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 .

I’ll Believe It When It Happens: The Last Guardian to Appear at E3 2015

The Last GuardianRumor has it that Sony’s Japan Studio will they/won’t they project The Last Guardian will be making an appearance at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo according to a report issued by The Guardian.

I’m going to stop the actual reporting there because, honestly, there is nothing to report here. The Last Guardian’s tumultuous history is incredibly well documented, so much so that Sony had let the trademark of the game lapse twice. Trademark deadline mishaps aside, while many want Japan Studio’s follow up to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus to be an amazing fantasy epic, they are unfortunately at the mercy of rumors and leaks. They may want to take their time in developing a game that could be amazing, but keep in mind the conceptual work of The Last Guardian began in the PlayStation 2 era.

We are well beyond the point in time that Japan Studio can ignore the outside noise and remain hidden in the dark on The Last Guardian. All we really know is that the game was supposed to come out on the PlayStation 3, it has a boy, it has a griffin, it is kinda shiny. Or maybe those statements are all “was” statements.

I guess we’ll find out in a week.

The Guardian – E3 2015 – Our 15 Most Anticipated Games

Inevitable 1080p Remaster of Uncharted Trilogy Coming to PS4 October 9

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake CollectionNathan Drake will be making his PlayStation 4 debut on October 9, just not in Uncharted 4. Naughty Dog Studios is putting together a 1080p remastered collection of the original three Uncharted titles in a collection dubbed Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. It will contain Full-HD remasters of the PlayStation 3 entries of Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception. Purchasing the Nathan Drake Collection also provides access to the Uncharted 4 multiplayer beta.

Leaked in part to an internal error that had a listing appear on the PlayStation Store, Uncharted was probably the most likely candidate for an HD remaster, especially after the strong reception of Naughty Dog’s last game and subsequent remaster, The Last Of Us.

Uncharted was a powerhouse of a game visually, that managed to combine great animation and set pieces amongst terrific action directing. While the gameplay left a little to be desired with rooms full of swarming enemies, Uncharted was the definitive game of the PlayStation 3 and one of my personal favorites of last generation. A graphical fidelity upgrade from 720p to 1080p will certainly be welcome but it will be interesting to see if some of the mechanics are ironed out when they work on fine tuning the game. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune certainly has aged the poorest of the three with clumsy shooting controls and awkward pacing at times.

The delay of Uncharted 4 into 2016 was one of the things that has kept me from purchasing a PS4 to this point. Maybe the idea of playing the first three titles again is enough to stave off Sony fans that are hungry for a solid console exclusive.

I’m trying not to read too much into the way that they are naming this collection as well. Titling the trio of games the Nathan Drake Collection is eyebrow raising with many wondering if A Thief’s End will permanently shut the door on Nathan Drake and introduce a new protagonist/antagonist. To me the Uncharted franchise ties into the charisma of Nathan Drake’s character, so moving away from Drake as the lead is hard for me to see past.

Amplitude is Almost Here and I Can’t Wait

AmplitudeHarmonix Games’ revival of their famed Amplitude franchise is looking spectacular, thanks to a new trailer that was released today.

Put into production after a successful 18 day Kickstarter campaign, the PlayStation exclusive rhythm action game revives the cult classic series that Harmonix claimed fame for prior to their work on Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Players are challenged to create music tracks by successfully activating sections of a song. Each song segment (bass, rhythm, highs, vocals, etc.) are activated by rhythmic combinations of three button presses, similar to successfully activating a section in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. After a segment is successfully activated, it stays running for a limited time and a different segment can be jumped to (typically with the shoulder buttons) with the goal of adding more segments.

New to the series is the addition of a cooperative multiplayer mode where multiple players can stay on dedicated segments to create more complex tracks. It is a natural evolution for a company that saw incredible success in its work in cooperative rhythm games.

Newcomers to the franchise might notice many similarities between Amplitude and the colorful Rock Band Blitz. Blitz shared many of the concepts that made Amplitude and Frequency popular, with Blitz having a focus on Rock music thanks to the vast Rock Band library.

Amplitude is set to release this Summer for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3. Harmonix will be showing the game off for the first time to the public at this weekend’s PAX East convention.

The Last Guardian is Still in Development, Despite Trademark Lapse

The Last GuardianSony had to reassure fans that Team Ico’s The Last Guardian was still in production, despite an internal error that left the U.S. trademark claim abandoned. After being contacted by news outlets following the discovery of the lapsed trademark claim, Sony issued a quick statement reconfirming that The Last Guardian was still in development. That statement has since been confirmed as Sony has since petitioned to have the trademark revived and filed an application for extension on their Intent to Use trademark on the title through California based patent lawyer Patrick Soon.

The Last Guardian has been no stranger to the mass speculation surrounding the game. First announced in 2009 as the next addition to the acclaimed Team Ico, a development team inside Sony’s Japan Studio, The Last Guardian would be delayed multiple times to its present status of TBA. The game has seen development shift from a mid-life PS3 title, to an end of life PS3 title to a now unknown platform, most likely the PS4. The expectations for the game are incredibly high, especially considering the praise of Team Ico’s first two games, the award winning Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

The game was last seen in any form at the 2010 Tokyo Game Show which began the questions regarding the potential cancellation or long-term goals for the game’s release. Sony representatives have issued several statements over the years reaffirming that The Last Guardian was still in development, despite never showing any new updates or disclosing their release plans. Fumito Ueda, the development lead at Team Ico, has been consistently silent with Sony public relations guarding him and the development team stating they were giving them the required amount of time needed to properly develop the title.

I’m all for taking time on development, especially with a development team with Team Ico’s pedigree, but the never ending silence has caused the game to go from curious speculation to drinking game joke at this point. Considering the trademark has been allowed to lapse not just this most recent time, but twice in the span of six years has many wondering if the game is nothing more than vaporware. Even worse, Shadow of the Colossus, widely heralded as one of the greatest games of all time, was released ten years ago in 2005. Team Ico managed to miss an entire console generation working on one game.

I’ve said before that Sony could blow the roof off any trade press conference by closing a show with The Last Guardian. The team doesn’t even need to create a demo build to show gameplay, a 30-second teaser with dramatic fades that end in the griffon staring straight into the camera would cause the NeoGAF forums to explode. Just confirmation that the game is still on the slate, anything beyond a talking head reiterating the same tired speech would do wonders for the game’s public perception.

Whether The Last Guardian will be any good no longer matters. We just want to know the thing exists.

Gamespot – The Last Guardian Still in Development, Sony Assures

Guess Who’s Returning in Street Fighter V?

Street Fighter V

I’m trying very hard not to write this mimicking Jean Claude Van Damme.

Capcom hosted the Capcom Cup in San Francisco and featured a Ultra Street Fighter IV tournament and plenty of buzz for their freshly announced Street Fighter V. To go in tow with the Rise Up and gameplay trailers they showed off at last week’s PlayStation Experience, Capcom saw fit to reintroduce the Street Fighter fandom to series favorite, Charlie Nash.

Originally introduced in Street Fighter Alpha, Charlie Nash has had a sort of convoluted story that had many believing he had met his demise at the end of Street Fighter Alpha 3 (while others believe he became Blanka according to Van Damme’s Street Fighter The Movie). That could still be the case for Guile’s old military buddy, as there’s a bit of a flash at the end of his tease implying that there’s plenty more information about Charlie’s return.

I’ll bet a million Bison Dollars that Charlie will be the first of many throwback characters that Sony is pushing hard for Capcom to include in Street Fighter V. Could we see Karin? I could go for a little more Final Fight crossover with Mike Haggar and Maki.

On top of the reveal, Capcom announced plans that they would continue the Capcom Cup, with a prize pool of over $500,000 planned for next year. And relax about the Street Fighter: The Movie jokes. Just remember, Chris Klein played Charlie Nash to some hilarious results not too long ago.

Yakuza 5 Finally Comes West, Kind of a Big Deal

Yakuza 5

Saturday’s announcement that Yakuza 5 would finally be making its way over to North America and Europe is a big deal, but probably not for the reason you think.

Yeah, Sega has waffled on the subject for a long time, citing the declining sales of the series from entry to entry as┬áthe main reason why they had been hesitant to publish the game. And the game is certainly an incredibly “Japanese” game in its nuances, mechanics and loads of references to Japanese culture, things that, save for a dedicated few, will likely fly over the heads of western gamers.

It is important for one reason. Sony made this happen. Yakuza 5 was far and away one of the most requested games on Sony’s social media campaign, Building the List. The campaign asked gamers what titles they most wanted to see and aside from games that simply didn’t exist (Shenmue III), Yakuza 5 was a logical choice for many. I certainly would have vouched for Yakuza 5.

Yakuza 5See, I’ve been a fan of the series since its original PS2 release. It was a game that was not afraid of what it was, quintessentially Japanese, but a game that tried to bring more fans into a dramatic take on Japan’s most notorious underworld figures. Because of the odd reception of Yakuza, my collection of the series is even more sporadic. I own the first Yakuza as a new purchase, Yakuza 2 as a used purchase (that I spent a significant amount of time tracking down), and Yakuza 3, Yakuza 5 and Yakuza Kenzan in Japanese. Oh, I also own Yakuza Dead Souls for PS3 used in English. The only main-line Yakuza I don’t currently own, Yakuza 4, is now available at a tempting price of $19.99 digitally. (I also don’t own Yakuza Isshin, which came out the week after my trip to Japan earlier this year.)

My Yakuza collection is very confused. And I just might buy Yakuza 5 (digitially, since it likely won’t see a physical release) to give Sega my money so that more great things come here. More Valkyria Chronicles anybody? Since their Japanese historical spinoffs of Yakuza, Kenzan and Isshin will likely never make it over, Yakuza 5’s performance is absolutely critical for the next title in the series, Yakuza Zero.

Yakuza 5Yakuza Zero will be a prequel to the events of the original Yakuza, a story that has always been referred to and never playable. But I absolutely need to experience the rise of the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu. And without the success of Yakuza 5, that may never happen.

So yes, the fact that a fantastic game is finally making its long overdue debut in the west is big news. But the fact that Sony is listening to their fans and actually putting money behind the localization of this game are absolutely a big deal. They understand the relationship between gamers and developers needs to be nurtured and they are showing that they are not afraid to do so.

Polygon – Yakuza 5 is coming to PS3 in North America and Europe