Part 1 here -
12. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
System: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: Spring 2011
First of all, watch that trailer. What I'm about to write will not make sense if you don't. (Coincidentally, it will also not make sense if you watch it.)
El Shaddai is unique if nothing else. Let's start with the fiction: it takes all of its cues from the Bible, and in particular the Book of Enoch. You are Enoch, a mortal called by god to heaven. When fallen angels choose life on earth over heaven, god -- or El Shaddai, since it stands for God Almighty -- is furious and wants to wipe out humanity with a great flood. Enoch has a chance to save humanity by bringing these fallen angels back to heaven with the help of the four archangels. He also has the help of Lucifel, or Lucifer if you'd prefer. However, this Lucifel is before he turns against god, and he's often seen talking to god on his cell phone.
Okay, so El Shaddai's fiction is completely messed up. But it's also compelling, something totally unique. One can assume that Lucifel will tempt Enoch away from god and that there will be lots of plot twists, likely with Lucifel ending up as the bad guy. This game is already messed up though so it's hard to say where it will go.
But the fiction isn't the most striking thing about El Shaddai: that would be the style of the game. El Shaddai is being made by ex-Clover employees. The director is the art director from Okami while the producer produced DMC, RE4, Viewtiful Joe and Okami. The game has a wild visual style. The environments are just completely out there and the sky just looks totally messed up. I don't know if the areas in the trailer are supposed to be heaven or what, but it has this impressionistic art style that's reminiscent of Braid. It looks like the end of the world. Occasionally the screen flashes all these wild colours and who the hell knows what's going on.
Gameplay-wise, it's an action game. You have a weapon called an arch which you use to slice up foes. I expect it to be a little more 'normal' there, with combos and parries and all that hardcore stuff people love. However, as the trailer shows, there are also these super spaced out 2d platforming sequences. Watching this trailer, I can't tell what the hell this game is. The music is pretty amazing and the visual style is messy and otherworldly. The main character is your standard androgynous Japanese crap, but in this case it actually works because angels are supposed to be androgynous.
I'm actually really really excited about this game, but I'm keeping my hopes as low as possible because I have literally no idea how it's going to turn out. That unknown quality of El Shaddai makes it pretty exciting. At the very least it's a game to keep an eye on.
11. BattleBlock Theater
Developer: The Behemoth
Release Date: TBA
I'm really not sure what this game is. The Behemoth have put out lots of little tutorial videos but every one looks different. It almost looks like a minigame collection that you play co-op and competitively.
But when I see From the creators of Castle Crashers, I'm sold. Those guys made the single best co-op game of all time. I like other games more than Castle Crashers, but everybody gets into it and anybody can have fun playing along with you. I can't say that about any other game. Castle Crashers is just simple enough to play while being fun enough to replay. They know what's fun and know how to make other people enjoy it.
So while I'm not 100% sure what BattleBlock Theater is, I can't wait for it because I want to have co-op goodness. These other co-op games will be fun for a little while, but Castle Crashers is a game I can replay for the 20th time and still enjoy a lot. That's not going to be true of Hard Corps or Lara Croft or Castlevania HD.
Plus, that story trailer above is pretty damn cool.
10. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
System: XBLA, PSN
Release Date: q1 2011
I was super psyched about the original Bionic Commando Rearmed, and it was a pretty good game: kickass music, great bosses, a really underrated and fun competitive 2d deathmatch mode, good weapons, feels good, etc. It certainly wasn't perfect, but Rearmed did a lot of things right and showed that if you really put effort into a classic revival, people will buy it. Rearmed was damn solid.
Rearmed 2... is weird. It's a sequel to a remake, which opens up all sorts of questions. Will it still be good now that they're designing their own levels? Rearmed was good but often felt like it was being held back by the constraints of the original. Now that they're creating their own levels, will they be good or will they outsmart themselves and go away from what worked in the original? I have faith in the design team here so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. It's always weird when you go from making remakes to making original content though. 4 Heroes of Light is a good example of this.
My other issue is a bigger one: this game seems like such a sequel, and I mean that in all the negative ways. Capcom is a great developer but god knows they've got a history of rehashing existing properties with little innovation. Rearmed 2 adds a jump button (this isn't as big of a deal as people are making it out to be, it's a minor thing really), a new ground pound technique and a couple new weapons, but overall it is the exact same game. I can't get as excited about this one as I did the original. It *should* be a better game than the original, but there's something cheap and uninspired about the whole thing that rubs me the wrong way. I'm sure I'll love it when it comes out but I'm not a huge fan of the sequel to a remake thing.
The one thing that BCR lacked was online co-op and I was hoping they'd add it to this. I really loved the competitive deathmatch mode and that would be a lot of fun to play online. Capcom hasn't confirmed it though which basically means it won't be in it. blah.
BCR2 should be good.
9. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2
Release Date; Unknown
Pokemon does absolutely nothing for me. I have zero attachment to those little monsters and I don't find the gameplay particularly fun. I think I just started playing it too late and can't find the magical fun in catching a bunch of things I don't care about. I think you had to 'be there' for Pokemon and I'm too old.
But Dragon Quest Monsters? Yeah, that's my Pokemon. I can play DQM games for 12 hours straight and not even realize it. The monsters are far more appealing, I'd say. They animate wonderfully and the way they move gives them tons of personality. The breeding system is ridiculously deep and the 'campaign' is way more interesting than Pokemon could ever be. I'm just much more of a DQ fan than a Pokemon one.
Joker 2 is offering something huge: direct online battling. In Joker 1, you could join tournaments against AI-controlled teams, but it was broken and every good team was hacked to hell. It wasn't fun at all. WIth Joker 2, you can battle people online, something that's really critical given how DQM isn't the most popular series in America. Joker 2 also has over 300 monsters, way more than Joker 1 had. Seeing as I put 75 hours into Joker 1, Joker 2 might very well consume my life. This will shoot to the top of my list if/when it gets a US date. It sucks that it didn't make an appearance at E3, but DQ games always take a while to get a US date. Hopefully this makes it over here in 2011.
Release Date: q4 2010
Now here's something I didn't expect: Square getting the man who designed Strider to make a four player Strider game. On top of that, feelplus -- the people behind Lost Odyssey -- is the team programming the game. It's such a weird combination.
But there's no doubt about it -- this is Strider 3. The game looks like a Strider game. Strider 2 is the best sidescrolling game on the PS1 and one of the best sidescrolling beat-em-ups ever, so I can't wait to see how this turns out. Necromachina has experience points and different attack types and looks like a fairly deep beat-em-up type game. Will it be as good as other four player co-op games like Castle Crashers? Probably not. But I loooove Strider 2 and I'll give Strider 3 every chance in the world.
It's too bad this wasn't playable at e3, only in trailer form. I want to hear some impressions about how it plays. I have faith.
7. Kid Icarus: Uprising
Release Date: 2011
This is the one thing at e3 that blew me away more than anything else. Nintendo is launching their new system with.. a Kid Icarus game? Really? That's awesome.
I love the original Kid Icarus. Is it a great game? nah. Is it something I adore? hell yeah. I have a huge amount of nostalgia for this series. Just hearing the title theme brings me back every time, so when I saw this trailer I was like "oh hell yeah."
So now that I've said that: what is Kid Icarus: Uprising? That's a question that I'm not sure of and I don't think others are either. I have a feeling that it's nothing more than a rail shooter a la Star Fox 64 or something. There's a cursor going on all throughout the trailer. A rail shooter is something that would lend itself really well to the 3DS's 3d technology. The premiere launch title is going to be something that really showcases the system, not just a Zelda game with Pit instead of Link.
If this game is a version of Star Fox 64 with Pit as the ship, I'm going to be really disappointed.
I'm hoping that this is a game with two separate parts: flying parts where it's a 3d shooter and then land parts that are adventure-y like Zelda. If that's the case, I could really get into this game. I just worry that the only reason I'm a fan of this is because it's got the Kid Icarus name on it. Quite frankly, this is a new IP that has verrry little to do with the original Kid Icarus. Once you remove the nostalgia, what's left?
Really need to see more of what this game is. I might really adore it or I might lose all interest. We'll see.
6. Persona 3 Portable
Release Date: July 2010
Let me start by saying that the Persona series is super overrated. It's got its moments of fun, but it's got huge glaring flaws and is overall a frustrating experience. I have a thing for gameplay-heavy RPGs though so I put up with these flaws because of its addicting gameplay. I wouldn't call it anything close to the best thing ever, though.
So why is it this high? I'm not sure. Let me start by saying that I prefer Persona 3 to Persona 4. Persona 4 is a better game, but there are aspects of Persona 3 that I just prefer. I like the game's style a lot more. It feels more novel since Persona 4 copies the Persona 3 formula to the letter. I like the music way more. The pacing is a lot better thanks to the story not being as invasive. And I like the main character a lot more. Persona 4 has a better cast and a better battle system, there's no doubt about that. But I like Persona 3 more.
And that's the thing about P3P -- it's fixing a lot of what was wrong with Persona 3. Persona 4's gameplay tweaks have been added to P3P which should hopefully be a huge improvement. Navigation took forever in P3, but in P3P you don't actually walk around, instead choosing the icon of the person you want to talk to and a conversation automatically initiating. A lot of people will dislike this change but I prefer it because it streamlines running all around the school and the town. Battle fatigue has been revamped in good ways.
And then there's the new main character. You can play as a chick in P3P which will change the story and the relationships in the game significantly. I'm hearing that it's not the greatest set of changes, but I want to see how it plays out anyway. Plus, I never actually beat P3 or P4 since they get super repetitive and not really all that fun. I think I'll be much easier to handle it on a portable system though. I'll feel much better about playing it in bed than sitting around in front of a tv for hours and hours. If I get bored or annoyed, I can just throw it into sleep mode and pick it up again later.
The biggest problem with P3P? It's a gameplay-heavy RPG, which is something I'm totally into, but DQ9 comes out the same week. If there's one game that overlaps with DQ, it's Persona. Both are light on story and are monotonous turn-based affairs that can break a hundred hours. P3P is cool but DQ9 is the game I really want to play. I would have gone nuts for P3P anytime over the last 2-3 months when I haven't had anything to play. Oh well. I'll get to it eventually.
5. The 3rd Birthday
Release Date: late 2010 in Japan, probably 2011 in US
I've got a thing for Parasite Eve. The original was wayyyy ahead of its time - put this game on the PS2 and I bet it would have gone somewhere. Parasite Eve did pretty well but it could have been really big; as it was, the system just couldn't handle what it was going for. It's the first real horror RPG that I played - while I'm sure there was some stuff like Shin Megami Tensei that had a dark edge, PE1 was practically a thriller. The only other game like that I played was Shadow Hearts and that game's fantastic. The game played slow (that walking speed, my god) and the CG, while great for its time, could have really benefited from PS2-esque graphics. PE2 was some kind of horror game that was a complete bastardization of everything that made PE1 great, but I always wanted to play it just for the story. PE1's fiction, while stupid as hell, was always kind of appealing.
Enter PE3. Or the 3rd birthday.
The first thing one needs to know about the 3rd Birthday is that it's being developed by Square's A team, headed up by Tetsuya Nomura. Nomura is the guy behind Kingdom Hearts and FF13; once he finishes 3rd Birthday he'll move on to Versus 13. I don't think Nomura's games are all that great, but it's good to see that 3rd Birthday isn't some throwaway title: this is Square's next real effort. I have high hopes because of that.
The game looks great graphically. Gameplay-wise it's said to be a third person shooter, but this is a japanese RPG company we're talking about. Yes, you shoot guns at creatures, but it's got lock-ons and you can run all over the place shooting people. It sounds pretty similar to the original Parasite Eve, actually.
The gameplay that I've seen -- which is relegated to the few seconds of that trailer -- looks a lot like Crisis Core. You get into an encounter, run around on a battlefield and dodge-roll out of the enemy's way. Crisis Core has lots of issues but the gameplay itself was pretty good. If 3rd Birthday is Crisis Core - FF7 fanservice + Aya Brea + Parasite Eve's twisted world, I'm sold.
3rd Birthday also has a system where Aya can possess enemies and use their abilities in battle. I'm not sure what this is but I want to play with it.
Overall, 3rd Birthday just has a style to it that really appeals to me. It reminds me of old Square. I think Square and the PSP are the perfect marriage because the production values and costs fit in perfectly with the kind of game they make. If you let them go overboard then it turns into an on-rails thing. If you keep it at that PS2 level there's a chance the game will be good. 3rd Birthday really looks good so it's one of the only pure Square titles I'm excited about.
4. Mortal Kombat
System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Developer: Warner Bros.
Release Date: Spring s011
Mortal Kombat is back.
The developers of Mortal Kombat saw Street Fighter IV's success and took note. Before SF4, many developers felt that making a 2d game would be a cheap retro cashin. SF4 showed that you can make a 2d game that people legitimately love.
The result is that everything is coming back to 2d. MVC3 is coming back and now Mortal Kombat. MK is going the SF4 route and taking everything that gave the series popularity and brought it back. All of the currently announced characters -- there will be 26 in the end -- are from MK1-MK3. The story is getting rebooted too. Shao Kahn is about to kill Raiden and Raiden sends some kind of mental message back to his MK1 self and the story of MK1-3 plays out again. It's stupid as hell, but also kind of awesome. They are shredding all of the excess fat that has cluttered Mortal Kombat and just going back to what works. Is it a cashin? Yeah, sorta. They're playing to people's nostalgia and not really adding anything new. But at the same time, that's exactly what most Mortal Kombat fans want, including myself.
Mortal Kombat has always felt pretty 'stiff'. Things don't link together in MK like they would in other games. The focus was always on the style over the substance, but in this game it's got a robust combo system. You can link specials and juggle people in ways that you haven't been able to do in years. 'Dial-a-combos' are gone, replaced by a more legit combo system a la SF4. There's a super meter a la SF4. You can double tap to dash like SF4. And the fatalities are freaking sick this time around. There hasn't been a legit MK this generation and they're using the technical prowess to their advantage.
The gameplay I've seen looks like MK2 in HD. The game has MK2's look and style with MK3's focus on combos. It doesn't look overly broken which has been the case with most (if not all) MK games in the past. The backgrounds are really detailed and the game is really dark. Sweeps, uppercuts, roundhouse kicks and all the usual stuff is back. You can punch people into acid and pits and all the usuals. It may not be doing too much new, but bringing back MK is awesome. This was the game of E3 for me. Kid Icarus stole the show, but MK's gameplay demonstrations and fatalities and interviews showed me that they know what they're doing. Mortal Kombat is legit again. It feels like 1995 all over again.
3. Metroid: Other M
Release Date: August 2010
I'm a little bit worried about this game. Its reveal last year drove me wild - a 2d Metroid being made by Team Ninja? Wow. I will always remember 2009 E3 as the year Metroid owned the show since the two games that stood out the most for me was Other M and Shadow Complex.
Why am I worried? A lot of reasons. First of all, the design of the game looks to be very.. linear, I guess. Due to the wonky control scheme -- we're using the Wii Remote's d-pad in order to control the whole thing despite it being in 3d -- you have to have fairly straight paths for the game to work. If you look at this trailer, it's all narrow corridors. This would be fine if it was 2d, but it's 3d, leading the game to feel like it's on rails. It's reminiscent of Metroid Fusion in that sense and that game, while good because it had some classic Metroid gameplay and atmosphere, definitely sucked on the level design side of things.
The Metroid Fusion comparisons don't end there. The Federation unlocks powerups for you in the same way that Metroid Fusion did too. I prefer the idea of exploring and finding things like a Super Metroid or a Metroid Prime. Other M has a focus on story like no other game has had since Fusion and a lot of it feels very uninspired. It's not that I'm against the idea of Metroid being more story-driven -- I actually like the story stuff in Metroid Fusion and think the Metroid world is pretty interesting. I was looking forward to seeing more about it actually. But the stuff I've seen just doesn't look very good. The dialogue doesn't look so great and many first-hand impressions have said the same.
The main 'gimmick' of Other M is that if you point the Wii Remote at the screen, you go into first person mode and can use missiles. Most bosses will probably use the formula of stun enemy -> go into first person mode -> missile -> repeat 3x, kinda like a Zelda formula. I'm fairly allergic to first person gameplay, but to inject it into my 2.5d Metroid is almost like taunting me. That said, I'm okay with doing this since you can't move while using missiles, forcing you to play most of the game in 2d.
Thanks to the game's 3d and fast-paced nature, there's auto-aim on the enemies. Maybe the people playing it just suck, but I've seen a lot of gameplay demos where people get too close to enemies, then run away to the other side of the screen and spam the shoot button until things get close, then try to dodge and repeat the same going the other way. It looks pretty.. well, bad. It looks like Ninja Gaiden if you couldn't do melee attacks. I can't tell if this is a design problem or if people are just bad at the game. The story doesn't look great, the gameplay worries me and the controls are weird. That's ominous.
Now that I've said all that... it's Metroid. It looks awesome in motion, one of the best looking games in my memory. Sure, it's not the most technically competent but it looks so fluid in motion. Seeing a super fast paced Metroid excites me beyond belief. It's a direct sequel to Super Metroid with the beginning of the game being a CG flashback to the final boss of that game, one of the most memorable final bosses of all time. It's the first third person Metroid game since 2004's Metroid: Zero Mission, and if you haven't heard, I kind of liked that game a little bit. You probably don't know a bigger 2d Metroid fan than me. Maybe this game won't be able to compete with Super Metroid, but if it's still got great tension and that Metroid feel to it -- something many people have said it possesses -- then I could be in love despite its many shortcomings.
I also feel like I might be getting overly nervous for no reason. I just don't want them to mess up Metroid's glorious return to 2d, you know?
Release Date: Unknown
I've actually played a little bit of Xenoblade and had to force myself to turn it off because I wanted to experience the game in English. I didn't really have super high hopes, but based on what I've played of it now I cannot wait to see more.
For starters, this game got renamed to Xenoblade but that doesn't mean that it's a pseudo-philosophical bunch of nonsense like Xenogears and Xenosaga. Xenoblade is a gameplay-heavy RPG that emphasizes the world over everything else. The game's world has an enormous feel to it that's reminiscent of Dragon Quest 8; you want to check every last corner, find every last enemy, collect every last treasure.
The gameplay of the game is daunting at first because, well, it's an MMO. The game plays like FF12 - huge expansive areas, on-screen enemies, AI-controlled characters. Xenoblade goes even more into the 'single player MMO' feel by adding literally dozens of quests in every town. They're a lot like FF12's hunts. Since the world is the main hook in Xenoblade, quests are a great way to let you explore it. They work in tandem well.
Xenoblade goes even further down the MMO path with the battle system. There is no MP in Xenoblade -- instead, every spell that you have has a cooldown on it. You can use them at any time and you'll be restored to full HP at the end of a battle, but in battle you've got lots of buffs and debuffs that you can trigger at any time. Battles are more about managing your allies than performing individual actions -- your guys auto-attack when their ATB gauge is up.
I'm really allergic to MMO gameplay and huge expansive worlds in general (I'm not a big fan of FF12), but something about Xenoblade felt really exciting. I *loved* finding enemies to fight and checking the corners of every world. After the straight-line affair of FF13, Xenoblade's wide open areas feel so liberating. Xenoblade has a cool feature where there's an arrow pointing you in the right direction and how many steps it'll take to get there if you get lost. There's guidance without handholding there.
Even though Xenoblade is a gameplay-heavy RPG, that's not to say the story doesn't look appealing. For starters, the entire game world takes place on top of two dead gods. You spent the game traveling between these two gods and the map shows you being on top of their legs or chest or wherever. The atmosphere surrounding this is really good. I've gone out of my way to avoid knowing too much about the specifics of the story, but I've heard that the game does delve into the same kind of stuff that made Xenogears and Xenosaga so interesting. That's not to say that the game will become an on-rails experience where the gameplay is at the absolute mercy of the storyline, but it's said to be pretty interesting. I'm into that.
One downside to Xenoblade is that your supporting characters are completely AI-driven. You can't issue any commands to them whatsoever and they may not do what you want them to do at all. I've heard stories of people waiting for the AI to do the right command before going into a specific strategy. That's concerning, especially in such a gameplay-heavy RPG. Hopefully this is an overblown concern because I can't imagine they would let this fly if it's that bad.
Another downside is the obvious thing to say about every Wii game -- it's in standard def and doesn't have the visual clarity of a Lost Odyssey or a FF13. The fields are so expansive and fantastic but they'd be so much better in HD. That said, it still feels great to traverse them and you get over it quickly.
Lastly, I'd be doing everyone a great disservice if I didn't mention the soundtrack. This thing is the most ambitious soundtrack of the last decade. From day 1, the music on the website has been out of this world. It's done by Mitsuda (Xenogears, Chrono Trigger) and Shinomura (Kingdom Hearts, Parasite Eve) The music is so breathtaking that when I first turned it on, I sat at the menu screen for five minutes to listen. There was a couple times in my short time spent with the game where I just stopped playing and got a huge smiles on my face when I heard great music. Recent games have not had great soundtracks - a lot of them go for the cinematic feel and are more movie score-ish, choosing not to get in the way of the game and the voice acting. Xenoblade is more the classic PS1 and PS2 RPG sountrack and it feels so good.
The most disappointing part of E3 was that Xenoblade was a complete no-show. It wasn't even on Nintendo's release schedule after being on the previous year. I've heard some unconfirmed reports that Nintendo still intends to bring the game over here, but I'm always hesitant when something I really want doesn't immediately get announced for localization. Xenoblade was the #1 selling game in Japan last week and the Xeno name has some recognition over here so hopefully that helps them decide to do it. If it doesn't come over I will be pretty pissed because this game looks like it could be great. With the complete lack of RPGs this gen, Xenoblade stands out as the one console RPG worth playing.
1. Dragon Quest IX
Developer: Square-Enix / Level 5
Release Date: July 2010
I've talked and thought a lot about Dragon Quest 8 in recent months. There is something special about that game; its world hooks me in ways no other does and it's probably the most complete RPG I've ever played. Naturally, its sequel would be something that's super exciting for me.
Except DQ9 isn't really like DQ8. Instead of gorgeous cell-shaded graphics on the PS2, we've scaled back to the awful looking 3d of the DS. Instead of having predefined characters, you're making generics and choosing classes for them. DQ9 will probably have a similarly massive world, but I don't think it's going to have the same impact as DQ8 did. That's partially because of the hardware but also because of the scope they're going for here. This is more a traditional, classic DQ. It's reminiscent of DQ3 and that aspect is a little bit disappointing.
Fortunately though, DQ3 is actually my favourite DQ game. I love the class system. It's got a nostalgic pull on me that other games don't have and I always find myself going back to it when I'm bored. Given that I love the game it's directly referencing (DQ3) and the most recent DQ game (DQ8), DQ9 may end up being the best of both worlds for me. I also love that I can play it on a portable system. I would have preferred the PSP since that would give it the visual clarity that it will lack on the DS, but I don't think the DS will hinder it too too much. It's not like DQ is Final Fantasy and exists solely for its visuals. The monsters still look pretty cool and DQM: Joker managed to have an interesting world despite the DS's limitations. DQ9 actually looks better than Joker so I'm sold.
A lot of my anticipation for DQ9 is because, as mentioned before, there hasn't been a knockout RPG in quite some time and I'm hoping this can fill that hole for me. On pure anticipation I probably want Metroid and Xenoblade more, but DQ9 is out in just a couple more weeks and I really want to lose myself in an RPG. Despite all the time I spent talking about games, I haven't actually spent much time lately sitting down and playing them. I just haven't been able to find anything I'm into this year. DQ9 is going to be a 50-100 hour timesink that I should love and I cannot wait to be lost inside of it.