Two new Final Fantasy VII Remake images Revealed at Monaco Anime Game International Conference!

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but we finally have a glimpse of gameplay footage of the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake. These were apparently revealed today at a convention called The Monaco Anime Game International Conference (MAGIC). As you can see from the images below, the initial bombing raid is in full force as members of AVALANCHE infiltrate the Sector 1 reactor of Shinra Electric Power Company. It’s hard to tell 100%, but the game appears to be running on some version of the Final Fantasy XV engine which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Here’s hoping E3 gives us a new trailer or something this year.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 was also showing off some new screens

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Is the Valkyria Chronicles Franchise Dead in the West?

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GASP!

LONG Before I even decided to get a PlayStation 3, I would check the various recommendation threads and other such things on a lot of gaming forums to see what games were seen as the “killer apps” that I should definitely play. I was honestly sort of cranky with Sony after the PS3 launch, pricing especially. I needed something that stood out, a game that I couldn’t get anywhere else, and one game, more than any other, was constantly touted as being not only one of the most underrated games on the PS3, but one of the best RPGs out there on any system. That game was the first Valkyria Chronicles. I finally got the system, and immediately snagged a copy of it.

I was taken aback by how mature the game was, and no I don’t mean “blood and guts and boobs” mature like the many games that misuse the term today, but an honest mature game done in such a way that most folks of the teenage persuasion, except maybe anime fans, would probably scoff at it. Yes the game deals with war, but in concentrates on the heroics and struggles with fighting rather than the bleak horrors of any battlefield.

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The art style alone is worth the purchase

For those that haven’t heard of the series, all of the games follow a fictitious war that somewhat closely resembles World War II if you squint really hard and drop some pixie dust on it. In this fantasy world, a small country called Gallia suddenly comes under attack from a huge land grabbing conglomerate of nations dubbed the East Europan Imperial Alliance. This is a shock because these Nazi analogues (if you equate them to our terms) are at war with another federation of countries that dub themselves the Atlantic Federation, and there is no real reason for such an invasion to occur (other than energy reserves to fuel the war). The game places you in the shoes of a rag-tag group of militia members that are suddenly forced to repel the most powerful army on earth on the verge of world conquest. This is of course the stage for a game that breathed an icy breath of fresh air into a somewhat played out genre – the strategy RPG.

The immediate thing that struck me about both games in the series that I’ve played is that they have some huge balls, and exist as a true asset to the RPG genre, especially in how they portray war. For years we have been playing hundreds of World War II games, and very few of them have actually managed to mention the holocaust or the Jewish people for fear of getting the game banned in some random countries. Here, however, we have a game that revolves around a group of people called the Darcsens that have literally been blamed for just about every bad thing in the world for hundreds of years, and are the targets of ethnic cleansing campaigns (in Valkyria Chronicles 2 most notably) and even forced to work in labor camps. The fact that any series had the cajones to even attempt to have a storyline closely mirroring this sort of world event makes SEGA go up in my books quite a bit.

Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferir people to many people in the game, even protagonist characters.

Racism is somewhat unsettling in the game. Darcsens are seen as unholy inferior people to many in the game, even protagonist characters. In my experience, race politics are rarely seen in JRPGs.

Flash forward just a few years and it seems that a series with such promise, critical acclaim, big sales in Japan, and a cult following in America should be running strong; sadly this is not the case. Valkyria Chronicles may already be dead, especially in the west. A few years back news rang out about the possible release of the third Valkyria Chronicles game in America specifically. SEGA West had been pretty tight lipped about it, and its no-show at E3 that year was amongst about a dozen or so games that seemed absent from localization plans. game journalists apparently talked to some of the SEGA reps at E3 and asked if the new Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star games would be heading to the west and the news wasn’t good.

Valkyria Chronicles III (or pretty much any other Japanese PSP game that year) never came to the west. This was largely because the PSP was on life support when the game released. You see, in their grand wisdom, Sega decided to make a quick buck by churning the games out far too quickly on a completely other system as before (more on that later). Valkyria Chronicles II, a direct sequel to the first PS3 game, was confusingly a now handheld title. Granted, at the time the PSP had a userbase of more than 50 million users (a lot more than the PS3 at the time), but how many outside of Japan would buy it? How many had the first game? Series Producer Shuntaro Tanaka told Famitsu that the second game was being developed for the PSP instead of the PS3, in order “to allow a broader spectrum of users to discover and enjoy what makes Valkyria special.” Tanaka added that the series could return to consoles in the future, though.

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There are rumors that SEGA decided to release the games on the PSP in order to capitalize on the TV anime that was running, using it to hock a host of toys and such that were hot on the market. Moving a flagship title for any series across platforms is a tough decision, and especially ludicrous when we have to realize that Valkyria Chronicles II was, not shockingly, only the second game in the series. Usually, handheld spinoff games come well into the lifespan of a series, ala Final Fantasy and it’s numerous side-games. While it did decently well in Japan, the sales were still under that of the first game, but the real story is the American Market. VGchartz has the game listed at an estimated 80k for the American Market. That’s basically an estimated eight times less than what the first game obtained in the same region.

Here are some graphs to speak for themselves, these are old screen-grabs I took when I first published this article but they still stand:

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Please note the scaling difference between the two graphs.

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I’m not going to jump on the anti-piracy bandwagon, but when you have a system that is cheap and easy to develop for, but is plagued with piracy and doesn’t perform well in all areas versus a system that does a bit better in all areas, and isn’t hit hard (until recently) by any sort of hackers, I wonder why you’d choose the former. SEGA obviously wanted a quick buck rather than letting a franchise grow a bit more naturally, and it’s hurt the series pretty bad. Since its release the third game in series had barely cracked 160k units in sales, a far cry from the previous games.

Sadly, Japanese gaming companies really hit a rut about five years ago, and honestly they are still there, they don’t take chances and seemingly have regressed back into a Japan-only mindset that pretty much guarantees failure. Putting anything on the PSP during that time, or the Vita currently, pretty much guarantees a niche game that few will play. But why is this happening? Take, for example, words by Keiji Inafune, the once prominent mind behind many Capcom classics such as Mega Man and Dead Rising:

Keiji Inafune

Keiji Inafune

“The mainstream industry in Japan is like a large tree that’s just begun to wilt. It’s still standing strong, it hasn’t collapsed just yet, but it’s not doing all that well,” Inafune told The Verge at BitSummit, a Kyoto indie-games festival in its second year. Inafune himself went independent in 2010, leaving giant developer Capcom to start his own studio called Comcept. He believes that indie games are the most exciting thing happening within the Japanese industry. “Indies have just sprouted above the ground. There’s still this monolithic large tree over the industry, but indies have popped up. Whether or not the big tree will fall, whether or not the indie scene will grow into a tree itself, I don’t know.”

Inafune is just one of many big name studio guys leaving “wilting trees”, perhaps the most prominent was Hideo Kojima and his epic battles with Konami leading up to the release of the last Metal Gear game. He now works for Sony and Konami is making cellphone and pachinko games.

I wish more of these big Japanese companies with American publishing arms would look at companies like Atlus (owned by SEGA now) and XSeed for how to treat localizations. XSeed, for example, has released a few games in the Record of Agarest War series digitally, that way they could obtain a cheap license and keep costs down. These smaller publishers also set realistic goals for sales of these games, instead of assuming that a niche strategy RPG will be a huge blockbuster, NIS and Atlus both learned a ton about the market, and learned how to market, publicize, and keep costs down on a ton of games like La Pucelle Tactics, Disgaea, and even Phantom Brave. They don’t always sell crazily well, but they have rabid followings that keep buying the games, and keeping them going.

A somewhat new game in the series.

A somewhat new game in the series.

So, where do we stand now? well, there might be a glimmer of hope shining through. While the third installment is still the last game in the series so far, many fans are hoping that a recent HD remaster of Valkyria Chronicles and a new spinoff game will re-ignite interest in the series. The spinoff, Valkyria Revolution, is planned to be released by SEGA in Japan on January 19, 2017, and in North America in early 2017. It is also planned to be released by Deep Silver in Europe in early 2017 as well. For the Western releases, an Xbox One version will also be available.

This shows a big change for SEGA in that they seem to be switching back to home consoles for games like this, and are trusting the west to support more niche games. Namco-Bandai recently did a similar thing and finally got the Tales series back on track over here, so who knows… As for Valkyria Chronicles III? I guess there is always hope that SEGA could do a PSP Remake edition for the PS4, but if they think the game won’t sell well, where is the incentive? Even a digital release with original dialog would be good, but I’m not holding my breath.

If Valkyria Revolution bombs, the fans are not to blame – a decade of poor and largely short-sighted business decisions are. If it does happen, only one thing comes to mind – Sorry SEGA, but you guys ruined your own franchise.

Valkyria Revolution looks promising!

Valkyria Revolution looks promising!

Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!

 


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Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 2 – Review

Note: The following is a mirror of a video game review that I did a few years ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it.

 My typical TV viewing routine during many a summertime Sunday night involves watching my favorite show, Doctor Who. Sadly as of last week I noticed that a void was now slammed into my life. The truth was that I had no new Doctor Whoepisodes to watch until around Christmas time because the season finale had just aired. Gladly, the BBC was there for me once again with the second of four interactive Doctor Who episodes. Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2.  Blood of the Cybermen is the second adventure and begins with a man working in an arctic base fleeing from an unseen menace on a snowmobile. The man, mumbling to himself about unspeakable horrors, flashes back to what caused the problems: an excavated Cyberman arm.

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The Cybermen are quite possibly the TV show’s most recognizable villains after the Daleks, who we saw in the last game about a month ago. For those who do not know, the Cybermen are a race of androids that have began to travel the stars in search of bodies that they can assimilate into their race. What began as a measure to stop the death of their kind became a true horror. Blood of the Cybermen captures the villains in all their terrifying glory, complete with all of their signature voices, sound effects, and catchphrases such as “you will be like us…”. Before any Star Trek aficionado points out the similarity to ‘the Borg’, a similar villain from the Star Trek TV show and films, the Cybermen came first – 1966 to be precise.

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I’m not too sure when the game takes place in relation to the TV show, but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s an unaired adventure set sometimes before the show’s finale. It stars Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amy, his companion. Both perform all of the voices and such for their characters. The Doctor is up to all the quirky hijinx that fans of the show are used to, including a section of dialog where the Doctor claims that he taught Elvis Presley how to play the guitar, albeit very badly. The rest of the story involves the Doctor, Amy, and a few new friends as they try to stop the Cybermen from taking over the aforementioned arctic research facility.

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The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare, with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, a left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. This game has a bit more variety than the first from the get-go as some puzzles force you to work in tandem with your assistant. For instance, right at the beginning of the game you are given a rope that you must throw to Amy to tie to a snowmobile wench. When doing this the game switches viewpoints from the Doctor to Amy then back. While the first game did a bit of this, it was never to solve one puzzle together, and was more of a “tag-team” affair, as one character would go off and fetch random stuff whilst the other was busy. The system is implemented better here.

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As with the first game, the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, so fending off enemies is pretty tricky. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes the closer you are to getting killed. The sneaking sections in the second game are much better than many of those found in the first; the enemy A.I. seems to both be better and harder to stump. When sneaking past the Daleks in the first game, many were planted around like un-moving sentries that you could simply run behind. The Cyberslaves, which are Cybermen that have been only partially “Cyberized”, move around like zombies, and as such move their line of site around. This, and their way of walking around corridors, makes them a much more formidable enemy.

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This sneak mode has been coupled with a lot more climbing and exploring, thanks to the arctic cave setting which takes up a portion of the game, and so gives it a Tomb Raider vibe. There is even a portion fairly early on where you have to make it across a melting ice flow; one wrong step and it’s an icy grave for the Doctor. This makes portions of the game much more interactive and plays like a platformer game. 

The puzzles have also been overhauled. More specifically, there’s increased variety to the ones you’re given. This game only recycles one puzzle from the first game, that being one where you re-wire something that is broken. Other than that, the game contains a handful of new puzzles. They aren’t hard, but they’re challenging enough to break up the gameplay and still keep it interesting. One problem I had with the first game was a puzzle where you had to drag an icon through an electrified maze. The first time, this puzzle was fun, but after three times I was done with electrified maze puzzles. In this game, not only do you have to match the radio waves of a signal to stun an enemy, but you have to create an antivirus. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me, and far more varied.

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On the graphical side of things, we are once again faced with the following dilemma: the game is free (in the U.K.), so compared to other free games such as flash based puzzles games, Blood of the Cybermen blows most of them away. On the flipside, the game is no graphical wonder – even on the highest settings the game is fairly reminiscent of an original Xbox game or possibly a low-end Wii game. On the plus side, many of the environments in the game are much larger than the first game, such as the crashed Cyber-ship, and really show off the scope of this game. The graphics are a mixed bag – some places, like the crash, look amazing, while others look on the sub-par side.

Musically the game is awesome and has the sound production values of a larger, much more expensive game. This was brought to my attention, not because the music is overpowering, but because it keeps the player energized as the game progresses. There are some intense moments in the later parts of the game when you are being pursued by an army of Cybermen, and the music escalates to show you how close to being killed you are; not bad for a free game.

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As with the first game, Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2: Blood of the Cybermen is a great game for the price. The game is only a few hours long, but that helps pace the game out so that it’s like an interactive episode of the show. As of right this moment the game has still yet to be announced for the U.S., despite the official website proclaiming that they would be available in “early July”. Time will tell if that ever gets fixed, but one can assume that they will pop up later this month, after the initial run of Season five ends. All in all, you really can’t find a better Doctor Who game out there. While the graphics are a bit hit or miss, they are average at least for a game of this scope, and there are plenty of things for completionists to find.

Doctor Who- The Adventure Games Episode 1 -City of the Daleks – Review

Note: The following is a re-publish of a video game review that I did in 2010 ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it, and figured my blog would be an awesome place to share it.Since this time, all of the games were released in the U.S. for a small fee, if you run a Google search, you should find them pretty easily.

For those that do not know, a little sci-fi show from the UK called Doctor Who has become a media phenomenon and a popular television program in many countries. Doctor Who even holds a handful of Guinness world records including one for most successful science-fiction series, one for the longest running magazine based on a TV show, and longest running science fiction show. You would think that with a pedigree of that ilk, the show would have entered the realm of videogames more often, but aside from a recent Top Trumps game and a few PC games released in the 1980’s not much has been done with the franchise.

Recently BBC revealed that it was in talks with a few major publishers to bring a few top BBC properties to our consoles, and Doctor Who would be one of the first. The Production staff for the new show got in contact with Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil and Sheffield-based studio Sumo Digital to make Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. The series is a four part episodic adventure game, released for free in the UK, with a US release forthcoming.

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The first of this four part adventure has all of the content you would expect from a doctor who episode, and in fact even has the iconic title sequence and theme song there to remind us that this is essentially a standalone episode of the show. The story revolves around the Doctor as played by Matt Smith, and his assistant Amy, as played by Karen Gillan, landing in 1963. The Doctor suggests that they go see the Beatles or another activity of the time, but finds that something is not right. It appears that the ever-so-popular adversaries for the Doctor, the Daleks, have landed there at some point and re-written time. It’s up to the Doctor and Amy to unravel the catastrophe and hopefully prevent the ramafications of human enslavement under the regime of the metallic marauders.

The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use either the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, leading me to believe that this game was mostly meant for the younger fans of the show, but any inherent “easiness” is not indicative of the game being childish or condescending as some children’s games are.

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The children’s aspect of the game is re-enforced by the inclusion of “fun facts” where you click on a point of interest such as a fallen bus stop sign, and there suddenly pops up a history of red double decker busses. This is done in a way much similar to the lore found in the Metroid Prime games. While this does make the game somewhat educational, it doesn’t hammer you over the head, and these segments can be skipped if you are adverse to the idea of learning anything while you play a game.

Since the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, fending off of enemies is pretty tricky: Doctor isn’t exactly Rambo. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes, the closer you are to getting killed. Luckily if you do die, the game resumes at the last checkpoint that you made it to. The last real gameplay type you’ll have to deal with are occasional puzzles including a “drag the item through a maze without touching the walls” segment. These aren’t too challenging, and they keep you busy throughout the game.

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On the graphical front I wasn’t expecting a whole lot to be honest considering the price tag, but was pleasantly surprised that the game looked somewhat like an original Xbox game, or possibly even a Wii game. The animation is sometimes inconsistent with a few places looking far better than others, giving a somewhat rushed appearance. Some of the motions are a bit jerky, but I’ve seen worse mishaps on console games with a much larger budget. The game has an almost cell shaded appearance which really helps any sort of graphical inadequacy as it gives a more cartoony look. The mannerisms and facial features of the actors involved is flawless, a feat that was achieved by the use of a new type of rotoscoping to map the real life actors’ movements onto their 3d models.

The sound direction in the game is done fairly well, and contains a lot of spoken dialog. This really helps the pacing of the game, and again reiterates the belief that this game was intended to be as much like an episode of the show as possible. In the background there is also have music that I assume was composed for the show, which adds both tension and wonder.

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For the most part, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 1: City of the Daleks is a great game for the price, which for UK players is nothing (well technically you guys paid for it with the license fee). As long as the US price is reasonable upon release, let’s say maybe 5 dollars, it’ll be good as well. While not a technical achievement, it stands head and shoulders above any other free game based on a TV show that I’ve played, and is probably the best Doctor Who game ever made. The developers did a great job using what I imagine was a miniscule budget, and made something that was reasonably enjoyable. The game lasts a few hours, and will keep you busy if you decide to collect everything, and mess around. Sadly, we don’t get much of a “next time” trailer (if you will), but rumor has it that the second game will contain the iconic villians: The Cybermen.