This Week in Games
The Old Frontier

by Heidi Kemps,

Hello again! How was your holiday weekend? Good, I hope!

We've got some news to dissect this week, and there's some very serious stuff we need to talk about. But before that... HEY!! YOU!! Yeah, YOU!!! Are you a SEGA NERD??? Because you'll have to PROVE IT!

Nah, not trying to be aggressive, just wanted to evoke a bit of 90s marketing nostalgia there. But yes, from January 23-24th, Sega is holding an online, 60-minute test about all things Sega-related. I passed the Sega Tests in Yakuza Like a Dragon with flying colors, and my living space is plastered with Megadrive hardware posters, Sega Saturn logo towels, and Dreamcast-shaped magnets, so I should be in good shape. …Right?

Well, if this promo video hosted by longtime Sega employee Hiroyuki Miyazaki is any indication, this quiz is going to go deep. Here, he talks about numerous Sega prototypes and codename projects from the 90s, going in-depth about a ton of stuff that never made it to market (and also showing off a prototype of the Sega Nomad). There's a good chunk here that I've only heard for the first time! (Also, in case you are curious, a Sega Pluto prototype has indeed been found and repaired.)

Ah, it appears I have used the preamble to geek out over Sega-related things again. That seems to happen a lot. Sorry! (Not sorry.) So, let's move on to the week's news!

SAGA FRONTIER IS FINALLY GOING TO BE A FINISHED GAME AFTER 24 YEARS

I'm old enough to remember back when Final Fantasy VII first released and how, after playing it, a bunch of new RPG fans were looking for other Squaresoft RPGs to sink their teeth into. Fortunately, Sony had inked a deal to publish three more of their games, one of which was SaGa Frontier, the first SaGa title since the Game Boy era to see an English release. Unfortunately, SaGa Frontier was… well, not what people wanted, to put it lightly. The freeform, non-linear playstyle  and narrative was something Japanese players had grown used to over the course of three Super Famicom games, but for fresh-faced Western players expecting another FF7-style epic, the backlash was so intense and severe that SaGa’s reputation in the West has been mud ever since.

Also, the game was pretty unfinished, so that didn't help matters. But Japan liked it enough, and over the years, Western fans have come to appreciate SaGa Frontier a lot more. So when word of SaGa Frontier Remastered hit last week, there was a lot of positivity going around!

It does look pretty good, too: while the pre-rendered sprites and backgrounds definitely have that dated mid-90s look to them, Square apparently kept data for them in high enough resolutions that they could be brought to HD platforms and look nice and crisp. SaGa Frontier Remastered is how we thought all games in 2020 would look like back in 1997!

But it's not just the visuals getting a nice punch-up: SaGa Frontier is actually going to be finished this time. Originally, eight playable characters were planned, but one – Fuse, the cop – was cut in a crunch to get the game out the door. There are also a lot of story events that got cut, leading to plot sequences that felt severely truncated. (If you're interested, I do recommend checking out the Saga Frontier article on The Cutting Room Floor to learn about what got axed.) Much of this is set to be restored in the remaster, making for much more fleshed-out game.

Will this remaster help SaGa Frontier wash away its long-standing bad reputation outside of Japan? It's a very different market now, so I'm hoping that more folks will decide to play for themselves – plus, the game getting some extra polish doesn't hurt, either. And let's be clear here: SaGa artist Tomomi Kobayashi is the absolute GOAT. Just look at her artwork! God, it's all so fantastic!

It kills me that we have the technology to replicate the dreamy, ethereal look of Yoshitaka Amano and Tomomi Kobayashi's art in games, but publishers just don't want to because they're convinced that only photorealism will ever sell.

So, yes. SaGa Frontier Remastered. A pleasant surprise, and hopefully a chance at redemption for one of the PS1's more poorly-received Squaresoft releases.

SNK HAS A SURPRISE BUYER…

Oh boy, this isn't going to be a fun one to write, but I gotta do it anyway. Sigh.

News broke last Thursday not long after the last TWIG went live (which always happens) that SNK had a new investor that had just bought 33.3 percent of their shares, and were looking to acquire a further 17 percent. That investor? None other than the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, through his MISK charity.

Your first reaction might be “wait, why would Saudi royalty be interested in SNK, of all companies?” Simple answer: there are Saudi nerds with a lot of money to throw around. Anime, games, movies, professional wrestling, American sports… these rich guys love this sort of stuff, and when they're willing to throw their money around, they can get access to it. (I do suggest reading about the disastrous WWE events in Riyadh.) And by all accounts, bin Salman's quite the otaku.

And then you have SNK, a company whose arcade franchises have tremendous international fame and reach. King of Fighters has a very well-established Saudi fandom – in fact, the character Najd from King of Fighters XIV was a collaboration with a Saudi company called Manga Productions… which also has ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman through MISK. Hmm!

The problem with this is… ugh, where do we even start? I mean, Saudi Arabia's a monarchy where the royals have absolute say over everything, and they're more than happy to restrict freedom of expression through censorship and force. Human and civil rights are quite frequently ranked among the lowest in the world. Political protestors and critics are often outright killed. In fact, SNK's new investor is linked to a very high-profile murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

So… yeah. One of SNK's biggest shareholders, who is looking to acquire a majority stake, is a guy in charge of a notoriously repressive regime who has more than likely ordered the brutal murder of at least one person. I've heard people express concern that the Saudi ownership might force some of the more fanservicey female characters to cover up, which is a. unlikely to happen on a global scale, and b. seriously, that's what you're upset about and not the murder?!

Of course, one could very easily point out that there are a lot of other ties to dubious ethics in games that go mostly ignored. We readily engage with numerous titles that have ties to Chinese financiers and publishers, several of which censor any sort of politically sensitive topics like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or the Uighur people. (In fact, SNK's current majority owners are Chinese, and recent re-issues of Neo-Geo titles had all references to Taiwan covertly scrubbed.) For a more specific example, Dragon Quest composer Koichi Sugiyama is very well known for his denial of Japanese war crimes and support of far-right, anti-LGBT politicians. Yet many of us, myself included, are willing to justify our support of these things – “art over the artist,” “it's not fair to the other people who worked on this who don't think like this,” “it's mandated by government and the devs had no say,” and so on.

With all that in mind, is it fair to the many employees of SNK – many of whom more than likely don't support the gross abuses of the Saudi regime – to boycott their products based on a high-level purchase they had no say in? Honestly, that's an extremely tough question to answer. I know I personally am going to find it a fair bit harder to be as enthusiastic about future SNK releases, but I don't know if I can bring myself to stop supporting them entirely.

Which leads us into more SNK news...

KING OF FIGHTERS XV HAS A REVEAL DATE, TEASER IMAGES

"Where's King of Fighters XV?" has been something I've been hearing from fighting game fans all year. The title was teased last year with an announcement that it was being worked on, but since then, SNK has kept their cards close to their chest, likely remembering the ridicule they faced from showcasing KoFXIV way too early.

We won't have to wait much longer, though, as King of Fighters XV now has a set reveal date, along with the next batch of Samurai Shodown DLC. SNK dropped a teaser annnouncement-of-an-announcement trailer this morning, showcasing some concept art and dropping the news that a full KoFXV reveal is set for January 7th. Check it out below:

Man... I wish I could be more excited about this, but... after the news above, the timing just feels wrong for me. Maybe I'll be more receptive in a month for the full reveal, but it's hard to get that purchase news out of my head right now. I'm not going to say you shouldn't be hyped, but if you are, you should understand that other folks are still pretty uncomfortable right now and respect that.

But while we're on the topic of fighting games, Bandai-Namco announced that Hwang's back inSoul Calibur VI as DLC, and he's being voiced in English by fan favorite SungWon Cho, aka ProZD. He just became available yesterday, so have a look!

Well. That... was a news week, for sure. I mentioned wanting to talk about Umihara Kawase BaZooKa this week, but that was before all of this SNK stuff happened, and I decided we needed to discuss that at length. I still plan to talk about our little fishing friend and her single-screen platforming adventures here very soon, though!

As usual, I invite you to discuss the news in the forums, but we're dealing with some sensitive issues this week, so please keep it civil. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you here again next week.


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