This Week in Games
Fairy Tail Hands-On

by Heidi Kemps,

Hello, gaming friends! It's a big release week, with Pokemon Sword and Shield on the horizon! Let's check Twitter and see what everyone's getting hyped about the most in the games--

Yeah, uh, I think I'm going to stay the hell away from that. We're at the point where legitimate potential grievances are being overshadowed by YouTube shoutymen who're simply digging for more minor things to be angry about from sources of dubious quality. Basically, the opportunity for real discussion is dead.

My thoughts: How about we save our judgements until the damn games release and not pop into DMs to cuss each other out over cartoon animals? I'll leave it at that.

But if Pokemon's not your thing, there's the Google Stadia's launch! By this time next week, you won't need to own games anymore! Who here is hyped for Stadia and the future of streaming gaming?!

…yeah, that's what I expected.

SONIC MOVIE TRAILER 2.0 IS HERE

How about we discuss something that the internet at large is actually happy about? The newest trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie dropped, and it features the promised Sonic redesign. And boy oh boy, is it ever a massive improvement:

Frequent Sonic collaborator Tyson Hesse worked on the character redesign, and the folks behind the film couldn't have chosen anyone better. Gone are the creepy teeth, the weird simian hands, and the soulless eyes, replaced with a Sonic that's kicked the attempts at “realism” to the curb and looks much more like the character we love. He's still got the weird spike-fur I'm not fond of, but overall – yes. This redesign was absolutely worth it.

Seeing how much better Sonic looks now leaves me wondering – why the hell are these idiot suits in Hollywood so obsessed with fantasy characters in films being redesigned to look “realistic?” It never works. Generally, audiences don't care if the CG characters look “unrealistic” if their interactions with the actors and environments are believable – and trying to make “realistic” characters only highlights their uncanny valley unreal-ness. Nobody was distracted by the toons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit looking so different from the actors because the way they meshed with each other was wonderful, and it's the same with modern CG creations. I hope the enthusiastic reaction to Sonic's redesign sends this message to people who need to hear it.

Here's the thing, though: I still have absolutely no interest in seeing this movie. Yes, Sonic himself looks better. But that's only one part of the film, and the rest of it still looks like dull Hollywood family-movie fare. I chuckled a little at some of the little physical-humor jokes in the trailer, sure, but I just feel no desire to sit through ninety minutes of it.

It doesn't help that Sonic the movie features one of my least favorite live-action-adaptation plot contrivances. Did we have to go the hackneyed “Sonic isekais into our world” route with the premise? Bringing a franchise inherently rooted in fantasy to modern earth has been awful since Masters of the Universe did it three decades ago, but nobody seems to have learned, as it's still a Hollywood-adaptation trope. Frankly, I don't want to see Sonic in our boring-ass universe, I want to see Green Hill and Studiopolis and Quartz Quadrant, dammit! We got a little bit of Green Hill in the trailer, and that hurts because it looks really cool and I want more environments like that!

Still, it's definitely a far sight better than the last time Sonic and the real world collided…

PREVIEW: FAIRY TAIL HANDS-ON

Last week, I went to KOEI-Tecmo USA HQ to get some time with the upcoming Fairy Tail RPG. Based on the globally-beloved manga and anime series, Fairy Tail the video game adapts key story arcs (Tenrou Island, The Grand Magic Games, and Tartaros) and gives fans original stories featuring many of their favorite characters. While the version I played was still very early – there was a fair amount placeholder text and images to be found – I did get a glimpse into what the core elements of the finished game will be like.

First off: if the KOEI name attached had you dreaming of something like Fairy Tail Warriors, you're going to be disappointed. Fairy Tail is about as pure of a JRPG as you can get: 3D environments to explore, skills and spells to learn as you level up, and traditional turn-based combat. Blending in realtime or action elements with JRPG combat has become increasingly common as of late, but when I asked Associate Head Keisuke Kikuchi (pictured above) about why the game didn't have any action elements, he expressed that he felt it was important for a Fairy Tail game to be accessible. Fans of the series may or may not be seasoned gamers, so the team opted for a turn-based combat approach.

Interestingly, the team handling Fairy Tail's development is Gust, the folks behind the fan-favorite Atelier game series. If you've played an Atelier, you'll definitely see some of that DNA in the gameplay. Even the HUDs and menus feel like they've got a good dose of the Atelier style to them. That's certainly not a bad thing – most of the Atelier games are delightful – but it's like the FedEx arrow: once you know it's Gust behind the wheel, you are always noticing a lot of the company's various quirks throughout.

For example, much like Atelier, Fairy Tail puts a big focus on sub- and sidequests. Completing these quests rewards you with items and money, boosts character bonds, and can also bolster the Fairy Tail guild rank. Monster hunting quests also appear on a board in the guild building, and you can take them on for similar rewards. If a quest is tied to a particular character, you will also see some fun story bits – seeing new interactions and dialogue with your favorite characters can be a reward in itself! After completing quests and earning rewards, you can upgrade the Fairy Tail headquarters with better facilities.

While there's incentive to do a lot of sidequesting, you will want to advance the actual plot at some point. Fortunately, you're given plenty of direction: the mini-maps and main overworld screen mark the destinations and characters you need to talk to in order to advance the plot. (Conversely, if you want to sidequest it up, you can opt to ignore them for a while.) The bit of the game I got to play had our party of Natsu, Lucy, and Erza heading to Akane Beach to train up for the Grand Magic Games. (Characters like Gray were shown, but were unable to be placed in the party for the demo.) Along the way, we beat up some monsters, did some sort-of-training, and met Ultear and Jellal, who fought the party in order to help them upgrade magic abilities.

Combat is turn-based, as was mentioned before, but there are a few twists that spice things up a bit. Enemies are based on a 3x3 grid, and every attack you can do has a different area-of-effect shape. This adds a bit to the decision-making process – do you strike with a big, costly spell that hits a huge area, even if some enemies are resistant to it? Or, perhaps, is it better to target smaller areas to more efficiently attack foes?

While I wasn't able to play around with it in the demo, the party lineup also had a grid of its own, featuring front and back rows for up to five members to assemble on. (Our demo only had 3 characters playable, but it was confirmed that five would be the maximum in battle.) Kikuchi also mentioned that there would be a few not-yet-showcased elements that would add to the grid combat, such as cramming multiple foes onto squares.

One major combat element is the character bond system. Depending on things like how many battles characters fight with each other and subquest completion, character bond levels can increase and grant new abilities. A special meter in combat fills as characters take and receive damage, and when full, it can be used to chain party members’ attacks together for massive damage. It was implied that, as bonds increase, more magic would become available to use in the chain.

The demo finished with an introduction to Awakening attacks. When a character is in a pinch and has taken heavy damage, the player can command them to use their Awakening skill. This restores HP and MP, along with doing tremendous damage to enemies unlucky to be in its path. Some characters, like Natsu, will even be able to select from multiple awakening skills during battle.

Visually, Fairy Tail was pretty nice. There were a few framerate drops when things got busy, particularly in towns, but the characters and environments looked fine. One disappointment, though, is that Lucy's summon spells simply call on a 2D cut-in image rather than a 3D model of the summonee. Hopefully that changes in the final. While there wasn't much music to hear, what was there was pretty solid. Something that might disappoint a subset of fans, however, is the lack of an English dub track. For various reasons, the only voice audio will be in Japanese – though the original Japanese anime cast does return to voice all their respective characters.

Fairy Tail was still in a very early state, but what was shown seemed promising. Most of the base game is finished, and the team at Gust is currently spending the time leading up to Fairy Tail's 2020 release date polishing and tightening up the game. This is definitely one for series fans to watch closely.

That wraps things up for this week. What're your thoughts on the new Sonic trailer? Are you more interested in seeing the movie now? Will we ever get Sonic OVA Knuckles and his cool hat back? Discuss away in our forums, and I'll see you all again soon!


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