This Week in Games
Dynasty Warriors 9 Interview
by Heidi Kemps,
Good lord, it's like a never-ending deluge of news and releases this week! All kinds of big news and important happenings in the business have been dropping lately, to the point where I have to pick and choose carefully what to highlight because I don't want this column to become unbearably long. Normally, something like “hey, there's a new Gundam Extreme Vs coming to Japanese arcades” would be worth a lengthy writeup, but this week? Alas, this week, I can only mention it in passing. Looks pretty slick, though!
I also wanted to talk a bit about the recent Japanese eSports push, but since there's so much going on already, I'll probably go more into that next time. So, let's not waste time on introductions – let's get down to the big stuff that's been going on, and then look at the new releases this week!
NIS AMERICA ANNOUNCED A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT OF STUFF
NIS America holds a press event around this time every year to highlight their upcoming lineup, showcase a few guests, and drop a few surprises. It's always a fun time, and there's always something they announce that takes people by surprise.
This year was no different. Besides new looks at the improved Ys VIII on Switch and SNK Heroines, as well as release dates for titles like The Lost Child and Fallen Legion, we also got plenty of new game announcements: a port of Birthdays the Beginning on Switch renamed Happy Birthdays (which I reviewed in its original incarnation on PS4), Touhou Gensou Wanderer Reloaded on Switch and PS4, an RPG with Takehito Harada art called Labyrinth of Refrain on PS4, PC, and Switch, and – the one I'm most intrigued by – Assault Spy.
Assault Spy is being made by an anonymous Japanese development team called Wazen, and there's someone on staff who's said to have a real knack for action games – apparently, they've also done some work on Devil May Cry games, among other things. Assault Spy definitely looks like the work of a small team on the visual side, but if it plays as well as it looks to, it could be a real sleeper hit. It's PC-only for now, but who knows what the future might hold?
KINGDOM HEARTS 3 IS HERE TO REMIND US THAT IT'S STILL BEING MADE
Square Enix doesn't usually make announcements pertaining to Kingdom Hearts at the usual venues. Instead, it takes them to D23, the Disney collector conventions that bring out the hardest of the hardcore Disneyana aficionados. It's here, amongst crowds of men and women trading Mickey Mouse pins and ogling the latest four-figure collectibles, that Square-Enix reminds us that progress is happening on KH3. Slowly.
At the last D23 in the States, we got the news that Toy Story was going to be a realm in Kingdom Hearts 3, making it the first Pixar world to be integrated into the series’ increasingly convoluted lore. At the D23 event last weekend, however, we got the news that a Monsters, Inc. world is also making an appearance. Sora and company will also feature new designs to better blend into the realm and sweet holy hell what is this abomination
I guess we can be thankful it's not a Cars-themed world, I guess? Then again, I have a morbid curiosity as to how Turbo Teen Sora would turn out.
Hikaru Utada is also back to provide a catchy theme song that you will no doubt hear at every anime con karaoke open mic many, many times. We don't yet have any solid release date, but at least we know more about KH3 than the other Nomura project in development hell, the FFVII remake. That's something, right?
Hey, did you know that last project that Nomura stayed on as director through its completion was Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children? In 2005? Yeah, just pointing that out.
HAWAII IS LOOKING TO REGULATE LOOTBOXES
Ah, yes, it's finally come time to discuss the mechanic everyone loves to hate on TWIG: Lootboxes. There has been many an essay written about these paid virtual item crates over the past year or so, mostly describing how they're destroying the industry to various degrees. There's been rumblings about this sort of thing being legislated, and it looks like the state of Hawaii might be the first to do so, introducing bills that essentially classify lootboxes as gambling. If these bills pass, sales of lootbox-laden games would be restricted to those over 21 years of age, and publishers would have to disclose the odds of certain things appearing in these magical virtual goodie bags.
If these laws pass, there could be some interesting effects on games marketed in North America as a whole: if one territory passes laws restricting lootboxes, publishers might just apply those rules everywhere. For example, If Hawaii passes a law that says odds of getting items must be disclosed, then it doesn't really make sense to implement a costly system that would check for a Hawaii-based IP before displaying lootbox percentages – you'd probably just say “screw it, we're doing this nationwide.”
While most of the focus has been on console games, a lot of popular mobile games use a similar “gacha” mechanic, including Puzzle & Dragons and otaku darling Fate/Grand Order. Most of the lootbox controversy has been centered around console games so far, but it's not hard to see laws like this also affecting mobile gaming should more legislatures look to adopt them. A few Japanese mobile games ask you to confirm your age before buying stuff (usually in the form of a “yes or no” button press about as effective in keeping minors out as “Click to confirm you are 18 or older” on smut sites), but laws like this could force something stricter. Whatever happens, though, you can probably expect industry lobby groups to fight these laws vigorously, though I doubt they'll get the same sort of consumer support as the industry's pushback against anti-game violence legislation.
BLANKA KEEPS THE STREET FIGHTER V DLC ROLLING IN
Blanka is one of those characters who just needs to be in Street Fighter games. It doesn't really matter if he's actually, y'know, a high-tier character or anything – it just feels like Street Fighter is missing something without its trademark Brazilian mutant electric boy.
Blanka's debut looks like the mean green spinning machine we've all come to know and love from previous SF games, except, in keeping with the overall SFV design scheme, he's actually looking hairier. But unlike lion-mane Akuma, I'm thinking this look suits him well!
And then there's his alternate costumes. Specifically, his Story Mode costume, which looks like this:
… no, seriously, can we get a fighting game where everyone looks like this? Please?
Blanka will be available to download on the 20th, allowing fans to immediately begin their speculation on who will be the next addition. I think the smart money's on one of the new faces.
NEW RELEASE HIGHLIGHT: DYNASTY WARRIORS 9 INTERVIEW
There's a new release in Koei-Tecmo's long-running Dynasty Warriors series this week, and it takes an interesting path by bringing the tried-and-true Musou formula into an open-world setting. We sat down with Akihiro Suzuki, the game's producer from the Omega Force team, to talk a bit about the brave new path Dynasty Warriors is forging.
So, how do you feel about Dynasty Warriors being one of the most common ways people outside of Asia learn about Romance of the Three Kingdoms?
Suzuki: It's actually the same in Japan! Fans learn about the story through the game. We expected it to do the same in the West.
This series has been running for an extremely long time. How do you keep each installment interesting to longtime fans?
Suzuki: With the DW series, we always want to take on new challenges. To keep the gameplay fresh for players, we always try to change how to story is portrayed. I mean, it's the same story each time – the Three Kingdoms story. But we want to change how players experience that, how characters are portrayed, for each entry.
In these games, you have a lot of classic Chinese literary characters portrayed in flashy, stylish designs. They tend to be very attractive. How do you go about redesigning these characters to appeal to a modern audience?
Suzuki: Yeah, there's a lot of ikemen types. *laughs* We generally use the famous traits of characters as a base. For example, if a character was known for having a square face, we would do that. At the same time, we want them to look like something that fits a modern game, so we design them using story traits with a dash of modern attractiveness.
With Dynasty Warriors 9, you're taking an open-world approach. What challenges does this pose in keeping the classic gameplay fans know and love intact?
Suzuki: Generally, we don't change character traits, even if we change a lot of gameplay systems. We always try to keep them the same to keep their popularity among fans.
Can you discuss some of the challenges you faced with making DW9?
Suzuki: Because of the change to an open world, the scale is much bigger than before. The wide open spaces the player travels through – there would be times where nothing was happening. In order to fix that, we had NPC characters moving around those areas so that during those times, players will encounter roving bands of enemies.
Why did you opt to go with this open-world approach? Was it a response to current market trends?
Suzuki: Dynasty Warriors has been running for a long time. We felt like it was about time to change how the game is played. With the coming of the PS4 and Xbox One, the system specs were high enough to portray the open world we wanted.
Something that's common among Musou games is the amount of different characters players can use. Is it challenging making all these characters feel unique?
Suzuki: It is difficult, but to help make the DW9 characters unique, we took note of their historical traits and personalities. Another method we use is that, if some characters feel too similar, we avoid having their parts of the game placed close together.
Omega Force titles have a very distinct feel to them. What do you feel is the “essence” of an Omega Force game?
Suzuki: Since the Omega Force team was made to try out new things, I think that's our essence. To challenge new things, take on new ideas.
MORE NEW RELEASES
THE LONGEST FIVE MINUTES (Steam, PS4, Switch)
The Longest Five Minutes is a retro-styled RPG with a unique twist: you actually start at the final boss battle, but the hero has completely lost his memory, requiring you to dive back into your subconscious and recover your memories of your journey up to that point – all while the big boss battle rages on. If you're interested, I reviewed this over at GameSpot, so have a read!
RADIANT HISTORIA: PERFECT CHRONOLOGY (3DS)
Radiant Historia is a source of shame for me. I have heard nothing but praise for the DS original, and I've always meant to jump in and play it… but I have just never gotten around to it. I'm not sure why, either: the original game has an art style and atmosphere that has “you'll love this” written all over it. Now I'm stuck trying to decide if I should play to old version first and then come to this, or just play this instead. Argh!
But, um, anyway. Radiant Historia is a unique time-travel RPG where you hop between a bunch of different potential timelines. You can affect the paths you travel along by making choices over the course of the story, and even bring key items and knowledge from one timeline into another, which makes it more akin to visual novels like the Zero Escape series. It was a pretty expensive and coveted DS game for a while, releasing at the end of that console's lifespan… and now the remake is also releasing at what looks to be the tail end of the 3DS's life. Odd timing, that.
(And on another personal note, I'm not really digging the remake's new art… which is odd, because I've really liked artist Masaki Hirooka's work on ESPGaluda II, Castlevania Order of Ecclesia, and Kid Icarus Uprising. Hmm.)
SECRET OF MANA (PS4, Steam, Vita)
There's been a lot of backlash to the idea of a Secret of Mana remake. How can you improve on perfection, after all? Granted, it's incredibly buggy perfection with combat mechanics that aren't quite as refined as they could be, but you get what I'm saying. Games like Final Fantasy IV have gotten the 3D makeover with mixed results, so I understand the trepidation. Still, I'm not immediately turned off by the graphic style, as the illustrations by artist HACCAN which are the basis for this makeover are nothing short of gorgeous. There's plenty of room to improve on the gameplay too, which, as I already mentioned was janky… but lovably janky. It's one of those cases where fixing it might make it less endearing.
It's also not Seiken Densetsu 3, which is currently sitting with Mother 3 over at the “you can localize this any day now, guys” table drinking its sorrows away.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES:Bayonetta 1 and 2 are both headed to Switch on Friday. If you missed out on the second game because you didn't have a Wii U, you'd do well to get the Switch version... but maybe it's not a great game to play on the bus, y'know? Also, the unspeakably beautiful platformer Owlboy hits PS4 and Switch this week as a download game. While a physical edition is coming, you'll have to wait a few more months for it. Still, I can't think of a better way to enjoy Owlboy than on the Switch. If you're craving something shootier, however, Space Invaders Extreme just marched its way onto Steam. The DS and PSP original was a real treat, and I'm eager to blast my way through the new PC-optimized version. Trails of Cold Steel II is also coming to PCs, so if you're a PC gamer wanting to chew into a meaty JRPG epic, you'll most definitely want to grab that one. And if classic shooters are your bag, you'll want to snag Samurai Aces when it pops up on Switch.
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