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Joystiq presents

Point: A picture paints a thousand words

There are several very good reasons why I (and thousands of others) reminisce so fondly about playing Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast, but the complete lack of voice chat would be near the top of my list. Likewise, this is one of the main reasons that I'm so pumped for Phantasy Star Zero.

Sonic Team's integration of Pictochat-esque chat in Zero is a small stroke of genius that plays wonderfully on the strengths of the DS, will break down linguistic barriers, and is a wholly original approach that would only be possible on Ninty's system. While I'm expecting to see plenty of vulgar images crudely scribbled by pubescent idiots, I still believe visual chat will provide players with some awesomely fun and creative opportunities.

For a start, whatever doodles appear on my DS's screens, I doubt anything will be as offensive as the juvenile blather you'd have to put up with during a typical hour on Xbox Live. Sexism, racism, homophobia: all of these are dishearteningly common on Microsoft's service, so perhaps a less speedy form of communicating would help to discourage the morons. Because seriously, who needs this in their life?

Speaking of speed, while voice chat might be the best option for fast-moving games, where issuing warnings can save a team-mate's virtual life, Phantasy Star games have never required lightning reflexes. Text chat was perfectly adequate on the Dreamcast, and it will be perfectly adequate here.

Visual chat also promises to be a heck of a lot more stable. As a regular online player of Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, I'm constantly disappointed by the voice chat function. Being in the UK, my conversations (particularly with those in different continents) are often fractured or break down entirely, and the sound quality is hardly the best; even through headphones, my opponent's voice comes through as a barely audible murmur. Phantasy Star Zero's visual chat will mean your message is more likely to get through, and it'll be a lot easier to understand.

On top of that, it should ensure everybody gets heard. I don't know about you, but the idea of playing alongside three allies who repeatedly speak over one another is hardly my idea of fun. By allocating an equal amount of space for the (drawn) thoughts of all four players, Phantasy Star Zero is far more democratic than many other online games. It's a space where shy, quieter people can express their views without being shouted down by boorish, self-important types.

Also, I draw awesome Rappies, if I do say so myself.

Point/Counterpoint: Voice chat vs. Stylus chat

When it launches in Japan on Christmas Day (and in the west ... hopefully some time soon!), Phantasy Star Zero will allow users to play online and communicate with one another via a unique Pictochat-style system. Using stylus drawings to relay information to your team-mates is certainly an original and novel approach, but is it the best? Wouldn't the speed and efficiency of voice chat suit Sonic Team's RPG more?

While none of the staff are violently opposed to the idea of visual chat or voice chat, each certainly has it merits. Hit the gray button below and read both sides of the debate, and then weigh in through our poll!

How much?! Importers charging several arms and legs for DSi

Click to enter our DSi gallery.

When the DSi launches on November 1st, it will cost Japanese consumers ¥18,900, or the equivalent of $200 at current exchange rates. Alas, import stores apparently didn't get that memo. Earlier this week, YesAsia was one of the first major importers to open its DSi preorder scheme, demanding an eye-watering price of $299.99 for Nintendo's upgraded handheld. That's a 50% rise on what you'd pay on a Japanese high street.

Since then, others have followed suit, with Play-Asia opening its preorders yesterday at the same price. A quick scan of Google's Shopping channel turned up the following offers (bear in mind the top three will also add shipping costs):
  • $299.99
  • $299.99
  • $272.29
  • $318.30 (free shipping)
Egads! It appears importers, rather than Nintendo, are dictating prices here, and even though the likes of Renchi have yet to start offering preorders, we can assume they will also be pricing the systems at roughly $300. Anybody still tempted?

Gallery: Nintendo DSi

Castlevania, Lost in Blue out next year in Europe

We're not sure whether this counts as a delay, as we don't recall either of these titles being given a release date in the first place, but Konami has now confirmed that Europe won't see Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia or Lost in Blue 3 until 2009. With any luck, we'll still be getting Time Hollow when promised.

We Euro folk can probably all agree to bide our time for Lost in Blue 3 -- especially after the reception it got -- but no Castlevania for at least another 70 days? Noooooo! Considering we have vampires for real here in Europe, we must question the wisdom of not letting us getting some Dracula-whupping practice in at the earliest possible date.

Like Castlevania? We do -- to an embarrassing degree. Check out our impressions of Order of Ecclesia from E3, settle in for a trailer, or go Behind the Boxart with a Konami graphic designer. But enough talk -- have at you!

Famitsu Zeroes in on Phantasy Star weapons, online play

Our urge to start writing Phantasy Star Zero mushy love letters on a daily basis is stronger than ever. Famitsu's latest two-page spread on Sonic Team's online RPG is the cause of our infatuation. According to the magazine, PS Zero will be stocked with over 350 weapons spread across sixteen categories, including swords, spears, slicers, daggers, wands, magic rods, sabers, double sabers, claws, handguns, machine guns, rifles, launchers, bazookas, shields, and gunslashes.

Those last two are new to the Phantasy Star universe (a gunslash, incidentally, is a gun/sword combo), though you will have the option of scrapping with your bare hands, if you're mental enough to believe you could take down this with knuckles.

Sega also talked online modes with Famitsu, revealing the three modes of play that will be available. Free Mode will let you join a random party automatically, though the PictoChat-style chat system is not possible here, Friend Mode allows you to grind with friends or friends of friends and have access to the chat, and Single Mode sees you playing online ... on your own. No, we don't understand that either.

[Translation by 1UP]

DS Daily: DSindifference

Here's an unthinkable thought: could the DSi actually flop? Earlier this week, GamePro speculated that there was a distinct lack of buzz around the upgraded handheld. This viewpoint was based on the fact that DSi reservation tickets (essentially guarantees that you'll get your desired product on launch day without the need to queue for hours) have hardly been setting Japanese auction sites alight.

We'd personally offer one of our limbs for a Japanese DSi at launch, but we also know that our reader's views on the DSi vary from wildly excited to massively underwhelmed. For what it's worth, we fully expect DSi to be a rip-roaring success, but it hasn't been that long since another upgraded Nintendo handheld met a frosty reaction at market. Could the DSi also fail?

Gallery: Nintendo DSi

Edge gets up close and personal with GTA: Chinatown Wars

Edge has posted an extensive (and extremely positive) hands-on preview of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, describing Rockstar's DS debut in luscious detail.

The overriding message seems to be: Chinatown Wars on the DS really works, in the sense that it feels like any other Grand Theft Auto title. Despite the hardware limitations, Liberty City comes across as a living, breathing city, with civilians who exit and enter houses, get into cars, engage in conversation with one another, purchase snacks from fast-food carts, and put up umbrellas when it rains. Assisting this illusion is a full day and night cycle, along with a dynamic weather system and realtime shadowing.

As you'd expect, any vehicle can be hijacked (and driving an ambulance to people in need is one way of making some extra cash), and your surroundings can be trashed, too -- Edge mentions how "fences, street lamps, and newsstands can all be smashed aside." Meanwhile, driving does feature a "little bit of auto-alignment." According to Rockstar's Dan Houser, this is to "make the driving a little forgiving, without it feeling like you're wearing armbands or something." When out of your car, a stun gun and flamethrower are just two of the weapons you'll be able to use. Toasty.

Houser also discusses how missions have been made shorter, to accomodate shorter bursts of play, and describes one "outlandish" errand where hero Huang Lee robs a bank and escapes through Chinatown by blending into a parade, disguised as a dragon. Hit up the full preview at the link below, and don't forget to stop by our gallery!

Good morning, amazing Chrono Trigger advert!

Not for the first time, Square Enix has totally wowed us with an awesome magazine advert for one of its games. We thought it would be difficult to top the minimalist ads for Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, only for this less-is-more Chrono Trigger promotion to bowl us over. Check out the full version past the break and tell us what you think!

Gallery: Chrono Trigger

Continue reading Good morning, amazing Chrono Trigger advert!

Rune Factory 2 manufactures U.S. release date

Marvelous has confirmed it will release Rune Factory 2 into the crowded, choppy waters of the Christmas games market, announcing a November 18th release date for the fantasy-themed farm-me-do.

As that's still four weeks away, we advise passing time by reading up on our hands-on experience with the title, planning crop strategies, and preordering at either Gamestop or Amazon for your very own plush squirrel. Oh yes, and saving money. We're not kidding. Have you seen the DS line-up for November 18th? Yowza.

Gallery: Rune Factory 2

[Via press release]

Suikoden Tierkreis getting localized with a quickness

Konami is wasting no time in bringing us grateful westerners Genso Suikoden Tierkreis. Siliconera's Spencer was informed by a representative of Konami's North American arm that localization was already underway, and that the U.S. would see the difficult-to-pronounce RPG in "early 2009,″ which Spencer took to mean Q1 2009. We should have all wrapped up Chrono Trigger by then, right?

What we probably won't get are the incredibly expensive two special editions of the game, which will be available from Konami's Japanese online store. For ¥10,550 ($104), the Konami Style special edition (as seen here) will include the game, an artbook, the original soundtrack, a book cover, a bookmark, and a drama CD. The second bundle will throw in all of that and Genso Suikoden Volume 1 and Volume 2 drama CDs, a 2009 calendar, and a set of four cards, and will set you back ¥19,200 ($190!). Two for the fans, we think.

DS Daily: Most anticipated

Since the first footage of Ni no Kuni: The Another World appeared at the Tokyo Game Show last week, it has become the DS game I'm most looking forward to. A Level 5/Studio Ghibli collaboration is the stuff dreams are made of. The animation, predictably, looks wonderful. I already just want to hold the included spellbook. Maybe stroke it. Is that wrong?

Plenty of other titles were showcased last week in Tokyo, so now seems like an appropriate time to see which made the most impact on each of you. Are you crazy about Chrono Trigger? Giddy about Gyakuten Kenji? Cuckoo for Castlevania? If you could have one upcoming DS title in your hands right now, what would it be?

Mother 3 fan translation available this week

After almost two years of hard slog,'s Mother 3 fan translation patch has finally been completed, and will be released at the end of this week ... a whole month ahead of schedule! That's according to the latest blog entry on the project's site, in which team member Mato records that, "Testing's pretty much over now. Some bugs did turn up over the last few days, but they were all minor and quickly remedied. Some really hard-to-spot typos were also found and fixed."

Joyous news indeed, though the patch will require a few other things before it's of any use: namely a slot-2 flashcart, a GBA emulator, and -- cough -- an entirely unauthorized ROM copy of the Japanese game. While we don't condone piracy, a western localization of Mother 3 doesn't exactly look likely at this stage, and we do condone passionate fan projects such as this one. Hit up this FAQ to learn more, and don't forget to check out some beautiful, Anglicized Mother 3 screens.

[Thanks, Joel!]

TGS08: Rising Star reveals four for Europe

Rising Star Games just unfurled an official list of Marvelous games that it plans to localize for Europe, including Luminous Arc 2, Avalon Code, Rune Factory 2, and a fourth game that is yet to be announced for North America: Steal Princess. We expected most (if not all) of these to reach us at some point, mainly because Rising Star Games is totally awesome and we love them.

Previous evidence has suggested that Steal Princess and Luminous Arc 2 won't be appearing before the end of March 2009, but we can't be mad at Marvelous. The company has had an action-packed Tokyo Game Show, and this is the cherry on top of a whole pile of other excellent announcements for Nintendo fans. Make the jump for screens, screens, and more screens!

Gallery: Steal Princess

Continue reading TGS08: Rising Star reveals four for Europe

TGS08: Castlevania: Order of Awesome Trailer

With Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia due out in Japan and the U.S. later this month, the Tokyo Game Show represents the last major event at which Konami can show the game off; and shown it off they have, with this spectacular trailer.

The first minute and thirteen seconds consists of Order of Ecclesia character/location art, so if it's gameplay you're after, you'll want to skip to around one-third of the way through. Though why you'd want to skip Castlevania art is utterly beyond us.

Like Castlevania? We do -- to an embarrassing degree. Check out our impressions of Order of Ecclesia from E3, settle in for a trailer, or go Behind the Boxart with a Konami graphic designer. But enough talk -- have at you!

Europe getting Fire Emblem this December

Yes, indeed. Not sure what's going on here, but Nintendo's European site has updated with the surreal news that Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon will be released in Europe this December 5th -- also known as before North America. This is one of those incredibly rare examples of Europe getting thrown a bone first. Our gobs? Smacked!

We're still no closer to a specific release date in North America, with "first half of 2009" about as accurate as it gets. Maybe the rapidly weakening pound will soon make importing from Europe an attractive investment again! Stranger things have happened. This news, for instance.

[Update: Corrected typo. Thanks, Mr Kahn!]

Gallery: Fire Emblem DS

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Gaming to Go!

This Month's New Games

Name Date
Bleach: Dark Souls
Oct 6
Legend of Kage 2
Oct 6
Crash: Mind Over Mutant
Oct 6
Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals
Oct 6
My Japanese Coach
Oct 14
Korg DS-10
Oct 14
Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 Oct 14
FIFA Soccer 09 Oct 14
Populous Oct 14
Rock Revolution
Oct 14
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Oct 21
Oct 21
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Oct 21
Away: Shuffle Dungeon
Oct 21
Oct 21
Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
Oct 21
What's Cooking? With Jamie Oliver Oct 21
MySims Kingdom
Oct 28
Ninjatown Oct 28

Get homebrew on your DS!

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