Takeaways From E3 2015

Hi, folks! It’s been a little over a week since another Electronic Entertainment Expo has come and gone, and as always there were a ton of new game announcements, trailers and rumors flying around. We’d be here all day if we listed everything that got our blood pumping, so we’ll let some of the Con Artists take a moment to list a few things that they found particularly interesting.

SU:

Horizon Zero Dawn

I can’t wait for this game. I didn’t have much ambition to buy a PS4 when it came out because I was just scratching the surface of my PS3. That being said, this game could swing my vote if it’s as epic as this trailer depicts. I cannot wait to fight mechanical dinosaurs and then have a throwdown with a giant mecha-raven. A female bow and arrow wielding character that kicks ass and takes spare parts?! This game looks beyond epic. I hope the final product is amazing.

Kingdom Hearts 3

Kingdom Hearts was the reason that I bought a PS2. I’ve always had a thing for narrative driven games and when flipping Disney characters made an appearance in some game involving complex narrative, I wanted to be there. I did everything there was to do in the first game (yes I actually ground my way to level 99 and had Goofy’s health bar flying off the screen into unseen space). I bought Kingdom Hearts II the day of release and played the heck out of it. After all this I read tons of fan speculation, I owned boatloads of fanart, heck…I even read a ton of fanfiction, but I hit a roadblock when all the new games began coming out on systems I didn’t own. This is tragically where my love started to waver.

I started Chain of Memories when it came to the PS2 in it’s new, polished form, but I had really lost the mojo. The story seemed to be wrapping itself in circles within circles (Kingdom Hearts was Inception before that was even a thing), and there was no sign of a game that actually continued the narrative in a way I cared about. I wanted to be REALLY excited when I knew that Kingdom Hearts III was going to make an appearance at E3 this year, but having read an article stating that, “the narrative will not conclude here” and, “there may be online support”, I am significantly less enthused. I love a strong narrative, but I also have a philosophy that all good stories should have endings.

Kingdom Hearts in many ways has burned itself out. KHII featured a wide array of Final Fantasy characters that were there for nothing other than fan fodder (Yuna, Rikku and Paine as fairies… really guys?!) and the psuedo-realistic worlds took me out of the fairy-tale like setting that I had come to love (Pirates of the Caribbean world…WTF?!?!). The game began to feel less connected and whole.

At its core, Kingdom Hearts was about a boy trying to save the girl he loved and his best friend from a darkness that was bigger than all of them. I don’t mind the sacred destinies and the long forgotten wars, but the heart (hahaha see what I did there?!?!) of the whole thing seems to be lost. Between the black robed “we all shopped at Hot Topic with the same coupon” Organization 13, the Heartless, the Nobodies, and the mountains of worlds that are clearly put in to sell more merchandise and appease fans, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for that boy trying to save a girl and searching for his best friend. It excelled when there was simple conflicts at the core and I really hope it finds its way someday.

The Last Guardian

I’ll admit that I have never played Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. Yes I know…I am a traitor to the world of games. Even so, I think this trailer literally warmed my heart. My boyfriend wants a dog, but I want to see if I can convince him to settle for a baby griffon. I’ve read enough about Ueda to appreciate his genius when it comes to simple gameplay and ideas. I think it’s amazing that all his games try and accomplish great feats with only a limited amount of setting, world building and character development. In a world where all games are desperately trying to be more hyper-realistic and mind-blowingly complicated (I’m still looking at you, Kingdom Hearts III), Ueda is trying to ask himself, “how do I get people to care about the character on screen with the smallest amount of exposition?”

I’ve heard of the love of “a boy and his dog” and this game seems to draw on that idea. There’s a scene where the boy jumps from a platform and the baby griffon misses him twice. Afterwards I realized my palms were sweating from gripping my chair so tight. I truly hope this game goes well, especially after all the development hell it seems to have gone through.

Fire Emblem Fates

I played a tad bit of Fire Emblem Awakening (before giving my sister the 3DS) and I was ENAMORED with it. I loved the characters, the team bonding/romance angle, and I found the gameplay a wonderful blend of challenging yet fun (Classic Mode FTW). I had never played a Fire Emblem game before, but I am really glad I made the effort to grab Awakening. I actually pre-ordered it at Gamestop when it was coming out because I really wanted the little artbook that came with it. In my opinion, Yusuke Kozaki should draw the characters for everything. I love the Renaissance Europe feel of certain sequences mixed with the Medieval setting of everything else.

From listening to the press conference this game is going to be a massive heart-breaker of a tale: apparently, the beginning has you choosing to side with your beloved siblings or your birth family and fighting/killing people on the side you don’t choose. As long as they keep the awesome style of gameplay and the well-balanced challenge, I am so ready to pre-order the heck out of this. I am a little thrown off by the Pokemon-looking creature that’s threatening to kill the blue-haired dancer girl at the end of this trailer, but I am hoping that kind of stuff takes a backseat to the rest of the storyline about warring families. I actually read an article on IGN.com stating that Awakening saved the Fire Emblem franchise. I wish the series continued success, and can’t wait to give this game a try.

Final Fantasy VII – Remake

It’s hard not to address the Omnislash sized elephant in the room. Final Fantasy VII is getting a remake, and that’s just incredible after all this time. I watched the Square Enix conference, and I didn’t really feel like this got all that much excitement. Maybe it’s because Square made the mistake of using an HD remake of FFVII as its tech demo at a previous E3, and then had to apologize because everyone thought THAT was the remake. I’ve played the more “current” Final Fantasies (X, XII, XIII) and I really enjoy them for the most part. I read that the staff of FFV and FFVI were interested in remakes, and I am betting they are waiting to see how FFVII‘s does before proceeding.

I’m a bit nervous for this game, honestly. I feel like FFVII was one of those games never meant to be remade. It’s creation was a perfect blend of emotions, thoughts and style that were all time-specific, and that lightning is impossible to capture in a bottle once more. I also fear the word “remake”. One of the Square Enix officials stated that this remake would not be exactly like the original. Yo Square…news flash…people are IN LOVE WITH THE ORIGINAL. Why would you ever consider changing anything?!?! All that being said, I do hope the remake goes well and enough of the fans enjoy it. Final Fantasy fans have a knack for hating everything these days…

The Nintendo Conference

I want to end with the Nintendo conference simply because it made me smile. I have become pretty disillusioned by games in the past several years. I didn’t jump on the co-op bandwagon and I’ve never really obsessed about games being art or profound pieces of media. I am always just in it for the fun and occasionally the powerful narrative. With all this in mind, I’ve become a solo player, and I mostly just keep to myself on the Playstation consoles. Despite this I will always have a special place in my heart for Nintendo. The Nintendo 64 was the first console I ever bought by myself (I saved ALL DAT ALLOWANCE!), and my first time playing Super Mario 64 and Star Fox 64 was magical.

I always like to think of E3 a little bit like a comedy sequence with a bar fight involved. Sony is a big German dude, XBox is a big Russian dude, and they are duking it out in the bar to determine who is superior. The camera pans over and there sits Nintendo… an American tourist in shorts and Bermuda shirt who is happily sitting at the bar sipping a coke and noting that the weather that day is perfect. While everyone was showing off flashy graphics, holograms and space that never ends Nintendo was…turning everyone into Muppets. I smiled every step of the way when Miyamoto was describing his personal connection to Star Fox.

I was really excited by Fire Emblem Fates (read above), and I loved the way they chose to show the super serious Xenoblade Chronicles X right before the doofy and gentle Animal Crossing game. Super Mario Maker looks pretty epic too, and I felt it was definitely the most unique game (aside from No Man’s Sky) that appeared at E3. Every single time it went back to the Muppet versions of Iwata, Miyamoto and Reggie, I was cracking up. I think Nintendo has a lot of heart and they will always be the reason I learned to loved games. My favorite sequence occurs at 15:41-15:51. Everyone jams to the Power Star’s theme! You know Nintendo… you just keep sitting there in that Bermuda shirt and having yourself a good ol’ time.

DAN:

Like Su, I’m especially excited for Horizon Zero Dawn. Discounting the word salad they used to come up with the title, the idea of hunting cyber-dinos in a post-apocalyptic future sounds fantastic. If the gameplay trailer is accurate, hunting these beasts looks like a type of action/puzzle challenge, identifying vulnerable points and weakening the target long enough to subdue it and finish it off. I’m absolutely on-board for that.

My impressions of the Final Fantasy VII remake fall very much in line with both Su and Scott, so refer to their sections for more detail. Suffice to say that I hope it succeeds, but I have serious concerns over how any story/character/mechanics changes will be received. Good luck to the ship’s crew-worth of developers making this thing, because they are heading into seriously treacherous waters.

Dishonored 2

If you’ve read my review of the original game, you’ll know that I found a lot to love in Dishonored. The story’s poor delivery and stilted dialogue were serious strikes against the game, but I still replayed it several times for the outstanding stealth gameplay. The cinematic shows us an unexpected character as one of the co-leads (you can apparently play as both her and the original protagonist, Corvo), and a much sunnier world than the original. I’m excited to see more of the Empire of the Isles and hoping that Arkane Studios is able to work out some of the trouble spots that held the first game back.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

The Mass Effect series is one of my favorite gaming franchises, and I’m excited to see Bioware taking what appears to be a new direction with this spin-off/sequel. The choice of music and the emphasis on exploration before combat makes me think that this new entry will focus less on saving the galaxy and more on consolidating in the wake of the Reaper War in ME3. Perhaps we will take on the role of an explorer/surveyor seeking new planets for the displaced refugees of the conflict to colonize. I’m totally down for a game about discovery and rebuilding, especially in a world as expansive and exciting as that of Mass Effect. Here’s hoping we really do get to use one of those jetpacks!

XCOM 2

The sequel theme of this year’s E3 continued with more information on XCOM 2. I’ve put in a lot of time with Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, and they are both incredible turn-based tactical games. The new setting, 20 years after the alien conquest of Earth, puts a new generation of XCOM operatives back on the offensive, acting as as underground resistance against the new Advent government. I like the inversion of the original formula, with your troops being the ones sneaking around and surprising the enemy, and the new foes and hacking abilities look like they could bring a lot to the mix. It looks like the new game will be as tense and unforgiving as the last, so I look forward to the new challenge when it is released later this year.

Fallout 4

Full disclosure: I have never managed to finish a Fallout or Elder Scrolls title. I got a long way into Skyrim, but when I put it down for awhile, I was unable to find the motivation to pick it up again later. It and its post-apocalyptic brethren are certainly impressive, but the lack of direction and minimal tangible impact on the world (in my experience) has so far left me unenthused. It’s possible that Fallout 4 might change my mind, with its “man/woman out of time” setup and focus on customization and construction. I really like the idea of modifying and upgrading your weapons to suit your play-style, and the base-building could be fun, especially if there is a story or mechanical benefit to doing so. One of my best friends is a huge Fallout Fan, so I’m sure I’ll get plenty of exposure to the game in any case.

SCOTT:

Final Fantasy VII – Remake

I tend to intentionally stay away from the glorious, garish hype engine that is E3, but after being told about the Final Fantasy VII remake, I did watch the trailer, so I’ll spend awhile on it.  I suppose I would put my feelings on it as “cautiously optimistic, but worried just the same”.  I quite enjoyed FFVII; it was the first Final Fantasy I had played since Mystic Quest as a kid (which, for those in the know, barely even counts).  It was the first time I really started digging into the larger world of RPGs, so it occupies a special place for me.  It’s also a really good game in it’s own right, breaking away from many of the tried-and-true systems of the earlier Final Fantasy games and replacing them with some truly innovative ideas, and having an engaging (if somewhat convoluted) story with memorable characters.  So that’s where I’m coming from when I discuss this trailer.

First, let’s discuss the good.  The CG does look excellent, and it is cool to see some of the areas from the game re-imagined.  It wasn’t just a clipshow of the original’s most famous moments updated with new graphics either, but set entirely in Midgar, so the people that made it obviously know the game well.  Sure, we see a bit of Barrett and Cloud, but the focus is on the city itself rather than a reunion shot of all the characters, which I appreciate.  Having the original director, producer, and scenario writer on board is a plus, and I have no doubts that Square Enix will devote their full resources to making this game right from a quality, staffing, and funding perspective.  The game is starting from a strong point there.

Next, the stuff that isn’t really clear.  Is the game going to truly be a remake (i.e. same story, better graphics and other improvements), or will it be a partial sequel of sorts?  The narration in the video is actually rather clever in this regard, and as I see it, can be interpreted two ways.  One is that the events of the original FFVII are over, “the memory of the star” referring to Meteor, and after a relative calm, there will be a new plot involving the characters, who will have a “reunion”.  The second interpretation is that “the memory of the star” has something to do with Jenova crashing to the planet, and “the reunion” is actually “the Reunion”, a major plot point from the original game, implying that this is truly a remake.

While I appreciate the cleverness, it does kind of leave me wondering where the game is going.  In terms of personal preference?  I suppose I’d want the remake rather than a sequel; we already got Advent Children, and that’s about all the sequel I really want.  The degree of threat the world was under in the game, and the scale of effort needed to save it, wouldn’t really leave much room for the characters to have to face a larger challenge without it being ridiculous.

Finally, what I’ll call my concerns.  One is that, almost without a doubt, this game is going to have voice acting, whereas the original did not.  While good voice acting can enhance or compliment a game (Eternal Sonata, Resonance of Fate, or Tales of Phantasia, for example), it’s not going to save an otherwise bad game. Bad voice acting can cripple an otherwise good game (see: the entire Grandia series), making you hate characters you should be empathizing with and making combat, often the most repetitive aspect of an RPG, an interminable slog of listening to unlikeable people repeat themselves.  So I am concerned for the voice acting that will inevitably be part of this game.  That said, Advent Children, despite its other faults, wasn’t badly voice acted, so perhaps there is hope.  Also, if Cid’s character had a large dictionary of profanity to pick from and shout when he got hit in battle, that would go a long way (you can have that one, SquareEnix, it’s on me).

Then there’s the updates to the game.  Can the SquareEnix team update the game’s systems with the kind of stuff modern JRPG gamers have come to expect, while still keeping the “feel” of the original?  It’s going to be difficult.  Will the graphical updates enhance the experience, or take away from the nostalgia that (most of the) players have?  The chunky, hoof-handed character models of the original are iconic in their own way, but in the remake they’ll probably look more like FFVIII or FFXIII characters – realistic, human proportions and crisp, smooth lines.  I’m already a little sad that the Shin-ra soldiers (I assume that’s them in the trailer) look like veteran, Sam Fisher-esque operatives instead of the earnest yet wholly ineffectual blue-suited doofs from the original.  There’s no holding back progress, though, and maybe it’s just nostalgia talking; we’ll see.

My last concern is for the game’s atmosphere, because that is simultaneously one of the biggest draws of the original, and probably the hardest thing to recreate.  As the story goes, one of the prime creative forces behind the original (and I can’t recall who) was in kind of a dark place in his life when he made the original.  What resulted was a game world very different than what Final Fantasy players were used to.  Far from the evil empires of FF II, IV, and VI or the existential, world/reality-shattering threats of FF I, III, or V, FF VII had a much grayer moral world.  Shinra was evil, sure, but they weren’t evil in the 1000 year old ancient evil kind of way – they were evil in a much more insidious way.  As the world’s preeminent mega-corporation with its own private army, they conduct forbidden research, oppress the poor and homeless, and are extracting the very life-essence of the world to burn in power plants.  The downtrodden poor literally live without seeing the sun, beneath the wealthy in Midgar.

Yet Shinra also brings progress to the world – electricity, automobiles (they seem to have started as the Shinra Motor Company, after all), a pushing back of the wild so humans can expand, a functioning space program(!).  The “good guys” are terrorists, violently fighting Shinra without regard to collateral damage because the end result of a world with more life force justifies their means.  Meanwhile, the planet itself cares little for good or evil, but will wipe out all human life rather than be slowly eaten away, an outcome that no one living on it wants.

This tale of capitalistic excess, human suffering, scientific overreach, and the planet’s violent retribution is going to be incredibly hard to recreate in a way that feels authentic to the original.  It’s a terrible thing to say, but the game’s creators are probably all very successful people now, and have likely gotten over whatever was troubling them when FFVII was made.  I should be clear that I’m happy for them and they deserve everything they’ve won, but I don’t know that this remake will be able to capture what made the original really stand out without a tinge of real, actual suffering in its creative staff.  Best of luck to them, though, and may they make a game that, somehow, comes to be recognized as the definitive version of Final Fantasy VII.

CONCLUSIONS:

We’ve all got at least one or two things to look forward to after this year’s E3. As with everything regarding the expo, these impressions should be taken with a pinch of salt. We’ve all been burned before by cinematic trailers that didn’t represent gameplay, wild over-promising and other such hoo-ha. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed and chant the mantra of the excited gamer:

“Please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck…”

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