While I did not go to E3 this year, I have done all I can to try to be there in spirit. That includes watching the long industry conferences, watching playthroughs on Youtube, and downloading the "Resident Evil VII" demo. But also I’ve simulated the experience by sitting in long soul-crushing lines of traffic, eating gross fast food breakfasts, and sleeping like trash all week. No, it isn’t the same thing, but at least work is slow so I have plenty of time to write up my reaction posts. Also I can pour all my frustrations at my failure to ever return to E3 into Reinhardt players in "Overwatch". You slow bastards never know what hit you.
On some level of topic: Every year the question is brought up: "who won E3?" Well, I cannot really say there were winners of E3 2016, because right now everything in the gaming industry is in such flux. Nintendo is holding its cards close to its chest while it transitions to the NX. At the very least Nintendo knows where it wants to be and seems to have a roadmap to get there. But Microsoft seems totally lost. The Xbox One is clearly the second place finisher after the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft does not know how to get back on top. Everything Microsoft has tried since 2010 has failed. Scorpio seems more like a threat than a promise of the future to me. These gaming half-steps show a console industry that has prepared itself badly for this generation and is looking for a way to catch back up to PC, consumers be damned. VR is here but it’s been floundering to make a true beachhead. Sony is giving it a big push but how serious they are is hard to say. While Ubisoft is celebrating thirty years with giraffes and dancers without bellybuttons, Vivendi is plotting a hostile takeover. Heck, E3’s showfloor itself is largely a ghost town this year I’ve heard. Konami and Disney are gone from the industry, EA and Activision left the showfloor, Nintendo has just Zelda and a treehouse. E3 as an institution itself is very much in doubt.
So with all uncertainty in mind, I’m just gonna talk about games. Because despite the industry's state right now, 2016 has been a phenomenal year of gaming so far, and this E3 was very good for games. Scorpio seems like a rip-off, VR might not work, Nintendo might be doomed, but while we all ride this train to our collective doom, we'll have games to play.
This is going to be a two-parter. I'll post the second part tomorrow night.
"Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" – Here’s my first reaction: GAME OF E3!!! ZELDAZELDAZELDAZELDANINTENDOISBACKBEARMYCHILDRENMIYAMOTO.
Here’s my measured reaction: This looks good.
My main worry with the new Zelda game is that it would look like the game that should have come out five years ago instead of "Skyward Sword". (Quick "Skyward Sword" recap: that game is a piece of garbage that wastes its potential on bad motion controls and a rigid awful game world full of annoying filler and the worst companion character in Zelda history.) I was terrified that Nintendo would count “open world” as either being just more empty space between dungeons or that they would ape the worst Ubisoft conventions and make a really generic game. Instead they’ve done something far better. This is the step that Zelda needed to take. This is awesome.
"Breath of the Wild" looks like a game that deserves to be open world. It’s expansive, it’s ambitious, it’s very pretty, and it’s doing things this series has never done before. This is Zelda by way of the "Metal Gear Solid V" design philosophy. You can either play Link the “right” way, duel Moblins with your sword, or you can run around naked, burn down forests, and beat Stalfos to death with their own arms. I can see a huge inventory system full of tricks to experiment with and creatively fight enemies on your terms. Throw bombs, ride shields, throw metal things at them like Magneto. There's real options for creative cruelty here, which is kinda shocking for Zelda but still very interesting. There is mystery and atmosphere everywhere, the game looks amazing.
My only gripes so far: The music is far too muted, I need a huge horn section to get that sense of adventure. And there’s a stamina meter. Don’t have that stamina meter.
Ultimately "Zelda: Breath of the Wild" looks like more than what I was asking for from a new Zelda title. But until I see what kind of story they’re offering and what the proper dungeons look like, I won’t know if this is the game that will let Zelda compete with the modern dynamos like "The Witcher 3". It looks very good on the WiiU, but let’s be honest, nobody wants to play this on the WiiU. The WiiU is dead. Let’s get some friggin’ NX already!
"Final Fantasy XV" – Now for the other franchise that hasn’t been good since 2006. I’ve had private doubts for a long time about whether "Final Fantasy XV" would actually be a great game. Most of those doubts were answered back in March with that "Final Fantasy XV" event in LA. The trailers there poured enough raw hype down my throat that I actually preordered the $100,000,000,000,000 special edition, the one that comes with hookers and weed. Yes, I’ve been waiting for "Final Fantasy Versus XIII" for what feels like since the day the Magna Carta was signed. Luckily the wait seems worth it. The trailers show what looks like an incredibly open game with a very heartfelt core of buddies on a road trip that just happen to fight monsters every so often.
Actually what "Final Fantasy XV" has shown at E3 so far has kinda sucked. First of all the “VR Experience” looks like a complete afterthought. Basically it’s the "Link’s Crossbow Training" of Final Fantasy. A gimmicky extraneous cash-in. Then there’s the boss fight shown at the Microsoft Conference. The Square Enix employee did not seem to have any idea how to play the game and it came off as a total mess. He hit buttons at random, then somehow still beat Titan thanks to QTEs. That is not a fluid or particularly fun way of presenting a game. And finally this “Wait Mode” idea is stupid. You cannot backpedal from an action game by throwing in a pause function to make RPG commands.
However, just today they showed a half hour gameplay trailer going over all the many systems of "Final Fantasy XV", including ones I forgot. Like, did you know your freaking turns into an Airship? And that Noctis has a yacht? And that you can cook food? And that the world is amazingly huge full of gorgeous environments, massive cities, and really hot blond mechanics? This is the ultimate Final Fantasy game! ...I hope. If it isn't I'm screwed out of a lot of money.
I’m also going to make an early prediction that the "Final Fantasy XV" movie is going to suck.
"World of Final Fantasy" – Let me say right now that I love this. There is no version of me in any alternate universe out there that would not love this. Final Fantasy has become so inflated in its own ego and melodrama that really "World of Final Fantasy" is the only cure. After watching Lightning drone in her own ponderous self-serious bullshit for a decade now, I needed to see her shrunk down to two feet tall, and still be just as ridiculously grim as ever. Squall continues to ramble in his heavy deep voice as if his story is the most important thing ever and he’s a baby cartoon with little stub arms. This is everything to me.
And even better, this isn’t some mobile phone cash-in like every Final Fantasy game seems to be these days. I’ve lost count how many "All the Bravest" style titles have come out, recycling SNES sprites and player adoration to sell micro transactions and clicker gameplay. "World of Final Fantasy" is a turn-based RPG with gameplay that defines the word “classic”. A lot of it seems built on a system where you build towers of your characters by having them stand on each other’s head. So everything form the art style to the combat is adorable. And it’s on a PlayStation 4! Top of the line graphical processors are being used to produce a tiny depressed Cloud that cannot lift his Buster Sword over his tiny head. I love it all, I want it in my house.
"Persona 5" – When I see "Persona 5" I see one thing: style, baby. Atlus are not even attempting to hit the highest quality of graphics with the game (no surprise since it’s also coming out on PS3 in Japan) but man "Persona 5" looks cool. The character design is fun and limber, the menus are gonzo and exciting, and the world is beautiful and off-the-wall. Ultimately the game looks like a Persona game. You play as a mute adolescent that fights demons at night in long dungeon crawling segments with your waifus. Combat is turn-based, there’s what looks like the Press Turn System, and in one small return to Shin Megami Tensei, I spotted demon negations. I’m sure everything you expect from a Persona game will be here.
What has me more excited than merely reporting “well, it’s another one of these” is the storyline. The most exciting part of any Persona game is the mystery around what exactly is going on. Honestly I may never want to play this game just so I can it all remain hype instead of what will probably be a rather mundane anime reality. Your hero is a mild-mannered student by day, dashing thief at night, who seems to have some kind of a very evil twist inside of him. A lot of trailers have him grinning sadistically and setting on himself on fire. A smooth Lupin III-style adventure combined with the usual Persona fringe benefits – I’m going to totally creep all over that glasses girl – should make "Persona 5" a great game.
"Pokemon Sun and Moon" – I can’t pretend to care about this. I'm friggin' tired of Pokemon. What is this, the fiftieth Pokemon game on the 3DS? I'm bored of this. I need a good five year break before I'll care again about these games, but they keep coming! Sorry, I can't bring myself to be interested in this.
"Kingdom Hearts III Minus .2" – Usually I would have nothing much to say about an HD remake collection, but this is obscene now. "Kingdom Hearts II.8" is a holding pattern to make up for the fact that "Kingdom Hearts III" won’t be ready until the second year of the Hilary Administration or something. That’s fine, whatever, I’m still going to be salty that the wait is long and Square Enix couldn’t throw us a bone and give us a trailer. So what? I’m a fanboy, those are fanboy complaints.
But "Kingdom Hearts II.8" is just bad value. The I.5 and II.5 collections at least had some of the best games ever released on the PlayStation 2 and did a great job presenting those games for a new generation of players. We’re all lost by the density of Tetsuya Nomura’s over-complicated Kingdom Hearts universe, we could use a refresher. And it’s finally a release of the Final Mix versions of the games, meaning that ten years after the fact, I can finally fight Xemnas in "Kingdom Hearts" and Terra in "Kingdom Hearts II". There’s something to sell. But "II.8" is an HD remake of "Dream Drop Distance", one of the least impressive games in the series that comes packaged with a series of cutscenes from a mobile game and what appears to be maybe two hours of Aqua in a demo level for "Kingdom Hearts III". My recommendation is don’t play "Dream Drop Distance" unless you’re a super fan, watch the mobile game cutscenes on Youtube, and maybe rent "II.8" for the Aqua levels, since you’ll finish them in an afternoon.
How is this good enough for this series for all of 2016? God helps us, this might need to hold us over through 2018. So far Kingdom Hearts has become an incredibly iterative series that has not really jumped the next level gameplay-wise. Nothing in "III" so far seems like it’s going to be a revolution. Making these games should be as simple as clockwork by now. If Ubisoft can make a generic open world game every two weeks, Square Enix can'r make a Kingdom Hearts game on the PS4 before the 2020 election. There is no excuse for this project to have taken as long as it has. So get us "Kingdom Hearts III" already and quit with the goddamn cashgrabs, Square Enix. I'm officially mad.
"The Last Guardian" – Well, I cannot say I understand why this game has taken the length of an entire console generation to come out. But at least it is coming out, and it is exactly what it promised to be back in 2009. Some day we might learn the horrifying story of what went on behind the scenes that stopped this "Shadow of the Colossus" follow-up from being released years ago, but who cares? The game is coming in October and it looks just as good as it did way back when. It doesn’t really look all that much like a PS4 game from the trailer, but even in a post-"Uncharted 4" world, graphics are still not everything. As long as the game can offer some interesting interactions and options for puzzle solving with an emotional journey, I'm there. Take my wallet and my soul, Sony.
My main worry is that I will not be emotionally able to take this game. As we all know, you play as a little boy in sunny "Shadow of the Colossus"-style ruins. You lead your giant dog/rat/bird pet around who is your muscle, ride, and best friend all cobbled together into one. Basically the challenge is a long puzzle game of trying to push your dog/rat/bird/thing forward and keep it from getting distracted. But, inevitably your pet is going to get hurt and probably this game is going to go Newbery Medal on us and kill dog/rat/bird thing. I don’t know if I can handle such a loss. If "The Last Guardian" is everything I think it will be, this could contend for 2016’s Game of the Year. And that’s a prediction I do not make easily knowing that "Overwatch" is already the best thing evar.
"Horizon: Zero Dawn" – This game looked great last year. There is nothing at this E3 that in any way dampened my hype. You have Ygritte from "Game of Thrones" running around a "Battlefield Earth"-style universe fighting Dinobots. My hype is already yours, baby. Please do not disappoint. My only complaint about "Horizon" is its title. “Generic: Bland Subtitle” really does not paint much of a picture in my mind.
"Horizon" just looks really really good. So good that there’s not a lot to say. Maybe the story will suck? Open world might end up too cluttered? Oh who cares?
"Detroit: Become Human" - Here's a game I've had my eye on for four years now. I remember when this was a tech demo called "Kara", which was basically a short film version of the story that "Ex Machina" would eventually tell much better. Quantic Dreams showed that thing off before they announced "Beyond Two Souls" instead. Now David Cage and Quantic Dreams have lost quite a bit of their reputation over the years due to a lot of failed promises and some sub-par storytelling and acting. But I loved "Kara" and really wanted to play a game based on that, I still do now.
I don't actually know what "Detroid: Become Human" is about. All the footage shown has been movie cutscenes with a few choices hidden here or there. Last night's trailer starred a handsome robot negotiator trying to talk down a suicidal droid before he murders a little human girl. It did not feature the female robot (whose name I assume is still 'Kara'), but she is still going to play a major role in whatever the story is going to be. David Cage again is promising a huge amount of player freedom, thought I'm unsure how much will actually make it into the game. The trailer shown at Sony's conference gave every option from the everybody dying to everybody living in the scenario presented. That could be very interesting as long as this game does not succumb to the trappings of other Quantic Dreams games.
Also nothing in any of the trailers in any way gives me a very "Detroit" vibe. I'm thinking more of Tokyo from "Ghost in the Shell" here personally.
See ya tomorrow for the second half of E3 reactions! Where I get more negative.