Best Conference: Nintendo
As usual, Nintendo did not have a traditional press conference this year, but they didn't need one. Their Nintendo Direct presentation stole the show by showcasing gameplay of highly anticipated titles Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, surprising us with a new Metroid Prime (and another Metroid title in their Treehouse Live stream), and fulfilling the longtime wishes of the Pokémon fanbase by confirming that a new console RPG is coming to the Switch... at some point. Nintendo did the best job at impressing the crowd while providing new RPG info in a concise presentation that shows why they're on top of things with game development.
Best Non-RPG: God of War
After I finished the original God of War trilogy, I hoped the series would introduce some changes to prevent it from growing stale; this new God of War absolutely delivers. Branded as a reboot for the current console generation, it introduces a Norse mythology setting, a calmer and more controlled Kratos, and most notably, a new companion/battle partner in his son, Atreus. God of War still retains the brutal combat and mythological creatures that the series is known for and, combined with the changes, looks to be a grand return for the series in 2018.
Best Non-Playable Game: Xenoblade Chronicles 2
It was disappointing not to have a playable demo of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. But if nothing else we did get a 40-minute video that showed off the gameplay and beautiful, vast world we can look forward to exploring when the game comes out this holiday season for the Switch. It seems to have all of the features that make the Xenoblade Chronicles series so beloved among RPG enthusiasts, and it may contribute to making the Switch the most RPG-friendly Nintendo console since the SNES.
Most Unexpected Reveal: Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV
Talk about being blindsided.
Game of the Show: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
I have to go with the team on this one: Ni no Kuni II blew me away when I saw it featured at Sony's PlayStation Conference. The art style and setting is as gorgeous as the first game, while the combat has been revamped to a full action style. I found the combat of the first Ni no Kuni awkward and unengaging, so it was refreshing to see it changed for the sequel. After my time with the playable demo, I was captivated by what Ni no Kuni II had to offer, and I'm ready to spend time with the full version when the game drops this fall.
Best Quirky Game: The Metronomicon: Slay The Dance Floor
The idea of blending rhythm game mechanics with a party-based RPG seemed bizarre to me, but after my hands-on preview of The Metronomicon's upcoming console version, I couldn't be more excited for this cross-genre title. I'm ready to get down with this one.
Biggest Announcement Not Made at an E3 Conference: Undertale for PS4 and PS Vita
This one blew me away, especially because I found out about it casually through social media. Really? A casual announcement for one of the most creative RPGs in recent memory?! Confusion aside, the fact that Toby Fox's game is finally coming to consoles is fantastic.
Biggest Expected Disappointment: No Bloodborne 2
The recent revolution in game design led by From Software has dominated my free time since Atlus brought Demon's Souls stateside. Since that game's release I have platinumed too many of their games, and Bloodborne is my favorite title from the now legendary studio. I expected we wouldn't hear anything about Bloodborne 2, but I'm a hopeless romantic and held out hope. Maybe at PSX...
Best Game I Couldn't Play: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Machine Games brought the Wolfenstein series back in style with The New Order, and it instantly won me over. I played Wolfenstein 3D as a wee lad, and being thrown back into the boots of B.J. Blazkowicz and killing Nazis was a blast, not to mention that the game had a truly touching script brought to life by some outstanding voice performances. No matter what Machine Games did next I was already on board, and then I saw that trailer. This one is going to be special.
Game of Show: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Speaking of something special, did you play the first Ni no Kuni? While the battle system was a little clunky, everything else was wondrous: from the Studio Ghibli animation to Joe Hisaishi's sweeping soundtrack, the journey through that game was one of the most touching and magical sojourns I can remember. Everything I have seen and played from Ni no Kuni II has me convinced I won't be disappointed. Like the non-RPG entry above, Ni no Kuni II has the potential to be a classic. I will be avoiding a lot of social engagements when this game releases.
Prettiest Unplayable: Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Damn Xenoblade, you lookin' pretty tonight. Chronicles 2 has taken a step back from Chronicles X's hard-SF open world to create a true sequel to Chronicles. More grassy plains, more towns, more quests, and more breathtaking vistas. Best of all, the 40 minutes of gameplay footage streamed by Nintendo painted a portrait of a largely complete (and localized) game. Chronicles 2 is currently on track for a simultaneous worldwide release in Q4 2017, and it might just very well keep to schedule. Happy Holidays to us.
Most Touching: The Cat in the Hijab
Adjacent to the hustle and bustle of the extravagant Warner Bros. display sat the IndieCade booth, a charming little gallery of smaller projects by an array of creators. It was here that I played Andrew Wang's The Cat in the Hijab, a short narrative simulation of riding the subway as a minority. The titular cat can and will find herself on the receiving end of difficult questions and outright abuse; how she responds is up to you. The entire experience was both uplifting and heartbreaking for me, and one I can't recommend enough.
Nicest Surprise: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
I didn't know what to expect from Sakuna, the latest game from Japanese indie circle Edelweiss (Astebreed), so I was pleased to find a competent Vanillaware-esque side-scroller rendered in a lovely sumi-e style. The titular Sakuna runs, jumps and uses her scarf as a grappling hook to defeat yokai and gather ingredients. Between battles, the final game promises a town full of quests as well as a farm to maintain. Sakuna is one to watch for in 2018.
Conspicuously Absent: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
It appeared that the elusive 13 Sentinels would enjoy a big showing this E3, seeing as its art featured prominently on this year's show badges. So it's all the more surprising that such a heavily advertised title would have nothing to show but a two-year-old teaser trailer that features no discernible gameplay. Those curious about what exactly 13 Sentinels is will have to hold on a little longer.
Hot Blooded Bancho Award: River City: Rival Showdown
I love me some Kunio-kun, but a Kunio game in the mold of Majora's Mask with a day/night cycle and over 50 sidequests to complete? Whoa whoa whoa, that's a whole other level of bancho right there. I legit can't wait to punch out some goons in this one.
Worst Costumes: Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Shorts with thigh windows. Belts as skirts. Zippers on everything. C'mon.
Best Surprise: Metroid: Samus Returns
Dear God, what an amazing year for Metroid. Between the (brief) announcement for Prime 4 and how outstanding MercurySteam's Metroid II update looks, there's a lot to be excited for when it comes to Nintendo's often forgotten franchise. Can't wait to see what comes next!
Best Overall Game: Super Mario Odyssey
I've never been a giant fan of the 3D Mario games, but Odyssey looks absolutely fantastic. I'm looking for any excuse to play my Switch, and this could be a serious contender for my overall favorite game of 2017. It's going to be a long wait till October.
Best Game I Played: Mega Man 9
So, yeah, it was a giant pain to play anything on the show floor this year (more on that in a sec), and thus I was pretty much limited to only playing Mega Man 9 (included in the upcoming Mega Man Legacy Collection 2) and a handful of other older titles.
Biggest Problem: E3 Crowds and Size
Look, I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but the ESA needs to take a long hard look at how it handles the show by merging press and public attendees. Lines were out of control, it was nearly impossible to walk around the first day (though it was significantly better on day three and I could actually walk up to a kiosk before being turned away), and just seeing a game outside of a scheduled appointment was nearly impossible. I also think it sucked for the general public, as I can't imagine people wanted to shell out a ton of money to stand in a line all day. There should be a public day designed with the fans in mind, but let's also make sure that the industry can get its work done.
Ultimate Heartbreak: No From Software Game
I figured it was a long shot going in, but it still bummed me out to not see anything from From Software at E3. Guess I'll have to wait for PSX...
Best Game I Knew I Was Gonna Like: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
I mean, I'm a Falcom nut. What did you expect? I'd already played the Japanese PS4 demo of Ys VIII to death prior to E3, but it was still nice to get my hands on the English version. Only a few months remain until I can hear A Footprint in the Wet Sand blaring from my TV speakers.
Best Game Tucked Away in a Trailer Across the Street from LACC: YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG
You know, I'm actually not sure if YIIK was at the IndieCade booth inside LACC proper, but I wrote this award title and I'm not willing to change it at this point. YIIK exuded a bizarre energy unlike most anything else at E3. As a fan of both Haruki Murakami and Earthbound, it seems tailor-made to my tastes.
Best Game I Wish I Could've Played: Super Mario Odyssey
The lines at the Nintendo booth were absolutely outrageous. Actually, the lines throughout the entire convention were outrageous. I've gotta agree with Robert Steinman here — it's wonderful that more people get to experience the excitement of E3, but we sorely need at least one separate day for press to go in and see the games before the public. Outside of my appointments, I barely got to play anything on the show floor because I rarely had more than an hour free at any given time. It's a shame I didn't get my hands on Super Mario Odyssey, because it looks fab-u-lous.
Biggest Surprise: TIE: Shadow of the Colossus Remake / Metroid Revival
If we want to get literal, the biggest surprise of Sony's conference were the friggin' explosions during the annual Call of Duty Whatever trailer. My ears were ringing for an hour. But the real shocker was the reveal of a Shadow of the Colossus remake. SotC is one of my all-time faves, so much so that I have the weak point sigil permanently emblazoned on my flesh. The following morning, the news that Nintendo hadn't completely given up on Metroid Prime was exciting enough, but then we got a second Metroid announcement, this time for a 3DS remake of Metroid II. That's what I'm talkin' about.
Biggest Letdown: No Seiken Densetsu Collection Localization
Perhaps it was foolish, but I really, really had my fingers crossed that we'd see the Seiken Densetsu (Mana series) Collection at E3. I suppose I can always import or download the Japanese version, but it would've been so cool to finally play an official English translation of Seiken Densetsu 3. It's not too late for Square Enix or Nintendo to make good on this one...
Best Overall Game: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
I've spoken at length about what Ni no Kuni II did right elsewhere, but suffice it to say that we're looking at a true evolution of the Ni no Kuni framework on every level. Revenant Kingdom has the potential to be one of the most beautiful and engrossing games ever.
Best of Show: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
The original Ni no Kuni held a fair amount of promise when it was first unveiled. A traditional JRPG with visuals and animation envisioned by Studio Ghibli? Sign me up! Unfortunately, the original game, while gorgeous to look at, wasn't excessively fun to play, particularly when it came to the cumbersome combat system. At this point, it looks like Level-5 is set to make a sequel that lives up to the lofty expectations we all had for the original, with a robust and more action-oriented combat system and a new kingdom-building mode that brings to mind fond memories of Dark Cloud. We'll see for ourselves this November.
Runner-Up: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions
Biggest Surprise: Xenoblade 2 Might Actually Make 2017
Don't get me wrong, I would have been pleased as punch if Xenoblade 2 had come out this year, but I and other members of RPGFan's staff were fairly skeptical that the highly anticipated Switch RPG would be released in the same year as it was announced. Color me surprised when Nintendo opened their E3 2017 Direct with a new trailer featuring English voice acting, confirmed the 2017 release window again, and showcased a full forty minutes of gameplay. How far we've come from the days where we've literally needed to beg for these games.
Runner-Up: Metroid comeback
Biggest Letdown: No Info on Final Fantasy VII Remake (or Kingdom Hearts III)
I see you there, laughing to yourself. "Ha! This guy thought there would be FFVII news at E3? That game's not going to be out within the decade." And yeah, perhaps I was being a little optimistic, Mr. Internet Man, but come on. I've waited a million years for these titles, same as you. At least we got a new Kingdom Hearts III trailer before the show with the promise of more at the upcoming Disney D23 Expo.
A close second would be the size of the crowds at this year's show. I've got absolutely nothing against more people getting to experience the wonder that is a first E3, but if you're going to organize an event with 68,000 people (over the 50,000 that attended last year), then you really need to accommodate your venue with better space. Hopefully next year, we get an extended public day or something to make the event more inclusive without making it harder for the gaming press to do their jobs.
Favorite Game I Played: Ys VIII: The Lacrimosa of Dana
I was hotly anticipating playing Ys VIII at E3 this year, and the open demo at NISA's booth met or exceeded my expectations. Adol shipwrecks (again) on a mysterious island and embarks on a quest to discover the island's secrets and rescue other castaways. The action was fast and crisp, the environments were large and beautiful, and the bosses were huge. The demo was pretty long (I played for almost 30 minutes), and I'll happily play through it again once it hits PSN.
Runners-Up: Tokyo Xanadu, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Favorite Game I Couldn't Play: Monster Hunter World
As a lapsed Monster Hunter fan, I didn't expect to feel excited watching a Monster Hunter demo, but I'm all-in on Monster Hunter World. The first Monster Hunter for PS4 fixes or removes several of the more annoying pieces of Monster Hunter traditionalism, including load times between map zones and canned animations for gathering and consuming items. Add in Monster Hunter World's living ecology, drop-in multiplayer options, and STUNNING graphics and visual design, and you have the game that may drag me back into the series.
Runners-Up: Xenoblade Chronicles 2, God of War
Biggest Surprise: Metroid: Samus Returns and Metroid Prime 4
There hasn't been a traditional Metroid title since 2010's Other M (Federation Force doesn't count as "traditional"), and there hasn't been a new Metroid Prime since 2007 (again, disregarding Federation Force). The E3 announcement of TWO Metroid games, one a traditional 2D action Metroidvania and the other a shooter in the Metroid Prime subseries, was truly unexpected. Metroid fans are rightly rejoicing at this news; Samus Returns looks terrific.
Runners-Up: Monster Hunter World, Shadow of the Colossus remake
Biggest Letdown: No Dragon Quest XI news
One of my personal hopes for this year's E3 was news about Dragon Quest XI's release in North America and Europe. Sadly, Square Enix was completely silent on all things Dragon Quest. While I feel confident that Dragon Quest XI will leave Japan's shores eventually, I was disappointed to learn nothing new about one of my most anticipated upcoming RPGs.
Runners-Up: Big crowds and long lines, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Best Food Truck at E3: Rice Balls of Fire
Japanese rice balls, Korean barbecue, Hawaiian poke bowls, and boba slushies. I'm SHOCKED that this truck has low Yelp reviews. Everything I tried was delicious, and I wish I ate there all three days.
Runners-Up: Chancho's Tacos, Belly Bombz Wings
Best "Conference": Nintendo
Leading up to E3 itself are various "press conferences" — though calling them "shows" is more apt these days — and Nintendo used their traditional Direct format. Those of us at E3 discussed the merits and flaws of the others (see Bethesda, below), but Nintendo opened with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and I was instantly on board. They re-confirmed a holiday launch, and with English text and voice acting already in place, I think they may hit it! Nintendo followed the Direct with Treehouse Live, streaming other live demos from the show floor, so we got lengthy looks at gameplay from Xenoblade, Fire Emblem Warriors, and you know, maybe one or two other interesting things...
Most Confusing Non-Appearance: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
All of us at RPGFan were scratching our heads over this one. We're fans of both Atlus and Vanillaware, and have been awaiting more information on 13 Sentinels for a long time. When we saw the game's art featured on the show badges this year, it was exciting! Then we found out all there was to see was an old trailer and a cardboard mech to take photos with. Yes, there was a giveaway with some neat posters, but the game had such a non-presence, it was weird they'd be promoting it on the badge, instead of one of their other games.
Worst "Conference": Bethesda
Bethesda had some great-looking games to show. We were pleasantly surprised that two of them are even launching in October! But they spent so much time on their "Bethesdaland" theme of the presentation, and most of the trailers were confusing, muddy affairs: 2-4 minutes of us asking "What is happening?" before finally seeing gameplay. Most of us were sold on the gameplay, and wish they had opened with that. I know not every trailer can hit early Kojima days of sheer amazing, but still...
Best Booth Decor: Nintendo, Capcom, Warner Bros
Nintendo had a few games besides Mario Odyssey to show off, but their entire booth was themed after Mario's New Donk City, and it was awesome to behold. Realistic building facades, clever street names that were homages to Nintendo characters, and "?" block street signs were the start. The life-sized Mario-hat-wearing tank, Bullet Bill, and Chomp were too adorable for words.
Capcom never misses a chance to let people get a photo op in their booth, and they were pushing Marvel vs Capcom Infinite hard, with a life-sized, LED-lit chrome Sigma-Ultron on a giant throne. With fighting game competitions and Monster Hunter presentations, people flocked to their booth.
I may not feel much either way on the new Middle-earth game, but WB went all out with the Mordor theme for it, complete with dramatic lighting and a dragon that everyone wanted a photo with.
Favorite Game I Got to Play: Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood
Was there any doubt? However, there's another factor here...
Only Game I Got to Play: Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood
After 3-4 hours waiting to play a battle in the now-released Stormblood (my group failed, denying us all t-shirts), I decided I couldn't spend that kind of time waiting in line again, so I didn't even attempt to play anything for the rest of the show. Which leads us to...
Biggest Problem of E3 2017: Too many people, too little space
Sadly, I know there's a lot of "us vs. them" out there regarding this year's E3. I'm not upset that the ESA allowed the public in — in fact, selling tickets probably makes it a lot easier to put on this show, since they don't make any money from us media people. I'm hoping this means that in 2018, they can use more of the space in the convention center, because packing an additional 15,000 people into a space that usually hosts about 50,000 is... not good. It created a space that was hard to move through, hard to play things, hard to converse. It's not the fault of the media or public, it's just a simple fact that attendees grew and exhibitors weren't ready for it.
How to fix it? It's hard to say. One would think that with the copious amount of extra revenue from public ticket sales, they could discount the cost of floor space for exhibitors, and grant them additional booth space to allow more foot traffic. The convention center itself is not at all being used to capacity: There's a ton of unused space at the back of each of the two main halls, and there's a third hall that E3 hasn't even used in a long time. That hall — Kentia Hall — was the haven of accessory makers and mostly "gaming-adjacent" things, plus occasionally a publisher booth like NCSoft. So let's bring that hall back, and suddenly the floor space issue is no longer an issue.
I don't think the mixed message "trade show but also a PAX-like game show" is going away, so the ESA needs to find a way to improve next year, for exhibitors, media, and the public.