This Week in Games
by Todd Ciolek,
You see, prices for Judgment spiked on the secondhand market, as Sega hasn't yet detailed whether they will reissue the game without Taki (who lent both his voice and image to the character) or just take the massive loss. The same thing happened last week to Season 3 DVD sets of The Simpsons following the news that the episode “Stark Raving Dad” would be pulled from circulation due to its connection with Michael Jackson.
These panics among fans and collectors always put me in mind of a certain video game remembered only for being recalled—a game called Kakuto Chokin.
Kakuto Chojin: Back Alley Brutal appeared on the Xbox in late 2002 as part of Microsoft's expensive effort to snag exclusives from Japanese developers. This approach would lead to fantastic offerings like Phantom Dust and Lost Odyssey, but Kakuto Chojin was an early speedbump. Microsoft clearly wanted a first-party 3-D fighting game to compete with Virtua Fighter or Tekken, and Kakuto Chojin even involved some former Tekken staffers. The result was a flat and forgettable outing, though, and few gave it any credit upon its debut.
Yet the world wasn't finished with Kakuto Chojin. In early 2003 someone noticed that the game's soundtrack included chanted verses from the Quran, and before long several Muslim groups called for the game's recall. Rather than reissue the game with altered music, as Nintendo had done with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Microsoft pulled Kakuto Chojin from shelves.
This news soon spread among game collectors, and I was one of them. We were convinced that Kakuto Chojin would be a coveted rarity, a future holy grail among those who hunt down old video games. After all, we thought that Bandai had recalled Stadium Events for the NES back in 1987 (a rumor now widely disproved), and that game was worth a fortune!
So what did I do? I went out and bought Kakuto Chojin before it disappeared. A local Target had a copy for forty bucks, the game having already dropped in price, and I nabbed it with a vision of eBay grandeur clouding my mind.
I wasn't the only one. In the coming months there was no shortage of eBay sellers hawking sealed copies of this assuredly rare and controversial game, and no one wanted to pay even forty bucks for it. After a few unsuccessful attempts at unloading my copy, I returned it to Target and used that store credit for some Peanut Butter Crunch and a new printer cartridge.
And how much profit would I have reaped if I'd kept that Kakuto Chojin sealed and waiting for the day it would be a collectible wonder? Well, let's see how much a brand new copy commands on eBay right now.
And there's a lesson: recalls don't always equal rarity. Things may be different for major Yakuza spin-offs and Simpsons episodes, of course, but I think the rule still applies. Buy the games and movies and TV collections that you actually want, and not the ones that you think will make you rich fifteen years down the road.
This news pleases me on two counts. For one thing, we're getting a localized edition of Square Enix's Valkyrie Anatomia: The Origin. Better yet, I have actual news about the Valkyrie Profile series to report. No longer must I weave mentions of it into unrelated articles about Valkyria Chronicles and Valkyrie Drive!
Valkyrie Anatomia: The Origin debuted in 2016 as a mobile-device prequel to the Valkyrie Profile series, a line of inventive RPGs that blend Norse myths and button-mashing battles. As a longtime fan of Valkyrie Profile, I was afraid that Anatomia would tank so hard that Square Enix would forget the entire franchise. Yet it's held strong for almost three years, enjoying character crossovers with everything from NieR Automata to Fullmetal Alchemist.
And it's largely deserved. Valkyrie Anatomia replicates the battle systems of its predecessors, letting players tap buttons to make characters attack, cast spells, and create all sorts of combo attacks. The game falls into the same narrative rhythm as the original Valkyrie Profile, letting heroine Lenneth Valkyrie gaze upon the tragic final days of mortal warriors before she recruits them for her private squad in Odin's army.
It looks pretty good for an Android and iOS creation, and the characters are compelling in their backstories and designs (though they're closer to the standard-issue cast of Valkyrie Profile 2 than the ornate portraits of the first game or Covenant of the Plume). The dungeons are simple affairs, though, and the game, like most free-to-play lures, all but forces you to buy special items by limiting characters' levels until you find certain treasures. Them's the breaks with mobile games, you know.
Once Valkyrie Anatomia proved a success, I hoped that Square Enix would port it to a dedicated system like the Vita, perhaps with fully realized dungeons. Well, we're not getting that, but we're getting a worldwide release of the game this Spring from Square Enix and Wonder Planet.
Valkyrie Anatomia's official Facebook page has footage and screenshots of the game in English (complete with enough typos to make me worry), and it promises rewards for new players should the page get enough likes. The old-school nerd in me cringes at the sight of the normally regal Lenneth Valkyrie telling people to “like my page,” but I signed up all the same. Valkyrie Anatomia is clearly the future of the series, and I'm ready to go through it all again once the official English version appears.
KONAMI COLLECTIONS CONCEIVE CANNY CONTRA, CASTLEVANIA CONTINUATIONS
All evidence suggested that Konami didn't care about most of their video-game catalog any longer. Since restructuring and cutting back in 2015, the once-revered game company did little beyond a new Metal Gear (sans creator Hideo Kojima) and a Bomberman update.
Well, Konami is back—or rather, Konami is perfectly willing to exploit their old library for the sort of retro-game collections we're seeing more and more these days. Three Konami Anniversary Collections, celebrating the company's 50th birthday, bring titles from the Contra series, the Castlevania series, and Konami's varied '80s arcade action pieces to every major modern platform. The Contra set has the arcade versions of Contra and Super Contra, plus the NES version of Super C and the Super NES outing Contra III: The Alien Wars. The Castlevania side has the original Castlevania and Castlevania III from the NES, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge from the Game Boy, and Super Castlevania IV from the Super NES.
Fans will note manifold exclusions there, but we've seen only half of the included games so far: each collection has four “Coming Soon” spots to be filled, so everyone can speculate about what belongs there, whether it's the NES version of Contra, the fantastic Contra Hard Corps, or the strangely overlooked Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Best of all would be Contra Rebirth and Castlevania Rebirth, since both were recently made legally unavailable when the Wii online store shuttered.
The Arcade Classics Collection, however, was apparently revealed in full. We get Haunted Castle (technically a Castlevania game), Gradius (aka Nemesis), Salamander (aka Lifeforce), Vulcan Venture (aka Gradius III), TwinBee, Thunder Cross, Typhoon (aka A-Jax), and the much older Scramble. That's not a bad lineup from a historical standpoint, even if Scramble seems out of place and Haunted Castle is a solid contender for the worst Castlevania. Yet it's missing a lot of interesting Konami arcade offerings that never saw home versions: Xexex, Monster Maulers, Metamorphic Force, Vendetta, Mystic Warriors, and the memorably scored Violent Storm. I can understand why Konami wouldn't pay to re-license their brawlers based on Bucky O'Hare or C.O.W.-boys of Moo Mesa, but there's a lot arcade history still untapped.
SEGA ASKS ABOUT “OTHER” GAMES, SO TELL THEM
Sega recently opened a poll about their numerous game franchise, asking players which titles they'd like to see expanded in future games. The list is long and covers many Sega hits, from Sonic and Streets of Rage to slightly more obscure (in America, at least) names like Sakura Wars and Puyo Puyo. Yet it isn't a complete list by any stretch, and there's a helpful “Other” section where you can suggest additional Sega games in need of a comeback.
And there's plenty to write there. I could start with Panzer Dragoon, a series of rail shooters (and one RPG) with a marvelous, Mobius-derived style and a world of ancient secrets and rideable dragons. Forever Entertainment announced a remake of the first two Panzer Dragoon games this past December, but the last new game we saw was 2003's spectacular Panzer Dragoon Orta (above). I think it's worth reminding Sega that we all care about the series and that Sega definitely shouldn't cancel those remakes behind the scenes.
What else? How about Guardian Heroes, the 2-D brawler series that's technically a Treasure creation but is still owned by Sega? The original Sega Saturn game saw a reissue on the Xbox 360, but there's been no actual successor since the much-maligned Game Boy Advance sequel that I will defend to my last breath. At this point, even a straight port of the Xbox 360 edition on modern systems would be welcome.
Furthermore, your suggestions don't have to be actual series. Please bring up Burning Rangers, a highly imaginative Sega Saturn action game about futuristic firefighters and their cheeseball heroics, all stuffed onto a system that could barely handle it. And what about Last Bronx, the gritty, weapons-based 3-D fighter that never gained the traction of Virtua Fighter or even Fighting Vipers? It actually got a live-action movie back in 1997!
Nothing's off the table as long as it's connected to Sega somehow. Perhaps you're a big fan of Dynamite Dux, that arcade oddity about two ducks who rescue a human woman by attacking other cute little creatures with bombs, machine guns, and rocket launchers. Maybe you want another gorgeously illustrated Astal game or a finished version of the arcade prototype Psy-Phi! And hey, Sega could even bring back Vic Tokai's Battle Mania/Trouble Shooter games if enough people suggest it! So dig deep into your Sega fandom and see what you find.
ZELDA GOES DANCING
We didn't really expect a new Zelda game at Nintendo's indie showcase this week, but that's what we got. Well, it's a spin-off of Zelda, but no one quite predicted it: Cadence of Hyrule is a rhythmic action-RPG from the makers of the musical dungeon-hack Crypt of the Necrodancer. It's the most shocking Zelda crossover since Shotaro Ishinomori put a Cyborg-009 character in Nintendo Power's official comic!
Cadence of Hyrule brings Crypt of the Necrodancer's novel mechanics to a Zelda action-RPG, putting Link and Princess Zelda (and Necrodancer's star, Cadence) into battles where they'll match the beat of an enemy's attacks while using trademark series weapons. It sounds promising, and we won't have to wait long for it; Cadence of Hyrule is due out on the Switch this spring.
Well, this week has some prominent releases from…wait, did Blaster Master Zero II just come out of nowhere? Nintendo announced it during its indie-game spotlight and released it on the Switch right then and there. In this age of constant news leaks and accurate rumors and long-term hype, it's nice to get a surprise.
And Blaster Master Zero II looks like the best sort of surprise. The first Blaster Master Zero reforged the NES Blaster Master into a steadier, more complex action-adventure while retaining the best parts of the entire series, including hero Jason rescuing his pet frog and meeting up with an alien android named Eve (who originated in the Blaster Master Worlds of Power book, believe it or not). The sequel has even grander ambitions: with Eve slowly succumbing to a mutant cell sickness, she and Jason and the frog take their battle-tank to the stars, exploring planets and meeting up with even stranger rivals and monsters. The sprawling side-view levels are best explored in that tank, equipped with new weapons and an energy-recharging system, but Jason can hop out to investigate overhead stages. It's all linked together in Metroid/Castlevania fashion, and the pixel artwork looks fantastic.
Most of all, I want to know why Eve is crying blood. That's not right.
SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE
(PS4, XBOX ONE, PC)
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice can't escape comparisons to Dark Souls and Bloodborne, despite the ostensible diversion: Sekiro prefers a mystical vision of Sengoku-era Japan, and it lacks the RPG trappings of From Software's brutal gothic fantasy outings. To that end, From builds a bleak atmosphere around Sekiro's eponymous samurai protagonist, who's left without one arm and without his young master at the tale's opening. That's a distinct problem in a Japan filled with ogres and demons as well as more historically accurate throngs of soldiers and assassins.
Our hero fortunately gains a prosthetic arm than can use grappling hooks, gunpowder, and numerous other weapons. The base combat and the punishing defeat recall Dark Souls, but even then Sekiro has a more fluid sense of swordplay, letting its hero jump and climb and weave with greater freedom than you'll typically see in From's most famous series. Perhaps it's closer to their lesser-known works, Otogi and Ninja Blade. Or perhaps Sekiro deserves better than mere comparisons. It's a seemingly gorgeous adventure with a great breadth of swordplay, and that's enough to stand on its own.
SUPER ROBOT WARS T
Super Robot Wars T technically isn't out in North America, but once again that won't stop scores of fans from importing the Asian version of the latest mecha strategy-RPG crossover. Fussy legalisms prevent its official release here, but this new Super Robot Wars can be had in a region-free version translated competently enough to signal that Bandai Namco knows just how many American players will pick it up.
Like most license-heavy Super Robot Wars titles, the newest puts a few original characters in the midst of mecha from all sorts of anime series. Battles are strategic grids, but the player now enjoys a diagonal 3-D view while guiding robots around and watching their faithfully animated special attacks. Typical guests like Mazinger, Gunbuster, Votoms, Gundam, and GAH GAH GAH! GAH GAH GAH! Gaogaigar are on hand, but Super Robot Wars T inducts some new names with characters and machines from Cowboy Bebop, Captain Harlock, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Expelled from Paradise. Some will point out that Harlock and the crew of the Bebop don't pilot actual robots, but the series can't be too strict about that. If they allowed only mecha, the well would run so dry that the Super Robot Wars games of 2030 would introduce Robby the Rascal, Diatron-5, and the Doozy Bots.
(PS4, SWITCH, PC)
Fate/Extella The Umbral Star took the Fate/(Noun) series into the realm of Dynasty Warriors, with the expected results: players beat up hordes of lackwit enemies once again, but here they did it by controlling Nero Claudius, Attila, and other Fate-world takes on historical figures. Fate/Extella Link adds 10 new characters and continues the first game's storyline directly, complete with goofy side attractions and a glossary of terms that explains a lot. It's clearly made for the Fate crowd, but no one needs an index of terminology to slash through a crowd of soldiers.
Guess what? Final Fantasy VII is out on the Switch and Xbox One! I know, right? All that fuss over Square's big Final Fantasy VII remake, and they just dumped it on us this week!
Oh, wait. It's just the original Final Fantasy VII from 1997, albeit freshly ported to two systems that haven't had it before. In fact, this is the first time Final Fantasy VII's been on a Nintendo console since the game notoriously morphed from a rumored Nintendo 64 title to a Sony PlayStation showcase back in 1996. Go find those Software Etc. clerks who told you twenty-three years ago that Final Fantasy VII wasn't going to be on a Nintendo system, because they were wrong, wrong, wrong.
That's all for this column! Heidi will return next week, and I'll be around my usual haunts. Have fun out there, and try not to spoil Final Fantasy VII's big twist for the two or three people who always wanted to play it, never did until now, and somehow avoided video-game pop culture for two decades.
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