Biggest Gimmick: VR
Aside from Chronos, which I played last year, I still have not seen anything on VR compelling enough to drop 600 dollars on. From a hardware standpoint, the Oculus and Oculus Touch are marvelous pieces of technology, and overall I can see the tremendous potential in cracking this market open. However, VR is not a magic bullet to push content. For every Chronos, there are dozens of Final Fantasy XV VR hack jobs, and the flood of bad content does nothing to advance the medium forward. I stand by my prediction that the killer apps are coming eventually; I just hope they get here sooner rather than later.
Biggest Heartbreak: Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness
I so dearly wanted to love this game, but all the nostalgia in the world couldn't compensate for the utter banality that was Star Ocean 5. It's as though someone promised to bring back the long lost recipe of your grandma's apple pie, only they forgot to include the butter and sugar, and then used the wrong kind of apples. It's a AAA concept hastily crammed into a budget experience. The only thing worse would be if tri-Ace turned this series into a free-to-play mobile RPG (looking at you, Breath of Fire).
Best Discovery: 1979 Revolution: Black Friday
I love wandering the Indiecade booth because I inevitably find something creative and new that previously had completely flown under my radar. This year it was 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, the Telltale-style adventure game of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. I love games as a storytelling medium, so it is always heartening to see a greater variety of stories being told. As much as I enjoy Nathan Drake and Uncharted 4 (that is, a lot), playing the contextually rich narrative of not-another-white-dude is not only fascinating, but beneficial for gaming as a whole.
Best Spin-off: Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
It shouldn't really come as a surprise that CD Projekt RED has another hit in the making with Gwent, but several aspects of this Witcher-themed collectible trading card game caught me by surprise. The rebalancing of cards and factions makes the game feel like a full-fledged title rather than a throwaway minigame, and once I got over the initial head scratch with story mode I found myself eager to jump back into the world of the Witcher. I'll see you online.
Game I Wanted to Talk About but Couldn't Find Space for: Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Those who followed my PAX 2015 coverage may remember my preview of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows; it is a beautiful rendering of old-school BioWare games with a modern flair. Although I couldn't play it at the Sony booth this year, I caught a glimpse as I explored the floor and must reiterate that the game looks as lovely as ever. This is definitely one to watch when it comes out in September.
Please Let This Be Amazing: God of War
My eyes were rolling at the thought of a new God of War after the fairly pedestrian Ascension, so imagine my shock when Sony's big reveal had me nodding in approval and ready to see more. The new camera perspective, intimate combat, and focus on Kratos' inner turmoil might just be the spark necessary to keep this franchise moving, and the return of Cory Barlog (director of the amazing God of War2) should assuage even the most pessimistic fans' fears. It's good to have Kratos back, and I can't wait to see more.
The "What the hell am I watchi...HOLY CRAP IT'S RESIDENT EVIL!" Award: Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
I was hoping for a brief reveal of the Resident Evil 2 Remake, so this trailer, demo, and early release date combo absolutely knocked my head off like a shotgun blast. I didn't get a chance to play the game on the show floor, but getting home and spending some quality time with it shows the RE team is focused on returning to the horror roots of earlier entries. There are still a lot of questions (how, exactly, does it connect to the rest of the series, how much combat will there be, what about environmental variety, etc.), but I'm certainly more excited to see where RE7 goes after the abysmal RE6. January can't get here soon enough.
Best Game I Played at the Show: Tyranny
Just go read my preview. You won't be disappointed.
Thank God, This Game Looks Awesome: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
I dropped a stupid amount of money on the Bloodstained Kickstarter last year, and I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief after seeing the game on the show floor. Even at this early stage, Bloodstained looks like the Castlevania game we all want. Unfortunately, I couldn't track down Koji Igarashi for a selfie, but I did get to watch a Konami exec standing in line to check out an awesome game they won't be making any time soon. Yes, let me taste those sweet, sweet tears. They nourish me so.
Style and UI of the Century: Persona 5
For the love of all that is good, somebody make sure the guys and gals making Persona 5 get some kind of raise. Seriously, no game is supposed to look this amazing. Is it February yet?
I'm Worried: Final Fantasy XV
I know many of us were feeling the same way following the Titan demo for FFXV, and the game keeps looking like a jumbled mess of ideas that don't exactly come together in any kind of meaningful way. I'm not trying to be a hater here, folks, and maybe the final product will be an utterly stunning masterpiece, but I'm not liking what I'm seeing and I've yet to play a section that gives me that magic feeling. The inclusion of a wait mode for combat seems like another halfhearted attempt to please everyone, and premiering it just a few months from release does not inspire confidence. I'm really hoping I'm wrong, but things ain't looking good right now. Hell, the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 demo playing right next to FFXV at Square Enix's booth looked way more fun and interactive, and y'all know how I feel about that franchise!
Too Much 3DS Goodness: Dragon Quest VII and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
Yep. My little handheld is going to get quite the workout this year. Am I the only one who really digs playing a traditional JRPG on the go?
Overall Game of the Show: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild / Persona 5 (tie)
Both are very different games that appeal to different parts of my brain. Persona 5 looks to stimulate my need for nuanced storytelling and cutting-edge design, while Zelda caters for my craving for adventure in its purest form. Both of these games are going to carve out huge chunks of my time when they release — time I'm all too happy to hand over.
Best Update to One of My All-Time Favorite Games: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
I was fortunate enough to hear about FFXII: TZA about a week before it was officially announced, and you would not believe how difficult it was to keep my excitement under wraps. XII is an odd duck for sure, and I wasn't even sure how much I liked it when it first released. Over the years, however, my appreciation for its beautifully realized world and nuanced gameplay has only deepened. It now sits among my top three Final Fantasies, often competing with FFVI for top honors. I can't wait to finally try out the Zodiac Job System for myself, especially with all of the modern bells and whistles Square Enix is adding to this release.
Best Booth Experience: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
It's not that I needed to get my hands on Cold Steel II to know that I was going to like it. In reality, the game is fairly similar to its predecessor mechanically; the story and soundtrack are what I'm after more than anything. What really made my time at the XSEED booth so pleasant was gushing over the game with Localization Producer and Trails guru Brittany, aka Hatsuu. Her vast knowledge of the series and genuine enthusiasm is a constant reminder that we're getting these localizations because there truly is someone on the inside who cares about the fans. "And as I listened, I could feel myself being beckoned towards the wheel of fortune." How could you not feel the Trails hype after that E3 trailer!?
Most Surprising: Tales of Berseria
As I said in my E3 preview, I've grown a bit tepid on the Tales franchise in recent years, but Berseria is poised to pull me right back in. Its furious battle system is a return to form for a series that once set the bar for action RPG combat. To have my low expectations exceeded so thoroughly was a welcome surprise amidst the assurances I carry about the rest of the games on my list.
Most Worrying: Final Fantasy XV
I'm fairly confident that I'm going to love FFXV, or at least enjoy it to some degree, but my enthusiasm is tempered following my hands-on experience with its messy E3 demo. I couldn't believe that I was playing the newest version of the game. Muddy browns and chaotic enemy movement made it difficult to tell what I was doing, and the entire sequence is completely scripted. There was no room for strategy beyond warping up high, hitting Titan with a warp strike, and casting Blizzard to end the battle. I don't have so much of a problem with this kind of encounter as a single set piece within the game as a whole, but it made for an abysmal demo that showed FFXV off in the poorest light possible.
I Am Setsuna
A somber, low-spectacle RPG does not exactly make for a thrilling E3 demo, but I'm in love with this game nonetheless. I already own its melancholy two-disc soundtrack and will be mashing the download button on the PS Store the moment it releases in July.
The Last Guardian
It's real, and it's only a few months away! I miiiight have purchased the Collector's Edition on Amazon while I was walking from one E3 appointment to another. Just sayin'.
Gravity Rush 2
I loved the premise of the first game more than I loved its large, empty world. The sequel is visually striking and has the potential to fix everything I didn't like about the first. Besides, who doesn't love magical girl transformation sequences?
Overall Game of the Show: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Much love to Persona 5, but the long-awaited unveiling of the new Zelda game took everyone's collective breath away. The callbacks to Link's very first adventure on NES are apparent, as is the renewed focus on having players explore a vast and wondrous world. Everything about Breath of the Wild looked really impressive, and has me greatly anticipating it's eventual release. Now, about that NX version, Nintendo...
Best Game I Actually Played at the Show: Kingdom Hearts 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage
While Zelda may have been the most impressive game at E3, I wasn't getting anywhere near it with those lines (props to those with more patience than I), so my favorite gameplay experience at the show had to be getting a taste of the future of Kingdom Hearts. I unapologetically love this franchise, and 0.2 felt like everything we'd want out of a next-gen Kingdom Hearts title. The controls were tight and responsive, it looked gorgeous, and it brought back fan favorite Aqua in all her magic-slinging glory. It may only be a sample of what is to come, but it was a delicious sample all the same.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Battle Chasers: Nightwar
I said as much in my preview, but oh man, am I stoked to eventually play this game. I've been a fan of Joe Madureira's art for years, and I really enjoyed the Darksiders games, so seeing him and a bunch of ex-Vigil staff team up to make what looks like a rock solid turn-based RPG is really exciting. After the demo Jesse and I were shown, I'm just really excited to see what else Airship Syndicate has in store for us.
Biggest Work in Progress: Final Fantasy XV
Um...yikes. I keep going back and forth on Final Fantasy XV — I really, really want to love it, and I like a lot of what I have seen and heard, but there are some times where I really have to question what Square Enix is doing. The Titan demo exacerbates every concern I'd had with the game, and then some: the controls are loose, the combat feels floaty, targeting Noctis' warps is an absolute mess, and the whole thing just looks like one big action game set piece instead of a functioning boss fight. I had heard that the demo was based on an older, outdated build of the game and was thrown together to appeal to the gaming public...which raises another concern: who is this for? Who are they trying to impress? Aiming for mass appeal and trying to court longtime series fans will lose Square Enix both audiences, and that's not the fate I want to befall Final Fantasy XV. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the addition of Wait Mode will alleviate some of my grievances...
Best Merch: Atlus
Have you seen those Morgana hats they were giving out? They were little beanies with cat ears. Enough said.
Biggest Surprise: God of War's an RPG Now?
Seriously, it sounds like the new Norse-themed God of War title (which should totally be called God of War: Fatherhood or something like that) is going to have RPG elements. The gameplay trailer already made Son of War (I'm writing these for free, Sony) look suspiciously akin to Skyrim, what with all the snow and dragons flying about, but it looks like papa Kratos may have more in common with the Dovahkiin than we first realized. So, who knows, maybe one of these days you'll see RPGFan covering a God of War game. Who would've thought?
Most Amusing Title: Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
Or, as it's called in Japan, Biohazard 7: Resident Evil. Love it.
Overall Game of the Show: Persona 5
Sure, Zelda looks amazing and Persona 5 was not playable, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the best game at the show. The game oozes style and really looks like the product of Atlus' meticulous craft. We had a few cool reveals at the Atlus booth this year, like hearing Morgana's voice actor and learning that the game will feature demon negotiations. February 14th can't come soon enough.
Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Best Game I Already Knew I Liked: Yakuza 0
Each Yakuza sequel adds just enough new stuff to keep things interesting and having Yakuza 0 transport the series back to the 1980's was an ingenious move by Sega. Playing as Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima before their back tattoos are finished looks awesome, and exploring what was arguably the coolest decade for Japan is sure to be delightful. I can't wait to jump into an arcade and play some classic Sega games. Ahhh, video games inside of other video games.
Runner-Up: Gravity Rush 2
Best Game I Wish I Kickstarted: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero
Shantae was the first game I played at my first E3. The controls are just as snappy as ever and the art is still amazing. I am curious to see if WayForward plays with the Shantae formula in any interesting ways, but even if the game is just straight Shantae, it'll surely be a blast.
Runner-Up: Night in the Woods
Game I Was Most Surprised I Liked: I Am Setsuna
What at first glance looks like another nostalgia-fueled cash grab is actually a well-made RPG with amazing art and music. I was worried I Am Setsuna would rely too much on games that have come before it, but it really does feel like it is drawing inspiration in order to create something original instead of derivative. I was most pleased with the dialogue. Modern JRPGs get bogged down in too much foolery (I'm looking at you, Bravely Default) but Setsuna is straight and to the point. It hurts that we won't get a physical version, but I will definitely pick this up.
Runner-Up: Night in the Woods
Biggest Disappointment: Final Fantasy XV
I left the convention center feeling more disheartened about Final Fantasy XV than I thought possible. I was already pretty low on the game but I would consider the special "battle against Titan" demo that Square Enix brought to E3 to be FFXV's worst showing to date. You are dropped into a battle with one of the series' oldest Eidolons, but instead of a difficult, strategic, RPG boss battle, the demo plays out much more like a quick timey God of War game where the key to victory is executing the correct button presses in the correct order. Titan swings his colossal hand down at you; press X. Press B to parry; rinse and repeat. The game is still months from release but the resolution was noticeably low and this made running around in the brown environment while trying to fight the massive brown enemy all the more difficult. I'd like to tell you about how I heroically defeated Titan but unfortunately, in the confusion of battle, Noctis decided to fall through the play area and my demo crashed. That about sums up the Final Fantasy XV E3 2016 demo. I hope this battle feels more natural when it is in its proper place in the overall narrative, and fixing things on a more technical level will help a lot. But as I watched Noctis plummet down into nothingness, my hopes for the game fell with him.
Runner-Up: Persona 5 not being playable.
Coolest Moment of My First E3: Meeting Victor Ireland
Love him or hate him, Victor Ireland is responsible for localizing some of the best RPGs ever made. The Lunar games are classics and we wouldn't have them in English if not for him. I was super nervous to demo his latest project, Summon Night 6: Lost Borders, in front of him, but I managed to win the battle and he said I was only the second journalist to be victorious. Just being in the same room as him was super cool, and his passion for localization was evidenced by his proud explanation of the importance of large text boxes and the like. Being able to meet a person who worked on some of my favorite games ever made was a dream come true.
Runner-Up: Shaking Mark Cerny's hand.
Overall Game of the Show: Persona 5
My Persona 5 hype grows higher with every new video, image, and article I encounter, and Persona 5's huge presence at E3 (new trailer, a live interview with Soejima, lots of Atlus staff) contributed to my toddler-bouncing-up-and-down levels of anticipation. I only wish there had been a playable demo and a larger Atlus booth — the clamoring for Persona 5 was so intense that Atlus' space was packed to the gills at all times.
Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Favorite Game at the Show That I Played: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
This is another situation where a game for which I was already excited fulfilled my expectations and then some. Bloodstained feels like a classic 2D Castlevania game with RPG elements (i.e. almost any of the Castlevania titles developed by Bloodstained producer Koji Igarashi). Miriam's sprite looks great, and the swaying ship stage in the demo was fun to explore. It's been a long time since we've had a proper Igarashi single-player game, and Bloodstained looks to be exactly what fans want.
Runner-Up: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
Favorite new character: Ransome, Thimbleweed Park
Thimbleweed Park, from the creators of Maniac Mansion and Secret of Monkey Island, has a fairly wacky cast of characters, but none wackier than Ransome, the misanthropic clown. Ransome immediately dislikes everyone he meets, and in one scene players pick out which audience members Ransome insults next in a mean-spirited comedy show. This attitude directly results in Ransome suffering a gypsy curse. I don't think that players are supposed to like Ransome, but his feelings were so unabashedly hateful and honest that I went the other way with him. I look forward to seeing more out of the cursed clown this January.
Runner-Up: Makoto Niijima, Persona 5
Favorite New Gameplay Mechanic: The Rites, Pyre
Pyre's battles (called Rites) are basically a 3 vs. 3 sport resembling basketball, and the rest of the game (traveling across maps, building your party with items and experience) is all about preparing your team for the next Rite. The Rites feel like more than just a minigame. They play like a 2016 version of Sega Soccer Slam or NES Ice Hockey, but with breathtaking art direction and RPG elements. As a big fan of both RPGs and basketball, I'm naturally intrigued by a basketball-RPG hybrid.
Runner-Up: "There's a button dedicated to your son," God of War
Biggest Surprise: The Last Guardian Is Actually Coming Out This Year
The Last Guardian was announced in June of 2009 and is finally landing worldwide in October of 2016, making its release a recurring rumor each year (or a myth, for the pessimistic). Well, it now has a concrete date, and I'm as surprised as anyone.
Runner-Up: New God of War
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
God of War
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Batman: The Telltale Series
I Am Setsuna
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
These games look fantastic and I can't wait to play all of them, time and money willing.
Favorite Zelda that's a Zelda: Breath of the Wild
As much as I adore Nintendo and knew this game would be open world, I kept wondering how far they'd be willing to change up their formula. The answer? A hell of a lot more than anyone expected. Breath of the Wild is the change that not only Zelda needed, but the gravity of this change hopefully also signifies how far Nintendo is willing to go as a company to right the wavy course the Wii U set them on. Is Metroid next? (I'll never extinguish my torch for Ms. Aran)
Favorite Zelda that's not a Zelda: Horizon Zero Dawn
Okay, so it has some Zelda, RPG, and maybe Monster Hunter elements. But a full year after its 2015 reveal has me wanting Horizon even more. It's the most gorgeous and colorful post-apocalyptic landscape I've ever seen (They don't always have to be brown!), the protagonist looks tough as hell, and the mechanical designs are just wild. But the best part? Combat looks to be very strategic, requiring the use of several weapons and tactics to survive, not simply "use your biggest gun and keep shooting to win."
Favorite Kingdom Hearts Demo: That 0.2 Thing
Please don't make me look up the full title. KH games continue to get more convoluted in storyline and name, but playing Aqua in this taste test for Kingdom Hearts III reminded me of the magic of the series. It's hard to believe that Kingdom Hearts II came so long ago that the main series completely skipped a generation of consoles. 0.2's controls were spot-on, fluid, and just felt right, and the world design is stunning. I hope this time next year I'll be commenting on a KHIII demo, because there's a place in my heart only that game can fill.
Favorite Final Fantasy XIV Producer/Director: Naoki Yoshida
This man is a treasure. He rebuilt a failed MMORPG and was the beginning of a more open and receptive Square Enix. Simply comparing the opaqueness of the company during the development of FFXIII to the wildly open nature of the state of FFXV is all the proof you need. Yoshi-P started something with his honest, direct communication with players, and it's poured over into other parts of the company. Better communication is always a good thing, and I'm glad he got the ball rolling at Square Enix.
The Most Stylish as **** RPG Ever: Persona 5
I wish this game wasn't so far away. I stood in front of Atlus and watched the whole demo, and then came home and watched more, and more. I knew P5 was going to be exciting, but I just completely adore the game's art direction and UI. It's completely off the wall, eclectic, and like nothing we've ever seen. The intense black and white, the fact that nothing is a basic rectangle, but a strange off-kilter shape, and the bold splashes of red all add up to a game that's off the charts in style.
Most Brilliant Logo Design: Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
It's been over a week since I saw it, and I still can't get over the brilliance of the Resident Evil VII logo. When I saw the subtitle was the series' Japanese name of Biohazard, I had hoped the Japanese title would be... exactly what it is. To further blow my creative mind, the Japanese title uses the same gimmick, but with an Arabic "7" and I just... I need a moment.
Best GIF of E3