Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Accuse Everyone

When Valkyrie Profile: The Accused One was first announced for the DS, I took issue with the official illustration that showed Lenneth, heroine and best-adjusted of the franchise’s three valkyries, with her dress blowing up in the air. I was joking. Mostly.


Little did I realize that an uproar was exactly what tri-Ace wanted, as proven by a Sofmap store in Akihabara becoming the scene of self-created advertising controversy last week. Clerks pointed out that the game’s official art seems to show Lenneth without due undergarments, as Tiny Cartridge reported from Akiblog, a site that sometimes conjures up an amusing story amid headlines like “Highlights of Kannagi Vol. 6: Armpit! Small Boobs! Thighs!” Apparently this is in line with "Not Wearing," the Japanese anime-nerd scene's collective terminology for fictional women who appear to be going commando but maintain a lingering sense of mystery about their lower regions. Yes, they're that specific about the practice. There can be no hope for these people.
Congratulations, tri-Ace. You’ve taken a game heroine who was once a bastion of dignity and reduced her to the same level as any other hand-drawn schoolgirl hiking up a skirt as she turns flat, viscous eyes on a socially backward expanse of Akihabara regulars. Fortunately, there will be far less of this when Valkyrie Profile: The Accused One comes out in North America next March, even if they’re calling the English version “Covenant of the Plume."
And in case you're wondering: Yes. She does. Don't ask how I know.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dignity: Death and Rebirth

Square Enix's The Last Remnant arrives this week, and the anticipation for it is guarded at best. It's an ambitious game in design and marketing, as it fashions elaborate open-field battles thronged by humans (wait, they're called mithra), newtlike mages (qsiti), four-armed cat-people (sovani), and other creatures whose species I can't pronounce, all while trying to sell itself to unconvinced Americans just as much as the RPG buyers of Japan. Previews have been kind, at least, and it received two 10s from Famitsu, the Japanese magazine so esteemed that no one would have paid attention if it had given The Last Remnant only one 10. Two 10s, however, are the Famitsu equivalent of a B+ from a genuinely critical publication.

There are cracks in this acclaimed façade, of course. The game's use of the Unreal Engine 3 has sown lag and other visible shortcomings, and the gameplay is the creation of Akitoshi Kawazu and other designers from the SaGa series, which is highly experienced at pissing potential down its collective leg. The story carries a stale aroma, too, though it's not so much the tale of a determined hero out to uncover secrets as it is dialogue like “There's something about that guy.” In this case “that guy” is the Conqueror, a grumpy old man who wears robes dyed red with the blood of his slain enemies. It's the stuff of anime parodies, not the company that once brought us Final Fantasy XII's uncommonly elegant localization.

Yet there's one reason to look forward to The Last Remnant, and her deceptively silly name is Emma Honeywell.




Emma's the leader of an influential clan in The Last Remnant's world, and she serves as a maternal companion to another supporting character, the British-sounding David Nassau. More importantly, Emma looks exactly like you'd expect a 41-year-old warrior to look in a stylized medieval realm. No chainmail bra, no bared midriff, no unrealistic nonsense (that's all for the antagonists). And, as early clips reveal, she's not some sweetly deferential matriarch. Yes, the efficiently dressed older woman of battle is a cliché in fantasy circles, but it's a cliché that video games should jump on a little more often.

It may be that Emma's the sacrificial mom of the piece; her quote mentions protecting her liege city with her life, so perhaps she's here just to throw herself on the blood-red villain's sword and motivate the rest of the heroes. I only hope she'll raise the bar on her way down.