If you haven’t heard of the Fairy Tail Portable Guild games for the PSP you either don’t know about Fairy Tail or simply loved the series but didn’t know about them because the games remained exclusive for Japanese players and regions(aka Japan only). If you are interested in seeing what happened with these games or already know and want to see ways for them to get better, hop in.
Before we start with the analysis, a little history lesson behind those games : back in 2009, before the Fairy Tail anime had hit the shelves, a crossover fighting game by KONAMI was made to celebrate the 50th anniversaries of Weekly Shonen Sunday and Weekly Shonen Magazine the later of which is the home of Fairy Tail. This was the first appearance of Natsu and Lucy in the video game world and despite the game having some faults that could prevent fans of the series to enjoy the title(it had terribly low framerate for a fighter and if played on a PSP1000 there were frame rate drops) but despite that, people wanted to see more of those on consoles as the series became more popular.
Cue the anime starting in Japan and finally, the perfect excuse to make more Fairy Tail games. KONAMI had aquired the license and was ready to make them but a question that lingered was, what kind of game would it be? The decision to make them Hunting games, like the famous Monster Hunter, may have come from the creator himself, Mashima Hiro, known for his love for the Monster Hunter series, even going as far as to pen two mangas about it…kinda like Shimamoto Kazuhiko when he penned the Kamen Rider ZO manga. Maybe, maybe not, nobody knows…at least from what I’ve seen, so I could be completely ignoring details at this point of time(doesn’t help that I can’t understand half of what Famitsu writes, even through google translate).
What went wrong!
Anyway, the first game comes out and…it’s what you know : a slow, painstakingly clunky and not-so-MH-ish than we thought it would be. Commands were more in line with the Musou / Warriors games of KOEI and the “hunting” in question was quite pathetic, in fact the mission structure and limitations of the Monster Hunter formula worked against this game.
Second and third game, named Zeref no Kakusei / Zeref’s Awakening came out and yet the biggest leap in gameplay were the story arcs and the character creation of Portable Guild 2…as underwhelming as it was. The series was way too stagnant for its own good that it slowly dwindled in sales as well. What could have possibly went wrong?
This is my theory from observing KONAMI’s game development and its adhering policies, especially those adopted during the PS2 and the PS3 era, so take it with a grain of salt : Ever since Metal Gear Solid became the hit it is / was / will always be, garnering fans from all over the world and bringing millions upon millions in KONAMI’s pocket every time an iteration was created by Kojima Hideo and his studio, KONAMI’s top hats seemed to have stopped paying so much attention to game development and just assume every other game not made by Kojima deserved to be C-tier(what one would call a typical licensed / anime game) or B-tier(what one would call a high quality licensed / anime or a typical video game) games. Despite many games becoming great today even if they are / were B-tier games(Devil May Cry and Devil May Cry 3 as the greatest examples) KONAMI never put the money nor the effort into making a game engine that could produce great action games or good horror games(you can now guess why Silent Hill has been stagnat as hell by this point). Instead, the big budget went into Kojima’s staff and the MGS2 game engine’s development, something that may have done a great good for the series, seeing how ahead of its time it was back in 2001 but it ultimately hurt the rest of the company.
The second time KONAMI needed a game engine for 3D games for the PS2 was when Castlevania Lament of Innocence was made and gave the…appropriate budget they thought the team needed to make it. The result was the Castlevania engine as it was known, a pretty good game engine but not good enough for later games, unlike the MGS one. This engine was later used for a number of great games such as Castlevania Curse of Darkness, Nanobreaker(aka prototype Metal Gear Rising by vietnamese programmers) and OZ : Over Zenith / Over Zenith : The Sword of Etheria. The engine was good at rendering nice character and enemy models for the time with a good and steady framerate, despite most of the time capping at 30FPS and created a good setting for the 3D ‘Vania games as well as pretty good enemy AI. When used for OZ though, the weaknesses and defects started showing, with the backgrounds and stages now being bland and having framerate drops not to mention that the game couldn’t push past its 30FPS limit that so desperately needed to go beyond. It is a miracle OZ was and still is a great game but it goes to show how a faulty game engine can affect gameplay.
Come the PSP and more money’s thrown on Kojima’s project and even less on other projects, which in turn affect the making of new game engines for the new hardwares to come and at times, even faulty ports of those engines for the next gen. Here comes Fairy Tail Portable Guild and it is what it is. People think it’s the first hunting game of KONAMI and we should cut them some slack, something may have gone wrong, perhaps the initial development time was cut short, cut them some slack. Next game is about to hit and has exciting new features yet when played…it is exactly like the first one and while the new features sound good on paper as well as the fixes, on execution it feels the same. When the third one rolls out and the same thing happens again you think of one of two things : a.)either the devs are completely inept or b.)the game engine is so cheap and so crap that the gameplay ideas are forever doomed to fail when made with that engine. Normally, I’d go with the firstoption but seeing how Kingdom turned out I’m betting its the second one(Kingdom was made with a licensed game engine, not the in-house one KONAMI built for their PSP games sans MGS ones…would also explain why Kingdom never got a sequel I suposse, too much money on licenses for the game engine).
At this point, I can only say “as expected of the MGS company…”, which is a huge shame, since KONAMI, from the very start, would always make those awesome little games that were completely fangasmic and often reached [Pre-2008]Capcom’s levels of greatness, an excellent example would be KONAMI’s collaboration title with Nudemaker, Senritsu no Stratus.
And even this unfortunately suffers from some problems. 😦 From this point on, we get to bussiness.
What should have been done!
First off, the whole “throw all the budget at Kojima” attitude should have never taken over, it slowly poisoned the rest of the company and mared development for the other studios the company had, resulting in severe underperformance. From here on, three scenarios are presented to us :
a.)The MGS side games could be done now with the PS3 or even PS4(the fact that Peace Walker was re-made for the PS3 is the ultimate proof of that) and the interval between the main MGS games could be a little more open due to not all of the company’s budget flowing into them. [Most likely scenario and best course of action IMO]
b.)If the price for more good game would be less Metal Gears, I would take that price everyday because as much as I enjoy the games, we only really needed MGS1, 2 and 4 to tie the story together, all the portable ones, the online one etc we could totally do without them. [Perhaps a likely / unlikely scenario]
c.)KONAMI somehow farted money via their moneymaker games(Yu-Gi-Oh, Hatsune Miku, DDR and the PES series) and there was enough budget for their other projects and have MGS games made when they were made. [Extremely unlikely scenario]
First, the development of a good, in-house game engine for action games needs to be made, perhaps not on par with the DMC3 engine but something close to it, like the game engines Natsume, Eighting and Banpresto had for some of their anime games only stronger and a bit more high quality. Then, make a portable version of this engine for the portable games to use it. The basic things this engine needs to do is : I.)handle fast paced gameplay and keep the framerate at 60FPS without any sort of screen tearing or FPS drops, II.)have a good amount of NPCS on screen(say 15 at maximum, both alies and enemies) that can have decent AI and III.) be able to render models decently and thus have good character and enemy models, with movements that flow well together.
Now, if KONAMI and Mashima insisted on the games being Hunting games and not say, strictly action games or fighting games, then many changes should take place not only on the formula the originals have but also on the basic hunting formula :
- Fairy Tail is about teamwork and the Guild, the gameplay translation of that would be something along the lines of God Eater Burst’s iteration of NPC comrades to take along, with very smart AI and unique patterns for each of them.
- Instead of a combat system that seems reminiscent of the Musou / Warriors games, the gameplay style should fall more in line with OZ : Over Zenith, God Eater and Sengoku BASARA 3’s way of handling skills / special attacks.
a.)The control scheme should be handled like this :
D-Pad : Camera control, navigation in all menus / Movement, navigation in the main, Guild and pre-quest menus [interchangeable]
Analog Stick : Movement / Camera control, Battle & Pause Menu navigation [interchangeable]
X : Jump, cancel desicion on menus
Square : Combo attack, accept sidequests
Circle : Dodge move, accept decision on menus, examine, talk
Triangle : Magic Attack / Skill, open emoticon window in houses
R : Scrolls character skills and magic, Changes the functions of several buttons (if held down with another button)
L : Lock On (if held down), Reset Camera position (light taps)
Start : Pause Menu
Select : Battle Menu On / Off
R + Analog Stick / D-pad : Dashing run
R + X : Unision Raid
R + Square : Special Skill
R + Circle : Guard
R + Triangle : Ultimate Skill
b.)Like with God Eater and Sengoku BASARA, every action can be cancelled to another action as long as it is within the game’s rules and mechanics(for example, a jump cannot be cancelled into a dodge move because aerial dodges don’t exist in the game but all other non-cinemtic moves can be jump cancelled before they start or before they finish).
c.)The combat should revolve mainly around boss type enemies, no matter what they’re size is, be them huge beasts or human(oid) bosses, everything is fair game. The criters in the areas only serve as distraction and additional loot, not so much as a challenge but as a distraction.
d.)The combo attacks and the skills are affected by directional inputs in the game, like in Over Zenith and Sengoku BASARA. The main combo attack is a fairly standard 4 to 5 hit chain of attacks but during any time of the combo a direction input can result in a different command. If during the combo, the movement button is pressed down at the same time as the combo button then the character does a an attack that sends the enemy away or towards an ally to juggle. If during the combo, the movement button is pressed up at the same time as the combo button then the character does a an attack that sends the enemy up in the air for aerial juggles.
e.)Every character has his and her own moveset as well as their own skills that can be set up in sets before battle. Each set can be cycled in battle via light taps of the R trigger. Each character has two sets that can be customized anyway the player wants, with each set having two slots for skills / magic, one tat is used via the triangle button and another that is with the triangle button in conjunction with any direction at all.
- The Guild and the twon should act like God Eater’s base head quarters, with the Guild as the main place for interaction and quest seeing but the chambers of it and the houses in town as the places your allies live or your character lives.
- The way loot, rank and unlocking is done in the game falls more in line with God Eater and Lord of Apocalypse. One gets rewards, money and special prizes from quests, loot from fallen enemies that is immidiately transfered to the quest’s inventory and received after the quest is completed and finally rank is raised via story and quest progression. Money helps purchase items, unlock characters and used along with loot and prizes make costumes create skills /magic and Unision Raids. Rank on the other hand acts like levels in God Eater and Action-RPGs, the higher the rank, the better the combos, skills / magic and special abilities get. Stats get raised via accessories that at times can also have some special abilities, not unlike God Eater’s weapons.
- Quests will be the same as in God Eater, a story mission will either have FMVs that show part of the story or just tidbits via anime stills and voice acting while the others will just put the players straight into the action. The maps will be big seemless maps with twists and turns everywhere, unless a very special boss awaits in which case the players get tranfered into another area. All of these maps also have restricted areas where no player but also no enemy can go to. Every time a player falls the game gives them 3 retries before the quest fails. If teammates are present, they can revive the player in 10 seconds before a retry is spent but at the cost of some HP. Quest ranking is pretty much the same as God Eater’s.
- The game will introduce a new concept for Hunting games : Free Exploration. Unlike quests and mission, Free Exploration lets the player go out in the world without any sort of timer or quest objective to hindering them down. The world, which will be all the ares connected to each other and will be traversed like the Monster Hunter areas via the restricted areas that appear in the quests, without any timer to bound the players but also without any “mission failure to fall back”.
While Free Exploration allows tremendous freedom to the players, it strips them of their safety net, effectivelly allowing a game over in battle unless revival items are taken before hand. These maps get harder the higher the Guilds overall rank is but even then there will be some areas that will be too much to handle without a party, which can only be tackled solo much later in the game. One can even face previous bosses in these areas. Also, when players go into Free Exploration, no NPC teammate is allowed to brought, only other player’s characters via ADHOC and other means.
The players get an empty bag that can store 30 different types of loot and rewards(with a maximum limit of 99 for each type) and 10 different types of recovery items(with a maximum limit of 10 for each recovery item), so players need to be careful and store appropriately. No fast travelling means that once the players get what they want, they must backtrack all the way back to the guild to effectively receive the items and loot they got from their expedition as well as a few or lots of rank points depending on their exploits.
- The Guild will also include Boss Rush, Time Attack and Boss Fight modes for solo or team battles with avrious difficulty settings so that the player can do relieve intense boss moment from the series. These modes do not have a timer, allowing the player to take as much time with the bosses and enjoy the fights. The Time Attack mode has a “positive timer” only counting how much time was spent on each boss and in general.
- Special Skills, Ultmate Skills and Unision Raids are almost cinematic in nature with only the Unision Raids being purely a QTE cinematic. Special Skills and Ultimate Skills work like Over Zenith’s Deathblows, a character must have a specific amount of Magic Power ready(different for each Special and Ultimate) and must properly activate the skill via command inputs its initial activation. Unision Raids on the other hand require both the player and the appropriate teammates to have a specific amount of Magic Power ready(different for each Unision Raid).
- The characters have all and HP bar, a Magic Power bar and a Stamina bar to use. Unless Special Abilities are inputted via accessories on the character, each character has a maximum of a 100 points to each bar. The Magic Power bar recovers with combo attacks and is spent every time players use a skill / magic, Special Skill, Ultimate Skill and Unision Raid. The stamina bar recovers on its own at a certain pace and only halts recovering when a character does anything else other than standing around or simply moving around. Stamina is exhausted by jumping, guarding successfully against attacks and dodging.
And say that the 3 games were made indeed but now with this type of engine. Now, all three games would have differed significantly from each other due to the fixes and added content being implemented properly, without the game engine hindering the programmers efforts and the quality would shoot through the sky, offering a very complete Fairy Tail experience to the fans of the series and gamers in general. Not to mention, that by just building the base for the first game and introducing only some basic characters for the player to have, the rest of the games are now more anticipated not only for the stories they will tell but also for the added content and evolved characters, especially if the games feature a “Transfer Data” option. And thus, you’d have three more excellent games for KONAMI’s library. 😀
Here’s hoping for the best. Have a good day everybody.