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This Week in Games
The Gaming World Says Good-Bye to Akira Toriyama

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

Welcome back, folks! I didn't get a chance to plug it last week, but my column on monster-collecting games came out last week! The timing on that column was... something. That weekend turned out to be the 25th anniversary of the Digimon franchise (and we're getting remakes of the old Digivice pedometer toys to commemorate it). There was also that other bit of news that dominated the weekend. Suffice it to say, there's never been a better time for folks who want an alternative to Pokémon to play Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince.

This is...

Art by Catfish

Akira Toriyama's Passing

Everyone has likely heard that beloved mangaka Akira Toriyama passed away. The news has been on everyone's lips since last week. People of all ages have felt this loss worldwide.

The void left in the manga industry needs not to be detailed here. Other folks have put a lot of work into chronicling the life-changing manga titles that readers worldwide have enjoyed since the 1980s. It should also be pointed out how much of a blow this is to the video game industry. While Toriyama was best known for his manga, his fingerprints are all over Japanese gaming. It's not even because of the myriad Dragon Ball games that exist, or the upcoming Sand Land title. The obvious point would be Dragon Quest, whose influence in Japanese gaming cannot be overstated. Toriyama was already a superstar artist in Japan when he was brought in to design the cast and characters of Dragon Quest--and it wasn't even for Dragon Ball. By this point, Toriyama had attained superstar status through Dr. Slump. With the first Dragon Quest, Toriyama took a cavalcade of otherwise humdrum fantasy monsters as made popular by titles like Wizardry--slimes, orcs, scorpions, skeleton warriors–and turned them into characters unto themselves. Slimes went from no-frills literal blobs meant to be nuisances in RPGs to one of the most iconic mascots in the gaming industry. The reason for a slime having a face doesn't matter: all that matters is that they're cute, and became a touchstone in RPGs for years to come. Every slime you've ever seen in a game or anime, from Maple Story's slimes to Ragnarok's Porings to even Rimuru has the beloved Dragon Quest slimes in their DNA. Yuji Hori shared his feelings about Toriyama's passing.

It wasn't just the monsters in Dragon Quest that became iconic. Dragon Quest I gave the world the descendant of Loto/Erdrick. Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line gave us the Prince of Midenhall, the Prince of Cannock, and the Princess of Moonbrooke. Dragon Quest III: Seeds of Salvation was where the series really hit its stride. It might be the most important Japanese RPG in terms of legacy. I think all of the pre-Super Famicom Dragon Quest games are foundational to Japanese developers and artists, but Dragon Quest III is the king of that mountain. The design of the hero Loto/Erdrick ("Loto" was the Japanese name, the term is now localized as "Erdrick" in the US) is now the look of Heroes in gaming and even light novels. It's no coincidence that the archetypal Yuusha from Maoyuu wears a green tunic with a jeweled circlet and a sword with a winged hilt. And it wasn't just the hero; I saw someone on Twitter point out that the DQ3 Priestess was essentially Hex Maniac for young gamers in 1988; that's a pretty apt comparison. Japanese artists young and old are still obsessed with Priestess and her bodysuit underneath a tabard, you still see doujin of them at Comiket to this day. Also, the Female Warrior and her metal bikini.

The popularity of Toriyama's character designs in Dragon Quest led to a ton of spin-offs, like Torneko's Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon, starring the portly and loveable merchant Torneko Taloon from Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen. This title is also significant because its popularity led to its series-defining sequel, Mystery Dungeon 2: Shiren the Wanderer. So the entire Mystery Dungeon series exists all because of a Dragon Quest spin-off. We've had plenty of other spin-offs from Dragon Quest, though; while it's a bit early to speak of Dragon Quest Builders and its influence, we can also point to beloved fan-favorites like the Dragon Quest Monsters games and the Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime games. Of course, Toriyama didn't just do the Dragon Quest games: he's also known for the stellar character design of the Tobal No. 1 series. The art style for Tobal is curious, even for Toriyama: characters have much more realistic stylings and proportions. Also, Toriyama was willing to get unconventional with Tobal's character designs, like with the Russian glamazon Mary Ivonskaya.

Toriyama's input on character design also informed how character designs worked going forward; Shigeru Miyamoto took to re-creating Arale's particular run from Dr. Slump (what with the arms spread out while the legs kick) for Mario's full-speed sprint. Miyamoto even went on record and confirmed that Mario's movement in 3D was inspired by the physics behind Arale's run. It's also likely Arale's star-studded logo was the basis for Sonic The Hedgehog's spangled banner. Dr. Slump's obsession with poop is also likely the reason for the coiled-up road apples Digimons leave lying around. Toriyama's art likely inspired RPG protagonists for years to come; while Tetsuya Nomura's original art for Cloud Strife is quite different, there's something to be said about Cloud's sprite in Final Fantasy VII giving him spiky blond hair and a purple outfit akin to Super Saiyan Gohan from the Cell Games arc. Even if it's just a coincidence, there's still plenty of Dragon Quest in Final Fantasy, which is odd to hear considering how often people pit the two series against each other. In an interview with Forbes, Hironobu Sakaguchi went on to explain how Dragon Quest's genius design inspired him to swing for the fences with Final Fantasy, especially since Squaresoft was in danger of going bankrupt at the time. And Toriyama's involvement was a major part of that: Sakaguchi was a huge fan of Toriyama's manga in Weekly Shonen Jump.

The other major video game title everyone loves Toriyama for is the SNES classic, Chrono Trigger. I can't imagine how many people played that title back in the day only to discover Chrono or Lucca's distant cousins in Dragon Ball Z years later, but his character designs no doubt helped carve Chrono Trigger's legendary reputation. Toriyama was a Square's "Dream Team" member, alongside Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Hori, Nobuo Uematsu, and Kazuhiko Aoki. Famously, Chrono Trigger had a "dream team" ending where you could meet the developers of the game, with the five Dream Team members in their room, all drawn as squat little men doing their little "Arale"-esque jog in Toriyama's style. While Toriyama drew himself as himself and not as his much-more-popular "robot in a tracksuit" design, it's cute to see the man with the rest of the Dream Team, shouting out his children.


It's no surprise that when Hironobu Sakaguchi left Square Enix to found Mistwalker, he'd hired Toriyama as the character designer for his attempt at a Dragon Quest killer, Blue Dragon. Blue Dragon floundered unfortunately, if only because it has no shortage of genius character designs, like the robotic General Szabo and his Mighty Quartet. Toriyama would continue to work on Dragon Quest. How could he not? Dragon Quest is a cultural institution. While the many claims that there are laws prohibiting Square Enix from releasing a Dragon Quest game on a weekday are as untrue as any other number of outrageous hearsays about Japan (like the old yarn about the underwear vending machines), what is true is that Japan as a nation grinds to a halt to play the newest one. Toriyama continued to design beloved characters, from the lovely Jessica Albert to the gruff-but-loveable Yangus, from the fairy gyaru Stella to the flamboyant Sylvando. I'd be here all week if I broke down every Dragon Quest character and their design.

This is a good place to talk about my history with Toriyama's art. It was in 2000 that I started paying attention to gaming and gaming news; I had to go to the hospital one afternoon because of a bad bug I had, and my mom had gotten me a gaming magazine to read: Electronic Gaming Monthly's August 2000 issue, with Soul Reaver 2 on the cover. In hindsight, that issue is pretty legendary: it details a ton of games unveiled at that year's E3, like Majora's Mask, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, Valkyrie Profile and the then-upcoming Oracle of Seasons/Ages games. Among the many games that caught my eye, one of them was Dragon Warrior I & II cartridge for Game Boy ("Dragon Warrior being the localized title for Dragon Quest in the US for a hot minute). EGM called it a treat for "old-school" gamers; I'd never played an RPG besides Pokémon, but I knew I wanted it. I eventually bought it from a local Blockbuster. That first night of reading the manual cover-to-cover at my grandmother's then-newly-constructed house has stuck with me for 24 years. While I never beat Dragon Warrior II, I traveled that world from corner to corner of the map. If there was ever a new Dragon Quest game, I was there for it. That's why I'm so attached to turn-based RPGs. In those days most major publishers were still worried about a Japanese game's anime aesthetic turning off American audiences so the Dragon Quest games replaced Toriyama's art with 3D renders. I hesitate to call them "butt-ugly", but I'd hate to hurt the feelings of whoever ex-Enix employee rendered them. Thankfully, Toriyama's art was still to be found on an insert packed in with the game: the original cover art for both Dragon Quest I and II, on a poster featuring maps for both games. It felt special to realize that the guy who had created Dragon Ball Z had also worked on such an old video game; I felt very proud of myself as a kid for realizing that the Prince of Cannock looked a little like Krillin. Both Dragon Warrior Monsters games also suffered from the uncanny 3D box art, but thankfully someone at Enix wised up and let Dragon Warrior III release in the US with Toriyama's art on the box.

It feels inappropriate to worry about the future of Dragon Quest without Toriyama's character designs. His loved ones and the industry are still mourning. The upcoming Dragon Quest III HD-2D remake, Dragon Quest XII, Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero, and Sand Land now carry the weight of being the final games with Toriyama's involvement. For now, I think it's enough to look back at the decades of Toriyama's work. There's no better time to try out Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age or Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince. The Tobal titles appear to be lost to time, but they're worth tracking down--especially since Toriyama's little gasmask-wearing robot persona is a playable character. There is no end of Dragon Ball games you can sink your teeth into. Blue Dragon is still available on the Xbox 360, and it's still playable on the Xbox One and Series X|S. Goodness knows it could use a second look these days. And, of course, if you've never played Chrono Trigger, there's no better time.

.hack Countdown Finally Ends--On A Mild Downer

A few months back, we touched on a curious timer being left on the .hack website. For some reason, the countdown was set to go off several months later. What was it for? Could it be a new .hack game? Could it be an announcement for the beloved PS2 IMOQ games? Why was it set for so far out? Well, "a few months later" was "last week", so we finally have some answers. And while the answer is far from a worst-case scenario (at least no NFTs or harassment campaigns are involved), they don't quite light any fires underneath the seats of .hack fans.


We unveiled the mystery last week in the Tidbits section--the countdown was for a fan-made MMO in production. And the whole thing was somewhat underwhelming. Part of the issue was the way the reveal itself was handled: users had to download an executable file named "Altimit" (after the in-universe OS used in .hack). This same file was getting flagged by people's security systems as being a Trojan. It's a cute program and it re-creates the look and feel of the Altimit OS well, even dropping further updates from the fan-devs as "e-mails", but it also has ambitions of serving as the launcher and updater for the in-development fan-game.

And that's where folks wrinkle their nose a little. A fan game doesn't sound horrible, let alone for .hack. But a fan-made MMO? Well, that's not a particularly bad idea... just a very ambitious one. Arguably too ambitious. A game made by amateur developers is already one thing and many games have failed their release because would-be devs vastly underestimate just how much work goes into releasing a game, to say nothing of the logistics of game development. Just a few weeks I finally picked up a game that had started its development in 2015; even as short as the game was, feature creep almost did them in, and a lot of their ideas for the title were perhaps too ambitious for a three-man team that hadn't made a sizeable video game before. I can only imagine the trials involved for a team of fan-devs to make a whole MMORPG, to say nothing of one based on an existing property--and that's before you get into matters like whether or not Bandai Namco will swoop in with a C&D.

I give these guys credit for showmanship--they knew how to grab the attention of .hack fans across the Internet. But something else might have been smarter to go with. At least go for something that isn't blocked by your antivirus.

Remember a few weeks back when I said I hated "Nerd Holidays"? Because I still do. "Pokémon Day" gets a pass because it's commemorating the franchise's anniversary, but May 4th can eat it. Mario Day, at least, hasn't been overdone to that extent (and isn't attached to a franchise that people do nothing but bellyache about for the rest of the year). Nintendo has been pushing March 10th as "Mario Day" because--wait for it--the short way of spelling it is "Mar-10", which looks like "Mario". Whomp-whomp. At least Shigeru Miyamoto going "Wa-hoo~!" was cute.

Nintendo decided to celebrate March 10th with a few new announcements regarding Mario's cinematic exploits. The Super Mario Bros. Movie was fun, albeit with a terribly-miscast lead. It also made more money than God, so Nintendo and Illumination are apparently hard at work at the sequel. The Super Mario Bros. Movie sequel even has a proposed date: April 3rd, 2026. Even Nintendo can't get their big movie sequel out for "Mario Day". No word yet on what the sequel entails. Folks would wonder if this means they're adapting the Doki-Doki Panic stuff into a movie and having Mario and friends fight King Wart, but I doubt that. Only a few bad guys from Super Mario Bros. 2 get lip service: Snifits, Shy Guys, and Birdo. And even then, only Shy Guys make regular appearances. Even Mouser has been largely forgotten, and he was a fixture in many older Mario media. The Koopalings are much more likely to appear, so they might try to cover Super Mario Bros. 3. Or maybe they'll try to mix Super Mario Bros. 3 with Super Mario World? It's tough to say, especially since the Illumination movie went pretty hard on also including Donkey Kong. Though as I type this, the slam-dunk with the fandom would be to get Yoshi involved. I know better than to hope they'll make a "Mama Luigi" reference, if only because Chris Pratt likely couldn't be woken up long enough to pronounce the words "Mama Luigi".

I appreciate that Nintendo isn't trying to get the Mario movie to compete with the Sonic the Hedgehog movies. I joke a lot about the "Sega Does What Nintendon't" stuff, but also the '90s were thirty years ago; Sonic and Mario have patched things up to play together at the Olympic Games several times, so there's no need to rehash old drama. And I don't expect Corporate Twitter Accounts to have the kind of charming bite 1990s gaming ads used to have towards each other. But the other thing that surprises me is that Miyamoto also underlined how much Nintendo and Illumination are working together. Hopefully, this means Nintendo is cracking the whip a bit more. The first Mario movie was, again, inoffensive. But one thing viewers especially weren't fond of was the constant needle drops. Illumination already overuses the pop culture references on the best of days, it's especially lame when you have so much of Koji Kondo's phenomenal music to pick and choose and you go for an overused "Battles Without Honor And Humanity"-joke, or use Take On Me. Reportedly, composer Brian Tyler had to fight to keep the film's rendition of the Starman theme for the final battle instead of Van Halen's Jump. I don't care if it's something like the fart-sounding Yoshi Clan theme from Yoshi's New Island, I'd rather that than cutting to Spin Doctors or whatever. Some real "So you're saying Luigi has a mansion?" stuff before playing Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime.

Other announcements from Miyamoto's little presentation: the Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remake will be released on May 23rd. Luigi's Mansion 2 HD releases this June 27th. We also have three new Mario games coming to Nintendo Switch Online as of March 12th: the Game Boy port of Dr. Mario, and the GameBoy Color Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games. Not a bad selection!

A New Puyo Puyo Game Comes To America, And The Monkey's Paw Curls...

I love Puyo Puyo! I hold no illusions about being any good at it--I'm extremely not--but I love it. It's a cute puzzle game with a cavalcade of cute characters like the beloved Arle and her many friends like Carbuncle, Draco, and, uh... "Satan". Also, the Puyo Puyo theme is a delightful earworm, perfect for such a legendary and beloved series. Older fans in America are likely more familiar with the localized versions of Puyo Puyo that were released on the SNES and Sega Genesis, Kirby Avalanche, and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. Similar to Panel De Pon on SNES being converted into the Yoshi-themed Tetris Attack, someone likely figured that a puzzle franchise wouldn't do all that well with a g-g-g-girl as the protagonist. Nevertheless, Puyo Puyo has made a minor comeback in the US, and we've seen fun new ideas with the series like the stellar Puyo Puyo Tetris. Also, there was a fun episode of Genshiken back then where one of the characters tried to get his girlfriend interested. It's been a bit since we've last had a Puyo Puyo game. Maybe Sega has something cooking up for us? Looks like they do.

... Oh dear. Let's get the good out of the way: the game looks adorable, the gameplay looks frantic (a must for Puyo Puyo, and it's just nice to have this fun little relationship-destroying game back. They even brought back some of the fan-favorite English VAs, from the looks of it! But, oh boy... Sega still touched upon the one thing guaranteed to disappoint fans. This new Puyo Puyo game, titled Puyo Puyo Puzzle Pop, is going to be an Apple Arcade exclusive. This isn't the first time Sega has hitched its wagon with Apple Arcade; a few months back, Sonic Dream Team did much the same. Sonic Dream Team is still exclusive to the Apple Arcade. The outlook on Puyo Puyo Puzzle Pop isn't good.

On top of needing an expensive Apple device to play the game and paying a subscription service to play that game, there's also the risk of the game vanishing. Fans have been burnt by an Apple Arcade exclusive of another of Sega's old puzzle games, Chu-Chu Rocket. Chu-Chu Rocket! Universe vanished from availability once it was taken off of Apple Arcade, and it doesn't seem like it'll ever be ported anywhere else since folks have been waiting for two years. Japanese fans are also very disappointed by the exclusivity. Also, it seems this game is mostly being developed in America, since the Japanese logo just recycles the English logo. This is fine, I'm cool with Sega Games getting made by American studios for a primarily American audience. I wish it wasn't released on Apple Arcade so people could actually play it! This isn't like when a game gets sold on a Switch and people wish it was on PC because Switch is mainstream and games don't just vanish once their contract is up.

It's a bummer that such a fun-looking Puyo Puyo game is gated to such a tiny platform; I hope we get something meatier to chew on soon because Puyo Puyo fans are starving.

Let's wrap up with some quick tidbits

  • Akuma is coming to Street Fighter 6 ! No specific word yet on his release date beyond a vague "Spring 2024".

  • Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis has been featuring a lot of weird collabs lately, let's toss a new one onto the pile! Look forward to an Atelier crossover featuring Marie and Ryza this March 26th!

  • If you haven't gotten your hands on the Grandia HD Collection yet, good news: they're coming soon to Xbox and Playstation! Enrich your life with Jodi Benson's timeless performance as the lady-demon Millenia.

  • So it turns out Exoprimal is great? I sure hope more people come around to it. In the meantime: Mega Man themed suits and weapons will be coming to Exoprimal this April 17th. Hopefully, that sweetens the pot.

  • The upcoming Monster Hunter Stories Collection is still coming out on the Switch, but to the disappointment of many it seems that only the first title will be on the cartridge; the second game will only be provided by an eShop code...

  • If you're like me and you prefer using your PC for work and not gaming, you can look forward to picking up El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron on Nintendo Switch this April 28th!
  • As you read this, I'll be in another state working on some Cool Stuff™! I'm excited for this one and maybe getting some airport Cinnabon while I'm at it. Airport food is not to be underestimated; two years ago when I was being flown out to that One Piece: Odyssey preview in San Diego, I ate a guacamole burger at this one bar and grill at the airport while I was waiting for lunch. Seriously good stuff, I've been chasing that high ever since... Be good to each other, I'll see you in seven.

    This Week In Games! is written from idyllic Portland by Jean-Karlo Lemus. When not collaborating with Anime News Network, Jean-Karlo can be found playing JRPGs, eating popcorn, watching v-tubers, and tokusatsu. You can keep up with him at @mouse_inhouse or @ventcard.bsky.social.

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