Sega within mobile temptation

Sega won’t uncork the champagne this year. The conglomerate it shares with Sammy loses more than ¥11 billion, whereas they had gained ¥30 billion last year. The slower revenues and the rising general expenses destroyed the EBITDA, and several write-downs made it even worse for the net result.

Pachinkos are a net provider as always despite a lower activity (operating result falls by 43%), but arcade is a disaster and loses 2 millions. Theme parks and leisure centers are slightly down, the reason of which being the rise of VAT done in Japan in Spring 2014, Sega says. The group warns investors that no immediate improvement in profitability is in sight, because it will start building a giant resort in South Korea which completion is due in 2017. Besides, Odaiba’s Joypolis will receive further investments/

On the consumer business side, that is to say video games, anime and toys, Sega blames the physical games market for being increasingly sluggish. Indeed, despite a 15% rise in volume of sales, boxed games cause an operational loss of nearly 3 millions! The digital content on the other hand (smartphones & PC) provide a ¥8 milllion gain. Clearly upset, the publisher states that it will shift resources from the traditional games market to mobile, while giving guarantees on Persona 5. Sega wants to lift the doubts : although the current restructuring in the West is severe, there are no plans to drop consoles. Yakuza 0 sold very well in the rising Chinese market, so the firm is still committed to quality and innovation and teases an “announcement” at Tokyo Game Show to back their intentions.

Sega-Sammy’s balance sheet is unchanged : this year’s loss barely damaged their equity, that remains strong of years of retained earnings. The group is not weakened and has the capacity to fulfill their pledge and our dreams : more ambitious games. The reveal of Seven Dragon III on 3DS doesn’t improve their case, but the port of Blade Arcus from Shining on PS3/PS4 is a step in the right direction. All they need to do now is to race to excellency.

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No encore for Hatsune Miku on 3DS

miku contract

Last thursday, Sega was celebrating the launch of Hatsune Miku Project Mirai Deluxe on 3DS in Japan. At this event, the producer in charge of Hatsune Miku games had come to Akihabara, heart of the world for the digital singer’s fans. In the middle of the celebration event, he has rather unexpected words.

The [Project Mirai] series will be paused, because I will focus on other projects. I want to thank all those who have supported us during all those years”

3DS nears the end of its lifespan. Any “pause” is the politically correct wording for “it’s dead, Jim!”. Stating the end of a series on the launch of the latest installment is nothing common and that speaks volumes about Sega’s actual motivation in doing those 3DS games. Project Mirai Deluxe had recently stirred a controversy because it adds only one song compared to Project Mirai 2 : gamers were asked to reopen their wallet for almost nothing. The most likely explanation to this is that Sega was in contract with Nintendo for a certain number of Hatsune Miku games, hideous scheme to undermine the Project Diva series on PS3/PSVita. Quite simple : during the long year preparing a game barely different from the previous one, Sega isn’t making Project Diva F Extend for PSVita. Nintendo is buying itself some time as usual, lowering the players’ experience in the process. Sega probably got tired of this mockery and sent a strong message to Project Diva fans : he wrote in the recent issue celebrating the 20 years of Dengeki Playstation that “he shall have something for them in the future”

The truth is that Project Mirai has never been in a position to rival Project Diva in terms of sales. While Project Mirai 2 launched whith 88’000 units sold, Project Diva F 2nd doubles that. Given that the latter also received higly profitable DLCs for months, Sega’s verdict is only natural. Today is a victory day for Hatsune Miku fans who thwarted an onimous threat to their passion. Of course, we can’t discard a future NX version, but that’s another story.

Review – Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax

With no known equivalent in the West, Japanese light novels are quite a thing in Japan. Worshiped by otaku circles, those bizarre stories mixing action, love, science-fiction, fan-service and humor sell large volumes at each new issue and become animes in a blink of an eye. Reading is good, watching’s fine too, but playing is even better and Sega knows it. The fans’ aspiration for direct action now comes true with Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax (FC).

While the game design of this 2D fighting game is fairly classic, its playable characters aren’t. You’ll have the great pleasure to play as the most famous heroes/heroines from a dozen of series. Characters well-known in the West as Asuna and Kirito from Sword Art Online come alongside less renowned ones like the basket-ball star schoolgirl Tomoka from Ro-Kyu-Bu, plus some guests like Akira and Pai from Virtua Fighter (who have a tendancy to gatecrash every fighting game since they don’t have their own anymore).

In terms of game modes, you have the usual suspects : Arcade, Story, Training, Survival, Time-attack and Versus await you. Arcade feels a bit repetitive, but the point of an arcade mode has never been to tell a story. In fact, the little narrative behind it, however simplistic, proved intriguing enough and features surprising metaphors. For example, the girl designed by Kei representing Sega’s last console asks you to save the dreams. In other terms, in FC, you must save the Dreamcast! On the other hand, the story mode exclusive to the console version turned out to be no more than a series of mini dialogs. I did expect a lot more substantial content.

Asuna b (2)

The whole game is nevertheless extremely well dubbed and transcribes the atmosphere of the Dengeki series in an astonishingly wonderful way. Should it be Taiga’s extravagant behavior, Miyuki’s Magic or Tomoka’s shoots, FC spares no effort and goes as wild as needed to delight the fans. Kirito is especially cool : everything in its lines, attitude, moves and of course its amazing Double Edge Sword remind us of what’s amazing in Sword Art Online. Selveria being an unlockable playable character also is a huge plus, and she’s an extremely effective character and fun to play on the top of that. Graphically speaking, the 2D sprites on PSVita have a lovely feel in them, but animations look a bit jerky. The 2D models during talk parts are the ones from the novels and not from the anime. It kinda gives a fresh look to the characters and the animation are rather cute/fun despite no lip sync. Music is way above your average fighting game, with a beautiful theme song and quite great and entertaining composition.

Miyuki a

Each character’s movelist being ten lines or so, you could believe that FC lacks depth. Far from that, it’s actually a vastly technical game. You just have to spend some time online to ascertain that : skilled players build impressive combos, proof of a vast amount of time spend in training combining moves with one another. The annoying thing is that it makes it difficult for people not used to 2D fighters to enter the fray online : FC’s gameplay tuning is made for experts. It’s really a shame because the controls are quite fine even on PSVita, on which the stick allows you to perform half/quarter circles with ease.

Kirito d

Adding to traditional combos and moves, FC has 3 original elements : a support character, a kirifuda and a Climax gauge. The support character attack or defends depending on whether you press X ou X+direction. Effects and range being quite different from one another, there’s already some training to do in order to find the one that fits your way of playing and calculate timing in battle. Kirifuda is a special move a bit more powerful than the others or a boost that gives you some advantages. They’re pretty uneven : Selveria fires a whole magazine of her personal rifle, while Shana’s is an all-cancel that refills a bit of her Climax gauge.

Selveria b

The above mentioned gauge is used either to give an additional blow to the square button combo (consumes one bar), or unleash extra powerful techniques known as Climax Arts (two bars). Here’s the problem : the latter are next to impossible to execute successfully in a serious match. The range is short most of the time and normal guard blocks them. The only way to have them hit is to imbricate them in a longer combo. Good luck with that… Consequently, it is often more beneficial to use the extra square hit which is a lot more practical. Further in this logic, this almost unbreakable guard discourages risk-taking and tends to turn online battles in defensive/long range confrontations which is hardly fun. Let’s stress that unlike the 3D fighters I know, here you can’t perform combos unless you actually hit your opponent, so no approaching while being covered. You’ll have to cautiously monitor your distances if you don’t want to become full of openings.

Selveria

Last point, FC is rich of bonus content. There’s whole range of customization items such as colors/plates/icons and even the authors’ & voice actors’ autograph, plus some well-chosen illustrations and a chapter to read!

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax is a very enjoyable fighting game, so well-thought for its targeted audience that it’s impossible to get bored if you like Dengeki series. It is just sad that gameplay arbitrations make online less fun than it should have been.

Review – Project Diva F 2nd

Blackjack c

Project Diva F on Vita has been for me a great discovery. Fun and arenaline rush like I hadn’t known for a while in a video game. The excitment was therefore high when booting this direct sequel. Excitment that stayed at maximum level until the end.

Magical Paint a

In terms of content, Project Diva F 2nd (PDF2) inherits the principle of Project Diva Extend (PSP), that is to say half new songs, the other half being songs taken from previous episodes. In the case of PDF2, those ones come from the PSP games Project Diva 2nd and Project Diva Extend. Before complaining about rehashing, bear this in mind : while Project Diva Extend was merely transferring songs from Project Diva 2nd, PDF2 remakes them from scratch. Two-faced Lovers, Romio & Cinderella or Luka Luka Night Fever to mention a few, have been completely remades and not just remastered : choreographies have been changed in several aspects, especially by adding a finale like it was introduced in Diva F. No only this, but the incredible 3D engine of the «F» series transforms the hits of the previous generation and the astonishing graphics further enhanced from Diva F (PDF2 looks quite sharper) make it a whole new experience.

Genga a

As for the new songs, I found the list pretty uneven compared to Diva F which was a true concentration of musical masterpieces. Many have slow rythm or not enough intensity for my tastes. But whatever, that’s just me and I did find a few exhilarating compositions like Yubikiri, Ni Soku Hôko, Envy Cat Walk, Meteo 2nd Dimension Fever and Akatsuki Arrival, let alone the fantastic design and direction that mix elegance and cuteness in wonderful fashion.

Miku usagi

You’ll of course also get a new range of nice modules (=costumes) with the possibility to import the ones you already have in Diva F. In pure aesthetics, you have now an option to put a skin on your progression bar. While I think it takes too much room on the screen, some may please you. Note that if you want more, Sega has planned a looong DLC season to destroy your savings with seriously exciting stuff : the Japanese version already got Change Me, Kochi Muite Baby, Yellow and Sekiranun Graffiti, among others. Remember that if you have the extra character DLC for Diva F, you can get it free for PDF2 as it’s cross-buy.

2nd Dimension Fever

The most striking thing about gameplay is that the game became A LOT harder. If like me you’d come to master progressively the Hard mode without making wonders in Extreme, drop by the chemist’s to get some anxiolytics because you will suffer like hell. Narisumashi Ganga and 2nd Dimension Fever are inhumane, Envy Cat Walk drove me mad. It’s my concern with PDF2 : the Normal mode is still a bit too easy for returning fans, but Hard mode is discouraging sometimes.

etoiles

Generally speaking, the challenge has been beefed up in several ways. Remember the yellow stars for which you just had to scratch the screen continuously? That’s over, Jim! From now on, you’ll have to follow the pace. Technical zones have become a lot more technical, those bonus points are no longer offered like they used to be (Huh, God Tier Tune?). This episode comes out with new types of stars. There’s the «big» star which is cleared by scratching the screen in two different locations, and the «linked» stars, that are actually normal ones with more bonus points.

DR Luka b

All the side content is still there and has improved. The Diva Room, the now famous dating sim is more lively than in the previous game : the number of events have doubled, they’re triggered more often, yo have new mini-games and characters show a lot more actions/reactions. Camera angles have been nerfed a lot though, especially in close-up, which is definitely unwelcomed. All the friend level parameters have been tweaked to allow a more precise progression. The much sharper graphics add greatly to the enjoyment of this Diva Room 2.0, which more than ever is a game in itself.

ARL

The game comes with a dozen of new AR lives, save that now you no longer need the AR markers to organize your private performances!

AR Miku e

And of course, the fun of the AR camera mode is still intact ^o^

Despite the small hiccups in gameplay and balance, the immense delight is still the same. Project Diva F 2nd is pure and immediate joy until the end. That is, if you can see an end to a game you never really stop playing.

Preview – Phantasy Star Nova

PSN ship

With the demo available on the Japanese PSN late August, I could give a try to Sega’s major exclusive for this end of year in Japan.

Whereas Phantasy Star Online 2 is online only, Phantasy Star Nova (PSNova) is thought as a single player game. The game system is roughly similar to God Eater, that is to say a solo adventure with an actual storyline, in which you can invite you friend in local multiplayer.

PSN monster b

The world where PSNova takes place reminds us about Star Ocean 4 quite a lot. Nothing surprising since the developer behind both games is the same : Tri-Ace. So we’re off exploring inhospitable exoplanets. That said, mechanical rabbits and armored dinosaurs make a rather bizarre bestiary, far less impressive than God Eater or Monster Hunter. Some of them are gigantic, but that’s the only thing about it.

PSN b

Technically speaking, it’s quite magnificent : characters as well as environments have been modeled with great care, which makes it a top game as for graphics. A true pleasure reinforced by the character design, classy as always in PSO. However, it’s a shame that like in God Eater 2, you can’t play as such attractive secondary characters. Also, the sound environment felt pretty poor : bland music and worse of all, terribad English voice-over!

PSN monster a

Like in PSO2, the player creates a character of his own. This demo was fairly limited though : only 4 classes available and non-customizable in any way! It gives an impression of rigidity a bit unsettling… I tried the two female classes in the one and only mission selectable. No real issue in gameplay, the good old PSO2 recipe still works well. Dodging, combos, magic, lock, heal via touchscreen… Tri-Ace delivers. Each class has 3 or 4 different weapons. There seems to be a lot a possibilities, although none of the characters showed very nervous gameplay.

My main worry is that like Tôkiden, the action is kinda slow and it’s not as thrilling as God Eater 2 in that department. True, it might vary depending on classes and weapons, but I’m yet to be convinced on this. On the other hand, PSNova seems more challenging than God Eater 2 : your character will drop dead quite fast if you’re careless, and the number of revives looks limited at higher level.

PSN a

Impossible to say much on the story, but the Star Ocean feel is real and engaging. In short , a demo too much limited in every aspect, but with there is definitely some charm in PSNova.

As expected, Bayonetta 2 is a huge flop on WiiU

I wasn’t a big fan of marketing classes, but I learned one thing : in market economy, you must think of the client first. A company must deliver where, when and the price the client wants. Platinum Games failed at this. Their clients wanted Bayonetta 2 on Playstation or Xbox, they deliver on WiiU. Their clients expected a 60€ pricetag, they made it 360€.

With such a hazardous commercial strategy, the results are pretty clear : in Japan, Bayonetta 2 sold only 33’114 copies at release (or 38’828 if you follow Media Create). It’s more or less equivalent to Bullet Girls or Action Neptune U, two PSVita action games less known for their action part than for their lavish fan-service. There is no greater humiliation for the contender for the action game of the year. But beyond that, it is essential to remember the sales of the 1st Bayonetta in Japan : 138’000 on PS3 in its first week (223’272 in total) and 66’211 on Xbox360 (118’165). Bayonetta 2 sold twice less than Bayonetta 1 on 360, a system despised by the Japanese. That speaks volumes about how the Japanese fans of the series think about the change of course at PG. Consequently, 84% of Bayonetta 1 day one buyers didn’t come for Bayonetta 2.

Maybe I should wait until October to draw conclusions. But Bayonetta happens to have only 47’000 preorders on VGC, and statistically VGC’s preorders are overtracked. A turnabout in the west seems unlikely. Operation Platinum is delusional : no, philanthropic gamers ain’t one million. No, it is foolish to expect WiiU owners to get together to save private Platinum. No, gamers ain’t investing 360€ for Bayonetta 2 when PS4 and XboxOne will have all the other action games for themselves, as well as nearly all the games of all the other genres by the way.

Where do we go from here? A company with a 84% unsatisfaction rate can’t go really far… The good news is that the developer is not unemployed. The bad news is thaat as things stand now, they’re going straight into the wall anyway. I can’t tell about Legend of Korra because I don’t know the IP at all, but it is clear that making an XboxOne exclusive was the worst possible decision after the Bayonetta 2 debacle (unless they run for the Guinness of the longest series of ludicrous business decisions). Working exclusively on a system that isn’t popular at all in Japan and Europe will only delay their eventual collapse. A ambitious developer like Platinum Games definitely cannot ignore PS4 during this generation. But yeah, they’re not totally in control of that…

Here comes Sega. The situation is the following : Sega owns the Bayonetta IP, they have 84% of clients waiting and Platinum Games is always ready for some work. Even though Nintendo publishes Bayonetta 2, nothing stops Sega from making a Bayonetta 2 Climax/Director’s Cut/GOTY edition on PS3, PS4, Xbox360, XboxOne or even Atari 2600 if they want to! This intriguing tweet from a journalist of GameInformer suggests such plans at the Osaka-based company. Better still, this series of tweets from Hideki Kamiya himself. This testimony from the most famous blocker of Twitter is extremely important. His story goes like this : after Bayonetta 1, PG and Sega reached an agreement in making a sequel, and the development began. Sometimes in 2012, while the development was advancing as planned, Sega suddenly withdrew from the project. What happened after is well known. We learn two things : Bayonetta 2 was originally a multi-platform game under Sega’s supervision, which contradicts their numerous statements when they say they «nothing to do with this». More important, their is in PG’s hard disks a work-in-progress version of Bayonetta 2 that belongs to Sega! Sega can logically resume the development of Bayonetta 2 for others consoles anytime. In short, a situation eerily similar to Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge, the development of which on PS360 had been hidden by Tecmo. At a time when whichever super-HD remake is easy money, who would believe that Sega is gonna ignore 84% of one million gamers out in the cold crying in front of WiiU shelves, when the technology is ready, the 3D models here already and the design finalized?

A company that turn its back at its clients doesn’t go anywhere : Platinum Games must return to its fans if they want to go on in this industry. The best way to do it is to port Bayonetta 2, it’s the only way to re-establish confidence. The developer could come back via other projects like a sequel to Metal Gear Rising, but that wouldn’t erase two years of frustration.