Most anticipated games for 2017

Valkyria Azure Revolution (PSVita)

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I’ve been waiting for it a lot more politely” since the horrendous Autumn demo. The Action-RPG focus that has been reconfirmed doesn’t fit with Valkyria’s universe, and the battle system itself is fishy at best. Yet the prologue on PSVita was a little more satisfying, so maybe we can end up with a decent RPG of cool design.

Cyberdimension Neptune (PS4)

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The moment of truth for the Neptunia IP. Compile Heart took more than 1 year to think, work and offer us a game powered by Unreal Engine 4, which is a visual revolution. Still, little is known is this Action-RPG taking place in a MMORPG itself. We don’t know how the developers have calibrated fan-service and innovation, two key-elements to drive the series forward. The producers made very clear promises not to disappoint fans, so they better stick to it and avoid bland compromises this time.

NieR Automata (PS4)

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The demo was exactly what I expect from this game : precise and rich gameplay, Platinum touch in the camera work, an attractive main character, a intriguing world… March can’t come soon enough.

Nights of Azure 2 (PS4)

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Not especially a high priority until a few weeks ago, Gust’s next game suddenly made itself indispensable by its latest video. The least you could say is that there’s quite some “movement” here… Gameplay also looks like to benefit from dramatic improvements as the tag battle system seems quite lively with lots of charming allies. The developer was undoubtely right to postpone it.

Musô Stars (PSVita/PS4)

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How not to be excited when the spiritual successor to the excellent Orochi Warriors 3 Ultimate is almost within reach? For the first time, KoeiTecmo picks characters in all their IPs for a single action game. We’re therefore gonna be able to ease our stress on dozens of ennemies with unexpected dream teams involving Plachta, Oka, Kasumi or Marie-Rose to cite a few.

Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

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Already called Splatoon PEGI18 by some, the sequel to Senran Kagura Estival Versus trades ninja weapons for water guns, in which you have fancy models like snipers. Takaki-san likes it wet (well, wet cute girls at least) and promise to deliver aquatic entertainment with a few surprises here and there.

Gun Gun Pixies (PSVita)

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While the general feeling of Cyberdimension Neptune remains shrouded in mystery, Compile Heart’s new PSVita exclusive is very clear from the start. Part of all the nice projects lately, Kochiwa producer presents a game close to action Netpunia U, with some novelty in the plot. You play as two very tiny alien girls whose mission is to infiltrate a girls’ domitory, which means a lot of private life scenes.

Blue Reflection (PS4)

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Boasting Gust’s most advanced 3D engine to date, Blue Reflection comes at us as a turn-based RPG featuring magical girls fighting dark demons. Like Persona 5, there will be lot of emphasis on spending time with classmates (including a clone of Hifumi, in a somewhat younger self).

Dungeon Travelers 2-2 (PSVita)

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Only game that ever had me shut down a handheld system in a hurry while I was commuting, Dungeon Travelers 2 had to reconfirm its direct sequel. It’s now official and the base scenario should keep providing juicy situations : the main character of the first game, Freid, has lot to the final boss and was turned into a insolent young boy. All the girls of the previous game have turned into demonic women. Let your imagination do the rest.

Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

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Quite nostalgic of the legendary futuristic racing game, the reveal of this ultimate collection at Playstation Experience was pure delight. I can’t wait to compete again on board those distinguished little ships for more speed, violent weapons and cool techno music.

Legend of Heroes Sen no Kiseki III (PS4)

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Falcom will need to be particularly clever if they want to justify Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III as a PS4 exclusive. Graphics are barely sharper so no one will believe that a Vita version wasn’t possible at this point. Despite Altina’s already confirmed return, believe me that I’ll be extra harsh on this.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

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Yes, I’m still waiting for Final Fantasy XV. The game released end of November isn’t FFXV, because it fails to comply with basic rules of FF. No choice but to wait until Hajime Tabata fixes his mess by eventually offering a more compelling experience, with an enhanced narrative and more playable characters.

Dragon Quest XI (PS4)

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While FFXV has seen rampant westernization, Dragon Quest XI is so faithful to its roots that I’d want to hug it. Here’s what I call a JRPG cast with varied styles of characters, and the first trailer clearly shows it will remain true to its genre.

I’m also eager for Ni no Kuni Revenant Kingdom (PS4), Gran Turismo Sport (PS4), Itadaki Street (PSVita), Tekken 7 (PS4), Gravity Daze 2 (PS4), Happy Manager (PS4), Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4).

Review – Senran Kagura Estival Versus

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After its failed return on 3DS, the busty Senran Kagura series is back to Playstation, where its customers are. And for first time, it’s not a portable-only game anymore because it also comes to your living room with a PS4 version.

While Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus was a lot more than a mere spin-off, this Senran Kagura Estival Versus has indeed no pretension to tell a story whatsoever. The 20 characters of the previous PSVita game are warped on a paradisaical island where the four schools will compete in what is called Kagura Sennensai, a very ancient ceremony aimed at appeasing the soul of departed ninjas. At stake, no less than the title of Kagura, the ultimate goal of any Kunoichi. That said, this particular setting is rarely used and developed even less in the various chapters, which are nothing but an excuse for sexy battles between girls. The only genuine narrative involves Ryôbi and Ryôna : the sisters from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus will meet their older sister Ryôki again, since she’s been resurrected for the time of the festival.

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Which leaves nothing but the traditional humor of the series, but all along the 8 chapters it is seriously getting old and redundant. Besides, the narrative style finds its limits as the storyline is clearly lacking. To many sequences are still told on a black screen, so the visual novel style really fails in that new episode. One example : one of those text sequences depict the battle between Yumi and Kurokage (who also has been resurrected). Wouldn’t it have been better to set an actual battle and let the player experience it firsthand ? Another big hole, the sub-story of the Mikagura three sisters, told with small episodes here and there, does not come to a conclusion (update : there’s a hint in the last DLC). It’s pretty clear that Marvelous has decided to empty this game of any credible narrative to give Playstation players the short end of the stick in that aspect and ensure the primacy of the main series, which could very well head for NX next. This is UNACCEPTABLE! WE are by far the main clients of the Senran Kagura IP, we should be entitled to EVERYTHING.

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In terms of gameplay however, the series is taking a good turn. Very much like in Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus, each mission will have you face countless enemies, in addition to one or several rivals. That’s the very important point of this game : it will be you against 1,2 or even 3 rival characters at the same time! The gameplay is consequently astonishingly fast and the battles very intense, not to mention that the enemy IA is monstrously aggressive. They will hunt you down and won’t hesitate to use their ninpôs repeatedly. You therefore have to be nimble and aim for aerials combos, the key to victory. The drawback is that it tends to be really crowded and frustrating at times, because your character is way too often downed, stunned or frozen. To avoid being stuck, the controls include several counters, one of which is done by leaning on walls. We do still lament the poor camera angles when next to a wall.

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The series finally balances its challenge this time with 3 difficulty levels instead of 2. So there’s one for any type of player : those who want to bite the dust every time, those who want to go progressively by re-achieving previous missions to get some experience, and those who want to go through it quickly. Wise use of ninpôs will again be the key to win. Those powerful special attacks triggered with L1+square or triangle have been made further spectacular and over-the-top, even though some keep been ridiculously kawaii. This latest installment adds a 3rd which is in fact the characters transforms : this metamorphosis which consumes a great deal of skill points is of incomparable power and can wipe out a boss in a flash. Mayabi for example takes an angel-like form and Homura draws her famous 7th katana. In short, the gameplay of Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the opposite of its narration, brilliant and punchy.

After a somewhat lengthy Senran Kagura Estival Versus, Marvelous again delivers here a large content that should ensure at least 30 or 40 hours of play. Adding to the 8 chapters of the story, it includes an in-game challenge in which you must search and destroy altars hidden in the stages. Challenge that itself unlocks mini-stories for each one of the 25 girls of the game. Furthermore, numerous updates added some chapters for free. The online multiplayer from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus is back and has been enriched. There are now plenty more combat modes (score attack, deathmatch, survival, capture the flag) and 10 players can join the fray on PS4 (4 on Vita). Regardless of the system, the matchmaking is effective, the servers strong and the frame-rate solid.

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The five new characters are quite unbalanced, especially in their fighting style. Of the Mikagura sisters, Kafuru seemed the most interesting and the funniest one by far : she fights with waters pistols and is assisted by a dolphin of virile voicing (!) Renka felt a little average with her drums. Hanabi, despite her shiny fireworks, is a lot too slow to keep up with the pace of the game. Clearly they find their inspiration in the Okinawa regional culture, southern island famous for its summertime.

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Ryoki is definitely the new star of this episode, and logically the best designed one. Her fighting style has been framed in accordance with a personality : in trance, she will throw away her shotgun and shield to battle only armed with her coffin!

Senran Kagura Estival Versus Ayane

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And if you happen to have some savings, each of the renowned guests of the long DLC season, including Ayane from Dead or Alive, Ikki Tôsen‘s trio (note : those three are not confirmed for the West) or Naraku & Kagura (those two coming from Senran Kagura Deep Crimson where they were NOT playable), have been designed and animated so perfectly that they end up more exciting to use than most of the base cast.

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In pure aesthetics, Marvelous’s game is still a niche game so it won’t revolutionize PS4 development. Stages are narrow and unrefined, the basic enemies are roughly animated. I won’t surprise you by telling that every technical effort has been made on the heroines and their physique with deliciously precise outlining. To this let’s add the best interface ever : those are dynamic title screens (a dozen of them) switching depending on the characters you’ve chosen. 1080p and 60fps on PS4, this is quite a sight to behold.

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On PSVita, the game naturally loses in terms of frame-rate and sharpness, but it’s still a very solid portable version. Unlike many developers who neglect Vita versions to focus on PS4 lead-development, Marvelous gave maximum care to this one : the cel-shading from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus has disappeared to make room for sharper 3D models which don’t fade in comparison with their PS4 counterparts. The frame-rate dropped quite a bit especially at launch, but that’s the price to pay to keep it with yourself. On the misuc side, the game didn’t really live up to the previous ones. I’ll pick only Homura’s theme and  iza, atuski omoi o mune ni!  which was a great final composition.

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Of course, impossible to close a Senran Kagura review without going through its licentious business. Clothes destruction will happen less often to keep a smoother action, but they are a lot more suggestive than before. Plainly obvious, poses and facial expressions ovebid the past episodes so much that the latter seem shy today.

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And because no one stops progress, Kenichirô Takaki’s new title introduces what’s called in the original version puru puru finish. Those “fatalities” in some way suppose you give the final blow to your opponent next to a special element of the stage, and this will trigger a special kinky scene in which nudity is prerequisite. You got it, Senran Kagura Estival Versus makes no compromise and should be played by fully aware adults. Funny then that it would “only” be PEGI16 here whereas it is for 17 year-olds and more in its country of origin.

Senran Kagura Estival Versus is as enticing and exciting as badly told. Relevant gameplay changes have been made, the character’s rendering is exceptional and the fan-service sets new records. However, its unwillingness to offer a decent narrative prevents it from becoming the final realization of Kenichirô Takaki’s vision.

Senran Kagura series tops one million

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A few days ago, Senran Kagura’s creator Kenichirô Takaki said on twitter, with utmost delight, that the series had crossed one million units shipped. This million is shared between 6 games, 3 on 3DS, 2 on PSVita and the last one being PS4/SVita multiplat. That breakdown is a rather tricky task but let’s try with what we know.

The very first Senran Kagura released for 3DS in 2011 leaves the Japanese charts after crossing 60K units. Senran Kagura 2 Deep Crimson also disappeared at the same level of sales, but showed up in a recent bishôjo game ranking a 77K. Statistically speaking, the first one must have crawled above 70K too. As for Senran Kagura Burst, it’s very simple because Takaki had said that Marvelous had shipped 100K in Japan.

On Playstation, we do know thanks to the boxart of Senran Kagura Estival Versus that Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus has sold more than 300K worldwide, despite being digital only for most people. As for Estival Versus itself, Takaki shared last June that the shipments had topped 130K in Japan. On the other hand, no confirmed figure has surfaced regarding the rhythm-cooking spin-off Senran Kagura Bon Appétit. Estimated known total sales therefore amount to 700K.

That is an historical figure, and not just for the series. We have to bear in mind that the first Senran Kagura had a business plan made for roughly 30K sales. No one back then even remotely though it would be sold out within hours, let alone that it would have an international carrier. The general consensus some years ago was that otakus fond of ecchi games like Senran Kagura was a tiny minority staying hidden in dark Tokyo flats. As games like Hyperdimension Neptunia regularly hit the western market and niche gamers becoming more and more connected via social networks or specialized websites, Marvelous eventually thought it might efficiently expand its business abroad.

Outcasts yesterday, Senran Kagura players and fans of the genre in general today are officially hundreds of thousands everywhere scattered across the globe. By the might of their number, they freed themselves from the despotism of foolish press crusaders convinced to fight for greater good (although that greater good never applies to GTA). Today, we are masters of our owns interests, vanquishing those who sought to destroy us, and grasping the freedom of enjoying our way at will. This million is the great symbol of this victory, the decline of prejudice and the rise of a niche that is now more than that.

Internal strife at Marvelous

In its recent financial report for 2014-2015, Marvelous surprised many by announcing that Senran Kagura hadn’t met forecasts. Observers are crestfallen : the game barely had 3 or 4 days of sales in the fiscal term, during which it moved 100’000 units (physical & digital) that were sold through as March 30th. A top result for a game aimed at pure otakus.

Upset, Senran Kagura producer Kenichiro Takaki goes against its own management on twitter, uncommon thing in Japan where hierarchy is absolute. He says something like that.

[Senran Kagura] is a series about which I had been said that 30’000 sales would be great. This year, we marketed 3 games of the series, all profitable and selling a cumulative 250’000 units, but now some say it’s not enough. The series has grown well and it’s thanks to you all”

Given such information, we can’t help thinking that financial controllers at Marvelous have become a bit megalomaniac. Estival Versus achieved a launch slightly lower than Shinobi Versus, but in a week full of big releases. The Japanese market having contracted in 2014 and the series fanbase hardly being extendable at this point, no one could expect growth. Furthermore, Marvelous’s accountants fail to take into account the future Western sales. They are critical of a profitable game that hasn’t yet brought all the revenues it can.

But Marvelous is already looking elsewhere. The report states that the environment of console games is “difficult” and that the market “shows a turnaround in favour of mobile applications”. Words that worryingly echo Konami’s CEO’s, who’s just thrown Metal Gear and Silent Hills in the dustbin so as to focus on smartphone games. This is no coincidence : smartphone and browser games account for 2/3 of Marvelous’s revenues, and bring 7 times more profit than consoles games, which just fell 78%. This collapse is of course due to their idiotic clinging to 3DS in 2014, but it is sure that financial staff cannot stay idle in front of such figures.

Takaki-san’s clash is not a message lost in the twittosphere, it is the second example in a very short time of the growing discrepancy between developers and management. One Konami is enough, there mustn’t be other cases like that.

Senran Kagura confirms its shift to Playstation

Last August, I was telling you how Senran Kagura 2 Deep Crimson for 3DS had failed miserably, despite the success of Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus one year before on PSVita. Deep Crimson had seen its price tank after a few days. Taken aback by this debacle, Nintendo had thought about a magazine especially dedicated to bishojo games on Nintendo hardware. In vain, because Deep Crimson left the charts with a little more than 65’000 sales, whilst being traded for as less as 2000 yens. This is twice less than what Shinobi Versus had achieved within 48 hours on a much tinier install base. It came as no surprise that Marvelous later stated that Deep Crimson and Lord of Magna on 3DS also, had failed to reach profitability threshold.

But dirty crows were already making up all sorts of excuses to justify that poor performance of the returning series : the Senran Kagura anime that aired in 2013 artificially inflated Shinobi Versus’ sales, they said. Vita’s price cut had more people pick the game, and now Senran Kagura was just facing series fatigue, that’s all. No one wanted to acknowledge the truth, which was that costumers felt defiance towards Marvelous’s step back with the series and resisted buying a product of lower quality.

Then begins a long and tense period, because the sequel to Shinobi Versus on PSVita and PS4, called Estival Versus, was to release in Japan on March 26th 2015 alongside huge franchises like Sword Art Online Lost Song, One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 and Bloodborne. Forecast were bad : COMG and Tsutaya had Vita version low and the PS4 one barely charting. Conflicting reports had either version out of stock in some parts of Tokyo and Osaka. The anguish was unbearable.

The suspense ended when producer Takaki himself stated that Estival Versus had shipped more than 100’000 units and was 80-90% sold through, adding to this 10’000 digital sales. Media Create and Famitsu confirmed that with 75’000 units sold and low remaining stock. The spin-off Estival Versus had thus sold twice more than the 2nd game of the main series. But in fact, there’s no longer spin-off and main series : there is a high quality Senran Kagura and a lower quality Senran Kagura. People buy the quality product, which is tied to to quality of the hardware it runs on.

The success of Estival Versus is the final and conclusive proof that Senran Kagura is a Playstation series and should stay so : people have voted with their wallets, and Sony got to majority on both rounds. And this time there was no anime, no price cut of the system, only the fiercest competition you could imagine. Estival Versus puts a end (or a least we hope so) to more than one year of a Cold War waged by Nintendo’s aggressive and damaging policies, which did nothing but undermine Marvelous, its developers and customers. The publisher learned the lesson : Takaki-san’s next project, Valkyrie Drive, will be only for Vita, as well as Luminous Arc Infinity, out this summer. General trend actually, since Vita and PS4 get the vast majority of 3rd party projects. Publishers do realize now that there’s more money to make than on 3DS : Estival Versus sells at a much higher average price than Deep Crimson, but there’s more.

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With an integrated Playstation ecosystem, there are synergies to be made that wouldn’t be possible on 3DS/WiiU. On March 24th, that is to say two days before Estival Versus, KoeiTecmo and Marvelous cooperate to market a line of Senran Kagura costumes for Dead or Alive 5 Last Round (hella fantastic DLC btw). On the other side, Dead or Alive characters are already confirmed for Estival Versus. This kind of collaboration means juicy royalties for both companies. But it is only possible with a transverse audience, with a given purchasing power and accustomed to DLC, and surely not with kiddies bent on their Yôkai all day long.

Democracy and gamers’ passion have spoken. They are stronger than financial intrigues and shall vanquish those who want lower gaming standards. Amusing coincidence, the subtitle for Estival Versus is «the girls’ choice»… or was that really a coincidence?

Most anticipated games for 2015

Dragon Quest Heroes (PS4)

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After years of low ambition, the Dragon Quest series is finally back on Playstation with a beat’em-all developed by no other than Omega Force. First DQ boasting actual technical prowess since DQVIII, Dragon Quest Heroes ressucitates heroes of the past on PS4 on a most stunning fashion. Another important thing, DQ will talk to you for the first time and the presence of renowned voice actors for this spin-off is a small revolution. And as (almost) always in this type of game, online coop’ will make it even more enjoyable.

Senran Kagura Estival Versus (PSVita/PS4)

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Difficult to stay in one place given the growing hype at each new series of screenshots. It is now clear that producer Takaki intends to use as much power he can from the PS4, not simply upscale the 3D engine from Shinobi Versus. The alpha version of Estival Versus is already a lot more expressive than Shinobi Versus. Add to this several new characters, more narrative and a multiplayer mode up to 10 fighters, and you easily find out what I will do first when I set foot in Japan in April.

Hyperdimension Neptune V-II (PS4)

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With great remakes and yummy spin-off we waited, but now is the time to enter the following of the canon story of Hyperdimension Neptune on PS4. That said, numerous articles in the Dengeki didn’t reveal much, except the downright kawaii goddess form of Uzume, absolute opposite of her cool behavior in human form.

Bloodborne (PS4)

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Is it really necessary to further introduce Bloodborne? Everything or so has been said on this PS4 exclusive that makes the entire world shiver. This action game and its oppressing atmosphere lets us expect hours of bloody pleasure in the dark.

Metal Gear Solid V (PS4)

Ground Zeroes didn’t tell as much as I expected in terms of story. We’re therefore more or less still at the starting point today. We do know however that The Phantom Pain will be considerably larger an richer than any Metal Gear to date, which reason enough to be impatient.

Tales of Zestiria (PS3)

Can Zestiria make the revolution like Xillia did before him? There’s hoping that, but it will be difficult and I’m waiting for Zesty rather placidly, just for Edna actually.

Makai Trillion (PSVita)

Definitely my most anticipated Vita game this year. The character design is absolutely unbeatable, 3D modeling excellent, storyline wack as I like them… Screens of the UI recently surfaced in the Dengeki and let imagine a new type of gameplay mixing dating and time managment.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4)

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I’m waiting for FFXV in both hope and anguish. Bad news (only Noctis playable, no female party member) cast a shadow on the impressive trailers, the gorgeous graphics and its immense-looking world. I don’t know how this will end, but it will be interesting to see how the situation evolves.

Also on my shopping list : Final Fantasy Type-0 (PS4), Great Ace Attorney (3DS), Sword Art Online Lost Song (PSVita), God Eater 2 Rage Burst (PS4), Grim Fandango (PSVita), Dead of Alive Last Round (PS4), The Division (PS4), Xenoblade Cross (WiiU), IA/VT Colourful (PSVita) and Fairy Fencer F Advent Dark Force (PS4).