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A3 2014: Alice’s Annual Analysis

A3 2014: Alice’s Annual Analysis

So, E3 has come and gone this year with little fanfare, and I missed it while it was going in. So, I skimmed it this year, and while most people have told me that it’s been a boring year, I’d have to disagree. No, there were no shiny new consoles with stupid hardware gimmicks; it was just games. You know, those things that you buy that aforementioned consoles to play? Turns out that E3 was full of those this year, and there are some pretty exciting titles on the way, even for an old cynic like myself; here are some of the highlights:

Abyss Odyssey

It seems that the words, abyss and odyssey, is in a lot of game titles lately – From the AbyssTales of the Abyss, and Etrian Odyssey to name a few – but this one does a pretty good job standing out among them. Abyss Odyssey looks as though it plays like a Vanillaware game, but I was surprised to see that it’s being developed by ACE, of all companies. ACE, of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile fame, have long skirted the Action genre, making JRPGs with heavy action elements; the aforementioned Valkyrie Profile having dungeons that would make the Galious games weep openly. With 3 different playable characters, light RPG elements, and gorgeous visuals, it looks like ACE was inspired by Vanillaware to take the recent Dragon’s Crown and show them how it’s done.

Hohokum

This bizarre game features a yarn-like snake – or is it a kite? – and visuals vaguely reminiscent of what a hybrid of Loco Roco and Yume Nikki might look like. Evidently, the Yume Nikki comparison might not be too far off, either, because while you are given some light objectives in each of the different worlds, the emphasis is very heavy upon exploring and just enjoying them. There are things to do, and those as neurotic as myself will be doing them – because you can’t put a price on the sake of competion – but I think that this is the sort of game that is best played without a guide until you’ve done all that you think you can do. The actual worlds seem very varied both in aesthetics and overall theme, each coming with their own special gimmick, possibly in the plural. Of everything I’ve seen this year, there’s a very good chance that this might be my favorite game.

INSIDE

A spiritual sequel to Limbo? Oh, yes please! Even though about halfway through, it forgot that it’s supposed to be a Horror game that plays like Out of This World with smoother controls, I love Limbo. It seems as though the game is eschewing its spiritual predecessor’s Horror elements for a more surreal experience that will be very open to interpretation. Despite the presence of a great many humans, it seems to maintain that feel of isolation, because they appear to be nothing more than mindless dolls. No matter what the story, I’m pretty excited to experience this adventure some day.

Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed

At first, this game appears to be nothing more than a Brawler with anime graphics. There are several shops that you can visit to buy new outfits – and I am a sucker for playing dress-up; it’s the only reason that I own Soul Calibur 5 – but nothing all that out of the ordinary. So, I watched the anime schoolgirl beat up on some anime schoolchildren, and then, I noticed something odd. After beating the pants off of them, she… well, she literally beat the pants off of them. Yes, I know how to use the word properly; evidently, a core mechanic is stripping your opponents as close to naked as you can get them, because they’re some kind of undead that explodes in sunlight. Certainly unique, and I may have to play this just because of how bizarre the concept is. Oh, and it’s a sequel, to boot!

Destiny

Yes, I, Alice Kojiro, am excited to the point of giddiness about a First-Person Shooter; I never thought I’d hear me say those words, either. Though announced at last year’s E3, this year, we got a much bigger taste, and I am quite impressed. It looks like the marriage of Halo and Diablo, but with tons of character customization, and a massive world to explore. Several of them, in fact; it seems as though you’ll be able to travel all over the solar system in this interesting twist on the now-ubiquitous Dungeon Crawler. With so many skill trees – even the weapons have skill trees – maybe even someone like me can get through it, with sufficient grinding, of course. It does seem to be geared toward a great variety of different skill levels, even going so far as to make the different mission types indicative of the level of challenge that you’ll be facing, so maybe I’ll have a chance, after all.

End of Serenity

A brand new 16-bit JRPG from Kemco in my lifetime? Are you serious!? I didn’t even know that Kemco was still a thing! All of the old sound effects are still there, and the musical conventions – one of my favorite things about SNES-era Kemco games, like Lagoon, the Drakkhens, and even Phalanx – are clearly intact. The best part? It still plays like a 16-bit JRPG; no gimmicks, no minigames, and no other nasty surprises for the painfully oldschool. There are a lot of new games with 8-bit style graphics, and they’re neat, but it’s great to see something referencing the Fourth Generation, when JRPGs were at their very best.

Alphadia Genesis

Wait… Two JRPGs from Kemco? One of which takes place in the same world that Lagoon does!? Be still, my little heart! This one has 3D graphics, and is only coming out for the Wii U, but if Kemco makes a huge comeback, I am going to be very pleased. Again, this one seems to have no gimmicks, and that’s a relief for me; I was a bit concerned when I saw how proud of the “intense 3D battles” they were and wondered if I’d start having flashbacks to the clunky hybrid systems of Valkyrie Profile 2 and its ilk, but it turns out that it was nothing more than one of those “features” they used to put on the back of the boxes of games that didn’t have any real outstanding qualities. So, while this one calls out more to the Fifth Generation, anyone who owned a Playstation can tell you that that wasn’t such a bad time for JRPGs, either. Gaming industry, are you trying to restore my faith in you?

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

I was taken by surprise with this one, especially since I haven’t played the source material: Super Mario 3D World. That said, the title drew me in; the most romantic adventure I can think of is traveling to the moon, but hunting for treasure takes a close second for me. This one doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it’s nice to see Nintendo going back to the basics to create something that’s simple and fun, but still a little fresh. It also doesn’t rely on nostalgia, like most every Mario Platformer that’s come out since Super Mario 64, but instead creates something different, or at least, steals from something so old and obscure that only those mining the very depths of the Famicom library would recognize it. Even then, I am so on board for this; Nintendo, if you and Konami are reading this, an Esper Dream 3 in North America would make me buy a Wii U tomorrow.

Yoshi’s Wooly World

Thankfully not content to give up on the yarn motif after the lukewarm reception of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, it is now Yoshi taking up the skein. The game looks and seems to play very much like the original Yoshi’s Island, and that’s a point in its favor. The eggs have been replaced with balls of yarn, which can both ensnare enemies and create bridges, and I’m sure that’s not the half of it. The new yarn mechanics should make boss fights rather interesting, too; the ones in Yoshi’s Island were pretty creative, even without them. There’s a very interesting co-op mode that I’m going to be watching fairly closely, too; Yoshis seem to be able to eat each other and spit them over gaps if they’re having trouble making a jump, and can float in eggs if they get separated. If being in the egg counts as being temporarily dead, hopefully, the button to do so won’t be as easy to push accidentally as it was in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Maybe I’m not super excited about this one, but it looks solid enough to round out a potential Wii U library, now that it’s actually starting to build one.

ABZÛ

Confession time: my French (or maybe it’s Portuguese) isn’t very good at all – just enough to get me through this – so I have no idea what this game’s title means. It seems to be a deep ocean exploration game that’s more exploration than game. Ever since my seventh grade biology class, I’ve been fascinated with undersea exploration and the exotic creatures found therein. This seems to have quite a few beautiful environments, from what little I’ve seen, and I’d absolutely love to get lost in something like this. Hopefully, the gameplay won’t be too clunky, but as The Legendary Starfy has shown us, swimming mechanics can be done competently if the game was built around them.

No Man’s Sky

Now, it looks like other consoles are showing Nintendo franchises how it’s done. I’ve never played the Star Fox games after Star Fox 64, but from what I hear, they’re not very good, and this game reflects how they should have been. You fly around in your space fighter, exploring space, battling in space, and flying down to planets when you reach them. On the surface of the planets, you can actually land your fighter and get out to explore on foot. The environments are gorgeous, colorful, and a bit surreal, though sadly, it doesn’t seem to stray as far from visual conventions as, say, the Lennus series did. It appears that you have a sort of automatic scan visor that identifies animal life, and transition between the two modes of travel looks absolutely seemless. Though I’m never thrilled about a first-person perspective, this seems like the best possible use for such a thing, so I’m going to keep my eye on this one.

Rime

I’m not entirely sure what this game is; it seems like a Survival game, but it could be an Adventure game or even both. You’re a young child stranded on an island that appears to be deserted. You have to use things in your environment to explore and survive. From what I’ve seen, it does very well with the theme of isolation, and that makes the island all that much more special. At this point, all I can do is look forward to learning more about the game, but I certainly am. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be a big, angry smoke monster that sounds vaguely like a broken photocopier.

There were a few other games that stuck out to me, but not enough that I really got excited about them. First up, the elephants in the room: the Zelda games. Yes, that’s plural; two Zelda games were revealed this year at E3, but neither looks particularly interesting. The first is Hyrule Warriors, which is so blatantly derivative that it might as well be called Hynasty Warriors: We Changed one Letter, so KOEI Can’t Sue. If you like Dynasty Warriors, that’s right up your alley, but having to hastily wade through enemy legions to bail out my allies yet again seems more tedious than exciting. The other Zelda game is untitled as of yet, but so little of it was shown, that it’s almost impossible to get excited about it, unless you just love Zelda that much. It seems as though it’s going back to the nonlinear style of the first game back on the NES, but as I’ve mentioned, that was one of the trainwreckier elements of it, so I’m not sold just yet.

Citizen of Earth seemed like it might have had potential; it’s a comedic JRPG set in modern times, in which you play as the vice president of the world, who still lives with his mom. It sounds like a fantastic concept, but from what I’ve seen, it’s just trying really hard and failing to be Earthbound; they imitated the battle system very well, but the charm just isn’t there. The only other game of note was The Order: 1866, which almost looked like a really jazzed-up version of those old FMV games you used to see on the SEGA CD and its ilk, but that amusing comparison was all that I found worth mentioning about it.

So, while last year’s E3 left me with a grim perspective on my future in modern gaming, this year’s show has left me with a lot about which to be excited. In 2013, I was left fairly unimpressed with the PS4, and wondered why Nintendo didn’t just drop out of the console business. This year, I’m not going to run out and buy a PS4 or a Wii U, but I can definitely see either or even both in my future, especially if things continue the way that they are. There are a lot of new games coming in and shaking up existing formulas, leaving me with a repetitive lexicon – much to my, and possibly your chagrin – for this assessment. Could it be that we’re emerging from a dark, bland era in gaming history and coming into a Renaissance of sorts? Only time will tell, but for once, this world-weary cynic is cautiously optimistic!

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