Writing about video games is fun, but it's one thing to speculate about gameplay from screens and trailers, and whole 'nother thing to actually take the games for a test drive. Namco Bandai recently held an event like two blocks away from the Crunchyroll office, so I girded my loins and played me some video games!
You've probably already seen the announcement for the North American release of Project X Zone, but along with that hotly-anticipated 3DS SRPG, I got to play a selection of Namco Bandai's upcoming JRPGs and anime-themed games at the appropriately-named JRPG Games and Anime Showcase!
First off, I went for the newest fighting game featuring everybody's favorite orange-clad, stealth-averse ninja who actually earned his main character status. Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is headed to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on March 5, 2013, and features an all-new story mode that starts from the flashback of the Nine Tails' attack on Leaf Village all the way up to the Fourth Shinobi World War.
The first thing that the demo guy pointed out was that Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is a more story-focused title, with a cool free-roaming single-player mode that lets you explore all over Leaf Village. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations (what a mouthful!) was more of a "dream match" title matching up favorite characters with their younger selves, but NSUNS3 brings back the gigantic boss battles from Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (starting you off as the Third Hokage fighting the Nine Tails!), wanting to keep the same sense of epic, cinematic scale from CyberConnect2's Asura's Wrath.
After listening to the demo guy's explanation, I picked a fight with a fellow journalist in Versus Mode--I picked Rock Lee, he picked Sasuke. While the gameplay isn't exactly at Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike levels of hardcore precision, it still played pretty fast and fierce. The controls are a little tighter, even with CC2 wanting to focus more on scale and letting you relive the series, but still providing a fairly competitive environment to fight it out in. Evasion and using substitution jutsu are handled well, and the relatively intuitive controls mean that anyone can pick up the control, choose their favorite character, and jump right into it--but experience and skill tend to settle the matter in this game. Just to put the lid on the "who's cooler" argument, Lee won.
One really fun extra they let us try out was Naruto in his Goku outfit, which has, well... let's just say it has a very appropriate super move. You can get the Goku suit by pre-ordering the game, but we've also covered some other, crazier pre-order bonuses here. Also, in really, really sad news...
...Might Suit Naruto/"The Green Beast" will not be available in Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3. 0/10, will not buy.
Just kidding, I'm totally gonna review it.
Instead of dragging your PS3 or 360 with you on the go, Namco Bandai has a smaller-scale Naruto adventure for the 3DS in Naruto: Powerful Shippuden! This single-player brawler features Rock Lee and Naruto--or more specifically, the goofy Lee and Naruto from Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals--taking on various missions and following their own branching stories.
Still in a GIVE LEE HEART LEE mood, I passed on Naruto and immediately tried Lee's story, which starts off with Guy's training. It's a pretty basic side-scrolling actioner, with enemies attacking from all angles. Lee has his impressive taijutsu and shuriken skills, and attacking enemies builds up your Chakra meter. Build up enough Chakra, and you can open the Gates and use Lee's super moves, but using up all your Chakra will leave you vulnerable to attack. Naruto's fighting skills are similar to Lee's, but his wider assortment of ninja techniques makes his side of the game less about punching everything in the face and more about smart meter management.
Finishing missions earns you XP, which you can use to increase your stats between missions. Aside from obvious level-up bars like Strength or Chakra, you can spend points to build up "Supporters" like Neji, Tenten, Sakura, and Guy, who can be summoned during battle for assists. In perfect Team Guy fashion, you can also set Conditions for the next mission, such as "Don't take any damage" or "Defeat all enemies with only shuriken," giving XP bonuses upon completion.
It's no Code of Princess, but Naruto: Powerful Shippuden's bright, super-expressive animations have a lot of character and style. The brief section of the game I played was funny as hell, and reminded me most of the GBA and DS' Ninja Council series. Powerful Shippuden will be available for 3DS on March 5th, right alongside Ultimate Ninja Storm 3.
I might have scared the dude in charge of Project X Zone, because this was my face the entire time I played the Japanese version:
Project X Zone is a title we covered for a while up until its Japanese release--it's a 3DS crossover strategy-RPG featuring characters from Capcom, Namco Bandai, and Sega. The cast is enormous, and gameplay is an evolution of the Japan-only PS2 SRPG Namco X Capcom.
Unlike other SRPGs like Fire Emblem, PXZ keeps its massive cast contained by putting most characters in teams of two, like Street Fighter bros 4 life Ryu and Ken, or Devil May Cry's Dante teaming up with Darkstalkers vampire Demitri. These teams are set in stone, so you can't split up a pair and team up, say, Dante with Tekken's Jin Kazama. There are also solo units like Ghosts & Goblins' Arthur or Space Channel 5's Ulala, which can be attached to "pair" units for assists and combos.
Gameplay is more active than most SRPGs--while there's still plenty of grid movement and maneuvering for optimal position, the timing-based battle system makes up the meat of the game. Time your hits just right to knock the enemy into the air with a Critical, juggle them like a clown, and make sure they never land. If they do, time your attack to set up an OTG and keep that combo going, or hit them with a status effect! Tag in a flanking pair unit for a Cross Attack for even more damage! Racking up huge combos is the key to victory, but it actually takes more practice and skill to use effectively than you'd think.
There were a lot of people wanting to play this one, so I relinquished the 3DS after a few insane battles, but I stuck around to see more of what the game had in store. The game isn't particularly forgiving, with a cruel AI that capitalized on mistakes, but the game does include a huge built-in encyclopedia describing every facet of gameplay, along with a character encyclopedia to familiarize yourself with Project X Zone's ensemble cast.
Project X Zone arrives on 3DS in summer of 2013, but we'll keep you posted when an actual release date is revealed!
Tales producer Hideo Baba gave us a quick primer on Tales of Xillia at the start of the event, explaining some of the background for the game. As some of you know, Tales of Xillia has two main characters, Jude and Milla, and you'll choose which character you start out with at the beginning of the game. The plot will stay relatively the same and major events will be familiar upon replay, but there are certain events that will play out differently from each character's perspective depending on who you choose.
Like always, Tales of Xillia uses the series' quasi-real-time battle system, and you're able to set party members to "Manual" for co-op play during battles. The section of the game I played had the characters at a pretty high level for the area they were in, so there wasn't as much strategy needed for taking on the local wildlife with my bare hands. The creature animations were kind of stiff, but overall the game was breathtaking in motion, with detailed character models that are the spitting image of Mutsumi Inomata and Kosuke Fujishima's designs.
While it seems simple on the surface, gameplay involves the new "Dual Raid" version of Tales' Linear Motion Battle System. Characters are paired off, and can use tag techniques to pile on the damage, or increase the potency of buffs or healing spells. You can freely choose which character is your party's leader, as well as which character you're playing as in battle, letting you grind for levels exactly the way you want to.
I spent most of my time with the game as Jude and his awesome Bajiquan-looking martial arts, but I also put in some time with the magic specialist Milla (who chews up MP in combat) and rough-and-tumble merc Alvin, who wasn't quite the Balthier-alike I was hoping he'd be. One thing I loved was how you could assign Artes (spells/techs) to the right analog stick for shortcut casting, but characters weren't high-enough level to really take advantage of it--I can imagine it'll really come in handy late in the game.
Tales of Xillia is a PS3 exclusive, and is coming to North America in the first quarter of 2013, so... soon.
The event also had a playable version of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, but you know our thoughts on that game already: BUY IT! Namco Bandai also teased a major announcement coming on February 4th, so we'll definitely be keeping our ears to the ground for that one.
Of the Namco Bandai games I got to try out, which ones seem the most appealing to you? Are you looking forward to the HD console offerings like Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and Tales of Xillia, or the handheld up-and-comers like Project X Zone and Naruto: Powerful Shippuden? Sound off in the comments!