*Six weeks until the new consoles arrive*
It’s the final month before the new consoles arrive, can you believe it?! Typically now is the time where you start to see the big holiday titles come out, but because of the November launch of the Series S/X and PS5 we’re going to see a slight downturn in big releases this month. However, not everyone is sleeping on October, and EA is coming hard out the gate with a brand new Star Wars game, Activision is ready to push our nostalgia buttons with a new Crash Bandicoot, and Nintendo does, well, whatever the hell they want to.
Star Wars: Squadrons (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 2nd
Despite characters spending a good amount of flying space ships in Star Wars movies, we haven’t had a full fledged flight sim for the series since 2003’s Flight of the Falcon on the GBA. Maybe it’s because Rogue Squadron is a little over 20 years old and we’re getting nostalgic again, or maybe EA was like, “Oh, we can take the flight combat from Battlefront and turn that into a full game“, it doesn’t matter, because now we’re here and I can finally fly an X-Wing again and hopefully take down AT-AT’s on Hoth.
Super Mario Bros. 35 (Switch) – Releases Oct. 1st
If you thought the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars was weird, well let me introduce you to Super Mario Bros. 35. Taking the same “limited time” approach as All-Stars, this new game will only be available until the end of March, but with the added bonus of getting no physical release, so once they turn the servers off, well, this game is gooooonnnneeee. At least it’s free…well, free if you sign up for Nintendo’d online service for the Switch. Granted it’s only twelve bucks for the year, and you also get a boatload of free NES and SNES games to play, PLUS Tetris 99, so not really a bad deal if you think about it. Okay, so what’s Super Mario Bros. 35 about? Well, thanks to the popularity of Fortnite and PUBG, the battle royale genre has skyrocketed in populartiy. Players will compete against 34 opponents, trying their best to stay alive by killing enemies and collecting power-ups. If you’re the last person standing then you win, hooray! It sounds like it’ll be really fun to play, and is probably going to be one of those games we talk about years from now, wondering if it was a 2020 fever dream or a reality. Screen shots will get passed around in 50 years of the “lost” Mario game and scholars will debate its existence. Well, scholars, if you’re reading this column then I can assure you…it was probably real. Maybe.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 2nd
After the success of the, surprisingly good, N. Sane Trilogy, developer Toys For Bob were tasked with coming up with a new entry in the rebooted franchise. Expect plenty of throwbacks to the original games, as well as new gameplay mechanics like the mask system, which allowed Crash and his pals to change into different costumes that grant different abilities.
Foregone (PC – Epic Games Store/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 5th
Foregone is the latest pixel art 2D platformer to hit digital storefronts in a market saturated with them. The gimmick here is that this is a “looter” style game, meaning you have a ton of weapons to find and collect. Hey, in case you were wondering, yes, this game does have a strong narrative and contains epic boss fights.
Ports and Re-releases:
Ys Origin (Switch) – Releases Oct. 1st
I’m so happy to see Ys games coming to more and more modern game consoles. This series has long been in the shadows for those of us in the West, so reward these developers for finally giving us a chance to play their games by picking up a copy.
Projection: First Light (PC/PS4/Switch/XBone) – Releases Sep. 29th
Spelunky 2 (PC) – Releases Sep. 29th
The Walking Dead Onslaught (PSVR/Rift/Steam Index/Vive) – Releases Sep. 29th
Baulder’s Gate 3 (early access) (PC/Stadia) – Releases
Sep. 30th Oct. 6th
Commander ’85 (PC/Switch/XBone) – Releases Sep. 30th
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Final Fantasy XIV (PC) – Released Sep. 30th, 2010: Wiki Link
When Final Fantasy XI released in Japan in 2002 it was a bold move on the part of Squaresoft (soon to be Square Enix). A series long known for being a solitary, single player experience, was now being thrust into a world where you had to rely on strangers to help you complete your quest. It became a huge hit, and with a 2003 North American release and a 2004 European release, the game hit big numbers and created lasting memories for an entire generation of gamers. While FFXI was still going strong, it was starting to show its age, both in graphics and gameplay, so, in a somewhat surprising move, Square Enix announced that the fourteenth installment of Final Fantasy would be going back online to take advantage of modern hardware, thrilling fans worldwide. While the announcement came in 2009, the team had been working on the game since 2005, putting together the story and plotting the direction of the cutscenes. Instead of creating a new engine, the team opted to use the same one used for Final Fantasy XIII, but because that was a single player game and FF14 was an MMORPG, well, it didn’t really work. This isn’t a totally out there idea, developers do this all the time, update existing engines to suit their game’s needs, however, the tame building FF14 had very little experience making MMO’s, and in the process became too bogged down with the way things looked instead of how the game played. A famous example of this is “the flowerpot situation”, in which the developers were so fixated on graphical detail that they put just as many polygons into the game’s flowerpots as there polygons in the main character. While this led to impressive visuals, it meant that there could only be, roughly, 20 characters on screen at once, completely losing one of the core factors of an MMO, tons of people online at the same time. Despite that, the team went into beta and soon found out that things were not working they way they intended. With no official forums, players didn’t have a simple way of sending in bug reports, often going to third party websites to air their grievances. To make the miscommunication even more difficult, feedback was not directly translated and passed on to the developers in Japan, instead each region was responsible for collecting, condensing, and reporting the general sense of what players were saying; baffling.
Despite a decent debut on the Japanese sales charts, the game quickly spiraled into a huge mess. There were major problems with the menus and inventory, which were apparently housed on the server side instead of on player’s local machines, meaning it could take several seconds to minutes for them to appear on screen (or maybe not at all). The various zones that players could explore looked gorgeous, but because of poor file size management the team was forced to copy/paste the same few areas over and over again, creating confusing labyrinths that were a chore to explore. Boring quests and laughably low amounts of experience points made grinding for levels an insufferable slog as well. Critics eviscerated the game, calling it the worst Final Fantasy game of all-time, and maybe the worst MMORPG of all time; Square Enix was embarrassed. Following the poor reception to the game, it’s initial 30 day free trial was extended, essentially turning paying customer into the next batch of beta testers. Square Enix’s then CEO, Yoichi Wada, personally apologized for the state of the game, saying that the game was so bad that it had permanently damaged the Final Fantasy brand. Needless to say, heads started to roll, with the game’s original director and producer, Nobuaki Komoto and Hiromichi Tanaka being removed from their posts. The game was then taken over by Naoki Yoshida, a veteran of the Dragon Quest series, who went to work overhauling and fixing all of the problems his predecessors left. One of the first things that Yoshida, or Yoshi-P, did was create official forums for the game as a place for players to suggest improvements, reports bugs, and generally air their grievances. Soon enough players started to notice a change; combat was overhauled, quests were updated, dungeons were added, new bosses were created, and the game started to actually resemble something fun to play. However, after the massive earthquake on March 11th, 2011 off the coast of Tohoku, the game was put on pause. Data centers that housed the FF14 servers were damaged, causing them to go offline for a period of time, before being slowly restored, but the damage was so extensive that the cost to get them fully back and running was proving to be an issue. Sensing an opportunity, Yoshi-P decided to end the current game, completely rebuild it from scratch, and re-release it when they were certain they had a polished product. Square Enix was on board with this decision, so on November 11th, 2012, players were invited to take part in one final battle to save Eorzea, one that would prove futile, as a massive moon that imprisoned Bahumut crashed into the world, destroying everything. Players characters would be zapped into an alternate dimension and sleep, awaiting the day when the realm would be reborn, and on August 23rd, 2013, it did just that. See you in three years.
Dino Crisis 2 (PlayStation) – Released Sep. 29th, 2000: Wiki Link
The success of Resident Evil ushered in the arrival of the survival horror genre, bringing along several imitators and copy cats, not just from other developers, but also from Capcom itself. The original Dino Crisis that released in 1999 was a pretty strict copy of the RE formula, dark, moody environments that are punctured by singular moments of terror that are designed to make you jump out of your seat. It was fun, if not derivative, but when it came time for the sequel the new director and producer team of Shu Takumi and Hiroyuki Kobayashi took the series in a new direction. Instead of relying on a spooky atmosphere that required puzzle solving and smart conservation of ammo and health, they turned the title into a shooter that had you plowing through hordes of dinosaurs with an almost near endless supply of bullets and health kits. This new emphasis on combat also led the developers to come up with new enemies to fight, and larger areas to explore. Critics were generally happy with the changes made to the series, with a sense that Dino Crisis had found a way to break free from the RE shadow and establish its own identity. However, despite the beautiful (for the time) graphics and improved gameplay, critics were put off by the large amount of back tracking required as players would swap between original protagonist Regina and new character Dylan, and felt that the combat eventually got a bit stale and repetitive as players would grind for points in order to upgrade their weapons and armor. The game was a commercial hit, selling almost 2 million copies worldwide, but a lower than expected reception to their next two offerings (Dino Stalker, Crisis 3) the series was put on ice with Capcom basically saying they had no intention to revive the series unless a major public push for a sequel manifested itself; so there you have it folks. If you want a new game get all your buddies to tweet at Capcom, then go grab the Travis Scott burger at McDonald’s.
Dragon Warrior II (NES) – Released Sep. 1990: Wiki Link
The Final Fantasy Legend (Game Boy) – Released Sep. 30th, 1990: Wiki Link
After publishing both Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy in North America, Nintendo was able to create a small, but passionate niche of JRPG loving gamers. For their follow-up title, Enix decided to publish the game in North America themselves, determined to grow this fanbase into something substantial. The Japanese version, called Dragon Quest 2, had released three years earlier in 1987 and was a massive success, but had some room for improvement. When it was localized for North America, the developers replaced the game’s ridiculously long passwords with battery saves, and with the extra development time they were able to add a prologue scene in which players see the destruction of Moonbrooke Castle which leads to the guard crawling up to the King of Midenhall, asking for his help. In Dragon Warrior 2, players also saw two other big changes in comparison to the original game; multiple party members and multiple enemies per battle. It’s a small difference, but it makes a world of difference when it comes to battle strategy and the level of storytelling you can do with multiple protagonists. Set 100 years after the events of DW1, players initially take on the role of the Prince, a descendant of Erdrick, who seeks to destroy the wizard Hargon. Eventually meeting up with the Prince of Cannock and the Princess of Moonbrooke, the three of them make their way to Hargon’s lair where they are unable to stop him from summoning the demon Malroth. Using all of their strength and courage, they slay the demon and restore peace to the land, with the Prince of Midenhall crowned the new king, with his descendants eventually taking center stage in Dragon Warrior 3. The game was a big hit with critics in Japan, getting an almost perfect score in Famitsu. It’s legacy is well known in the country, with Famitsu readers voting it in as the 17th greatest video game of all time (in 2006). American critics were into the game as well, with Game Pro calling it one of the best games of the year and a “must-own” but, unlike today, RPGs were not in the mainstream yet. It would take a few more years, and few more titles, for the genre to really kick off. Hey, maybe if players were able to take these long adventures off the television and into their hands on a portable device, well, maybe that would increase their exposure, hmmm, who would do that though…
Squaresoft, like most other publishers of the time, saw the insane popularity of Tetris on Nintendo’s Game Boy when it released in Japan, so to capitalize on this new handheld craze they had a brand new RPG out just in time for Christmas, Makai Toushi Sa Ga (or Warrior in the Tower of the Demon World ~ Sa·Ga). In their attempt to capitalize on the Western market and it’s steadily growing RPG fan base, due largely in part to their Final Fantasy release on the NES, Square brought SaGa over to the states but instead of confusing audiences with yet another RPG series, they opted to call the game The Final Fantasy Legend. It paid off, because not only was the game a success in Japan, it’s subsequent U.S. release was similarly popular, making it the first game in Square’s history to sell over 1 million copies, a testament to not just the growing RPG fanbase in the U.S., but also to the power of the Game Boy itself, with players gobbling up just about every piece of software released for the system. Like the other JRPGs before it, SaGa, or Final Fantasy Legend, has you taking on the role of a party of adventurers who must go on an epic journey. This time the prize is reaching Paradise, which is supposedly at the top of a large tower that connects several worlds. Taking a trip through time and space proves more difficult than they thought, but eventually they meet up with The Creator who is, basically, God, and kill him. In order to maintain player engagement in short trips, the game was designed to be played in small sections, with an emphasis on making the game more difficult than a typical console RPG, and a slightly increased number of random battles to ensure that players had at least one encounter with a monster while they were on the bus or train. Famed composer Nobuo Uematsu created the music for the game, and lamented the difficulty he had with making music on the Game Boy compared to the NES. Despite having stereo sound, the system only had three musical notes, making his typical sweeping scores shrink down in scale. He was ultimately proud of the work, and understood that, due to the lack of space on the cartridge, it was better for players to have a good game rather than just good music. Critics in the West were enthusiastic about the game, praising the title for feeling like a console title in pocket form. Nintendo Power named it the 3rd best Game Boy game of 1990, and in 1997 they would say it was the 70th greatest game to appear on a Nintendo console. The Final Fantasy Adventure/SaGa would spawn two sequels on the Game Boy before jumping to consoles, and it’s release was a watershed moment for the Game Boy, showing other developers just how much power they could pack into this little system, and was a direct inspiration to Satoshi Tajiri, who would go on to create one of the most popular game franchises of all time, Pokemon. The JRPG was on an upward trajectory in North America, little did we all know the powerhouse genre it would become.
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