Monolith Soft: It Gon' Give X To Ya (Part 2)

Welcome back everyone. Part 2's going to look at some of the other Nintendo products that Monolith Soft has helped out on. I'm also going to check out a few of their Japan-exclusive games and the games on the horizon, like the recently released Project X Zone. (Part 1 was back here if you missed it.)

Relationship with Nintendo

Ah, if only. [Image from N3on of the Smashboards forums., according to GIS.]

What's most striking about Monolith Soft's relatively recent transition as a first-party developer for Nintendo is how frequently they seem to be getting involved with the production of some of the most recent blockbusters from Nintendo's stable of other first-party studios. Monolith's assisted in the development of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, LoZ: Skyward Sword and, most recently, in the new Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Though I haven't played the new AC, it seems to be getting a lot more praise than the other sequels in the series. I doubt I'll find myself fighting enormous mechanical monsters should I finally break down and buy a copy, but it's also reassuring that they're able to step in and by all accounts raise the quality bar. At least, that's what one could interpret from observing how highly regarded New Leaf is compared to its previous entries while also being the one AC that Monolith just so happened to help out on. Causation does not equal correlation, of course, but it's kind of a curious coincidence all the same don't you think?

The Animal Crossing work was done by their Kyoto Studio: a recently established second studio that seems to be focusing on Monolith's portable output while the core Tokyo team works on the new Xenoblade - or "X", as it is still being referred to in official trailers and teasers. While I wait with bated breath for more Xenoblade adventures in high definition, I'm definitely curious as to what this Kyoto Studio might be up to next. A portable Baten Kaitos, perhaps? Or an entirely new IP? It's not the first time I've been confident with my decision to buy a 3DS, but I'll gladly take any additional reassurance all the same.

The Jupiter Monolith

Unknowable... unfathomable... but kinda cool to look at from a distance.

Looming, mysterious and, for the time being, utterly beyond our comprehension or ability to reach. It might be a tad hyperbolic to relate the Monoliths of Arthur C Clarke's Space Odyssey to the games of Monolith Soft that remain locked in the Japanese region, especially since that barrier would only take a few years of Rosetta Stone lessons and a hefty import fee to demolish (yeah, "only"), but as far as I'm concerned I'll probably never get the chance to play a few of the following games. Sometimes you have to wonder at the decision behind choosing not to localize a game - is the game terrible and not worth the extra effort? Or is it great, but there simply weren't financially tenable means to bring it across to the West? Forbidden fruit is always sweeter, but it's always worth considering the possibility that perhaps these games never made it out of their home country for reasons beyond the logistical.

There's Chang Lee! And Log Charlotte! And Morgan Aceland! All my WVGCW favorites!

Namco X Capcom might be the most conspicuous example given the recent release of the thematically (and nominally) similar Project X Zone. A PS2 crossover strategy RPG, bringing together the immense populations of the Namco and Capcom libraries - two companies which aren't entirely averse to creating some memorable RPGs of their own - and having a bit of fun with the inevitable clash of disparate personalities. The game had a lot of text to translate and a lot of characters from Japanese-only franchises, so I can comprehend the decision to not localize the game, if not entirely agree with it. Fortunately, it seems like we'll be getting a fairly similar experience with Project X Zone. Depending on how well PXZ does, we can either shrug our shoulders about PXZ's mediocre showing and assume that missing out on the original isn't the end of the world, or PXZ becomes a big hit in which case there's strong cause for bringing Namco X Capcom back in some rehashed HD manner. Guess we'll see.

If that character art isn't Akihiko Yoshida's work, then it's a good impression of it.

Soma Bringer is a bit more of a question mark. An action RPG with an emphasis on character customization and a Tales-like combo-based real-time battle system - unlike most of Monolith's output, it doesn't seem to have a precedent. An entirely original IP for the DS. It got generally positive reviews from the looks of things and so I can't quite figure out why the game never saw an international release. This was shortly after Nintendo purchased an owning share in the company, so you'd think they would be a little more eager to show off their new acquisition with a well-regarded game for one of their own systems. Eh, perhaps this is another one of those cases where we'll see a rerelease eventually. It's not like Nintendo are squeamish about milking each of their IPs for what they're worth. Anyway, someone was kind enough to translate its trailer, so have at it and daydream of what might have been.

Vincent Valentine: One broody, stick-in-the-mud protagonist isn't enough for Final Fantasy VII.

Dirge of Cerberus... I wasn't sure where in this retrospective to stick Vincent Valentine's little side-story; a "Devil May Cry"-styled action RPG based on Final Fantasy VII's oft-revisited mythos that Monolith had some hand in creating. It's certainly a game that saw a few international releases, but I haven't personally had the chance to play it yet so I figured I might as well throw it in here with the other games I'm less familiar with. Honestly, after witnessing most of the Dark Id's excellent Let's Play of the game and inferring his hardly subtle less-than-warm reception of it, I'm not sure I really want to be any more familiar with Dirge of Cerberus. Since Dark Id is the guy who covered Drakengard in painstaking detail, I'd be willing to follow him into Hell in matters such as these, as unfortunately apposite as that idiom is here. That guy seems all too eager to take on the mantle of the video gaming world's answer to Virgil. Still, I'll never say never to a playthrough of this thing. If I ever get my own YouTube show, It might be a strong contender for something to openly hate for yuks. I know how much YouTube loves angry gamers playing insensible messes.

2014: The Year We Make Contact (With Xenoblade 2)

All right, no more Clarke references. So this just leaves the three games on the immediate horizon from Monolith Soft: That currently unknown 3DS title from their Kyoto Studio, Project X Zone (which is technically not yet out from my Britishy perspective) and the new X, which is totally not but totally is a new Xenoblade. Or maybe they're actually making a sequel to Xenogears with Xenoblade's engine? That'd be weird but kind of interesting.

What the heck is going on here, though? Seriously, I need answers.

Regardless, there's lots more to come. Nintendo won't be letting them slow down, that's for sure. I thought about waiting until I had my hands on PXZ so I could describe it in the same level of detail as the games in Part 1. You know, as something to cap off this immense disquisition containing a whole lot of effusive praise and not much else (I did say Dirge of Cerberus didn't look so hot! You all saw me!) but I figure as I'll be reviewing it anyway, I might as well hold off on anything I have to say about the game until after my playthrough is complete and I have a better idea of the game. Wouldn't do to give y'all some incomplete appraisal stuck half-heartedly at the end of what is assuredly already too much blather on the subject.

But yeah, that's Monolith Soft in a nutshell. A really big nutshell. A coconut shell, perhaps. I hope you all enjoyed its coconut-milky goodness and that I've convinced someone to give their output a chance. It's all stellar stuff, I can assure you. Even that DBZ DS RPG they helped make is supposed to be pretty all right.

Seriously, how exciting is it that Nintendo has a first-party development studio dedicated to amazing JRPGs? Maybe I'm just preaching to a very small choir here, but that's an intersection on a Venn diagram with my name written all over it.

The horizon's looking pretty good right about now.
6 Comments
6 Comments
Posted by Hailinel

In all honesty, I thought Dirge of Cerberus was far better than it had any right to be. It was kind of clunky and the final boss fight was a comical joke on the default difficulty, but I actually like that game for genuine reasons of enjoyment and not out of ironic detachment. I actually didn't realize (or maybe just forgot) that Monolith had anything to do with the game until you brought it up.

I'm really interested to see what the next Xeno game is like in whole, though. Xenoblade with mechs you can pilot, and also multiplayer sounds like a lot of fun.

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Posted by Mento

@hailinel: I can believe that about Dirge of Cerberus. Most of the negative things I'd heard/read about it focused on how its convoluted story and how obfuscating some of its systems were, but the game itself didn't look like it was horribly broken at least. Guess it doesn't help that I'm not a fan of its central character or of Devil May Cry games in general (though I'm aware that I ought to play the third DMC before making up my mind about them).

What I'm most curious about regarding the mech piloting is why you'd want to run around without them? Maybe you just end up stomping most enemies for a fraction of their experience and no item drops, like how it is when you run people over in Borderlands/Dead Island. I'm sure they'll balance it somehow, maybe with some huge restrictions on when and where the mechs can be used.

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Posted by Hailinel

@mento said:

@hailinel: I can believe that about Dirge of Cerberus. Most of the negative things I'd heard/read about it focused on how its convoluted story and how obfuscating some of its systems were, but the game itself didn't look like it was horribly broken at least. Guess it doesn't help that I'm not a fan of its central character or of Devil May Cry games in general (though I'm aware that I ought to play the third DMC before making up my mind about them).

What I'm most curious about regarding the mech piloting is why you'd want to run around without them? Maybe you just end up stomping most enemies for a fraction of their experience and no item drops, like how it is when you run people over in Borderlands/Dead Island. I'm sure they'll balance it somehow, maybe with some huge restrictions on when and where the mechs can be used.

The trailers seem to indicate that the mechs run on fuel that depletes as you fly around, at the very least. Also, I'd imagine that if Xenogears and Xenosaga are any indication, there will probably be times when using mechs won't actually be the huge advantage you'd think they'd be. Since you only played Xenosaga II, where the mechs were foisted on you at certain points, you might not be aware that you could switch in and out of mechs in XS1, and there were genuine advantages to being on foot in many cases.

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Posted by Slag

@mento:

dude thanks for writing this! Until you wrote these two blogs I knew of Monolith but had no idea they had their hand in so many games as a secondary developer. I wonder what aspects of say Brawl and Skyward Sword they did.

I think Dirge of Cerberus never had a chance to be liked on its' own merits due to the "Final Fantasy Vii" sub-branding thrown on it. I thought it was little odd but alright and probably better than it was given credit for at the time. Almost all the shooters I've ever played have been American in origin so playing a Japanese developed shooter in a universe that was typically JRPG just felt alien. Not a fantastic game but definitely not as bad as many claimed.

When it hit stateside the Final Fantasy branding was just starting to really be questioned and there was this conventional wisdom from the fans that they "had" to go back to FF Vii mythos to save the series. So when they got this and Crisis Core instead of a "true sequel" the disappointment was palpable. Can't say I was too different from that mindset although I never wanted any more Final Fantasy Vii games as the story felt complete to me. It took awhile but once I got past what my mind was telling me a Final Fantasy Vii game had to be I was able to appreciate it more.

Edited by Pepsiman

I have a copy of Soma Bringer I've been meaning to play since getting back from Japan at some point. My understanding is that it's basically their take on Diablo? Perhaps I'll play it soon and write up a little class report on it since it always sounded neat and I obviously don't exactly need to wait for a translation to come out for it.

Also had no idea Monolith was involved with Dirge of Cerberus. I never played it, so I won't give it any flack that it may or may not deserve, but I remember the politics of its Japanese launch being really interesting. One of the very few instances I know of where Famitsu actually butted heads with a publisher, since apparently Square somehow compelled them to delay their negative review by nearly a month while the game racked in the sales. Not sure it sold super hot over there anyway, but yeah.

Posted by Mento

@pepsiman: From what I can tell, they had some sort of contractual work involving the graphics. Enough to score a mention in the credits anyway. It's probably about as deep as their association with Smash Bros Brawl, but it jumped out at me when I was reading their Wikipedia entry.

I'd love to hear more about Soma Bringer. If Monolith really hits it out of the park with this "X" game, there'll probably be a lot more interest in their past projects. Maybe Nintendo could remaster the two Baten Kaitoses in HD once they're done with Wind Waker? A guy can dream, I guess.

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