The hottest games coming to the Xbox 360 in 2009

The biggest games you'll want to keep an eye on.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope

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The Star Ocean franchise is a long-running series originally published by Enix-before merging into Square Enix-for the Super Famicom, with iterations and sequels leading up to the Xbox 360. These science fiction space operas have always been known for their real time battle system and heavy emphasis on item creation.

With this latest iteration, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Square Enix has once again recruited the talent behind the original Star Ocean, Tri-Ace, in the hope of bringing the series' status to Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest level here in the U.S.

Set before the events of the original Star Ocean (this game was almost titled Star Ocean 0), Last Hope weaves a tale of mankind venturing into the great void of space for the first time after World War III ravages the Earth. Channeling a bit of Mass Effect, Last Hope aims to focus more on space and planetary exploration as humanity struggles to find its place in the universe.

As of this writing, Square Enix still remains ambiguous as to the possibility of a PS3 release, stating that "no plans" are currently in the works. However, given the strong relationship between Sony and Square Enix, and the fact that the original trailer was on the PSP, the idea that this title is merely a timed exclusive is a strong one.

Street Fighter IV

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You remember it, don't you? The days before boob physics and identical engines, when fighting games were still original and every sequel had brand new features? Sure, we suffered from gamerclaw and had to hide Mortal Kombat from our parents, but fatalities were fresh and the genre was taking its first steps into 3D. Where has all that innovation gone?

Say hello to Street Fighter IV. It doesn't just have gorgeous graphics, mid-battle specials, and the return of some of the most iconic characters in gaming. It's got the originality that's been missing from versus games for a console generation.

Street Fighter II Times Two

At SFIV's core are the essential components of the series' best title, Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It has a 2D playing field, a hand-drawn art style, and all 12 classic characters, from Ryu to M. Bison. All the classic playing fields are back, too: Guile still makes his home at a military airfield and Chun Li still propeller-kicks through Chinatown. But while the stages are limited to 2D movement, they're all rendered in 3D. If you manage to pull off a Super Combo or Ultra Combo (SFIV's mid-match, finisher-style moves), the camera goes crazy, zooming in and panning around for perfect angles on the action.

It gets better. Despite being 3D models, all 21 characters are rendered and animated to mimic the classic, hand-drawn feel of early Street Fighter. That rendering technology allows a character's "ink" to spray and streak across the canvas of your TV screen. If you land an especially punishing hit, you won't see blood fly; you'll see streaks of ink flash away in homage to Japanese calligraphy and sumi-e art.

You Lack Focus!

All that said, the real crown jewel of SFIV is its combat, thanks to a new mechanic called the Focus attack. It lets you absorb a single hit from your opponent by holding down the medium punch and kick buttons. You still take damage from the hit, but it gives you the chance to counterattack. As you charge up the counter, the focus shifts from being a simple reversal, to a knock back, to being completely unblockable. Hit with it, and you gain back whatever health you lost while charging.

It sounds simple, but there's a kicker: You can dash out of a focus charge at any time, or dash into one from a special move. The result, according to the developers, is a gameplay style akin to the tactical move-reading of boxing. With such a system in place, Street Fighter IV could leap from ancient classic to modern blockbuster in a single Shoryuken.

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