This Week in Games
by Heidi Kemps,
ME: Phew, it's always exhausting covering a Nintendo Direct. I'm looking forward to a much more laid-back week in gaming news.
GAME INDUSTRY: Urp. I don't feel so good.
ME: Oh, Industry-chan, are you okay? You look kind of ill.
GAME INDUSTRY: *hurk*
ME: Oh. Oh no. Oh noooooooooo-
GAME INDUSTRY: *vomits major news everywhere*
Ugh, I gotta clean this up now. Sigh.
HOPE YOU LIKE SHINY THINGS CAUSE WE'RE GOING BACK TO SINNOH, Y'ALL
Hey, guess what? Those long-rumored Pokémon remakes of Diamond and Pearl are real, and you'll be playing them in the near future!
Oh man, this rules. Generation 4 is probably my favorite Pokémon generation out of all of them: the atmosphere, monster designs, and gameplay all felt extremely on-point. It's clear from the trailer here that they're going for a more “traditional” feeling Pokémon game than the recent Sword and Shield: overhead camera angles, grid-based navigation, and random encounters, among other things. It's going for max nostalgia-grab points, and that's fine, because there's another Sinnoh-region game that's more of a technical showcase. Here's Pokémon Legends: Arceus!
I think I'm honestly more excited for this than the remakes. Sinnoh is based on the Hokkaido region of Japan, which is the home of the indigenous Ainu people and their rich folklore and traditions. So, it makes sense that the same place in the Pokémon world would have similar legends – and, according to reports, the development team is working to implement elements of Ainu culture into the game. Also, it's an open-world Pokémon with a Breath of the Wild-like atmosphere, and that sounds rad as hell. Sign me up!
Well, that's some exciting news, huh? Time for a comedown!
SONY'S JAPAN STUDIO IS SUNSETTING
In what is a very depressing sign of the times, it has been confirmed that Sony is severely downsizing its internal Japanese studios, leaving only the ASOBI team (who makes the various Astro games). None of their Western studios or subsidiaries have been similarly affected, indicating that most internal Sony Interactive Entertainment development from this point on will be based out of North America and Europe. This explains the rash of high-profile departures from Sony Japan, including Bloodborne producer Masaaki Yamagiwa and Demon's Souls remake producer Teriyuki Toriyama.
Quite frankly, this sucks! In recent years Japan Studio has been making some really interesting and inventive stuff. Unfortunately, Sony just never seemed to want to market that stuff beyond showing them once at a presentation, essentially sending them to die. I mean, what's the last major Japan Studio release you can name off the top of your head? Probably The Last Guardian, right? Maybe Knack if you're feeling meme-y.
There's a lot of factors in this decision that make business sense. The Japanese market as a whole has been moving towards smaller mobile platforms since the mid-aughts, with mobile games and portable/console hybrids like the Nintendo Switch eating up the lion's share of the current game industry. That makes it much harder for a Japanese-focused game to sell on PS platforms. Plus, with game development for PS5 being extremely pricey, you need to make games with mass global appeal… which means a heavy bias towards Western aesthetics and game design. (There's a lot to discuss about the West's hegemony for all things entertainment, but that's well beyond the scope of this column.) And most of the PS4's biggest Japan-made hits came from third parties like Square-Enix, Sega, CAPCOM, and Bandai-Namco. If Sony can count on them for support – and maybe get a few exclusives – why keep several internal Japan development teams?
But even if it's a good business move, it still sucks for us as gamers, many of whom miss the quirky and imaginative mid-budget adventures that were so plentiful in the PS1 and PS2 days.
The news dropped on Thursday morning, which cast a pall over Sony's State of Play broadcast in the afternoon. As you might expect, the focus was heavy on Western properties this time around, though there was an announcement related to a very well-loved Japanese title.
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE IS GETTING MORE CONTENT AND A PS5 UPGRADE
Some of you might be a bit too young to remember, but back in the PS1 and PS2 days, Square-Enix would quite frequently re-release updated versions of their most popular games in Japan months after they first debuted – usually with a subtitle like “International,” as many of the reissues implemented quality-of-life improvements the English-localized versions adapted. And sure enough, Final Fantasy VII Remake is keeping with tradition and getting a PS5-enhanced edition – complete with an “Inter-“ subtitle, even!
Besides visual enhancements and extra features, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade will also include a new sub-episode featuring everyone's favorite spunky materia-hungry ninja, Yuffie and her new friend, Sonon. It'll be interesting to see what she did before you met her in the original FFVII, as she doesn't make a particularly good first impression there – but it's clear from the trailer here that Yuffie isn't the selfish brat she initially came off as, as she's also trying to wreck Shinra.
Fortunately, we won't have to pay extra for Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade: anyone who has bought the game will get the update for free, with some caveats: you'll need a disc-based PS5 if you have FFVII Remake on disc for the free upgrade, and those of you getting FFVII Remake for free via PS Plus next month aren't eligible.
OH, but that's not all! Did you long for a brand new FFVII, mobile game in the vein of FFXV Pocket Edition that covers huge chunks of the entire Final Fantasy VII saga? Well, folks, let me introduce you to Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis, set to release on iOS and Android sometime next year. No mention of gacha yet, and hopefully it stays like that!
BUT THERE'S STILL MORE! Did you ask for a Final Fantasy VII battle royale game? No? Well, the market says everything's gotta be Fortnite-flavored these days, so here you go! FFVII The First Soldier is coming to mobile platforms... and probably other systems, too, because these sort of games need to reach as big an audience as possible to get that sweet, sweet gil.
So, yea, some nice updates for a much-beloved game, and some... interesting mobile announcements. Now let's see how updates for a less beloved game are coming along…
ANTHEM NEXT? MORE LIKE ANTHEM……. DONE
About a year ago, BioWare announced that they were going to be revamping their looter shooter Anthem. Anthem had a notoriously terrible launch, with a lack of focus, staff turnover, and crunch-laden work conditions resulting in a game that felt unfinished, incoherent, and half-baked. But the good thing is that, in the area of downloadable patches and updates, you can take a bad game and make it into a very good game! And that's just what BioWare was planning to do… until this week, when “Anthem Next,” as it was being called, was cancelled.
It appears that the call to kill Anthem’s reboot was made by Electronic Arts, who don't see a whole lot of value is trying to resurrect the game. I'm sure some corporate bean counters made a bunch of charts indicating that potential sales of the new Dragon Age and Mass Effect would counteract the loss of consumer goodwill that abandoning the Anthem ship would cause, but it's yet another black mark on BioWare's track record. And the last thing BioWare needs right now is more reputational damage. Even if it wasn't entirely their call here, it'll still be BioWare taking the brunt of buyer venom, and EA knows it.
Hoo boy. I feel like the Sword of Damocles is hanging over BioWare offices right now, and if the next Dragon Age doesn't go well, EA's going to kill them and skin them of their IP. That's not a healthy situation to be working in!
Aside from the official announcement, very little has been said about specifically why Anthem Next got axed. Was it progressing too slow? Was the gameplay still not coming together? Was EA just sick of it? We may never know! In fact, everyone involved seems to want to sweep this under the rug as soon as possible. Hey, what's that? Is that some Mass Effect news over there? Look, everybody, Mass Effect! *swish swish swish*
FIGHTING GAME NEWS ROUNDUP: I GUESS YOU CAN CHARITABLY CALL IT A TEASER
The second Japanese Fighting Game Developer Roundtable was held over the weekend. The livestream was… well, kind of an organizational mess, given that the English interpretation was MIA for a good chunk at the beginning of the broadcast. But hey, at least we're going to get some cool new trailers, right? Like this one for Tekken 7's new character, which has an amazing ratio of intro-to-content:
Oh Harada, you troll! We'll get more info on our new Polish combatant soon, I suppose, since she's slated to appear in an update next month.
Meanwhile, SNK had two trailers, both featuring some longtime fan favorites. Let's meet the best girl of Samurai Shodown, Cham Cham!
And now, King of Fighters XV, featuring the return of the girl with the shoulder pads, Chizuru!
She's on Team Sacred Treasures with Kyo and Iori. The ANN forums are now two for two on guessing KoFXV team compositions! Unfortunately, there's still no news on what netplay is going to be like, which has a lot of faithful fans quite worried – my Twitter feed was chock-full of the #SNKRollback hashtag over the weekend to raise awareness about the issue.
Speaking of rollback, the Guilty Gear Strive beta got extended for a little longer due to server issues, but everyone seems to agree that the netcode is some of the best out there. (The lobbies, not so much.) Also, we saw the reveal of the final character from the starting cast. Oh boy, looks like my social media feeds are getting extremely horny again!
Topping things off, there's… Fighting EX Layer... on Switch? Yes, Switch is getting a port of this underrated gem, titled Fighting EX Layer Another Dash, and it'll have a bunch of exclusive new mechanics, as seen in the trailer below:
More info about the game will be made available on April 1st, which is when Arika traditionally does wacky stuff like… first announcing Fighting EX Layer! I'm certainly intrigued to see what's up Arika's sleeves with this one.
Okay, I think we're done here! Though there's one other news bit I want to talk about a little: The death of Fry's Electronics. Fry's was a chain of American electronic stores that sold basically everything electric-powered with a very fun atmosphere. You could go there to buy really, really obscure PC parts alongside your household appliances, anime DVDs, and specialty videogame controllers, then grab hot dogs and a soda on your way out. Also, a good chunk of the stores were themed, like this one in Las Vegas:
Fry's had far fewer locations than places like Best Buy, and they were mostly a West Coast thing. The furthest east they ever went was their Indianapolis-area location. I certainly didn't have one in Iowa growing up, so when I did get to visit a Fry's during trips away from home, I was always hyped to find bargains and surprises. Eventually I moved to places where Fry's was closer, but I still enjoyed going there. But the last time I went to Fry's – just before the pandemic hit – the store already looked like a wasteland, with empty shelves, no new game releases, only bottom-of-the-barrel DVDs on the movie shelves… but plenty of knockoff perfume, for some reason. I knew something was up, and I'm surprised it took this long for the other shoe to drop. I'm really going to miss them.
If you have any thoughts on this week's happenings – and I'm sure you do – pop on over to the forums below, where you might just find somebody else to mourn Legend of Dragoon with you. I'll be back next week with hopefully less whiplash between good and bad news.. See you all again soon!
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