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411mania's Release List for the Week of March 2, 2009

411mania gives a rundown on this week's game releases. Highlights include Phantasy Star Portable, The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match, and Sukashishipanman DS: Shokotak Koto Nakagawa Shouko Produce!

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Phantasy Star Portable (PSP)
With Phantasy Star Portable, Sega basically took Phantasy Star Universe, fixed a lot of the problems people had with it, tweaked it to be more single-player friendly, and added more story elements. Some of those who hated PSU are actually saying that they like this version of the game. I find that hard to believe, but it's possible. If anything, this will at least give us something to do while waiting for Phantasy Star Zero.

Here is what you can expect from PSP:

- New story missions that take place between the original Phantasy Star Universe and Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus
In Phantasy Star Portable you will team up with a Cast named Vivienne as she investigates recent terrorist attacks on the colony as well as animal outbreaks on the surface of some of the planets. Space adventure and mayhem follow. I thought that PSU's story was ok; it wasn't groundbreaking or very memorable but it was still decent. So, if Sega was able to craft a story that is at least on par with the first game's, these missions could be worth plaything through at least once.

- Local as well as online play (with the help of a PS3 or your PC)
As expected, you can play with three other friends locally using the PSP's ad hoc mode. Those wishing to play over the Internet have two options - one that requires a PS3 and another that requires a computer. To use your PS3 you have to download the Ad-Hoc Party application from the Japanese PSN store and do a little tinkering. You can find instructions on how to do this at the PSO-World forums here. If you want to use your PC there's XLink Kai. Note that these two options work for the Japanese and English demo versions of Portable. We'll know in a day or two whether or not they work with the retail release.

- No more lobby system
Movement is done through a more practical menu system. This makes sense since you will be meeting with at most three other people. Also, running around a whole space station or town was a tedious exercise in Universe. I still would have preferred a scaled-back version of Phantasy Star Online's lobby system, but this is the next best option.

- Improved weapon upgrade system
You can now upgrade your weapons on any planet and there is no chance of them breaking while trying to do so.

- Improved drop system
The types of drops that you get are based on the class of the party leader. Also, rares are given to all of the members of the party so there will be less fighting and bickering over who gets what.

- Tweaked classes
The three basic classes that everyone remembers - Hunter, Ranger, and Force - are back along with five advanced ones - Fighmaster, Gunmaster, Masterforce, Acromaster, and Protranser.

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The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match (PS2)
"Some female fighters wear clothing that exposes their posterior and cleavage, while bouncing breasts are depicted during battles." - Play-Asia

As I mentioned last week, KOF '98 and KOF 2002 are considered the best games in the series. Besides being fun to play, the main selling points for fans are the size and variety of the rosters as well as the overall balance. I'm not sure about balance (how do you balance a fighting game with that many characters?), but I do agree that both games put others to shame in terms of character variety and overall likeability. So, how does SNK improve something that's already so great? For starters, the developers added all of the missing characters from KOF '94, '95, '96, and '97 (similar to how last week's KOF 2002:UM received characters from '99-2001), bringing the grand total to 64. In addition, everyone was rebalanced and many were given new moves and new animations. Also, more stages were added to coincide with the additional characters, current stages were given a pseudo-3D treatment, and the option to choose between the original soundtrack and a special arrangement was implemented.

As far as the fighting system goes, KOF is really fun to play against other people if you can get over the fact that things work a little differently than Capcom's fighters; it takes some getting used to. If you want to get into the series before KOF XII drops this summer, this is definitely the one you should start out with.

About the XBLA port:
The King of Fighters '98 is a game that should have been released with proper online support on the Xbox years ago. Being the most popular entry in the series, it would have been a great diversion from CVS2 and SF3. Instead, we got a KOF 2002 and KOF 2003 double-pack with poor netcode. The one good thing about SNK ignoring its fanbase back then is the fact that when '98 finally does see official online support in the US, the experience won't be tainted by past efforts. Hopefully, seeing how well HD Remix and SF IV play online will motivate SNK to not repeat the atrocities its committed in the past when the 360 version gets released in 2010. Otherwise, those wishing to play a decent game of '98 online will have to do so on GGPO.

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Sukashishipanman DS: Shokotak Koto Nakagawa Shouko Produce! (DS Import)
I actually have no idea what this game is about. It looks to be a mini-game collection featuring the sand dollar man and the girl with the perverted smile. I just remember wanting to check this out after seeing the unique character designs in a magazine that I picked up at TGS. After looking around I found out that the guy in red is named Sukashikashipanman. He's a hero character that was originally drawn by Shoko Nakagawa, a famous singer, voice actress, cosplayer, and blogger in Japan. According to what I've read, Sukashikashipanman is the result of Shoko's interest in sand dollars. Apparently, he's pretty popular as he has his own Anime, Manga, pastry, and now his own game. This may be the game that finally replaces The Haisha as my favorite import that I can't play.

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