's spring showcase of new game announcements! First off is a re-release of 3DS game The Alliance Alive as The Alliance Alive: HD Remastered on PS4, Switch, and Steam.

I really liked this game on the 3DS – it's got a fun Suikoden-meets-SaGa feel to it, which isn't surprising when you learn that staff who had worked on both of those series were involved with it. Heck, you can go read my review of it if you want! I'm glad to see it coming to more platforms. The question is, will NIS use the 3DS game's localization, or redo it from scratch? (Hoping for the former.)

Next we've got Underwater Ray Romano… er, Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen. This is an enhanced port of the original PC Utawarerumono visual novel/strategy game to the PS4 and the PS Vita, due out sometime next year. Nice to see that despite the system's production being officially halted, NIS is still trying to support the Vita as it goes softly into the night.

Finally, there's Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers, due out this fall on Switch and PS4. In a quaint fantasy village with a Disneyland-like castle, time has suddenly come to a halt, and an army of machines has beset the time-trapped town. It's up to a young boy, girl, and a big ol’ robot to try and put things right. Is this the PuLiRuLa spiritual successor I've always longed for? Probably not, but it does look cool.

Interestingly, there's been no mention of Ys IX from NIS… though it's still very early in development. Has Falcom Japan even shopped around the rights yet, I wonder?

VANILLAWARE IS DOING SOMETHING AFTER 13 SENTINELS

Vanillaware certainly doesn't rush their games out the door. It feels like their mech-drama game 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has been in development forever, but the recent release of the Prelude demo disc for the game in Japan has revealed that even as George Kamitani's house works to wrap up their current game, they're already planning another. And here's the trailer from Persona Central!

We don't have much to go on besides this, but it's safe to say that Vanillaware seems to be going back to the fantasy well for whatever this turns out to be.

NEW RELEASES

Speaking of NIS, they've got a game out this week: The Caligula Effect: Overdose, an enhanced version of the original PS Vita RPG for Switch and PS4. You may have seen the recent anime tie-in that aired around this time last year, though it… didn't turn out super well. But maybe you liked it, I dunno! Anyway, if the concept of this game intrigues you – a bunch of societal misfits trapped in a virtual world by an AI gone mad who wants their happiness at all costs attempting to escape – by all means check it out!

Other than that, we've mostly got ports and re-issues of older games: a free-to-play version of Dissidia Final Fantasy NT for PS4, cult favorite Neo-Geo puzzler Money Idol Exchanger on PS4, and arcade classic Ikari Warriors… also on PS4. That last one seems redundant since the game is included as part of the upcoming PS4 release of SNK Anniversary Collection… but it does have leaderboards!

I know what I'm playing this week, though: alternate-reality retro internet adventure Hypnospace Outlaw. I am a huge sucker for web 1.0 weirdness, and this game promises to deliver in spades.

And that does it for This Week in Games. I'll be at Game Developers Conference next week, so somebody else will be giving you the hot takes on fresh news while I'm cavorting around downtown San Francisco. Don't worry, I'll be back with some really good stuff!


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