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This Week in Games
Cirno Is Stronger Than AI

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Welcome back, everyone! It finally happened: we hit triple-digit weather in my city. And it was rough. I know I'm always clamoring for the heat, but even back home, you didn't see a whole week of triple-digit weather. This stuff just isn't natural. Walking outside is like getting punched in the face by a wave of heat. You can't even enjoy the breeze; it's just hot air. I'm really hoping people are keeping safe and hydrated; this heat wave is dangerous.

Also, it was Comiket last weekend! I don't get to talk about Comiket a bunch, but I love it. As a younger man, I loved it for all the new comic nasties that would come out. As an adult... I still like it for those reasons, but also because Twitter has given me a new appreciation for all of the independent artists in Japan who make all kinds of stuff and schlep it all to Tokyo for the most ridiculous indie marketplace ever. Indie musicians, models, game makers, and mangaka of all stripes showing off their hard-made stuff. It helps that there are a handful of artists whose stuff I've followed over the years that I support now by importing their stuff! Thank you, middleman services! Will I ever go to Comiket? I'unno, don't even know if I'll ever get to set foot in Japan—though I'd love to, I need to make a pilgrimage to the Kamen Rider statue in Ishinomiya. Or the Fuji TV station in Odaiba (you know why).

This is...


Touhou Creator Airs Out Issues with AI

As mentioned earlier, it was Comiket 102 this past weekend (note: Comiket is held every August and December, so no, Comiket hasn't been going on since 1901—it started in 1975). As I also mentioned, people sell more than just naughty comics starring whatever flavor-of-the-month premium girl is making the rounds at the moment; there are plenty of work-safe comics starring whatever flavor-of-the-month premium girl is making the rounds at the moment, along with models (both work-safe and non-work-safe), musicians, writers, even game makers. There's a fun bit of recursiveness to see Comiket models cosplaying as characters from other doujin work that got their start at Comiket. And there's no better example of Comiket's diversity than the Queen of Comiket, the Touhou series: that ever-present series of vertical bullet-hell ("danmaku") shooters all made by the loveable and apologetic beer-drinker with a sweet hat, ZUN.

While the Touhou series has seen all kinds of spin-offs getting licensed and released on consoles, the "main" games are all doujinshiZUN produces them independently (with the help of a few other people sometimes) and sells them at the soonest Comiket. And Comiket loves him for it: while Fate, The IDOLM@STER are perennial major franchises represented at Comiket, with Vtubers being a recent major addition, Touhou is also consistently up there in the rankings. So this year, all those naughty Touhou books were selling alongside a brand new Touhou game: Unfinished Dream of All Living Ghost, the nineteenth official entry in the Touhou series. The story is as out-there as it ever is for Touhou: it details a land war between various factions and individuals in the mystical sealed-off realm of Gensokyo after all land owner rights were invalidated following "the opening of the markets." While it's still a danmaku shooter, there's also a head-to-head mode based on the old arcade classic, Twinkle Star Sprites, where shooting up waves of enemies on your side of the screen sends more waves of enemies at your opponent.

ZUN had some words to share in the omake section of the game—notably, a few paragraphs dedicated to AI. As he puts it, AI has been in the news for a while now, and praises its efficiency. Anyone with an internet connection can produce something that looks pretty good within minutes... but he also states that, on its own, it is merely "efficient." "If AI symbolizes perfection, inorganic, and 'ends over means'," he goes on to say, "then the opposing symbol of imperfection, organicity, and the importance of 'the process' would be, in short, living creatures. While humans are all abuzz about AI, the beasts are the ones building a world of mental enrichment and a palpable sense of life."

There's a lot to this statement. I've already talked about how passionate most people have to be to submit their works to Comiket, but I do wanna reiterate that. There are all kinds of passion on display: people who are drawing their favorite girls from franchises long out of date purely because they still love them (shout-out to a certain artist who's drawn Sailor Moon smut since the early 90s and, uh... never stopped). One of my favorite artists has been drawing their own original character for 20 years—going from being published by Core Magazine to just putting out a new book with them every year or so for Comiket. They've been drawing their character for so long, their son is now a mangaka and getting his own feet wet drawing Fate doujinshi. Comiket is a hotbed of artists that start out making piles of Pretty Cure smut and go on to draw manga for established magazines. That's why so much of doujin culture fascinates me: there are all kinds of stories about the people that draw doujin manga and the years of passion that they have invested into this stuff. I've seen some creatives talk about "the rebellious nature of mangaka/doujinshika," and I believe it because there ain't no other way someone would go through the headache of trying to draw a 24-page comic, get it printed, then lug it to Tokyo to a crowded convention center crawling with hordes of otaku in the thralls of Japanese summer.

And it's not just doujin, it's art in general. There's a story to everyone, from the passionate big-name artist drawing for Wizards of the Coast to the folks on Patreon who just draw naughties of the seasonal favorites. The work and effort they put into stuff is what makes their art important, not just whether it's good or not. Maybe Souji Sato completely phoned in, I dunno, Divine Rainment Howling Moon because he was just working on it to keep the bills paid. Maybe someone just really loves Wicke from Pokémon. It takes all types, so even if their pin-up of Delia Ketchum is kinda wonky-looking there's something to it. You made something, that something has meaning. AI can never and will never have that. Even something like ChatGPT ultimately is meaningless because it's just predictive text based on a prompt. You may as well pull up a random number generator and laugh when it throws out "382" at you.

There's been a lot of discussion about Baldur's Gate 3 and the expectations it sets for gamers moving forward; I'm in the "yes, we should hold developers to task but also Baldur's Gate 3 is an outlier and should not be counted" camp. But you don't make a Baldur's Gate 3 by tossing prompts at an AI.

Raise a glass to ZUN and creatives like him when you have a chance. I mean, he never needs an excuse to throw back a pint (and we love him for it), but he and folks like him do make magic when they decide to throw their lot in with Comiket. And if you're interested in picking up Unfinished Dream of All Living Ghost, you can pick it up right now on Steam, though it will be exclusively in Japanese. We can only hope the girls are doing their best to make an English version, please wait warmly until it is ready.

Princess Maker 2 Gets Remake

While Studio Gainax is best known for their anime output, such as the classic Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water, the Re: Cutie Honey OVA (which you should pick up), and the industry-changing Neon Genesis Evangelion, they also dabbled in video games! They collaborated with Game Arts, creators of the Lunar series, with the production of the cult-classic Sega Genesis title Alisia Dragoon, for one. For another, Gainax created the Princess Maker games: a series of sim titles that saw you raising a girl into womanhood in the hopes of her becoming a great and beloved princess. It took Gainax years to make an anime based on it (hence Petite Princess Yucie), but Princess Maker is a big notch on their belt second only to the aforementioned Evangelion. We've gotten much of the series localized in the US—especially Princess Maker 2, which is held up as a favorite as far as the classic titles are concerned. And it looks like it's getting a new lease on life: Japanese game publisher Bliss Brain has announced a new port of Princess Maker 2 in honor of the game's 30th anniversary! Titled Princess Maker 2: Regeneration, this port will release for Steam, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch on December 21st of this year. It'll feature various languages, including English and Korean, as well as updated art from artist Takami Akai.


Princess Maker is much like Tokimeki Memorial in that it's a very influential Japanese game series whose influences run deep in Japanese games... but it doesn't get much lip service across the pond because it never really came over stateside for the longest time, and many of the games that would take the most cues from it also took a long time to come over. But for a really quick look at how Princess Maker influenced other games, you can look at Atelier Marie (which I reviewed a few months back). There are RPG mechanics, but it's not a game you can purely beat by fighting monsters. You've got a winsome female protagonist, and much of "beating" the game involves instructing her and cultivating her abilities. Where in Atelier Marie, it's mostly in the name of Marie becoming a licensed alchemist, Princess Maker is far more open-ended. Obviously, there are far more stats to take into account, like your Princess's Sensitivity, Morality, Reputation in various areas, and so on. These are all affected by various jobs she can take on: as she grows older, she gains access to more and more jobs that can improve her stats (while also earning some cash on the side for equipment). But it's all a balancing act: letting her work at the seedy night bar will earn her more money, but hanging with that crowd will be a negative influence on her Morality, for example. All this leads to a rather stunning number of endings. Sure, your Princess can indeed marry into royalty... or she can become a high-class courtesan. Or even a low-class one, Heaven forbid. She can overthrow gods or devils and take their station in the Divine Order, or even marry some of the named characters like that cute dragon-boy... or, er, you, if you pull that off. Interestingly, the game does give you the major side-eye for pulling a Genji like that.

Like I said, a ton of the Princess Maker games are up on Steam—you can even play the Refine updated re-release, which so far is likely the best way to play it. It's worth checking out if you're interested in retro games. Even without the Gainax collection, this is one to keep on your wishlist. And I guess you can also watch Petite Princess Yucie, if you want. I don't know anyone who actively despises it...?

The Pokémon Company's COO Thinks, "Maybe We Should Slow Things Down..."

Sweet baby Jesus H. Christ in his manger, someone finally got the hint.

We've talked a lot about Pokémon in this column. Just last week, we covered a bunch of the newer developments coming down the pipe for Pokémon Scarlet/Violet... and a lot of the dumb bellyaching that came from it. I've said it before, but it feels like a lot of Pokémon fans are just like Star Wars fans: in it to demonstrate how much they're "true fans" by not enjoying a damn thing. But there's one thing we can agree on; the Pokémon games need to slow down. As many have pointed out, those games have more or less been released on a yearly schedule for a very long time—much to the detriment of the individual games. While I will maintain that the Gen V games are Good, Actually™, and that it took X/Y for people to recognize that, the games since have all suffered from feeling... lacking. And that's before you get all the people who just bellyache over Pokémon not looking like Breath of the Wild. And it does feel like there was a ton of strife behind the scenes: X/Y seemed to set up for an inevitable Pokémon Z game featuring Zygarde, the third member of the Xerneas/Yveltal team... but for some strange reason, he was a mere side-quest in the Sun/Moon games. Meanwhile, Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby teased at the possibility of the beloved Battle Frontier returning... but nothing came of it. There was a big open field in-game where the Battle Frontier would have been in Pokémon Emerald with a sign promising future developments that remained unfulfilled. We'll likely never know what happened, but GAME FREAK got more comfortable with the idea of releasing DLC expansions to their games via Sword/Shield and now Scarlet/Violet... though a lot of people bemoan that Brilliant Pearl/Shining Diamond was tossed out the window, or that Legends: Arceus (which many held up as a breath of fresh air for the series) got an unfair shot, what with Scarlet/Violet releasing mere months later.

What with last weekend having been the Pokémon World Championships in Yokohama, an interview with The Pokémon Company (TPC) COO Takato Utsunomiya from Comicbook.com revealed that even TPC is starting to think their breakneck pace is taking a toll on their games. "[...] There are more and more conversations, as the development environments change, about how we can continue to [release Pokémon games] while making sure that we're ensuring really quality products are also being introduced," Utsunomiya is quoted as saying. That's about as far as the interview went, but that already goes pretty far in recognizing the problem.

The definite issue with the games can't really be put at the feet of the developers. As many have pointed out, the Pokémon games are part of a massive multinational multimedia franchise: every part of it, from the toys to the card games to the games to the cartoons, all planned in advance and scheduled to come out within a certain time frame of each other. And because the Content Mill™ demands constant sacrifices... well, the games suffer for it. What surprises me is that the COO is recognizing this without there being a bigger backlash. True, Scarlet/Violet got positively scathed upon release (and not undeservedly so), but they were also recognized as having some damned progressive ideas for the Pokémon games and also sold incredibly well. (And before you say anything about it: that copy of Skyrim in your Steam library precludes you from commenting. You know your sins.)

Hopefully, this leads to actual change in the future. I still love Pokémon, and so do many other people. But the devs deserve a timeframe that isn't dictated by shareholders. Actually, no developer should be shackled by shareholders.

Lollipop Chainsaw Remake Gets New Title And Release Date

Hey, so remember that Lollipop Chainsaw game? Heck, remember Lollipop Chainsaw? Releasing way back in 2012, it was an unprecedented collaboration between maverick game developer Suda51 and American filmmaker James Gunn. Taking place in a fictional Californian town, the heroine Juliet Starling (voiced by Tara Strong!) fights off waves of evil zombies while her boyfriend Nick's decapitated head is dangling off of her hips. It was a very silly game that didn't take itself very seriously and wormed its way into people's hearts... when it wasn't frustrating most people for dropping the ball on some of the gameplay mechanics. Still, when you have the kind of charm Lollipop Chainsaw has, being a rough-around-the-edges character-action game releasing on the heels of the first Bayonetta isn't the worst thing in the world.

Well, the good news is, the remake is still on the way—and they even gave it a snappy new title! The new remake is now named Lollipop Chainsaw RePOP, which is a pretty sweet title. But with the new title comes a new release date: Summer 2024.

With that said, I'm still somewhat worried about the Lollipop Chainsaw remake. The peanut gallery is worried about the game being "censored." I leave them to their stupid games and stupid prizes. It's also been confirmed that 16 songs from the original game aren't going to be in the remake, because of rights issues—it is what it is, I'm not bugging over that. The real thing that has me concerned is that James Gunn and Suda51 aren't involved in the remake. And, like, sure: James Gunn is a much busier man now than he was in 2012. But he didn't even know about the remake until it was already being made (after Suda told him about it). He's largely indifferent to it, being that he doesn't know anything about it, but it's still a shame that the two masterminds behind the game... aren't working on it. I feel like that's a pretty big letdown.

Again, lots of people are gonna make a mess over "censorship" but I don't think any of that is going to be an issue. I'm more worried about the nature of the game sticking through. I sure wouldn't mind the gameplay being polished (the upgrades you could buy were very underwhelming, as I recall). Yoshimi Yasuda, who's producing the game (and produced the original), has stated that he wants to keep the game as close to the original as possible, which includes the story. But we'll see how that works out for them. At the very least, they're taking their time on the game—that they're pushing back the release date to next year at least shows to some extent that they're committed to making the game right. Nothing to do but wait and see. Sure hope they bring back Jessica Nigri for the commercials like they did last time, though, those were fun!

Let's wrap up with some quick tidbits

  • Have you been wondering about artist Kazuma Kaneko, famed for his character designs in such beloved videogames as Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne or Maken X? NFTs. He's working on NFTs. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne wouldn't try to take part in a pathetic market like that. For shame, Kaneko.
  • Castle of Shikigami 2 is getting a second shot in the US! Video Games Plus will be releasing a physical edition of the game in "Q2 2024," while Europe will be seeing a special edition version of the game from Red Art Games. I must remind folks that this new version likely won't include the classic recordings from the original PS2 release...
  • Console players can look forward to Freedom Planet 2 getting released on Xbox One/X|S, PS4, PS5 and Nintendo Switch later this year.
  • A new Corpse Party is coming soon! Look forward to Corpse Party II: Darkness Distortion this 2024—so far, however, we don't know the consoles it'll be releasing on nor if it'll be releasing in the US.
  • That'll do it for this week. All progress on Xenoblade 3 is halted; I've got other projects coming in the pipe that precede it. In the meantime, I hope everyone is safe in this heat. Also, if you can: be sure to help the people of Lahaina who've lost their homes to the disastrous fires. It wasn't too long ago that people in Puerto Rico were dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane María; I'm hoping the native people of Hawaii can rebuild their homes and return to their lives. Send them some help, if you can spare it; I'm sure they'd all appreciate it. Be good to each other, I'll see you in seven.

    This Week In Games! is written from idyllic Portland by Jean-Karlo Lemus. When not collaborating with AnimeNewsNetwork, Jean-Karlo can be found playing JRPGs, eating popcorn, watching v-tubers and tokusatsu, and trying as hard as he can to be as inconspicuous as possible on his Twitter @mouse_inhouse.

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