There aren’t a whole lot of game companies who go out of their way to hold events geared toward getting a bunch of journalists together to try out games on the east coast these days, so I honestly enjoy that Bandai Namco is one of those companies. I’m not afraid to admit that it’s fun to take some time out of my day, travel to New York and sample the games they’re working on for an hour or so, especially considering I’m the kind of person who’s stupid enough to walk through New York in the summer and the conference space they use has free cold water. Beyond that, though, the reality is that Bandai Namco is generally the sort of company that is always working on something interesting that I’d never really paid much mind until I played it, and this year’s event was no exception. The games most people are probably going to be curious about, Tekken 7 and God Eater 2: Rage Burst, were on full display at the event, and I spent a good amount of time with both, but there were a few surprising games here I wasn’t expecting to really connect with. So, let’s take a look through the experience together and talk about what Bandai Namco is working on, how the game are coming along, and what you should be looking out for in the next year.
(As an aside, though, seriously, if someone can remind me next year to stop booking 3PM as my visitation time, that’d be great. It’s not a bad time or anything, but this is the second year in a row that I ended up trying to get in time with games while Hip Hop Gamer was on-site. Don’t misunderstand me, HHG is legitimately a nice person, but it’s kind of hard to hear what’s going on when he’s around, as he either travels with a group of fellow game writers or has an entourage, which can be… a loud experience. Again, this is in no way a reflection of HHG as a person, and I think he’s a perfectly cool guy, but believe me when I say it was hard to get a read on some of the things I wanted to get a read on, so… yeah if someone can remind me of that next year around this time, that’d be awesome, thanks.)
Pac Man Championship Edition 2
Having just come off of the surprisingly engaging experience that was Pac Man 256 (and since it was close to the entrance), I opted to head for the Pac Man Championship Edition 2 setup first to see what this was all about. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably note that, while Pac Man Championship Edition was a game people generally seemed to like, I missed it entirely during its launch due to other concerns, so I was coming into this demonstration more or less blind. Fortunately, it’s a game that’s incredibly simple to understand: you play as Pac Man, and your goal is to wake up sleeping ghosts around the maze who will then latch onto a prime ghost like a Snake chain as you gobble dots around the ever expanding maze. After eating enough pellets, a fruit will spawn, and eating this transports you to a new maze to repeat the process. After doing so a few times, a Power Pellet will spawn, and eating this turns the ghost chain blue, meaning it’s chow time. There are a couple of caveats to this, though. First, hitting the ghost chain by itself doesn’t mean you’re dead, as you can bump into it without concern a couple times before the prime ghost gets steamed and decides to ruin your business, which will then end you good and proper. On the other hand, you also can only eat the prime ghost to progress, meaning you’ll have to time your movements well to take out the whole chain in one shot or else end your session should you miss. Honestly, it’s simultaneously an incredibly simple concept and yet it’s so engaging that I wanted to give it another go immediately after ending my first session.
I had a chance to pick the PR rep’s brain a bit during and post-play, and for those who are fans of the original games, there are some worthwhile things to note about this iteration to consider. The game is entirely 3D, but the visuals mimic the 2D designs the franchise is known for in a way that’s basically as faithful as you can get, and the 3D mostly comes into play for special effects and such. Bombs now act as a sort of teleporter when eaten, which drops you right by the fruit or Power Pellet when eaten, giving you instant access to progress forward in a pinch. It’s also worth noting that, as mentioned above, your ideal goal is to pass as many sleeping ghosts as possible to build a bigger and bigger chain, and that maps evolve as you play, which makes later stages more hectic and chaotic, making the game a surprisingly driving experience (so far anyway). There are also multiple ghost leaders to encounter; while the demo I played only featured one main leader and some secondary ghost harassers to contend with, I was advised that several can be in play at once, meaning that you might have to contend with multiple ghost chains if you’re playing with such a thing enabled. Frankly, this is a game I’m going to have my eye on, and if you’re a fan of frantic arcade-style games or enjoyed prior Pac Man games in the past few years, this is one for you to look out for as well.
Once again, I should probably note here that I was not especially versed with Winning Putt as an upcoming release, so much so that I didn’t even realize it was already out; I like golf games as much as the next guy, don’t get me wrong, but a free to play golf game on the PC sounded… less than desirable to my mind. Well, the demonstration provided not only changed my mind, it convinced me to install the game when I got home, and damned if it’s not a fun little golf game on its own merits. From my own time spent playing it, I can attest that the golf mechanics are honestly pretty simple to work with; it’s essentially Mario Golf only slightly less ridiculous (you can still play golf on an alien planet, so come on now). The game also works off of a leveling system, meaning that consistently accomplishing objectives and completing holes will allow you to gain experience and level up, which unlocks the option to collect new clubs to improve your performance on the course. You can also earn consumables to give you temporary boosts, hire caddies to help your game a bit, and even earn clothes to customize your character as you see fit, which makes this feel like a surprisingly robust experience all things considered. Not only that, there are even extensive tutorials and practice missions you can take on to really get a good handle on how the mechanics work and how they can help you win. Frankly, if I hadn’t been told this was F2P, I wouldn’t have guessed from how much effort has been put into making this feel like an at-cost product, which says something.
That said, I’m still not the biggest fan of F2P games, so I opted to pick the PR rep’s brain a bit, and surprisingly, I came away mostly impressed. There’s no gatekeeper mechanic to the game, meaning you won’t feel compelled to pay out cash to keep playing beyond a certain point; you can play as much as you want without anything stopping you if you so choose. The game features a pretty robust amount of content up-front as well, including a total of eight courses to play on (including the aforementioned alien planet) and a whole lot of upgrades and cosmetics to unlock simply through playing normally. The game also offers five different difficulties that add or remove helpful tools for planning shots, including aiming paths and wind indicators, so the better you are the more you can experiment with trying to play without helping hands. This is worth doing, it should be noted, because the game also offers tournaments to participate in at each difficulty level where you can earn prizes for placing well against other players. Unsurprisingly, the rep was quick to point out that the best players in all of the online tournaments so far have not dropped any cash into the game at this point, meaning that the game isn’t a pay-to-win experience, which can often be the case in such games. Honestly, between that information and my time with it, I’d say this was one of the bigger dark horse impressive pieces at the demonstration, and if you have a PC that can play it, I’d recommend doing so.
Dragonball Z Xenoverse 2
I gravitated toward the Xenoverse 2 station at this point, almost entirely because, while I know a few people who quite enjoy the prior game in the series, I’ve never spent any time with it, and I was curious as to how easy the game is to pick up if you’re completely new to it. Surprisingly, the answer is “really simple,” as despite a lack of a tutorial of any sort, I was confidently decimating the computer opponent relatively quickly and pulling off Kamehamehas and Spirit Bombs with relative ease. Mechanically the demo felt quite intuitive, as some of the combat moves you can perform are on-screen at all times and the rest operate more or less as you’d expect, to the point that just relying on dumb guessing and perceivable consequence I was able to get into the game in minutes. The game also really looks like a current gen title, featuring lots of glorious visual effects and bright colors, and while I’m not the biggest fan of the franchise, I was able to jump into obvious characters like Goku and Trunks and wreck shop. Not knowing a lot about the franchise did make it confusing to understand the character choices for the demo, mind you; while Trunks and Goku make perfect sense, and the Time Patroller is the customizable character you control in the core game, I have no idea what a Lord Slug or a Turles are, and I only recognize Gotenks and Gogeta because of The New Day. Still, even as a casual fan, the demo was pretty impressive, and I walked away from it wondering if maybe it wouldn’t be a game to look into on launch.
Sadly, I didn’t have access to a PR rep for this game (or for any others past this, to be honest), so I had to look into what was on-hand for details on the game to know what to expect, but based on the details provided by Bandai Namco, what’s here looks interesting. The game works off of the same “relive the story of the original games or mess up time a bit” mechanic as the original, but with higher quality visuals to really make the anime experience feel closer to what fans expect. Additionally, the game is going to feature new characters, as well as a new hub city that is boasted to be seven times the size of the original, allowing for up to three hundred simultaneous players, so those who enjoy the social aspect of the game should enjoy this too. The character customization system will also feature new elements to make your character feel like it’s your own, and Bandai Namco is stating they’ll be offering updates and support for a full year post-launch, which is a claim not too many publishers are willing to make up front like that. If nothing else, I’m confident it’ll be a game franchise fans like Sean and Dee will be super into, and honestly, if you’re a fan of the original, chances are you will be super into it as well.
Okay, so let’s talk about the game most of you probably showed up for.
I opted to put Tekken 7 through its paces with three characters, partly because I wanted to get a feel for the game based on prior experience, and partly because the guy playing ahead of me handed me the controller mid-match and I ended up starting off with Jin Kazama, who is… not one of my mains, generally. For those wondering, Jin felt more or less like he’s felt for a couple games now (that is, like a cross between his weird Tekken 4 version and Kazuya), and while he’s not my favorite character or anything, he works as well as he ever has. While the game in its demo incarnation featured around twenty nine playable characters, I didn’t see any sign of my normal mains, Bob and Christie (shut up), though at least Bob has been announced, so it’ll be interesting to see how many characters the final game ends up packing. I eventually settled in with Asuka, who’s been a mainstay of mine for a while, and as expected, she felt more or less perfect from jump. It’s hard to really get a read on how a character feels in four rounds of play, of course, but so far it feels like the game’s evolved well into the Unreal 4 engine, and fans should be able to enjoy it pretty much immediately when it launches. Of course, there were several new characters to experiment with, but really, the one I was most interested in was the one I imagine most people would gravitate towards, and that’s Akuma. As you’d expect, it’s not an easy task to convert a character from a completely different fighting game into another game (as Street Fighter X Tekken showed), but Akuma works surprisingly well all things considered. He utilizes much of the same tools as Street Fighter fans would expect (including an EX meter for performing the Raging Demon) but he mostly feels like a spot-on Tekken character, though he doesn’t use the new systems added to the game. In short: based on the demo, the final product is shaping up extremely well, and outside of some mild slowdown that’ll likely be cleared up before launch, it’s a damn good experience.
That said, the game also makes it a point to explain that there are two new mechanics in play pretty much immediately in Rage Arts and Rage Drives, both of which are really neat in a “turn a losing effort around” sort of way. Both mechanics kick in when your health drops below a set amount (around 10-20%) and more or less accomplish the same effect, though one is a stationary move while the other is a dash move. In both cases, if it connects it essentially acts as a Desperation Super; you deal a crapload of damage fast to your opponent, which can end a close match and close the gap in a one-sided fight. It doesn’t feel especially unbalanced at this point, since opponents can dodge it and in both cases it requires close contact, but it’s a neat mechanic that, if utilized properly, could mean much closer match-ups in tournament play. The data provided is also hyping up the upcoming story mode, which I didn’t have a chance to play through; it’s promising an end to the Mishima storyline (for the foreseeable future anyway), though I didn’t get a chance to see how it works mechanically, unfortunately. Still, what’s here works really well, and if the game incorporates something akin to the story mode from Tekken 6 it’ll almost certainly be a sure-fire winner, but we’ll need to wait a bit longer to see where things go from here. I enjoyed my time with the demo, though, and if the final product ends up the way the demo did, it’ll definitely end up with a strong following come EVO next year.
Tales of Berseria
I’m kind of a spotty Tales fan; while Vesperia was a great time, I’ve missed the last couple of entries in the series, and generally defer to Sean, Dee or Crystal when it comes to speaking on the series at length. I mention this because, when it came time to put in some work with the Tales of Berseria demo on display, it was entirely in Japanese, so to say I was a bit lost would be an understatement. The demo jumped me instantly into a dungeon of sorts, fortunately, which meant I got to spend time with the combat system at length, and for the most part, what I saw was pretty interesting. The current system is, according to the documentation provided, an evolution of the Linear Motion Battle System, but for those without much experience with said thing, what this means is that battles are action oriented, and really fast-paced as a result. I spent most of my time with the demo playing as protagonist Velvet, who has a lot of power to work with as a combat character, and between the simple to work with mechanics and Velvet’s utility as a protagonist, battles felt really satisfying overall. Swapping between characters was also fairly simple, though the demo (due to its Japanese language HUD) didn’t really explain as much as I’d hoped, and there were some aspects I completely could not get. This didn’t hurt the experience much, fortunately, but this definitely feels like a game that’s going to be at least a little more complicated than its predecessors, for what that’s worth.
It’s also worth noting that the game looks outstanding on the current gen model; character models and effects are top notch, and the game really looks like it’s taking advantage of the PlayStation 4 technology powering it. The environment showed off in the demo is colorful and full of plenty of interesting details, and combat is really bright and full of special effects that make fighting sing as an experience. I can’t speak to the plot or anything beyond the basic combat systems and play, for obvious reasons, but from what I saw so far the game looks to be shaping up well. The game also features designs by franchise stalwart Mutsumi Inomata and animations by Ufotable, so fans of the franchise should expect a visual experience that’s in line with what they’ve come to love about the franchise so far. It’s hard to make a conclusive decision based on what I’ve played as to how well the final product is coming along, but honestly, I enjoyed the combat systems, and they felt complex yet easy to adjust to, so for the most part, I’d say what was on display was a win at this point.
Sword Art Online -Hollow Realization-
With so many games on display, it’s inevitable that sooner or later you’re going to find a demo that doesn’t really do anything for you, and as it happens, Sword Art Online -Hollow Realization- was one of two games that hit that spot for me this time around. Last year, I got the chance to spend some time with the prior release in the series, Lost Song, and while the game wasn’t ground-breaking on its own merits, I loved the idea that the game felt like it was trying to be .hack with a modern license attached. I’m also generally a fan of anything Artdink develops to varying degrees, and when I pointed out that the game felt like a modernized .hack to the PR rep at the time, she seemed pleased that I got this feeling. As such, it was my hope that the franchise would continue to develop in this fashion, but instead, Hollow Realization has opted to revisit its roots in the prior game, making the whole demo more or less feel like a single player World of Warcraft. I don’t personally know how you feel about that comparison, but “disappointment” covers a lot of it for me. It’s not that the idea of doing another World of Warcraft game as a single player excursion (mostly, though the game supports online play) is a bad idea; rather, it’s that Lost Song had a lot of potential that’s kind of being left by the wayside with this release, and from what the demo showed, it’s not in service of making a better experience, just a different one. Some of the new elements are bound to be a good thing for fans of the series; a brand new story supervised by the series creator and a mixture of old and new faces could make this a boon to the fanbase. Mechanically though, the demo was a hard sell for a few reasons.
The key thing to understand is that, on its face, Hollow Realization feels like the player is playing an MMO, not unlike World of Warcraft or, to a lesser extent, Final Fantasy XIV. The demo more or less started off in a forest and allowed me the chance to sample the combat, which, as you’d expect, works more or less like a console MMO would work. The right side of the screen displays your hotkeys, allowing you to Attack, Jump, utilize a skill from the action bar at the bottom of the screen (based on what you have highlighted on the bar) and utilize a default skill (in this case, Horizontal Arc) that’s mapped to the buttons. This is all fine, and to be fair, the game world looks quite nice, as do the enemies and allied units as they move around and engage in battle, so there’s definitely some positives to the experience. However, combat as a whole (in the demo at least) felt… boring, honestly; MMO mechanics are rarely enjoyable on their own merits, and utilizing them with a bunch of AI units without some kind of novelty applied makes for a dull feeling experience. It doesn’t help that, at least in the demo, there were something like sixteen or so skills assigned to the bar at the bottom of the screen, and swapping between them as needed was a hassle and a half at the best of times. If the game supports keyboard and mouse play this might be mitigated, but with a controller the game feels like it might end up being a bit on the wonky side. I hope I’m wrong, because Lost Song was enjoyable on its own merits and I’d love to see a proper sequel eventually, but as it stands now, Hollow Realization wasn’t the most impressive game on display, shall we say.
God Eater 2: Rage Burst
I don’t even know what to say here. What else can I say? After writing an extensive piece on how awesome it was that Bandai Namco had finally announced the game for a Western release, I’ve covered most everything I can say about the game from a mechanical standpoint; it still plays as well as it did when I first sat down with it at the beginning of the year, and the translation has done nothing to diminish that in the slightest. The demo on display was, by all indications, the PlayStation 4 version, and it looks noticeably better than the Vita version I imported so far, which is good news considering the Vita version looked quite good all in all. Bandai Namco also confirmed what I’d documented some months prior regarding Cross Play and Cross Save, meaning that you’ll basically be able to play with anyone at any point so long as you have one version of the game available, which is fantastic if you have friends across both the Vita and PS4 who own the game. Honestly, from everything I saw in the demo, I’m confident that this is going to be a faithful release, and one that’s going to be worth checking out once it launches on both platforms, especially the PS4 since you get Resurrection free if you pre-order.
The only two significant points of note to discuss in this case surround the translation to English and the edits that have been made regarding blood loss to monsters in combat. Regarding the latter point, as someone who’s spent quite a bit of time with the imported Vita version, let me say up front that, if you were upset about this announcement, relax: the change is mostly minor, and honestly, it makes it a bit easier to pay attention to what’s going on in some cases. There’s still plenty of violence against giant monsters here, rest assured, and the change made is small and really not something to be concerned over. Regarding the former point, on the other hand… well, the text translation is top notch, and everything on-screen is easy to understand during play, so from that perspective, things are looking great. Sadly, due to the noise level I wasn’t able to get an accurate read on what the voice work sounds like at this point, so I can’t really comment on whether it’s good or not. From the assets provided, however, the voices used in combat sound pretty solid, which isn’t a surprise considering Bandai Namco’s track record, but it’s worth pointing out that so far, things are looking good. With release only a few weeks out, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is definitely a game to watch out for, and after having seen the game in action in English, this is definitely a game I’m anticipating.
Of all the games that were being showcased at the event, the one game I’d had virtually no exposure to but was expecting to love on sight was Necropolis. Descriptions of the game have painted it as one part Dark Souls and one part Roguelike, and frankly, that’s a siren song to me on multiple levels. Reading the asset sheet for the game also sounds like there’s a game here that knows exactly how to make this sort of concept appealing. Combat that relies on understanding timing and character animations to their best effect? Randomized dungeon designs that can even be changed while you’re in the dungeon? A crafting system to supplement your discoveries, and monsters that behave according to dungeon ecology which can be exploited? Yes please. This seems like an awesome concept in theory: combine Dark Souls with Shiren the Wanderer and you get a game that’s challenging, rewarding, and engaging for even the most difficulty-obsessed player if done correctly, and with a visual style that screams of dark fantasy stylisim, Necropolis was the game I opted to save for the end, hoping it’d be a sure positive for the end of the piece.
As it happens, this isn’t quite how things went down.
There’s definitely something here that’s interesting and pleasing to the eyes and mind, but as an overall game experience the Necropolis demo feels… sloppy, is the most accurate way to put it. The idea is still sound, and the dungeon designs and layouts are interesting, such that if you can get into what the game is doing mechanically it’ll probably be an easy game to love. There’s also some definite positives here in terms of how gear and such are set up, as the game has a very Shiren feel to its loot drops and setup. Honestly, if that were all the game needed to do, it’d be a demo to sing about, but the problem is, the gameplay on the whole undoes a lot of that good will, such that even in a demonstration piece I walked away from the game disappointed. It’s hard to know where things went wrong here, because everything feels very clunky and hard to work with. Character movement is floaty and walking near ledges and such feels precarious more than it should, which doesn’t even address the odd bits of platforming the game offers, which also feel floaty and unsafe at the best of times. Combat is just as odd, as characters have wide, unwieldly swing arcs that make the player feel like their chosen avatar is really bad at combat. In small groups the timing mechanic seems like it might be manageable, to be sure, but in large groups this becomes a frustration point almost immediately, and the learning curve on the game seems excessive at best. I’m willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt for now, since Dark Souls isn’t a game you can learn in ten minutes either, but at present the demo left a bad taste behind, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that something’s off about the experience.
That wraps up another year of Bandai Namco demonstration pieces, and of the lot, there are several games to really look forward to. I’d definitely recommend keeping an eye on several of the games here, including Pac Man Championship Edition 2, Tales of Berseria, and of course God Eater 2: Rage Burst and Tekken 7. If you’re a fan of golf games, Winning Putt is also definitely worth a look, and I’ve enjoyed my time with it so far, by and large. I’m hopeful that everything on display ends up a winner, and while some of the games on display have further to go to get there than others, it’s pretty easy to say that, all in all, it looks like it’s mostly going to be a great year to be a Bandai Namco fan. We’ll keep you updated on these games as they get closer to release, so stay tuned folks.