Matt Kamen on anime-inspired games coming to a console near you!
Modern video games did not originate in Japan – but it’s fair to say the medium was popularised there. Following the extraordinary success of the original Famicom (the Nintendo Entertainment System to us) Japanese developers guided the industry for years. While the tide of influence has shifted back westward in recent years, with the biggest titles often big-budget shooters such as Call of Duty or open-world adventures like Skyrim, the idiosyncrasies of Japanese games still prove hugely admired around the world.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the recent Japan Expo, Europe’s largest anime and manga convention, taking over the massive Parc des Expositions in Paris. Each year, more than 200,000 attendees flood in to celebrate all things anime, manga, cosplay, tokusatsu, J-music, and fashion-related. Amongst them this year, a sizable contingent there solely to get their hands on some of the latest games offering anime flair. We joined in to take a look at a selection from Namco Bandai, one of the biggest publishers of Japanese titles in Europe.
France has traditionally been more accepting of comics and animation, regardless of country of origin. The result is that certain anime and manga series ignored in the English-speaking world become beloved mega-franchises on the continent. Saint Seiya is a perfect example of this – Masami Kurumada’s classic battle manga is phenomenally popular across Europe, yet attempts to launch it in the UK or US have stalled. The series pits armoured avatars of the Greek gods against one another, with a handful working to defend the reincarnated goddess Athena and overcome the capricious whims of the Olympians.
Kurumada’s mix of absorbing mythology and frantic tournament action translates perfectly to gaming, and has seen both RPGs and fighters released in the past. The latest instalment, Saint Seiya: Brave Soldier for PlayStation 3 marks a first though, adapting all three major story arcs of the original manga into a 3D arena-based fighter. While the nuances of the story will be lost and the characters largely unfamiliar to British players, the game itself is a speedy, super-powered affair, with the various Saints and their elemental abilities providing a balanced, if uncomplicated, beat-‘em-up. Those who have seen any of the various anime spin-offs will also be pleased by the game’s fidelity to the series’ visuals, with spot-on character models and attack animations.
For a fighting game that’s a touch more recognisable over here though, look no further than the newly announced Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z. The latest in a long line of successful DBZ brawlers, Battle for Z is set to introduce brand new features to the series, including online team battles against super-powerful enemies, and eight-player versus battle royales. The game also boasts a solo mode with an original story, more than 50 characters from across the Dragon Ball mythos to play as, and an RPG-like function to upgrade your characters. Although the game wasn’t playable at the show, gameplay looks promising, expanding considerably on the hyper-kinetic combat of the Tenkaichi series. Look for the game to launch on PS3, PS Vita and Xbox 360 next year.
Up next was One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2, developed in conjunction with Tecmo Koei. Adapting the successful Dynasty Warriors format, progression is made by one or two players obliterating huge numbers of enemies in each stage, achieving basic plot objectives along the way. This follow-up to 2012’s first Pirate Warriors jumps the story forward two years, matching up with the New World arc of Eiichiro Oda’s sea-faring manga. Luffy and crew all benefit from new abilities (and period appropriate outfits) as a result, and there’s some fantastic animation work going on – much like Saint Seiya, signature attacks and even character reactions are perfectly captured. Better still, despite there often being hundreds of characters on screen at once, there was no noticeable slowdown on the version we played. However, if you’ve played any game in the Dynasty Warriors family before – and there are dozens of them, including Gundam and Fist of the North Star editions – the experience is no different here, with only slight tweaks to make it more thematically appropriate to One Piece. Essentially, you already know if you like this. If you do, you don’t have long to wait, as Pirate Warriors 2 is released in the UK on 30 August.
By far the most anticipated game on show at Japan Expo – at least judging by the rapturous reception con-goers gave it – was Tales of Xillia. Part of one of the longest running RPG franchises in Japan – the first in the series, Tales of Phantasia, was released on the Super Famicom/SNES way back in 1995 – Xillia follows medical student Jude Mathis and spirit summoner Milla Maxwell as they strive to bring balance to two worlds on the brink of destruction. Beyond its expected epic quest, Xillia delivers a number of creative firsts for the series. One that’s of major note for anime and manga fans is the first collaboration between manga creator Kosuke Fujishima (Oh My Goddess!, You’re Under Arrest!) and animator Mutsumi Inomata (City Hunter, Urusei Yatsura). Both have worked on individual Tales releases in the past, but sharing design duties on Xillia gives the game a brilliant visual flair.
Combat has been overhauled too. While broadly turn-based, each battle plays out in real time. Party members can attack individually or be paired up – part of the game’s theme of duality – resulting in more powerful magic and attacks. It’s a modern yet old school approach, one that aficionados of original PlayStation-era RPGs will be immediately at home with but that’s also welcoming to players who prefer more action.
More good news for Tales enthusiasts was the announcement of a European release for Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. This is set to be a high-definition makeover for the 2004 Gamecube title and its 2008 sequel, Dawn of the New World, originally released on Wii in 2008. Both remastered games are to be bundled in one collection, with added content on top of the improved technical quality, and will offer a choice of Japanese or English audio for the first time. Xillia is on sale from 9 August, while Chronicles is due for release in early 2014, both exclusive to PS3.
Whether you prefer games to drop you into your favourite anime series like One Piece or conjure up whole new worlds like Tales, this year’s Japan Expo showcased a diverse selection of gaming experiences. While Japan’s impact on the games industry may have diminished from its 1980s heyday, the country still produces some of the world’s top titles – and with no shortage of people lining up to dive into Namco Bandai’s selection at the convention, the audience clearly remains eager for experiences only Japan can provide.