E3 2015: Square Enix Press Conference Impressions

Bethesda proved new blood still makes a splash in the realm of E3 pre-show conferences. Sharing a handful of games and jokes, Bethesda dealt the goods that listeners desired. Square Enix, by comparison, offered robotic speakers and a barrage of divisive role-playing titles.

Before we discuss that onslaught, Just Cause 3 unleashed a volley of explosions instead. The story premise could use a second gander ‒ Rico must “liberate” his mother’s hometown, which undoubtedly entails the destruction of oil refineries, water towers, bridges, or other resources the citizens rely on ‒ but I forgave any discrepancies already. Just Cause 3 delivers a wingsuit and slows the parachute for a near-endless flight. The developers upgraded the grappling hook with winch capabilities. Now it attaches to anything and anyone in view. Turn vehicles into volatile yo-yos, or force enemies to kick themselves in the head as you reenact the boyhood game of “Why are you hitting yourself?”

More ambitious fans may recreate infamous action movie moments, too, like driving cars out of airplanes (Furious 7) or towing chunks of metal behind a truck to raze innocent buildings (Fast Five). Rico also carries unlimited C4, grenades, and rockets, so nothing will stop you from harnessing unpredictable, chain reaction physics in this tropical playground. Anyone should find something to savor here, even cheaters. The developers enable god mode and other hacks from minute one, just to ensure skysurfing cars into opposing bases does not end with Rico’s burning death.

Easing up on the hype, Platinum Games declared its connection to the next Nier game. Titled Nier New Project (subject to change), stock artwork showed serene woodlands, rusting factories, and decayed cityscapes. A short clip unveiled a sword-carrying woman in a black dress as well, who we can probably assume is the heroine. As for the show’s WTF moment, Yoko Taro paraded on stage wearing a hideous, pale-faced, earless, hairless, grinning, blank-eyed mask that would terrify Voldemort. Did the producers believe Yoko’s wardrobe would disguise the fact that neither Platinum, nor its partners had anything concrete to spill from Nier’s successor?

The same approach applied to Rise of the Tomb Raider. Square Enix rebroadcast the Tomb Raider trailer from Microsoft's conference without any additional footage. Rather, the developers pulled back the curtain on the intricacies behind Lara’s design, from residual scars to specks of snow that accumulate on her clothing. I appreciate behind-the-scenes commentaries (Valve’s chief among them), and budding programmers should consider them free lessons, but those inside looks hardly suit an expo where gameplay and trailers reign supreme. 

I was more content to watch Lara Croft Go’s debut video. Lara Croft Go inherits the isometric perspective and turn-based mechanics of Hitman Go, though there appears to be a greater focus on ancient puzzle solving than making guards gag on chloroform rags. To say something of the visuals, I dig the stylized art. The soft colors and interplay between the light and shadows ensures Lara Croft Go is not riding the coattails of its forebears.

Prepping the RPG hour, Square Enix devoted a teensy bit of trailer time to Final Fantasy XIV’s Heavensward expansion, which increases the level cap, adds a new raid, and unlocks flying mounts. Meanwhile, Dragon Quest Heroes’ egregiously long caption, The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below, sails stateside in October, and Life is Strange still lacks a release date for its fourth episode. Please, I must have closure!

No, Square Enix, I did not mean replay the announcement video for Final Fantasy VII’s remake, though more details this winter would not be unwelcome. We could do without Final Fantasy VII’s PC port, which arrives on the PS4 late this year (it was poor then, and I cannot believe the Popeye character models would be relatable now).

Kingdom Hearts could never let me down, even if the next game ships for iOS and Android, the chibi-like characters aggravate me, and its plot fixates on five factions, not heroes and villains we fans love. Wait, Square Enix is making that game? They called it Kingdom Hearts: Unchained Key? Ugh. A trailer alleges a return to the beginning (whatever that involves), and newcomers answer their destinies as keyblade champions. Will this story ease the wait for Kingdom Hearts III? The Heartless still serve a notorious role, at least, and so do worlds from Hercules and Alice in Wonderland. Likewise, gamers can summon the powers of Sora, Riku, Donald, Goofy, etc.

Following that lukewarm reception, Square Enix summoned Kingdom Hearts III for its climax. A young Xehanort and Eraqus waxed philosophic in the recent gameplay reveal, which I oddly appreciate. I know existential debates contradict what people expect of a Disney movie or game sporting animated visuals, but frequenters of Final Fantasy (which I was a fan of first) expect the ominous subject matter.

Extra gameplay delved into Tangled’s domain for a peek at the expansive mountain and hillsides. Sora leaps from a cliff at one point, no invisible walls, landing hundreds of feet below. A separate setting also unveiled attacks themed around amusement park attractions, including a roller coaster and teacups. Most of all, Kingdom Hearts III is shaping up nicely, graphically. I predict some viewers may notice no differences between Kingdoms Hearts III and a Pixar film when done.

Keeping with the theme of reusing old trailers, Square Enix aired World of Final Fantasy’s middling teaser, set in the land of Grimoire. Game director Hiroki Chiba wants to make a game that appeals to all ages, and a combat system both simple and deep, but I have heard those intentions iterated before. Many studios scrap them during development.

A possible first for developers, too, Hitman arrives as a digital release in December, after which the developers will release new assassination contracts regularly. Based on the wording and hints that the story will not be finalized until 2016, I expect Hitman might not see a boxed, retail release until later next year. As someone who has not committed to a download-only future, that prospect disheartens me. If I invest in a virtual copy, however, player-created missions and an open world may tide me over. The current trailer alone highlighted more than half a dozen ways to eliminate the rich and pompous.

Next up on the intermission list, Agent 47 dispatched fleshy sentries in Hitman: Sniper, a mobile version of (but in no way better than) Hitman: Sniper Challenge for the PC. Online players can also exert their power in Triad Wars, the massively multiplayer spin-off of Sleeping Dogs, or get their fill of emo heroes whenever Final Fantasy XV shows its face to the public again.

Speaking of public appearances, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (a Japanese title if I ever heard one) gave us a look at coastal cliffs, labyrinthine cities, and sandy shores. The heroes then entered directly into combat against skeletons, slimes, and eyeball dragons(?). “The fate of a planet hangs in the balance.” Yes, that tale has been told on numerous occassions, Star Ocean. Will Integrity and Faithlessness set itself apart when a localized version lands in North America?

I ask the same question of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, mostly of the boss fights and writing. “I can only fight enemies I see.” Huh? In the meantime, Adam Jensen and his expertly groomed facial hair have teamed up with hacker activists to remove a cyborg threat. New nonlethal options like electric ammo and a homing taser that stuns multiple people should give pacifists plenty to work with. Adam can also cripple dudes with projectile nanoblades and concussive force blasts, not including an assortment of firearms.

And perhaps the most pointless of announcements, freshly minted developer Tokyo RPG Factory hopes to produce Project Setsuna before the end of 2016. Square Enix provided a few concept art photos, one of a figure standing amid a snow-covered forest, but that was all. Literally nothing else. Zilch, zero, nada.

That is about the level of expectations I had by the end of the show. On one hand, I like the RPGs and other games teased. Concerning actual gameplay or trailers, however, the developers could have put money where their mouths are, but most stuck feet in their mouths instead. Reused trailers, a translator too slow on the uptake, and a couple statements that were, “Hey, we’re creating a game due sometime before 2017 … probably?” rivaled EA’s miserable press event. No quantity of Kingdom Hearts could revive Square Enix’s withering conference.  

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