FEATURE: Namco Bandai New Year's Kickoff Event 2014

A look at Namco Bandai's hottest upcoming games for the new year!

A couple days ago, I was invited to a special showcase of Namco Bandai's upcoming games for the year, featuring the just-released Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, new Naruto and One Piece titles, as well as a bunch of new titles, anime-related and otherwise! With some much-needed, much-appreciated help from the CR Newsletter team's Peter and Sarah, I'm happy to bring you the highlights of the announcements, demos, and hands-on play sessions from the event!




Of course, it's only natural that (like last time) we start with everyone's favorite safety-cone-colored ninja. Controlling exactly the same as Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 - Full Burst, and somehow sporting cleaner, prettier visuals, Revolution had a short demo that pit us against the recently-advertised (and Kishimoto-designed!) Mecha-Naruto and Mecha-Kyubi.




Combat is still fast and frenetic, although it felt kind of cheap to be starting off in Naruto's ultimate form. Mecha-Naruto has some hilarious special moves, like a Rocket Rasengan, but I didn't get the chance to see his Ultimate Jutsu. Playing as Naruto and Sasuke, I whooped Mecha-Naruto's ass, causing him to transform into a "Posessed by the Nine-Tails" mode where he was faster and more aggressive. After making short work of him, he full-on transformed into Mecha-Kyubi, a huge boss-type character similar to the Eight-Tails or Susano'o transformations/summons in Full Burst.




The demo sadly didn't show the full roster of fighters, but available fighters included Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Itachi, and Kakashi. I think it's safe to say that Revolution will have just as massive a character-select screen as Full Burst. Also, select trios of related characters can gang up for big damage with the new Combination Ultimate Jutsu, so start putting together your dream teams! Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution hits PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 later this year.




Covering the entire first part of One Piece's epic story, from the very beginning to the Paramount War in Marineford, One Piece: Romance Dawn is an RPG for 3DS that features the entire Straw Hat crew in their biggest battles. Spending a little time with the game, it was a pleasant romp that had great One Piece atmosphere, and could serve as a pretty good recap of the series.




The only real problem I had while playing was how powerful the playable characters were--whoever had been playing Romance Dawn was either on New Game+, or they'd spent forever leveling up Luffy, Nami, and Zoro, because I was busy one-shotting Marines and doing ungodly amounts of damage to bosses. The battle system is somewhat combo-focused, where you choose moves from a radial menu that can lead up to character-specific special moves and finishers like Gum Gum Bazooka or Oni Giri, or you could spend some MP TP and use those moves right from the start.




Characters can also wear equippable items to change stats--Luffy had a pretty awesome afro on which increased his attack power. While One Piece: Romance Dawn is planned for the 3DS eShop, there will be limited availability for a physical copy through GameStop and Club Namco. One Piece: Romance Dawn is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive, and sets sail on February 11, 2014.




As some of you know, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z just launched on Tuesday--it's a four-on-four team-based action game that covers the DBZ story from Raditz' appearance up through the fight with Majin Buu, and includes characters from the recent Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods movie.




I only just got my review copy of this game, so I'll have a full review up this weekend--for now, though, I can say that Battle of Z faithfully captures that beloved DBZ feeling, and has smoother controls than previous games in the series. Think of that first time you played Dragon Ball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi, but with improved controls and a mandatory team battle, and you're on the right track. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is available now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Vita, and right now, PlayStation Plus members can get 20% off the Vita version of Battle of Z!




Well, what can I say about Dark Souls II that you don't already know? I died. A lot. (Five times, to be specific, but that was in a one-hour period.) Keep checking Crunchyroll News--later on today, I'll be posting an interview with Brand Manager Brian Hong, as well as my full hands-on impressions of the game!




Put briefly, Dark Souls II has the same ruthless challenge and foreboding atmosphere as the last game, while making small changes to gameplay and the way the game's world works. I don't think it's fair to say that it's easier so much as streamlined--the gameplay is overall less obtuse, character movement is a little faster, and combat is a little tighter. Of course, enemies are all faster, stronger, and smarter, so you're still going to die. A lot. Dark Souls II will be available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on March 11, 2014.




JoJo's Bizarre Adventure All-Star Battle was the game I was most looking forward to trying out today (sorry, Dark Souls fans), and it was everything I expected and a little more. Say what you will about CyberConnect2, but their dedication to making visually lavish (and sometimes awesomely excessive) action sequences really pays off in All-Star Battle.




The build I played had every JoJo lead up through Part 7 (so Jonathan, Joseph, Jotaro, Josuke, Giorno, Jolyne, and Johnny), along with a handful of supporting characters like Will and Gyro Zeppeli and Kakyouin, but there were plenty more who could be unlocked by playing Story Mode. The North American and European releases of the game get an exclusive Arcade Mode to earn more in-game gold for unlocks and extra content. Arcade Mode will occasionally change to "Harvest Mode," where you can earn ridiculous amounts of gold by playing matches.




Much like the Dreamcast/arcade JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, All-Star Battle is a 2D fighter that uses a four-button control scheme: light, medium, and hard attacks, and a "Style" button that uses each character's individual abilities, along with a dedicated sidestep (or "Shift") button. Hamon characters use the power of the "Hamon"/Ripple martial arts, Stand Users can call upon their inner personas, and Gyro Zeppeli can climb onto his horse Valkyrie and fight on horseback. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle arrives on PlayStation Network in March of 2014, but there will be a limited run of physical copies available exclusively through Amazon and Club Namco.



Packaging both the GC/PS2 Tales of Symphonia and the Wii's Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World together, Tales of Symphonia Chronicles will offer long, long hours of RPG goodness. For someone like me who's never played Dawn of the New World (and whose only memory of Tales of Symphonia is long nights of hilarious multiplayer on the GameCube), this is a great look back--and for longtime Tales fans, it's a way to replay a pair of classic adventures with slightly cleaned-up visuals.




Tales of Symphonia really feels like a classic JRPG, with cuter character designs and bright colors. I've been playing a lot of Tales of Xillia (or as it should be titled, The Amazing Adventures of Alvin and His Annoying Friends) lately, so those who are used to the newer, three-dimensional version of the Linear Motion Battle System may be surprised at having to fight on a single 2D plane again. It felt refreshing to deal with a plucky hero like Lloyd and his pals going on an adventure, instead of the sturm and drang of more recent JRPGs.




Meanwhile, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is closer to the newer games in terms of aesthetics and gameplay, using the more flexible, free-running combat system. Character designs aren't quite as cute and a bit edgier, and overall it just felt like a darker, more serious game in overall tone from the short bit I played. Obviously I'll need to play more to get a better picture of what Dawn offers, but it's looking good. It's rare to find this much value in a single release, so I'm on board for both these games. Tales of Symphonia Chronicles will be exclusive to PlayStation 3, and releases on February 25th, 2014.




This one kind of came out of left field, but after spending some time with it, it left the biggest impression on me. Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is a side-scrolling 2D actioner directed by Suda51 that ties into Katsuhiro Otomo's Short Peace animation compilation. Development house Crispy's (Tokyo Jungle) has put together an addicting, challenging, and above all fun game that borrows from endless runners, classic platformers, and modern anime aesthetics.




Playing as schoolgirl/assassin Ranko, you're tasked with whooping all sorts of bad guy ass, all in the name of protecting Ranko and her friends. Really, the game reminds me a lot of Kyousougiga, with its bright colors and stark black/white contrasts, and even though you're dashing forward at a breakneck pace you're still given a chance to linger on the visuals. It's not just running from left to right, either--some levels require more platforming dexterity as you move upward, but you're always trying to keep one step ahead of a massive insta-killing wall of enemies, so you have to keep your momentum up and play smart--Ranko is armed with a sword to cut down enemies, but missed swings will actually slow you down, so you can't just mash on the attack button.




The game also features stunning cutscenes with animation reminiscent of Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Kingdom, or the cutscenes in Fire Emblem: Awakening. I didn't get much chance to actually watch the cutscenes (okay, fine, I chose not to watch the cutscenes because I wanted to spend more time playing the game), so we'll get a better look at them when the full game comes out. Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is a PlayStation 3 exclusive, coming in Spring of 2014.




The free-to-play return to Namco's classic Ace Combat franchise, Ace Combat Infinity takes the series back to its roots for high-flying dogfighting action, now pitting players against each other around the world. I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk with longtime Ace Combat director Kazutoki Kono (director of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, among others) about the game, so check in later for the full interview!




Namco Bandai wasn't kidding when they said they were going back to Ace Combat's roots--while the graphics were up to modern standards, everything about it felt like the first time I sat down to play Ace Combat 04 on the PS2, and the amount of freedom and realism I was dealing with. It was just me, the plane, enemies, and the ground, and a huge aerial battle over Tokyo. I'll go into further detail after the interview! Ace Combat Infinity flies onto PlayStation Network later this year.




City Interactive's upcoming action-RPG Lords of the Fallen was also on display, with a hands-off demo played by CI's Tomasz Gop (previously a producer of The Witcher 2). Lords of the Fallen is a grim, medieval fantasy story taking place in a world where humanity has defeated their dark god, and his generals (the titular Lords of the Fallen) are still wreaking havoc around the world.




The brief demo we watched put us in the giant boots of Arken, who you can play in one of three classes: Warrior, Rogue, and Cleric. While you can use different classes' gear interchangeably (for instance, a Cleric's powerful war hammer with a Rogue's light, unrestrictive armor), unique magic is bound to each class, both for attack and defense. The combat system encourages you to fight smart, pick openings in enemy attacks, and shows persistent damage to enemy armor and bodies that falls off as you chip away their health bars. As this was a pre-alpha build, we only got to see a little, but we'll keep you updated on this one as more information comes. Lords of the Fallen is set for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and comes out in Fall of 2014.




Also at the event was Enemy Front, a new CryEngine-powered first-person shooter from City Interactive taking place in the European campaign of World War II. I would make a joke about a tired genre that nobody really cares about any more, but in CI's defense, I had been playing a JRPG not one hour previously.



Sorry. Anyways--




I sadly didn't have the chance to get hands-on time with Enemy Front, but it's actually refreshing to look back on the older technology of World War II and see the rolling hills of the French countryside. Instead of being on a scripted roller-coaster ride, players are given free reign of an entire map, with different missions, objectives, and approaches to consider. Watching other players take on the Third Reich, I got to see a flexible combat system with tense shootouts--enemies deal high damage and there's quite an emphasis on stealth and flanking enemies, so it brought back memories of the original Call of Duty (that's a good thing) mixed with Far Cry 3's freedom and emphasis on stealth. Enemy Front lands on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in June 2014.




There were also a few quick announcements for games we didn't get a chance to play--Tenkai Knights: Brave Battle, based on Cartoon Network's Tenkai Knights series, is a 3DS exclusive arriving in Summer of 2014.




Finally, Namco's timeless mascot Pac-Man returns with a full library of classic games in Pac-Man Museum, featuring eight titles on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live versions, and nine in the 3DS eShop, Wii U eShop, Steam, and Windows Store versions (for some reason, Pac-Man Championship Edition will not be on PS3 or 360). The collection arrives later this year, and Ms. Pac-Man will be offered as free DLC until March 31st. NOTE: As of 1/30, both eShop versions have been pulled. Sorry!


That was a lot of video games! Be sure to tune in later on today, when I go over my hands-on time with Dark Souls II, an interview with Dark Souls II Brand Manager Brian Hong, hands-on time with Ace Combat Infinity, and an interview with director Kazutoki Kono!


What Namco Bandai titles are you looking forward to in the coming year? Sound off in the comments, and let us know what you're going to be playing!

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