Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Opinion Fest 2009: Most Improved

Well, now that the bad is out of the way, let's take a look at what was good about 2009. It was a much leaner year for most people, and the gaming industry is no exception. Consequently, a lot of smaller games have managed to take home bigger prizes this year than if they had competed in past years.

This year I have started a new award: Most Improved. This award goes to a game that manages to improve itself over its forerunner(s) in any given series. Obviously, a game coming from a long line of garbage is going to have an easier time improving than a series of highly-acclaimed titles, but I really think it's important to let developers know when they've had the ability and foresight to fix their own mistakes.

Honorable Mention: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon - Atlus - PlayStation 2

Though not enough to place in the top, Devil Summoner 2 tweaks the formula to the demands of fans everywhere, producing a title that is definitely an improvement. Whether or not it is enough improvement to make the Devil Summoner franchise as relevant as some of Atlus' other series remains to be seen, but the effort is certainly there.

3rd: Star Ocean: The Last Hope - tri-Ace, Square Enix - Xbox 360

Star Ocean 4 is really what Star Ocean 3 should have been. Though it still fails to live up to SO2 - maintained as still the best game in the series - SO4 proves that tri-Ace is humble enough to recognize fans' displeasure with SO3, and make the necessary corrections. Improved combat, related story, and a coherent ending really do go a long way. The loss of actual character recruitment and meaningful Private Actions, however, keep the game from acheiving its full potential.

2nd: Magna Carta II - Softmax, Namco Bandai - Xbox 360

Magna Carta: Tears of Blood, Korean developer Softmax's first game to find its way out of Korea, had high-end graphics, a beautiful soundtrack, and an involving plot. It's downfall was its game-breakingly awful battle system, which managed to alienate nearly everyone but the most committed (and possibly masochistic) RPG fan.

Magna Carta II, though not exactly the second game in the series, has the same commitment to high production values that graced previous installments, but this time goes out of its way to provide a more accessible experience. The final result is a game that not only blows its predecessor out of the water, but also nearly single-handedly establishes the Magna Carta series as top tier franchise.

1st: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes - Capybara, Ubisoft - Nintendo DS

Quick, name the last installment of Might & Magic! No looking at GameFAQs for help!

Don't worry about it if you don't know off the top of your head. Might & Magic, though perhaps among the oldest of Western RPG franchises, has fallen into relative obscurity, and certainly lost relevancy with the majority of gamers. Enter Clash of Heroes, an anime-ish puzzle-RPG for the DS, and a possible new direction for the series.

Clash of Heroes drops any pretense of being gritty, hardcore, or any of those other forgetfully common themes in modern gaming, and goes for charming, fun, and likeable instead. The result is a highly accessible, highly addictive title that not only drags the Might & Magic name out of the gutter, but also opens up the series to new fans everywhere. Though a rare sentiment from me, please accept the following, Ubisoft: "Good job!"

Opinion Fest 2009: Vaporware Award

This year was considerably better than last in terms of vaporware. Even if a game doesn't have a release date, there is at least actual gameplay footage and an estimated release to go along with it.

The only notable exception is (still) Square Enix's Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Same screenshots. Same footage. Same release date: NONE.


Apparently we'll be playing it someday after Final Fantasy XIV. (And, I suspect, sometime after Final Fantasy XV too.)


But, this is all old news, so other than F
FvXIII, nothing else even competes.

Opinion Fest 2009: Most Overrated

There is always a lot of confusion surrounding this particular award, so let me come out right up front a clarify this: Just because a game receives the Most Overrated award does not mean I think it is a bad game!

The Most Overrated award, instead, goes to RPGs that, for better or for worse, have received far more than their fair share of the spotlight this year. The games may be good, and worth your time, especially if you love the developer/genre/series, etc. However, even in this pathetic year, there have been enough all-around good games that have received less than half the attention these spotlight hogs have.

The following RPGs have received way more attention than they deserve this year.

3rd: Borderlands - Gearbox, 2K - PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Though Borderlands didn't receive perfect ratings all across the board, it has demanded a lot of press attention. Don't get me wrong, Borderlands combines a very interesting mix of first-person shooting with addictive RPG elements like leveling up, equipment upgrading, and even a hint of story. But at the end of the day, it is still a shooter with heavy RPG elements. There are still better FPSes, and still better RPGs in every area. The internet should not be as obsessed with this game as it is.

2nd: Cross Edge - Compile Heart, NIS America - PlayStation 3

Cross Edge is not a good game. Mediocre is probably a better description. Sure, you've got fanboygasmic crossovers from several different developers and series, but a poorly executed mishmash is still poorly executed, regardless. Perhaps the reason this game got so much gushing is simply indicitive of the PS3 fanboy nature, which demands that any exclusive to the system be heralded as the second coming of its particular genre. Along with that, it's interesting to note the significant drop-off of fanboy love for this game when the Xbox 360 port was announced shortly thereafter.

1st: Demon's Souls - FromSoftware, Atlus - PlayStation 3

A FromSoftware-developed wannabe Western RPG with a nonsensical name, clunky animation, irrelevant story, and brutally punishing difficulty? Why, that sounds like the sure-fire recipe for a disaster! And yet Demon's Souls is the highest acclaimed RPG of the year from nearly every gaming news source I am aware of. Why is a game that has been described as "made for people with OCD" received hundreds of times more praise and attention than other, more complete titles? I have theories about that, mostly relating to PS3 fanboys and the Atlus name attached to it, but I will keep them to myself.

Whatever the cause, though the game may definitely have appeal to certain gamers, and may even be a stellar title within its territory, there is no way that it is as complete or comprehensive as many other titles this year, which you no doubt haven't heard of because the media wants you to know about Demon's Souls instead. That seems very wrong to me on so many levels that I had no choice but to grant this award.

Opinion Fest 2009: Biggest Disappointment

Yes, 2010 is almost upon us, which means it's time for another round of blatant opinions on the year in review, appropriately dubbed Opinion Fest 2009!

As with last year, we're going to get the "bad" awards out of the way first. And with those comes probably the worst of the bad, the Biggest Disappointment award. As you may guess from the name, the Biggest Disappointment award goes to the game, system, event, company, or anything else RPG related that unabashedly peed in our collective cereal this year, usually in spite of high hopes for the contrary.

Let's meet the worst offenders.

3rd: Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica - Gust, NIS America - PlayStation 2
Persona 4 was a good game, but my hopes for the last great PS2 game were riding on the overdue sequel to the obscure sleeper hit Ar Tonelico. With a winning gameplay formula and shamelessly interesting story, Ar Tonelico's sequel should have brought the series into the limelight it so rightly deserved.

Instead, however, we were given a buggy, uninteresting game with amazingly less features than the original and shamefully terrible localization (even for NIS). The game felt like a giant middle finger to anyone who still held faith that small developers could make great games, and that the PS2's extended life was worth it. The sad truth was painful to experience.

2nd: Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled - Studio Archcraft, Graffiti - Nintendo DS
After years upon years of waiting, Studio Archcraft's 16-bit revival was finally upon us. With everything from the graphics to the gameplay drawing on classics like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, there should have been no way for Black Sigil to do anything but conquer the market.

But with game-breaking bugs, a painfully gimped battle system, and a ludicrous encounter rate, the hoped-for title alienated itself from virtually everyone. Anyone looking for a lesson in how to botch a seemingly bullet-proof formula for success need look no futher than Black Sigil.

1st: 2009 in General

2008 was amazing. Certainly the best year for RPGs since the 7th generation began. With solid titles releasing at least every month, and many modern masterpieces among them, many felt they had died and gone to RPG heaven.

By contrast, 2009 has been an utter dearth, with the precious few RPG releases not even holding a candle to their 2008 counterparts. Though a few notable exceptions stand out, the majority of 2009 should frankly just be forgotten. There haven't been many years this disappointing in a long time, and I personally hope this is the last time I will have to endure such torture.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Divinity II Demo in Time for Christmas

Game news - especially RPG news - tends to slow down around Christmas time. Not hard to believe as its rare for RPGs to be released at all in December (notable exceptions recognized). But publisher dtp has decided to spruce up your holidays with a demo for their upcoming RPG, Divinity II: Ego Draconis (well, it's actually already out in Europe).

As a quick refresher, Divinity II focuses around a young dragon slayer who is inadvertantly granted the powers of a dragon knight - aka, the ability to transform into a dragon - in order to save the kingdom from evil.

The demo dropped yesterday morning on Xbox Live and PC for your downloading pleasure.

Coupled with today's End of Eternity Japanese demo, you might just be able to survive on demos alone until you (hopefully) get some new games for Christmas! ;)

Divinity II: Ego Draconis will be available for PC and Xbox 360 on January 5, 2010 in North America. It is already available in Europe.

RPGs of the Week: Crystal Christmas Edition

Merry Christmas Week and Happy Holidays to all Sword Machine readers!

This is the last real week of game releases here in North America for 2009. If you're holding out til the last minute on your Christmas shopping, be advised: it is now the last minute!

Here are the RPGs hitting shelves worldwide this week (December 21 - 26, 2009):

North America
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers – Square Enix – Nintendo Wii
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite – Capcom – PSP

Japan
Borderlands – Gearbox, Cyberfront – PC
Eiyuu Densetsu: Sora no Kiseki FC – Falcom – PC
Eiyuu Densetsu: Sora no Kiseki SC – Falcom – PC
Eiyuu Densetsu: Sora no Kiseki the Third – Falcom – PC
Lina no Atelier: Strahl no Renkinjutsushi – Gust – Nintendo DS
Magus Tale Eternity: Sekaiju to Koisuru Mahoutsukai – GN Software – PSP
Ys I & II Chronicles – Falcom – PC
Ys Online: The Call of Solum – Falcom, Key To Play – PC
Zelda no Densetsu: Daichi no Kiteki – Nintendo – Nintendo DS
ZWEI II Plus – Falcom – PC

Europe
(none)

Japan gets a half-dozen Falcom games for PC, most of which must just be reprints of some kind, because I was pretty sure all of those games were already out, with the exception of Ys Online. They also score some handheld titles like Spirit Tracks and Atelier Lina for DS, and Magus Tale Eternity for PSP. Also, Borderlands gets its first Japanese release on PC.

North America gets Monster Hunter Freedom Unite for PSP, which will likely have a hard time living up to its Japanese fame over here, and Square Enix's Final Fantasy Sports Resort game, which some of you may have already gotten a copy of.

Despite its reportedly extremely short playtime, I'm personally anxious to give Crystal Bearers a shot.

Anything for you this week?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let's Clear Up Some Confusion About NieR

Okay, Cavia is developing an HD action-RPG for Square Enix called NieR, set to release sometime next year. Sounds straight-forward enough, right?

Apparently not, as gamers all over the internet seem to be completely confused as to what's going on with this title. Why are there two versions? They're exclusives but multiplatform? There's a hermaphrodite character? Who's getting what version now? Why does Square Enix hate me? And the list goes on.

So, in a display of goodwill during this festive season, I have taken it upon myself to clear up this mess to the best of my knowledge and sources, which I hope should put your minds at ease.

The Basics
NieR is an action-RPG developed by Cavia (most well-known in the RPG community for their development of the two Drakengard titles on the PS2) created to cater to the interests on Western gamers. It was initially announced as a multiplatform title for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and will be published by Square Enix.

The original concept of the game was that of a father searching for a cure to a mysterious plague that is threatening the life of his daughter.

Two Versions
Several months after the game's initial reveal, Square Enix announced that the game would actually be changed between the 360 and PS3 platforms, and that each version would be exclusive to that platform.

The original concept of the father trying to save his daughter would be titled NieR: Gestalt, and would be an Xbox 360 exclusive. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 3 version was changed to NieR: Replicant, and the hero was changed from a middle-aged buff dude to a younger, more effeminate character. Additionally, the daughter from Gestalt was redefined as the main character's sister.

It was heavily implied that these changes for the PS3 version were made in order to make the game relevant to Japanese gamers, who reportedly were wary of the idea of playing as an older character.

The Confusion
Though these versions were clearly separated between the two platforms in Japan, Square Enix never mentioned their status overseas. Their silence was taken by the majority of gamers to mean that the changes would carry over worldwide.

Some time later, Square Enix came forward to clarify that NieR Replicant would be a Japan-only title, and that everywhere else would receive NieR Gestalt for both 360 and PS3 under the original title of simply 'NieR.'

Gamers everywhere who had their hearts set on playing as the young, effeminate character, were crushed, and interest in the PS3 version of the game plummeted.

Additionally, due to the difference in relationship to the little disease-stricken girl between the two versions, many gamers believed that the storylines for the two games would be significantly different, and some worried that missing Replicant would mean losing out on a different story.

Hermaphrodite?
Another point of confusion - on both sides of the pond, no less - was the information that a hermaphrodite would play a significant role in the game. S/he was never fully revealed, and always only got a quick, ambigious shot from an odd angle. Clearly, s/he looked more like a girl than anything else.

When the game was split between the two consoles, the original image of the main character was used to promote the Gestalt version, while an image of this hermaphrodite was used in promos for the Replicant version. This lead some to believe that the hermaphrodite character would be the protagonist of Replicant, and would be removed from Gestalt.

People claiming to be about freedom of sexual expression were outraged, but I personally believe they just wanted to play as the character in the string panties and lace top.

At Least Read This Part
Okay, so now you should be up to speed on why everyone is nerdraging against this title. Now here is the actual way everything goes down, and why you shouldn't be as upset as you are.

First of all, the game's protagonist, Nier, is the same person between both Gestalt and Replicant versions. Indeed, the only confirmed differences between the versions are his age (44 and 21, respectively), and his physical appearance. He can still obtain the same weapons and skills, fight in the same manner, have the same personality, and be on the same quest.

Second, the story appears to remain almost identical. Both versions have Nier setting out on a perilous journey to save the young, disease-stricken Yona, and save himself at the same time. The only major difference in the story area is Nier's relationship to Yona. She is his daughter in Gestalt, while she is his sister in Replicant.




Third,
the hermaphrodite remains completely unchanged between the two versions. Kaine (pronounced Ky-neh) is Nier's gender-bending partner in both versions, and his/her outfit even remains identical. S/he was never the protagonist of either version, and will not be cut out of either version.

Finally, it should be noted that the game known as NieR Gestalt in Japan is the game that Cavia originally wanted to make, and that NieR Replicant was created for the sole purpose of quelling the "I don't wanna be an old guy!" discontent among Japanese gamers.

Though I agree that Nier's character design is more likeable in Replicant, the fact that the game's original concept will release worldwide is a good sign that there is still room for creativity in the Japanese game development industry, and its nice to see a large publisher like Square Enix take a chance on a developer's vision.

Now, if you are still completely furious that you can't play as the younger, femmier version of Nier, despite the fact that the games will be nearly identical and that the older version is actually the more purist version, then I would advise you to learn Japanese, buy a PS3, and import it.

But never say someone didn't break it down and explain it for you.

NieR will be available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sometime next Spring in Japan, North America, and Europe.

[Famitsu]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RPGs of the Week: Final Fantasy XIII Not For You Edition

Christmas is only 10 days away. If you have been holding out for new RPG releases, your days may be numbered.

Check out what RPGs are hitting shelves this week (December 14 - 18, 2009):

North America
EverQuest Underfoot - Sony Online Entertainment - PC

Japan
Daikoukai no Jidai Online: El Oriente - Deltin, Koei Tecmo - PC, PlayStation 3
Final Fantasy XIII - Square Enix - PlayStation 3
Ragnarok Online (7th Anniversary Package) - Gravity, E-Frontier - PC
Queen's Blade: Spiral Chaos - Namco Bandai - PSP

Europe
(none)

Well, uh, Final Fantasy XIII in Japan. I don't know what else to say here. It's a big deal, I've heard. Unless you understand Japanese and have a PS3, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until next year to get yours.

Japan is also getting a NSFW Queen's Blade PSP spinoff RPG, another edition of Koei's sailing MMO on PC and PS3, and yet another reprint of Ragnarok Online (I think we're up to 11 now, or something).

Meanwhile, North America gets another EverQuest expansion. Yay?

As far as I can tell, Europe appears to be sitting this week out.

Really, though. Final Fantasy XIII in Japan. I don't know how anything else on that list stands any chance against it. Whether it will be good or not remains to be seen, but no mistake, it'll be big, ridiculous boxart notwithstanding.

EDIT: Fixed the boxart mix-up. Sources differ on what it is, but this is the image Amazon Japan has. Thanks for everyone who pointed this out.

Sakura Wars Will be Better on PS2, Wii Shafted

If there is one publisher that just can't let the PS2 go, it's NIS America. Oh sure, they have published a few titles on Wii, DS, PSP, and even PS3, but that good old PS2 just seems to maintain a sweet spot in their hearts.

For better or for worse, this has driven NIS to publish a series here in North America that has been often overlooked by others: Sakura Taisen (Sakura Wars).

Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is actually an ancient 2005 Japanese release known as Sakura Taisen 5: Saraba Itoshiki Hito yo (which translates as basically the same thing). Quite why NIS thought that the game is worth releasing 5 years later on a system that has (in my opinion) long outlived its usefulness is beyond me, but here we are.

In an effort to keep the game relevant, NIS has commissioned a Wii port of the title to be released here in North America at the same time as the PS2 version, and we were originally told that the two would be comparable in features.

However, this has proven not to be the case, as NIS has announced that the game will be heavily gimped on Nintendo's console.

The PS2 version will ship in a premium box complete with an artbook and poster, and will contain two dual-layer DVDs, complete with both English and Japanese voice tracks. The Wii version, by contrast, will receive only a standard case and one single-layer DVD containing only the English voice-overs, though will be priced $10 lower than the superior PS2 version. It should be noted that there is currently only one printing scheduled for this game, and NIS has mentioned that should subsequent printings occur, the PS2 version will be reprinted without the extras mentioned above.

Predictably, NIS has not offered any official statement on why the Wii version is "getting the shaft," as it were, but putting on my educated guessing hat, I would conclude that the Wii port has gone way over budget, and NIS is trying to just get it out the door to minimize further losses. Again, just my speculation.

Sakura Wars: So Long My Love will be available for PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii on March 23, 2010.

So now I have approximately 3 months to decide if I care enough about a 5 year old PS2 game to warrant pre-ordering it. PS2 games are getting harder and harder purchases for me to justify. :/

[RPGamer]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Namco Bandai Announces Summon Night: Granthese

So, this is slightly old news that you might have missed, but Namco Bandai revealed a week ago that they will be releasing a new Summon Night title for the 'please just let it die, you sick necromancers' PlayStation 2, Summon Night: Granthese.

As usual with Summon Night titles, Granthese will allow players to choose to play as either the male lead, Lost, or the female lead, Millet. However, unlike most Summon Night titles, Granthese is an action-RPG, pitting your chosen hero against foes in real-time 3D. Both heroes fight differently, so choosing your hero is more important than just aesthetic appeal.

Players will be able to summon contracted NPCs to help them fight, including a devil-boy, a sheep-girl, and a walking tree. So nothing too extraordinary, I guess.

Dengeki Online has a full intro to the game, and additional info can be found on the game's official Japanese website.

As an aside, I liked playing PlayStation 2 as much as the next guy, but can't we move on? If developers really can't let go of SD graphics, at least release your games on Wii so we can let the PS2 have the respite it deserves.

Summon Night: Granthese will be available next Spring for PlayStation 2 in Japan.

[Dengeki]

End of Eternity Japanese Demo Incoming

Dust off your Japanese Xbox Live / PlayStation Network accounts, as Sega and tri-Ace's upcoming multiplatform RPG, End of Eternity (also curiously known in the West as Resonance of Fate, for some unknown reason) will be getting a Japanese demo on December 22, 2009, just in time for Christmas.

For the forgetful, End of Eternity follows three PMF mercenaries, Zephyr, Vashyron, and Reanbell, as they discover the secret behind Earth's last hospitable shelter, the floating mechanical city of Basel.

The demo will reportedly feature a playable scenario original to the demo, and will give players a chance to test out the battle system for themselves.

I haven't done much with my Japanese XBL account since the Magna Carta II demo earlier this year, so I'll be downloading this day one. Also, moar HD RPGs please.

End of Eternity will be available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 28, 2010, and sometime next Spring in North America and Europe as Resonance of Fate.

[Dengeki]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

RPGs of the Week: Choo-Choo Train Edition

No excuses for the blatant lack of updates. I will try harder.

Here are the new RPGs hitting shelves around the world this week (December 7 - 12, 2009).

North America
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks – Nintendo – Nintendo DS

Japan
Bleach: Soul Carnival 2 – SCEI – PSP
Eiyuu Densetsu: Sora no Kiseki Set (Super Price Set) – Falcom – PSP
Luminous Arc III: Eyes - imageepoch, Marvelous - Nintendo DS
Tales of Graces – Namco Bandai – Nintendo Wii
X-Edge (Compile Heart Selection) – Compile Heart – PlayStation 3
Yuusha no Kuse ni Namaiki da Or2 (The Best) – Acquire – PSP

Europe
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks – Nintendo – Nintendo DS

Japan definitely takes the lead in RPG releases this week with Bleach 2 and Luminous Arc III as new portable titles, and the extreme jealousy-inducing release of Tales of Graces for Wii. Oh, I think there is a sizable dose of budget reprints, too.

North America and Europe will have to make due with Phantom Hourglass +train -boat. That's cool, I guess.

Anything making it into your shopping cart this week?

Atlus Announces Etrian Odyssey III

Another week, another DS RPG announcement. After around 3 years of this, you'd think I'd be used to it.

Anyway, Atlus has announced their latest RPG, the third installment of their neo-retro first-person dungeon crawler Etrian Odyssey series. Sekaiju no Meikyuu III (lit. Labrynth of the World Tree III), EOIII doesn't appear to deviate from the formula of the previous installments much, though there are a few editions. For starters, ocean levels are now available, as are a few new character classes, such as Princess, Phalanx, and Pirate.

Sekaiju no Meikyuu III will be available for Nintendo DS on March 4, 2010 in Japan.

[Famitsu]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Square Enix Formally Announces Estopolis

Teased last week, Square Enix, via the recent issue of Weekly Famitsu, has broken word on the revival of the Estopolis/Lufia series. Currently titled The Land Cursed by the Gods: Estopolis, the game is being handled by developer Neverland, who are most recently notable for their Rune Factory titles for Marvelous.

As previously feared, the game is indeed a DS remake utilizing God-awful DS 3D, though it is a remake of Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, rather than the original Lufia. Despite being a remake, however, Estopolis is receiving a fairly extreme make-over, making the jump from traditional turn-based battles to action-based role-playing. Additionally, the character designs have all been revamped. For instance, the slicked-back hair and traditional armour of the game's lead, Maxim, has been ditched for a modern spikey mop and a leather jacket. Changes in the other characters are similarly notable.

Besides the character and battle system changes, it seems that the gameplay will also be changing to involve more action-oriented puzzles and interactive dungeons.

The basic plot appears to remain the same at this point, with Maxim and his friends eventually standing up to face the threat of the Sinistrals. However, how close Neverland will stick to the original's script is difficult to determine at the moment.

Finally, Estopolis will also feature some 3D cell-shaded FMVs, which look extremely nice, and make the terrible DS graphics all the more noticeable. It's too bad the developers chose not to use a console and make all the graphics look like that.




While I suppose its nice to see the Lufia series return after all this time, I am never pleased about handheld titles taking preference over consoles.

What about you? Are you excited to see Lufia II remade as a modern action-RPG on the DS? Were you expecting/hoping for something else?

Estopolis will be available for Nintendo DS on February 25, 2010 in Japan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RPGs of the Week: Puzzled Princess Edition

The RPG news continues its slow, slow trickle this week, matched by a very slow release schedule. If you are absolutely dying to play something new this week (November 16-20, 2009), check out what's coming to a system near you.

North America
Gyromancer – PopCap, Square Enix – PC, XBLA
King’s Bounty: Armored Princess – Katauri, 1C – PC

Japan
Lineage: Episode 1 Memorial Package – NCSoft, E-Frontier – PC
Monster Finder – Alpha Unit – Nintendo DSi
Wizardry: Seimei no Kusabi – Genterprise – Nintendo DS

Europe
Divinity II: Ego Draconis – Larian Studios, dtp – PC, Xbox 360
King's Bounty: Armored Princess - Katauri, 1C - PC
League of Legends – Riot, THQ – PC
Pokemon Mysterious Dungeon: Explorers of Sky – ChunSoft, Nintendo – Nintendo DS

Europe probably has the best looking lineup this week with Divinty II for 360 and PC, the perhaps slightly not-well-known PC title, King's Bounty: Armored Princess, the MMO League of Legends, and the latest Pokemon.

Japan gets the DSi title Monster Finder (which utilizes the machine's built-in camera), a repackaging of the MMO Lineage, and the DS revival of the Wizardry series.

North American gamers will have to settle this week for a puzzle-RPG from PopCap and Square Enix downloadable for Windows and on XBLA. They can also muscle in on Armored Princess if they so desire.

Anything looking interesting to you this week?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Final Fantasy XIII gets a North American/European Release Date

If you like Final Fantasy, you may be pleased to hear that Square Enix has finally gotten around to giving the 13th main installment of the enormously popular JRPG series a release date outside of its home turf.

In a special press release issued today, Square Enix has confirmed that the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Final Fantasy XIII will be released simultaneously in North America and Europe on March 9, 2010, a mere 3 months after the Japanese PS3-only release.

Among story and gameplay tidbits revealed in the press release, it is interesting to note that Square Enix has licenced the song "My Hands" by Leona Lewis to replace Sayuri Sugawara's "Kimi ga Iru kara" (lit. "Because You are Here") as the game's theme song in the West. Currently, it is unclear whether or not the Japanese language track will be included in the Western release.

It's nice to see Square Enix working hard to get the game into our hands sooner than later, though I'm never a fan of dropping original content out of localizations.

[Square Enix]

Square Enix Resurrecting Lufia

In the latest issue of Famitsu, Square Enix took an opportunity to tease a new (?) title in a series thought to be forgotten forever: Estopolis.

Though the name Estopolis may not readily be recognizable to many of you, certainly RPG fans old enough to remember gaming on the Super Nintendo will likely recognize its Western name: Lufia.

Currently, Square Enix has shown nothing but a logo accompanied with the tag, 'The Land cursed by the Gods,' and a single piece of concept art. Whether or not this is a truly new installment of the series, or nothing more than a port or remake remains speculation, as does the game's target platform(s).

Optimistically, I would like to think it to be an actual new entry on HD platforms, but the cruelty of this generation cautions me to remember that the vast majority of JRPGs are on handhelds. A DS 3D remake from Matrix (the studio behind the Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV DS remakes) seems (unfortunaltey) highly likely.

I'll keep my fingers crossed if you will, though.

[Famitsu]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

RPGs of the Week: The DS Returns Edition

Whoa. Where have I been recently? Actually, in all honesty, the RPG scene is really depressing me lately.

...And I guess by "lately," I mean "the majority of 2009." Maybe you disagree with me (and that's totally fine), but after 2008, the meager offerings of 2009 have felt so disappointing that it's all that I can do to even check the newest issue of Famitsu.

Sure, there have been a couple of bright spots, like Star Ocean 4 and Magna Carta II, but in general, everything feels like a port or a portable title this year. That's great for people who like ports and portable titles, but I don't happen to be one of them. Sure, there are a few more console RPGs announced that even look good, like End of Eternity, Final Fantasy XIII, Tales of Graces, and Ar Tonelico III (to a lesser extent), but they are all 2010 titles.

Now, I suppose that the relative lack of interesting titles (in my mind) is probably a blessing in disguise, as I don't have as much disposable income this year as I did in 2008, but it doesn't make it feel any better.

Okay okay. So I'm being a little whiny about this. I know. I'll try harder.

Anyhow, for this week's RPG releases, you might see a system that has been uncharacteristically quiet lately make a return to its place of domination. Yeah, the DS. Woo.

Check out what's hitting shelves this week (November 9 - 13, 2009) around the world:

North America
Final Fantasy XI: Ultimate Collection – Square Enix – PC, Xbox 360
Harvest Moon DS: Sunshine Islands – Marvelous, Natsume – Nintendo DS
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade – Marvelous, Natsume – Nintendo Wii
Phantasy Star Zero – Sonic Team, Sega – Nintendo DS
Spectral Force Genesis – Idea Factory, Ignition – Nintendo DS

Japan
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers – Square Enix – Nintendo Wii
Final Fantasy XI: Vana’diel Collection 2 – Square Enix – PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2
Hexys Force – Sting, Atlus – PSP
Lunar: Harmony of Silver Star – GameArts, GungHo – PSP
Rockman.EXE: Operate Shooting Star – Capcom – Nintendo DS

Europe
Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World – Namco Bandai – Nintendo Wii

Yep. The DS is back in the spotlight with over half of this week's NA releases: Spectral Force Genesis, Phantasy Star Zero, and another Harvest Moon. Meanwhile, Harvest Moon: Animal Parade hits the Wii, and what has to be the 100th Final Fantasy XI collection sees 360 and PC release.

Japan, meanwhile, gets some much cooler titles with Crystal Bearers for Wii, a new MegaMan RPG for DS, Atlus and Sting's Hexys Force for PSP, and GungHo's Lunar remake for the PSP. Oh, and that same FFXI collection is seeing Japanese release this week as well on 360, PC, and PS2 (for all those people who just can't give up MMOs on PS2. ...what?).

Europe, meanwhile, gets Tales of Symphonia 2 fashionably late. Like, very fashionably late.

Anything worth it for you this week?

P.S. Sorry I missed last week's list. Probably the game that most of you care about on that list was Dragon Age: Origins, which I'm told is about as quintessential BioWare as it gets.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

RPGs of the Week: PC Power Edition

Everyone's favourite non-holiday, Halloween, is almost upon us. Celebrating that (I think), a lot of publishers have decided to drop new titles into the market here in North America.

Check out what RPGs are hitting shelves this week (October 26 - 31, 2009):

North America
Alganon – Quest Online – PC
Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island – Gust, NIS America – Nintendo DS
Borderlands – Gearbox, 2K – PC
Fort Zombie – Kerberos, Paradox – PC
King’s Bounty: Armored Princess – Katauri, 1C – PC
League of Legends: Clash of Fates – Riot, THQ – PC
Torchlight – Runic, Perfect World – PC
Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement – Konami – XBLA, PSN

Japan
Akumajou Dracula: Sougetsu no Juujika (Dendou Selection) – Konami – Nintendo DS
Akumajou Dracula: The Adventure ReBirth – Konami - WVC
Elminage II: Sousei no Megami to Unmei no Daichi – Starfish SD – PSP
Final Fantasy Gaiden: Hikari no 4 Senshi – Matrix, Square Enix – Nintendo DS
Super Robot Taisen NEO – Banpresto, Namco Bandai – Nintendo Wii

Europe
Agarest: Generations of War – Compile Heart, Midas – PlayStation 3

North America easily has the biggest selection this week with two MMOs, two PC RPGs, Borderlands PC version, Atelier Annie for DS, and the malformed (rather than glorious) return of Vandal Hearts on XBLA and PSN.

Japan gets two re-releases of old Castlevania games, Elminage II for PSP, yet another Super Robot Taisen game, and Matrix's latest bobble-head Final Fantasy DS game. Yay?

Europe bags the dating-sim/SPRG hybrid Agarest Senki.

Anything look worth your cash this week?

New Ar Tonelico III Trailer is Artsy

Ar Tonelico III was announced last week for the PS3, and now, with the launch of the game's official site, a new trailer with (a very small amount of) gameplay has emerged.

Check it out below!



The music and art style remains quite cool, and the graphics seem like they have stepped up even since Atelier Rorona. However, my stark lack of a lolita complex prevents me from really getting hot and bothered about this title. Also, Ar Tonelico II was not much fun, so if this wants to impress me, I hope it takes more cues from the original rather than the sequel.

Either way, we'll know soon enough as Ar Tonelico III: Sekai Shuuen no Intetsu wa Shoujo no Uta ga Hiku will be available for PlayStation 3 in Japan on January 28, 2009.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The First 3 Hours: Magna Carta II

Roughly one full week after the game’s official North American release, I finally got my hands on Namco Bandai’s latest JRPG for the Xbox 360, Magna Carta II.

Now, I say ‘JRPG’ knowing full-well that the game was developed by South Korean developer Softmax, and is about as Made-in-Japan as kimchi. However, in terms of game style, Magna Carta II is JRPG through-and-through. Besides the fact that it was paid for and published by Japanese mega-publisher Namco Bandai.

In terms of story, MCII follows a young amnesiac man named Juto who is torn from his peaceful life when two mainland armies vie for control of a giant, living weapon found on the otherwise neutral Highwind Island. Juto, dragged into the war, finds himself on the side of the Southern Forces, the underdogs in the current civil war, as he searches for revenge and answers about his past.

Don’t feel too bad if this sounds extremely familiar to you, as MCII indeed touches on just about every JRPG cliché known to man. The story also features a beautiful, strong-willed, but secretly insecure princess, a giant warrior of a different race that has limited personality but uses a huge hammer or axe in battle, and a fire mage who acts like a little cocky bitch all of the time, despite the fact that his usefulness on the field is questionable at best. Yes, Magna Carta II, so far, offers no real giant leaps in tried-and-true JRPG storytelling.

Now, despite the myriad clichés present, Magna Carta II has occasional strokes of brilliance in its story. Every once in a while, you will say, ‘wow, that’s pretty cool.’ Unfortunately, those few moments are lessened by the sheer amount of ‘meh’ that the story is sure to provoke. Honestly, certain moments that should have felt Earth-shattering in their impact on the story came off feeling half-done, half-assed, or both.

That’s not to say the story isn’t interesting. It is, and I am enjoying it. But it feels like it just could have been so much better.

Graphically, Magna Carta II does a decent job. For the most part, locales are complex and interesting, and the ability of each of your party members to interact with other environmental objects uniquely is a welcomed addition. Animation is decent if occasionally slightly awkward. Character models, again, are generally pretty good, but nothing that couldn’t have been improved.

The Japanese (or Korean, for that matter) voice-overs are nowhere to be seen on the North American version, so you’ll be stuck with the English cast. This is usually not a big problem, as the English cast typically delivers a good performance, though it’s not without its awkward moments.

The battle system, possibly Magna Carta II’s biggest strength, is a mix of real-time action and turn-based strategy. Each of your characters will attack enemies in real-time, but a sensitive stamina meter prevents any one character from going out on the offensive for too long. This provides for a system that encourages you to switch between characters often in battle to prevent your party from getting too held up on enemies (who don’t seem to have stamina meters). There are other functions of the battle system that allow you to ‘Chain’ attacks with other party members to increase attack power and put off the dreaded ‘Overheat’ status.

Though I initially found this battle system impossibly complex during the Japanese demo, the full game introduces the concept much more gradually, allowing for plenty of time to get comfortable with the controls.

One other thing that I think Magna Carta II does well (so far), is provide alternative methods of experience and gold harvesting. Though, like in most RPGs, you are free to spend as much time as you like beating up random monsters to grind up levels, MCII is chock-full of NPCs who will offer you quests in exchange for experience, money, and (occasionally) rare items. Though quests are nothing new, receiving experience bonuses for doing them is a concept that hasn’t really caught hold in the JRPG genre, and it’s an addition that I would highly recommend bringing in again.

Finally, let me just touch on the soundtrack, which is, in a word, great. The music has a generally nice feel to it, and is reminiscent of lots of great PS1 soundtracks like Legend of Dragoon. There is no pesky battle theme, either, meaning that you can enjoy an area’s background theme without being constantly interrupted by the same battle music over and over again. So great.

My only gripe with the soundtrack is the disappointing (though predictable) exclusion of the game’s Jpop theme song from GLAY, replaced instead by an orchestrated, no lyrics version. Namdai’s MO, I know, but disappointing nonetheless.

Overall, Magna Carta II is a good JRPG, with occasional strokes of ‘great,’ but bogged down by its own unrealized potential. If you have been holding your breath for a new HD JRPG since SO4, then feel free to pick this one up, as it will scratch that JRPG itch. But if you are holding out for the next genre-redefining JRPG, I’m afraid this just isn’t that game.

At least, not after my first three hours with it.

RPGs of the Week: Is Borderlands an RPG? Edition

I don't want to deal with 'what is an RPG?' It's a nasty question, and one that, even after two decades of gaming, I don't feel confident in answering. So then, Borderlands, a game that has the attention of both the RPGaming and the cooperative FPS communities comes along, puts a gun to my head, and says "do I get coverage from you?"

"Kind of," I respond. "I'll throw you on the weekly release list. Is that good enough?"

"I don't know," Borderlands responds. "Let's find out."

North America
Borderlands – Gearbox, 2K – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Everquest II: The Complete Collection – SCEA – PC

Japan
Antiphona no Seika Hime: Tenshi no Gakufu Op.A – Nippon Ichi – PSP
Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 3: Unmei no Meikyuu Aizouban – Koei – PSP
Rune Factory 3 – Marvelous – Nintendo DS

Europe
Borderlands – Gearbox, 2K – PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

So, Borderlands is out on 360 and PS3 this week in both North America and Europe, while Europe also bags the PC release (North Americans will have to wait until next week). I'm not going to say whether I view it as an RPG with shooter elements, or a shooter with RPG elements, because frankly, it doesn't matter to me. It's enough RPG to get listed here.

North America also happens to be getting a perfect edition of Everquest II.

Japan, meanwhile, picks up the 3rd DS Rune Factory title (you are a weresheep), what seems like the bazillionth Harukanaru Toki no Naka de title, and the spiritual successor to Rhapsody.

Anything looking worth it to you this week?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ar Tonelico III Teaser has Pretty Music, Not Much Else

Ar Tonelico III is coming to PlayStation 3. It marks Gust's second PS3 title, and Namco Bandai's first RPG to start on PS3 instead of 360.

The game was revealed via the latest issue of Famitsu, but Namdai has followed up with a debut teaser today, which you can watch below. (Just don't anticipate much.)



Underwhelmed? Don't say I didn't warn you. At least the music sounds like it will once again be awesome.

If you are needing a better fix of the game, you can check out Famitsu.com's article on it, which features a few in-game screens. Beyond that, you'll have to wait for the game's official site to go live, which the teaser promises will happen on Monday (October 19).

I just hope it's better than Ar Tonelico II, which was far from a worthy successor in my books.

Ar Tonelico III: Sekai Shuuen no Intetsu wa Shoujo no Uta ga Hiku will be available for PlayStation 3 on January 28, 2010.

Marvelous Announces Yet Another DS Harvest Moon

Marvelous just can't help themselves. They have this addiction, you see, that forces them to release indiscriminate amounts of the Harvest Moon series on the DS. It's not their fault. They were born this way. Don't judge them, okay?! You don't know what it's like! STOP YELLING!!

The latest hit, I mean title, is called Bokujou Monogatari: Futago no Mura, which translates into Farm Story (Harvest Moon): Twins' Village.

Unlike previous Harvest Moon titles, Futago no Mura features two separate villages for your farming/life-sim exploits. The first, Konohana Village will have a Japanese feel to it, and will be full of flowers and plants to harvest and raise, while the second, Bluebell Village, will be Western in its culture and appearance, and will be focused on raising animals.

There appear to be two main characters, but it is unclear at this point if both are playable, or if players are expected just to pick a gender for their protagonist.

Bokujou Monogatari: Futago no Mura will be available for Nintendo DS sometime this Winter in Japan.

[Dengeki]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

GameTrailers Previews Magna Carta II

Namco Bandai has a commitment to keeping the JRPG genre going in Japan. With titles announced regularly for every major platform thinkable, many of their franchises are extremely well-known and well-loved in their home market.

North America, however, is a different story. Not only does Namdai release less than half of their own RPGs, the ones they do release get barely even an announcement from the publisher. So, though I tend to enjoy Namdai's RPGs very much, I find I have a difficult time finding things to say about their titles.

Thankfully, GameTrailers has graciously provided us with a short video preview of Namdai's upcoming Magna Carta II that really gives viewers a good overview of what the title is all about.

Check it out below.



Magna Carta II is available for Xbox 360 today in North America, and will be available on October 16, 2009 in Europe. It has been available in Japan since August.

Namco Bandai Announces Ar Tonelico III

The economy may be down, but Gust is keeping themselves busy as ever. The little RPG developer has come forward with news that they will again be teaming up with Namco Bandai to create the third entry into the dating sim-meets-JRPG series, Ar Tonelico.

Ar Tonelico III brings the Reyvateils and the end of the world stuff into the 3D realm on the PlayStation 3, running on what looks like the same engine as Atelier Rorona (Gust's entry into true 3D graphics).

The scan that has sufaced is too taxing to read all the way through, so I'll hold off on a full translation until something clearer shows up. However, I can tell you that the hero's name is Aoto. Surely he will end up involved in some world-threatening plot that somehow involves Reyvateils, but this remains speculation until I read everything fully. ;)

As usual, the hero will be accompanied by two main Reyvateil heroines. This time around the Asian-looking heroine is Finnel, while the blonde is named Saki (sort of opposite naming conventions, apparently). Though not yet confirmed, it is likely that neither of these girls is of legal age.

One interesting difference in this title (picked up from skimming a few sections), is that it seems that the girls may have multiple personalities, which actually change their appearance.

The game is currently announced for PlayStation 3, but given Namco Bandai's frustrating tendancy to re-release their RPGs on the other console with new content, a 360 port is not unthinkable.

Ar Tonelico III will be available on PlayStation 3 on January 28, 2010 in Japan.

Enterbrain Announces RPG Tsukuru DS

If you love making your own 2D RPGs, then you have no doubt heard of (if not owned) RPG Tsukuru (called RPG Maker here in North America). There have been dozens of iterations of these basic (but surprisingly versatile) RPG engines, and even one that allows you to make games for Xbox Live!

That's all well and good, you say, but what about making RPGs on the go? Sometimes I just want to make an epic tale of good vs. evil during my daily commute. What then? you demand. Well Enterbrain has heard your cries, and has answered with RPG Tsukuru DS.

As its name implies, RMDS is for the Nintendo DS, and will be completely portable with touch screen functionality. Hawt.

Currently, it is unknown if RMDS will have any connectivity with the PC to share or distribute games, but for some, joy is found in the development, and not necessarily in the distribution.

RPG Tsukuru DS is tentatively planned for a Japanese release of January 28, 2010 on Nintendo DS.

Trailer Tuesday: Tales of Graces Trailer Makes Me Happy

I had my doubts about a new Tales of game on Wii. After playing Tales of Vesperia in beautiful HD, I wondered if I was ever capable of loving SD graphics again. HD or nothing, I thought. But then, Tales of Graces showed up, and slowly but surely, has made me a believer.

Sure, the graphics aren't up to ToV's standard, but the game's feel and story seem to be everything I love about Tales of. So when ToG shows up with a new trailer (like the one below), I can't help but smile a little. Check it out.



Yeah, I'm definitely going to need to play this.

Tales of Graces will be available for Nintendo Wii on December 10, 2009 in Japan.

Trailer Tuesday: Dragon Age Trailer is Heavy on Bad Assitude, Light on Gameplay

BioWare and EA's upcoming multiplatform RPG, Dragon Age Origins, is going for a very extreme image. Violence, blood, sex, and mature storytelling are the order of the day for the title. Maybe this has sold you on the new IP, maybe it hasn't. But either way, EA is hoping that the below CG trailer will peak your interest in the game. Check it out.



Definitely hardcore stuff. The CG is extremely impressive, as is the voice work in the trailer. (I don't know, something about British accents make medieval fantasy just a little more believable to me.)

I've personally enjoyed BioWare's other works, but Dragon Age's image of mature storytelling is a little intimidating. I guess I'll rent it first, or something.

Dragon Age Origins will be available in North America for PC and Xbox 360 on November 3, 2009, and in Europe on November 6, 2009. The PlayStation 3 version will be available later in the month for both regions.

Trailer Tuesday: Dragon Quest VI Trailer Looks Like Dragon Quest

If you are one of those people that loves Dragon Quest because the feel of the games never really changes, then you are going to absolutely love the below trailer for Square Enix's 3rd DS remake of the big-in-Japan series. Really, it's Dragon Quest to a 'T.'



I still have no idea what makes these games as popular as they are in Japan. Don't get me wrong, I have moments of really enjoying Dragon Quest, but they are far from my favorite RPG series, and certainly not the first series I would recommend to someone just getting their feet wet in JRPGs.

Anyhow, Dragon Quest VI: Maboroshi no Daichi (to be subtitled Realms of Reverie in North America) will be available someday on Nintendo DS in Japan, North America, and Europe.