A Couple Headlines I Missed

I’ve been talking a lot lately about some specific games – Destiny, Division, Battleborn beta – but there were a couple news stories that caught my attention over the last couple weeks too. I wanted today to bring up a few of those stories.

Final Fantasy VII

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE COULD END UP BEING HUGE
One thing that I really was caught a little off guard by was a report from Square-Enix talking about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake. We know that it’s going to be an episodic style release, telling the tale of Cloud, Sephiroth, Aeris and the rest of the crew over the span of, I would guess, a couple years. What we didn’t know was the size of those episodes. I was expecting them to follow the natural story breaks from the original – the initial prep for the Shinra infiltration, leaving Midgar, so on and so forth. What we learned though was that each episode – which we still don’t know how many there will be – will be the size of Final Fantasy XIII. That’s pretty damn big episode. I may think that FFXIII is one of the worst in the series, but I can definitely appreciate the size of the game. If they manage to pull that off, those episodes can absolutely end up really diving into the world of Final Fantasy VII. A game that I was already excited about just became one that is racketing up my list.

Gears of War 4

GEARS OF WAR 4 TRAILER AND BETA SHOWS GRITTY FUTURE
Gears of War is one of those franchises that I just never really got into. I played the first game, way back when it first game out and actually really enjoyed the campaign. It was the multiplayer that just didn’t appeal to me – I never have liked one life only modes. But one thing that the series has always done exceptionally well is commercials/trailers. The original trailer is well remembered for its use of the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World.” With this first real trailer for the upcoming Gears of War 4, they picked another chilly, atmospheric cover of an older song: Disturbed’s relatively recent “Sound of Silence” cover. The song pairs really well with the new footage – the tone matches perfectly, which has always been a strength of the studios working on the games. There also has been a closed Beta going on over the weekend, which I am not a part of. What I’ve seen though certainly looks just like Gears of War – shotguns dominate, it’s brutal, and probably the best third-person shooter out there these days.

 

Advertisements

Sony PlayStation Experience Thoughts

PlayStation 4Over the weekend, Sony hosted their second annual PlayStation Experience conference. It’s kind of become a second E3 for Sony, where they’re able to show off their games right before the holiday and keep the buzz high on the coming year’s games. The keynote showed off a good mix of huge exclusives, but what I liked was the real focus on a lot of smaller titles. That said, there was one thing that kinda soured my feelings on the event – and it’s no fault of Sony this time.

Uncharted Nathan Drake Collection

First let’s talk about a few of those games they showed off. Opening the show with Uncharted 4 was a bold move. I wouldn’t say it’s a big stretch to say that game is Sony’s most anticipated exclusive – probably by a pretty clear margin. And while they really didn’t show off a whole lot, they did show a pretty big addition to the game – branching dialogue trees. There’s still plenty about it that we don’t know – including whether the different dialogue choices will have major impact on how the game unfolds. That, however, was pretty much end of the end of that level of game. Sure, Street Fighter V is a PS4 exclusive, and sure they showed some Call of Duty: Black Ops III – a DLC PS4 exclusive; but I think in general most of the games shown were a step down from Uncharted‘s hype level.

Where I think the keynote really shined was the last third – where Sony put the spotlight on third party and indie studios. We saw games like 100 Fr. Robot Golf, Ni No Kuni II, Ace Combat 7, and Golem all get announced. Also getting some strong time was the PlayStation VR. I think it’s a cool system, but VR is still so hard to show off on stage to really make it look exciting, plus I still think it’s a little gimmicky. What I think helps the PSVR out is that Sony has really bought in, and has a lot of developers working on games for it – and those games hit a number of different styles. There are more artistic games like Eagle Flight and Golem, very tongue in cheek games like 100 Ft. Robot Golf and Modern Zombie Taxi Company, and serious triple A quality games like Ace Combat 7.

Final Fantasy VII

Now, as cool as I thought the show was, there were two parts where I saw some issues show up. And like I said, they weren’t Sony’s fault at all. One revolves around Final Fantasy VII Remake – which we finally got to see some actual gameplay of. I thought that the Kingdom Hearts influence is perfect and helps bring that 20 year old game forward into the modern RPG world. That content isn’t where the issues showed up though – instead it’s that we got a press release Sunday night that seemed to say that the game will be episodic. Twitter exploded – I saw tons of professional people start complaining about it – and we don’t even have a release date yet! Never mind we don’t officially know that it’s episodic or how it will work. People really need to cool their jets on this and think about it for a second. Detach yourself from the fandom of the original. It’s a 20 year old game. If I want to play that game, I’ll play my copy of the original. I don’t want the exact game with fancy graphics. RPG’s have evolved a ton in those 20 years, and I think what Square Enix is doing could be exactly what the whole franchise needs. Think about what Square could do with an episodic set-up. Each episode could focus around building backstories for the characters. They already have built a universe around the original game with a couple spin-offs. I think that basically is a given now that stuff from those games will show up now. And I saw people worried about the story now. I would remind them that the pacing on the original was pretty damn slow. You have this intense first section in Midgar, then the pacing hits a wall. The story is still great, but streamlining it could actually be the best thing that has happened to FFVII since Advent Children. Focusing an entire episode just around the events in Midgar could help focus that section even more. I just think that people are really overreacting about the episodic announcement. Hell, if it is episodic, it could be coming out next year as opposed to 2017! Relax, enjoy the fact that we’re getting a remake of one of the best games OF ALL TIME, and one that we never even expected to get.

Destiny

The other kinda nasty reaction was, perhaps unsurprisingly, in reaction to Destiny‘s announcement. We expected Bungie to show something off, and they detailed the new holiday event, which will begin tomorrow and run through the rest of December: the Sparrow Racing League. It’s literally content that we, as a whole community, have been asking for since the launch of the game; and I saw tons and tons of people yelling at Bungie: “That’s It?!” Again, relax, step back and think about this for a second. Yes, The Taken King is starting to reach its limits – I do think that Bungie needs to share with us the next content soon. But right now probably isn’t the best time. We’re expecting a massive live-game update this week, with a major rebalance to the weapon meta, along with the first class rebalance in a year. Which you might notice is another thing to we’ve been yelling at Bungie about forever, and can’t be a small undertaking. Add in the fact that this month holds the biggest commercial holiday of the year, at least in the U.S. with Christmas; which always brings with it a pretty sizable increase in players. Finally, after the Festival of the Lost, we kinda got the idea that Bungie was starting to figure out ways to have live-game seasonal events. Going into the weekend, I saw a few posts over on the subreddit wondering about a Christmas event. Instead of a specific one around the holiday, we get a three week long event with the SRL; which again, is something we’ve been asking for since launch. I think when you add those all together, this weekend wasn’t the right time to announce the next DLC. We are definitely getting close to that line though, so I hope Bungie has a good plan ahead for it; but again – chill out a bit folks. Enjoy the racing, enjoy the amazing games out right now, and remember that the point of playing these awesome things we call video games is to have fun.

E3 2015 – Sony PlayStation Press Conference Wrap-Up

PlayStation 4

Last night, rounding out a really busy Day 0 of E3 2015, was the Sony PlayStation conference. The day had already been a really busy day, with all kinds of big announcements across the board, so Sony had to really have a strong show. And good lord did they ever.

Sony started off huge – finally showing new info on The Last Guardian, a game that a lot of people thought was lost to the ether. We got a new video, that admittedly looked a little bit more like a PS3 game, but really did get the excitement going early. We do have to wait a bit longer – at least until 2016, but at this point, that’s cake. We then got a confirmation on what Guerrilla Games has been working on. They’ll be bringing Horizon: Zero Dawn to the PS4, most likely next year. The trailer showed gameplay, with some pretty cool visuals – giant robot monsters, being fought with really low-tech weapons. In an age with a lack of dinosaur hunting (Turok in other words) this is a pretty cool sight. Rounding out the first batch of games we got a look at a CG trailer for Hitman – the latest entry in the long running franchise. While it’s going to be multiplatform, the beta for the game will be on the PS4 first, and the game will also feature 6 exclusive contracts on the PS4.

No Mans Sky logo

Sticking with the theme of exclusives, we got another look at Street Fighter V, which is console exclusive for PS4 – along with the announcement of two new fighters. Really though, the first huge highlight for me was that we next got a gameplay look at No Man’s Sky. I have been super, super high on this game, ever since last year – it has been the game most driving my desire for a PlayStation. Seeing it in action was insane – I cannot imagine what the code is for that game, now that we’ve seen the scale and scope of it in action. Sony has a really strong exclusive lineup – continuing with the new game from Media Molecule – Dreams. It, while looking really cool, really didn’t seem like something that I’m particularly interested in. It looks neat – creating anything you want, based around dreams – but just didn’t really grab me. Maybe I have to play it to get it, we’ll see. Rounding out the indie lineup here we found out that Firewatch will be making its console debut on the PS4. I hadn’t heard about this game, not really being an indie PC gamer anymore, but it really grabbed me right away. The art style looks cool, the premise is unique and engaging and it looks like the writing and acting is strong.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

Then we get to the heavy hitters. And oh man, did we get some heavy hitters. First, Destiny is getting The Taken King, this September, focusing around Oryx – Crota’s father. A lot of those details we kinda new from speculation – but seeing it in action in trailer form was fantastic. The new subclasses were announced, and look awesome; but perhaps most impressive was that the DLC looks like the story content will actually be pretty strong. I’m curious about the transition from Year One to Year Two, but that’s a question for not E3 week. After Destiny showed off new DLC, we got a different look at Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate than we did at the Ubisoft show (wrap up for that later). This bit was all about showing off Evie Frye, the twin sister of Jacob. It looked pretty cool, and also announced some PS4 exclusive missions, the Dreadful Crimes.

This first section already had some serious players. But nothing compared to what we got next. Square Enix came out to talk about Final Fantasy. First was World of Final Fantasy – a chibi styled FF game with some monster battling in it due out next year only on Sony consoles. That’s great, but again, nothing else in the show compared with the next announcement (to me). After the biggest dick move ever with the fake Final Fantasy VII update at PSX, Sony finally – FINALLY – stopped messing around. Yes, there is a real remake of Final Fantasy VII in the works. It’s real, and that means I have to put my money where my mouth is. I said way back in 2006, when they had the PS3 tech demo showing the intro cutscene that if they ever did remake it, I’d buy that Sony console. So I’m in the market for a PS4 for really two games – No Man’s Sky and FFVII.

It’s hard to really stay at that same high level, but Sony did have a few more games to show. We got a four pack from Devolver Digital. The Kickstarter for Shenmue 3 was announced – and it’s already been met. That’s $2Million in less than 24 hours. We got a glimpse at the PS4 content for Arkham Knight, due out next week. Then the one part that Sony always seems to put in their show – hardware. It always seems to pop up, and never really gets any reaction from the internet which bugs me. When Microsoft talks Kinect or Live stuff, they get killed. Sony talks Project Morpheus and PlayStation Vue and nothing. I don’t get it. Both companies need to talk those things – maybe E3 isn’t the best place – but it should go both ways.

Regardless, Sony knows that talking hardware like that does really drop the energy. So they had the perfect announcement to pick it back up. This is one of the bigger news bits of the show, that isn’t a direct game announcement. We knew Black Ops III was coming. It was absent from the Xbox Show – which was noticeable. We now know it’s because Activision is doubling down on Sony. The DLC early access is now a Sony Exclusive, flipping from Xbox for the first time. That also extends to the MP beta this August – first on PS4. I think this is probably partially due to the success of their partnership with Destiny. It’s a big deal, especially when we get to the next franchise – Star Wars. EA has been pretty up front saying that the footage they’ve shown of Battlefront has been recorded on the PlayStation 4. They haven’t said anything about exclusives, yet, but that honestly wouldn’t really surprise me at this point. Now, Battlefront isn’t the only Star Wars game – the franchise is also coming to Disney Infinity 3.0, with an exclusive early access campaign.

To close out the show, there really was only one choice for Sony. Uncharted 4 is by far their most anticipated exclusive. We already know it got pushed back to next year. So instead of just retreading what we’ve already seen, Sony gave us an actual live gameplay demo. And it was clear to see that it was live – the game looked like it crashed on stage – not a bad thing necessarily, it is still really early. The gameplay we saw was pretty exciting for sure – driving is new for the series of course. Not being particularly vested in the series, I was still impressed with it. Sony had an all around great show – some serious big announcements across the board. I hate declaring a “winner” of the show – I always say that we are the winners at E3 – but Sony might have had the better show this year. Microsoft has a great 2015 lineup; but Sony has great games this year, and a crazy lineup for next year.

Weekend News Wrap Up

This past weekend was probably the busiest news weekend we’ve seen in December in ages. Between the Video Game Awards on Friday night, and the weekend’s PlayStation Experience; there was plenty of stuff to talk about. A couple big new games got announced, some nice new trailers and gameplay footage for upcoming blockbusters and quite possibly the most evil, diabolical troll ever. Let’s hit some highlights.

Street Fighter V

STREET FIGHTER V, DRAWN TO DEATH, DAY OF THE TENTACLE ANNOUNCED
Some of the big new games that we hadn’t yet known of from the weekend to get confirmed included the newest entry in the long running Street Fighter franchise. There had been some leaks and rumors last week indicating that we’d see it – and they turned out to be right. The biggest shocker in the announcement had to be that Street Fighter V will be PS4 and PC exclusive – through it’s entire lifespan. That’s a major win for Sony – Street Fighter still holds a high place in the fighting game world. Sony also announced David Jaffe’s new game, Drawn to Death, which looks…interesting. An arena shooter that’s set in a high schooler’s notebook almost seems like it was purposefully created for controversy. But that’s kind of how Jaffe has always done things – see Twisted Metal Black‘s stories and God of War‘s nudity and violence. It could work out and be awesome, but we have to see more. The other side of announcements was that we’ll be seeing a bunch of remastered versions of old classics. Grim Fandango will be showing up on PS4 in January, and they announced an HD update of Day of the Tentacle – a classic old adventure game.

Final Fantasy VII

SQUARE-ENIX PROVES THEY’RE EVIL WITH EPIC TROLL
Going off that idea, Square-Enix took the stage at PlayStation Experience in what might possibly be the most evil, diabolical troll I’ve ever seen. As they took the stage, the screen behind simply had a giant logo for Final Fantasy VII – prompting everyone to think a true HD remake was on the way; which would fulfill their tease from when they debuted the PS3 way back in the day. Of course, Square-Enix would go on to dash all those hopes and dreams by saying that it’s only the PC release of FFVII, with no real updates coming to the PS4. This continues to boggle my mind, because I just think that if Square-Enix did release a true HD update, they would have a console seller on their hands. I know I would pick up a PS4 just for it. I suppose we’ll just have to make due with the upcoming Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III.

No Mans Sky logo

NO MAN’S SKY, UNCHARTED 4 SHINE ON PS4
Speaking of console movers, Sony had new footage of two of their spotlight games, both showcasing the gameplay we can expect. Uncharted 4 had a live stage demo, which had a pretty interesting hiccup, but can be forgiven since it’s still so far out. One thing was sure though – that game looks incredible, and looks like it’s taking the series in a fresh direction while remaining true to form. Could be a major winner next year, we’ll see. And on a somewhat other level, No Man’s Sky took the stage and showed off an impressive demo of just what that game will entail. No Man’s Sky blew me away at E3, and every bit of news I see just continues to make me want to pick up a PS4 for it; and also fully impresses me with just the sheer scale of the game. Add in some non-exclusive games in next year and I think we have a bonkers year ahead of us.

RPG Week: Day 7 – Grabbag Goodies

Final Fantasy VIWith the last day of RPG week 2014, I want to hit a couple of my favorite RPGs that don’t really fit into any of the previous categories I’ve been talking about. There are three series that I want to hit today – Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts and Pokemon – which will wrap up my thoughts on the genre, at least for now. Next week will be pretty busy with Destiny releasing on Tuesday – I plan on having a whole bunch of different topics to talk about over the next couple weeks, hitting all the major parts of the game.

First though, I want to look at the granddaddy of all the console RPGs – Final Fantasy. It wasn’t the first RPG on home consoles, but it took the reins from Dragon Quest, released a year earlier, really setting the template for the genre on the home consoles. The series stretches all the way back to 1987 on the NES and has had a longevity that few series have enjoyed. Players these days might immediately think back to Final Fantasy VII on the PSX as their first experience with the series. To this day I still think that FFVII has one of the very best magic systems I’ve ever used in a game in the materia system. Spells are tied to the individual materia, which has a separate experience level that you raise, which makes the spells that much more powerful. Because the spells aren’t tied to characters, it lets you put the spells on the party members you feel like. Combine that with a strong story, memorable characters and moments that still resonate with gamers years later, and you have a game that has an important spot in the annals of history. That said, it’s not the best game in the franchise – that title belongs to the previous game, Final Fantasy VI. While FFVII might have the more well known villain in Sephiroth bent on destroying the world, it’s Kefka in FFVI that actually succeeds in his plan. To this day gamers still are a little unnerved by that damn Laugh of his. While the games in recent years maybe haven’t been up to the same level (I think FFX was the last really good one) the future is rife with potential, with a number of new games on the horizon.

Kingdom Hearts

Sticking with the Square-Enix games, I want to talk a little bit about their partner series with Disney, Kingdom Hearts. On the surface, it’s a pairing that might seem like it wouldn’t work. The tone between Disney animated movies varies so much, and the general tone across the Final Fantasy series skews more serious. I’ll freely admit that I was skeptical of it at first – it took my friend showing me it in action to convince me. In practice, it works so well it’s almost like they were meant to. Playing more like an action game, since the combat is in real-time, the game feels different enough from Final Fantasy that even with the familiar characters, it manages to form its own identity. Playing through the iconic worlds that the Disney movies take place in opens up all kinds of story telling options. An extra detail that helps ensure that this was going to be a unique and serious game, not a cash in style game, was creating the new enemy Heartless. Instead of just picking typical fantasy or RPG standards, Square-Enix created a brand new enemy and weaving their origin into the story. One thing that I haven’t been a fan of is the focus on side games on handhelds and the continual rerelasing of the older games. The good news is that Kingdom Hearts III is in the works – I would bet on hearing more either at TGS or E3 next year.

Pokémon Red

Finally, I want to talk about the first real RPG series that I think I ever really got into – Pokemon. I was ten when the first two games came out in the States – the perfect age to start playing. I got my first Gameboy that Christmas – a green Gameboy Pocket that I still have, along with a copy of Pokemon Blue. I dug right into the adventure – just really scratching the surface, focused solely on catching all 150 Pokemon. I picked the best Pokemon on the first day, and I still have that guy all these years later – my Venusaur I think has been in my party constantly since day one. Everyone knows about the explosion in popularity the series has enjoyed – and rightfully so. It’s both an accessible game for kids to pick up and start their own Pokemon adventures, bent on catching them all; but at the same time has surprisingly deep RPG elements behind the scenes. IV training, Pokemon natures, all the different mechanics that go into typing, both offense and defense, along with the actual catching of the Pokemon. I’m not one of the players that thinks only the first 151 are the best Pokemon, but I have definitely paid no where near enough attention to the details to really think about competitive battles. To that end, I always love going back and playing the classic Red/Blue games – and ultimately their remakes on the GBA.

And with that, I think I’ve put just about all my thoughts about the biggest RPG franchises out there today. Over the last week, I’ve hit a good variety of games – Western RPGs, JRPGs, High Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, Third- and First-Person and even Space RPGs. It’s a genre that is full of limitless stories to tell, and the experiences always are deep and lasting – not to mention they are a good way to spend hours and hours and hours. Looking ahead, we have a real good fall for RPGs ahead of us, with a nice smattering of Shooters thrown into the mix too. It is going to be a wonderful next couple months – it really is a great time to play games.