Archives for posts with tag: HD re-releases

Less than two weeks ago, we saw our first footage of the HD re-release of Yukio Futatsugi’s cult Xbox classic, Phantom Dust. At the time, I wondered how Microsoft might go about making the game available to players, as Creative Director Adam Isgreen hinted that fans would be very happy about the price. ‘Perhaps we might see it launch on Games with Gold in June,’ I thought.

Well, now we know, thanks to Xbox marketing head Aaron Greenberg, who dropped this little nugget of news on Twitter just minutes ago.

Well that came out of nowhere, huh!? It’s great that Microsoft is getting it out into everyone’s hands, and a good month before E3 too, so that it doesn’t get drowned out by all the news from the Expo. As this will be the first time the game will be released in Europe, I’m excited to finally get to play it, and I really hope it catches on and gives Microsoft a good reason to get the reboot back into production.

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One of the original Xbox’s cult favourites is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 soon, and, courtesy of Polygon, we now have our first look at gameplay.

A quirky mix of Arena battler and Collectible Card Game, Phantom Dust was a Japanese exclusive for Microsoft’s original big black box, made by Sega alumnus Yukio Futatsugi, creator of the excellent Panzer Dragoon series. Sadly, the game never saw release in Europe, and was not made widely available in the States either, causing many to miss out on it. Thankfully, it’s now getting a second chance.

Co-developed by retro specialists Code Mystics, Phantom Dust HD brings the game to Xbox One in full, native 1080p (with support for arbitrary resolutions on the PC side), expands the screen ratio from its original 4:3 to 16:9, and brings back multiplayer functionality over Xbox Live. Adam Isgreen, Creative Director at Microsoft Studios Publishing, is careful not to label the game a remaster, instead choosing to call it a re-release, and he notes that, with the source code for the game lost, there was a limit to what the team at Code Mystics could do to bring the game up to date. Having said that, it sounds like the new HD version is using higher resolution development assets rather than the compressed textures and FMV files found on the original retail disc, and it’s clear to see that Phantom Dust now looks better than it ever has, sporting a much cleaner presentation.

Some changes have also been made to the way players build a card deck, with some free DLC aimed at getting players straight into multiplayer without having to cut their teeth in the campaign first. To facilitate this, players will now have separate saves for both modes; while single-player unlocks will feed into your multiplayer arsenal, multiplayer-earned cards won’t be available in your campaign run. While it may be disappointing to some that Phantom Dust HD isn’t a full-on remaster, with these and some other quality of life changes in place, it’s safe to say that it’s also more than a mere port of the original.

One point of contention will surely be that the game still runs at 30 frames per second, but Isgreen notes that the original was hard-coded to that refresh rate and that the team were unable to change it. “The entire engine was built around the game running at 30 FPS,” Isgreen told fans on Neogaf. “Everything in the code and data is either frames @ 30, assumes 30, or hard-coded to expect 30 FPS.” On the plus side, Phantom Dust HD will be a Play Anywhere title, so players that have access to both Xbox One and Windows 10 will be able to buy it once and have it available on both platforms.

The route Phantom Dust has taken on its way to Xbox One has been rather circuitous. At E3 2014, Microsoft announced a reboot with a flashy CGI trailer – a CGI trailer that it later transpired developer Darkside Games had never seen. The game was put on hold in 2015, resulting in the small developer closing its doors – Kotaku covered the story from the developer’s perspective. Microsoft insisted that they still had intentions to develop the title, but nothing has been heard since.

At E3 last year, in a post-conference stream with Geoff Keighley, General Manager of Microsoft Studios Publishing Shannon Loftis announced a port of the original game, to the surprise of many. It seemed to some that this was a sop to those disappointed by the cancellation of the reboot, but it was later revealed that Loftis had funded the port with some leftover budget from another project, and had kept Head of Xbox Phil Spencer out of the loop until she had something to show him. Spencer is a big proponent of the game himself, so it seems Phantom Dust‘s XBO outing is something of a passion project for many on the Xbox team.

Quite when Phantom Dust will release is yet to be confirmed, but Spencer has previously stated the idea was to have it out before E3. Isgreen also told Polygon that fans will be happy about the price; many will already be expecting a low price point, given its mid-2000’s looks, but the Microsoft exec also suggested that the idea is to get as many people playing the game as possible, suggesting a low barrier to entry. Perhaps we’ll actually see it launch on Games with Gold in the near future?

Many will also be wondering what this means for the future of the franchise, if it indeed has one. Could this be testing the waters for another crack at a reboot, should players respond positively to it? Time will tell. But with E3 on the horizon, and an interview with Phil Spencer, where he spoke of investing in first party, still fresh in their minds, fans will surely be hoping for some good news this June. For my part, I hope that Phantom Dust and the recent Voodoo Vince re-release are the start of a renewed focus on some of Microsoft’s older IPs.

Dancin' to tha Beat
I don’t remember the first time I saw Jet Set Radio, but I certainly remember my reaction: “Holy crap, that looks cool.”

It was probably a feature in the dearly-departed Dreamcast Magazine, some time after the game’s TGS ’99 reveal, and from the moment I saw it, I knew I had to play Jet Set Radio. From the incredible cel-shaded art-style that exuded that street-punk attitude that serves as its thematic foundation, to the central conceit of the game – namely, tagging graffiti to mark your gang’s territory – to the saturated colours of the Tokyo streets against that trademark Sega blue sky. Everything about this game arrested my attention. I couldn’t wait to play it.

And then, months later, thanks to a demo disc attached to the cover of the aforementioned publication, I got my chance. And I hated it. I couldn’t get my head around the controls for a start, which meant I had trouble getting around the environment, which meant I couldn’t escape the rampaging police, which meant I couldn’t find the time to paint. And on the off-chance that I actually managed to get to a tag site, I couldn’t seem to get to grips with the graffiti mechanics, either. But I had been so looking forward to the game that I decided I had to try it again. And again. And again and again. And all of a sudden, it just clicked. Everything came into sharp focus; I knew what the game expected of me, and I understood how to make it happen. Get some speed behind you, grind that rail, make that jump, ride that wall. The floor is lava.

Smilebit’s 2000 Dreamcast title has since become a cult classic, leading to Sega and BlitWorks releasing an excellent HD version on literally everything back in 2012. Jet Set Radio presents a colourful, stylised representation of Tokyo, including iconic areas like the Shibuya bus terminal, and stars a cast of punky inline skaters out to grab territory for their respective street gangs. How do you go about this? By tagging the crap out of everything you see, of course! You’ll mark your territory on buses, cop cars, advertising hoardings and storefronts as you claim turf from rival gangs the Love Shockers, Noise Tanks and Poison Jam. Naturally, the police, led by the hard-boiled Captain Onishima and backed by the shadowy Rokkaku Group, don’t take kindly to your urban artwork. These crazy keisatsu will do anything, including calling in helicopter gunships, to put an end to your adolescent fun.

Gum taggin'

Right from the off, Jet Set Radio demands that you get good. Just as the controls take a little time to puzzle out, so do the level layouts; very early on, you’ll learn to prioritise the larger, more time-consuming tags before the police escalate their presence, bringing in tear gas troopers, assassins armed with electric whips and black-suited knife-wielding goons, all of whom make it a very bad idea to stand still and tag. You’ll soon realise it’s best to leave the simple, one-hit tags ’til the very end of the level so that you can grind, trick and race past your aggressors, tagging as you go. This means that you’ll ideally spend the first minute or so just skating around, getting the lay of the land and collecting spray paint cans, before launching your carefully-planned graffiti assault on the streets of Tokyo-to.

Let’s look at the funk

The first thing you’ll notice – and indeed, the thing the game is probably still best known for – are those striking, pioneering cel-shaded graphics that make Jet Set Radio look like a Gainax anime come to life. We see the technique a fair bit these days, and 2002’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker arguably brought it to more mainstream attention, but back in 2000 it was absolutely state of the art; really, it had only been seen in the character models of Fear Effect, which came out only months before Jet Set Radio. Chief graphics designer Ryuta Ueda wanted to create a snapshot of what he saw as Tokyo’s youth culture at the time, something that reflected the eclectic, high-energy, vibrantly colourful scene he saw around him.

It’s not just about those beautiful, flat, shaded polygons though. The game is brought to life by all the little incidental details; the fact that Garam’s necklace looks like it just might be Sonic’s skull, Tab poking his tongue out at you every now and then for no good reason, DJ Professor K’s funky hair that pulses in time to the beat, and the fact that nobody ever stands still. Every character is in constant motion – even leaving your skater idle causes them to dance to their own rhythm, like a way cooler version of Spaced‘s Tires. Touches like this create a tangible, kinetic connection between gameplay and presentation, tying them together with the audio in such a way that every element comes together to create a solid, cohesive whole where every little touch just feels right.

These guys mean business

The visual presentation is beautifully mirrored by an eclectic, borderline-manic soundtrack from Hideki Naganuma that remains one of the best in gaming. Representing every facet of Ueda’s vision of late-nineties Tokyo street culture, Naganuma’s work takes in hip hop, funk and even acid jazz, interspersing it with odd looped samples (“Will you stop playing with that radio of yours? I’m trying to get to sleep!”). Meanwhile the varied licensed tracklist mixes in the kooky rock of Guitar Vader, the alternative hip hop of Jurassic 5, and even finds space for a track from fellow Sega veteran Richard Jacques (yes, the man behind the indisputably awesome Sonic R soundtrack contributed to Jet Set Radio).

Understand, understand

While Jet Set Radio didn’t exactly set sales alight, a sequel of sorts was released for the Xbox in 2002. Jet Set Radio Future, as the name suggests, transposed the GGs and their rivals to a near-future vision of Tokyo-to. Characters were redesigned, the plot was shuffled about a bit, and the colour palette was more muted, but the biggest differences were in how the game played. Conventional wisdom holds that you either like one game or the other, and you can’t possibly like both. While this isn’t really true at all, Jet Set Radio Future did do a fair bit to put off fans of the previous game.

Future exists almost as a reimagining of the concept, simplifying some things while expanding others. The most immediate changes are the removal of the time limit in each level and a ‘streamlining’ of the way you execute graffiti; whereas you’d copy analogue stick movements in Jet Set Radio, corresponding to broad strokes of paint, in Future you simply pull the trigger as you race past and it all just happens for you. I absolutely hated these changes at the time. Coming from a challenging game where it’s vital to set your priorities and then create the space needed to get things done in the allotted time, Future just felt like it lacked pace, challenge and focus.

The differences weren’t all for the bad, however, and the removal of these mechanics makes a lot of sense when you look at what Jet Set Radio Future is, rather than what it isn’t. The size, scale and complexity of the environments have been massively enlarged, with multiple large, vertical spaces leading to and from one another; a time limit would have been a real drag in levels this huge, and its absence lends Future a much more exploratory feel than the original. The level design is also pushed to its limits to accommodate this expanded sense of freedom: larger spaces mean far more routes over, under, through and around the game’s crazed urban landscapes. Where Jet Set Radio was a tight, focussed time-attack game as its heart, Future is more like a playground for you to jump, grind, trick and tag through.

Jet Set Radio may have been absent for over a decade now, but its influence can still occasionally be felt. Insomniac’s Ted Price has spoken about how the Sega classic informed Sunset Overdrive‘s traversal system, and that game also has a knack of making you feel like a sucker if you so much as deign to touch the ground. Meanwhile, the recent Splatoon will give gamers of a certain age serious JSR vibes, as, like Sunset Overdrive, the game’s visual presentation clearly owes a debt to Jet Set‘s colourful, anarchic sense of fun. How fitting that a project led by a new generation of talent at Nintendo’s famed EAD division should echo a game that looked to celebrate Tokyo’s youth culture in the final days of the 1990s.

And what of the team that brought JSR into the world? Well, sadly, we all know about Sega’s troubles since going third-party in the aftermath of the Dreamcast’s premature death, an upheaval that led to internal teams being reshuffled, reorganized and renamed, as well as something of a talent exodus. Both Ryuta Ueda and director Masayoshi Kikuchi went on to work on the Ryu Ga Gotoku series (where they even managed to include a short cameo for JSR bad guy Rokkaku Gouji, later joking that this meant the games existed in the same universe). Ueda has since left the company, along with Hideki Naganuma, who recently suggested that Sega has no interest in reviving the series.

Still, with new Sega Games CEO Haruki Satomi recently indicating that Sega want to win back their fanbase, perhaps we will see something done with all those classic IP that are just sitting in a vault somewhere in Tokyo, gathering dust. At the very least, perhaps we can hope for Sega to give us some more of the HD remasters they were offering just a few short years ago, and make Future available for a new audience. Perhaps things are looking up, after all.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD limited edition
Nine years after it was unveiled at E3 2006 and four years after it saw a Japanese release, Final Fantasy Type-0 is finally available outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. Fans have been clamouring for the PSP spin-off, originally called Final Fantasy Agito XIII and conceived as part of Square-Enix’s Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos, ever since it became available for Sony’s PSP in Japan, and for a while it seemed as if it might never come. The PSP was pretty much dead in the west by 2011, and with the Vita stumbling out of the gate, it seemed almost a certainty that the handheld title would never escape its homeland.

Thankfully, Square-Enix thought up another plan: release the game on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as an HD re-release. This may seem a cynical choice, using a much-anticipated handheld title as a means to ensure a decent-sized audience for the real big hitter, Final Fantasy XV – even more so when you consider the free demo of XV that comes with first print copies of Type-0 HD. For my part, I’m just happy we’re getting a game I’ve been thinking about playing for nigh on a decade.

And so, I pre-ordered the limited edition. Because of course I did. The limited edition comes housed in a hard box adorned with gorgeous artwork from series’ veteran Yoshitaka Amano, with a slipcover displaying the game’s logo. So what’s in that box? Well, if you’ve paid any attention to the image at the top of this piece, you’ll have a good idea. There’s a hardbound artbook with tons of colourful art and renders – some of which look a little spoilery, so beware if you’re grabbing a copy this weekend. We also have a 200-page manga, with the first few pages in full colour – again, this looks like it might be a bit spoilery, so it’s going to be set aside until I’ve finished my first run through the game.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD manga

We also have a handful of Ace’s weaponised tarot cards, with art depicting some of the game’s eidolons. These are bigger than your average cards, with a glossy finish to them, and you can see them all in the gallery at the bottom. Last but not least, there’s a beautiful golden steelbook covered in that same Amano artwork that adorns the presentation box. I think it’s probably the nicest steelbook I own, next to the one from the limited edition of The Last Story, and houses both the game and soundtrack selection discs (as well as, of course, a download code for Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae). The latter is reasonably generous for a selection disc, holding fourteen tracks from Takeharu Ishimoto’s remastered soundtrack for Type-0 HD, including the suitably epic new theme, ‘Utakata’. I own the original, three-disc soundtrack, so it’ll be interesting to see how the remastered version stacks up.

I’m pretty chuffed with this limited edition, even if I feel like I have to steer clear of some aspects of it for the time being – I’ve managed to stay relatively spoiler-free with regards to the story of Class Zero, so now would be a bad time to ruin it for myself. So now, all that remains is to get stuck in and play the game. Especially as my Episode Duscae code doesn’t yet work. And if you’re interested in that, come back in a few days, as I’ll have some thoughts (and video!) discussing it.

For more images of the Final Fantasy Type-0 HD limited edition, check out the gallery below.

Tomorrow sees the launch of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, an HD re-release of GC/PS2 RPG Tales of Symphonia, regarded by some as the height of the series, and it’s less well-received sequel, Dawn of the New World. The collection is PS3-exclusive, with both games coming on a single disc, and there’s also a limited edition – something we’ve come to expect thanks to recent Tales of releases.

Of course, I just had to buy the limited edition, because I’m a sucker for soundtrack CDs, plastic figurines and shiny boxes. Are you interested in what’s in that shiny box I mentioned? Of course you are! And luckily for you, I took some pictures. I’ll highlight a few in the body of this post, but be sure to check out the gallery at the bottom for all the images.

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First off, the shiny box. It’s a card case with a plastic slipcover over the top, and it’s covered in beautiful art from anime studio ufotable. There are some close-ups of the gorgeous, colourful art that graces each panel of the box in the gallery, and in those images you can see that it isn’t ruined by any logos – those sit on the plastic slipcover, allowing you to admire that artwork in full.

It’s not a big box, as far as limited editions go; big enough to hold a blu ray case, but deeper – think of a blu ray TV box set and you’re not far off the mark. It’s certainly much more compact than the gigantic Tales of Xillia or Bravely Default limited editions.

So that’s the box, but what’s inside? Hidden within, we find the game case, with one game disc and two soundtrack CDs (one each for Symphonia and Dawn of the New World), a new paperback novel written by Takumi Miyajima called Successors of Hope, which bridges the gap between the two games, and five (well, four really) mini figures of Lloyd, Colette, Emil and Marta (plus a tiny Tenebrae).

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It’s a nice set, as long as you haven’t seen the US version. American fans get a couple of nice extras that we don’t, such as a steelbook case and artbook, and all the other elements of the US edition are better executed. The box is nicer, the novel is hardback, the soundtrack is spread over four discs (whereas the two EU discs are MP3 audio discs rammed with tracks – these refused to play when I tried them in my Xbox One, so I suspect that they’ll need to be ripped to my PC) and also come in their own 4-disc jewel case, rather than being stuffed into the game case. The game case insert is also reversible, something that isn’t possible in the EU edition because the inside cover lists the OST tracklisting. American fans also get a full colour manual, while ours is not only black and white, but only affords a small handful of pages per language.

It all feels a bit budget compared to the US release, which isn’t really something you should be thinking about a collectors edition you’ve just spent ÂŁ70 on. It’s a nice set in isolation, and I’m happy with it, but it’s disappointing that not only is it missing a couple of items from the US release, but that everything that did make it in is also not quite as good as its American counterpart.

Anyway, back to those contents. As I mentioned above, the OST discs are MP3 audio discs, with around 50 tracks on each, and they’re housed in the same case as the game disc. They’re are also nicely decorated with full-colour game art, and look great if attractive discs are your thing.

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Then there’s the mini-figures. A fair amount of limited editions come with a figurine of some sort (and then there’s the frankly ludicrous Titanfall one), but it’s not very often you get a whole party to play with. The mini figures really are ‘mini’ (at a couple of inches tall, most of their size is down to their gigantic heads), but it’s nice to have a variety of characters in the box, and they’re all nicely detailed. Tenebrae really is tiny though, and is more of an addition to the Marta figure (even standing on her base). Below, you can see them mingling with my other Tales of figures.

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Overall it’s a nice set, and it’s always encouraging to see the Tales of series doing well enough in Europe that collectors editions are even viable. Here’s hoping we get one for Tales of Xillia 2, which should be releasing some time later this year, and looking a bit further into the future, next year’s Tales of Zestiria.

Be sure to check out all the images of the Tales of Symphonia Chronicles Collectors Edition in the gallery below.

ffxhdban_editedIt’s been a long time coming, but we finally have confirmation on a Vita release for Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD. The game will see release day and date with the PS3 version on March 21st 2014.

The news was announced by Square-Enix community manager Lee Williams over on the PS Blog. I had begun to worry; the release date announcement only mentioned the home console version, and all the trailers we’ve had recently made no mention of the handheld. I was starting to think it had been quietly canned. Thankfully this is not the case, and unlike the Japanese release, which offers Final Fantasy X and its sequel as separate boxed purchases, the Western release will consist of a physical copy of Final Fantasy X with an included code to download X-2 from PSN at no extra charge.

I have mixed feelings about this; I’m glad to save a bit of money (especially as I have the PS3 limited edition on pre-order), but I would have liked to have separate physical boxes of each for my collection. Still, this brings the Vita release in line with the PS3 version, which contains both games on one disc.

Also of note on the Blog post was a comment by Williams in reply to a poster’s question about the recently-announced North American special edition for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Will it be coming to Europe? Unfortunately not: “And I know it’s not what you want to hear,” he said, in reply to commenter Azuardo, “but unfortunately there won’t be a Collector’s Edition for Lightning Returns: FFXIII coming to Europe either.”

That’s a shame. I have signed limited editions for both of the previous two games in the trilogy, so it would have been nice to complete the set. Still, with limited editions of both Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD and Tales of Symphonia Chronicles coming my way within weeks of one another, I’ll have enough collectible jRPG goodness to keep me busy early next year.

Last week, I wrote about the announcement of a special collectors edition for upcoming PS3 exclusive Tales of Symphonia: Chronicles. The announcement, made at New York Comic Con, was specifically for the U.S. release of the box set, and I hoped at the time that we would shortly hear that Europe would also see the collection; considering the U.S. release was announced at NYCC, I wondered if we’d get confirmation at this weekend’s MCM Comic Con in London – Tales of series producer Hideo Baba will be in attendance, after all.

Today, the official Tales of Twitter account has proven me wrong, confirming that we will indeed be seeing the collectors edition in Europe, as well as announcing that the game will be out in just a few short months: Tales of Symphonia: Chronicles will hit shop shelves on February the 28th 2014!

symphchronCEEUThe collectors edition, shown above, will include all the same goodies as the U.S. version (which was almost identical to the Japanese LaLaBit Market edition before it). In a large box decorated with gorgeous ufotable art, we’ll get five mini figures (Lloyd, Collette, Emil, Marta and Tenebrae), a novel describing the events between the two games (previously unreleased in English) and a multi-disc soundtrack. It seems “multi” means two in this instance.

So far, the collectors edition doesn’t seem to be available to pre-order anywhere, though I suspect that, like the Tales of Xillia collectors edition before it, it will be exclusively available through Namco-Bandai’s online store. It will also be limited to ten thousand copies Europe-wide (a third less than the U.S.’s 15,000 copies), so as soon as it becomes available, I’ll be throwing down a pre-order. Well, so long as it doesn’t cost as much as that Titanfall special edition