Two new Final Fantasy VII Remake images Revealed at Monaco Anime Game International Conference!

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but we finally have a glimpse of gameplay footage of the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake. These were apparently revealed today at a convention called The Monaco Anime Game International Conference (MAGIC). As you can see from the images below, the initial bombing raid is in full force as members of AVALANCHE infiltrate the Sector 1 reactor of Shinra Electric Power Company. It’s hard to tell 100%, but the game appears to be running on some version of the Final Fantasy XV engine which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Here’s hoping E3 gives us a new trailer or something this year.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 was also showing off some new screens

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Is the Valkyria Chronicles Franchise Dead in the West?

LONG Before I even decided to get a PlayStation 3, I would check the various recommendation threads and other such things on a lot of gaming forums to see what games were seen as the “killer apps” that I should definitely play. I was honestly sort of cranky with Sony after the PS3 launch, pricing especially. I needed something that stood out, a game that I couldn’t get anywhere else, and one game, more than any other, was constantly touted as being not only one of the most underrated games on the PS3, but one of the best RPGs out there on any system. That game was the first Valkyria Chronicles. I finally got the system, and immediately snagged a copy of it.

I was taken aback by how mature the game was, and no I don’t mean “blood and guts and boobs” mature like the many games that misuse the term today, but an honest mature game done in such a way that most folks of the teenage persuasion, except maybe anime fans, would probably scoff at it. Yes the game deals with war, but in concentrates on the heroics and struggles with fighting rather than the bleak horrors of any battlefield.

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The art style alone is worth the purchase

For those that haven’t heard of the series, all of the games follow a fictitious war that somewhat closely resembles World War II if you squint really hard and drop some pixie dust on it. In this fantasy world, a small country called Gallia suddenly comes under attack from a huge land grabbing conglomerate of nations dubbed the East Europan Imperial Alliance. This is a shock because these Nazi analogues (if you equate them to our terms) are at war with another federation of countries that dub themselves the Atlantic Federation, and there is no real reason for such an invasion to occur (other than energy reserves to fuel the war). The game places you in the shoes of a rag-tag group of militia members that are suddenly forced to repel the most powerful army on earth on the verge of world conquest. This is of course the stage for a game that breathed an icy breath of fresh air into a somewhat played out genre – the strategy RPG.

The immediate thing that struck me about both games in the series that I’ve played is that they have some huge balls, and exist as a true asset to the RPG genre, especially in how they portray war. For years we have been playing hundreds of World War II games, and very few of them have actually managed to mention the holocaust or the Jewish people for fear of getting the game banned in some random countries. Here, however, we have a game that revolves around a group of people called the Darcsens that have literally been blamed for just about every bad thing in the world for hundreds of years, and are the targets of ethnic cleansing campaigns (in Valkyria Chronicles 2 most notably) and even forced to work in labor camps. The fact that any series had the cajones to even attempt to have a storyline closely mirroring this sort of world event makes SEGA go up in my books quite a bit.

Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferir people to many people in the game, even protagonist characters.
Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferior people to many in the game, even protagonist characters. In my experience, race politics are rarely seen in JRPGs.

Flash forward just a few years and it seems that a series with such promise, critical acclaim, big sales in Japan, and a cult following in America should be running strong; sadly this is not the case. Valkyria Chronicles may already be dead, especially in the west. A few years back news rang out about the possible release of the third Valkyria Chronicles game in America specifically. SEGA West had been pretty tight lipped about it, and its no-show at E3 that year was amongst about a dozen or so games that seemed absent from localization plans. game journalists apparently talked to some of the SEGA reps at E3 and asked if the new Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star games would be heading to the west and the news wasn’t good.

Valkyria Chronicles III (or pretty much any other Japanese PSP game that year) never came to the west. This was largely because the PSP was on life support when the game released. You see, in their grand wisdom, Sega decided to make a quick buck by churning the games out far too quickly on a completely other system as before (more on that later). Valkyria Chronicles II, a direct sequel to the first PS3 game, was confusingly a now handheld title. Granted, at the time the PSP had a userbase of more than 50 million users (a lot more than the PS3 at the time), but how many outside of Japan would buy it? How many had the first game? Series Producer Shuntaro Tanaka told Famitsu that the second game was being developed for the PSP instead of the PS3, in order “to allow a broader spectrum of users to discover and enjoy what makes Valkyria special.” Tanaka added that the series could return to consoles in the future, though.

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There are rumors that SEGA decided to release the games on the PSP in order to capitalize on the TV anime that was running, using it to hock a host of toys and such that were hot on the market. Moving a flagship title for any series across platforms is a tough decision, and especially ludicrous when we have to realize that Valkyria Chronicles II was, not shockingly, only the second game in the series. Usually, handheld spinoff games come well into the lifespan of a series, ala Final Fantasy and it’s numerous side-games. While it did decently well in Japan, the sales were still under that of the first game, but the real story is the American Market. VGchartz has the game listed at an estimated 80k for the American Market. That’s basically an estimated eight times less than what the first game obtained in the same region.

Here are some graphs to speak for themselves, these are old screen-grabs I took when I first published this article but they still stand:

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Please note the scaling difference between the two graphs.

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I’m not going to jump on the anti-piracy bandwagon, but when you have a system that is cheap and easy to develop for, but is plagued with piracy and doesn’t perform well in all areas versus a system that does a bit better in all areas, and isn’t hit hard (until recently) by any sort of hackers, I wonder why you’d choose the former. SEGA obviously wanted a quick buck rather than letting a franchise grow a bit more naturally, and it’s hurt the series pretty bad. Since its release the third game in series had barely cracked 160k units in sales, a far cry from the previous games.

Sadly, Japanese gaming companies really hit a rut about five years ago, and honestly they are still there, they don’t take chances and seemingly have regressed back into a Japan-only mindset that pretty much guarantees failure. Putting anything on the PSP during that time, or the Vita currently, pretty much guarantees a niche game that few will play. But why is this happening? Take, for example, words by Keiji Inafune, the once prominent mind behind many Capcom classics such as Mega Man and Dead Rising:

Keiji Inafune
Keiji Inafune

“The mainstream industry in Japan is like a large tree that’s just begun to wilt. It’s still standing strong, it hasn’t collapsed just yet, but it’s not doing all that well,” Inafune told The Verge at BitSummit, a Kyoto indie-games festival in its second year. Inafune himself went independent in 2010, leaving giant developer Capcom to start his own studio called Comcept. He believes that indie games are the most exciting thing happening within the Japanese industry. “Indies have just sprouted above the ground. There’s still this monolithic large tree over the industry, but indies have popped up. Whether or not the big tree will fall, whether or not the indie scene will grow into a tree itself, I don’t know.”

Inafune is just one of many big name studio guys leaving “wilting trees”, perhaps the most prominent was Hideo Kojima and his epic battles with Konami leading up to the release of the last Metal Gear game. He now works for Sony and Konami is making cellphone and pachinko games.

I wish more of these big Japanese companies with American publishing arms would look at companies like Atlus (owned by SEGA now) and XSeed for how to treat localizations. XSeed, for example, has released a few games in the Record of Agarest War series digitally, that way they could obtain a cheap license and keep costs down. These smaller publishers also set realistic goals for sales of these games, instead of assuming that a niche strategy RPG will be a huge blockbuster, NIS and Atlus both learned a ton about the market, and learned how to market, publicize, and keep costs down on a ton of games like La Pucelle Tactics, Disgaea, and even Phantom Brave. They don’t always sell crazily well, but they have rabid followings that keep buying the games, and keeping them going.

A somewhat new game in the series.
A somewhat new game in the series.

So, where do we stand now? well, there might be a glimmer of hope shining through. While the third installment is still the last game in the series so far, many fans are hoping that a recent HD remaster of Valkyria Chronicles and a new spinoff game will re-ignite interest in the series. The spinoff, Valkyria Revolution, is planned to be released by SEGA in Japan on January 19, 2017, and in North America in early 2017. It is also planned to be released by Deep Silver in Europe in early 2017 as well. For the Western releases, an Xbox One version will also be available.

This shows a big change for SEGA in that they seem to be switching back to home consoles for games like this, and are trusting the west to support more niche games. Namco-Bandai recently did a similar thing and finally got the Tales series back on track over here, so who knows… As for Valkyria Chronicles III? I guess there is always hope that SEGA could do a PSP Remake edition for the PS4, but if they think the game won’t sell well, where is the incentive? Even a digital release with original dialog would be good, but I’m not holding my breath.

If Valkyria Revolution bombs, the fans are not to blame – a decade of poor and largely short-sighted business decisions are. If it does happen, only one thing comes to mind – Sorry SEGA, but you guys ruined your own franchise.

Valkyria Revolution looks promising!
Valkyria Revolution looks promising!

Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!

 


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Top Ten Most Over-used Japanese RPG Cliches

…Or “Let’s create the most generic RPG out There!”

If one has played a number of Japanese role playing games, definite tropes come to mind for the genre.  In the last twenty years or so, the medium has become further and further specified to the point that many of these tropes have left the realm of patterns and themes to full-blown clichés.  The following is a list of the top ten most over-used Japanese RPG clichés, in no particular order.  To aid in the fun, I have decided to present the list in the form of a plot synopsis for a fictitious game just to show how easily these can be applied.

Youth in Revolt

It seems that every RPG from “The Land of the Rising Sun” uses the same rule that giant robot anime seems to have: “Every hero must be a whiny prepubescent male with goofy hair.”  This was fine with characters such as Cloud (and even Squall to a degree) when these games first started to get big over here, then all of the sudden every RPG starred a similar main character.  After playing a number of RPGs I always long for a war-hardened old grizzled curmudgeon to be the main protagonist of any game I play.  Not because I have a fetish for that sort of thing, but because it might spice up an otherwise bland aspect of these games.

For our game, I’ve come up with an effeminate 13 year old pacifist, because who could be more annoying than a teenager who thinks we need to hear about his political beliefs.  I even drew up a picture using an online character generator program.

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Now we need a sappy name, one that has both a biblical sounding quality and a character trait hidden deep within it.  One could substitute a meteorological term for the biblical name (i.e Cloud, Squall , Lightning), but I think the former will come out better.  For the sake of our demonstration, our hero is named Cherubish Bleak.  This name not only implies that Cherubish has some sort of angelic quality about him, but that he has a depressing demeanor.  Bonus points if he actually is an angel of some sort!

Burn Baby Burn!

So now that we have the whiny main character sorted and ready to go, we need some sort of motivation for him to actually go out and interact with other characters, as well as adventure.  This could go any way really, including a plot that makes the character’s actual profession to be that of an adventurer, but that’s just plain boring.  What we need is some sort of plot device that FORCES the character to step out there and whine all the way to the final boss.

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I’ve got it, let’s have the bad guys march into his hometown while he is off collecting magical quail eggs or some other random stuff, and burn his home down.  Points will be awarded for every single mother, orphaned sister, or family pet that gets mowed down in the crossfire.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

There has to be an obligatory segment where our character meets an older and somewhat more menacing rival-type character in some way, usually in the woods.  This character is usually the defender for another, usually female, character and is leading her on some sort of pilgrimage, escort mission, or trying to protect her.  Our main character will almost immediately fall in love with the female character and insist on tagging along much to the dismay of our rival.  Once in battle our Rival character, which has a creepy foreboding name like “Seraphimatos”, shows great prowess in magical arts and swordsmanship.  He’s so “badass” that he can dispatch even the darkest of all villains in one mighty sword swipe.  He is usually level 60 or so when our party is only more battle worthy than an acorn, and carries each battle for this segment of the game.

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Suddenly, a swerve in the plot appears, our buddy Seraphimatos isn’t a good guy at all (GASP!), he’s actually an agent for the higher evil power (or secretly IS the evil power!) and is trying to kidnap the girl as a blood sacrifice.  You now have to fight him in a futile battle where your entire party dies, but it’s okay because this is a storyline death.  He spits on your supposedly dead corpse and wanders off pretty girl in tow.

The Luddite Rule

Now that we have not only a quest, but an antagonist to fight; we need some sort of back-story.  You see, in this world technology is bad and everyone in the world resents it.  They insist on living in a manner reminiscent of the Middle Ages due to some sort of past calamity that wiped out the whole world.  This calamity was brought on by an over-use of technology and could be anything from a nuclear holocaust to a robot uprising.  No matter what though, characters don’t talk about what caused the end of the world, they only allude to it in the vaguest of terms.

terminator

In correlation to this, the Evil Empire that you are undoubtedly against is a huge booming technological wonder and stands anachronistically against all other towns in the world.  The hero will have to fight all manner of robot, tank, flying machine, and mech suit until the end of the game.

Laurel and Hardy

Once you are actually adventuring, our character needs a “buddy character” to latch onto.  Since our main character is whiny tormented guy, a character that exists solely as the direct opposite of him needs to pop up.  What we need is a “Chris Tucker” to his “Jackie Chan”, if you will.

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This character will be insanely goofy, never take anything seriously, and dress like a total imbecile for seemingly no reason at all.  Later in the game you will come to hear some sort of depressing back-story that reveals the character’s bumbling attitude is a facade he puts on to keep out memories of sadness, for example the death of his family

Public Storage

One of the more minor clichés, but a cliché none-the-less will always exist in that everyone in the whole world is so trusting of outsiders that they will let them into their homes at any moment of time at all.  To repay their hospitality, our party will repay them by robbing them blindly and slipping out into the darkness.  If anyone has the sense to actually hide any of their belongings, most will settle for stashing them in inconspicuous clay pots or barrels right outside their house.

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Maybe these folks would move up a station in life, and not exist as poor commoners if they learned how to hold onto wealth!

Unorthodox travel method

As our party progresses through the game, a situation will occur that makes traveling through a particular area difficult.  Maybe there is a tough monster that attacks those that travel by foot, or a huge desert that takes days to pass, whatever the reason the party eventually needs some sort of “beast of burden” to ride on.  Horses?  Like we’d put any filthy horses in our game; what we need is some sort of cute cuddly animal like a huge baby chicken or a bunny to ride on.  I’ve got it – Ferrets – everyone loves ferrets. In our game people commute by way of giant ferret.

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Persistent Miniboss

As we continue through the game, the Evil Empire will start sending some sort of mercenary after you.  This guy exists as a stereotypical “cool anti-hero” type of guy.  He smokes cigarettes, uses some sort of “cool” weapon such as a revolver or a butterfly knife, and pops up just about every five seconds from here on out.  That is until….

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Green Ranger Rule

Remember that show The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers?  In the first few seasons there was a character called the “Green Ranger” that existed as a misunderstood evil analog to the heroes.  Suddenly he had a change of heart and became a good guy out of nowhere.  Our Miniboss character will suddenly do this at some point.  This could be for many reasons, such as finding out the true intentions of the Empire, a show of mercy from our heroes, or even a “truce” so that he may fight the main character “for real” at some point.  This could also be called “The Vegeta Rule”.

Final Boss

So now we come to the end of our hypothetical game, and things are looking bad.  Our party seems to have overtaken Seraphimatos just in time for him to spout something vaguely biblical and turn into an angel-like monster with multiple wings and choir music accompaniment.  A good way to find source material would be for us to get drunk and watch a documentary on a mystical ancient religion such as Gnosticism or Kabbalah and choose buzzwords to allude to.

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In fact naming a multitude of other monsters, weapons, attacks, cities, and even characters after people and deities from all manner of world religions is a must.

The party has beaten the huge angelic monstrosity, and we are now blessed with the end credits.  And just like many RPGs out today, the gamer will have a distinct feeling of “meh” on their mind.  The bad thing is that many have played a game that follows a similar pattern.

 

Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!