Friday, May 22, 2020

Obscusion B-List: Forgotten Publishers, and the Interesting Games They Published

Video game publishing may not be an exact science, but some companies just seem to be more naturally inclined towards succeeding. All other game publishers, however, are continually stuck in a "shooting fish in a barrel" situation, trying their hardest to constantly find projects that look promising, funding them for release (or simply licensing [& localizing] them from other parties), & praying they'll make their money back on it. In many cases, a publisher will eventually just die out because it wasn't able to put out enough releases that managed to keep audiences interested enough to purchase. Now, sure, in some rare cases a publisher will somehow come back from the dead & give it another go, but that's more an exception than the rule; if it dies, it dies.

Think of this as a bonus entry!

That being said, while it's easy to argue that many game publishers have died out over the course of the industry because they simply didn't release enough "good" games, it's actually immensely rare to find a publisher that only ever released absolute dreck. Take, for example, a publisher like UFO Interactive, which originally started out back in 2000/2001 with a trio of curious releases on Dreamcast & N64 (the last of which is now a Holy Grail for collectors) before seemingly dying, only to then revive back in 2006 & still operate to this day. Over the years, UFO has released plenty of questionable stuff, like all of Data Design Interactive's infamously bad PS2 & Wii games (alongside Conspiracy Entertainment), but it's also released games that are well worth giving attention to, like Raiden III, IV, & V, Mamorukun Curse, Warriors of the Lost Empire, Milestone's Ultimate Shooting CollectionDungeon Maker II: The Hidden War, Elminage Original (on PSP, at least), & even Way of the Samurai 3 (on Xbox 360 & iOS, at least). But enough about UFO Interactive, though, because that publisher is still around. No, let's take a look at six forgotten publishers that have long left us, and see what cool or interesting games they left behind!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Panzer Dragoon (OVA): I Regret Everything!

For the first time since its inception, there will not be an E3 trade event for the video game industry this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the world. While the Electronic Entertainment Expo has certainly lost its allure over the past few years, May 11, 2020 marks the show's 25th Anniversary, but this date also marks the 25th for some other stuff, especially in relation to this event. On the first day of the very first E3, Sega shocked the world by announcing during its presentation that the Sega Saturn, the new 32-bit console that had already launched in Japan the past November, was now on store shelves in North America that very same day, completely ignoring the originally announced launch date of September 2, 1995, a.k.a. "Saturnday". This was a giant gambit forced entirely upon Sega of America by Sega of Japan in an attempt to strike a preemptive blow to Sony & the PlayStation... And it completely backfired on them. Third party publishers & developers felt slighted, as they were developing with Saturnday in mind, and the surprise launch only happened with four specific retailers, hurting Sega's relations with those not included; KB Toys infamously promised to never stock anything Sega ever again. Meanwhile, the PlayStation wound up selling more units in two days, following its American launch on September 9, 1995, than the Saturn had managed with its entire five-month surprise head start. The battle was already over before it even began for the Saturn in North America, especially since Sony's simple response to the surprise Saturn launch at E3 was to have SCEA President Steve Race simply utter the "Price Heard Around the World" later that same day.

However, there was a brilliantly shining light in the Saturn's ill-advised early launch, as within that six-game launch lineup there was Panzer Dragoon.

The first game developed by Sega's Team Andromeda, Panzer Dragoon was the creation of Yukio Futatsugi, who conceived an on-rails shooter where you played as a man who rode a regal-looking dragon across a post-apocalyptic fantasy world heavily inspired by the works of Jean "Moebius" Girard (who even agreed to draw the cover for the Japanese release!). Compared to shoddy-looking ports of arcade hits Virtua Fighter & Daytona USA, or sports simulators Worldwide Soccer & Pebble Beach Golf Links, Panzer Dragoon felt like a revelation; even Sega AM7's fun platformer Clockwork Knight kind of paled in comparison. Unsurprisingly, Futatsugi's game was a hit, which resulted in two sequels up through 1998, a Game Gear "Mini" spin-off, and even a fourth entry for the original Xbox, once Sega moved over to being just a software company; fittingly, third game Panzer Dragoon Saga (a full-on RPG) was one of the last Saturn games released in North America. However, I'm not writing about the games & how cool they are, though you should at least play Orta on Xbox One; the PC port of the first game is included as a bonus. No, I've decided to remind people of what is easily the lowest point of the entire Panzer Dragoon franchise... The anime adaptation (though one can certainly argue that the R-Zone game may be worse).

I swear, the fact that this year is the 25th Anniversary of Panzer Dragoon is a total coincidence.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Retrospect in Retrograde: Next Senki Ehrgeiz

With this being the 10th year of the blog, I think it's important to look back at December 2010, the first month of the blog's existence, & see what I can do, in retrospect. B't X? I've since re-reviewed that. Fuma no Kojirou? Same with that OVA, as well as it's two continuations. Ring ni Kakero 1? I'd love to re-review that, but I've promised to never watch & review that anime ever again (with an English translation) until it was to be legally available in North America... So it'll never happen. Beyond those, & some early "news" articles, that leaves only my first three reviews ever for the blog, and I want to write stuff relating to them to celebrate a decade, so let's just go in reverse order & start with a Retrospect in Retrograde for the subject of my third review ever: Next Senki Ehrgeiz!

Why "Record of Next War"? Because Record of Lodoss War
did it first, and both Agarest War & Grancrest War codified it.

On "Thursday", October 3, 1996, the anime adaptation of the manga Those Who Hunt Elves debuted on TV Tokyo at a time slot of "25:45", a.k.a. 1:15 A.M. on Friday, October 4. This was an experiment to see if airing anime on a late-night time slot to act as a long-form, 12-week infomercial for the later home video release would work to gain the attention of hardcore Japanese otaku; today, late-night is the primary way anime is aired on TV in Japan, so I think it was a success. After Those Who Hunt Elves finished airing, TV Tokyo expanded this experiment into other weekdays, with the first "Wednesday" late-night anime being Maze: The Megaburst Space, which ran from April to September of 1997. The week after that show finished saw the debut of Next Senki/Record of Next War Ehrgeiz, which ran from October 10 to Christmas Eve that same year. Considering how few anime were airing in these time slots, that actually made Next Senki Ehrgeiz the first ever late-night mech anime; Maze did include a giant robot, but it's not really a "mech anime". The creation of a mysterious entity known only at "et" (possibly as in et al.), which later conceived the infamously lopsided AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave-, this anime came out, did its thing, & quietly exited... Until DreamFactory, Namco, & SquareSoft released a 3D arcade fighting game named Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring, which had absolutely no relation to the anime, a couple months later in arcades in early 1998, followed by a PlayStation port at the end of 1998.

In between the arcade & home console releases of the video game, the Ehrgeiz anime saw its only home video release on VHS & LD, likely creating a bit of confusion between game & anime otaku in Japan at the time. The Ehrgeiz game then saw release on the PS1 outside of Japan in April of 1999, followed later that year by the Ehrgeiz anime's English release on VHS by, later Bandai Entertainment, likely creating a bit of confusion between game & anime fans in North America at the time. Personally, I knew of the game at the time, but never knew of the anime until I started actually following the medium in 2004, as I remember coming across a listing for it on some random site. Considering the name & the cover art, I started getting curious about Next Senki Ehrgeiz, so from December of 2004 to May of 2005 I purchased all six English-subbed VHS tapes, & the sole dubbed tape Bandai later put out, from the Amazon Marketplace so that I can finally check it out for myself; I only know of the exact time span of purchases because Amazon actually still has records of it. So what did I think of it? Well, it's the third review I ever did for the blog, was included in numerous twelve anime lists & other articles, got pitted against said video game of the "same name", & I even investigated a Japanese blog conspiracy theory about it originally being intended as an anime adaptation of Capcom's Cyberbots... So yeah, I guess you can say that I'm a fan of Next Senki Ehrgeiz. However, I haven't actually watched the anime again in full in a solid decade (even that old review was done a few months following said re-watch), so I guess it's time to finally give it the detailed look I didn't give it 10 years ago, and explain what I see in this "Original Animation Series on TV", as the LD covers say... I can see why "OAS[oT]" didn't catch on.

After all... "If you only live once, anyway, then steal some dreams & see your future... It's called 'Dream Jack', & there's a whole world out there!"