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 .

Just Cause 3 Gameplay Trailer Proves That Cools Guys Never Look at Explosions

Just Cause 3Rico Rodriguez is just living on a wingsuit and a prayer.

There’s not much that can be said about the latest trailer for Just Cause 3, Square Enix’s bonkers open world shooter where you can drive, fly, skydive and grapple on to anything and everything on screen. Oh, and all modes of transportation are required to be accompanied by explosions. Not that you’d notice, since cool guys never look at explosions.

Just Cause 3 explodes onto Windows PC, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One this holiday season with Avalanche Games returning for development.

Tri-Ace Back at Helm for Star Ocean 5

Star Ocean: Integrity and FaithlessnessWhen Japanese development studio Tri-Ace was acquired by mobile company Nepro Japan, many thought that would spell the end for the veteran RPG creators, most famous for their work on Square Enix’s Star Ocean franchise. As luck would have it, Square Enix had no intention of handing the franchise off to another team so Tri-Ace is back at the helm for Star Ocean 5, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. Star Ocean 5 will be the first entry in six years and will release on the Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 consoles.

In an interview with Famitsu, it was revealed that the Star Ocean 5 project had been in the works for some capacity with Square Enix producer Shuichi Kobayashi leading the project. Kobayashi said that when he was working as head of marketing he quietly had hoped that something new would come out of the Star Ocean series. Ultimately taking things into his own hands, Kobayashi changed positions to producer and began work on Star Ocean 5 by bringing in series creator Yoshiharu Gotanda of Tri-Ace and Star Ocean 2 and Star Ocean 3 designer Hiroshi Ogawa on to his team.

After the tepid response to 2009’s Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Kobayashi hopes that Star Ocean 5 is a return to the franchise’s roots, citing Star Ocean 3 as the source of much of his inspiration. Star Ocean 3 was a massive game that I remember fondly for its rich assortment of characters, tertiary depth and Tri-Ace’s signature combat innovations. Canonically, Star Ocean 5 will take place between Star Ocean 2 and Star Ocean 3, making it the fourth story chronologically (Star Ocean 4 is the first on the timeline).

What has me worried is that while Star Ocean is known for the gamut of party members that can be added over the course of the game, they always fall back on incredibly base and stereotypical personas. Plucky headstrong lead, slightly shy but capable female childhood friend, cold but calculating female stranger and prodigious but emotionally immature child. This isn’t so much a problem except for the last trope, which proved to be a deal breaker for me in Star Ocean 4. That game’s gifted child was so irritating of a character with the shoddiest of vocal performances, I haven’t made it back to that game in years.

Sadly, Star Ocean 5 might have one of these characters as well.

But shallow support characters aside, Star Ocean is one of my favorite JRPG franchises and I have high hopes for a game that touts the history of the best moments of it franchise. Kobayashi certainly has the framework to make something good, I just hope it is more like Till the End of Time and less like The Last Hope.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Cinematic Debut Trailer

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Looks like Adam Jensen has got his hands full now that the worlds of humans and augmented humans has reached a tipping point.

The cinematic trailer for the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided debuted this morning with the game expected on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. If the energy and pacing of the trailer is an indication of the evolution the next Deus Ex game will take, hopefully speed will be a big part of it.

Set two years after Human Revolution, Mankind Divided puts players back in the role of the augmented Adam Jensen. Front and center is some classic cyberpunk themes, an idea well known to Deus Ex fans, with tensions between “pure” humans and cybernetically augmented humans boiling over, ala Blade Runner. Hopefully Eidos and Square Enix will be able to continue building, while keeping the core depth of the game consistent. Human Revolution, while streamlined compared to its predecessors, managed to achieve a solid balance of RPG character progression with modern gameplay mechanics.

No release date has been announced.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Leaked

Deus Ex: Mankind DividedSquare Enix had been quietly counting down…something on Twitch but thanks to a leak by Russian media outlet, it appears they were counting down to the announcement of the next Deus Ex game, Deux Ex: Mankind Divided.

The leak has since been corroborated by Game Informer when they decided to go live with previews of their next cover following the leak. Front and center is Adam Jensen, the protagonist of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, along with several very slick looking screenshots. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the fourth entry in the franchise will debut on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution was somewhat of a surprise given that it managed to catch popularity in the mainstream, something that the previous titles never fully realized. Deus Ex has long been a revered franchise, but Human Revolution was able to meld the game’s cyberpunk RPG roots with several modern mechanics including first person shooting, cover shooting and stealth. One screenshot in particular seems to point in the direction of not only customizing Jensen’s cybernetic augmentations, but also in customizing his arsenal with a whole screen dedicated to highlighting the potential weapon loadout.

Deus Ex: Mankind DividedIn what also appears to be a first for the series, the protagonist from a previous game will be carried over into the new game, with plenty of emphasis on Adam Jensen. Players of Human Revolution will remember the choice given to Jensen at the end of the game, so it is curious as to what Eidos and Square Enix will consider the canonical ending.

I enjoyed Human Revolution quite a bit and appreciated Eidos’ refinement of a game that had historically been full of depth, but fairly clunky. Mankind Divided, after looking at the leaked screenshots, looks to be a visual feast. Also, they appear to have toned down the orange lens flares a touch.

The official Deus Ex Twitter account also went along with the leak, announcing that a formal reveal would be made at 9 am PST for Mankind Divided.

Dragon Quest Heroes is Coming West After All

Dragon Quest HeroesDragon Quest Heroes will be releasing in North America and Europe later this year according to an announcement made by Square Enix today. The game has been confirmed for launch on PlayStation 4 and will carry a price tag of $59.99 in the United States.

The action/RPG mash-up draws heavily from developer Omega Force’s history of making their long running hack and slash Dynasty Warriors / Musou games. The Tecmo Koei studio is no stranger to collaborations, having already teamed up with Nintendo last year to develop the very successful Zelda themed Hyrule Warriors on top of other themed Musou style games including titles based on One Piece, Gundam and Fist of the North Star.

The game just launched in their domestic market of Japan for PS4 and PS3 (February 26, because it’s the future there) so early sales numbers are not yet available. But given the typically staggering popularity of Dragon Quest, on top of the loyal following Omega Force developed Musou games carry, it should be a safe bet that Dragon Quest Heroes does well. Dragon Quest Heroes does, after all, have one of the best advertisements in recent memory.

There is no official confirmation on whether the PlayStation 3 version of the game will make its way west, but I expect to see it released as a possible digital download, depending on the activity of PS3 users. Also unconfirmed are bubble wrap themed advertisements.

Polygon – Dragon Quest Heroes is headed west to PS4 this year

Dragon Quest Bubble Wrap – Most Addicting Thing Ever?

Dragon Quest HeroesJapan’s love for Dragon Quest is well documented. It is the game that put Enix on the map and the franchise that has enjoyed more success in Japan than even its Square counter-part, Final Fantasy. So what happens when you pair Dragon Quest with the most addictive oddity in human history, bubble wrap?

Japanese citizens who have no choice but to be drawn like moths to a flame.

Displayed at the incredibly busy Shinjuku train station, Square-Enix created a bubble wrap medium ad for Dragon Quest Heroes, which launches this week in Japan. The have been spectacularly engaging, drawing young and old to defeat the bubble wrapped slimes that cover the wall.

Dragon Quest HeroesThe ad reads “みんなで力を合わせてやっつけよ” which translates roughly to “The combined power of everyone will defeat” or “With everyone’s power combined we will defeat our foes.” Or something to that effect. There are several messages encouraging passers-by to partake in the never ending battle between adorable blue slimes.

It’s a pretty cool ad for a game that franchise that doesn’t need a ton of marketing. Dragon Quest has a far reaching popularity, with many noteworthy celebrities appreciating the franchise, including famed baseball player Ichiro Suzuki.

Dragon Quest Heroes is a spin-off iteration of Dragon Quest, this time taking an action-RPG approach to the classic turn-based RPG. Developed by Omega Force, the team responsible for the Musou/Dynasty Warriors franchise, Dragon Quest Heroes draws heavily from this style of game, which is also very popular in Japan.

Dragon Quest HeroesThe game has yet to be announced for western audiences, as both Dragon Quest and Musou-style games have a more niche popularity in the west. Also there is no word on whether viral bubble wrap marketing will go international.

Kotaku – Dragon Quest PR Stunt Cruelly Exploits Peoples Love for Bubble Wrap

Is This the End of tri-Ace?

Star Ocean: The Last HopeJapanese mobile development company Nepro Japan announced their acquisition of development studio tri-Ace on Friday, February 20. tri-Ace, best known for their work on numerous Japanese RPGs, including creation of the Star Ocean series, will be thrust into a major role within their new company which is looking to upscale their production on mobile games.

While it was never stated outright, this will most certainly put an end to tri-Ace’s days of developing major RPGs for consoles unless some miracle partnership brings Nepro Japan and Square Enix together to allow tri-Ace another collaboration.

tri-Ace has always had a knack for creating unique battle systems that ranged from their dynamic, position based active system in Star Ocean to their 2d turn-based system in Valkyrie Profile. My personal favorite tri-Ace game is the charming RPG Radiata Stories, which had the AI control party members using tactical commands as the player controlled the main character, Jack. Radiata Stories put games like Chrono Cross and Suikoden to shame with 176 recruitable NPCs for a ton of variety in its gameplay.

It is a shame to see a talented team like tri-Ace, with a very successful history, be reduced to the role of mobile development. Unfortunately, that is the reality of Japan’s gaming market.

tri-Ace also developed Resonance of Fate for Sega, Square’s Infinite Undiscovery and co-developed the battle systems for Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.

Destructoid – Well, there goes tri-Ace, developer of Star Ocean

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.

Square Shows off Final Fantasy Trailers at Jump Festa 2015

Final Fantasy XVSquare Enix was well represented at this past weekend’s Jump Festa 2015 including trailers prepared for the highly anticipated Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy Type-0 HD.

The Type-0 trailer in particular is quite moving. Set to the hauntingly beautiful Zero by Bump of Chicken, the Type-0 trailer mashes up Square’s penchant for mixing dialogue with a decent amount of gameplay footage. Were it not for the bits of dialogue hinting at the darker themes of Type-0, it would be strictly a gameplay trailer with many of the characters exhibiting their unique movesets.

Immediately I am quick to point out that the game looks to be running fluidly and the port work seems fairly solid. Just remember that this game is several years removed from its release on the PSP, a far cry from the graphic fidelity the current generation of consoles can handle. Working with a PSP remaster is not without precedent as Konami made a fairly well rounded game with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD. Suffice to say, even with the handheld tendencies Type-0 should offer, it looks like the gameplay elements are very tight and I am very ready for Type-0’s launch.

The Final Fantasy XV trailer continues to showcase the English vocal track which was unveiled last week and I continue to be underwhelmed. I have never been a big fan of Square’s voice over localization in the past and Final Fantasy XV seems to lack much of the nuance in the original Japanese language track. I understand that there is a need to localize dialogue for large budget games that sell to those beyond the niche but there is no reason to not include the audio files on these massive Blu Rays or to offer them as DLC. They did it for Drakengard 3, FFXV deserves that attention as well.

I hope they fix some of the vocal syncing issues that seem to be present in this new trailer. It makes Final Fantasy’s greatest bro road trip even more awkward with voices that don’t fit, unneeded accents and just an overall dearth in voice acting quality. There’s a lot of time between now and FFXV’s as yet unannounced launch so I hope they tighten things up.

It should go without saying that both games are well on their way, but I think Type-0 is far and away the game to keep an eye on. FFXV, though gorgeous, is very much a work in progress, even after its previous life as Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

Also, Cid is now a female mechanic named Cidney.

YouTube – Square Enix Channel