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This Week in Games
There Is No Joke, Just Treat Game Developers Better

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Welcome back, everyone! As you might have seen, my Rune Factory 3 Special review went up on Tuesday (and right after Laybuh Day). It's a fun game, definitely worth interrupting a Xenoblade Chronicles 3 playthrough for. But also, I think it represents a bit of a hard limit for the Rune Factory games. We've got those two phenomenal-looking Rune Factory games coming down the pipe from Marvelous, but as far as remakes are concerned, I don't know how viable a remake of the first two games would be. For archival purposes, yeah, it would be phenomenal to see the first two Rune Factory's remastered—but also, considering they lack even more of the quality-of-life updates from the later games and especially lack some of the details that made Rune Factory 3 such a marked improvement over the second game, I feel like outside of a comprehensive top-to-bottom remake those two games would be a hard sell for anyone not extremely nostalgia-ridden for them. And I'm saying that as someone very sweet on Rune Factory 2, that was my gateway to the series. If Marvelous has any magic in their hat, I'd love to see them use it to pull off a miracle for that game...

This is...


About That Nikke/NieR: Automata Collab...

I mentioned awhile back that there was a collab going on between Goddess of Victory: Nikke and NieR: Automata. Since I regularly play Nikke, I've dabbled in the event. And it's pretty fun! Nikke has been playing it to the hilt; all of the loading screens are replaced with the typical screen jargon from the NieR games, some battles have been put through the old NieR: Automata sepia filter, and the battle interface for the actual collab missions have a unique UI to reflect NieR's unique look. The game also replaced its usual intro theme with a NieR-themed arrangement, complete with inscrutable vocalizations from what appears to be a very depressed French woman (as you do). I haven't been able to roll 2B or A2 in the gacha because my luck is pretty miserable, and I spend as little as possible in my gacha. Still, her in-game model looks phenomenal, and I appreciate that there are two variant costumes for her as soon as you get her: the skirtless "Self-Destruct" look and the kimono-and-fox-mask ensemble that debuted with NieR: Automata's Switch port. That last one needs to be rolled for in its little costume gacha, which I'm not the biggest fan of, but it's certainly a beauty, and anyone who's that down-bad for 2B is likely gonna shell out the cash to roll for it.


The mission's story is also pretty great; as far as Nikke goes, it even touches on something the main game tends to overlook: the mass-produced Nikke. See, in Nikke, women's brains are surgically inserted into an artificial body to produce a Nikke because this is somehow a more reliable soldier against the marauding Rapture robots than anything else. While pretty much all of the named Nikkes are unique units with their own outlandish personalities, there are still mass-produced Nikke. You'll typically get them as gacha chaff, and they don't have much in the way of anything—story, personality, upgrades... they've been pretty shafted since the game began. There isn't much point in using them, especially if you have so much as a single of the SR-ranked Nikke. The NieR collab forces us to examine that: many of the big characters in the event are all individual mass-produced Nikke, all from the same designation: the Product 12 Nikke. Of course, so many of them earn their own names (sadly, they don't become playable). One lucky Product 12 even gets the extremely-on-the-nose moniker of "P-12" (from A2, of all people). This is all in service of NieR: Automata's brand of examining how non-human androids would come to think of the self divorced from the lens of humanity (especially in the absence of humans), and it works well within that story.


All in all, it's a pretty stellar collab. It's played to the hilt, the goodies are enticing, and it takes advantage of the fun ways these two disparate games overlap in their themes. It's a way better collaboration than the comparatively random Chainsaw Man collab (which, while fun, didn't do much for either group of characters outside of showing our group of Nikke-weirdos being annoyed with the hot messes that are the Chainsaw Man weirdos). It is worth checking out for both Nikke fans and NieR: Automata fans alike. Also, as a reminder, you can recruit Pascal for free, and Kira Buckland was brought back to voice 2B.


New Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Content Announced

Aay, Koji Igarashi is back! I feel like, at this point, IGA's Bloodstained games—his ersatz "Metroidvania" titles—are better known for the Curse of the Moon spin-offs: extremely fun and creative 2D side-scrollers more along the lines of classic Castlevania games with some of the most lush, intricate pixel-art you'll ever see. But his true darling, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, still deserves some love! But as IGA himself would point out, development issues and the pandemi-lovato put a wrench into its development. No more! IGA has taken to YouTube to prove the haters wrong. And you know he's serious because he has his cowboy hat with him.

First, Bloodstained is getting two new modes. Chaos Mode forces you to play through the game without abilities, while Versus Mode lets you race through the game against another player. There are also some extra paid costumes that you can get for protagonist Miriam: a kimono with a fox mask, a pop idol dress complete with massive pink twin tails, and a skimpy succubus outfit with stained-glass wings.


The other premium DLC is a fun addition—a new "Classic" mode! The first "Classic" mode remixed five levels from the main game and allowed you to play through them in the style of a classic Castlevania platformer. This new mode, titled Dominique's Curse, continues the trend by playing in the style of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. While the title screen is pixelated, the game itself is in Bloodstained's 3D style; you play as Dominique, the pretty exorcist/item vendor, as she wanders the realm of Limbo. Dominique can buy new sub-weapons or other items to help her solve puzzles. She can also earn new abilities by slaying bosses. To underline the Simon's Quest bits, there's a day-to-night system, complete with its take on the infamous "What a horrible night to have a curse!" prompt at every shift.

This is a pretty brilliant addition! In addition to giving Dominique extra screen time, it's a good way of revisiting Simon's Quest's mechanics. As many have pointed out before me, Simon's Quest being so maligned as a sequel is fairly ironic given that in its later years, the Castlevania games would take more cues from its structure than they did the "classic" platforming games like the much-better-received Castlevania III. Other people smarter than me have also gone over why the mechanics in Simon's Quest don't work, at least not in that case. In recent years, fans have tried fixing many issues with Simon's Quest with ROM hacks, but I appreciate IGA going back and making an attempt on his own. Who better to take a swing at Simon's Quest than the man who originally made the formula work for Castlevania in the first place?


Also, IGA announced that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night finally reached 2 million sales! Congratulations to him and his team! In the meantime, we only have the barest of information on any of these extra DLC, IGA, and the company will expand on them further this September 14. Look forward to it!

SAG-AFTRA Eyes Possible Video Game Strike

The current strikes in Hollywood are an ongoing story; for the most part, they haven't affected anything we would typically report on. But it's been one heck of a story to follow, especially with how pathetic The Powers That Be have been in their negotiations and how much egg has spattered on their overpaid faces. With CEOs cutting their noses to spite their faces and the hard-working actors and writers of Hollywood keeping up their fight for better treatment and the guarantee of AI not ruining their careers, the Screen Actor's Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has set their sights on another facet of the creative industry: video games. Plenty of voice actors, mo-cap performers, and the like work in the game industry and are part of the Screen Actor's Guild, and SAG-AFTRA has also voted for them to participate in the general strikes. In addition to wanting protection against AI, SAG-AFTRA is also fighting for "the same wage increases for video game performers as for those who work under the film and television contracts: 11% retroactive to expiration and 4% increases in the second and third years of the agreement — necessary for members' wages to keep up with inflation." They're also fighting for vocal stress protections (vital for any performance, especially after all the yelling and grunting), prohibitions against self-taped stunts during auditions, the presence of a set medic during any motion-capturing that involves hazardous stunts (which is a standard for film and television), and the industry standard five minutes of rest for every hour of work.

The major companies involved in the strike read like a who's-who of offenders in the video game industry, including Activision, Electronic Arts, Warner Brothers Games, Take 2, Insomniac, and Epic Games. Should the strike go through, no performances would be done on any game they're working on. Of course, this means the peanut gallery is bemoaning the delays for Sony's Spider-Man 2 game, but we here at This Week in Games don't value games over talents.

In the coming weeks, expect many to try and force a wedge between video game actors and developers, claiming that there's no reason why acting talent should be paid more than developers. A good question to ask in those situations is why developers are also getting short-thrift. Why aren't they being paid more in the first place? Why aren't developers entitled to royalties for the million-unit-selling blockbusters they take part in producing? The game industry is lousy with bright-eyed developers being chewed up and spat out by the likes of EA, Activision-Blizzard, or what-have-you, leaving the industry to work in better-paying (and better-caring) software industries. This is a long-standing issue, and it's rather irritating that your average Gamer™ doesn't seem aware of it (or even care). With the release of Baldur's Gate 3, you had many pundits claiming that it had developers running scared because its level of quality raised the bar of what games should be like. This is laughable—this would have required people to laugh Bethesda out of the industry with the likes of Todd Howard being tarred and feathered. But also, on behalf of many gamers, this seemed to come from the perspective that developers "now had no reason not to do better." I dislike this perspective; game development is a lot more involved than simply hitting the "Make The Game Good"-Button. And while I sneer at Bethesda, the issues it faces as a studio and creative front don't stem from incompetent developers. But your average John Q. Public gamer won't consider this since so much gaming is the old "shovel down content as soon as it's available" mentality.

This past week, there was a lot of news about Nintendo and their corporate policies; their new employee rate is clocked in at an astounding 98.8%, which isn't just high for the industry. That's an unprecedented high for Japan in general. There was also the development that the upcoming Super Mario Wonder wasn't developed with a deadline in mind—developers were allowed to iterate on ideas and metaphorically throw stuff at the walls to see what stuck. The result is, well, Super Mario Wonder. And let's not forget, this year's The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was also delayed by a whole year in the name of polishing the base game—the result is absolute programming witchcraft, courtesy of how well the ridiculously-intricate Fuse mechanic works on a Nintendo Switch (while "bigger" open-world games can't even keep their physics in line). Also worth pointing out is that Nintendo was willing to start from scratch with Metroid Prime 4 because they didn't like how the game was coming along in development. Nintendo is the result of a studio actually giving a rip about what they put out and making sure the people they hire are well-cared-for while they do it, not just in the office but also in their personal lives—while Japan doesn't formally recognize same-sex marriage, Nintendo extends the same benefits to developers in same-sex partnerships as they do to heterosexual ones. (For the record, Nintendo isn't perfect, and I look forward to Nintendo of America cleaning up their act with regards to their contractors.)

Smarter people than myself have also pointed out that, unlike many American studios, Nintendo rarely—if ever—sees the kinds of mass layoffs that the likes of Activision-Blizzard see. The people working on Super Mario Wonder likely include many veteran staff who have worked at Nintendo long enough to get a grip on how a Mario game should "feel," and in turn are allowed to offer advice to younger, newer developers who know they don't have to worry about their job security. Compare this to the likes of EA, who so callously lay off key staff, including some of their most celebrated writers. While the peanut gallery explains how "underpowered" the Switch is, Nintendo has quietly written the book on sustainable production. (It's a real shame that there isn't much they can do about GAME FREAK.)

I've seen some folks claim that Nintendo can only do all of these because of how much money they have. And this is valid... to a point. I can see Supergiant Games (creators of Hades and Bastion), Coldwood Interactive (creators of Unravel) or rose-engine games (creators of Signalis) not being able to just dump a ton of work to start all over again on a current project, or just delay a game for an entire year because they wanted to make sure all their "T"s were crossed. But if we're talking the usual American stand-bys—Gearbox Studios, BioWare, NetherRealm Studio, Infinity Ward—then you can miss me with that load of bullcrap. As always, the late Satoru Iwata taking a 50% pay cut during Nintendo's lean years is a big, fat black eye to the rest of the gaming industry that loves to report their record-breaking profits before dropping the axe on whole chunks of their workforce. And it's a tremendous indictment to the likes of Bobby Kotick and other overpaid executives who sit atop these gaming studios.

At This Week in Games, I stand by anyone who develops games. I stand by the talents who offer their voices and faces to bring our beloved characters to life, and I stand by the developers who have been lied to for decades about the "inability" to offer them better treatment. The games I love—the games we love—were made by passionate people, and they deserve to be properly cared for. It's unfair that people like American McGee have to say "deuces" to the industry because executives with more dollars than sense lost their souls along the way.

Gamecenter CX Game Gets Redux In Japan

I'm a simple man. I loved the absolute crap out of my Nintendo DS; the poor thing felt hollow from use when I finally retired it. The DS was likely the last bastion of the kind of quirky, widgety B-level game development that became so beloved and renowned on the PlayStation 2, and between classics like Lunar Knights and SoLaToRoBo and the birth of cult-favorites like the Rune Factory titles, anyone who wasn't allergic to primary colors was eating good.

On an unrelated note: 2003! That was the year an auspicious TV show began airing in Japan, titled Gamecenter CX. Featuring the comedian Shinya Arino, the show is about Arino suffering through all kinds of retro games to beat them—usually, taking as long as a day in his attempts. Gamecenter CX is more than just a comedic romp through old games, though—a ton of work is done on those episodes. Staff will go so far as to interview old game developers or even cover obscure trivia about the game and its development. It's an in-depth look at these older games. Not all of them are great or even classic, and Arino doesn't always beat them, but it's an incredibly endearing show, and it's still airing to this very day, with 350 episodes at the time of this writing. The show's popularity was such that in 2007, Fuji TV (producers of the Gamecenter CX show) teamed up with Bandai Namco to produce a video game based on the show for the Nintendo DS! Localized in the United States by XSeed as Retro Game Challenge (which has since been adopted as the pseudo-official title for Gamecenter CX as a whole in the U.S.). The game had a cute idea: a digitized version of Arino's head flings you back to 1989 to play with a younger version of Arino while you play minigames effectively condensed ersatz versions of classic Famicom titles. You had all kinds of games that took from a variety of sources, not just the typical Mario/Zelda/Contra takes that you would expect. There was Cosmic Gate, a take on Galaga. The Robot Ninja Haggle Man games replicated how much a series could change on the Famicom/NES, with the first two games being based on the Jajamaru-kun games and the third Haggle Man serving as more of a take on Ninja Gaiden (without the punishing difficulty). Rally King was more of a top-down racing game, mainly similar to the 8-bit Micro-Machines racers. There was even a full-on RPG: Guadia Quest, obviously taking inspiration from Dragon Quest. Much like with the show, a ton of effort was put into the game and its references to the gaming industry: the in-game magazines that offered video game cheats and tips featured such writers as "Dan Sock" (a reference to EGM Editor-In-Chief, Dan "Shoe" Hsu) and "Milkman" (a reference to veteran games journalist James Mielke). Also, Yuri Lowenthal voiced Arino's younger self—likely because there needed to be an English voice acting somewhere, as Arino's younger self would vocally comment on your progress during mini-games.

Retro Game Challenge was a ton of fun, and the back of the manual even hinted at more to come—particularly as Fuji TV likely hoped the game would serve as a Trojan Horse to drum up interest for localizing Gamecenter CX in the US. While Retro Game Challenge has a ton of devoted fans, was met enthusiastically by critics, and certainly did serve as a lightning rod towards Gamecenter CX in the States, it sadly didn't sell well enough to merit the localization of either of its sequels—to say nothing of Gamecenter CX itself. Currently, anyone who wants to keep up with Arino's exploits needs to do so through illegitimate means.

In the meantime, Gamecenter CX is on track to celebrate its 20th anniversary in Japan—and in honor of that landmark achievement, the first two Retro Game Challenge titles are getting released in Japan on the Nintendo Switch, completely remastered. Going under the original Japanese titles, GameCenter CX: Arino no Chousenjou 1 + 2 Replay will not only feature all of the minigames from the first two games but also a brand-new addition in the form of a unique side-scrolling action game. Currently, there is no release date even in Japan—and it doesn't seem any likelier that we'll see it released in the US. It would be nice to see a miracle, though; Gamecenter CX is a bit more widely known among fans in the US and has even attained some memetic popularity courtesy of Arino's smile and optimism vanishing on him. Fans of the series would be best served by politely voicing their requests for Retro Game Challenge's return to US shores.

Zelda Producer Says "No" To Tears of the Kingdom DLC

If this incredibly loaded summer has made you forget, Tears of the Kingdom came out a few months earlier this year. Most of the Zelda faithful have thoroughly mined the game for all its possible secrets; most still playing are likely still experimenting with all kinds of outrageous Zonai-tech. We're eating well this summer—hell, this year has been one of the most loaded games in a long time, minus a few rotten devs who brought the equivalent of potato salad with raisins. And even though people are undoubtedly busy with the massive games we've had, folks are likely wondering: Will we get any Tears of the Kingdom DLC? It's not a weird question to ask; Breath of the Wild has a ton of DLC outfits, mounts, and even challenge modes.

Eiji Aonuma put those doubts to bed: In a recent interview with Famicom, Aonuma confirmed that with peace and love, there is no planned DLC for Tears of the Kingdom. "We have no plans to release additional content this time, but that is because we feel like we have done all we can do to create play in that world," Aonuma explained.

The impression many people seemed to walk away with was that Tears of the Kingdom already was something of a DLC expansion to Breath of the Wild. And this isn't strictly untrue, considering it uses the same basic map, but with how many locations were changed even without the presence of the sky islands or the Underground, anyone who goes into the "TotK is just DLC" is likely talking in bad faith. Considering the ramifications of the Fuse mechanic or the Ultrahand abilities and how well they work on the "underpowered" Nintendo Switch when bigger games on "better" engines running on "stronger" consoles would likely run away screaming from any of it. It wasn't enough for Breath of the Wild to completely raise the bar on what you could do in an open-world game; Tears of the Kingdom had to do all of that and add in new mechanics that completely change how we interacted with all of those—apologies to people making open-world games who were still wrapping their heads around BotW's verticality.

The point is, Tears of the Kingdom is a very complete game, and the absence of any future updates like costumes or extra quests shouldn't be considered a flaw, in my opinion. This used to be how games worked! Games used to ship as-is, and people didn't go around acting like games along the lines of Wind Waker or Ocarina of Time were "incomplete" because there weren't any new costumes added after the fact. Sure, there was the planned "Ura-Zelda" update, but even without it, Ocarina of Time is still Ocarina of Time. Anything else you try to add is just gilding the lily. The promise behind DLC used to be that we could get expansions to games like the aforementioned "Ura-Zelda," but the truth of it was horse armor and whole chunks getting excised from a game to be sold later as tacked-on DLC. It was solutions being sold to fans for bad or incomplete design, options to "skip the grind" that executives had forced into the game in the first place. And it weirds me out how much this was all normalized. If we wanted new costumes in a game, we had to jump through some hoops to unlock it via normal gameplay. If you wanted Nel in Advance Wars, you had to beat the game on Hard Mode. If you wanted Solid Snake's tuxedo or Infinite Ammo bandana, play the game. Unlockable content in games is a lost art; just letting people shell out $2.50 has caused no end of damage to the idea of value proposition in gaming.

So even if we can't unlock a wearable Majora's Mask or Ravio's cute bunny hat and get Ganon's Gerudo Stallion, we'll live. Tears of the Kingdom isn't suffering for value or "content," as the executives have cajoled people into calling it. Pay $70 and get one of the best games released this year. It's a simple system, but it works.

Let's wrap up with some quick tidbits

  • In what must be a massive surprise to Square Enix, the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster games have surpassed three million units sold. Truly, a demand still exists for classic 2D turn-based RPGs. Maybe that'll convince them to port Chrono Trigger to the Switch...
  • All three of the Yggdra Union titles are available for release in Japan on the Nintendo Switch, but Kemco is releasing all three of them together in a special edition bundle. Man, wouldn't it be nice to finally see Blaze Union or Gloria Union in the US...
  • Some recent additions to Nintendo's Online Classics collection include a trio of titles previously only released in Japan... as well as the old licensed GameBoy Color Quest For Camelot. Yeah, the one based on the old 90s animated feature film from Warner Bros. Apparently, Nintendo was collaborating with Titus Entertainment for its development. It's a weird title to be brought back, but it's certainly a win for archivists!
  • That'll do it for this week. With Autumn approaching, my favorite local conventions are also about to land in my city. I'm still debating whether or not I'll go to Portland Retro Game Expo; I'll keep you guys posted in case anyone feels like swinging by for a howdy-doo. I will be at Kumoricon this November, though, and I'm looking forward to it. I won't be hosting a panel this year, as I was busy this summer preparing the Armored Core retrospective that went live last week. Hopefully, next year! 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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