Rundown (11/22-11/28) Enigmatic From-Elsewhere Sentence-Like Word Bundles

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Wherein I discuss my penchant for convoluted titles, a sequel I’ve wanted for 12 years, the death of a maker, a glossy remix, and my fondness of Mr. 108.

If you take a glance at the backlog of this site, whether it be my Rundowns, chapter titles, or short story names, you’ll probably notice how I have a particular fondness for more overly complicated and arbitrary titles, with the crowning examples being my 2018 novel Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan and my 2019 novel Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth.

This is very much a learned appreciation of mine and something that originally started as a joke, where I deliberately forged nonsense titles that only vaguely correlated to the actual contents as a reference to the more overly designed titles for a certain subset of Japanese media. Names like Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation represent to me an aesthetic comprised entirely of words, jutting and mashing them together into these enigmatic from-elsewhere sentence-like word bundles that are arbitrarily elongated for the sheer sake of uniqueness. Which I find infinitely more appealing than using a generic title for a story or title, as they are far less memorable.

If my glowing review wasn’t any indication, one of my favorite games of all time is The World Ends With You. Its stylish world and character design, stellar soundtrack, vibrant characters, and enigmatic story, all amounted to a title formative to my eclectic tastes in games. And I considered the Nintendo Switch remaster from 2018, Final Remix, to be the definitive version of the title, as it not only remastered the soundtrack and upscaled the original artwork respectfully, but it reworked the somewhat gimmicky combat system of the original into a more focused and more frantic tap-based action game. It was a title I had long since accepted as a one-off, as I played it just shy of half my life ago, and no sequel has been seen since. …Until this past week!

That’s right! NEO: The World Ends With You was announced for and it’s set to come out in summer 2021 for PS4 and Switch. Immediately the trailer grabbed me by taking the world of TWEWY and its stylized version of the real-life city of Shibuya and taking it from fixed backgrounds in a 2D game and bringing its artistry into the third dimension as thoroughly and faithfully as possible, and it looks goldarn amazing!

The way buildings tilt upwards, closing in on the streets as if gravitated towards the center of the city. The flat cel-shading covering everything in confidentially chosen shades of saturated hues and harsh black shadows evokes an aesthetic I had not seen attempted in earnest since Jet Set Radio Future. The shifting semi-fixed camera angles paint the world in a visual director’s image, touring the player through the cityscape as they engross themselves in the sights and sounds, mingling and meshing with the crowds of faceless fashionable young folk.

The cutscenes take the comic-inspired presentation of the original and splice it with greater vibrancy, making far better use of the larger screen resolutions of modern displays, while retaining the same expressive and sharp artwork of the original. With everything from the background color choices, shaking of the text boxes, and brushstrokes of the panels oozing with flair.

While the gameplay— the thing that worried me the most about any proposed TWEWY sequel, was thankfully done exactly as I would have wanted it, as the game is a team-based action RPG. Where players fight groupings of enemies while making use of the abilities of their party and the collection of equipped skills of the protagonist. All while engaging with some undetailed mechanics to style on enemies more effectively by buffing up their damage and breaking the defenses of foes in some way, shape, or form. It seems to be a novel combat system to some extent, but one that will also be fully playable with a controller, and thank GOD for that.

Narratively, the title appears to be a full sequel despite the lack of a number, as even though the main cast is comprised of a different sheet of vibrant teens, plenty of familiar faces pop up in the trailer alone, and I’m sure that staple characters will play a major role during the second half, as that is usually how these much-belated sequels tend to go. However, I genuinely don’t care enough to speculate beyond even a conclusion as basic as that, because I know I am going to like it.

The mere sight of this game coming back in some form is more than enough to the illicit joy within me, but as I saw this trailer, I experienced something many game enthusiasts born before 1985 will describe with a degree of reverence. The jump from 2D to 3D. Of seeing titles leap into a whole new dimension, and the spectacle of familiar worlds rendered with new technology. Ever since I started playing games, there were 2D and 3D titles, and many of the series I fell in love with had both iterations. As such, I never got to truly experience this dimensional leap first-hand, and when certain titles I did like moved to 3D, it was often as a 2.5D affair or saw titles to resemble other games I was already well familiar with.

But NEO TWEWY is different. It retains everything that was great about the presentation of the original game, from the cluttered streets, the unique angles for every area, the way buildings tilted and jutted about. But by moving beyond static backdrops, the world is able to feel so much more tangible and vibrant, even if it is mostly just set-dressing beyond a few interactive shops. It faithfully and effortfully translates a 2D world into 3D while accentuating its uniqueness. And I am so, so happy to see the game looking so good right out of the gate.

To kick me off of this high with a more sour story, Nintendo did a Nintendo-esque thing again by announcing that on January 12th, 2021 the seminal Wii U title Super Mario Maker will be delisted from the Nintendo eShop, and on March 31st, players will lose the ability to upload and share courses and browse them via the Super Mario Maker Bookmark website. Players will still be able to download existing courses, but the game will be locked in a semi-alive state. Naturally, this is being done because the game lacks an active audience following the release of Super Mario Maker 2 for the Nintendo Switch in 2019. Since then, the original Wii U title was largely outmoded, and I doubt many people are still playing it to this day.

The title has largely been abandoned by the gaming community, and while there are certain unique features in the original that were not carried over, such as the Amiibo costumes, it is hard to justify the continued maintenance of a game that is virtually dead. Still, the notion of effectively crippling, capping off, or ending a popular online game 5 years after its launch will always unsettle me to a degree, especially when it comes to Nintendo, who continues to be a very selective developer when it comes to preserving their history. This has admittedly always been the case, but now they have started a trend of being more and more aggressive with their stances, offering players less for more and giving their games shorter life cycles for no justifiable reason.

Speaking of preservation, SquareEnix has been treating the Mana and SaGa series pretty well these past few years. Both received classic game compilations, namely Collection of Mana and Collection of SaGa Final Fantasy Legend for the Nintendo Switch. Both had their SNES iterations remastered, remade, or otherwise reimagined for modern systems. And both recently had new AA-level releases for home consoles with SaGa: Scarlet Grace and Trials of Mana.

Sure, more could be done with these series to make them stand out, and some of Square Enix’s efforts have led to very mixed results, but at least somebody at the company is really pushing to keep these series alive. And these efforts are continuing, as Square Enix announced a remaster of 1998’s SaGa Frontier. A title that served as one of Square’s many PS1 RPG offerings, but was overshadowed by the likes of the Final Fantasy series due to its dated presentation and fragmentary narrative.

However, these criticisms appear to be addressed in this remaster, as it promises to restore cut content from the original game by implementing new events and cutscenes and introducing a new protagonist by the name of Fuse. All of which is the sort of thing I really like to see from projects like this, as it is executing upon the original vision of its developers without needing to contend with the same limitations.

Unfortunately, I cannot share the same praise for what the developers did to the presentation of the original title. SaGa Frontier was released in that free-for-all period where developers were still trying to come to terms with 3D, and the developers opted to make a game that used both pre-rendered backgrounds and monsters while using traditional sprites for its characters. This naturally puts the developers of the remake in a bind and they appear to have used machine learning to upscale the pre-rendered backdrops, glossing over the enemies to make them look… as good as they could, being pre-rendered sprites. However, they also appear to have redone some of the character sprites, turning them into these uncanny chibi approximations of humans who look wrong when affixed over a pre-rendered background like this.

This is all unfortunate, as the remasters of the Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 retained their original presentational assets and managed to avoid the visual butchering that befell the mobile releases of Final Fantasy V, VI, and the original Dragon Quest trilogy. But I guess whatever psycho approved those projects managed to get their mitts on this one, turning what could have been a good-looking game into something that I don’t want to touch with a 10-foot-pole. But if this… somehow doesn;t bother you, SaGa Frontier Remastered is set to release in Summer 2021 for PS4, Switch, PC, iOS, and Android.

That about covers it for this holiday week of slow news, but before petering off, I have one more thing I’d like to talk about.

The title for this Rundown is actually a play on an offshoot phrase from a recent Pac-Man review from Action Button and Tim Rogers, where the phrase of “mysterious from-elsewhere word-like letter collections” was used to describe the titles of many classic Namco arcade titles. I actually watched the review twice this past week, once while working and once with rapt attention, and it is yet another paramount example of why I have come to regard Tim Rogers as one of the greatest voices in the mismatched and fragmentary world of video games criticism, and that’s for a lot of reasons.

His deep and incredibly human connection to the games he discusses. His rigorously detailed memory allows him to vicariously send his audience back in time. His technical understanding and ability to explain why a system is effective or ineffective. His writing, which strikes an almost uncanny balance between something stilted, bizarre, and completely understandable, showcasing his deep understanding of linguistics and using grade-schooler terminology to convey complex ideas. And of course, his delivery, where he flexes his well-honed and fluid throat muscles to deliver honeyed syllables that gel effortlessly into my noggin meat, making his insights all the more digestible.

I don’t always agree with his views on game design and tend to have a far more looser series of qualifiers for a good game or good system, but I nevertheless love seeing him do these analytical deep dives. Or do prolonged introspections in the past events of his life which, despite having supposedly strived to keep uninteresting, is one of the more fascinating existences I have come across from an individual as down-to-earth and approachable as Tim Rogers. Honestly, the only bad thing I could say about him is that he sometimes liberally recycles footage in his reviews, which I think is distracting and detracting when these videos warrant such deliberate attention.

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