E3 Impressions – XSEED Games

XSEED Games has a fine history of providing gamers with niche products that might otherwise get overlooked in an increasingly crowded gaming market. If you’ve enjoyed the sublime delights of RETRO GAME CHALLENGE, you have them to thank. Here’s a look at some of their upcoming releases for the Wii.

● LITTLE KING’S STORY

Set to release on July 21, LITTLE KING’S STORY is game in the vein of PIKMIN or OVERLORD. You control the titular Little King as he collects loyal subjects and sends them out to do his bidding. Citizens can be cast into various roles – farmer, solider, cook, etc. – and once cast into a specific role, the NPCs will take their assignments to heart. Farmers, for example, will wake up and go to sleep earlier than other characters.

Additionally, each citizen also has their own personality (which may or may not clash with the role that you’ve cast them into) and can develop interpersonal relationships with the other NPCs. As they spend more time in each other’s company, they’ll develop friendships or even fall in love. As the King, you can throw two lovers into a church and cause them to get married. In one of the more interesting bits of interaction, if a character dies, their friends and family will show up at their funeral.

At the start of the game, your kingdom is nothing more than a few ramshackle houses and a tiny castle. Most of the early gameplay consists of resource collection and urban development, though you’ll occasionally have to fight a wild monster or two. As in PIKMIN, these battles consist of leading a row of troops into field and sending them after a giant chicken or some other whimsical threat.

As your kingdom grows larger, you’ll eventually start to butt heads with the other seven kingdoms in your area. These other kings won’t take kindly to threat posed by your expansion and will soon wage war. As the stages become more battle-intensive, you’ll still need to carefully manage resources at home in order to maintain control over your ever-growing empire.

From it’s cute JRPG characters to its European animation-style cut scenes, the game just oozes charm. But as you might be able to tell from my synopsis above, its simple appearance hides some fairly mature subject matter. In addition to some minor sexual innuendo, there is constant conversation about the purpose of war, the role of the monarchy, and the cycle of life and death.

In his previous games (such as the Japan-only RPG MOON and the kissing adventure CHULIP), producer Yoshiro Kimura has used adorable-looking graphics to subvert the expectations of the audience before tackling adult themes. It’ll be interesting to see how the visuals of LITTLE KING’S STORY will ultimately interact with the final in-game narrative. Of all of XSEED’s upcoming releases, this is the one that I’m the most excited about.

● JU-ON: THE GRUDGE

Touted as a “haunted house simulator” (as opposed to a survival horror game), JU-ON is a continuation of the events from the hit feature films. Armed with only flashlight, you play as various members of a Japanese family who have been touched by the mysterious Grudge. Each family member has a unique story and setting that they must explore. The climax of the game takes place in the Saeki house, which has been lovingly recreated for the game.

Your life is determined by the amount of batteries in your flashlight. Each battery you find will provide 15-20 minutes of gameplay, so time is your main enemy. In addition, as you attempt to solve the various puzzles and make your way through the stages, evil ghost children will occasionally assault you or just pop into screen just long enough to freak you out. (I can’t lie – when playing through the demo, I audibly yelped at one point.) As a bonus, if you’re playing with a friend, they can use the second controller to activate ghost effects.

While it was an interesting demo to try out, I don’t know if the final product will be robust enough to keep my attention. On paper, walking around, shining your flashlight on things and occasionally seeing a terrifying jack-in-the-box has limited replay value. Then again, I’m a sucker for stories in games and innovative ways of presenting them. So if JU-ON ultimately to tell a compelling tale that successfully builds on the previous lore, I’ll definitely take it for a spin.

● ARC RISE FANTASIA

Most of “hardcore” products on the Wii have been limited to either first-person shooters or third person action games. ARC RISE FANTASIA provides gamers with a different type of niche product and one that is relatively neglected on the Wii – the Japanese RPG.

In ARC RISE FANTASIA, you play as a mercenary working for the Meridian Empire, which is under attack from hordes of dragons. Though normally peaceful, these dragons have mysteriously started to wage war. Making the situation more difficult is the fact that the dragons contaminate the land once they are killed. During the course of the 40-50 hour adventure, you will be tasked with rooting out the cause of their seemingly random attacks.


(Image from 1up.)

The game is still in an early state of localization, so we only got to see the opening cinema and first battle. The battle system is turn based, but both your character and enemy characters can move during the course of battle. The Ability Points are shared by the entire party, so you can either spread them out or devote all of your resources into one character. Once you gain some party members (you’re limited to three in battles), you can initiate combos depending on your proximity to them when launching an attack.

ARC RISE FANTASIA will feature full English voice acting, but a determination has not been made regarding the Japanese voice track. XSEED’s Jimmy Soga noted that they’re always committed to bringing the Japanese track whenever possible, especially given the tastes of their target audience. Given the early state of the project, however, it was hard to tell whether the dual voice tracks would be a possibility.

It might have been the fact that the first battle took place on an airship, but aesthetically, the game really reminding me of SKIES OF ARCADIA (which is definitely a good thing). Both the in-game graphics and the cinemas look gorgeous (and not just for a Wii game). As a long time JRPG fan, this game is definitely on my watch list for 2010.

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