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E3 2004 Impressions


Mike Salbato's Impressions (2)
Going into my fifth E3 with RPGFan, I wasn't sure what to expect. There was certainly a lot to look forward to this year, but at the same time I was worried we'd see a repeat of 2003's overall lackluster show. Boy, was I glad to be wrong. With two new pieces of portable hardware debuting, along with a higher than usual amount of grade A titles on display, E3 2004 was quite a show.

Typical for me, I'll be starting with Nintendo. Of the two new portable systems on the horizon, I have to admit I'm more interested in the DS - though for unconventional reasons (nothing against the PSP here though; that's later). I admit, the only one of the games and demos for the thing that really interests me is Metroid Prime: Hunters, and even then, I'm not sure I'm on board with the whole "touch the screen to shoot" concept. Visually, the 3D on the DS is either not being represented very well, or just can't handle the same stuff the PSP can. What does grab me though, is innovation. We're at a point in this industry where innovation is quickly running thin. Most game and hardware makers simply strive for more power, to create more realism. The DS is something different, and not just a high-powered Game Boy. It remains to be seen how well its functions will be harnessed, but like I said, we're in dire need of some innovation.

Besides that, Nintendo also had some great - some very overdue - games on display. Zelda: Four Swords Adventures was on hand, and will thankfully be out any day now. Screens don't do it justice really, since you can't see the action and slick animation. Starfox is still coming out one day - it was thankfully much more polished this year, despite still lacking a name. Paper Mario 2 looks nearly identical to the first, except much, much sharper and cleaner thanks to the increased horsepower of the GC. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was no doubt my (playable) game of the show, although not by as large a margin as I expected, with everything on hand. Still, MP2 looks like it will surpass MP, however technically impossible that is. All of this great stuff of course, pales greatly in comparison to what we saw the day before the show - Zelda. A friend of mine (hi Reno!) in the know tipped me off before the conference about Zelda, though I had forgotten about it by the time the clip rolled. Now, I'm not one of the people who dislike Wind Waker's style and whine about a realistic Zelda game. In fact, I applaud Miyamoto and company for doing something different, which also happens to be one of the best-looking games I've ever seen. Despite this, like everyone else, I've wondered how an Ocarina of Time-styled game would look on the GameCube, and after seeing it... I really have no words for it. I went into the show knowing what I'd like and was all ready with my list of 'best of show' - then this came along and trounced them all. I hope its 2005 release is sooner rather than later.

Sony had... nothing for us to cover. I was expecting Wild ARMs: Alter Code: F, until it was revealed shortly before the show that Agetec picked it up when SCEA passed - thank the gods. There was, of course, the PSP. Much like the DS, I wasn't willing to stand in line for a chance to play, but I've seen enough of it. While I don't see myself buying one at launch without some SERIOUS killer app (that's not Gran Turismo) due to the high price it will no doubt have, I'm very impressed. The PSP's design is hands-down the prettiest portable ever designed, and the screen is beautiful. Unfortunately, it still has that horrible d-pad style of the PS2 - I just hope this one is more comfortable to use. It all comes down to games though, so we'll see what happens there. Again though, gorgeous design going on.

Speaking of Agetec, that was one of the more memorable parts of the show. With them bringing out the remake that's not a remake (see the interview) of Wild ARMs, we had an interview with them. More specifically, Damian (taking the place of an MIA Mark) and I did. Expecting a standard interview with an Agetec representative, we ended up spending most of our time there talking with the president of its developer, Media Vision, as well as series producer Kentaro Motomura. Suffice to say, actually sitting and talking to the producer of one this generation's more well-known RPG series was a treat. We learned a good deal about the game itself, along with many reasons things are the way they are, and how the series even came to be. If you somehow missed the interview write-up, go check it out. Each of us also good a sweet poster for the game signed by both of these guys. Best swag ever.

Oh yeah, there's that little Square Enix company which I almost somehow forgot to mention. Okay, FFVII: AC looks pretty. Silence, fanboy, I haven't seen it yet and neither have you, so that's all anyone can say about it right now. Star Ocean 3 is still coming out, and it's been a long wait. I only played a few minutes this year as opposed to the 20+ last year, but I was already sold on the game, so I didn't need more. Kingdom Hearts II was strangely absent, and I didn't even catch a glimpse of it until I saw the incredible trailer at the Disney Interactive booth. Can't. Wait. What I CAN wait for is KH: Chain of Memories, which did nothing for me at all except turn me off from it. Unfortunately, being the one that connects the plots of Kingdom Hearts I & II, I may have to break down and get it. I forgot to play Musashi, though it looked neat. The big honkin' crown jewel of course, I couldn't pass up. Final Fantasy XII had 6 different demos for showgoers to see, though I only played the introductory one. I learned how to walk (using the control stick, imagine!) and choose things in menus. I also finally saw first hand why this one is so different... it really is. What I don't understand is the big deal about the character models using less polygons, since they look at least as good as that of FFX-2, so whatever. The setting is gorgeous, as is the art direction and designs. Gameplay is nothing like anyone expected, and feels fresh and new. I gotta give it to Matsuno and his team; they're doing a good job in keeping the series fresh, which gets increasingly hard to do when you're at the 12th game in a series.

Namco, in a very non-typical fashion, had three RPGs due out in North America, two of them this year. Xenosaga Episode II was relegated to video unsurprisingly, with a very long and interesting trailer; one of which I'm thankful was in Japanese, since it no doubt would give away a lot otherwise. Tales of Symphonia looks good - standard Tales fare. Nothing incredible or ground-breaking, just a new Tales game with a different look to it. The best of these though, is Monolith Soft's Baten Kaitos. Drawing more than a few similarities to Chrono Cross (no surprise, considering some of the MS staff), yet being something totally new in the genre, BK can't come out soon enough. Hearing it uses pre-rendered backdrops made me think of the often stale and lifeless ones we became used to in the PSOne days. Turns out they're all beautifully-animated, and share little in common with those others but the name. Hearing it uses cards to do battle almost turned me away entirely - except it manages to NOT bring the game to a grinding halt (cough, PSO Episode III), and uses cards while keeping fast paced battles. All this, and a hidden Pac Man card. How can it go wrong?

Capcom had a fairly good showing this year, as usual. Mega Man X Command Mission turned out pretty good so far, as long as the horrible anti-aliasing is fixed in the end. For some reason, Mega Man X8 popped up. Even stranger was that it didn't suck... go figure. Devil May Cry 3 looks like it will make up for the atrocity that came before it, and Viewtiful Joe 2 looks, honestly, like more of the same, but for a game as unique as VJ, I'm hardly complaining.

Konami. Oh, Konami. As usual, we got a new 15-minute-long Metal Gear Solid trailer, one that FINALLY has me interested in MGS3. For some reason, I didn't actually play the game, but the story sequences look interesting enough that I'll be grabbing it. Gradius V better actually come out this year... I miss that series. TMNT2 has 4-player, but moved so ungodly slow and clunky, I'm worried it won't be any fun; hopefully it gets better. And then Ys... wait, I'm talking about Ys? Weird... but yes, Ys VI (though lacking the "VI" in the States) was there on PS2, amazingly looking about as good as its PC counterpart. The only Ys I ever played was Wanderers of Ys on the SNES, which I guess is held as possibly the worst in the series. Either way, Ys VI is pretty cool, so I'll certainly be looking into it, whenever it comes out.

Sega's "incredible announcement" ended up being the fact that they're publishing The Matrix Online, following Ubi Soft backing out. Needless to say... that was not worth the hype. What possibly WAS worth the hype was Phantasy Star Universe, whatever it is. Rumors are flying from it being anything from Phantasy Star V, to an actual follow-up to Phantasy Star Online to a PS MMORPG. It's hard not to wonder, what with "Phantasy Star V?" and "Phantasy Star Online 2?" sliding along in the background of the mysterious trailer. I hope we get to see what it actually is - and while PSO was cool for awhile, I sure hope it's not a new PSO. But who cares about that. Despite my earlier statement, I actually have one non-RPG that gets me more damp than Metroid Prime 2 (a sin, no doubt), and that is - thank you so much for bringing it Sega - Otogi 2. Otogi 2 looks to have all the style, finesse and "Oh my God" factor of the first.... except multiplied by ten. Bring it on.

I can't say much about Atlus compared to my fellow editors here, sadly. What I can say is that I've never given the MegaTen series a second - or really, even a first - look. I know Shin Megami Tensei III is supposed to be great, and yeah, Dante is cool, but that's all I cared to know. Then I looked at the game. Then I saw Digital Devil Saga. Read a bit on both, and now the fall can't get here soon enough. I'm a sucker for innovation and something different, and I've never played anything like these two. Oh Atlus, you treat us so well. Please bring StellaDeus here next year and keep up tradition.

What else. Oh, it seems the Phantom IS real - it's a sorta neat-looking box with a pulsating glowing light thing going on, which of course is not ripped off from another company with their pulsating white power lights. No sir. I'm also totally baffled as to why the ethernet port is in the center, on the front of the console. Oh sorry, the Phantom is a "Gaming Service," not a console. Whatever, I still say it's a hoax. Were I not media (and had I thought of it sooner), I would have liked to wear a t-shirt branded with a certain Penny Arcade strip to the booth and see what the Infinium people had to say. But that would be immature.

Okay, boring stuff out of the way. As usual, the highlights of my week were seeing the staff again, nearly all of which I consider friends. We skipped the movie this year, not only because seeing a movie is something we could all do at our respective homes, but also because the movie we planned to see wasn't showing at our usual place. So, our big to do, like a couple years ago, was a night-long trip to Santa Monica, which was more fun than a movie could have possibly been - outside of the long wandering around periods. The first thing we did was make a stop at one of many Starbucks on the main drag, after which I hit up the new Apple Store we came across. We had a very late drinks/light food session after some extreme haggling with the door girls to find room for a party of 14. With all the low morale from the whole 'server going down and WTF is our site' incident during the show, we all needed to unwind a little. Sitting around talking to Stephen, Tim and Damian in the bar whose name escapes me was probably the best time I had all week. Teaching a few east coasters about the wonders of In N Out Burger was also great. I <3 you guys.

I could go on forever - though I guess I already have - but I'll wrap it up here. The show itself was one of the best in years, and aside from the little crisis, the rest of the week was great thanks to the company. New faces for me this year were Brian, Stephanie, Anthony and Mark, which were all cool to meet and hang out with. I know I say it a lot, but of all the people I know from other websites and places, I really feel like we have the best team one could possibly hope for, which just makes it a great place to be. I can't wait for next year.


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


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