Welcome back, everyone! Great news: I finally got to play Xenoblade Chronicles 3 for once this past weekend! It’s nice to have spare time. The game is still introducing some phenomenal characters (even if I’m tilting my head a little at how it handles 30-year-olds). Also, a bit of a shame that the story is going for a DARLING in the FRANXX twist; I’m hoping it improves some.
On another note, I’m pretty interested in a currently running anime from this season! 16bit Sensation: Another Layer is playing a ton of inside baseball with classic visual novels, both of the erotic and worksafe variety. Some of the folks working on it even used to be part of AQUAPLUS, so they really know their stuff (especially if the shelves of actual visual novels like Koihime Musou didn’t tip you off). I’m gonna have to watch this anime–and not just to see if they reference any of Root’s visual novels like Moonlight Lady or Touka Gettan. Also, there’s Shangri-La Frontier; I covered it for the Fall Manga Preview Guide last year. I love the idea of a guy and his passion for kusoge (“shitty games”), and I remember liking the manga enough. The word from my peers is that it looks good and has a pretty alright beginning, but I check out of any isekai-flavored story where we resort to going over the protagonist’s stat alignment. There’s a wealth of stories you could cover about someone’s passion for kusoge (it’s part of why people love Uncle Derek from Stop Skeletons From Fighting). Kinda wish we didn’t have to sit through a potato min-maxing his way to fame and fortune to get to that stuff.
Before We Begin…
As I hinted on my Twitter earlier this week, I got something neat in the mail! And I think you guys probably already know what it is if you’ve been following recent developments in Japanese games, employment, and ninja.
It’s the Izuna Official Art Works! There’s, uh, a dinosaur covering that corner because that was a particularly racy illustration of Shino putting her hands on Izuna. That illustration used to be a downloadable wallpaper on Atlus‘s old promotional website but a few weeks in, it got 86-ed. It was a bit much. Anyway! The recent Izuna news got me into one of those moods where I trawl the Internet looking for merch of stuff I like that doesn’t exist. Sometimes, I’ll look for old out-of-print manga released in that span of 2012-2015 when I had no money and couldn’t afford to buy stuff that I’ve now had to come to grips over not being able to find. Yoshida-On, the artist that worked on the Izuna games, did release a doujin featuring several sketches of Izuna and Shino–but that old “Romantic Fool” doujin is impossible to find. The only proof it ever existed is old scans of it on certain sites. While looking for Izuna stuff on eBay, much to my surprise, it turned out there was an actual Izuna artbook published in Japan in 2009! I missed out on getting a particular copy, it got bought out from under me while I waited for my next paycheck, and in the ensuing days, other copies on eBay exploded into triple-digit prices. But another website had a copy for less than $100, and now here I am. And I’m so thrilled!
The Izuna games got a big enough following in Japan for Success to throw a little launch party for the second game (featuring a few cosplay competitions in Akihabara, the photos from which have been lost to time). This book compiles everything, sprite work, old draft designs for Izuna (she could have had an ahoge!), even little photos of old pre-order goodies they had once made. It’s detailed stuff, they even go so far as to break down all of the individual components of Izuna’s outfit (a must for cosplayers). They also covered the pre-order goodies you could get for the game; in Japan, you could get little copies of the in-game talismans with Izuna or her step-sister Shino’s faces on them. The dust jacket also has little fake talismans you can cut out… but I’ll cut my fingers off before I take a pair of scissors to this book. The game also covered some mini-posters that eventually got used as pre-order bonuses for Izuna 2‘s US release; I remember not liking how that was handled at the time, as both Amazon and Gamestop copies each had one of two possible and exclusive rice-paper posters packed inside of the case. Even in 2009, they knew how to rail that FOMO on us. I feel like much of the art prioritizes the second Izuna game (because the profile pic they use for Ino is the one from the sequel), but that’s likely because of availability; there are a few sketches from the old promotional website that aren’t in the artbook.
But there are more things than just old production art–there are also some curious bonus sketches of what looks to be Izuna in the modern day, all with Yoshida-On’s little dopey cat-plush mascot draped around somewhere. There are also detailed guides for the dungeons in the first game and breakdowns of the sprite work and profile art used for Izuna and Shino’s cameo appearances in Success’s Rondo of Swords and Windy X Windam for the DS. This is something I appreciate a lot about Japanese art books; they also tend to include rudimentary guides for the games they discuss. An old Lunar Legend Tsukihime artbook I imported years ago also included a guide for how to get all of the best endings for each of the routes. Also: apparently, one of those Japanese arcade card games had a trio of Izuna cards. I deeply envy any Japanese nerd who has those cards lying around…
Art aside, there’s also a section dedicated to some interviews with some of the key staff from the Izuna games. To my knowledge, Yoshida-On wasn’t part of them (from what I’ve heard, he’s a bit of a recluse). I’m also going to assume one section with Izuna and Shino “talking” to each other was some sort of transcript from an audio drama. I can’t read Japanese, so all of this is lost on me–especially this longer “light novel” section which, going by the illustrations, I’m assuming is about Izuna meeting another pair of sisters at a hot spring and getting a little wistful about her missing mother. If that is what it is… man, sure would be nice if the games touched on that some.
Ultimately, I’m really happy to have this in my collection. Much like with the news that Izuna is getting a third game after all these years, I’m just gobsmacked that such an obscure game has leftover bits of merch lying around that I can actually find. Who knows, maybe I will find a copy of the Romantic Fools doujin, maybe not. We already know Yoshida-On isn’t coming back for the art, but I’ve made peace with that (and I wish him the best in his love and support of Inugami Korone). I’m just happy I was able to find something neat about an obscure fave of mine that I can keep on my shelf and flip through whenever. For something like Final Fantasy or Persona, you’re always gonna be able to find those art books. For the weirder stuff, though, like Shiren the Wanderer or Super Robot Wars–or Izuna? You gotta dig and hope for the best. There’s probably a hardcore Battle Fantsia fan shaking his fist at me right now, grousing, “Aw darn, he finds the jobless ninja book and I can’t even find Coyori fanart!”. Keep the hope alive: even if you don’t get that sequel or remake or port, someone is probably keeping the obscure love alive somewhere.
Nintendo Announces LEGO/Animal Crossing Crossover
I was thinking the other week about how I miss LEGO’s older settings for their sets. LEGO does a lot of branded stuff these days, and for good reason: it makes them money. Their Star Wars sets kicked it off and were by and large pretty phenomenal, they jumped on the Harry Potter train when the franchise was at its peak… all of that, we know. But I miss the older, simpler lines, like the “City” stuff where it’s just cars, buildings, and vehicles, or the “Adventure” line featuring Johnny Thunder, the “Castle” line (an absolute classic), the many amazing pirate ships… Like, I get why they don’t do these as much anymore, but I still miss ’em a little. Of LEGO’s many branded sets, they’ve started dipping their toes into video game partnerships. Not LEGO video games–those are different. I mean LEGO sets based on video game characters. LEGO has had some fun Nintendo crossovers before like the cool LEGO Mario sets where Mario reacts to the things you bounce him on. These have seemingly done well enough that Nintendo is setting out for a new franchise to render in LEGO form! It’s Animal Crossing!
… Holy Christ, people are going to start riots for these. The poor Van Gogh Museum went through bedlam with its recent Pokémon partnership, I can only imagine the bloodshed people will start to get their hands on LEGO Isabelle. There will be new breeds of violence stemming from a new take on the phrase “Raymond in boxes”. I don’t think The Lego Group knows what they signed up for. But that’s just the world we live in; Nintendo and LEGO will be working together to produce Animal Crossing-themed sets.
Later in the week, we even got to see the first five sets to be released in this collaboration… and no surprise, they’re really cute! It’s nice that they cover a variety of price ranges while also capturing many of the cute parts of Animal Crossing, from the lovely little snapshots of life in your little island getaway (including pole-vaulting across a river) to a charming two-for-one set featuring both Nook’s Cranny and Rosie’s house. I’m a bit bummed they’re going with Nook’s newer “Island Getaway Traveling Agent” design and not his older and more-iconic “raccoon in an apron” design, but oh well. More importantly: Kapp’n’s set is of a cute little island atoll and his iconic rowboat, and his minifig is suitably perfect. No notes, they understood the assignment.
Of course, the Tom Nook/Rosie’s House set is going to be the priciest set, clocking in at $75… but also, considering how Lego usually prices things, $75 seems pretty affordable. Heck, they could’ve charged $100 easily and written it off as the Tom Nook tax. Folks would pay for it, too! But I think they’ve managed to do right by the pricing. Even the $15 Julian’s Birthday Party set looks like a decent little diorama to use as backing, it would probably come alive with more minifigs. Speaking of, many folks (like myself) are surprised that they’re not just selling little randomized grab-bags of Animal Crossing villager minifigs. Considering there are a total of 413 villagers as of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it seems like the best way to make sure everyone’s precious baby gets represented. I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one.
Folks won’t even have to wait particularly long for these Lego sets to come out–they’re due to drop as of March 1st, 2024! The pre-orders aren’t live yet. Enjoy the brief peace while it exists…
Silent Hill: Ascension Launch Announced For October 31st
We had a lot of Silent Hill projects announced a few months back… and I’m gonna be honest, I don’t remember many of them outside of Silent Hill ƒ on the back of that wild trailer. A glance reveals that we also had Silent Hill: Townfall and the Silent Hill 2 remake in the works. But there was also a much more puzzling game in the works: Silent Hill: Ascension. And… I think I’ll just let the trailer speak for this one.
So, according to Jacob Navok, Silent Hill: Ascension isn’t strictly a video game, but rather an interactive series. The idea is that every day, for six months, players/viewers will be able to interact with a live stream (which is to say, involving virtual characters). The idea is that you’ll be able to help with quick-time events so that characters can hopefully solve puzzles or escape danger. Every week, the decisions will be compiled into a longer episode that can be enjoyed. The story will thusly change over the course of the six months, leading to… whatever it leads to.
This is an ambitious idea, but also: it sounds like a complete mess. Now, there are options for folks: while the episodes will be live-streamed at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT, you’ll also be able to access them on-demand. No word yet on whether late viewers will be able to influence the story in some way. We’re long past the era where appointment television is a widespread workable concept for people; I don’t know how modern-day players will be able to “tune in” to this game regularly enough to participate. As for actually engaging with Ascension, there’s a website and a mobile app currently available for pre-loading that fans can use.
The other issue is the scope; this will be a running series for every day, seven days a week, for a total runtime of six months. And every day, the collective decisions of players will lead to a constantly changing story. I don’t see this working. How can this pan out? Considering the length of Ascension, there are plenty of places where decisions could potentially upend whatever story was being built. Oh, sure, devs will be able to roll with the punches, but how are they going to confront bad-faith decisions? What happens if there’s a puzzle that the audience just can’t solve? There are so many weird X-factor decisions involved in this project that make me scratch my head. A “choose your own adventure” novel works because even if there are a ton of alternate decisions, there are still only so many paths the story can take, and the story can predictably handle someone acting in bad faith. Games like Until Dawn or The Quarry also factor in a player’s skill for certain thresholds in the story, but because the stories are much smaller in scope they don’t have to go nuts with the Butterfly Effect.
I give Novak and his team a ton of credit because this is a novel idea and certainly one that will bring fans together. If they pull this off, it’ll be one heck of a feather in their cap. But that’s a big “if”…
Gungrave G.O.R.E. to get an enhanced port for Switch
Man, Gungrave G.O.R.E.! Just like its undead hero, Beyond The Grave, that game just won’t stay down for long. Iggymob has continued chipping away at Gungrave G.O.R.E. to iron out its wrinkles and smooth out its rough spots. The game was janky but playable in its original release. As of this past February, Iggymob had made sure to thoroughly improve upon the game with added mechanical updates, control options, and a new mode that lets you play as a different character. The updates continued up until now; I haven’t played Gungrave G.O.R.E. in its current state to let you know how it’s going, but I can imagine it’s a sight better than the release version–and I was already pretty sweet on the release version, despite the jank.
GUEE Release date is now final! Europe: October 4, 2023 (Nintendo eShop)
North America: Oct 18 2023 (Nintendo eShop)
Japan/Asia: January 2024 (Physical/Nintendo eShop)
TIME LIMITED! You can get three skins for free if you purchase the title within first month.
Iggymob is going for one last hurrah as it continues with a staggered release for Gungrave G.O.R.E.‘s Switch port. Dubbed Gungrave G.O.R.E.: Ultimate Enhanced Edition, this port is already out for European markets (it was released on October 4th). The US can look forward to it releasing digitally on the Nintendo eShop on October 18th, with the only physical releases being scheduled for the Asian release this upcoming January 2024. On the upside, getting the game within the first month of release will net you three bonus skins: two referencing Grave’s designs in the first two Gungrave games (Gungrave and Gungrave: Overdose), and a new “Young Gun” skin exclusive to the Ultimate Enhanced Edition. And for added fanservice, the Japanese voice track features the return of Tomokazu Seki, who had voiced Grave in the past. On top of that, Gungrave G.O.R.E.: Ultimate Enhanced Edition is shaping up to be an entirely different game built upon the framework of the original Gungrave G.O.R.E.. While it seems that the story will be largely identical, the gameplay is purportedly completely reworked. Later in the week, Iggymob released a YouTube video (featured below) going over the changes. They’re all quite comprehensive and are an attempt at responding to several criticisms from the Steam version of the game, ranging from changing or outright removing certain annoying gameplay gimmicks (read: you can’t fall off of the train in the train stage anymore) to making enemies much more reasonable to fight. The video claims some enemies can no longer attack you from outrageous distances and have had their “unfair” attack patterns modified, as well as giving you a variety of new skills to make character progression “more rewarding”. Two major updates include Full Break, which increases your rate of fire as your combo increases (thereby rewarding you with better play by dealing more damage and disincentivizing turtling while your shields recover) and the ability to shoot while running so that Grave doesn’t feel like a slab of dead meat while lurching around. Iggymob also claims they’ve given the character animations a bit to make them less awkward.
We were also given the promise of up to five new playable characters–if the background of the website is any indicator, this includes the guitar-slinging Rocketbilly Redcadillac, last seen in Gungrave Overdose. (Yes, that’s his name, Millions Knives and Vash the Stampede should have prepared you for this moment.) We also know that beating the game in the newly-announced Gore mode (which requires you to replay the entire stage from the beginning once you die) unlocks pre-un-deadening Brandon Heat as a playable character. It’s tough to say who the other bonus characters would be. I’m thinking they might be playable versions of the four major bosses, but I’m hoping that one of them is Quartz (who has a few playable stages in the original). The website also reveals that the “lifelike” graphics from the base Gungrave G.O.R.E. will just be an optional mode, with the Ultimate Enhanced Edition defaulting to a “cartoon mode” meant to evoke the cel-shaded design of the original Gungrave games on PlayStation 2. Oh, and the title screen features a snazzy new illustration of Grave from his big daddy, Yasuhiro Nightow. All in all: in addition to all of the other work Iggymob has put into Gungrave G.O.R.E., this version of the game flat-out revamps the whole thing, lock stock and barrel.
The downside is that the UItimate Enhanced Edition is, for now, going to be Switch-exclusive. When pressed by fans, the social media page was rather evasive on the subject. Long story short: they currently don’t have any plans to transfer the Ultimate Enhanced Edition content to PlayStation, Xbox, or PC in the immediate future, especially since Iggymob has “a small team for the project” and “it is quite difficult to handle many things at once”. Fair enough, I think; I don’t blame fans for being upset that the Switch port is effectively getting a ton of extra goodies all to itself, but as Iggymob pointed out in their YouTube video, a lot of these changes exist so that the game can run on the Switch in the first place. I also think we should let this particular pie cool on the windowsill for at least a few minutes before demanding absolute parity between all of the console versions. If nothing else, Iggymob deserves that much: as mentioned earlier, they’ve shown an absolute dedication to ensuring the base game is the best game it could be, working on it long past my expectations. Gungrave G.O.R.E. is their baby, and they’ve certainly taken good care of it.
The promise of greater fanservice for longtime Gungrave fans via the new characters in the Ultimate Enhanced Edition honestly has me intrigued; I’m down for double-dipping. And hey, if for any reason, you still haven’t played Gungrave G.O.R.E., there’s never been a better time for it. Hell, they massively reworked that nightmarish train stage, that’s practically worth the price of admission all on its own…
Heads-up: user’s page is still very NSFW
PS5 Slim Announced, Potentially Costs More Than Just Buying A PS5
I don’t want to turn this into a Sony slap-fest because I freaking loved my PS2 collection back when I had it. But I do need to raise the Shenanigans Alarm when Sony makes boneheaded decisions, and this one is particularly boneheaded. Console redesigns are almost a given in this day and age, we take for granted that any console released will eventually get a slimmed-down redesign at a discount price. Sony‘s done plenty in their time, going back to the original PS One, a smaller (cuter) redesign of the original PlayStation model released roundabouts the same as PlayStation’s landmark PlayStation 2. Sony has since made smaller “Slim” editions of its consoles since then, with Slim versions of all subsequent PlayStation models, all with the bonus of a cheaper price (even if the PS3 Slim came at the expense of losing its backward compatibility with PS2 games). Nintendo has had its own pared-down re-releases too, though mostly for its handhelds; the original brick-like GameBoy was given smaller or even more powerful iterations with the GameBoy Pocket and the GameBoy Color, and the GameBoy Advance received tons of reissues like the stylish Advance SP with its beloved backlit screen, the ultra-stylish GameBoy Mini, or the currently-available Switch Lite. I prefer these slimmed-down releases to the idea of a stronger “Pro” model down the line. The appeal of a console is that it works without much muss or fuss; it feels like a piss-take to have to upgrade a console mid-generation just so that your sad murder-dad sim loads slightly faster.
Anyway, Sony announced the PS5 Slim. It’s certainly smaller than the PS5… but it misses the mark in a lot of ways as far as redesigns go…
Sony has officially revealed a new revised look for PS5, seen below.
-Detachable blu-ray drive -Now comes with a 1TB SSD -Smaller in volume by 30%, 18-24% lighter -Blu-ray drive can be bought separately for $79.99 -Old models will be phased out
Okay, so the first problem: it’s not that much smaller. Like, sure, it’s thinner, but width isn’t the PS5’s problem so much as height–and the PS5 Slim is still pretty long in that regard. Second: the price blows. The PS5 Slim with the disc drive will still retail for $500. If you get the digital-only version, you pay $450–still more expensive than the current non-slim digital version. Oh, but it gets better: the new driveless PS5 Slim has the option of being upgraded with an attachable BluRay drive that’ll retail for $80. So a digital-only PS5 plus a physical drive will run you more than just… getting a PS5 Slim that already has the physical media drive. The upside is that the Slim models also have a bit more internal space, reaching a total of 1 TB of internal storage. Oh–and the current models of the PS5 are being “phased out”, so once internal stock runs out these will be the main models going forward.
You can just smell the business people patting themselves on the back for this one.
If you’re wondering what the upside this is to anyone who already has a PS5, especially if they already paid extra for one with a physical media drive and already upgraded the console… yeah, there isn’t one. To be fair: I don’t know why anyone would be daft enough to buy multiple PS5s, but there you go. I don’t think we’re Sony‘s target here. But also, considering how long the PS5 has been out, I feel like it’s not unreasonable to want something cheaper, especially if you’ve waited for a price drop. This ain’t it. Heck, if anything, this could potentially cost folks more money, what with the optional media drive. Sony is going so far as to only offer a horizontal stand for the PS5 Slim by default; if you want a vertical stand, you need to pay an extra $30. At least it’s compatible with “all” versions of the PS5…?
This is pretty garbage in terms of value proposition. All things considered, you may as well just get a PS5 right now with the memory expansion. You’ll only miss out on, what, 200 GB of storage? That’s just enough for one Call of Duty: Warzone. I don’t say this lightly, but whoop-dee-freakin’-doo. At this rate, the PS5 Pro will be one heck of an eye-gouge. Anyway, you can look forward to the PS5 Slim this holiday season, I guess.
… For crying out loud, they’re even charging $30 for the vertical stand. It’s a highway robbery…
Let’s wrap up with some quick tidbits
Heads up for Lollipop Chainsaw fans! We’ve received word that none of the costumes from the original game will be changed for the Re-POP remake; that said, we know that none of the “anime-inspired” costumes will be brought back due to rights issues, so the Highschool of the Dead, Deadman Wonderland, Is This a Zombie? or Manyū Hiken-chō costumes aren’t coming back. That said, we did see a new ninja outfit revealed that kinda looks like the Manyū Hiken-chō design, so maybe we’ll get some retools for the other ones?
LOVE LIVE fans: the demo for Yohane the Parhelion: BLAZE in the DEEPBLUE is currently up on Steam, but only until October 16th.
That’ll do it for this week. We’ve had some fairly slow-paced weeks for a bit now–I’m thinking things might ramp up a bit as the holidays approach, so I’m enjoying my spare time while the getting’s good. If you all could do me a favor, be sure to check in on your friends whenever you can. You never know when someone needs a good “Hey, what’s new?” DM or the like. I’d like to thank you guys for sharing your gaming lists last week, they were a lot of fun to read! Also, I wanna thank Northlander for the keen correction on my Ah! My Goddess anecdote, and to Andrew Wonderful for the trivia about Masamune/Granleon and its Persian roots in Chrono Trigger. Fascinating stuff! 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.