Typically, the term “fan-service” refers to the presence of light-hearted lascivious, most commonly exhibited though impish leering at the female form. Most certainly, XSEED’s localization of both Onechanbara Z2: Chaos and Senran Kagura Estival Versus represent textbook examples of the practice. The former extends the franchise’s customary setup, where bikini-clan, katana wielding slayers hack away at undead hordes. With Z2, the series shifts to the PlayStation 4, utilizing the new hardware to render bloodletting in 1080p at sixty frames per second.
Although available in North America as a digital download, fans will likely want to seek out the game’s “Banana Split” retail release. Inside the box, players will find a soundtrack CD, a softcover book featuring art from the game and its predecessor, as well as a code for the “Strawberries & Bananas” DLC costume. Beyond the incessant and wonderfully humorous cat-fighting between the four girls, players can look forward to the game’s new combat engine. Switching between girls is accomplished a button press- and with each member offering a distinct arsenal of moves, battling zombies is a visceral delight only undermined by the occasional invisible wall and sporadic instance of environmental repetition.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus also delivers an abundant amount of amorousness, putting its predecessor, the PS Vita-based Shinovi Versus to shame. This time out the girls have been mysterious transported to a tropical island, offering a thread-thin explanation for the minimalist swimsuits on display. In lieu of the customary storyline that depicts a rivalry between schools across multiple threads, the game’s campaign is more linear extending stages with both selectable and fixed characters.
For this entry, the puckish humor has been intensified, with plenty of playful banter and missions revolving around outrageous activities like a panty eating contest. Likewise, the game’s salacious character models have been enhanced, with each character flaunting high-poly curves, stunning clothing textures, and a gelatinous amount of jiggle. But in execution, there’s more than just erogenous eye candy, Estival Versus is sinuous in every motion, with even captivating run animations destined to delight retinas. Fortunately, it plays nearly as well as it looks, offering Dynasty Warrior-esque combat as players strip clothes and conceit right off of enemies. While Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson for the 3DS displays a bit less skin, the game’s combat remains enjoyable, as the girls do battle on the portable’s top screen.
If “fan-service” can be interpreted more liberally, it might be an apt descriptor for the remainder of XSEED’s showing. Certainly, the PS Vita port of Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space has a bit of puckishness, with players able to sneak a peak of the Air Raiders undergarments. But other than that conceit, the title’s main draw is insect annihilating action, with an improved framerate and far-flung draw distance contributing to a heightened level of immersion. While bug-blasting looked fantastic on the Vita’s tiny screen, and after three missions, it was evident that Planet Space could occupy EDF aficionados for weeks. For better or worse, there’s even a timer on the main menu to disclose the number of hours you’re invested in the game.
Continuing the transfer to now-gen, Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair does the unthinkable, bringing the crude visuals of EDF up to contemporary standards. Running in high-definition with seamless fluidity on the PlayStation 4, it took a few minutes to adjust to New Despair. From the astronomical number of on-screen insects, bursting ant abdomens spewing viscera, and web being flung by giant spiders, making sense of the graphical cacophony wasn’t immediate. But once we settled down, and approached the creatures gradually, the title provided addictive- with mastery of a myriad of weapons as the game’s main hook. Obviously, there’s a lot to be learned, when a rep asked for the controller, he defeated an allied fighter, forcing her subordinates under our control as the entire team performed a motion-capture dance routine in perfect unison. EDF has always flaunted its quirky characteristics, and with The Shadow of New Despair it looks like their plenty to boast about.
One of the biggest surprises was Corpse Party: Blood Drive, a PS Vita title that shirted the faux-RPG Maker aesthetic of the last two PSP releases for an Unreal-engine based three-dimensional experience. Returning to Heavenly Host Elementary, Ayumi Shinozaki is tasking with finding her deceased friends across eleven main chapters and eight additional ones. We used the analog stick to move Ayumi, using a flashlight (which emitted dynamic lighting) to evade trip-wired, broken glass, holes and the floor, and pulpy pools that would attack with the occasional tentacle. While the protagonist wasn’t able to defeat any supernatural foes without the help of a found talisman, she was able to hide is various places- so long as her pursuers didn’t see her take cover. Even amid the busy E3 showfloor and without headphones to enjoy the binaural audio, Team GrisGris’s title was remarkable unnerving. Expect both a digital and retail LE when the releases this fall.
For role-playing fans, a pair of titles looks quite promising. Although The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was demoed on the PlayStation 3, the game is also due on the PS Vita, with both iterations due before the end of the year. While it’s difficult to get a feel for the game’s storyline during a short demo, we can vouch for the game’s combat system, which adept blended a number of intriguing components. Players manage a party of up to four students capable of issuing not just a variety of physical and magical attacks, but also S-Break skills that are powered by each characters mana supply. Positioning members to maximize the effect of their strikes has absorbing, as was the ability to Tactical Link, where a stat-boosting bond could be made between teammates. On top of that, party member could be swapped freely, endowing Trails of Cold Steel with an amble supple to strategic options. Moving past the tactical elements, the game was a graphical charmer, with character art that divulged each party member’s personality as well as pleasing pastoral environments.
Captivating combat was also found in Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale, which fuses the role-playing elements of the SCEI-developer franchise and mixed them with the farming elements found in the Bokujo Monogatari/Harvest Moon games. As series like Dark Cloud and Rune Factory have demonstrated, RPG hybrids can be captivating, as from a brief taste of Return to PopoloCrois’ battle system and conversational elements, XSEED could have a hit on their hands. Another likely success was found in Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, Examu’s (the Arcana Heart series, Aquapazza: Aquaplus Dream Match) anime crossover fighter. With solid mechanics and a roster culled from personalities like Fate/stay night’s Saber, Senran Kagura’s Homura, and Super Sonico, the title is primed to deliver an abundance of fan service. Most exciting is the home version’s augmented roster, which delivers eleven playables, and eighteen support characters, which reps said will be included with the game.
Just five years ago, XSEED’s E3 showing was a bit sketchy. Instead of a booth, a single rep showed Solatorobo: Red the Hunter at a clandestine meeting in the convention center food court. But now, after several years of diligent work and an effort to localize a number of fan-playacting titles, the publisher’s fortunes have pivoted, turning the Torrance-based company into a cultural powerhouse. This year’s exhibition was the company’s most prolific and promising, poised to win the affection of stateside otaku.