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Namco Bandai press day; early previews of Tekken Tag 2, Ni No Kuni and Tales of Grace F

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It's oh so Ghibli for Namco Bandai; and early signs are excellent...

Namco Bandai press day; reviews of Tekkend Tag Tournament 2, Ni No Kuni and Tales of Grace Frevi

Namco Bandai are set to end the year with a bang, releasing a whole slew of new games to the eager masses. Heading the charge is Tekken Tag Tournament, a return to the series two on two fighting mechanics from 2001. For those with a little more strategic taste in their battles, then Tales of Graces will bed a welcome return of the Tales of series to the PS3. Finally on the horizon is a new RPG from Level 5, creators of the Professor Layton series, called Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch. Design is handled by Studio Ghibli, the animation studio behind Oscar winning animation Spirited Away.

First impressions: Tekken Tag Tournament 2

First impressions: Tekken Tag Tournament 2...

As far as brutal computerized fisticuffs goes, no series has more claim to being combo king than the mighty Tekken. A computer series that prides itself on its technical finesse over screen filling epileptic lasers (I'm looking at you, Street Fighter), is ready to hit again with a double whammy.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is Namco Bandai's way of jumping on the tag fighting games bandwagon, a mechanic all the rage in fighters like Street Fighter X Tekken and Marvel Vs Capcom 3. What's great about Tekken Tag however is the real tactical choices made whilst fighting. You lose a round if either one of your characters is knocked out, so switching out at the right time is essential to progress. Choose two fighters that don't have synergy and you'll have a hard time stringing together a cohesive tag in and out. Switching out to allow one character to have a breather, whilst the other keeps up the punishment, is crucial, so those with good visual awareness will reign King here.

The fighting is as fluid as ever too. Any button masher can jump in and have a riot punching bears in the face (no animal cruelty intended), or take on thousand year old fighting gods, but the true beauty comes in stringing together those ten hit combos. One could say its almost poetic watching Law - a Bruce Li look alike - dancing around the stage in a flurry of kicks and somersaults.

The Roster of the latest Tag Tournament is as full as ever, featuring pretty much every Tekken character in the history of the King of the Iron Fist tournament. Although, in the past many of the characters on display here were criticised as being cheap clones and rehashes of other characters ( cough *Armor King* cough), but this time round all the fighters feel fresh and unique. Of course including everyone does mean infuriating characters like Paul Phoenix (that damn mega punch of his) and Jinpachi Mishima (check final boss of Tekken 5) are in, but are now more bearable.

Graphically the game is gorgeous too. All of the characters ooze coolness and realism (albeit in a slightly hyper-realistic fashion) and you can see that the stages are full of energy and colour. Smashing your opponents face into the floor causes tiles to shatter and pavements to crack. Unfortunately the damage is cosmetic, and magically repairs itself, but it does add a sense of weight and power to blows, especially the throws and juggles.

A neat new feature in the game is the Fight Lab. Playing as Combot, you get to learn all the ins and outs of Tekken, as well as building a character with customised moves just the way you want it. Want Kazuya's lightening screw upper-cut? Its yours my friend! How about the back flips of Law? Add them on. It truly allows you to make the ultimate fighter. Or the ultimate scrub, depending on how your make him.

All in all, TTT2 is looking like it'll be a tidy new fighter to add to the collection, allowing you to beat down on your friends like you did back in the Playstation one days. This game is less a blunt killing tool, and more a poetic dance of death. That is, granted that you don't get beaten to death by a boxing kangaroo!

First impressions: Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch

First impressions: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch...

For many, myself included, Studio Ghibli is regarded as one of - if not the - greatest animé Studio ever. They've told stories ranging from the whimsical and magical, like My Neighbour Totoro, to gripping action adventure films, such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Now world renowned, thanks to the success of Spirited Away at the academy awards, they are still just outside the mainstream radar, and the limelight governed by the likes of Walt Disney. Ni No Kuni is the game that could change that all around...

You play as Oliver, a thirteen year old boy who's mother died after he was saved from drowning. Oliver is stricken by grief, and his tears bring to life a doll that had been given to him by his mother. The doll identifies himself as Drippy, a fairy with a Welsh accent, and gives Oliver a book of magic as a way to visit Ni no Kuni. Once in this magical world, it's revealed that the mother he thought was dead may still be alive, and embarks on a quest to save her.

Being a game developed by Level-5, there is a lot of prestige as well. Most people in the west will recognise the developers work courtesy of the Dragon Quest series of games, or - in the case of the majority - know them from the highly successful Professor Layton games. Combined with Studio Ghibli, they've made a game that is gorgeous to look at. The graphical style emulate Ghibli's classic look perfectly. What's more, all the cut-scenes have been animated by them as well, which means there is an almost seamless transition between cut-scene to game play - in essence, it makes you feel like you've been watching a Ghibli film, before deciding to pick up a controller and direct the action yourself.

Like many an RPG, the world is separated into different areas that are all connected by a world map. Just like the Dragon Quest games, enemies appear on the map, meaning you can avoid battles, something a lot of other Japanese RPGs miss a trick on. When thrust into combat, the game gives you a lot more freedom. Instead of a rigged turn-based system, or timers governing the order of fights as you stand around waiting to be hit, you have free control over your characters. You can fight as the main character, Oliver, using spells, or switch out with a familiar to do the dirty work for you. Attacks are governed by a recharging gauge and the amount of MP it costs to cast a skill. Whilst you recharge for your next attack, you can dart around the arena, avoiding hits in real time. All in all it makes for a far more active and lively experience. The simple requirement of getting close to do an attack makes the fights seem more engaged.

The only concern with the game is that it may be a little too whimsical for western gamers tastes. In many RPGs, even the smaller enemies show that they are menacing, and have beastly designs. All the enemy creatures I faced up against looked like they could have been stuffed toys for me to cuddle. The would probably change once the game progresses, but it felt a little wrong to smack them up. Still the first boss, a forest guardian, reminded me of greatly designed beasties from other Ghibli films.

This aside though, come 2013 this will be an epic adventure to look out for...

First impressions: Tales of Graces F

First impressions: Tales of Graces F

Tales of Graces F is gearing up to be another fantastic addition to the already reputable Tales of series; taking control of Asbel Lhant and friends on a familiar jaunt into JRPG territories. The game in itself is actually 2 years late on arriving in the West, as the original was released in Japan in 2010.

The Graphics look like they've been taken straight out of an episode of animé, and everything is fluid and full of colour. You don't have to look far to see the outlandish hair dos and oversized weapons that are a staple to the genre (compensating perhaps?). The battle systems themselves stay faithful to the series in general, allowing you free control of the characters as you execute moves and spells in combat.

Unfortunately, at the time of the preview, I didn't get much more than a glimpse of Graces F, but everything looks set to make it another gem in the Tales of series to play. The only worry is whether it, like Ni No Kuni, will be able to stand up and be counted alongside the recent slew of western RPGs. Titles like The Whitcher 2 and Dragons Dogma offer a breath taking world to roam, and no one can denounce the might of Skyrim. So, one begins to wonder...is there still place in westerners hearts for the cutesy, dare I say clichéd Japanese adventures?

Overall

Regardless, this line-up will no doubt be a triple bill of highly anticipated games. I myself look forward to bashing seven bells out of my friends once September comes, and anything Ghibli will be pride of place in my collection.


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