E3 2004 Impressions

Mike Salbato's Impressions
Below are my lists of the best and worst of the show, similar to the rest of the staff. If you're interested in reading my expanded (and wordy) impressions written before we decided to change our format up this year, feel free.
Top 5 RPGs:
1) Baten Kaitos (GCN)
Boy, was I happy to see this game there. I've been really looking forward to BK since it was announced, but with Namco sometimes passing over beautiful RPGs for North America (Tales of Destiny 2, anyone?), I wasn't sure it would make it. Thankfully, not only is it coming, but before the year is out. The mere thought of a card-battler makes me nauseous, yet BK does things differently. It's not slow-paced and the battles aren't dragged out eternally ala PSO Episode III. Instead, it's as fast-paced as say, Final Fantasy X, yet it plays unlike anything else. Oh yeah, and it's got some staff who previously worked on the Chrono series, and is probably the most beautiful RPG around, so it's hard not to love it. There's Symphonia coming too, which most people seem to want, but it completely pales in comparison. Seriously.

2) Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
This one seems to hit #2 for a lot of people here. I admit it, I always thought FFXII was pretty and was going to buy it without question, but I wasn't really excited to see it at the show, probably due to knowing so little. I played it because, well, it's Final Fantasy, and I was at least curious. Well damn. With visuals somehow surpassing even FFX-2, and a gameplay and battle system completely UN-like the twelve FFs before it, FFXII looks to be a serious wake-up call for anyone thinking it's more of the same. Luckily, along with being so incredibly different, it's also fun, and has that awesome Matsuno flare and cinematography on par with Kojima's best. I only played one of the 6 available demos, but that was enough to get me hooked, so I decided to leave the rest for the final game.

3) Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2)
Still waiting. With the announcement earlier this year that we'd be getting the much-improved Director's Cut, instead of the standard game, it made having to wait a year and a half for this game worth it. Still, it's been on its way for so long, it can't get here soon enough. I hardly played it this year compared to my 20-30 minutes in 2003, but considering I was already sold on it a year ago, I didn't see a need.

4) Mega Man X: Command Mission (GCN, PS2)
Interesting idea. Take easily the most interesting of the Mega Man universes and drop the characters in an RPG. Until it was destroyed in X6 and X7 (though X8 is nice), the X series was incredible, and to finally see these characters rendered in proper 3D (unlike the incredibly low poly-counts of X7), and in a new setting is great. Somehow, Capcom managed to keep the game interesting, which is quite a feat, considering going from frantic action to turn-based RPG could easily be a disastrous experiment. Though of course, the best thing about the game is obviously the glowing trail things on X. Seeing that in motion again is worth $50 alone.

5) Tie - Wild ARMs: Alter Code F (PS2) & Xenosaga Episode II (PS2)
Since neither of these were playable or really "there," I grouped them as number five. Admittedly, I never played Wild ARMs, though I've seen the whole game 1-2 times, so there was never really a need. I think I'm going to change that this time around, since Alter Code: F looks (and SOUNDS; gimme the soundtrack) too great to not play. As for Xenosaga, I got really annoyed with Episode I's gameplay, from the shallow, bland field maps, to the incredibly unbalanced battles. You shouldn't still be struggling to kill an area's weakest enemy after you've been leveling up for 4 hours. Still, pretty game, and I'm fine with so-so gameplay in light of good storytelling. If Episode II fixes all the gameplay flaws of the first, we could have the greatness that we all hoped to get from Episode I. I know I'm anxious; here's hoping.

Also worth mention are Kingdom Hearts II and the jaw-dropping new Zelda. Shame both were video-only. I'd like to add a serious nod to Atlus for both SMT: Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga also. I didn't get to play either, but I'm really looking forward to both now. Oh, and Ys VI. Yeah, there was a lot to love this year, RPG-wise.

Certainly NOT worth mention however, is Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Bad taste + mouth = not good.
Top 5 Non-RPGs:
1) Otogi 2 (Xbox)
God... I'm so sorry, Samus, you have no idea. I'm sure I'll end up liking Prime 2 more in the end, but for now, nothing excites me more than the sequel to the only Xbox game I care about. Otogi 2 somehow looks better than the already-stunning Otogi, ups the playable characters from one to five (!), and keeps the intensely-satifying gameplay and combat intact. It's hard to really explain just how great Otogi is to someone who hasn't played it. But once you play it, you'll know. I hope this isn't the last we see of the series, as it deserves to be whored for all it's worth like From's big-name series.

2) Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GCN)
I don't even need to say anything here, but I will. Retro is really taking the gloves off this time around. While Prime was fantastic, looking back, it almost looks like a test to see what they could do. The sequel looks to deliver all that and more. Despite being #2, I completely expect Echoes to top my games of the year list. Even if it ends up being "only" as good as the first, that still makes it better than 99% of every other game out there.

3) Devil May Cry 3 (PS2)
What the? It's GOOD? Clearly having learned a thing or two from Devil May Cry 2's lukewarm - who am I kidding, ice cold - reception, DMC3 goes back to the sexy architecture and style of the first game, while keeping the few good things from part 2, and finally adding new stuff. The opening stage and boss alone was enough that I knew: This is the sequel we've been waiting for after DMC, and it should completely make up for the second.

4) Gradius V (PS2)
Wow, it's finally coming out? This one can't go wrong. Besides the fact it should be a national holiday when a shooter is released in America, this is a long-overdue return to one of the best shooter series, and is even (supposedly) developed by Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga masterminds Treasure. Oh, and two-player simultaneous? 'Bout time. The only things that could be more exciting for a shooter fan are a new Einhander or Darius - but those aren't coming, so good on Konami.

5) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)
MGS3 was finally playable after countless teasers. And I didn't play it. I'm not sure why. Maybe I just didn't feel like waiting at the time, or maybe because I already know I'm buying it (probably both). I did watch the 15 minute trailer however, and I have to admit it has serious potential plot-wise. The direction they're taking it (I won't spoil) looks veeeeery interesting. They may have whacked out ideas such as brick camouflage, and don't even get me started on the things Kojima must be snorting to produce Metal Gear Acid on the PSP (a card/board game? YAY!), but the series has always been good with story, so that's enough to pull me in.
Favorite Show Experiences:
1) Seeing my girlfriend for the first time since January, since I was really missing her. Oh, and also seeing everyone I knew again (and some for the first time), and getting to hang out and Bond.... James Bond.

2) Zelda. Good GOD, Zelda. It wasn't playable, nor due out for like a year, so I can't list it on the top games list, but it was certainly one of the best events.

3) The site being suddenly gone on day 2. And yes, I did mean to list that as a "best," because the event caused us all to realize just how big a deal it was to everyone. Seeing how it affected everyone, and the discussions that day showed just how dedicated everyone there really is. We had to go through hell together, but you know what they say about war buddies...

4) Our night of drinking. Granted, I hardly had anything myself, but seeing Rob, Chris, Damian and Liz totally wasted was highly amusing.

5) Watching the second to last episode of Angel with the biggest fellow Angel fan (and friend) I know. Granted, I doubt he knew the episode was titled "Power Play," so I'm still far more obsessed.
Least Favorite Show Experiences:
1) That day where the entire future of the site was in question. Not good times. (Well of COURSE it's also a worst moment.)

2) The hotel in general. Our original room on Sunday was a hole, and between our many rooms, only 1-2 showers consistently worked. The place is slipping each year, ironic for a "Quality Inn." I think 2004 was the last time we'll be staying there.

3) Having a bathtub the size of Africa and never being allowed to use it.

4) Temporarily forgetting the parking garage at the hotel had about 400 stone columns littered across it, one of which was very close to my car when backing out. I don't think any of us expected to hear that loud shattering sound at the time. I didn't want that mirror anyway. Really.

5) Watching the second to last episode of Angel, knowing it was the second to last episode of Angel, and what its loss meant for the future of quality TV.
Best Swag:
1) The awesome - and signed in Japanese! - Wild ARMs Alter Code: F poster I got from the equally cool interview over at Agetec.

2) The Nintendo bag. Even better and more useful than the one we got in 2002? You bet, and it's sexy cool too.

3) E3 Badge Holder DX: Upgrades included a spiffy kinda leather covering, with a notepad and pen built-in, along with card holders. Very cool.

4) Press kits are always fun, since I nearly salivate at the thought of hi-res art and logos for graphic purposes. Of particular note was Namco including a DVD full of trailers for their lineup. Most companies, if they even give videos, offer low-res QT or WMP files. The DVD is an awesome idea, and I hope other companies take note of this for the future.

More Impressions
Tim Duong Stephen Harris Liz Maas John McCarroll
Mike Salbato Damian Thomas Mark P. Tjan


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