This Week in Games - Thanks for 2017, Japan!

by Dustin Bailey,

I've been continuing to play that Zelda, which is continuing to be a real good use of my time. I feel like I'm losing track of the internet's opinions of it, though. I understand the complaints about rain and slippery cliffs, but then people went off on a good-but-not-glowing review, and then some people are horny for a fishman while other people are horny for birds. It's a confusing situation, but hey—this is a good video game.

It's also keeping me from playing about a bazillion other great video games that I'd like to get into. I had to drop Horizon (at least for now), but the other games I wish I had time to play all have one specific thing in common. A thing which is a perfect subject for this gaming column attached to an anime website.

Opinion: Japanese Development Might Be the Best It's Ever Been

Review aggregators might have their flaws, but join me on a little experiment here. Head to OpenCritic, filter the listings to 2017, and sort by score. It's a very cool list of games at the top. You know what else? They're almost all Japanese.

Gaming isn't old enough for me to speak in hushed tones about days gone by, and it wasn't that long ago when Japanese development had been the clear king of the proverbial mountain. Nintendo rebuilt the home console market that Atari squandered, and with years of Nintendo, Sony, and Sega as the top console manufacturers it only made sense that Japan would be the leader when it came to game design and tech innovation.

That slowly changed over the years, and there are a number of reasons for it. Japan's own home gaming market began to shrink against the rise of mobile games even faster than in other territories. Western developers standardized the underlying technology powering their games with engines like Unreal and Unity, while Japanese developers were relying on proprietary technology that largely wasn't shared or innovated upon. The Xbox 360 was the console to finally get online play and digital distribution right, driving further innovation in the West while it may as well have not existed in Japan.

And even the titans of Japanese development had a rough time keeping up. The Japanese market alone wasn't big enough to support big budget games, which meant that publishers scrambled to ensure their portfolios appealed in the West. Square Enix bought Eidos to ensure their name would be on popular non-Japanese games like Tomb Raider, Hitman, and Deus Ex. Sega now publishes Total War games.

But now? If I didn't know better, I'd swear Japan had a thriving home console development scene. Funny thing, right? It's not a sudden, brand new development. The Souls games have seen huge worldwide success, and a wider market that's now big enough to support niche audiences means that Western publishers can bring over games like Atelier, Tales, and even things ranging from Project Diva to Senran Kagura with an expectation of that investment being worthwhile. (And of course Nintendo has been putting out mostly consistently great games on the Wii U, despite that system's unpopularity.)

What is new is the volume, variety, and level of praise being pointed at these games. You can absolutely pick out terrific Japanese games from the past couple of years, but we're only two-and-a-half months into 2017 and already have a half-dozen major home console games that range from great to excellent. Resident Evil 7. Yakuza 0. Nioh. NieR: Automata. Gravity Rush 2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That's a world class lineup of games, and the only Western game that even belongs in the conversation is Horizon.

Though it would be helpful to have a singular line that I could draw which explained this sudden explosion of quality and interest in Japanese games, there's nothing which ties all this together. Zelda comes from the full force of Nintendo's development staff working to redefine the series and integrate lessons learned from Western games into a flagship franchise. NieR is Platinum's A-team working on something whose bizarre magic comes from the genius dementia of what came before. There's no reason for Yakuza 0 to have caught on more than its predecessors, other than that it's a good jumping on point. And if you're looking for me to explain how Team Ninja made a terrific Souls-derivative action game with their last good one having been Ninja Gaiden way back in 2004, I've got no explanation for you.

The thing I would point to, however, is Resident Evil 7. The approach it takes isn't fundamentally different to that of RE6—take a popular Western genre and apply the setting of Biohazard to it. But instead of that game's process of haphazardly shoehorning a decade-plus of lore and characters into a series of shooter campaigns, RE7 is a back-to-basics reimagining that dispenses with every franchise conceit that isn't integral to its core.

What's interesting is that everyone seems to be figuring their stuff out all at once—and even more interesting is that a much wider audience seems to be along for the ride. Reviews have been very favorable for all of these games, even from mainstream sites, and you can't scroll ten seconds down gaming Twitter without stumbling over another goofy GIFable moment from Yakuza or Nier.

Is this praise translating to sales? In some cases, but not necessarily. At retail, RE7 has done very well, as has Nioh, but games like Yakuza 0 and Gravity Rush 2 have done significantly lower numbers. In fact, Mario Kart 7—yes, the six-year-old 3DS game—has outperformed Yakuza so far this year. Sega seems committed to continue releasing the remaining Yakuza games here, so there has to be some belief that even the limited sales are making the massive localization job worthwhile.

But boy—we've got more top shelf Japanese games than we've had in a long, long time. And there's a lot of year left to go. Persona 5, Ni no Kuni II, more Yakuza, a full lineup of new Nintendo stuff, and maybe (just maybe) a new Shenmue. That's reason enough to be excited.

NEWS

GET EXCITED FOR OLD VIDEO GAMES, BECAUSE CAPCOM IS PUTTING OUT ITS DISNEY STUFF ALL OVER AGAIN

Capcom announced this week a release called the Disney Afternoon Collection, which collates a half-dozen licensed NES classics in a single $20 package. Those games are Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers 1 and 2, Darkwing Duck, DuckTales 1 and 2, and TaleSpin.

So why is another package of retro games in any way significant? Because getting licensed games out in modern form is one of the trickiest tricks of modern re-releases. Remember how Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game was on the Wii Virtual Console, but got pulled down a few years later never to be seen again? It is tough wrangling rights, especially when it's between video game publishers and cartoon license-holders.

This is also a Digital Eclipse project, who previously put together the excellent Mega Man Legacy Collection. That means spot-on emulation, extra challenge features, and a preserved library of artwork, marketing materials, and music from the games. Plus save states and rewind features. Also, you're saved from spending literally hundreds of dollars to procure copies of the later games on eBay.

The collection hits PS4, Xbox One, and PC on April 18. Alas, no physical edition or Switch version.

ATLUS HEARD YOU WERE EXCITED ABOUT THAT PERSONA 5, AND WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN SOME FINE DLC

Hey, that Persona 5 looks pretty cool, and it'll be out by the time you've finished Zelda. That'll be cool. But you might need a bit more added to your Persona experience. What if you could pay more for extra content? Well, you're in luck! Because Atlus has announced the North American schedule and pricing for the upcoming DLC.

It'll be released weekly following the game coming out on April 4. It'll consist mostly of BGM and costume additions from previous Atlus games from Personas past to Catherine. Those prices will range from $3 to $6, but I know what you're thinking. What about the sexy stuff? Well, my thirsty friend, you're in luck—the swimsuit DLC, which outfits the cast in an array of character-appropriate bikinis and trunks, will be absolutely free.

You can see more details on the DLC at the official site. Worth hyping over? Nah. But I'm endlessly amused that Atlus is putting out the beach day DLC for free, when most publishers would charge extra for it. (Also, I really wish I was playing Persona.)

YOU CAN PLAY SOME OF THAT SPLAT2N, BUT ONLY AS NINTENDO ALLOWS

Hello there, fellow Switch buyer. It's okay. It's just us here. You're among friends. Breath of the Wild is pretty great, right? I know, though—it's just one game, and once we're done with it, what's next? Luckily, we've got some free fun to have over the weekend. No, next weekend. That's because the Splatoon 2 Global Testfire demo is happening! It'll give you a solid look at the game's new features, and will be giving Nintendo a look at how their online infrastructure is holding up. (Because lord knows they need to keep checking it.) You can preload that demo via the eShop right now.

That'll be running Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26, but don't expect to ruin your entire weekend with Splatoon action. You'll only be playing in predetermined, hour-long slots, after all. This can only be referred to as a “Nintendo-like solution,” but hey. We bought in on a new Nintendo console, right? Actual Splatoon 2 will be out sometime later this year.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: March 21
MSRP: $59.99

Five years after the internet controversy fire that was the ending of Mass Effect 3 comes a brand new sequel with a brand new story set in a brand new galaxy. Aside from conveniently stepping away from the bad taste that last game left in the mouth of fans, it also wipes the slate clean for new characters to develop and new alien mysteries to be explored. It looks a lot like a Mass Effect game, and honestly it's been long enough that I'm ready for that.

TOUHOU GENSOU WANDERER
Developer: Aqua Style
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: March 21
MSRP: $49.99

Oh, it's time to discuss another entry in an obscure-but-prolific series that I am largely unequipped to pontificate upon? Okay, cool. The Touhou Project is a series of bullet hell shooters originating on the PC-98 that takes on a very bishoujo aesthetic. Touhou Genso Wander however, has its origins in that series' exceedingly large doujin scene, and this fan-made game is actually a roguelike that's more Shiren-like in execution. (Heck, some of the marketing material keeps mentioning “mysteries” and “dungeons.”) Though it's a deeper dive than this paragraph can adequately explore, it's super cool than an American publisher can give some doujin business a bit of localized love.

TOUKIDEN 2
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita / PC
Release Date: March 21
MSRP: $59.99

The second entry in the Dynasty Warriors people's take on Monster Hunter, Toukiden 2 will once again cast you as a Slayer set to eradicate some Oni. There's a whole bunch more to say, but if you're interested you're likely better off checking out the free demo currently up on PSN, which will let you carry over progress to the final game.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Nier: Automata will ask “2B or not 2B” in convenient PC form this weekend, so look forward to that.

But that's it for this week! Will I finally manage to cruise through the rest of Zelda this weekend? Boy I sure hope so!


discuss this in the forum (20 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

The X Button homepage / archives