Previews by Matt S.
Koei Tecmo was kind enough to provide me an all-access booth tour at TGS this year, so that I could test out all its upcoming games without waiting in line (and, frankly, that was important because I simply didn't have thirty minutes to wait in line each time).
And what a lineup the company has in the works, too. Among all the Japanese developer/ publishers, I feel that Koei is the one that is really going from strength to strength currently, and it has been for the last couple of years. A combination of a rapid release schedule, good use of established IP, and creative new ideas is coming together to give us a company that has new releases almost every month, and those releases are almost always worth playing.
At the booth I was able to check out Nioh (which is good, as the timing for playing the demos has never been good for me), Samurai Warriors: Sanada Maru, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, and Atelier Firis. My thoughts on each game below:
I know that most people who are interested in Nioh have played one of the two demos for the game so far, but from my own first experience of the game I was really very impressed. I was worried that it would be a simple "Souls clone," but the game has an identity all of its own.
Nioh is a beautifully grim game, and where the Souls games are based on gothic Europe, and Bloodborne is Victorian horror, Nioh is a story of Japanese spirits and Nobunaga Oda, a historical "demon" that was betrayed and this his story is perfect for dark, violent, and corrupted narratives. Where the Souls games are quite subtle in their storytelling, Nioh seems to be more overt in the way it presents its narrative, though there also seems to be a lot of Japanese cultural elements and lore running in the background, so I suspect that the deeper your understanding of Japanese is, the more you'll get out of this one. A bit like Toukiden, in that regard.
As for the gameplay, it plays gorgeously. Your character moves nicely around the world and the tweaking that Koei has done to the standard "Souls" button layout works to its benefit. It's hard, too. In the TGS demo I was cruising through some skeleton enemies and felt pretty good about myself. Then I came up to a ghost, and that was a tougher battle, but I won through. Then I came up against an woman spirit made up of ice and I was in deep trouble instantly. You'll need to work hard to learn patterns and then develop counters, because once you reach those boss battles, your hero seems to be very fragile indeed.
The atmosphere of the game is impeccable, with a snowy aesthetic that reflects the harsh, grim, and unforgiving reality you're marching into. Nioh's not far away now, and I'm sure there are plenty that are greatly looking forward to it, based on the demos they've played. I'm one of them now.
Samurai Warriors: Sanada Maru
For the first time a Warriors game is focusing entirely on one storyline. That might sound limited at first, but based on the gameplay demo I now understand what Koei's driving at with this one.
For a start there are significant story and world building elements this time around. Before battles you can wander around a fairly large area and chat with other important characters; this is something that Koei has implemented in its Dynasty Warriors games for a couple of generations now, but it's expanded here, and very much feels like the team is slowly working towards an open world Warriors game, complete with subquests and non-linear storytelling. Before a battle has been started you're also treated to a world map of Japan, which helps to set the scene and highlight the movement of the main players.
The combat itself is an upgraded version of the previous Samurai Warriors engine. The character models are absolutely gorgeous now, and there's a really neat additional feature added into battles; a transition between day and night. In real world military conflicts, the passage of the day can and did have a substantial impact on the flow of battle, and it's going to be interesting to see how Koei reflects this through its system.
No doubt some will dismiss the game for being a "button masher". It always happens with Warriors games. But it's not, and if the story mode is told well enough, this could be a real introduction to the heroes of the Sengoku period. the Samurai Warriors games have always provided little more than snapshots to the history of the period. This will be, hopefully, the first in-depth look we get into any of them.
Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
It was so interesting to play the Berserk Warriors game right after Sanada Maru. Sanada Maru was a beautifully flowing, elegant game, where your hero moved around the field of battle like a dancer, and enemies fell in hordes with little sense of impact. Berserk is a heavy, weighty game (at least, when in control of Guts, the lead character), and there is a visceral impact whenever something is hit.
There is a sickening squelch as Guts mows down hordes of enemies, and the screen becomes splattered with blood and viscera. During special attacks, the camera cuts in close so we get a good look at the dirt and demon blood that covers our hero. Giant demon monsters appear on the battlefield and the brutality that they hit back with is intense.
All of this takes place against a grim, horrific backdrop of ruined gothic-style buildings and environments. This is, of course, what Berserk really needed to be. The manga and anime is absolutely brutal and extreme, and while I was initially concerned that Koei Tecmo would dial things down in the game in order to make it palatable to a wide audience, at least as far as the violence goes, this appears to not be the case so far.
Of course, there's other content that is critical to the Berserk franchise that still has a big question hanging over it - there's a lot of sex and sexual violence in the anime and manga, and I can't see how Koei Tecmo could do this in this game. Not if it wanted the game to avoid being banned in a bunch of places (including Australia). The good news is, even if that content doesn't come through, this game is still almost certainly going to be the most adult, violent, and intense Warriors game to date.
And what a contrast to Berserk Atelier Firis is! You all know how much I love the Atelier series already, so I'm not going to go through the obvious and say that I love this game already, based on my five minute demo. But there are some nice new touches that also mark this one out as one of the most progressive and interesting Atelier games to date.
In most Atelier games you're moving around a board-game like map, with each "space" giving you access to a small area to explore for alchemy ingredients and battle enemies. But Atelier Firis is very different. This time around you've got a large, open world to explore. Aside from the pop up (which may or may not get better before the game release, but doesn't stop the game from looking gorgeous either way), it's truly amazing just how large the spaces to explore look to be.
When I spoke to the producer of the game behind this (interview coming later on) he said he was deeply inspired by western RPGs, such as Fallout or Skyrim. Atelier Firis is still very much an Atelier game, so don't worry about that, folks, but yes, you can see the influence of those games in providing players were a more open and free approach to exploration.
Firis herself is a delightful, charming character, and the combat has the same light hearted structure as in previous Atelier games. One of my favourite features of the Atelier games has always been just how innocent and cheerful they are, and this game is clearly no different to that. Whether Firis can top Meruru and Escha as the best Atelier leading lady remains to be seen.
As you can see, Koei Tecmo has a truly superb lineup of games coming (and the booth didn't even include Toukiden 2, which has been in Japan a while, or newly announced titles such as Musou Stars or Gust's Blue Reflection, which looks delightful based on nothing more than the character art). This company is set for a truly massive 2017.
- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld