PAX West 2017 Quick-Look: Square Enix

The flood of game creators and fans is beginning to subside at the Washington State Convention Center here in Seattle as this year’s PAX West conference comes to a close. Both Fusionx and myself were in attendance this year, and we thought the best way to kick off the conference would be to meet up with our friends at Square Enix. While Fusionx sat down with the illustrious Mr. Koji Fox for our recent Lorecast interview, I took the time to check out some of the company’s upcoming projects.

Secret of Mana

Easily one of the most anticipated demos available at PAX West, Secret of Mana was also unfortunately one of the shortest, running just about fifteen minutes. The demo showcases the game’s opening sequence, following main character Randi (or, after I renamed him, Poodle) finding the Mana Sword and fighting the game’s first boss in his hometown.

The most obvious change is the game’s move in to 3D. This has met with some contention amongst the 24-year-old game’s fanbase, but I can say that what I experienced in the game has translated well. The remake remains faithful to the original’s bright and colorful looks and, while not highly detailed, carries much of the same atmosphere as well. One interesting thing I noted, though, was a mini-map in the upper corner that appears to be drawn in the style of the SNES release.

The game handles solidly, and should be instantly familiar to fans of the original. Really, the only issue I had with the demo pertains to the remake’s voice acting. The acting itself isn’t bad (although somewhat cheesy), but for some reason, there was absolutely no lipsynching. I don’t know if it’s due to the fact that this is an early build, or some kind of unusual stylistic choice, but hearing the characters speak without their faces moving was somewhat unsettling.

Overall, my short time with Secret of Mana left me impressed. The remake has a lot to live up to, with the SNES original having a rabid fanbase, but what has been shown so far is very promising.

Lost Sphear

The newest game from I Am Setsuna developer Tokyo RPG Factory, Lost Sphear definitely wears its 16-Bit-Era pride on its sleeve. The game begins in medias res with a character known only as “The King” in battle against what appears to be a sentient machine. The King appears to transform into a machine himself and win the battle, only to lament on his world being destroyed regardless of what he’s done…and then the protagonist wakes up.

Lost Sphear‘s opening feels like a long string of RPG cliches. The game proper begins with main character Kanata awaking from the aforementioned dream, meeting up with some friends to deal with a “monster invasion” (actually just a wild chicken-like creature running around town), traveling to a nearby forest to fish, and returning to find their hometown destroyed. I was reminded greatly of Tales of Phantasia from these story beats, mostly because I’ve been replaying that game recently, but the opening sequence here didn’t do much to catch my eye.

The battle system, though, managed to be more interesting. Feeling like a cross between Chrono Trigger and Trails in the Sky, battles are turn-based with an ATB-style system and a strong focus on battlefield positioning. Each character can move freely about the battlefield on their turn before attacking, which I assume will lead to some strategic depth later in the game, but I didn’t get much use from it in this opening sequence.

Having only about an hour to play three games, I didn’t end up spending much time with Lost Sphear, but what I did get to experience wasn’t exactly the most enthralling. I’ll hold out passing judgement until the full game is released (as I don’t want to make the same mistake I made with Dragon Quest Builders at last year’s PAX), but this title was easily the weakest of the three demos.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT

Ever go into a game and come out wondering “What did I just play…and can I play it again?”? That pretty much sums up my experience with Dissidia NT.

I did play the hell out of both the original Dissidia and Duodecim on the PSP, but that still wasn’t enough to prepare me for the chaos that is NT. Opening up with a selection of fourteen characters to play as, I decided to go in as the lead from Final Fantasy V, Bartz…and immediately get my ass handed to me.

Now, it did take me a bit of time to get reacquainted with the Dissidia series’ battle system, where you have to use “Bravery Attacks” to build up strength, allowing you to damage opponents with “HP Attacks.” Even once I got that down, the pandemonium of three-on-three fights using this system led to much confusion. Keeping track of everything on screen while balancing my attack types was a challenge, made even harder by the AI controlling my teammates appearing to be hit-or-miss.

From what I gleaned in my multiple rounds with the game, the goal is to eliminate an opponent three times to win. It doesn’t matter which opponent – you can gang up and kill the same person three times and it’ll count the same as killing each opponent once. This led to some frustration where I’d be performing great, barely getting hit, cleaning the floor with the evil Tidus standing against me, only to lose because my ally Onion Knight felt like running into Cloud’s sword one too many times.

Add on the much-discussed overkill of a HUD, and you have a beautiful mess that I had a hard time tearing myself away from. Despite complaining about aspects of this game for the past couple paragraphs, something about NT managed to click with me, wanted to continue to play just one more round to try and master a character better.

There’s still much about this game that needs polishing before release, and hopefully the recently finished closed beta manages to help catch some of these issues and fix them up. Otherwise, I am hesitantly looking forward to seeing how Dissidia NT turns out upon final release.

Final Fantasy XV PC

During our time at PAX West, we were able to play the game on two machines. a desktop that Square Enix had set up for members of the press, and the stations at the Razer booth running the game on their Razer Blades. What we can say right now about FFXV’s PC port (which isn’t set to release until next year) is that it’s currently got a ways to go. One PC we played it on ran quite smooth, while the other was a bit choppy, showing a bit of slowdown. The other problem was that all of the battle prompts that were appearing on screen were for a controller instead of a keyboard and mouse. That being said, all of the stations did have a controller present, but not having any kind of PC controller prompts (especially when using the keyboard and mouse) within the game when you’re showing it off for PC left a bad impression.

From the couple of areas that we saw during our hands-on time, the game does look good on PC, (no more horrible, pixelated hair!), but the biggest obstacle in its way right now for the average PC gamer will be the hardware requirements. Luckily, there’s still time to further optimize the PC version, so all of the issues we had with this initial impression will hopefully be non-existent when the game releases early next year.