Sony Has Me Believing in Japanese Development Again

Final Fantasy VII RemakeTo say that Japanese game development has been a letdown would be underselling it. The once bastion of brilliant original games had become lost in mediocrity, reliving exhausted tropes and dated mechanics. Games stuck in development purgatory as they never seemed to fully grasp how to actually build a game in a world filled with ballooning budgets, massive sales expectations and technology that managed to make the once thoughtful and artistic look dull and boring.

Rather than take risks, Japan became a nation filled with companies who were afraid to gamble, afraid to put themselves out there to recapture the illustrious magic that brought us all into gaming in the first place. With smart phones and tablets threatening to kill the home console we have seen names like Capcom teeter on the brink of oblivion, Konami give up on console development and Square Enix look west.

But then a trend developed. Brave developers soldiered on without their companies. Keiji Inafune brought Comcept to the forefront with Mighty No. 9. Koji Igarashi smashed through crowd-funding ceilings with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. And Sony brought life to the classics that made Japan the Mecca of gaming.

The Last GuardianThe Last Guardian. Final Fantasy VII. Shenmue III.

Three vastly unique games, each with their own story of development turmoil. One mired in mystery and cryptic messages, with many wondering if it would ever see the light of day. Another a standout classic of one of the most famed franchises of all time. And the last the concluding chapter to a game that the entire world had written off.

It was a simple, calculated move that ended up being a perfect storm for Sony. One that Microsoft never saw coming.

The tone was set early today with Microsoft’s frenetic whirlwind of a E3 presentation that had many feeling invigorated by their renewed focus on core gaming. They hit as hard as they could with refined peripherals, backwards compatibility, not to mention a pair of Xbox standards in Halo 5 and Gears 4.

But Sony didn’t even blink. They managed to trot out the games that everybody knew about in No Man’s Sky and Uncharted 4. They turned a few heads with Horizon: Zero Dawn. But by recommitting to Japanese development, they are going back to what made the PS2 a standout purchase.

Shenmue IIIWe are still a ways off to see how these investments pay off with The Last Guardian due next year and no solid date for the Final Fantasy VII remake. Shenmue III, while a glorious undertaking, will need to pass the public barometer of Kickstarter (a place where it is currently blowing past records) and is projected to release no earlier than 2017.

But the proof is out there that Sony is supporting these projects openly. The Last Guardian is an in-house exclusive. Final Fantasy VII will arrive first on the PlayStation 4, as will Shenmue III when its development finally concludes. Pair Sony’s bombshell announcements with their support of Street Fighter V and the pending releases of Metal Gear Solid V, Final Fantasy XV, the Kickstarter projects of Mighty No. 9 and Bloodstained and all of the work Nintendo is doing, it appears that Japan has finally recaptured the magic .

New Type-0 Trailer Contains Spoilers, FFXV Episode Duscae Glimpse

Final Fantasy XVSquare released a meaty trailer today showcasing a bunch of story elements for their upcoming HD remaster of Final Fantasy Type-0. The trailer also provided a quick look at the content for the upcoming Episode Duscae demo for Final Fantasy XV.

While I refuse to watch the Type-0 footage, I have already been impressed by much of the production values behind Type-0. The mature story angle is a welcome addition to a franchise that has languished in predictable tropes and pandering plot twists.

What many will want to take a look at is a glimpse of Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae which is expected to launch alongside Type-0 HD on March 17. While much of the gameplay had previously been unveiled after years of wondering the fate of the game formerly known as Versus XIII, there are a few things to note in this demo trailer, including what appears to be elements of stealth gameplay.

Besides, all Square really needs to get Final Fantasy fans excited is a little bit of Nobuo Uematsu.

Rooster Teeth Animator Monty Oum has Passed Away

Monty OumMonty Oum, one of Rooster Teeth’s most prolific animators, passed away Sunday, February 1, 2015.

Oum became hospitalized late last month after suffering a severe allergic reaction to medications that rendered him comatose. Oum was unable to recover and passed away ten days later, despite efforts from family, friends, colleagues and fans. A GoFundMe campaign was set up in his name to support his hospital care where the initial $50,000 goal was tripled over the span of 3 days. A goal that was tripled before news of his passing ever broke. The GoFundMe campaign is still accepting donations that will go towards his family, which include his wife, Sheena.

Oum became internet famous after creating his Haloid video on Game Trailers in 2007. Haloid featured character models of Halo’s Master Chief and Metroid’s Samus Aran, fighting in an all-out, sci-fi, martial arts battle. He figured out how to take the models from Halo 2 and Super Smash Bros. Melee to create the video and had a natural knack for visual flair and spectacle. Haloid would become Game Trailers’ most successful user created video with over 4 million views.

Oum would follow up his Haloid success by creating the multi-part Dead Fantasy series, which pitted Final Fantasy and Dead or Alive characters against each other, a true fanboy’s dream. Oum created five full episodes, two spin-off music videos and a preview for an eighth episode. While he always teased continuing the series as it grew, Oum would find success as a professional animator by working on major music videos for Mariah Carey and Girls Generation and eventually found employment at Rooster Teeth where he became lead animator and creator of RWBY, a series that he won a Streamie award for.Oum’s videos came back when I was working at my college’s newspaper and I remember being mesmerized by the quality of his work. Yes he was creating absolute fantasies, but they were incredibly well made fantasies. What guy in his 20s didn’t want to see Kasumi and Yuna go at it. Oum was very much a pioneer in the world of video creation, a man who was able to find success on an uncharted path.

Oum is survived by his wife Sheena, his father Mony, his brothers Woody, Sey, Chivy and Neat, and his sisters Thea and Theary. He was 33 years old.

GoFundMe – Monty Oum Medical & Family Support

Mevius Final Fantasy Going Mobile

Mevius Final FantasySquare Enix’s next entry in the Final Fantasy series will be titled Mevius Final Fantasy and be a throwback title developed for mobile devices. While the trademark for the game was filed back in October, Square Enix made the formal announcement as part of a commemorative celebration for Final Fantasy’s anniversary on December 18. The announcement was made in Famitsu and featured a get together between Square Enix’s Yoshinori Kitase and the franchise’s creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.

Kitase did not go into detail for what players might expect out of Mevius Final Fantasy but mentioned that the game will feature much of what made the classic Final Fantasy games so great, in particular featuring a Warrior of Light and open map exploration. Take this information with a grain of salt as the game is expected to be optimized for mobile, which typically means the streamlining of many systems.

Kitase will serve as the title’s producer with Square Enix veterans Kazushige Nojima, whose credits include FF7, FF8 and FF10, will be in charge of the story and Toshiyuki Itahana, who worked on FF9 and Crystal Chronicles, will provide character designs. Mevius FF is expected to launch in Japan in March of 2015 with no official word on a western release.

With a talented trio of staffers led by Kitase, I am cautiously curious about Mevius. I’m not sure what constitutes as classic gameplay, but if the staff is allowed to simply sit down and design a game, Mevius could be special. I’m curious to see what kind of interview Famitsu had with Kitase and Sakaguchi, those two certainly have to have some stories.

Siliconera – Mevius Final Fantasy is an Upcoming Smartphone Game by Yoshinori Kitase

Final Fantasy XV Demo Limited to First Run of Type-0 HD

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

Final Fantasy XV’s hotly anticipated demo will be limited to the first distribution of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD purchases according to an announcement made by Square Enix. There are no immediate plans to release the demo in a stand-alone format so better get that pre-order for Type-0 ironed out.

Square had previously announced that FFXV’s demo would be released alongside Type-0 HD, the HD remaster of the Sony PSP title of the same name, so the tie-in should be no surprise. While the limited availability of FFXV demos may cause eyebrows to raise, it is not the first time that Square has toyed with exclusive first run offers to create incentive for pre-ordering titles in advance.

One thing to note is that Square Enix has been quick to point out that purchasers of Type-O’s Collector’s Edition will be guaranteed access to the FFXV demo. They don’t, however, mention whether standard edition early purchasers will also be given the demo. Thus far, major retailers including Amazon and GameStop are advertising pre-orders as including the demo, but with the stipulation that bonuses are subject to change.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Collector's EditionDetails of the Collector’s Edition included a soundtrack with selected tracks, a Type-0 manga, 80-page hardcover art book, five life size card replicas, and the bane of my existence, a steelbook case to hold the game.

To be fair, I wouldn’t purchase this game solely for the opportunity to get exclusive access to the Final Fantasy XV demo. Type-0 is a gorgeous game in its own right and has certainly earned its place in the world of JRPGs with its standout performance as a late PSP title in 2011, the fact that a English fan translation became one of the most popular titles on modified PSPs and that Type-0’s director, Hajime Tabata, has been promoted to director of Final Fantasy XV. Honestly, I’m looking forward to finally getting my hands on a proper release of Type-0, than a demo build of a game at least a year off.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD will release in North America on March 17, 2015 on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

PlayStation Blog – Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Collector’s Edition Revealed

Three Games that Definied My PlayStation Experience

In addition to the limited edition console, Sony has several prominent figures in game development sharing their memories of the original Playstation over on the official Playstation Blog. From President of Sony’s World Wide Studios Shuhei Yoshida (who chose games he explicitly worked on)¬†and Sony Computer Entertainment of America President Shawn Layden to reknowned third party developers Tim Schafer and Keiji Inafune, there are a ton of high profile memories and even better games being recalled.

So without further ado, I’d like to point out three first generation Playstation games that really defined my experience with that platform, so many years ago.

Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid

There’s not a lot that can’t be said about MGS. It does everything so right. It uses every feature of the console, every little feature of the then brand new DualShock and even found ways to break the wall several times. There was smoke on Snake’s cigarette, individually marked boxes to hide in, a fly by wire rocket launcher and “Whose footsteps are these!?” To this day, I find the ability to run around in the snow in the game’s second screen, is mind blowing. Not only were your imprints left in that fresh powder, but the Genome soldiers would notice the tracks and become noticeably upset. One of the few games whose technical prowess is matched by its gameplay.

Bushido Blade 2

Bushido Blade 2

Many would choose the first Bushido Blade, but I have a particular soft spot for Bushido Blade 2. The environments are a little bigger and the weapon choices a little more varied but it still retains the strict rules from the first game. One killing blow equals match over. In my head, the pixelated polygons will always be stylized samurai clashing swords until one player leaves an opening large enough for an advantageous strike. Square Enix, if you’re listening, this franchise would still make for a fantastic modern reboot.

Final Fantasy VIII

Final Fantasy VIII

I typically get a lot of flak for this, but Final Fantasy VIII is still my favorite mainline Final Fantasy. Sure, Final Fantasy VII marked the turning point of modern 3D JRPGs, but it is Final Fantasy VIII’s fated love story between Squall and Rinoa that really captivated me back in 1999. From the spectacular characters, to the stylized ATB battle system and a more mature design aesthetic that I maintain looks better than FF7’s, to the sweeping score opened by the legendary Liberi Fatali. Final Fantasy VIII was no where near perfect, but I fell in love with that game and all of its quirks. Besides, you get to pilot a school.

The PlayStation was a legendary console that gave origin to many of today’s most long running franchises. From Gran Turismo to Parappa the Rapper, Crash Bandicoot to Resident Evil, there is a ton of history on that gray box.

PlayStation.Blog – PlayStation Turns 20: Our All-Time Favorite PSone Games

Two New Mobile Final Fantasies Detailed

Final Fantasy Legends: Crystal of Time

The Final Fantasy train just keeps on rolling.

Square Enix announced two Final Fantasy titles to come to mobile platforms iOS and Android and will be released this winter in Japan. As told to Famitsu App, the two games will be the traditional RPG styled Final Fantasy Legends – Crystal of Time and the hero-developing, monster-grinding Final Fantasy Brave Exvius. Both will be free-to-play with additional microstransactions available.

Crystal of Time appears to be more in line with the two-dimensional RPGs of old, hearkening back to some of Square Enix’s mobile efforts to expand titles like Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. While an effort to make an original game rather than a cash-in are certainly appreciated, I hope the product is close to the high quality of the initial promotional art and screenshots.

fflct02

Given that the game will be focused on microtransactions, I expect Square to allow players to download the full game with access only to an early portion of the story. Subsequent chapters will be unlocked individually at a set rate or the entire package can be purchased at a slight discount. Now don’t expect Square to be cheap on this, they have been notoriously stingy on their mobile pricing strategies and I would expect at least $5-$8 per chapter after the initial download. But so long as the game’s quality is worth that price, I’d be willing to play a classically styled Final Fantasy on my phone.

Brave Exvius, on the other hand, looks to cater to that quick pop-in pop-out crowd that mobile games thrive on. Co-developed by Brave Frontier developer Alim, Brave Exvius very much appears to be Brave Frontier with Final Fantasy’s jobs and bestiary thrown in. Brave Frontier itself was a pretty addictive game that had players grinding through dungeons, collection monsters and heroes to form parties with all while slowly strengthening their characters with collectible currencies. It even had passive competitive multiplayer where you matched up against AI controlled versions of other player’s parties.

Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius

I spent a good amount of time playing Brave Frontier and would certainly give a Final Fantasy themed version a shot. It does appear there’s a bit more of a focused narrative, instead of choosing your own hero. Brave Exvius will follow the hero Rein, his rival Raswell and the heroine Fiina. Whether this will just be a guide for the main progression of the dungeons ala Brave Frontier, is left to be seen.

Square also announced the Final Fantasy Portal App which will contain news and information about the company’s games, products, events and practically everything that the company produces. It will also include an mobile¬†version of Final Fantasy VIII’s in-game card game, Triple Triad. The Portal App will also launch this winter in Japan.

Triple Triad

These are some pretty solid announcements out of Square, so long as they don’t lose any development out of their main console focus. There is certainly a demand for deep RPGs on mobile platforms and their ports have performed fairly well. Just make sure its not another version of All the Bravest.

Kotaku – Here Come New Final Fantasys For Your Smartphone