Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games #2018

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Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists (PS4/PSVita/Switch)

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This is fresh of this week. As promised by Gust, the Atelier series takes a different path this year. Nelke, the protagonist, is not an alchemist but an aristocrat ! She’ll have to ask the services of famous heroines of the series (Meruru, Ayesha, Marie…) to help her develop her land. It would therefore be an Atelier game played from the client’s perspective instead of being the alchemist ! Rather refreshing, and another Vita version is more than welcome.

World End Syndrome (PS4/PSVita/Switch)

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Still no news of Arc System Works’ visual novel, which is supposed to mix dating and mystery. Delayed to summer quite a while ago, it’s high time we knew when we’ll be able to solve the cases of the coastal town of Mihate.

Tokyo Chronos (PSVR)

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Another visual novel full of eerie murders, but in virtual reality this time. The details are kept for Anime Expo, the biggest western event for Japanese AA games. For now, we just have this sentence « I was killed, who’s the culprit ? ».

NG (PSVita)

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Here it is ! The spiritual successor to the glorious Death Mark is being finalized for PSVita at Experience. No less spooky than the latter, NG puts away fantastical places and aims to juxtapose daily life and horror. A rather interesting mix that will put maximum pressure on characters themsleves eerie enough, but risking an horrible fate.

Bullet Girls Phantasia (PS4/PSVita)

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Gone missing for 8 months, Bullet Girls Phantasia finally comes back to us with a release date in August. The girls of the airsoft club are going to be warped (with their equipment) in a heroic-fantasy world where they’ll meet no less attractive females. Elves, magic user, knight, catgirl will fight along in battles mixing blades, magic and 7×62 ammo.

Utawarerumono Zan (PS4)

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Aquaplus finally cuts ties with the strategy/RPG genre with this new episode called Zan. The old engine is replaced by beautiful technical assets created by Tamsoft. The developer is preparing another superb beat’em all, which will undoubtly gather new series fans.

Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel IV (PS4)

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Lots of games are planned for release on September 27th in Japan, but only one has the attention of JRPG fans. Trails of Cold Steel IV comes swiftly to give some answers to the insane events sorrounding the end of the third one, and offer us the greatest perspective Legend of Heroes has ever known.

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E3 2018 Nintendo – Port Adventura

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By the sole strengh of its star franchises, Nintendo achieved a vastly successful first year with the Switch. Thanks to 15 million consoles sold during the fiscal term, revenues jumped 100% and the operating result doubled as well, even matching Sony’s gaming division. But letter having twice more revenues, we can conclude that the Kyoto-based firm spends less in its activities. Nintendo’s cost of sales nevertheless soared to more than 600 billion yens, here again a 100% increase over last year. Manufacturing, selling Switch and its games is costly.

Is the situation sustainable for Furukawa’s group ? Switch sells exclusively thanks to in-house IPs : month after month, we observe the same titles in charts around the world. 3rd party games never stand out, and figures in Japan are fairly low for non-Nintendo software on Switch. When there’s no further potential in the mainstream audience, the decline might be quite fast if Nintendo can’t manage to diversify its line-up. The sudden rise of production costs also mean they can’t do much on price leverage, the margin would suffer a lot to much in case of big price cut. Ultimately, Switch can only shatter on the AAA wall, the heart of the industry on which it has no reach. The 3DS business will keep declining in most territories, and we can hardly think that the new console will compensate with a long list of ports.

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No doubt then that E3 2018 was a critical moment. Will switch’s swift sales help gather faithful allies ? Will the hefty profits be reinvested in ambitious projects ? At 7 p.m. on June 12th, the answer is crystal-clear : no. The Nintendo Direct E3 is a disaster : few new 3rd party games (of which mostly ports), nothing big in the first party line-up (another Mario Party ? Are we being serious here ?), Fire Emblem Three Houses looks like the worst budget RPGs on PS4, and 2/3 of the Direct was Smash Bros Ultimate’s patch notes. Yeah, another port. The need to fill the blanks to hide the lack of announcements was painful to watch.

Nintendo gave the impression of a desperate manufacturer, withdrawing to its comfort zone to maintain its margin. End of year is barren and 2019 doesn’t look promising either, while Sony and Microsoft are receiving tons of blockbusters. How will Switch’s line-up hold even 30 seconds against Battlefield V, Red Dead Redemption 2, One Piece World Seeker, SoulCalibur VI, Ghost of Tsushima, Gears of War 5, Transference, Kingdom Hearts III, Devil May Cry 5, The Last of Us Part II, The Division 2, Fallout 76, Déraciné, Jump Force, Sekirô, Shadows of the Tomb Raider and the likes ? Of course, part of the mainstream audience will buy Pokemon Let’s Go en masse, but to what extend ?

When all the people potentially attracted by Mario, Pokemon or a hypothetical Animal Crossing have a Switch, the risk of collapse is real. Switch cannot seduce beyond those demographics. It’s miles away from the standards asked by core gamers. The system itself is not powerful enough to let developers fulfill their ambitions and creativity. Once again, short-term focused Nintendo fall behind the race and lacks the means to shape the future.

E3 2018 Sony – Game Stranding

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Mid-2018, Sony is still a lot ahead of the competition, even despite the rapid rise of the Switch. God of War gets praised from everywhere and topped 5 million sales in no time, Detroit Become Human has become millionnaire in about 2 weeks. Along the first party power, the vast majority of third parties back the PS4. In Japan as well, PS4 and Vita have a grip on the third party market. The consensus is very clear that the industry leader has little to do in this E3.

Sony’s financial statements also show a bright picture. In the balance sheet, you can spot a meaningful rise if the current assets (+18%), partially reintegrated in capital. The earning report is even better since the operation result has doubled to 734 billlion yens, the net result having been multiplied by five! Nearly very line of product shows some progress, except smartphones still on the wane.Generally speaking, Sony is benefiting from the global economic rally.

Expectedly, the game division is incredibly healthy : 19 millions of PS4 sold this year again, operating result up 30%, PS+ still growing and a digital ratio reaching the insane figure of 32% over the entire fiscal year ! In the first quarter of 2018, 43% of players purchased their games on the Playstation Store. A massive success for Sony and great news for commercial margins. Third parties are thrilled, PS4 is they key to success.

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But with such a lead over the competition, what I feared actually happened : Sony gave a short show, without taking much initiative, in a badly paced conference. They barely applied the agenda they’ve been talking about over and over. True, The Last of Us Part II displayed impressive gameplay, Ghost of Tsushima blew everything with Kurosawa-esque atmosphere, and Death Stranding keeps being intriguing about its narrative. But announcements lack some impact compared to Microsoft the day before, and we did not see any guest. Resident Evil 2 Remake was highly anticipated, but it’s not a new game. Niô 2 and Control are true surprises, but we got next to no details about them.

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It was downright lame to exclude Deracine from the showcase. First VR experience from From Software, this puzzle game has you retrace the story and psychology of students in some old-fashioned school. This is definitely a whole new kind of experience that deserves more spotlight than Spiderman for example. Still, neither the volume of content nor the pacing can make the difference, Microsoft had more and more surprises. I would have been helpful to gather games like Ace Combat 7, Soulcalibur VI, 13 Sentinels, or the now officially lost FFVII Remake. That gave the impression that Sony is increasing less open to third parties, while Microsoft is constantly improving ties with them.

Not much answer to Switch in terms of hardware either. But is all that even necessary ? 99% of the games here at E3 run best on PS4, and most of the games shown at Microsoft’s conference will automatically sell better on Sony’s console. As for Switch, it represents a mere 30% of games currently in development, mostly A or AA titles by the way. But the new hybrid is no less a potential threat that Sony isn’t really facing, unsettling the market for Japanese games.

Eventually, we shouldn’t forget that in this beginning of end of generation, the E3 battle is more symbolic than really effective in business terms. It has already become more a question of preparing the next generation, and Sony probably wanted to bolster its exclusive line-up in that intend, taking the risk to appear less influential on the international scene. Future will tell if that strategy was wise or not.

Review – Iwai Hime Matsuri

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CERO Z. The ultimate edge of the Japanese video games rating system, the one that separates what can be sold and what cannot. Usually used for realistic violence as in Call of Duty or other western shooters, it is rarely applied to domestic software. Stricter than our French PEGI18, it is impossible to buy such a game without proving your age. For example, you cannot purchase Iwai Hime Matsuri from the Japanese Playstation Store with a prepaid card, you must register a Japanese credit card! Then the question is more pressing than ever : what the hell is in this game ?

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Within the first minutes, Nippon Ichi Software’s game makes the subject very clear : it starts by mentioning a suicide. From the very strart, the game features some hypnotic writing capable of immersing the player in the story and a make him share the psychological condition of the characters. Struck by this first scene, you’re later introduced to the courageous protagonist Suzumu and his classmates. Toe, a silent girl always holding a Japanese doll, is one of them. It is said that the doll is cursed, and Toe with it. The truth behind that is the point of this adventure.

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Iwai Hime Matsuri is strictly a visual novel : the only thing you do is reading, there is no choice, branch of scenario or interactivity. The trophies (all gold, thanks for the jackpot!) also happen to all have “… chapter read“ in the description. Reviewing such a title is therefore in-between literature and cinema review, but the game gathers qualities from both.

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Iwai Hime Matsuri is a game constantly wandering between dream and reality. Most of the time, the narrative happens in some hallucination seen by the the five girls close to Suzumu. It is so confusing that in the first half of the game, it is nearly impossible to find out what really happened and what is fictitious. But that’s actually what is great about NIS’s game, because the atmosphere is darker than dark and the suspense thrilling. The great soundtrack, full of harrowing or mysterious themes, is a perfect fit to throw yourself in the story, try to distinguish the truth in the character stories. There is something really hooking about the psychological evolution of the characters that can only deeply strike the reader.

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The last point to be developed (to answer the question left in the introduction) is that Iwai Hime Matsuri is gruesome, in both what it tells or shows. For example, chapter 2 features a rape scene very slightly disguised in order to make it less obvious that it’s a sex scene (I remind you that this title originally comes from DMM.com). That wasn’t the only hard scene : horrible bullying, agony, mutilation… the game is rife with unbearable story parts. There’s also that reccuring misshapen character, not precisely identified to keep the mystery deep, which reminds Kafka’s Metamorphosis with the exact same icy feeling. The last chapter reaches a level of cruelty very close to hentaï and goes far beyond what you’d expect to find in a console game. For consenting (and interested) users ONLY.

With Iwai Hime Matsuri, the brilliant novelist Ryukishi07 invites us to wander between dream and harsh reality in a fascinating visual novel, despite its uneven pace. It’s not very easy to judge a game made of only text and images, but Nippon Ichi Software’s game mixes suspense, gruesome pictures and breathtaking scenes so well that I do think it’s a great pick in the genre.

Press round-up – Winter 2018

Atelier Lydie & Suelle Firis

As I said last time, most of my English reviews will now be published on VGChartz. Once again, it is a significant opportunity for me so I definitely want to play that card to the maximum. In order to organize things on this end, I’ll write a report like this every new season to recap every article. That said, I will have a few blog-exclusive PSVita reviews coming, so stay tuned for that also.

Review – The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

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Massive JRPG, Trails of Cold Steel III kept me busy for something like 130h, making it one of the longest games that I’ve ever played (excluding the 400h on Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, but that’s another story). Characters, storytelling, combat, strategy… Falcom’s talent fully gathered in one memorable adventure, its only problem being the subpar graphics considering it’s a PS4 exclusive now.

Review – Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

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The second part of the non-localized historical spin-off of the Ace Attorney series. This entry send us back to Sherlock Holmes’s London, where defense lawyer Ryônosuke will have again to find his way to the truth in tricky cases. A lot more exciting than the first one, Great Ace Attorney 2 sheds light on many unanswered questions and features crime cases full of humor and also incomparable atmosphere.

Review – Death Mark (PSVita/PS4)

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Well, you probably know this one. This is the updated review of one of my top games of last year, a horror story that I think is not going to be matched any soon. This article draws a brief recap of the sixth chapter, appeared in the PS4 version and given as free DLC on PSVita.

Review – Atelier Lydie & Suelle The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings (PS4)

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Hugely anticipated as far as I’m concerned (since Atelier took back the GOTY spot last year), this newest Atelier game kinda fell short of the great expectations I had for it, because of its appalling level-design, the irritating DLC policy and the flat story. A serviceable Atelier game, but far from the best entries.

Review – Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet (PS4)

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Another new installment I was eager to experience, I even bought the digital premium edition with the season pass. No regrets, but the feeling that BandaiNamco is unable to make a SAO game without silly mistakes in it. The renewed gameplay is cool, gun-friendly world of Gun Gale Online is fun to roam into, but little presence of SAO characters makes it feel like a different IP.

僕の冬 #2018

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Years go by and each of brings new standards, new evolutions, in good or bad. Mine this year will be perhaps disappointing for those who enjoy reading this blog, because I will mostly stop posting game reviews on it. I recently joined VGChartz as writer, so this is a whole new challenge for me. VGChartz staff are great people and they gave me the warmest welcome I could ever imagine, so technically I could keep posting reviews here but at some point the amount of publishing between French and English is too demanding. January has already strained me quite a bit. So reviews should be found in the VGChartz review list from now on, although I might keep a few little ones for the blog. That doesn’t mean blogging stops here : I will replace with posts like this on anime, and I seriously consider translating my posts about my travels in Japan (although that might kill me completely given the extensive content). Opinion pieces will still be there, so it’s not goodbye or anything.

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I got PSVR for Christmas, mostly by curiosity about a few titles since the VR craze hasn’t really been convincing to me. Yet my short experiment of Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash in VR certainly was. I hadn’t expected such a deep level of immersion. I was at loss for words after getting the helmet off, stupefied by the scale of the revolution I had just witnessed. If such incredible result was achievable in 6 months of PSVR, just imagine what content will be available in 5 or 10 years ! The array of possibilities are staggering, this will be truly a human revolution if they become reality. Since then I’ve bought Hoshi no Kakera no Monogatari which is amazing as well.

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In a more classic way, Dissidia FF NT has come to warm the icy week-end of January. With all the efforts, raging and twitching, my body always end up feeling like burning. In short, the usual symptoms when playing a good fighting game. SquareEnix’s product is beautiful, the animations are incredible and it has a dream-like soundtrack for series fans. More than ever, the FF universe is recreated perfectly. Online play is really harsh though, which exacerbates some unbalance between character types. Terra, like all Shoot characters, is tricky to play as because far to slow and virtually defenseless. It’s exhausting to try to earn a few points and that’s a shame because so the rest of the game is so good. But enough of gaming and let’s talk other media.

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Kûsen Madôshi Kôhosei no Kyôkan is an old harem that was sleeping in my hard disk so I thought I could give it a try. That anime is about Kanata, a nonchalant military instructor who has been given the task to turn three lousy magical knights aspirant girls into tactical pros. Action scenes were under the par but for the rest it was fun nicely directed. Character management was pretty good, especially in the last episode because it breaks the rules of the genre and let the girls strike the final blow and not the hero.

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A spin-off about an interesting character is generally worth the time, even when the original work is poor. Aiz is the main character of Sword Oratoria and expectedly it’s a lot better than Danmachi, even though the writers couldn’t refrain from liking it to the main story, which is annoying. The Loki family is quite a entertaining group, composed of characters a lot more amusing and charismatic than the crybabies of the original anime. Battles aren’t jokes, there are serious confrontations and a real show. In fact, it has almost everything that Danmachi lacked.

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Classroom of the Elite was fairly interesting for its originality. 4 classes of highschoolers rival each other to get the best positions later, but the ranking isn’t just made of school marks. It involves points, the management of which is complex and only the best minds can get the most of it. Ayanokôji, the protagonist, is an expert in the field and will discreetly come up with plans to beat the other classes, despite the poor students of his class. Classroom of the Elite is one of those animes that invent complex but fascinating rules, and the mystery surrounding Ayanokôji is another reason to want more.

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Gamers made me think a lot. It shows the numerous misunderstandings between five gaming fans in love with each other. It kinds of busts the fundamental contradiction between love and gaming. It’s almost too well directed : the dream-like relationships between those otakus guys & gals is like advising us to look for a similar reality ourselves. Fun and moving, it was clearly a great show.

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Masterpiece here. Princess Principal tells the missions of 4 spy girls in a fictional London split into 2 at the beginning of the 20th century. A unique universe featuring political intrigues, betrayals and admirable moral messages. That anime surprises you almost every time, especially in episode 8, which overturns the narrative so much that my brain made a system error : impossible to get a clear picture of what that meant for the rest of the story. Mind-blowing and best anime of the season.

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The first thing I do when coming back from Japan is always symptomatic. In October 2015, I had booted the PS4 version of Nights of Azure. In 2016, I had started Persona 5. In Spring 2015 I… … maybe it’s better not saying that. In 2017, I rushed to my TV to start watching the 2nd season of New Game, my favorite of 2016. Although it loses its originality, this show keeps delivering, especially in depicting rivalry and ambition. The shattered hopes of Aoba made an unforgettable scene. I also appreciated the renewed role for Hifumi and Umiko, and all the parodies of professional life were as true, and hilarious, as ever.

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I found that manga on a bookshop display in Fukuoka station. Pretty sure it shouldn’t have been there though… What Ijôsha no Ai tells or shows is absolutely gruesome, and certainly not for all audiences. Midô is your not-so-average middle schooler in love with a young boy called Kazumi. She’s so deeply in love with him that one day, she just stabs one her rivals in love in the classroom. Unable to erase Kazumi from or head, she’ll quickly come back to haunt her loved one, after years of isolation. Then starts a real thriller between Kazumi who seeks revenge, and yandere gold medalist Midô capable of doing the most horrible things to keep him for herself. The narrative, full of shocking scenes and amazing twists, ends up hooking. But I repeat, the level of psychological violence here is unprecedented.