July 2010 Archives

Worries From the Fighting Gamer

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There was some rejoicing amidst the announcement of Street Fighter x Tekken and Tekken x Street Fighter a week ago. It's not that fans were celebrating news of the actual announcement, but that it confirmed the full return of the fighting genre. But with said announcement came a looming fear, a fear that certain companies waiting to enter the fighting game market might be intimidated by Capcom and not enter the market. If that happens, it will be a bad situation for anyone who cares about fighters.

vf5fspic_073110.jpgYou could label the lack of an enhanced edition of Virtua Fighter 5 on home consoles as Sega being Sega. But no VF5:R for home consoles made sense when a more finely tuned version of the game was revealed earlier this year. With Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown's announcement, fans speculated that this was the reason why FT never released on consoles. But is it? Well, that's still a mystery. The game just released in Japanese arcades earlier this week, and though rumors exist stating that a console version was in the planning stages, there's no word of a console release just yet. And now we're hearing rumors that they might be reconsidering.

Final Showdown could carve its way into the market with some good advertising on Sega's part, but the concern is whether Sega decides to take the Sega-style way out and send it to its death. Hopefully they don't release it alongside something like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or the new Mortal Kombat.

kof13pic_073110.jpgKing of Fighters XIII is SNK's letter to fans to say they're still in the game and listened to the harsh-though-completely-necessary criticism from the maligned King of Fighters XII. You know they've made strides when you can already tell it's a better game just by watching the videos. Good impressions from fans also helps.

But it appears that SNK isn't readying a console release just yet, and it won't make the transfer from arcade to home as fast as XII did. XII's poor performance on consoles, though deserved, seems to be making SNK reluctant to comment on a home port of XIII. Increased competition isn't helping either. But given their prior commitment, it's definitely more likely to happen than Final Showdown.

Given that the Tekken and Street Fighter games won't be available until sometime in 2012, there's definitely a place for both FS and KoFXIII to fit into the market. The recently announced Arcana Heart 3 for consoles, due for a winter release, shouldn't make things too crowded either; and it should be better than the dreadful Arcana Heart 2 home port since that's being handled by Arc System Works. Speaking of Arc, keep in mind that Blazblue: Continuum Shift just released in North America this week. Fighting game fans, cross your fingers and hope that SNK and especially Sega are wise enough to come through in 2011.

Journey to the Red Zone

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October is proof that video game publishers have learned absolutely nothing in the last few years.

In putting together examples of games that have failed due to publishers hastily trying to cash in on the holiday rush, perhaps the most cited (and saddest) example of a game making a remarkably quick trip to the bargain bin is UbiSoft and Michel Ancel's Beyond Good & Evil. It released for all last generation consoles between November and December of 2003 (it was a PS2 exclusive for a few weeks). It's also cited as one of the most creative games to release during the last generation of consoles, and seeing it get lost in the shuffle was awfully disheartening. No, it's still disheartening to this day for many fans who are still clamoring for its announced-but-never-to-be-shown-again sequel.

But this isn't a trend exclusive to the holidays anymore. We recently came off a month of May that was jam-packed with big titles, many of which were not at all successful for publishers. Red Dead Redemption may have managed to become the best selling game this year, but the sales fate of games like Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, Blur, Split/Second, and Lost Planet 2 -- which Capcom, in their recent financial report, said massively underperformed -- was less than rosy. Thankfully, publishers are learning from their mistakes to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Nah, just kidding. October is jam-packed with titles. So many that there are bound to be some casualties and sad faces after the holidays are over. Here's a collage of some the games making their way out:

octobercovercollage2_073010.jpgAmazing. A few things to consider here: two of these titles are from Namco Bandai, and release within weeks of each other. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes' release date is a mere two weeks after Capcom's biggest title for the fall, Dead Rising 2 -- though it's admittedly not as bad as the previous example since it's priced at $40. It's also worth noting that Namco Bandai wants the Ninja Theory-developed Enslaved: Odyssey to the West to become one of their flagship franchises. With all of this competition it's going to be a struggle, regardless of how good it looks.

For anyone who waits to nest on bargain bins after the holiday season, well, looks like they'll be plenty to feast on after this roller coaster ends its ride. Unless through some fluke that everyone emerges OK afterward, which is incredibly unlikely. It's actually less likely to happen, as we saw earlier this year that the gap in sales between the highest profile games and even slightly lower ones is widening. It's an utterly frightening scenario, and it's only going to get worse.

NieR -- Fathers Be Good To Your Daughters

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A snowy landscape, an empty and ruined city, a father protecting his daughter.  Amazing ethereal music.  The opening of the game made it seem like I would be playing in a near future setting with a bleak atmosphere contributing to the desperation of the characters.  In a world brought to the brink of despair and destruction, how far would one man go to save his ailing daughter?  The love of a father shines through in NieR.

Right after the tutorial-style scene was over, my character suddenly woke up in a typical fantasy setting, and although he was still taking care of his ailing daughter, I felt ripped off.  Where was my snowy, bleak apocalypse?  What happened to the cold, the despair, the desperation?  How can you ever duplicate that kind of atmosphere in a fantasy setting?

NieR is a game about a man whose daughter has come down with a mysterious illness, and as any father would, he's ready to tear down heaven and hell to make her well again.  Along the way, he helps out the villagers whenever they have a problem that they can't handle on their own.

During the course of the story, NieR... well, I'm assuming he's called NieR, since you get to rename him and he has no default name, and the instruction manual only refers to him as The Father.  Anyway, during the course of the story, NieR... well, I lost my train of thought now.  Don't you hate that, when you're on one track of thought and suddenly you go off on a tangent and you lost what you were originally doing?  NieR is like that.  There are so many different elements of game play, depending on where you go in the game, that it feels hard to classify it as any one genre.  It's generally an RPG, but there are 2-D platforming elements that occur seemingly at random in the game, a text adventure that comes out of nowhere and takes over the game like a virus, a rather deceptive survival horror section, even a section of the game that seemed to play similar to the top-down RPGs from a decade or so ago... it's like each member of the development team had their own idea of what the game should be and when they brought it all to the table, the director just said "Yes" to everything.

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Oh, and did I mention the bullet hell portions?

Most of these ideas were implemented well.  2-D platforming helped the character navigate through sections of the game where the standard behind-the-character perspective would've only hindered progress.  The text portion of the game seemed to actually fit the story this time around, rather than feel shoehorned in by an inadequate budget.  Square might have learned from their mistake after they robbed Xenogears to pay for Final Fantasy VIII, but I suppose it's possible that NieR was also underfunded and the developers just aren't saying so.

The worst part of the game by far was Emil's mansion.  That part of the game played like a survival horror.  Thing is, when survival horror got its start on the PS1, the best that anyone could do with the technology that was available at the time was to render stills and switch between them when the character moved through a room.  The problem with that was that your perspective changed, but the character's did not.  Disoriented gamers would move their analog stick and end up veering the character in an entirely different direction than the one the gamer wanted.  It was an awful control scheme and it's a wonder that the survival horror genre managed to live beyond its rocky start.

Well, for better or for worse, Emil's mansion adopts this control scheme, and it's awful.  I especially hated when the game switched to a different still and I adjusted my walking angle out of reflex and ended up going back to the previous still, then adjusted again and went back to the next, and so on for a few seconds.  I'm awfully glad that there weren't any enemies that needed to be killed at the time.  (I had that same problem in Heavy Rain, but neglected to mention it.)  If there had been, I probably would've burned through all of my herbs and other healing items while trying to sort out the horrible controls.

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Boot to the head!

And that's another thing.  Inventory limits are severe in this game, and it makes the early portions of the game especially difficult.  The game actually gets easier, the longer you play,  That in itself is ridiculous.  Once you get past a certain level, your HP will suddenly increase in leaps and bounds, and will render the end game pretty easy.  Generally, this isn't supposed to happen.  Games aren't supposed to get easier as time goes by, they're supposed to get more challenging.  It still sucks, no matter how high a level you are, when you can barely carry more than ten of each healing item with you, and you already have as many as you can carry but keep finding more in the field.  Not only can you not take the extras with you when you need them, but you'll end up running out in areas of the game where they're scarce.  At that point, the only way you'll survive is if you've gained enough levels so that your HP will skyrocket and you won't need to heal for a while.  To add insult to injury, any other item you can acquire in the game, you can carry 99 of them.  So 99 nuggets of Gold Ore, 99 Tree Branches, 99 Dented Metal Bats, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, 99 Red Balloons* ...and 10 Medicinal Herbs.  What, are you yanking them out of the ground by the roots?  Do you have to carry herb trees around?  Is that why you can only carry 10 with you?  I had no idea a Medicinal Herb was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Bottom line: certain portions of the game handled like drunk monkeys due to a poor decision by the developers.  They also accidentally turned the difficulty curve upside down.  The game promised one setting, then switched me to a generic-type setting for the remainder of the game.  The inventory system was inconsistent.  Oh, and I absolutely loved the game.

What's to love about it?  The battle system is quick and easy, to the point where you could probably just run around killing things for hours and not feel like you wasted an afternoon.  Another point in its favour: you don't have to spend thirty hours learning everything about the battle system (Final Fantasy XIII and Resonance of Fate, I'm looking at you).  The music set the mood well, especially the sleepy town-style music in the village of... Village.  It really is just called The Village.  Anyway, I loved the music in the game, and once the first half of the game ends (rather spectacularly, I might add), the feeling I got from the start of the game came back and stuck with me until the very end.

The story is also well written and rather daring for an RPG.  This is the kind of story I never thought I'd see in a video game.  It's deep, it's just... deep.  I wish I could tell you how it's deep, but I'd be spoiling the game somewhat fierce.  Let's just say that you need to play the game twice, then let out a good "My God, what have I done?"  Then play again, because there'll still be more to see.  I just want to give special mention to the side quests featuring the old lady in the lighthouse.  I think that was the closest I've come to crying over a video game since the "You're Not Alone" scene in Final Fantasy IX.

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This game contains more blood than God!

In the end, I'm going to go as far as saying that NieR deserves to be known as this console generation's Xenogears.  I certainly can't think of any RPG of the current generation that even came close to what NieR has done.  Depending on what's left this year, and depending on how good Dragon Quest IX and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep are, NieR might end up being my RPG of the year. 



*At least one of these items is a joke, and doesn't actually appear in the game.

Cover Art Chronicles: Konami's Classic Covers, Part II

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coverartchroniclesbanner.jpgContinuing from the last entry in this series, which will definitely be four now.

It's not possible to describe a lot of older video game covers as anything great, especially when they're localizations - or "translations" rather, because there sure wasn't a lot of localizing being done in this era - of Japanese games for a western audience. The itinerary for cover art seemed to be "make it as un-Japanese-looking as possible" so that no one would find it unfamiliar. That, or companies thought we couldn't handle that oh-so-wacky art Japan was capable of churning out in droves.

Konami did things a little differently, though. But that's probably only because many of their older games (and some newer ones) were rooted in western media influences, and thus used western-style art to promote them. But not every game had the same cover when localized for western audiences. Some of them were better. We've done NES already, but they actually gave some care to their Game Boy covers as well.

tmnt3gbcovers_072710.jpgTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue was different from the usual TMNT game, Game Boy or otherwise. It was one of the earlier Metroidvania games; so early that it predates the establishment of the term (which didn't arise until numerous Castlevania games became Metroid derivatives). It's probably one of the least discussed games in the franchise, but its well worth playing.

The main difference between the American and Japanese covers is the different approach, with the latter merely displaying the four of them, which makes it feel like it's from an alternate source that had nothing to do with the game. The American cover has Leonardo drilling through a wall with his sword. Utterly implausible, but it makes for a more appealing cover that actually highlights one of this game's unique features; each turtle had a separate ability to gain entrance to places others could not, and this one displays Leonardo's.

It also represents the trope that American covers can't have happy specimens on the cover, human or not. But it's so good that it's kind of irrelevant here.

castlevania2covers_072710.jpgHere we have Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, one of the best portable Castlevania games around. Notable for being vastly superior to the first GB game, Castlevania: The Adventure, Belmont's Revenge was the best we had on the go until the GBA came along. The music is also fantabulous and criminally underappreciated, even by Castlevania's current developers. Many Castlevania tunes are remixed for future titles, but this game's music is rarely a source.

Oh, but you came here to see the cover. Right. The Japanese cover features Christopher in a rather headless skeleton-whipping pose, with a preview of what the player will encounter in the game, concluding with Dracula himself fixed at the top. The American cover has a much simpler approach, and looks miles better artistically. That's mainly because of Christopher's design, but also for some beautiful landscape art.

operationccovers_072710.jpgAnd now we have a brilliant-though-disappointing subversion. Operation C for Game Boy feels like a blend of NES classics Contra and Super C. Like those games, this game has a cover that takes inspiration from American media, and given how it would easily resonate with a western audience because of that, who knows the true reason why they didn't stick with the Japanese cover. It could be that the original has a cover that looks a tad too familiar, but it still would have been legal to use it under a parody defense. That's a shame, because it's fantastic, while the American cover couldn't be more bland and predictable. Not to say it's bad, of course.

That wraps it up for Game Boy. There are two more features on Konami's covers to look forward to, exploring two other systems. Imagine that.
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Last week Microsoft finally announced a price for Kinect. To the surprise of no one the software giant listed the price of the peripheral at $150. Microsoft also smartly bundled the standalone Kinect with Kinect Adventures!, as well as introducing an arcade bundle retailing for $300. The arcade bundle includes a 4GB 360 slim, Kinect, Kinect Adventures!, and a wireless controller. Games for Kinect will retail for $50, ten dollars cheaper than regular 360 titles. The move puts the 360 in an interesting position as it will be $100 dollars more expensive than the Wii bundle but $100 cheaper than the PS3 Move bundle. Although consumer tastes (i.e. the casual gamers interested in motion controls) will determine which bundle has the best overall value.  June was a very good month for Microsoft with a sharp increase of the number of consoles sold-- although much of the growth had little to with the new 360 slim. Over 60 percent of 360 sales were of the heavily discounted original models with Arcade versions selling for as low as $150.

On the Sony side of things PS3 users will soon be able to stream Netflix without a disc. By the end of October users will be able to stream movies instantly via an app on the XBM (cross media bar). The Netflix Application in its current form is free to PSN users and will most likely remain free, unlike the Gold members-only 360 version. In other news for PS3 owners Atlus has announced it will extend its online service for Demon's Souls to March 2011. When the game was originally released Atlus stated it would only run the online servers for six months. Because the game has become an unexpected success gamers will be able to play online for a little longer. Demon's Souls is still playable offline, but online play is one of the most interesting and unique aspects of the game. If you own a PS3 and you haven't played this RPG yet now would be a good time to do so, especially with the game retailing for $30.

One online service that won't be going away anytime soon is Facebook. In fact, the online social network just reached a milestone-- 500 million users. Yes that's right, one in 13 people worldwide now have a Facebook account. And to think just a few years ago everyone was raving about MySpace. It'll be interesting to see how long Facebook can hold onto its status before being replaced by the next big thing. Apparently e-books have become the next big thing in the world of publishing. E-books on Amazon.com have been outselling their paper counterparts in recent months. Still, in the world of publishing e-books only make up one percent of overall book sales.

Remember last year when Marvel announced at Comic Con it was partnering up with Madhouse Studios to create anime shows based on Iron Man, Wolverine, X-Men, and Blade? Almost a year to the day Marvel has confirmed those anime series will air on TV in the United States via G4 in 2011. Finally, the network will have something worth watching in addition to X-Play. If you've been watching anime for a while you may have noticed a decline in the quality of new series over the last few years. Sato Dai, a storywriter for anime titles such as Cowboy Bebop and Ergo Proxy, shared his frustrations with the industry at a recent academic panel. He lamented the lack of creativity in writing and the inability of many newer series to address social and political problems in society. Suddenly the few anime titles that do provide food for thought became a little more valuable.

More About Street Fighter x Tekken.

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sfxtpic1_072510.jpgShortly after my post yesterday about Street Fighter and Tekken getting in bed with each other, AndriaSang posted a translation of a comprehensive interview session Famitsu did with Yoshinori Ono. A lot of people around the internet are asking various questions about this game, along with it's brother, Tekken x Street Fighter. It answers a lot of them.

I said the game would probably be out by the end of 2011. It turns out that Ono isn't expecting for this game to be out for two years. In fact, they don't plan on showing it again until Captivate 2011, which should take place sometime between March and May of next year. You'll have plenty of time to play Marvel vs. Capcom 3 by then. Ono also thinks that Tekken x Street Fighter won't be available until after Street Fighter x Capcom, which is belivable given how we've seen footage of the latter. Anyone fearing that Capcom might be stagnating the genre is very incorrect.

Also: the build you saw in the video is only two months old. It was evidently very early considering it was using Super Street Fighter IV's announcer and music.

Given that Capcom isn't releasing a big fighting game during the second half of 2011, that might mean Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike: Online Edition might make it out during that time. Hopefully with plenty of new features in tow -- perhaps some rebalancing, widescreen, no Backbone Entertainment or Udon involvement, for instance -- since otherwise there wouldn't be much incentive for people not to just load it up and play it on GGPO. Just don't expect them to redraw all of the sprites, as some people are suggesting.

sfxtpic2_072510.jpgThere are a lot of fighting games on the horizon all of a sudden -- with another of the most recent being Arcana Heart 3 for consoles -- leading to fears that the fighting game genre will reach stagnation like it did before. I don't think some people really remember how it actually happened the first time. The downfall of the fighting genre was exacerbated by the death of arcades, meaning the easiest way for American gamers to get together to play games was evaporating. Considering this was the late-90s, an era without a concept like "online play," there really wasn't a place for fighting games to go. Now, things are a little different.

So yeah, I think we'll be OK. For the time being at least.

Tekken, Street Fighter. Street Fighter, Tekken.

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Both of you, dance like you want to win!

sfxttrailerpic_072310.jpgCapcom finally pulled back the curtain on what the mystery title from current Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono would be. And it's, no, not a new Darkstalkers game, sorry. Although that was mentioned; and from the way Ono talked about it, it seems like they want to make it, but Capcom's higher ups aren't convinced it would sell. Which blows. They initially weren't convinced that a new Street Fighter game would sell either, so we've seen that Ono can pull if off after some persuasion. Hopefully it gets through.

sf33rdstrikepic_072310.jpgThose higher execs haven't approved of an online version of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike: Online Edition either, but that didn't stop him from announcing it. Consoles weren't announced, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't destined for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. The game also has no release date, and Ono says to not expect it anytime soon. He also said he'd like to add new features to the game, but he wants input from fans first. He wants you to let him know over at Capcom Unity. Getting this game approved won't be as difficult as getting a new Darkstalkers, so it won't have to fight for its future.

They also announced some new alternate costumes for Super Street Fighter IV. And about those two mystery character slots in the arcade version currently being location tested in Japan? You'll find out who those are for...at the Tokyo Game Show in September. Ouch. Maybe they'll be leaked beforehand.

sfxtpic_072310.jpgBut hey, the big announcement was for, well, what you see in the in the title: Street Fighter x Tekken! Developed by Capcom! It was revealed via a teaser trailer, but in a move unlike Capcom's prior fighting game unveils, they actually showed gameplay. The fight was initially Ryu vs. Kazuya, but they channeled the spirit of Rival Schools by showing how you can tag in assists for super combos, which were done with Chun-Li and Nina. It looked a lot like Street Fighter IV with Tekken characters, and it's obviously very early in development, and it looked very intriguing.

That's not all. There's also Tekken x Street Fighter! Developed by Namco! What do you know, that rumor was true after all; albeit with only two franchises rather than characters from the whole catalog going at it. This game was not shown.

So when are these games releasing, well:

sfxtekkenreleasedate_072310.jpgTranslation: Fall 2011 at the earliest, folks. But that's plenty of time to get your fill of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and every other fighting game that could be out next year. The real question will be whether or not anyone has time for all of these games.

(P.S. I'd seriously like to see a Karin vs. Lili fight in at least one of these versions. Seeing the latter character in the game is pretty much a given, but the former is a little obscure compared to the rest of the Street Fighter cast.)

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is Doomed

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Because, you know, Dr. Doom was confirmed. Yeah...

mvc3pic1_072310.jpgA couple of days ago, Capcom revealed four new characters for Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, and I would have mentioned them here before this if (1) I didn't want to talk about Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together first, and (2) if I wasn't so lazy. With the announcement of the aforementioned Dr. Doom and Super Skrull for the Marvel side, and Chun-Li and Trish (from Devil May Cry) for the Capcom side, the official roster has increased to 12. Note that this doesn't include Dormamu, who was revealed in the E3 trailer, since he doesn't have any official art or gameplay footage. Looks like he's going to be the main boss, so he may not even be playable.

Though some are expressing slight frustration with the roster -- yeah, me included (Trish over Lady? Seriously?) -- it's not turning out too bad so far. The Marvel side is currently a sausage fest while the Capcom doesn't have any villains yet, but there's still time. Meanwhile, producer Hideki Niitsuma confirmed quite a few characters you won't see. It looks like we're not going to be seeing Phoenix Wright's video game debut here. We also won't be seeing Daredevil, Emma Frost, Punisher, Ghost Rider, or Gene (God Hand's protagonist). Lastly, no one from Rival Schools and Power Stone will make it in. They seem to be upholding that promise of not using anyone from obscure properties.

The Official Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Youtube Channel uploaded some videos that you should check out if you're interested. Notice in the first gameplay video that Chun-Li's theme is played, meaning that everyone should have their own theme a la the first Marvel vs. Capcom. Dr. Doom's theme from Marvel Super Heroes is also played in the trailer for the new characters. The wait until spring 2011 just got much harder.

mvc3pic2_072310.jpgBut that's not all! Later on Wednesday, Marvel's website accidentally leaked two more characters: Thor and Amaterasu (from Okami). They look great, and they're shown on a new stage as well, which also looks great. Marvel has since removed the images from their website, but once any image makes it out on the internet, there will always be a place to find it. Too late!

But that doesn't matter now anyway, because Capcom has now released the screens themselves. And while I was browsing the Youtube Channel for links, I noticed they uploaded with three new videos featuring Amaterasu and Thor in action. I'm also pretty sure that Ryu's theme is played in that third linked video, though it's a little hard to hear.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is looking pretty good. Anyone who was a little concerned that it looked less like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and more like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom in HD should know that the Comic Con build (and Evo build from a few weeks ago) is said to feel more like MvC2. It seems to be combining the best of both worlds. Also keep in mind that Capcom's Yoshinori Ono, producer of Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV, has a special announcement to make tomorrow at around noon pacific/3PM eastern.

Edit: Just noticed the Amaterasu vid features Issun speaking English. Feels kind of mind-blowing after you've played Okami. I think he sounds less annoying in a comprehensible language too.

The Wheel of Fate is Turning. Tactically.

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Fans of Square Enix were disappointed when Lord of Arcana was announced for PSP a few weeks back. Not precisely because of how it was an obvious and egregious rip-off of Monster Hunter -- although that's part of it -- but to see that the company decided to make this game the first simultaneous worldwide announcement of a portable title. It was pleasant to see this mindset carrying over from console to portable games, the latter of which have been Square Enix's (among many other Japanese companies) strong point this generation; but the problem was that it wasn't one most of its fans were clamoring for.

tosnescover_072210.jpgBut now this is carrying over to another portable title, one the company's die hard fans will undoubtedly like. Apparently Square Enix realized they consumed Quest many years ago, and have decided to use the Ogre Battle IP for more than just Virtual Console releases. Tactics Ogre: Wheel of Fate was announced within Famitsu this week, a remake -- or "rebuilding," as they're calling it -- of cult favorite strategy/RPG Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. But all was not rosy upon hearing the announcement. A sense of fear loomed that, though it was a game many were beyond delighted to see announced, it may go the way of SaGa 2: Goddess of Destiny and be left in Japan. But said fear was very quickly assuaged when Square Enix USA announced it for an American release last night. Oh, and it was announced for Europe earlier today. Though the subtitle is different for Japan, the International versions are keeping the "Let Us Cling Together" subtitle.

With this remake, Square Enix has reassembled the original team that developed Tactics Ogre, which originally released on SNES in 1995 only in Japan. Yes, this does mean that Yasumi Matsuno, who seemingly bailed from Square Enix and Final Fantasy XII nearly half a decade ago, is working on a game for the company again. The fact that the team is referring to this as a "rebuilding" is an important distinction; this is being considered as what the game would be like if it were made in modern times. It's why it's clearly not forgetting its origins as a SNES game by keeping a look similar to it, though everything is being reworked into 3D. Check out a bunch of comparison shots here, though hopefully you can get past the mega-JPEG compression the Famitsu.com shots have.

The PSP version will also have some extras you'd expect to see, like extra missions, new music from Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, new Akihiko Yoshida art (with said art duties being shared with Tsubasa Masao), and more. Said "more" being whatever the meaning is behind that "Wheel of Fate" subtitle. The team isn't revealing that yet, but said that clues lie within the screen shots. Check out some of the art and music on the Japanese website. Also check the International website to read up on the game a little. No music on the latter, though.

 topic_072210.jpgTactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together originally released on SNES, but was also ported to Saturn and Playstation (in that order). The PSX version made it out of Japan courtesy of Atlus USA (who previously localized every game in the series aside from the first SNES game), though it was unfortunately plagued with some horrible loading times. A fan translation of the SNES version just released in April too (which used Atlus' PSX script), but maybe it's better if you haven't played that considering. This will be the fourth version of the game when it releases on PSP. No territories have been given a release date yet, so stay tuned or something.

P.S. I apologize if you thought this post was about Blazblue.
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The last few months have been something of a video game buying anomaly for me. Normally new video game purchases are a rare affair. If I do go on a buying spree my purchases usually consist of used video games and a few new games that have been marked down or are on sale. The only exception I make are for games with a limited release quantity (i.e. many Atlus titles) or games with pre-order bonuses that are impossible to pass up. The last couple of months have been too enticing to pass up, especially March. So I'm left with a conundrum of sorts. I have just about every new game I've wanted in recent months but very little time to play them. And with the exception of Final Fantasy XIII I've been unable to make much time to finish any of my games. And what I have been playing consists mostly of Shin Megami Tensei titles, but more on that later.


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To be completely honest I bought a few of the games pictured above solely for their pre-order bonuses. Deathsmiles, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, and Pokémon SoulSilver were more or less a pre-order bonus purchase, although I feared Deathsmiles and Strange Journey would become harder to find if I waited too long to buy them. As for Record of Agarest War, I might have passed on the game if I owned a PS3 but the 360 version was a must-have. The naughty limited edition bonuses don't make Record of Agarest War a must-have, the genre does. Sprite based, anime styled, tactical JRPGs are common on PlayStation and Nintendo platforms but are exceedingly rare on the 360. Even if the game itself turns out to be mediocre the rarity of the game makes it worth collecting (at least in my eyes). As for Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, I am a fan of Silver Star Story Complete and Eternal Blue Complete so I simply couldn't pass on the game and ten dollars more for the collector's edition didn't seem unreasonable. With Shin Megami Tensei Persona 3, I already own Persona 3: FES (still shrink wrapped) but I've only played the original Persona 3 for about ten hours at a friend's house, ironically well after purchasing FES. If I am ever going to finish Persona 3 the portable version (with all the changes made in Persona 4 included), would be a good place to seriously start. Getting a replica of Junpei's hat was simply an amusing pre-order bonus. Unfortunately making the time to actually play all of the games I bought has become nearly impossible with two jobs.

My backlog almost rivals both Geoff's and Joseph's with the addition of a stack of anime DVD box sets. Losing interest in the titles I'm currently playing isn't helping much either. The last few months have been an off and on affair with Shin Megami Tensei: Persona on the PSP. About a month ago I nearly gave up on the game while two weeks ago I fell in love with Strange Journey on my DS. And just as quickly I've found myself slowly getting back into Persona (having miraculously avoided the game's bad ending without the aid of a walkthrough) with hopes of eventually sinking my teeth into Persona 3 Portable If I can get over my current addiction to Strange Journey, that is. I'm actually amazed that I haven't completely become burned out on both titles considering how similar they are.


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Both games share almost all of the same conventions of just about every Megaten title, down to a first person perspective on dungeon crawls. The more I research Megaten titles the more I've learned that later Persona games and the Digital Devil Saga series were some of the games that bended or broke many Megaten conventions. By that I mean, no first person dungeon crawls, demon negotiations, carrying both melee weapons and guns into battle, and other conventions. In Persona I've become frustrated with the insanely high random encounter rate and slow pace of the battle system. In contrast I've found the lower encounter rate and faster pace of battles in Strange Journey to be a refreshing change of course. Even navigating dungeons in SJ isn't as annoying as in Persona, though SJ is a true dungeon crawler in a similar (albeit less difficult) vein as the Etrian Odyssey series. As I said, I'm slowly warming up to Persona again despite having a hard time putting large chunks of time into the game as I would with Strange Journey. At the moment I'm more amazed that despite being so similar, both SMT titles (one being a spin-off the other being a mainline) are different enough to keep me playing both back to back. With any luck Persona will be finished soon (and reviewed) while I'll have the chance to dive deeper into Strange Journey without feeling as if I should be playing Persona instead. If I don't get distracted by Persona 3 Portable or the recent gift Joseph sent me, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army on the PS2.



Persona image shamelessly stolen from the old school Shin Megami Tensei hating GameSpot.

Glory of Heracles -- For Where Does the Soul of Heracles Lie?

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gloryofheraclesbanner.jpgThe most surprising aspect that stood out while playing through Glory of Heracles was that...well, I was actually playing Glory of Heracles. The mere existence of an officially localized version is proof the cynics were right: Nintendo of America has the most schizophrenic localization team in the industry. This was said well over four years ago, and it's even more accurate now.

Here we have a completely localized Japanese RPG from a company that's (1) been known to pass on RPGs before (ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat, Soma Bringer -- the former of which was apparently being localized but halted, given that the ESRB rated it once before) and has questioningly (and, might I say, moronically) passed on publishing some games already in English -- a recent example possibly being Last Window: Midnight Promise, recently announced for Europe but not for America.

And that's not all, either; not only was this game announced 14 months after its April 2008 release date in Japan, but they also fixed a lot of the problems present in its original release. Molasses slow battles? Gone, with there now being three choices for how fast you want the battle system to be. Unintuitive touch screen spell casting? Also eradicated, though it gets a little annoying when you're still tapping away in the same manner after 20 or so hours of play. The camera control is also more adequate, though it's still a little finicky. NoA actually went through the effort of making this game good, yet they won't publish games they'd have to put little effort into localizing. Mind-boggling doesn't even begin to describe this process.

Unless you're a connoisseur for old Japanese RPGs that were never localized, you may not know that this game is actually a revival of an old franchise. This is the first game to be localized, but it's existed in Japan ever since the original hit Famicom back in 1987. This was denoted by the subtitle accompanying the Japanese version, literally translated as "Proof of the Soul," which actually has bearing on the plot itself, and is the sixth game in the franchise (including the Game Boy spinoff). This is the first game since 1994 and that Data East wasn't involved with, though its developer, Paon, mainly consists of former Data East staff.

gloryofheraclespic1_072010.jpgAnd we have a story!

Having an amnesiac protagonist is an all-too-common trope for Japanese RPGs, but GoH takes this even further by giving all of your main characters amnesia. It is, however, particularly bad for the main character, who doesn't even remember his name. He happens to stumble upon a girl guy named Leucos, who says she's a guy but obviously isn't -- which is the butt of numerous jokes throughout the game. The forest nymphs identify him as Heracles, but is he really? This is but one of the plot threads that need to be resolved throughout the game.

GoH has a rather unique look to it, something that nearly resembles a 2D cel-shaded style. It's entirely comprised of polygons, but everything is given a thorough amount of shading in an attempt to resemble sprites. It doesn't quite pull it off with finesse -- there are a number of sprite based games on DS (and less powerful consoles) that look better -- but it looks good enough that it shouldn't give anyone who despises the DS's 3D capabilities any problems. Its look is eerily reminiscent of Treasure's Guardian Heroes on Sega Saturn (though it's not quite as colorful), which it coincidentally shares a character designer with: Han.

The battle system could be described as a typical turn-based system with a twist, but you could describe almost any RPG these days that way. GoH's system has two aspects that make it different. While it gives you the usual way to restore MP (items, resting at the inn, getting them from a flower in a town, etc.), you can also restore it via an "Overkill," which refers to killing an already downed enemy. Performing an Overkill will be necessary to get rid of undead enemies, but you'll also be using this often to replenish your MP. Interestingly enough, MP granted by an Overkill becomes more generous as the game goes on, and not just because. You'll only receive a little MP form one early on, but once you pass the halfway mark you can probably (depending on the expenditure) replenish a character's MP completely by using an Overkill on only one enemy, even though every character's MP will be well over one thousand.

gloryofheraclespic3_072010.jpgIt looks cool at first (no pun intended), but don't worry, you'll learn to hate it.

The second unique aspect pertains to casting magic. This game couldn't get by with just casting magic spells regularly; it instead has you use the touch screen for a specific input to help make your magic attacks stronger. It seems fun and intuitive (unlike the Japanese version, apparently) from the outset, but it gets very monotonous when you're doing the same damned motions 25 hours in. Of course you can just use the "Auto" function to cast magic spells for you, but doing that will result in said spell doing less damage.

To further address an earlier point, you probably wouldn't be able to replenish all of your MP via an Overkill if you were using some big spells in random battles. But that's completely unnecessary because of how easy the game is. Though it does have some fierce battles at times --indicated by the screen fading red instead of white when a battle is triggered - the majority of GoH is pretty easy for its 20-40 hour playtime. Most regular enemies can be taken out easily with a few physical attacks.

The music, composed entirely by Yoshitaka Hirota (of Koudelka and the Shadow Hearts games), ranges from adequate to pretty good. It's not the best material Hirota has composed, but it gets the job done, especially when it switches up battle themes to prevent them from becoming stale. The overworld and battle themes are where it's best, but it's mostly nothing that will leave you reaching for the soundtrack. If it had a soundtrack.

gloryofheraclespic2_072010.jpgWell I'd hope so. Otherwise you wouldn't get too far.

Due credit has to be given to the excellent localization, which wasn't handled by Nintendo themselves, but given to the talented group at 8-4. They also handled Baten Kaitos: Origins and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for Nintendo. The text is full of Woolseyisms, including some pretty hilarious in-jokes and references to other properties, many of which are old Nintendo games. It's further proof of how talented they are, especially if Nintendo considers using them.

It's not the best RPG on DS, but you could do far worse. Glory of Heracles worth your time if you're looking for a rather lengthy (for a portable RPG) game to spend some time with, especially for the discounted price (of around $15) it goes for these days. It's well worth that price.
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On July 12th famed comic book artist Harvey Pekar died at the age of 70. Pekar was best known for his slice-of-life comic, American Splendor. His work was an autobiography that focused on his day-to-day life, as opposed to the usual superheroes and sci-fi adventures that make up the bulk of comic book subjects. Pekar originally created American Splendor in 1976 and it ran until 2008 often released in irregular intervals by various publishers, including DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics. In 2003 American Splendor was adapted into an critically acclaimed film.

If only Apple's problems could be considered so mundane by the mainstream press. When a company brands its products as ones "that just work," a negative backlash is inevitable if the said product has annoying flaws. Case in point, the news about Apple's iPhone 4's antenna problems simply won't die. The negative press was so overwhelming that it prompted Steve Jobs to hold a press conference on Friday addressing iPhone 4's problems. In the end dissatisfied consumers will either receive a free protective case or can simply return their iPhone 4 for a full refund within the 30-day return period. Antenna problems are a dilemma for a company with a reputation for high quality products, but they certainly don't amount to recall material.

Gamers looking forward to the 360's new "Destination Arcade" app (a visual upgrade to the arcade store) on Xbox Live Arcade were disappointed to learn it was delayed until July 21st. Now Microsoft has revealed the new app is only available during the "Summer of Arcade" promotional month which runs from July 21st until August 18th. After August 18th Destination Arcade will no longer be available for download, although it will still function for anyone who downloaded the app. The move has led many to speculate Microsoft is actually running a beta on the application until a final version is rolled out-- most likely when Xbox Live is updated in preparation for Kinect. Ah, speculation. In more geeky 360 news one Microsoft engineer has revealed how Achievements actually work.

Japanese fans of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise will soon be able to play an enhanced port of the original Shin Megami Tensei on their PS3s and PSPs via a PSN download. Atlus has not yet announced plans to release this game in North America. If Atlus' recent slew of releases are any indication Shin Megami Tensei will eventually be released outside of Japan. In other RPG happenings Pokémon Black & White had several new features announced for it last week. Gamers who play the newest Pokémon the DSi or the 3DS will be able to hold video chats over the Nintendo Wi-Fi service as well as a local area connection. There's also a tag mode a la Dragon Quest IX, which makes more sense for North America given the popularity of Pokémon here. Speaking of the 3DS, the form that was shown at E3 will indeed be the handheld's form at launch. Don't rule out the possible of a 3DS XL, though.

Japan is often touted as a very high-tech society, and with good reason as the high-tech aspects of Japan are heavily promoted. Yet, a recent BBC article reveals that much of Japan isn't as high-tech as most Westerners would believe. With a large population over the age of 50 (and many who prefer to do things the "traditional" way) the stubbornly low-tech aspects of society make perfect sense. Suddenly Hayao Miyazaki's strange criticism of the iPad seems a little less eccentric.

So, Mega Man Universe?

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On Friday, we finally found out what that mysterious trademark from Capcom a while back was all about. Fortunately, it wasn't for a localization of the Mega Man-based Korean MMORPG, but it was for something else entirely. The catch here is that who knows what that "something" is at the moment, as the trailer -- despite being wonderfully nostalgia-inducing -- and press release told us absolutely nothing about the game. But it did drop some vague hints.

mmutitle_071810.png It looks like Mega Man Universe, due for release on both Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, is a LittleBigPlanet-style game where people create their own levels and share them online, kind of like an expanded version of what was found in Mega Man Powered Up. I'm willing to bet it will probably have some levels developed by Capcom as well, some of which might be homages to levels from other Mega Man games. This has the potential for greatness, provided this hypothesis is anywhere near accurate.

It will also seemingly avoid primarily using the big-headed characters prevalent in Powered Up, though they might be in there as a template. The trailer (seen at the link above) shows Mega Man, characters from other games like Ryu (Street Fighter) and Arthur (Ghosts & Goblins), in CG Tim Buckley-esque forms. But it also shows 8-bit Mega Man and a CG rendition of the version of Mega Man depicted on the original American cover. It looks like you'll have the choice to play a plethora of characters. Characters like Zero, Proto Man, and Roll are a given (unless Capcom likes to see fan riots), but hopefully we'll see characters like Strider and R.A.D.D. Spencer.

A pity that it's definitely not a new Mega Man X or Mega Man Legends game, which is bound to sink a few hearts. Especially in the case of the latter, despite creator Keiji Inafune constantly expressing desire to make another one. I wouldn't be surprised to see their templates in this game, but the chances of them starring in another game looks more and more bleak as time goes by.

mmlegendsart_071810.jpgThese characters need another game of their own. Desperately.

We'll find out what this game is sometime during the San Diego Comic Con this upcoming weekend. Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono also has an announcement to make this weekend. Super Street Fighter IV Turbo? Namco vs. Capcom? New Darkstalkers? Time will tell, but Ono's been teasing on his twitter.

Cover Art Chronicles: Konami's Classic Covers, Part I

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coverartchroniclesbanner.jpgWhat's this? A Cover Art Chronicles entry? It's been a while; three-and-a-half months in fact. Time to rectify that.

When you browse a plethora of covers for old games, you'll notice something: they're mostly pretty terrible, especially when it's for a localized Japanese game. Publishers in the US had no qualms with translating and releasing games from Japan, but they tried their best to make sure the game didn't look distinctly Japanese from its exterior. These publishers thought we would be instantly repelled by anything that had some anime flavor in it. These releases happened in mainly the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s, an era where anime and assorted products distinctly Japanese weren't too popular outside of their home base. Needless to say, the tide has turned.

Those intentions for localization aren't bad at all on the surface, but do you think they would hire good artists to adapt these covers? Of course not! Though sometimes there were covers where the new "Americanized" art was pretty good, but that was sadly an exception. And even then, it was in stark contrast to the anime-style artwork that would be present in-game. This, along with localizations of said games themselves, started to change in the PSX era, and said change is in full bloom today.

Though that doesn't mean you won't get some bizarre aversions today.

That aforementioned material isn't for all publishers, though. In fact, there was a big exception: Konami. Honestly, they were probably only an exception because the themes of many of their games - the ones that were localized, anyway - were inspired by western works. So it followed that they should have western-style art for their covers. But said covers weren't always the same for every territory. No, some of them were actually better for western audiences.

With this, I'm kicking off a short series Cover Art Chronicles posts discussing Konami's efforts starting with their NES material. This will be the first of three posts. Or perhaps four. We'll see.

contracovers_071510.jpgYou might be old enough to remember the first Contra title if you're reading this. This classic 2D side-scrolling shooter comes from an age where games that tested your (hopefully) youthful reflexes were accepted as normal. A game like that needed a cover that oozes testosterone, and the American one definitely does that better than the Japanese version. It also contains three references to American movies on the cover, and Bill Rizer (that's the blonde-haired guy on the left) has a stance that's lifted of the protagonist of one of the movies. Lance should also look familiar. Try and guess! You may use the internet.

castlevania3covers_071510.jpg Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is regarded as the best of the NES Castlevania games, and one of the best action/platformers on the console. It's also the only game to have a different cover from the Japanese version, and though that one isn't bad - it looks like the cover to a novel, honestly -- the American one gets the job done a little better.

tmnt3covers_071510.jpgTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project took after its immediate predecessor, The Arcade Game, in being like, well, an arcade game. It was a side-scrolling brawler that allowed for two players, and it was definitely the best of the NES games. It was also the least popular, too, releasing around a time where TMNT was dying down as a fad among us youngins (you know, at the time). The American cover actually has work from a comic book artist, while the Japanese cover favors turtles with awkward-looking faces. Especially Raphael's.

You may also be wondering why the Japanese version is called "II" instead of "III." It's not that they didn't get the first game inflicted upon them, but II was just called "The Arcade Game."

metalgearcover.jpg  Metal Gear's cover is actually the same in every territory, but it's being featured here because it's that good. It has a very G.I. Joe-style flavor, an undoubtedly intentional decision given how popular it was at the time of its release. Oh and the game was good too! Like the Contra cover, this cover also has a reference to a popular movie, and Snake's art and stance is lifted from said movie. Apparently Konami realized how close it was; when the MSX versions Metal Gear (and its sequel) were rereleased as part of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, they had Yoji Shinkawa redraw the art.

These are all nice, but there are better examples on other consoles, and those will be covered here, uh, sometime in the future.

NIS America Had Themselves a Party

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I checked out Angela's post below this one not too long ago, and noticed that I'm the person appointed to post video game news here. This is news to me! I'm not going to post a lot of news here, since you can look in about 50 other places on the vast and infinite world known as the internet for that. Instead, I'll talk about material said 50 websites aren't covering. Or are covering in a smaller capacity. Whichever.

nisapartypic_071610.jpgNIS America had a press event yesterday, something they announced with the faux-invitation you see above. Within that picture resides three shadows for three then-unannounced games for localization; though the one in the middle was figured out by plenty of gamers, the other two were more of a mystery (though they might have been mentioned before). They, of course, announced all of them yesterday, though the info was embargoed until this afternoon despite information slipping out from websites not concerned with integrity or upholding NDAs.

cladunpic_071610.pngFirst announced was Cladun: This is an RPG for PSP, which might have one of the best titles for a game ever. It's certainly a lot better than the excruciatingly bland Classic Dungeon, which it went by in Japan. As you could guess, this is a sprite-based dungeon crawler created as a pseudo-homage to dungeon crawlers of yore. The game has seven preset templates for heroes, but you can always create your own. It sound a lot like 3D Dot Game Heroes on the surface. Cladun releases in Fall 2010, and unlike Japan, it's unfortunately only being released through Playstation Network in America. That kind of blows, but I suppose it was this or no localization at all.

zhppic_071610.pngSecond, they announced Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman for PSP. You'll be a little more familiar with the title knowing the initials stand for Zettai Hero Project, which is Team Disgaea's new game released in Japan in March. This isn't a straight strategy/RPG however, as it also has roguelike gameplay. It's also a clever homage to Japanese Sentai shows, especially though its story. It involves an incredibly average dude who happens to stumble upon a car accident while going about his daily life. He discovers that the person in the accident was the hero who's supposed to be at the last boss to fight. The average due has no choice but to take over his duties. Z.H.P. releases this fall on both UMD and PSN. I'm glad it's available physically, because I can't wait to see this game's instruction booklet. Don't let me down, NISA! Or we will have words.

at3pic_071610.jpgThe last game was the worst kept secret ever (albeit intentionally): Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel for Playstation 3. You might know this game as Ar Tonelico 3, but it might have been renamed because they want people who haven't played the last two to pick this up. That may not be too bad, since playing them would require you to experience Ar Tonelico 2's egregious "localization." That ostensibly esoteric name also has meaning: "Qoga" is a Hymnos word meaning "ending;" fitting since this is apparently the last game in the franchise (unless Gust is lying). Also notice that the title contains "Ar Ceil," which was mistranslated as "Al Ceil" in AT2. This is a good sign! AT3 releases in Spring 2011.

A while ago, Nippon Ichi announced that a new Disgaea game was in development for Playstation 3, and they surprisingly elaborated on it yesterday. It was announced that Disgaea 4 will release by the end of the year in Japan, and more info will be available at the Tokyo Game Show 2010 in September.

atelierroronapic_071610.jpgLastly, do you remember Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland? Well, it's releasing in America on September 28th on Playstation 3. The official website went up earlier this week, and NISA announced yesterday that it will have a limited edition. The LE will include the game and a hardbound art book in a premium packaging. Look forward to it, would ya?

And that's it! Yeah, some of us are bummed about the lack of Princess Antiphona, La Pucelle: Ragnarok, Atelier Judie, and (inexplicably) Prinny 2, all of which are for PSP. You can give up on the first three being localized, but there's still time for the last one to be announced. It's a spin-off of their most bankable franchise, and the sequel was green-lit because of the first game's performance in America. Still, got me as to why it wasn't at the show. There were also people wondering where Atelier Totori was, despite them already having two Gust games to release. Hopefully you enjoy NISA's output, though it's noticeably lower than it was this time last year.
Anime news has returned! Unlike the Geek News Roundup, anime news won't always be a weekly thing. I will try to write about newsworthy happenings and interesting new series (mostly on domestic releases) as much as possible. Still, the news won't be as timely as video game news-- which Geoff mostly handles. With that said, enjoy a few interesting tidbits of news from earlier this month.


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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's run is coming to an end on Adult Swim. On August 7th the network will air episode 26 and the series will go on hiatus starting on August 14th. The time slot will be replaced by BLEACH. New episodes of BLEACH (starting with episode 168) won't actually air until August 28th. In the meantime Adult Swim will air the first two movies (Memories of Nobody and The DiamondDust Rebillion) on August 14 and episodes 166 and 167 on August 21st. Episode 168 will mark the start of "The New Captain ShÅ«suke Amagai" story arc, or Season nine which runs for about 21 episodes. Season nine is filler material and I wouldn't completely recommend against watching it on TV. (Buying it on DVD is another matter...) Season nine isn't horrible but it's also not very good, especially if you already follow the manga. At the very least new episodes of Kekkaishi will air after BLEACH for some variety. If you're annoyed by the lack of FMA: Brotherhood the series does end with episode 64, and all of the episodes are available streaming and subtitled via FUNimation's official video channel. And a Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood movie has been green-lit. 

If you've become accustom to video streams and simulcasts FUNimation, VIZ Media, and Sentai Filmworks recently announced several new series. First up is Strike Witches 2, now simulcasting exclusively on Crunchyroll. Interestingly enough Gonzo produced season one of Strike Witches and FUNimation held the rights to distribute it. Season two was instead produced by AIC, although much of the staff returned to work on the series. FUNimation has not yet announced if will license Strike Witches 2 for distribution in North America, but given how much the company promoted the first season it would be surprising if they passed on season two. Unless the series sold poorly. As with all anime airing on Crunchyroll new episodes appear one hour after the Japanese broadcast for paid users while regular and unregistered users must wait one week to see the newest episode.


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Last week Crunchyroll also began to simulcast Occult Academy and Tono to Issho. Of the two series, Occult Academy looks to be the better the show. It is produced by A-1 Pictures, Aniplex, and XEBEC, and is a horror comedy that focuses on the supernatural happenings at Occult Academy. According to fan buzz the show treads more on the humorous side and might be worth it for anyone looking for a show which doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. Very little information is available for Tono to Issho, except for the fact that it's a humorous take on Japan's waring states era. It is a manga adaptation that will run for 13 episodes and follows the adventures of various generals. At the very least the first episodes of both series look as if they may be worth trying out, but the notable lack of fan buzz around Tono to Issho is a little concerning.

On the VIZ side of things the anime distributor is now streaming Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan and Strawberry 100% on its video portal and through Hulu.com. Nura: Rise of the Yokai clan centers around Rikuo Nura, a junior high school student who is part human and part demon. He is also heir to the Nura clan, a powerful clan that wields influence over all demons. Most of the time Nura is a regular high school student but when his demon blood awakens he becomes the leader of the said Nura clan (or so the official description goes). It may be tempting to draw parallels between this show and InuYasha but most anime fans agree the show is more in the vein of Kekkaishi. So if you enjoy supernatural shonen-type shows Nura might be worth your time. Strawberry 100% is a romantic comedy that begins on the premise of panties. Or rather one filmmaker wannabe's quest to find a girl wearing strawberry panties. According to the official description Manaka Junpei comes across a beautiful girl falling down just above him. He catches a peak at her strawberry panties, she runs off in embarrassment, and he decides to go on a quest to find out who she is thinking it would make the perfect film scene. Yeah. Because this series is a comedy it may not take itself too seriously. If you enjoy strange romantic comedies Strawberry 100% could be a lot of fun. Unlike Crunchyroll, VIZ streams are generally available a few hours after the Japanese broadcast and are free.


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Finally, we have Highschool of the Dead simulcasting on The Anime Network. The series was acquired by Sentai Filmworks (formally ADV) and was produced by Madhouse Studios. The series is about an infectious outbreak that takes humanity by surprise and kills off a great deal of the population. Infected people also transform into zombies and begin to attack survivors of the infectious outbreak. The series focuses on several high school students and their attempt to escape after their school is attacked by zombies. The fan buzz for Highschool of the Dead (not sure why "high school" is spelled as one word) is pretty high and I admit, the trailer does look interesting. Araki Tetsuo is directing this series and is best known for his work on the Death Note anime. If you like Madhouse's work, Tetsuo's work, or zombie horror in general, HSotD might be the most interesting show to be simlucasted this summer. On the downside, The Anime Network simulcast is only free for the first episode to registered users, anything else requires you to be a paid subscriber. So if you're not interested in paying Anime Network's $6.95 per month subscription fee a fan sub of the show may be the best way to go-- for now.

Wow, this turned out to be longer than I intended it to be. I may try out a few shows before or after Otakon and write about my first impressions, if I have time to do so.


Images courtesy of Random Curiosity.

The Heavenly Beginnings of Dragon Quest IX

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dq9pic_071310.jpgI managed to get this little game called Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, and I started it. It's pretty good. You should buy it if you like RPGs.

Oh, but you probably want more detail than that, don't you? OK fine.

Your character is literally an angel when you first start DQIX. You work as an apprentice of the Celestrians, a heavenly race with people such as yourself tasked with protecting humankind from any wrongdoing -- minor or major. Each apprentice is charged with protecting their assigned town, and said town worships you as their guardian via a statue. The guardians are also tasked with assisting the dead to help them rest in peace. But this is an RPG, and it has a story to tell. Don't be surprised when things go awry.

The Observatory is attacked from below by a mysterious and powerful force, and you end up in the very town you vowed to protect. Your memories remain intact, but you're no longer an angel. Exactly what happened to the world you lived in? And how do you get back? How did this earthquake rupture part of the planet? These are the questions you seek to answer throughout the game.

Early on, it feels like...well, a Dragon Quest game. The battle system is nice and familiar, and battles themselves are thankfully much faster than Dragon Quest VIII's slower paced material. They're still not quite as fast as in the DS remakes, but they're fast enough that you won't complain. Who said DQ games couldn't have fast-paced battle system with everything rendered in 3D?

And speaking of 3D, this is a really gorgeous-looking game. You can try and gauge that from looking at from looking at the screen shots if you want, but you have to see it in motion on the DS's screen to really appreciate it. It may not convert anyone who thinks the DS's 3D graphics are ugly, but it has some of the best use of 3D on DS.

I've still got a lot of ground to cover, so I'll try and update on my status while I go through it. And that "ground to cover" isn't even counting the side quests or downloadable quests that will be available via WiFi later. The game seems incredibly fun from its outset, so I feel safe in recommending it in case you're on the fence.
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Last Tuesday Blizzard announced with the upcoming launch of Starcraft II it would soon require players to use their real names on the Battle.net forums. The move was mainly intended to cut down on troll postings and flame wars. Players could opt out of Real ID by no longer using the forums. As expected the backlash from players was severe with angry commentary stretching into well over 2400 pages on the official World of Warcraft forums. Blizzard caved to the pressure several days later and announced it would not be implementing Real ID. Although the possibility of having the issue return in some form was left open.

The gamers on Battle.net may not have been willing to give up their real names online but millions upon millions of Facebook users do so everyday. With about 125 million U.S. accounts on Facebook alone it didn't come as a surprise when the number of new registrations began to slowdown in June. The actual surprise was just how sharp the decline was from the previous month. In May 7.8 million new U.S. users joined Facebook, in June it was only 320,000. Still, Facebook users continue to break other records. On July 5th Lady Gaga became the first living person to reach 10 million fans. Overall, the number of fans she has puts her sixth on the site falling below Micheal Jackson and TV shows such as Family Guy. The number of Lady Gala fans on Facebook pales in comparison to the number of worldwide cell phone connections. The number currently stands at over 5 billion with adoption rates over 100 percent in some areas such as Europe. (With the BBC being a UK site numbers for North America aren't included.)

3DTV is a technology with a much lower adoption rate, but Ubisoft is extremely optimistic about the future. In fact, Murray Pannel, Ubisoft's U.K. Marketing boss, believes everyone (gamers anyway) will have a 3DTV in their homes within three years. Just don't mention it to Japanese consumers, as they're not totally sold on the idea of 3D just yet. Japanese consumers who do adopt 3D will soon be able to play 3D games on a new white PS3 slim. The new color comes complete with a 160GB hard drive and a white DualShock 3 controller. As of this writing plans to release the new PS3 color outside of Japan have not been announced but importing is always an option. (Provided you can afford it.)

Coming full circle we'll return to Activision, sans the Blizzard talk. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick would like to move beyond the business models of Microsoft's Xbox Live. Instead of consoles he'd rather see higher adoption rates of PCs that can easily connect to TVs and a monthly subscription model for the Call of Duty series. In simpler terms Kotick wants a large chunk of the revenue Microsoft brings in with Xbox Live Gold, even as the Call Duty franchise has sold over 20 million copies including paid DLC. Don't be surprised if a Call of Duty MMO eventually arrives, or Activision discovers a way to milk more money out of players with a monthly subscription fee of some kind.

Wherein Origins Begin Anew

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This post is an addendum to yesterday's post.

Yuji Horii and his talented development team may not have thought a multiplayer action/RPG was an enticing idea for a mainline Dragon Quest entry, but that doesn't mean no one else did. Those ideas didn't make their way into Dragon Quest IX (in stores today!), however it includes a multiplayer mode that adheres to its turn-based roots. The aforementioned ideas were the gameplay blueprint for another RPG that made its way into stores earlier this year via D3 Publisher: Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow.

bluedragonaspic_071110.pngThat's rather ironic, honestly. The first Blue Dragon game for Xbox 360 was Mistwalker and Artoon's unique take on Dragon Quest. Like a DQ entry, it seeks to endear the player with a nostalgic take on the Japanese RPG genre's established conventions. That fact was also further hammered home by Akira Toriyama providing the character designs. It may not have been quite as charming as a DQ game, and parts of it may have been hampered by technical problems, but it's still an RPG well worth your time.

bddqcovers_071110.jpgAnd hey, their covers are pretty similar too! Well, except for the hilariously contrasting emotions between the two. Imagine that.

I haven't gotten a chance to play it yet, despite my intent to do so (the story of my life, it seems), but I hear it pulls off the idea quite well. You create your own main character for the single-player mode (male or female), while the AI controls returning characters from the previous Blue Dragon games. And unlike DQIX, it has online multiplayer coop -- though you can only have two partners instead of three.

I think DQIX has the better approach in terms of gameplay, but this game's nigh-blatant thievery is pretty charming. It's also apparently better than the critically maligned Blue Dragon Plus, whose quality didn't surprise anyone considering Brownie Brown was involved in its development (along with Feel Plus). I have no idea how this game sold, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't well, so if you're in the market for an RPG on DS (because there are plenty), Awakened Shadow might be worth a look.

You know, after Dragon Quest IX.

The Origins of Dragon Quest IX

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The Dragon Quest IX as you know it today didn't always exist. It's easy to forget given how long it's been since the game was originally unveiled in Japan, but it underwent a massive change during its rather lengthy development period (you know, for a DS game). Whether you'll think this is good or bad will depend on your preferences for particular gameplay systems, but what we have now is probably for the best.

dqixoldpic_071010.jpgYou could use the words "interesting" and "beautiful" to sum up the majority of the internet's reaction to the unveil -- the parts of the internet that didn't immediately bemoan its very existence solely due to it being on DS instead of an HD console. The next mainline Dragon Quest game was breaking tradition for video game releases by going to a portable rather than a console. Games in the franchise tend to go to whatever system happens to be the market leader, and this game was announced in a time where each sequel was expected to have developers pour higher budgets in as consoles became more powerful. Here's the game that bucked the trend, and it's something we've seen a lot more of recently.

But something else was noticeable about DQIX in its unveil: its intent to drop its turn-based roots. Instead of being similar to its predecessors, this game wanted to break away from what typically defined it. The idea was born of the intent of Yuji Horii's, creator of the series and the man who helms the development of each installment, intent to make a game that could be played both solitarily and cooperatively. It was to have a more action/RPG-style system with no kind of encounters at all. It actually sounds like a coop version of Secret of Mana.

Word is that quite a few fans in Japan didn't like the ostensible changes being made. It's an understandable sentiment; it would be pleasant to see how a new game could be transferred onto DS, to have a game possibly as epic as Dragon Quest VIII to carry with you everywhere you went. But having gameplay systems that would seem more fitting in a spin-off rather than a new installment miffed a few fans.

dqixnewpic_071010.jpgThat's apparently not the only reason for the change. Apparently Horii and his staff played though a good portion the original incarnation, and concluded that the game became a little too monotonous during an extensive amount of playtime. With the both fans and the developers disapproving of its gameplay, the game was scrapped and restarted from scratch. This time it would resemble an evolution of the older games; it became precisely what fans expected to see in the first place.

You can tell that Horii and Square Enix made the right decision in putting the game on DS, given that it's sold over 4.1 million copies in Japan alone. Its success there undoubtedly won't be replicated in America and Europe, but that's not going to stop Nintendo from trying their best. Dragon Quest IX releases in America in less than 24 hours -- unless your store has broken the street date -- and in Europe on July 23rd.

This is Not Final Fantasy

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thelaststoryartwork_070810.jpgThis is precisely what Hironobu Sakaguchi is going to keep saying about The Last Story, Mistwalker's next RPG for Wii, despite the obvious implications that exist in the title. Feel free to insert Lost Odyssey into that comparison as well. But that's not going to stop us from making them! Though plenty of info was contained in various Famitsu issues throughout the last few months, very little of it was posted online aside from various developer diaries on the official website. Why? Because that's how Nintendo of Japan rolls. Is it silly? Absolutely; but they're not going to let that stop them.

The first trailer was posted on the official site yesterday, and it looks pretty great. Just about as great as it looked from the screen shots in Famitsu months ago. It's hard to believe this game is running on Wii; it's a sure sign that developers -- well, the developers that are still working on Wii games -- are starting to master the system's architecture.

thelaststorygame_070810.jpgBut it also has some interesting gameplay decisions. A cover system? In an RPG? It looks like something right out of Gears of War, Uncharted, or, perhaps more aptly, Mass Effect 2. And it will also sport a real time combat system, making it look like a more tactical version of Final Fantasy XII. Ever since I played some of FFXII (and by that I mean the demo), and seeing as how Japanese RPG developers like to follow in the footsteps of the last Final Fantasy game, I was hoping some of them would have FFXII-inspired battle systems. This has not been the case.

The fact that this game has one is fitting. Lost Odyssey was said to be what Sakaguchi originally wanted Final Fantasy XI, so perhaps these are some ideas he wanted to go into FFXII. Or maybe it's what he wanted Final Fantasy XIII to be! Ah, speculation.

The art direction also helps make it look good. Kimihiko Fujisaka (of the Drakengard games) has a very pretty art style, and it's nice to see his designs transfer over into the game well. This game has one of the best-looking female main characters (whose name is Kanan, apparently) I've seen in a Japanese RPG in a long time. The music in the trailer and especially on the official website is also exquisite. Wish I knew who was composing it. The trailer says the game is due at the end of 2010, so we probably don't have long to wait. Nintendo of Japan has a habit of revealing and releasing their games in quick succession (sometimes too quick), it might release earlier than you think.

A localization of this game is probably more a question of "if" rather than "when" as far as Nintendo of America is concerned. You would think it would be a no-brainer, but we're talking about an outfit that passed on releasing games that were already in English. So you never know with this company. Hopefully this and Xenoblade (which also has a battle system inspired by FFXII) manage to get localized. Given how they've been pretty good lately, hopefully they keep on giving.

Images of courtesy of AndriaSang. If you're having trouble viewing the video, check it out on Youtube.

Dissonance and Despair

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Actually there is another game I kind of forgot to talk about from E3. I guess that makes me a liar. I've betrayed you all!

But it's not from E3 2010 really. We first learned of the existence of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair when Konami trademarked its name back in April, which led to some wild speculation. Well all of those hopes came crashing down when the first screen shots were leaked soon afterward, which showed a game utilizing all of the sprites present in the DS games and Symphony of the Night for a multiplayer co-op romp through (supposedly) Dracula's castle. And I'd link to proof if Konami hadn't requested every website to remove the screens -- which inadvertently confirmed them to be real.

castlevaniaharmonypic1_070710.jpgPeople like to criticize producer Koji Igarashi for constantly reusing the same sprites for every 2D installment, but this was too much. These sprites were clearly not made for HD resolutions, so I couldn't imagine how this would look on someone's actual television Upon seeing it, a strange feeling manifested within me; a feeling of...despair. So, mission accomplished?

Another negative: how are people going to know whether HoD stands for Harmony of Despair or Harmony of Dissonance. Note that HoD (that's D for Dissonance!) has a name that's perfectly apt.

Though one of the shots proved that Ayami Kojima was doing the character designs for this game. She hadn't been involved with a Castlevania game since The Dracula X Chronicles on PSP three years back, so I'm glad to she still has some work.

But after seeing what was present at E3, and having Igarashi explained the point of this game, it actually doesn't sound all that bad. Metroidvania games are usually single-player affairs, but the idea of having two or more (many more, if the screens are any indication) friends traverse through a labyrinthine castle together sounds pretty cool. OK, the locations shown so far look similar to the environs from Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin -- albeit with different enemies -- but placing a bunch of characters in at once should give it a new dynamic.

castlevaniaharmonypic2_070710.jpgNot that any chance of it being a harmony of despair has completely diminished, of course. There could be balance issues or assorted other issues, like the game looking hideous on your HDTV. But even if those are problems it could be a lot of fun.

The game will be a part of Microsoft's Summer of Arcade this year, and releases on August 4th. The price? 1200 MS Points ($15). This game will be good with friends, but fans of the series might have a hard time convincing their possibly non-Castlevania fan friends to buy it at that price. Alucard, Soma Cruz, Jonathan Morris, Charlotte Aulin, and Shanoa are going to be initially available, but more characters will be available later via DLC. So have at you, Harmony of Despair.

Origins

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There was one game from E3 I forgot to mention here: one of the highlights of an incredibly uneven press conference from Ubisoft. Their conference overall ranged from slightly dreadful -- as in not as dreadful as Microsoft's -- to slightly hilarious -- as in not as hilarious as Konami's. But there were a few titles there that looked promising; one of them being a game from Michel Ancel. A trailer was shown from an Ancel project called...,no, not Beyond Good & Evil 2 -- though Ubi said it's still in development, the longer we don't see of it the less credible that sounds. The project they had to present was Rayman Origins, an HD 2D game for, as you could guess, HD platforms.

When I said "few titles" before, one I was referring to was Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Child of Eden, which was definitely the best-looking Kinect game at the show, which Microsoft strangely didn't showcase. That game is coming to Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The other was Project Dust for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, a new project from Eric Chahi. I didn't make separate posts for them because (1) I've made the criminal mistake of not playing Rez yet and can't give viable insight on it (because Eden's a spiritual sequel, you see) and (2) I know very little about Out of this World or Heart of Darkness, Chahi's other titles, despite wanting to play the latter for a while.

raymanoriginspic_070610.jpgRayman Origins doesn't look like the most sophisticated HD 2D game around, but it looks great for what it is. It's the kind of game that a creative team would have to pressure higher execs to work on, meaning we shouldn't expect a huge commitment. That's one step away from saying that we should be glad we're getting it. Because we should. The mere existence of this game should make fans of the original Rayman happy, something fans have been wanting after countless Raving Rabbids games.

But with receiving a game like this, we have to make a few sacrifices. This will be a digital release, and will be episodic. The release format is eerily similar to Sonic the Hedgehog 4's. This one, however, is based on a franchise that hasn't been run into the ground as badly for the last decade. But to that game's credit, Sonic 4 is being handled by Dimps, who made the superlative Sonic Rush and slightly less superlative (but still worth playing) Sonic Rush Adventure so that could be good.

Ubisoft announced today that the first episode is headed for XBLA and PSN this holiday season. It's also being considered for Wii, PC, iPad and 3DS as well. They also said the rest of the episodes will be released in 2011, though they haven't said how many episodes there will be. In the meantime, feel free to watch the trailer another ten times while you wait.
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It has been quite a while (October to be exact), but I'm finally back to doing the Geek News Roundups! I originally passed them on to Joseph to do in my stead while I moved, who then passed them onto Geoff, who understandably became tired of doing them, which led me to take the job back. (I was actually overdue in retaking said roundups, but whatever.) I've actually missed doing the roundups but at the same time I'm a little rusty, so bear with me.

In the weeks leading up to E3 2010 rumors began to circulate about a Hulu app coming to the 360. E3 came and went, and the Hulu news never materialized. Shortly after another rumor about Hulu arriving on the PS3 and iPad began to circulate. It turns out all of the rumors were more or less correct. Early last week Hulu unveiled its long awaited Hulu Plus service and confirmed the service would also be available on a variety of devices. The iPad, iPhone, certain Samsung TVs, the PS3 and the 360 are all receiving the service but users will have to pay $9.99 per month. Additionally, the Xbox 360 version of the service won't be rolled out until early 2011. So far Hulu Plus works as intended but with limited network TV offerings people won't be rushing to cancel their cable subscriptions anytime soon. On the plus side, anime is still free to watch on Hulu (full series at that) at least for the time being.

Crunchyroll.com is another popular legal video streaming site for anime. And if the founders along with the folks at Bitway get their way Crunchyroll will soon digitally distribute legal manga. Considering how well legal video streams/simulcasts are doing (as well as they can in this crappy economy) manga seems like a smart move. While we're on the subject of manga, the US market along with anime has been pretty weak in recent months. So it comes as a surprise that a new company by the name of Manga Factory is entering the market. With some of the major players pushed out or down on their luck now could be the time for the smaller companies to flourish. If manga isn't your thing there's always anime to look forward to, such as the newest Pokémon series launching this fall in Japan. The series is titled Pocket Monsters: Best Wishes and probably correlates to the upcoming Pokémon Black and White games.

There may be new Pokémon games to look forward to in 2011, but the confirmation of a North American 3DS launch next year is more exciting. The launch of a new handheld is welcome news, as portable gaming needs a shot in the arm. A new report revealed that handheld gaming is in decline in North America while PC and console gaming is actually on the rise. With a slew of good games in the works for the DS, PSP, and even Apple's App store, it's nice to know there isn't a shortage of games for tenacious handheld gamers. On the plus side, things could always be worse for portable gaming.

I'd personally hate to be one of the 500 suckers people who bought a Microsoft Kin phone. Just mere months after its initial release Microsoft is pulling the plug on the Kin due to abysmal sales. The phone will continue to be sold though plans to release the phone have been canceled in Europe. The Kin never came close to being an iPhone killer. Although problems with the iPhone 4 continue to persist. Nevertheless, Apple continues to rake in the cash. Getting back to Microsoft and Apple, plans for Windows 8 have been leaked to the public. Some of the most interesting content centers around a bullet point dissecting some of Apple's best qualities. Jealous, Microsoft? And many Windows users still prefer Windows XP over upgrading to Vista (understandable) and even Windows 7. Unfortunately, the popular but aging OS has become the prime target of hackers who have exploited a loophole in XP's Help and Support system. Microsoft is working on a fix for the problem although not much can be done for people who refuse (or are just ignorant of) anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

Earlier last week Toy Story 3 took the top spot at the box office. By the end of the week Pixar's newest film was quickly dethroned by The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and even The Last Airbender. If you were hoping to see at least one or all of those movies illegally online your options may be slowly diminishing. Access to nine popular illegal movie streaming sites has been shut down by government officials. On the plus side, going after suppliers rather than users is definitely a smarter move-- unlike certain industry groups.
dqivbanner.jpgThe overall gameplay flow of Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen may be familiar to RPG fans who have been playing games in the genre for a while.

It introduces an excellent way to familiarize you with its characters, by playing through their specific chapters to walk you through their history and search for the chosen one (of which you're given your choice of name and gender), hence the game's subtitle. This is how the first four chapters are structured, before you begin the fifth, massive chapter with the chosen one. Its earlier moments consist of linear, by-the-numbers RPG structuring (especially these days), but in Chapter V the world opens for you to explore it at your own leisure. Through this structure it actually offers a wonderful sense of exploration, leaving you to uncover the secrets of the world.

You may have figured out by now that its structure is similar to Final Fantasy VI's. Suddenly one of your favorite games isn't so innovative after all!

dqivpic2_070410.jpgThe dungeons are empty-though-invigorating environments...

But that's perfectly acceptable practice. There's nothing inherently wrong with a game being inspired by another in terms of structure; what matters is how it uses said ideas, and whether it can use them effectively; which FFVI certainly did. And I'm not going to bother delving into the main villain's inspiration, which will pop out as obvious to players once they run into him - even down to his motivations for his descent into malignance.

This may be a recent release, but DQIV on DS maintains a feel that adheres to its NES origins. It's very light on story and exposition, which allows for a more personable experience with its characters. Sure, some of the exposition is gone because of Square Enix bafflingly removing the "Party Talk" feature from the international versions, but the story itself is rather sparse on detail. But that's not to say it isn't sophisticated; everything isn't spelled out, leaving you, the player, to figure things out. In other words, it's the anti-Xenogears.

This game moves at a pretty rapid pace. It's a little slower than the original thanks to the added animations for monsters, but that's negligible. It's typical turn based material, and random encounters can happen often, but they're so brisk that it's not a problem. As the game goes on, you'll realize that there's an excellent balance between your party members and the enemies, which is especially evident during boss battles. Of course, you could always choose to grind and overpower your enemies, but the outcome of every battle won't be as satisfying as merely successfully outwitting then.

dqivpic4_070410.jpg...but the towns are pretty lively.

DQIV really isn't that different from the original, aside from the graphics and sound being given an overhaul. Its look is similar to that of Dragon Quest VII, but the result here is a smoother transition and a level of consistency between environments that make it nowhere near as hideous as that game -- DQVII's "finished" product looked a little rough, with portions of the game showing its SNES origins and had sections that were obviously built on PSX. You could say it had a very troubled development period. Not to mention that the PSX didn't do 2D very well.

The Dragon Quest franchise has always had the same sound effects for nostalgia's sake, and they feel right in place here. The music is always very well done, and is a testament to why people like Koichi Sugiyama's compositions so much, despite his dubious personal opinions on a certain other matter (go down to "The Case Against Sugiyama). My cohort may not have expressed similar sentiments in his review -- though he did play through the NES version -- but the music is incredibly in-fitting with the game's style, especially the character themes. It's not without its problems, like hearing the same dungeon themes a little too often; but that issue doesn't lie within the music itself.

dqivpic1_070410.jpgSome battles require some thought. Some don't. RPGs.

As a remake, DQIV on DS serves as an excellent way to preserve the style of the original. This was also done for nostalgia's sake. A pet peeve some gamers have with remakes of their favorite games is how they attained a sense of affinity for the original title, something that could be lost with a remake. The DS and PSX versions of DQIV keep that sense perfectly. Not to say there's anything wrong with complete overhauls like Final Fantasy IV on DS, but it's nice to see which interpretations developers like to use. Whatever form an interpretation will take depends on the audience it's being aimed towards.

The main point of contention with DQIV for DS is the localization, which has generated mixed reactions. Dragon Quest VIII contained some beautiful voice work, complete with dialects that matched whatever region NPCs and specific characters were from. Since this game doesn't have voice work, Square Enix, in association with Plus Alpha Translations, sought to convey this through its text. The results are pretty admirable and keep conversations with every NPC lively, but it does have the tendency to go a little overboard at times.

dqivpic3_070410.jpgThe translation gives everyone a sense of character. You know, if you like that.

Take the speaking style used for the Kingdom of Zamoksva, where characters Tsarevna Alena, Kryll, and Borya are from. Zamoksva and its surrounding townships are definitely based on a fantastical version of Russia, so it follows that everyone from that area should have a Russian accent while speaking English. The localization team has done their best at keeping that tone, but it can be esoteric for people not accustomed to hearing that dialect used in either real life or other forms of media. Talking to NPCs in RPGs is usually a passive experience, especially if you've done it a lot. But the positive effect of hearing unfamiliar dialects in an RPG is that it makes talking to NPCs a joy, and the time you'll spend making sense of everything will assist in helping you pay attention.

What makes Dragon Quest IV one of the most admired games in the franchise is its sense of subtlety in terms of establishing a plot, along with its unique approach to telling its story. It has ideas that many RPGs still haven't explored, despite the original releasing 20 years ago. The excellent, if a tad overdone, localization only adds to the charm the game offers. If you haven't played it yet, definitely go get it. This makes up for not receiving the PSX version.

Or perhaps you prefer the original?

Monster Hunter and the Lord of Arcana

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The internet has been abuzz with speculation as to what exactly the name "Lord of Arcana" was when it was discovered as a trademark registered by Square Enix over a year ago. Could it be a new RPG? Perhaps it was an adaptation or spin-off of their card-collecting fantasy arcade game Lord of Vermilion? No one knew the answer, but we finally found out within the pages of Famitsu this week: Lord of Arcana is a Monster Hunter-esque multiplayer action game for PSP. And there was much rejoicing.

lordofarcanapic1_070310.jpgOK, so most of that last paragraph was made up, and I'm sure I don't need to point out exactly what was. But the game is definitely Square Enix's way of capitalizing on the Monster Hunter-alike craze that's recently torn Japan asunder. The fact that they're making one isn't a surprise unless you're new to this hobby. No, the surprise is it actually took them this long to make one. And thank goodness the speculation about their answer being Final Fantasy Agito XIII was mistaken.

This is definitely the newest me-too trend in Japan, and Square Enix didn't want to be outdone by the likes of Namco Bandai's God Eater. But this game takes it really far. They even completely copied Monster Hunter's HUD. It's pretty similar to the "me-too Dynasty Warriors clones" that plagued consoles last generation, especially the PS2. Admittedly, this blatant mimicry isn't overkill like the shooter festival that's plaguing consoles these days.

Upon first glance, and from looking at the gameplay preview with a slayer fighting Bahamut, you'll notice that Lord of Arcana is noticeably bloodier than a Monster Hunter game. You can also look at the screen shots to see that someone forgot to add color to the game. Given how it looks behind the curve in terms of Square Enix's efforts on PSP, speculation (for real this time) began about who was developing this game, and/or whether SE was merely publishing it. Some gamers were even speculating that this was developed by the ironically-named Hit Maker, after NIS America's president gave them a verbal slamming via an interview on Siliconera. It turns out Square Enix is definitely developing this one themselves, according to a comment left on the European Playstation Blog by Rob Rutter, Brand Manager of Square Enix Europe.

lordofarcanapic2_070310.jpgIt's graphical disappointment may be due to the customization options that will be on hand. You'll be able to fully customize your slayer's appearance before you head onto the battlefield. Precisely how deep said customization is will be revealed in due time.

This game's apparently not far off, as Square Enix Japan has it listed as releasing sometime later this year. That also means it would release in the same period as Monster Hunter Portable 3rd on the same system, which is an incredibly smart idea, I'm sure. Interestingly enough, this game is already confirmed for an American and European release (that's a PDF link for the latter), though a release date hasn't been announced. So happy hunting, or something.
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With much consideration I've decided to expand Treasure Hunter to include the swag found with premium and limited edition anime box sets. Collectible toys and figures will be eventually added as well.


After a fairly packed June this month has a lot less in store for avid video game swag collectors. Considering how busy 2010 has been with the steady release of high profile games a quiet July may not be such a bad thing for the wallet. If you're more into collecting anime sets (as opposed to video games), July is a decent month for bonus swag in addition to all of the lovely budget box sets releasing this month. Either way, now is a good time to rest because the holiday season promises to be packed with "I want it now!" releases on all fronts.



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First up, we have the long anticipated Persona 3: Portable hitting store shelves on July 6th. Fans who've played the original Persona 3 and even Persona 3: FES will find something new to like about P3:P. With updated gameplay a la Persona 4, a new female protagonist, and new social link elements, what's not to get excited about? This time around Atlus has even included an interesting pre-order bonus. Pre-order Persona 3: Portable and you'll receive a replica of Junpei's hat with your purchase. While some fans may have preferred a replica of the protagonist's headphones or even a soundtrack, a hat is a fairly interesting spoil. At the very least Junpei fans should be pleased.


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Arc Rise Fantasia is another highly anticipated JRPG releasing later this month. While the English voice acting is questionable the rest of the game looks fantastic. Compared to the handheld scene RPGs (especially JRPGS), have not been so plentiful on the Wii. Arc Rise Fantasia looks to be a decent third-party offering until first-party games start hitting the console starting late next month. (Granted, none of those releases are RPGs but Nintendo games are always bound to please.) Pre-order from GameStop and a free cell (pictured above) will be included with your purchase. The game itself will be released on July 20th.


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Harvest Moon Grand Bazaar is a DS game that has definitely slipped under the radar, unless you're a big fan of the series. With Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky releasing in the same month there's no doubt most DS owners have their attention on that game instead. Anyone who pre-orders Grand Bazaar from GameStop automatically gets a cute horse pushie with their purchase. Oddly enough, GameStop recently (as of today) pushed back the release date from July 27th to August 17th. Amazon.com still lists the game as coming out on the 27th. I'm not sure who made the mistake, but if Harvest Moon is pushed back to August it'll receive a brief mention in next month's Treasure Hunter.


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Unlike video game bonuses, anime swag isn't usually limited to pre-orders. That is a good thing because three special/premium edition box sets are all releasing on July 6th. If all three series hold your interest there's plenty of time to grab them at a later date. Although I wouldn't suggest waiting too long for NIS America's releases, as they are in limited quantities. First up is the special edition of Gundam 00 Season 2 Part 2. Included with this two-DVD set is a copy of the season 2, volume 2 manga. Order from Rightstuf.com and you'll get the set for $23.99 instead of the MSRP price of $44.98 which is quite a value.


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Without asking Atlus or NIS America directly it is impossible to know if Persona 3: Portable and Persona - Trinity Soul were meant to release in North America on the same day. If a popular game and an anime based on the same game just happen to be coincidentally hitting store shelves on July 6th it is one hell of an accidental tie-in. (Keep in mind that both the game and the anime are being published by two rival niche companies.) Persona - Trinity Soul was released in Japan roughly two years ago and NIS America licensed it as part of a foray into the world of anime distribution. The set itself will be released in two halves, with the first part including 13 episodes, a 40-page hardcover art book, a smaller picture book and a premium box. Fans of dubs will probably want to note that Trinity Soul will only be released with English subtitles (no English dubbing at all) and still retails for $59.99. Fortunately, MSRP prices are just a suggestion and savvy shoppers can easily find this premium set for less than $45 dollars. As for Trinity Soul itself, I've not seen a single episode of the anime but I hear it actually undermines some well established Persona lore at times. Fans who have viewed this series have rated it as average at best. Your own mileage on Trinity Soul may vary.


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Toradora! is another series NIS America is offering on July 6th. Like Persona - Trinity Soul, I've yet to view a single episode of this anime but the fan buzz is way more encouraging. Toradora! is a high school romance comedy centering around two juniors (Ryuji and Taiga) who both have secret crushes on each other's best friend. It promises to be an entertaining slice of life romance comedy, and seems to be a good choice for NIS America. The premium set contains the first 13 episodes, a 30-page art book, interviews with the Japanese voice actors, and a special box. Toradora! is also being released as a subtitle-only series at the price of $59.99. Rightstuf has this on sale for under $45 for anyone hoping to save a few dollars. Even as a Persona fan I'd probably choose Toradora! over Trinity Soul as it looks to be the better series. Still, if you're a fan of either series or you simply want to support NIS America both premium sets could be worth a buy.

If you do grab one or both series just make sure you visit NIS America's web site for free replacement DVDs. Video issues have been reported with the premium editions.



Persona - Trinity Soul and Toradora! images are courtesy of Mania.com.

"Agito" Into the Future

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The 3rd Birthday is going to melt half of your face off in sheer awesomeness when it releases, according to Square Enix's Motomu Toriyama, so to speak. Why only half? That's because Final Fantasy Agito XIII is going to melt the other half.

ffagito13pic1_070110.jpgIt may not live up to the nigh-unrealistic expectations he's giving it, but it admittedly has potential. The game itself has a very Crisis Core-esque look to it, which should be expected given it has some of the same core team and the same director: Hajime Tabata, who's also directing The 3rd Birthday. It will presumably hit shelves sooner than its belated older brother, Final Fantasy Versus XIII since gameplay footage of this actually exists.

It was originally going to be an MMO-like game back when, like The 3rd Birthday, it was originally intended for cell phones. Again, Square Enix found some sense and realized they wanted more than the inhabitants of Japan - or people with Japanese cell phones - to play this game, and moved it to PSP. In that move, it abandoned most of the aforementioned MMO-like system for one that's similar to a lot of RPGs. Its battle system will be similar to Crisis Core's, which itself was an evolution of the one found in Final Fantasy X-2, and will accommodate both single-player and multiplayer gameplay. Summons will also be fully controllable a la Final Fantasy X.

Plenty of gamers thought this would be Square Enix's answer to Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online, but that's not quite what this is. It's an RPG first, and at this time, we now know what their answer to those games is. More on that tomorrow.

ffagito13pic2_070110.jpgThe story has a political background this time around. Your playable characters will involve some of the top students at Peristerium School of Magic, located an island separate from the rest of the continent in the world of Orience. There are four countries that signed a peace treaty that stated no other country was to invade the other. But it's broken when Commander Cid of begins his invasion of other nations with his army of l'Cie soldiers. The school setting might invoke memories of Final Fantasy VIII, but the beginning of the conflict is pretty different. Upon seeing the invasion, a bunch of students form an alliance to stop Cid.

The word "Agito" means "to put in motion" in Latin, and it also happens to be the highest rank all the students aspire to make it to. Yeah, there's definitely a SeeD-esque vibe here. Given the plot details we have already, its Latin interpretation has a lot to do with the game too.

There have been twelve characters revealed so far, all of which are school students that wield a variety of weapons. It shouldn't be a surprise to see characters that wield swords or guns, but there's also one that uses cards. Wonder how he uses them. The last time we had a Final Fantasy title that was heavily political, we got Final Fantasy Tactics. I'm not gonna go all Toriyama-style here and hype this to heaven, but it at least sounds promising.

If you're wondering about the release date, you'll just have to keep doing just that, because Square Enix refuses to disclose a release date. It's likely going to make it out sometime next year if everything goes according to plan. And there should be a nice re-reveal at this year's Tokyo Game Show, granted it's not moronically shown behind closed doors again. But I don't think that will happen.

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