Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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This Week in Games – “We Have Odin Sphere and Final Fantasy Tactics At Home”

Hey, yeah, so Maximilian Dood described Vampire Survivors as “video game crack,” and uh… he’s not kidding. I feel like that bit in The Simpsons where Marge sits down and sips a glass of wine. (“I know doctors say you should drink a glass and a half, but I just can’t drink that much!”) Don’t worry. I’m still squeezing in some Xenoblade 3 side-quests while I’m at it. I’m exploring Colony Lambda, making food canteens, and trying to navigate that annoying cave area. Also: by the time you read this, Fire Emblem Engage will have been released! The reviews seem positive so far. I’ve heard some gripes about the story and characters, but it always takes folks a bit to warm up to the new Fire Emblem waifus and husbandos. We’ll be utterly obsessed over these weirdos and their goofy dietary preferences come next Comiket. I got $10 on one of them being an absolute freak that pours their milk into the bowl before the cereal, and folks will love them for it. Catch folks at the gaming convention with graphic tees emblazoned with bowls of milk that’ll be the hot new Fire Emblem reference.

This is…

Breaking News: Dokapon Kingdom Returns To Terrorize Friend Groups, Experts Currently Monitoring Woolie Madden’s Condition

If you like having friends, value peacefulness, and have a distaste for aggression: ignore this story. If you crave violence, then do we have some big news! In the world of games, many are prized for their ability to completely ruin friendships. Mario Kart. Mario Party. Battletoads. Few games reach the absolutely craven, murder-inducing heights of Sting‘s Dokapon Kingdom. Originally released on the PS2 in 2007 (with later Wii and DS ports), this mix of a board game, RPG simulation, and turn-based combat summons pall to the eyes of any that have played it with (former) friends. And for a good reason: it’s very easy (not to mention encouraged) to mess with your peers. If you think using a Boo to steal a star from another player makes you mad, you haven’t been forcibly given a buzz-cut in Dokapon Kingdom.

Sadly, being a PS2 JRPG with bright colors released in 2008 by Atlus means that it was entirely too “Japanese” for mass audiences upon release in the US. Dokapon Kingdom was banished to the bargain bins of history, where copies to this day can command prices of up to $200. But to know Dokapon Kingdom is to love and fear it.

It’s coming back, folks. True evil never dies; it is only reborn. This is Dokapon Kingdom: Connect.

A straight-up remake of the PS2/Wii Dokapon Kingdom, Dokapon Kingdom: Connect has you playing as one of several heroes tasked with saving the kingdom from a great evil. Every turn, you spin a roulette wheel and move your character around tiles (a la Mario Party). Your goal is to collect gold earned from claiming towns and slaying monsters. But there are catches and lots of them. For starters, combat is turn-based and utilizes a rock-paper-scissors system; you will dread going in for an Attach only to eat a Counter. Second, your abilities are determined by your class. You’ll have the basic Warrior/Thief/Magician classes at the outset, but as you continue playing (matches can go on for quite a while), you can unlock exotic types like Robot. And these classes can mess with each other in the worst of ways, like thieves stealing gold from any unit they walk past. You can battle other players if you end on the same tile as them, and beating them not only lets you take gold, towns, or even equipment. You can also be horribly petty and just mess with your opponent. Like forcibly changing their name to an epithet of your choosing, doodling on their face, or ruining their hairstyle. (Yes, this can have devastating consequences in a match.)

So far, the biggest update to Dokapon Kingdom: Connect is online play–and let’s be honest, that’s about all we really needed. The game is great (terrible) enough as it is, and with its upcoming Switch release, it’ll be easier than ever to terrorize your friends. We don’t have a release date outside of “Spring 2023”. May God have mercy on Woolie.

New Gameplay Mode For Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! Crosses Arcade Classic With… Space Invaders?

This one goes out to our beloved This Week In Games alumni and resident Taito-superfan Heidi. I hope you’re doing great!

A few months back, I reported on Puzzle Bobble Everybubble!: the newest entry of the Puzzle Bobble series that looks to be a celebration of the franchise (that nevertheless is missing the satisfying tactile sensation of the arcade classic). Apparently, that’s not self-referential enough for Taito, so they’ve upped the ante with a whole new game mode for Puzzle Bobble Everybubble!. It crosses over with another arcade classic: Space Invaders, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary! The new gameplay mode was revealed during a livestream on, er, Puzzle Bobble dinosaur Bub’s official YouTube channel, where a cute mascot of Bub and a few Taito devs played an early build of the Puzzle Bobble Vs. Space Invaders mode.

The game plays like a very intuitive mix between Puzzle Bobble and Space Invaders. Groups of Invaders trapped in bubbles march from left to right on the top of the screen, slowly descending to the ground. You and up to three other players (or CPU-controlled participants) shoot them down by matching three bubbles of the same color. The combo clears out any similarly-colored bubble in its surrounding, leaving big gaps in the enemy formation, but any differently-colored bubble remains. Meanwhile, the invaders keep descending upon you and shooting at you. There are a few other minor twists, like little bombs in the formation of invaders that can take whole swaths of bubbles with a combo or being able to swap your current bubble for one of a different color.

It looks like great fun, and given how naturally the two games mesh together, I’m surprised this hasn’t come around sooner! Taito always goes the extra mile regarding Space Invaders, and small wonder: it was their very first smash hit. While the claims that Space Invaders was so popular it caused a shortage of 100 yen coins is ultimately apocryphal (just like razor blades and weed in Halloween candy, or there being a law preventing Dragon Quest games from being released on weekdays), Space Invaders was nevertheless a massively popular arcade game upon release that people lined up to play. And Taito has always been on the bleeding edge to ensure it’s given its due with its many ports. Space Invaders on GameBoy seemed like a simple affair, but it offered a wealth of excellent options if played on a Super GameBoy–chief among them, the chance of playing the 16-bit SNES Space Invaders from the GameBoy cartridge. Space Invaders on DS shipped with a dial you could connect to the DS’s GBA slot, allowing you to play the game with the same control scheme as the arcade original. And so on!

Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! might not make it to the top of everyone’s gaming wishlist, but it’s looking like there’s a lot of love and care being put into it. I really hope they fix up the sound effects and music. In the meantime, look forward to Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! this spring!

Mass Layoffs At Microsoft; Bethesda and 343 Industries Affected

In the ongoing story of Microsoft and its many tribulations as it tries to purchase Activision-Blizzard, Microsoft announced a mass layoff of 10,000 employees among its many branches this past week. According to Bloomberg, this includes its video game divisions. While we don’t have an exact number for how many game developers specifically were laid off, sources said that the terminations included members of Bethesda currently working on Starfield and other Xbox veterans who had been working with the company for about a decade.

343 Industries studio head Pierre Hintze assured both his employees and fans that Halo Infinite‘s online multiplayer and “live service elements” will continue to see support. Microsoft has stated that its future goals include hiring people for “competitive areas” like “artificial intelligence.”

Mass layoffs like these always seem to follow mergers, and with the one-two punch of Microsoft acquiring Bethesda and its attempt at nabbing Activision-Blizzard, we were due for one. This so far is probably the most extensive mass layoff we’ve had to report on, and while it’s no doubt bolstered in part due to how massive a multinational corporation Microsoft is, it can’t be helped by how big the acquisition of Activision-Blizzard would be. That’s a lot of “redundancies” in the eyes of the suits upstairs.

News like this is never fun to report, but it’s important to remember this. People make the games we enjoy, and all too often, their livelihoods are on a tightrope. I’m hoping all 10,000 of those employees can find someplace to go after this big exodus, but better yet would be if people didn’t lose their jobs in one fell swoop like that.

Korean Visual Novel Miracle Snack Shop To Receive PS4 Release In USA

One thing I endeavor to cover more often in these columns is visual novels. They’re a very underrepresented medium in the United States as far as coverage goes. Considering how many influential developers in Japan trace their origins to visual novels, it’s an oversight that never ceases to annoy me. No discussion of Koji “IGA” Igarashi should be considered valid without acknowledging or studying the work he did on before creating Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. If I don’t report more often on visual novels: méa máxima culpa. I see news on the stuff a lot more often than I let on, it’s just for games that don’t have any American release in the cards, and I don’t know how much space my readership is comfortable for me to dedicate to stuff that they can’t really get their hands on and couldn’t get outside of importing. Bear with me: I may sound smart, but my brain is mildly stuck in 2008. Let me know in the comments how you guys feel.

On that note, I do have a visual novel we can talk about today, and it’s a Korean one! Steam users have already thoroughly enjoyed Miracle Snack Shop since 2018 (with a Switch release in 2021), but just last week it was given an updated English script on Steam. And now it’s getting a PS4 release this January 26th!

The story is simple: you play as a young man who comes into the ownership of a failing shaved ice shop. Philia, also known as Queen Salt, descends upon your shop from another world and demands you make her some; from there, you take charge of the shop as you research recipes, promote your store, and earn money to improve your ending with either of the love interests. Besides Philia, there’s Mira (who appears to be the “Betty” in this “Betty and Veronica” scenario–folks understand that Archie reference, right?).

The PS4 release will offer Korean, Japanese, and English language tracks. No word on a physical release, but most VN fans wouldn’t hold their breath for one unless it had all the bells and whistles. It’s good to see good VNs getting further ports: with any luck, that’ll open the door to other fun VNs getting more comprehensive releases!

Sword of the Vagrant To Get Physical Release in Europe and USA

A few months ago, we made a minor note that The Vagrant would be receiving wider releases across a variety of consoles. The Vagrant, now titled Sword of the Vagrant, is a side-scrolling action RPG along the lines of Vanillaware’s games like Odin Sphere or Muramasa: The Demon Blade. The art style is a dead ringer for George Kamitani’s style, with fit women in skimpy outfits trading blows against massive skeleton knights that look ripped from the pages of fantasy storybooks. There’s plenty of strategy: leveling up earns you skill points that allow you to purchase new maneuvers or perks for protagonist Vivian, different weapons have different elemental properties that can change the nature of your attacks, and (in true Vanillaware fashion) there’s even an in-game cooking system for buffing your stats. The visuals might be a hair shy of Vannilaware’s high bar, but it’s still a spectacular-looking 2D game.

While we may not have an exact release date for the digital version of the game, we know that it’ll be coming to PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch sometime later this year. Better yet: folks invested in Sword of the Vagrant can look forward to physical releases! The folks at Limited Run Games will handle the physical release in the US. At the same time, PEGI territories will be covered by Red Art Games.

While we have Vanillaware’s GrimGrimoire: Once More releasing soon on the Switch, Odin’s Sphere: Leifthrasir is still sequestered on the PS4, while the likes of Muramasa: The Demon Blade hasn’t been seen since the Wii and PS Vita (and the Vita DLC was, to my knowledge, never ported back to the Wii). Sword of the Vagrant ought to tide us over until Vanillaware decides to port them over to the Switch finally. And hey, sure would be nice if Dragon’s Crown also got a nice port to the Switch. Here’s hoping, yeah?

Indie Strategy RPG Vanaris Tactics Coming to XBox and Switch

Speaking of games trapped on other consoles: Final Fantasy Tactics! Nintendo hasn’t seen any of those since Final Fantasy Tactics Advance way back on the GameBoy Advance and Final Fantasy Tactics A2 on the Nintendo DS. The beloved Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, a remake of the original Final Fantasy Tactics, was only ever released on the PSP… and mobile devices. Didn’t even see a Steam port. While we currently boast Triangle Strategy and Tactics Ogre on the Switch, anyone looking for a return to Ivalice is out of luck.

Thankfully, lots of people were inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics, so we get stuff like Vanaris Tactics! An indie strategy game made by Brazilian developers at Retromaten Studios tells the story of a group of refugees seeking to escape their homeland amid a raging war. While it appears to be missing FFT‘s much-applauded Job system, the game’s got the style and design down pat. Vanaris Tactics is already out on Steam, but it looks like we can look forward to taking it on the go with us: this past week, it was confirmed for a Switch release!

Once again, we don’t have a confirmed release date. But we’ll keep an eye out for Vanaris Tactics‘s upcoming release on the Switch and Xbox family of consoles. This is one I’m keen on following; as mentioned earlier, Retromaten is based out of Brazil. While I can only really speak about anime and game fandom in Puerto Rico, it’s worth noting that all the various nations of South America have their own passion for anime and games. Brazil is a particularly unique case; because of importation fees, getting an Xbox or a Nintendo Switch would be prohibitively expensive for all but the upper class (unless you pirated your games). There’s a fascinating history to be told regarding Brazil and its history with gaming, along with the long and complicated stories of the Sega Master System and Mega Drive/Genesis–good old Uncle Derek from Stop Skeletons From Fighting has a good overview on that long, complicated bit of history (along with a fantastic video about the Brazilian console, Zeebo). I’m proud to see other fellow Latin American developers rise and put their work out for the world! If you can’t wait for Vanaris Tactics to release on Switch, you can pick up the Steam release right now (it’ll be on sale for $8 until January 24th, 2023). And if you’re interested in other Latino-produced video games, definitely check out Sukeban Games’ VA-11 Hall-A! It’s also out on Steam and theSwitch.

Let’s wrap up with some quick tidbits:

  • By the time you read this, Guilty Gear Xrd:Rev 2 will have been updated with rollback netcode! I look forward to it on PS3, PS4, and Steam.
  • Junzo Hosoi, producer of the hotly-anticipated Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key, shared some sad news with fans earlier this week on Twitter: Atelier Ryza 3 has been delayed a whole month to March 24th, 2023. Hosoi cites last-minute fine-tuning as the cause, wanting to ensure that the open world works right and that the “graphics express the charm of these characters to the fullest extent.” Considering this is Ryza’s last adventure, we can excuse them for wanting to ensure all the “T”s are crossed and all the “I”s are dotted.
  • The new Dragon Quest mobile game has been announced: Dragon Quest Champions, a “melee command battle RPG”. So far, it is a mix of a battle royale with turn-based combat. As mentioned last week: we hope Yuji Naka doesn’t have to go to jail because of this one, too.
  • Streamer-favorite relaxing game PowerWash Simulator is coming to PS4, PS5 and Nintendo Switch this January 31st! Through the help of Square Enix, a free DLC will launch alongside it: the “Tomb Raider Special Pack,” which will let you power wash Croft Manor and everything in it. The jeep. The obstacle course. The T-Rex exhibit. All of it.
  • Another week in the books, ring-a-ding-ding. Hopefully, you all enjoy Fire Emblem: Engage this weekend! I pre-ordered a copy (purely for the tarot cards); let me know how cute Anne is and how well she meshes with Lyn’s ring. (They won’t be doing anything with Tharja or Titania, so I don’t have much else to ask for.) Remember to let me know how you guys feel about me reporting on more Japan-only visual novels! I really want to ensure VNs get some proper representation, and it’d help if I know how VN fans want to see it done. Also! I look forward to my review going live sometime this weekend. It’s a beautiful movie, and it was very inspiring. Be good to each other; I’ll see you in seven.

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



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