Japan struggles to reclaim the video game crown
By Chris O'Neal 08/15/2013
Tales of Xillia is available for the Playstation 3 and the PS Vita, $59.99
Dragon’s Crown is available for the Playstation 3 and PS Vita, $49.99
Japan. Once the king of top-tier video games, now mostly considered a machine churning out generic RPGs for profit. Face it – Japan has seen better days. Even the Final Fantasy series has suffered, now being openly mocked as much as it is praised by ever-loyal fans. Questions then arise: can Japan make a comeback? Will the Japanese developers realize their folly and correct the erroneous course they’ve been put upon? If Tales of Xillia is any indication, perhaps they’ve heard the complaints.
Tales of Xillia is the 13th installment in the series that often features characters in troubling situations. It’s the under-the-radar Final Fantasy for fans of RPGs that are proud to say it isn’t mainstream. In this version, a dangerous weapon known as the Lance of Kresnik has been discovered, sending the world into a Cold War-esque situation. Players choose from two characters initially, a doctor known as Jude or a supernatural woman named Milla. Choosing one or the other will give you a different perspective on the story and on interactions with characters, and having both boosts the replay value.
Like many Japanese games, the style of the animation is traditionally anime: big eyes, small mouth, large assets. Characters are beautifully detailed and cities stretch out to the horizon in lurid particulars.
What sets this particular release apart from other more recent RPGs (Tales of Xillia was released in 2011 in Japan but is only now reaching American soil) is the attention to detail in the story telling. While the fighting mechanics may seem generic at times, the narrative captures the player and forces a solution to the war being waged.
Speaking of assets, prepare to pop your eyes back in their sockets when you take a look at Dragon’s Crown, a throw-back 2D side-scrolling action romp featuring the scantiest of the scantily clad female warriors. Oh, Japan, why can’t I quit you?
Japanese developer Vanillaware has activated the perfect formula to catch a guy’s attention: boobs, swords and monsters. Also thighs. Dragon’s Crown is as gratuitous as it is fun, but once you get into the thick of it you’ll be moist with anticipation for what’s next.
There are six very different, unique characters to choose from, ranging from an small Elf, to a spectacularly muscled Dwarf, a massive armor-clad Knight and a holy-cow-how-are-those-things-staying-in-that-thing Sorceress.
Each character offers a truly unique experience – no two characters are alike, and each come with its own built-in difficulty setting.
Take for instance the Sorceress, for whom most young boys will select by default. Her spells at first are weak – think fireballs and ice daggers, etc. As you progress, gold will be collected and can be used to buy hidden powers. This is where it gets complicated and, therefore, better. The leveling system is completely customizable, to the point that your character will be who you want him or her to be. Your Sorceress can become a nuclear bomb of magic later in the game.
On top of it all are hidden rooms to discover and booty to be had. Lots of booty. On the Playstation 3, Dragon’s Crown can be played by up to four players simultaneously via the internet or locally in the comfort of your own room, though I imagine a lot of you will probably wish to play this alone with the lights off.
Most of what makes Dragon’s Crown fun is that it’s indeed a retro experience. Memories of the classic Sega side-scrollers come flooding back the moment you set foot into the first dungeon and the mushroom baddy attempts to take a bite of your glorious muscles.
Japan, land of the lovably weird pop culture and alcohol-dispensing vending machines. Can Japan recapture the video game crown? Only time will tell, gratuitous cleavage aside.
Chris O’Neal refuses to play Dragon’s Crown in the dark. Follow him @agentoneal.