Rundown (9/06-9/12) Systems of Frustration

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Wherein I discuss my writing being invalidated by patches, the highs and lows of the next Xbox, another limited remastered compilation, a most unexpected prequel, the fumblings of a troublesome trend-chaser, and the most absurd company name in all of video games. Oh, and also Ubisoft’s attempts at repressing the fact that they defended and protected abusers for years.

Over the past month, I have been toiling away at my upcoming Ramble about the Nintendo and Cygames mobile action RPG, Dragalia Lost. It has been a massive undertaking for me, but I am currently partway through my editing and rewrites for the project, so it should debut at its originally scheduled time… or so I thought until details about the upcoming September 2020 update emerged, and clarified that core mechanics of the game are changing, meaning that certain sections of my Ramble, which got knee-deep into the mechanical underbelly of Dragalia Lost, will be pretty much outdated on release.

I am not particularly mad about this, as all the mechanical changes sound good thus far, but as a writer, it is frustrating to see something you spent so much time and effort on be proven irrelevant because you were not writing about it fast enough…

Probably the biggest story of this past week was the reveal of the Xbox Series S. Details about the system were first broken by Thurrott but were quickly compounded and iterated on by Windows Central, spurring Microsoft to address the existence of the device and officially announce the system and price the following morning, while issuing further details about the system throughout the week.

To summarize these details, the Xbox Series S will be a $300 digital-only budget option next to the $500 Xbox Series X, both are set to release on November 10th, and both will share identical game libraries, with every game released for the Series X being playable on the Series S. The two major differences between the systems are the fact that the Series S lacks any optical drive or ability to play physical games, and that the Series S can only run games at a maximum resolution of 1440p, unlike the Series X, which can run games at 4K. Because of this, and the fact that the systems have different GPUs, games on the Series S will run at lower resolutions than the Series X, but that should be the only difference in performance across both devices. frame rates, textures, load times, and everything else should be the same.

Based on all of this information, I actually think the Series S looks like a good piece of hardware. It is relatively inexpensive at $300, has access to a massive back catalog, and will last for the next 6+ years. However, there are two major drawbacks.

The first is how the Series S only has 512GB of internal storage, meaning that modern games will need to be deleted and redownloaded regularly to free up storage space, and the only way to expand the amount of storage available to the player is through the use of proprietary Xbox expansion cards, which are predicted to cost roughly $200 for 1 Terabyte. This is a far cry from the Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, and even PS5, all of which support the use of inexpensive external HDDs to store games, and makes me incredibly apprehensive recommending the Xbox Series S or Series X. Because there is no technical reason why the system cannot support HDD storage to the same extent the PS5 does.

The second is the same drawback Xbox has had since 2016, when they started releasing all their first-party offerings on PC, day in date, thus robbing the system of any contemporary exclusives. This means that everything the Xbox has to offer can also be found on PC, which features an inherently more robust library than any console could ever hope to match, and is a far better investment than any games console due to its utilitarian purposes.

However, there are certain games that have been released on Xbox that are not available on PC. It is a lot easier to just go to a store and buy an Xbox than shop for PC parts, or a pre-built PC. And no matter how frugal you are, both the Xbox Series S and X are cheaper than a comparably powerful PC, and that will remain true for quite some time. The last bit is especially true if you look into the Xbox All Access program, which allows individuals (with good credit scores) to pay for their Xbox over time, with the Series S costing $25 a month for 24 months, and the Series X costing $35 a month for 24 months. Both of these plans come with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which costs $15 a month (but you can typically find it for far cheaper).

So, yes, there are good reasons why one would want the Xbox Series S and X, but I am still iffy on the whole prospect of supporting a system pushing the toxicity that is proprietary storage mediums and would sooner recommend that people stoked for the next generation hold out and look into getting a PC instead. I did that back in 2013, and not a day has gone by where I have regretted that decision. Hell, it was arguably one of the best decisions I made in my life, as building a PC made me significantly more tech-savvy, and the world of PC gaming changed my tastes for the better.

On the subject of announcements leaked ahead of time, Game Source Entertainment, a Hong Kong game distributor, recently put out a listing for Ninja Gaiden Trilogy for Switch and PS4. Said listing specified that the collection contains Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, will cost $40, and is expected to release sometime in March 2021, right before the end of the fiscal year. It is a collection of games from the prior generation, some of which were highly beloved, and I like it when they get re-released like this. However, I do need to raise an eye at the specific versions of these games selected for this collection.

While I know little about the series, I do know that Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden II are commonly considered better than their Sigma counterparts, which were re-releases that reworked, removed, and added things, with the ultimate effect being a net negative in the eyes of many diehard fans. I would have hoped that all these titles would be included in this collection (along with the original NES titles because why not), but for those who really want to play Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden II, both titles are backwards compatible on Xbox One. A platform that curiously will not be receiving this collection. Huh.

For much of this year, many people have been wondering what Nintendo’s big 2020 holiday title would be. While I found the discourse around the subject to be exhausting, it was a valid question and, hot off the heels of their Super Mario 35th anniversary Nintendo Direct, Nintendo kicked off the week by dropping a trailer for their big November title: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Yes, another Zelda Musou title, but rather than serving as a fan service crossover celebration like the original Hyrule Warriors, this title is instead pegged as a prequel set 100 years before Breath of the Wild, showing the fall of Hyrule, the rise of Calamity Ganon, and the deaths of the champions.

Now, I was pretty tepid towards Breath of the Wild. I thought its game loop was almost paradoxical in how it wanted players to explore and experiment with its myriad subsystems while encouraging players to conserve resources and seek out statistical upgrades above all else. I found the story flakey and distant due to how much of it was centered around past events. And I consider the game to be less approachable compared to other Zelda titles due to the lack of pacing, direction, and progression, all doled out across dozens and dozens of hours that I can only scantily recall due to how samey everything is when playing ‘optimally’.

However, I still respect the game, acknowledge that I am a “think-wronger” with regards to this topic, and I am totally and completely down with everything Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is bringing to the table. I love it when a series goes back and shows great battles in all their glory. I am excited to see the champions of Hyrule depicted in more detail than the three(?) cutscenes they were given in BotW. And while the Musou series gets a bad rap, I personally think the games are great cathartic action games with simple inputs and an emphasis on making the player feel like a warrior of the divine, even if they are just bashing buttons.

As such, I am looking forward to Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity when it debuts on November 20th, though I probably won’t be checking it out anytime soon, on account of my backlog being so thick at the moment.

2014’s Lords of the Fallen was one of the earliest large-scale Souls-like titles to make modest waves across the industry, only for the title to be forgotten and overshadowed by a tidal wave of other Souls-like titles that have been filling various corners of the industry, especially Steam, over the past five or so years. However, despite the original developers, Deck 13, having moved on beyond the IP to pursue their more original series, The Surge, the original publisher and rights holders of Lords of the Fallen, CI Games, has been trying to get a sequel off the ground for quite some time.

In June 2018, CI Games announced that they would be working with Defiant Studios on this title, but this arrangement only lasted until May 2019, when Defiant was dropped from the project after failing to satisfactorily meet a development milestone. Normally, a publisher would cancel a game like this outright, but CI Games instead decided that it would be best to establish an entirely new studio to lead development on this title, known as Hexworks.

Hexworks is a studio based in Spain and Romania and currently staffs around 25 people who have been spending a few months working on the initial stages of Lords of the Fallen 2. Which sounds to be doubling down on being darker and more Souls-like, effectively ditching much of the original’s identity in order to appease fans’ desires. Though personally, I am a bit hesitant to believe that this game will ever manifest into anything given its rocky development history and CI Games’ limited presence as a publisher. If it’s good, that’s cool, and if the title peeters off… I don’t think it will be a huge deal, due to how forgotten the original was.

…Hey, do remember that Nicalis is led by Tyrone Rodriguez, an abusive racist scumbag who ghosts developers as a power play, and pressures his employees to physically harm themselves? Yeah, well, I was hoping that their name would be ground into the dirt after Jason Schrier’s breakdown of the company, but instead, I heard their names on an announcement that I would otherwise be stoked to hear.

Code of Princess was a bomb-ass beat ‘em up for the Nintendo 3DS, received a crummy PC port in 2016, and it got an enhanced version, Code of Princess EX, put out by Nicalis in 2018 as a Switch exclusive. And now, after they have (hopefully) been shunned by indies and the industry at large, Nicalis is (presumably) digging for money, and decided to bring Code of Princess EX to PC, where the title is set to release on October 1st. A game that I want to be psyched for, but I can’t be due to my moral obligations not to support Tyrone Rodriguez and his company, and a game I am only bringing up here so I can dredge up how Tyrone Rodriguez is a bad person.

Natsume Atari is probably the most confusing game developer to wrap one’s head around. They were originally a Japanese company called Natsume Co., Ltd. and established an American division called Natsume Inc. But then, in 1995, the American and Japanese branches split off. Natsume Inc. became best known as the owners of the Harvest Moon IP, which they continue to produce titles for to this day. Meanwhile, the Japanese Natsume Co., Ltd. continued to make a deluge of titles, primarily licensed games based on popular intellectual properties.

In 2002, Natsume Co., Ltd. created a new subsidiary dubbed Atari Co., Ltd., which has no relation to any western company that bears the name Atari. It is not the Atari that made the Atari 2600, the Atari that made the Jaguar, or any modern rendition of Atari. It is Atari, but not that Atari. Then, in 2013, Natsume Co., Ltd. and Atari Co., Ltd. merged together, becoming Natsume Atari Co., Ltd., a company that mostly produces licensed video games and pachislot machines, but does dabble in more original titles from time to time.

Within Natsume Atari, there is a team by the name of Tengo Project who, over the past few years, have been digging into Natsume Atari’s back catalog of classic Super Nintendo games and giving them extensive and loving installments that have been called “remasters” by some people, but I think that is underselling it. They put out full-on modern recreations of these original titles complete with redrawn sprite work, new characters, new stages, new mechanics, and are far closer to enhanced remakes than anything else.

Previously, they put out 2016’s Wild Guns Reloaded and 2019’s The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, but now they recently announced that they are giving the same treatment to the classic SNES co-op shoot ‘em up, Pocky and Rocky… or at least I thought so. Despite looking like an enhanced remake, the title is actually being trumpeted as a full-on sequel to the SNES original and its GBA successor and is currently sporting the name of Pocky & Rocky 2021. But regardless of the designation, the title is a visually vibrant and lush looking affair that takes full advantage of modern advances in sprite art, and will probably make for a wonderful time when played with a friend.

But you know what the most confusing thing about this is? The actual most confusing thing about this whole thing? This Natsume Atari game is being published by Natsume Inc., their former American subsidiary. …Video games are absurd.

In addition to all the preceding announcements, this week was also home to yet another Ubisoft games showcase, a UbiForward event. But before things kicked off, Ubisoft founder and CEO Yves Guillemot issued a statement about the negative publicity that has been swirling around Ubisoft in the past few months.

In case you forgot, it recently became known that they were fostering and protecting abusers and perpetuating a toxic culture for years, which I brushed off after they swiftly removed the abusers from their upper management. However, they have been keeping disturbingly quiet about the whole thing these past two months, during which they stepped into a whole new pile of piping hot doo-doo. On August 25th, somebody uploaded the opening cinematic for their upcoming Tom Clancy mobile game, Elite Squad. A game whose core premise is apparently based around the idea that all civil unrest and progressive movements seen throughout the world today is a conspiracy theory by a shadow organization.

It is a very real theory perpetuated by bad, stupid, or horribly ignorant people, and the exact portrayal of said organization was so extreme it was almost like something from a parody. The organization is called Umbra (a Latin word for shadow and black), their symbol was a black fist aimed upwards (a symbol for black power and resistance in general), and they can only be stopped by the governments of the world who must restore things back to the way they once more.

Anyways, Guilmont released a 4-minute-long video apologizing and promising to do better to preserve the company’s values. And while I want to believe him, because I want to believe everybody unless they have personally done wrong and abused people, I kind of don’t. Not because I believe Guilmont to be facetious or only saying this because the PR teams said he needed to, but because he is merely offering words, claiming that actions will be performed, and being vague about the whole matter. If he dropped names and offered specifics, that would be one thing. But this… this might just be a way to temper and make the controversy go away, rather than an earnest effort to do better.

Shifting over to the UbiForward event, which was completely separate from the apology video, there were three major titles shown off, and all of them expected because Ubisoft cannot seem to keep any surprises ever.

First off, Gods & Monsters was a curious title revealed by Ubisoft back during E3 2019, but it went largely quiet after its initial showing and was subsequently delayed following the company-wide shake-up that followed the poor performance of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Aside from its delay, and a leak of a year-old build on Stadia this past summer, Ubisoft has been relatively quiet about the title for the past year. That is, until this event, where the game was re-debuted as Immortals: Fenyx Rising.

Looking over the gameplay footage and various trailers, this is very obviously Ubisoft looking at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and deciding to make a game with as many concepts and mechanics as possible, without being a full-on rip-off. You have a huge fantastical world with nodes of interest sprinkled throughout, urging players to venture in whatever direction they happen across. You have puzzle-driven challenge dungeons that give stamina upgrades. You have the ability to glide through the sky, but only so long as one’s stamina remains plentiful. You have the ability to lift and toss large objects by affixing them with a colorful glow. You can climb walls instead of running around them. You gather materials strewn about to craft potions. And in the center of the map lies the main antagonist, stewing in their fortress while a red miasma fills the sky above.

Now, not everything is a complete carry-over. The ability, combat, weapon, and upgrade systems are all very Ubisoft in nature, and while I could criticize the game for a lack of originality with its general look, basic UI, and clearly lifted ideas, I really do not mind. The game looks fine at worst, and while I have an inkling that it will not spawn a successful IP, I am glad that Ubisoft is at least trying something ever so slightly different than their usual output, and hope this game winds up being pretty good, if not great. Immortals: Fenyx Rising will release on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on December 3rd.

Following some mild speculation and a retailer leak, Ubisoft followed up on the so-called Prince of Persia Remake that has been buzzing about for the past few weeks and revealed it as a full recreation of the seminal 2003 classic, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. This is pretty much the safest and best way to satisfy lapsed fans of the series and put the best foot forward for the IP going forward, as Sands of Time is widely considered to be the best game in the series. However, the reveal trailer does not inspire much confidence, at least in my humble opinion.

The facial models look wonky, hair looks thick and floppy, and the lighting seems to be designed around dousing the scenery and associated character in aggressive blues and orange. It does not look bad, and it’s definitely a mark above the original with regards to fidelity and detail, but it lacks the same “gorgeous factor” that most hope to see from recreations of older games. Except for the environments. Those look excellent!

Upon seeing this, I wondered if there were some developmental hurdles that caused the game to look this way, and thankfully The Mako Reactor put out a brief interview with the director behind the Sands of Time remake to find out just that. However, based on this interview, the game has had no budgetary, time, or technical issues, and the reason why the game looks this way is apparently just an artistic decision. Though I’m willing to believe that the wonkiness of the character models and lighting is more due to how this game is being handled by Ubisoft’s Indian studios, who have never done a full AAA console game before by themselves. As such, it would not be particularly surprising to see them struggling to meet the standards of more experienced studios.

Regardless, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Remake is set to release on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on January 21, 2021. And if you think the remake looks bad and you just want to play the original, the PC version is apparently pretty good for a 17-year-old console port, and the Xbox version is backwards compatible on Xbox One.

The final major announcement from UbiForward was none other than the re-release of the 2010 brawler, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game. Yes, after being delisted in 2014, and after years of fans asking Ubisoft to bring the game back in some form, the title is being brought to PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC this holiday season as a means of celebrating its tenth anniversary. All of which I am naturally happy about, as Scott Pilgrim was a grand little co-op beat ‘em up with the marvelous spritework of Paul Robertson and a bumping retro-style soundtrack by Anamanaguchi, but since it was delisted, it became notoriously difficult to play or recommend in any capacity. Especially since the original did not release on PC.

However, while I want this to be a fully positive story, the dark side about this whole ordeal is that Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley apparently was not involved or even made aware of this re-release, and there was a communication breakdown between him and Ubisoft at some point in time. Which is crummy, but what’s even crummier is that apparently nobody who worked on the original is involved in this re-release, and that O’Malley has never made any money off this game, which really makes me wonder what kind of crummy deal he got slapped with when contracts were being signed.

…Okay, done with that. Back to the editing pit for me! Until next time, see ya!

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