Not My Elena – This Week in Games


Welcome back, folks! We had some fun stuff come in this past weekend. In the wake of our Another Code: Recollection review, another really fun game I anticipated came in for review. I’ll talk more about it in the coming weeks. But also, look at this other neat thing I got!

Dawn, of the >Anime Nostalgia Podcast, occasionally takes commissions for K-pop-style deco-cards. Most folks get cards of their favorites, like Pedro Pascal, Dale Cooper, or the Dirty Pair. Me being me, I was waiting for my chance to get one with Izuna. I’m still unsure what you do with a deco-pop card, but it feels nice having it around. It makes me smile to look at it. We haven’t had any news on Success‘ new Izuna game since it was announced at the last Tokyo Game Show. Success didn’t even make any kind of promo-art of Izuna handing out Valentine’s chocolates, talk about a missed opportunity.While I’m glad I didn’t miss covering any new developments on Izuna 3 while I was indisposed, I’m getting a little antsy waiting here. There’s nothing to do but commission fan art in the meantime, I guess. Oh, speaking of Success

This is…

ann_game_review_1

Success‘s Other Pink-Haired Mascot, Cotton, Celebrates Her 31st Anniversary

It’s the little witch Cotton’s 31st anniversary! I’m going off of her PC Engine release, anyway. The original Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams was released in arcades in 1991. The PC Engine release came out in ’93, including the US TurboGrafx CD release in April of that same year. Cotton as a name doesn’t mean much, but it’s a foundational title in the realm of so-called “cute-’em-ups.” Other shooters like Gradius or R-Type were just called “shoot-’em-ups,” and there’s a whole world to explore with those titles. The big thing with cute-’em-ups is that they’re, y’know, cute. Instead of piloting some high-tech jet fighter, you’re piloting a cute anime girl,,, a mildly dopey little ship with stubby legs and angel wings,,, or a ship with Mickey Mouse arms. Or, in the case of Cotton, the titular pink-haired witch. Also, cute-’em-ups can be hard. Excruciatingly hard. Konami even made their cute-’em-up versions of GradiusParodius, which is just goofy, and Otomedius, where all the girls are gijinkas of actual ships as drawn by Mine Yoshizaki of Sgt. Frog fame, but the only difference between them and “proper” Gradius is how ironic the moai heads are supposed to be.

Anyway, Cotton! The story for Cotton is simple: Cotton is a witch who, with her bikini-clad fairy friend Silk, goes off and shoots down waves of monsters in pursuit of her favorite snack, the elusive Willow candy. Being an early cute-’em-up, there aren’t many other wrinkles to the formula besides Cotton’s ability to level up her attacks by collecting crystals dropped by bogeys. Later games would add more sophisticated mechanics, like possible fighting-game-like commands for firing different attacks or deflecting enemy shots, an elemental system for crystals that would change the nature of Cotton’s shots, or the ability to find extra fairies in stages that would act as “options” (read: Gundam funnels) for Cotton. You could also play as Appil, Cotton’s rival.

Much of Cotton’s heyday was in the 90s, leading up until 2003. After that, the Cotton series went on an 18-year hiatus. Cotton would only get out of bed to look for Willow in Success‘s 2007 Rondo of Swords on the DS or Umihara Kawase Fresh! in 2019. It wouldn’t be until 2021 that we’d get a two-fisted comeback from Cotton in the form of Cotton Reboot!, a straight-up port of the X68000 port of Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, and Cotton Fantasy: Superlative Night Dreams, the first proper sequel to 2000’s Rainbow Cotton on the Sega Dreamcast. Friend of the column (and editor of ANN’s previous videogame column, The X Button) Todd Ciolek reviewed Superlative Night Dreams two years ago, and had some nice things to say about it. It’s worth picking up. Another friend of the column (and my direct predecessor), Heidi, also wrote an informal hands-on impression of Cotton Reboot back in 2021. And of course, who should be >in the comments but a very familiar bitch wishing for a new Izuna game.

For a series that went under for as long as it did, Cotton is very influential among other cute-’em-ups. In the genre proper, it was a regular powerhouse alongside Fantasy Zone and Twinbee. It also influenced subsequent cute-’em-ups like Twinkle Star Sprites. And the PC Engine/TurboGrafx port had some serious star-power behind it, too, featuring TARAKO of Chibi-Maruko-chan fame as the titular witch. I’m not sure what strange miracle led to the series finally getting jolted back to life in the past few years, let alone brought it to the US, but it’s one of those tiny miracles in the gaming industry that I love. Heck, Cotton was on hiatus for even longer than the Izuna series. Best of all, the spirit stayed true. There was an era in gaming where tons of classic franchises were being resurrected as bog-standard first-person shooters. This is what gave us stuff like The Bureau: XCOM Declassified or the 2013 reboot of Apogee’s old Rise of the Triad. Even now, Cotton is just a little half-pint witch with a sweet tooth—which is why we love her. We should all be so lucky to live to see more obscure gems in the gaming world get brought back with so much love and care. And if Cotton can come back after 20 years, who’s to say what else can’t come back? It’s not too late for a Tear Ring Saga resurrection. We can still get a new Captain Commando. Hell, John Romero making a Daikatana sequel wouldn’t even be the craziest thing to have happened this year.

If anything, Cotton‘s endurance after all these years is proof positive that those we love are never truly gone. Always hold out hope; you never know who’s going to turn up again on your doorstep after all these years with a smile.

Suikoden Creator Passes Away

You might not know the name Yoshitaka Murayama, but his influence in RPGs runs deep for a simple thing: he created the Suikoden series. An ambitious series of RPGs based on the Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh, these are sweeping epics about the 108 Stars of Destiny—chosen warriors coming together to protect their world from great evil. Sadly, news broke earlier this week that Murayama died on the February 6 due to ongoing illness.

This one hurts on a lot of levels. Murayama’s Suikoden games were beloved by many longtime RPG fans for their storytelling and characters—not the least of which one being of the most horrifying RPG villains ever, Luca Blight. Sadly, being a Konami series, Suikoden was cursed to be passed over for ages and ages. The PS2 Suikoden titles didn’t quite make a mass impact, and the PSP ports of the extremely beloved first two titles never came to the US. Only recently were they announced to receive an HD remaster compiling the first two games—while they were initially slated for a 2023 release, they’re currently on hiatus.

Because you can’t keep a good man down, Murayama stopped waiting for Konami to get off its duff and decided to make his own Suikoden, as have many Japanese creators like Koji Igarashi. And so he made Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, an ambitious epic that proposed to recreate Suikoden in all its scope. The game has been a long time coming, and is even slated for a release later this year; there was even a prequel spin-off, Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, currently available.

It is heartbreaking that Maruyama passed without seeing either of his babies hit the market. Suikoden‘s return has been hotly anticipated by fans for years and years, and Eiyuden Chronicle was tailing right behind it as a worthy successor. Few details have been shared with the public concerning Maruyama’s untimely passing; the most we know is that it was due to longtime medical issues he was dealing with. It’s unfair that he isn’t around to see us reunited with these games.

Hey Look, A New Elena in Street Fighter: Duel—Oh No, OH NO

Hey, so I’ve talked about individual fighting game characters before, like Ángel or Maki. Folks get attached to fighting game characters! It’s not just because of their function, people do love them as characters, especially since fighting games tend to be some of the most diverse games in the industry featuring characters from all over the world. Women all over got into gaming because of Chun Li debuting as one of the World Warriors in Street Fighter 2, and I’ve talked at length about how much Mexico’s SNK fandom loves Ángel (and Japan’s other takes on Mexicans like Tekken‘s King or Chad from Bleach).

So here we have Elena, one of the most influential women in CAPCOM‘s history by being the first Black woman in Street Fighter. There had been other Black characters in Street Fighter up to that point, like Dudley or Birdie, but Elena was the first Black woman, hailing from Kenya. Now, there has been some criticism of Elena’s design, specifically because she has straight hair and a small nose—there’s a lot to say about what is supposed to be a Kenyan woman, nevertheless complying with European standards of beauty. (Thank goodness Kimberly has her curly hair.) Nevertheless, there is a lot of love for Elena; yes, she’s a bombshell, and CAPCOM got a bit cheeky with her animations (famously, her repertoire includes rotoscopes of sexy poses from David Lee Roth’s Gigolo music video).

Still, she’s a beloved character through and through—a landmark character in CAPCOM‘s history, one of the pioneering Black women in gaming, and a character that fans are all too happy to see come back to Street Fighter. And so it was that Elena is finally coming to CAPCOM and Tencent GamesStreet Fighter: Duel—in a “gyaru”-themed design, no less! Hey, that’s creative! Elena becomes an exchange student studying in Japan in one of her endings, and since she already has dark skin and light hair, she’s perfect for the “gyaru” look—

—oh, oh noduring Black History Month?!

There can be a lot of controversy over handling Black characters in media. In live action, it can be because you need to have the proper lighting for a Black character to look right on-screen (this is why Moonlight was so good—they had phenomenal lighting for its mainly-Black cast). In animation, folks can be pretty antsy when it looks like a typically dark-skinned character has been lightened for whatever reason. Sometimes, it can be an honest trick of the light making the character look a shade brighter… or sometimes it’s this, and a Black woman gets whitewashed. Again, Elena already faced criticism for her features being inaccurate for someone from Kenya. Looking as pale as she is (it legit looks like she hit up a tanning salon), “Trendy Elena” just flat-out doesn’t look like herself. For the record, this is how Akiman designed her:

elena-3rd

Yeah, man. I don’t know who that “trendy” girl is, but that’s not Elena. This isn’t the first time Street Fighter: Duel heavily whitewashed Elena—her “original” look was heavily whitewashed too. So it’s not even that they messed up with the “Trendy” variant because of the specific “look” they were going for. This is pretty intentional. Fans are, to put it lightly, not happy. The fighting game community has its roots in the Black community. Street Fighter in particular has always been very celebratory of that part of their history, hence its very urban-influenced design in Street Fighter 6. Seeing Elena done dirty like this has a lot of people disappointed, to say the least. The responses to the official tweet debuting Trendy Elena are almost unanimously negative. At the time of this writing, CAPCOM hasn’t responded to the matter, but I hope they do. It’d be nice to do right by Elena and her many, many fans.

Three Big Japanese RPGs Break The 1 Million Mark—What Now?

If nothing else, 2024 is shaping up to be a pretty landmark year for Japanese RPGs. We had a bunch slated for this year, what with the one-two punch of Persona 3 Reload and Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth striking and the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. And it’s only February! Even if those are the only “big” releases of the year, they could easily carry us the rest of the year, especially if the scuttlebutt going around is true, and we do see The Answer released as DLC for Reload. It’s not too soon for GAME FREAK to announce a Pokémon game for this holiday season (that said, for the love of God, let it bake in the oven for a little longer!).

Japanese RPGs have been the center of a lot of discourse. Not for no good reason; as we’ve discussed before, there was a long period (arguably, one that never ended) where American pundits generally sneered at Japanese gaming. Japanese RPGs got the worst of it, and a lot of Japanese developers remember it quite vividly, and have a distaste for the term “JRPG” as a result. But then we get to this recent story: of the three “bigger” Japanese RPG releases in the US so far—Persona 3 Reload, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, and Granblue Fantasy Relink. All three have broken 1 million sales.

There are a lot of asterisks to this news. For starters, Persona 3 Reload becoming the fastest-selling game in the series has come after Persona has become what it is in the past couple of years. When the original Persona 3 was released, it was a pretty mild Success—emphasis on “mild.” You kind of had to be a weirdo to know about the Shin Megami Tensei games, to say nothing of Persona. Word of mouth got around, and the release of Persona 3 FES helped get more eyes onto the game, but it still took a few years and a whole bunch of Persona 4 spin-offs for the series to become a household name. So, the Success wasn’t overnight. Likewise with Like A Dragon; the original was a very modest cult-hit on the PlayStation 2, and for a while it did seem like only weirdos would care about it. But again, word of mouth made the rounds (plus out-of-context clips of Kiryu singing karaoke becoming memetic). Eventually, with a lot of effort, the Like A Dragon series became something of a household name.


But also, these series are nevertheless somewhat impenetrable to outsiders. Persona is a household name, but it’s still mostly known by most players as the poster child of “anime” games. Like A Dragon is mainly known for its goofier aspects—I imagine anyone who picks one up doesn’t expect there to be actual drama in the series; they just know the series for the deep-voiced Japanese man singing “dame da ne”—same with Granblue Fantasy. Over in Japan, it’s a regular franchise powerhouse—easily one of the bigger mobile games right up there with Fate Grand Order (and with the Comiket presence to show for it). The series has had a ton of wild crossovers in Japan, from Love Live! to Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo to, uh, fidget spinners. In the US? I’d hazard most people know Granblue Fantasy from Granblue Fantasy Versus more than anything else. Even among the American Granblue fanbase, there’s the understanding that most people who play it are just seasonal fans who drop in during the seasonal free roll sessions (I’m one of them). It doesn’t help that Granblue is a browser game—it doesn’t have a formal app release in the US. So, I’m willing to bet that most of its sales are on the Japanese side.

Still, let’s examine these. I would only be shoving my foot into my mouth if I made any statement on the budget for any of these games—for all I know, it could have been $6 million or $60 million. You need some deep pockets to render all those Sujimon. I could use the example of Godzilla Minus One, but that would have way too many caveats—and we’re not looking at things like what wages are like for Japanese game developers. About all I’m confident in saying is that it’s likely something like Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth likely didn’t cost as much to produce as one of your other big “AAA” releases in the US. And it’s still really soon in their releases, so they could sell anywhere from another couple hundred thousand copies in the remainder of the year to even another cool million. I also feel confident that these sales were probably unprecedented (especially worldwide), and these sales figures are pretty good news to folks upstairs. Moreso for Granblue Fantasy Relink, since that one seems to have come out of nowhere—when I first saw the discussion of it, I thought I was confusing it for the new Granblue Fantasy Versus.

So, with those out of the way, what can we take away from the Success of these titles? Well, nothing that fans haven’t already demandedvery long time: turns out, you can do pretty well if you make a game look “good enough” and not the bleeding-edge of tech (though imagine claiming that Infinite Wealth doesn’t make old man Kiryu look phenomenal). Persona 3 has always been applauded for its visual style, and the Reload remake only serves to make it even better. (As a long-time Persona 3 fan, I have complicated feelings on the new UI that mostly lean positive—but I digress.) Stylization accounts for a ton of the visual appeal of these games, be it the cutting-edge modernism of Persona or the subtle anachronism of Like A Dragon. A major problem facing AAA gaming is the ostentatious graphics, which require a ton of legwork to denote what is interactive and what isn’t and can also just go to waste if you have a whole hallway of super-detailed doors that don’t go anywhere.

It also helps that these games are very different in their approaches as being RPGs. Folks still think of Japanese RPGs as purely turn-based affairs, but even Persona 3 does a lot with that simple concept. The older Like A Dragon games were RPGs, even if they weren’t turn-based—what was the experience of getting called out to a fight by weirdos in Kamurocho but a series of random encounters? And, of course, there’s Granblue Fantasy Relink being more of a Monster Hunter-like game than anything else—from what I’ve heard. So, of course, take advantage of the multitudes of potential in your genre, and don’t be afraid to try a different tone.

Of course, we also can’t overlook how their release on Steam must’ve been a factor. There’s a discussion to be had about Steam‘s monopoly on the PC gaming landscape, especially considering how much Steam‘s deep discounts have messed with the perceived value of games. But also, Steam is just plain convenient, warts and all. Anyone who wants to play a game will check on Steam first and foremost. And as it turns out, a lot of people use Steam. So when you put a game you’ve marketed well onto a service that many people use, the math sums up to “lots of people buying your game.” Compare that to Epic Game Store and its approach of keeping games exclusive on the platform for as long as they do.

I think these games might also benefit from low expectations. Of course, Sega isn’t going to wish Infinite Wealth sold worse, but I’m also pretty sure they had measured expectations for its Success. Far from the situation that other AAA games have seen where selling 4 million copies is still considered “a failure,” the larger profit margin means that it’s easier to see successes—and there’s more room for experimentation regarding what resonates with fans and what doesn’t. I struggle to imagine that a bigger game would incorporate something as goofy as the Sujimon would be in a more significant title—wouldn’t want something goofy in a video game, heaven forbid.


It’s also a sign that games shouldn’t be afraid to throw gamers into the deep end, lore-wise. Persona 3 is old enough not to be connected to any of the modern Persona games anymore (I don’t even know if the games even reference Philemon anymore, even in passing). Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth is continuing the story of Kiryu Kazuma’s life, going back at least seven games—while also continuing Ichiban’s story from the previous Like A Dragon. And Granblue… look, man, I’m not going to pretend I understand Granblue past knowing the names of all the Draphs I like and the knowledge that Fediel didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to be as tall as she is. There is a ton of concern over making a good entry point for players, but it turns out that if you give folks enough to understand the basics, they are OK with jumping in years late. It also helps if you give folks a lot of himbos, as can be seen with Junpei, Ichiban, and Lowain. I’m telling you guys: the next big trend in gaming? Himbos. Trust me on this.

muito

Let’s wrap up with some quick tidbits

  • They just keep nailing the poor 3DS’s coffin shut. Word from Japan is that they are now working with the last of the spare parts they have in inventory; once their current repairs are completed and they run out of spare parts, they’ll no longer accept requests to repair Nintendo 2DS, New 3DS or New 3DS LLs.
  • If you’ve got an Xbox One or a Series X|S and you’re still waiting on Neptunia: Sisters VS Sisters, the bad news: the Xbox ports have been pushed back from April 16 to May 21. It’s currently out on Steam, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
  • Folks are pretty abuzz about the word from Sony‘s Q3 investor meeting where it announced that the PS5 is in the “latter stage of its lifecycle”. Honestly, that’s to be expected from any console that’s been out for as long as it has. Folks are also concerned that there aren’t any planned “major” releases for the PS5 until 2025—that means exclusives more than anything else, but it doesn’t look too good for Sony‘s flagship…
  • We’ve talked about Goddess of Victory: NIKKE before; look forward to some Valentine’s merch from them and Animate International. I’m not too wild about the characters chosen (Rapi, Emma, Tia, and Naga—what, they couldn’t go for the rest of the Counters unit?), but hey, the merch is cute.
  • That’ll do it for this week, I think. I know that a lot of folks have probably angsted over Valentine’s Day has been this past week; don’t sweat it. I know I don’t. Life isn’t about who you have in your life; it’s about appreciating what you do have in life. And having a partner isn’t the end-all, be-all of life. Take joy in your hobbies. Remember what it is that makes you love your favorite games! Besides, if you need companionship that badly, I think GAME FREAK has you covered:

    Be good to each other; I’ll see you (and maybe your new Psyduck friend) in seven.


    This Week In Games! is written from idyllic Portland by Jean-Karlo Lemus. When not collaborating with Anime News Network, Jean-Karlo can be found playing JRPGs, eating popcorn, watching v-tubers and tokusatsu. You can keep up with him at @mouse_inhouse or @ventcard.bsky.social.






    Source link