E3 2002 was a real reminder of just how... not very exciting... E3 2001 was. Sure it was a neat show, and was the first E3 for 3 new consoles (GameCube, Xbox, GBA), but things were just getting started. Now, with all 3 next-gen consoles firmly in place (and lots cheaper now, to boot), E3 was full of killer games, and...well, more good games. It's hard to know where to start. Well, maybe not for me.
My impressions last year noted Nintendo's great lineup. I must say though, there was some neat stuff last year, but it was completely overshadowed by their lineup this year. Two Zelda games. Two Metroid games. The next-gen Mario people have been waiting for. Star Fox Adventures. Plus third-party stuff like Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II (with NiGHTS!). Since we're about RPGs, I'll start with those.
The Legend of Zelda (yep, it's still untitled) on GameCube was far better than I had expected. I'm not going to bother getting into the whole 'but it's cel-shaded!' debate here, except to say the visuals are amazing. If you haven't seen it for yourself, don't knock it. Sure, it's cartoony, but really, all the Zelda games (with the exception of the N64 ones) were like that. Take a look at the artwork for them, or for the Game Boy ones, then see if you think the GCN one is such a departure. Anyway, gameplay is much like the N64 games, so it was easy to get into. It's fun as hell, and looks like there's some innovation, as usual, in store as well, especially with the ability to take weapons from defeated enemies.
On that note, the much-awaited and hoped-for GBA port of A Link to the Past was there, and with a multiplayer mode no less. I doubt anyone saw a multiplayer Zelda coming. Oddly, the game's title screen (before selecting your game mode) reads 'The Legend of Zelda GBA'. Guess no final name has been decided on. Using the link cable, 4 people were able to play through the game and through cooperation and a bit of backstabbing, made it through the dungeon. It's unfortunate that only one area was playable at the show, but it shows enormous potential, and was a lot of fun. Oh yeah, plus there's still A Link to the Past for all your single-player fun. I hope this one makes its December release date.
PSO was, well, PSO, with lots of new stuff, and gorgeous new areas. It plays like before, it's just, you know, better now. I'm buying it.
As much as I love Zelda, Mario, PSO, and lots of others, the top of the heap in my book has always been Metroid. That said, when I heard Metroid Prime was to be a 'first person shooter', I was filled with rage. And yet, now as it's been revealed to not be a FPS, but rather an adventure game (as Metroid is supposed to be) played from a first person viewpoint, my stance has altered drastically since those early days. If you ever thought this game would ruin the Metroid name, repent. Now. I waited in line for upwards of 30 minutes just to get 10 minutes (I died :P) of gameplay in. I must say, MP is far beyond what I was hoping for; Tight control, stunning graphics (wait until you see Samus' in-game model, and you'll understand why. And none of it is rendered.), and most importantly, good gameplay, are what make up the game. Metroid Prime was easily my favorite game of the show, and will no doubt be my favorite Game of the Year™ come the end of the year. Plus there's Metroid Fusion on GBA. That's probably going to be #2. Yes, I'm done raving now.
Capcom didn't have much RPG-wise. Megaman Battle Network 2 was there (and is available any time now), which looked good, but still like the first game: Which is a good thing, but nothing groundbreaking. Megaman Zero was on hand, finally giving uber-badass Zero his own game. And it was HARD. I'll need more practice when it's released. Breath of Fire on PS2, which I still think will be titled Breath of Fire V, but who knows, looks interesting. It wasn't there except on Capcom's giant monitor thing, so it's obviously pretty early. Devil May Cry 2 looks pretty good as well. But then, after the first game, I was already sold on a sequel. Oh yes, and in a move surprising not many people, Megaman X7 was on video. On the other hand, a surprise to everyone was the fact that the game is 3D. Is Capcom trying something different for once? My God, it seems so. Hide your children!
Konami had a weird new version of Metal Gear Solid 2, Suikoden III, and yay, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. It was weird playing a GBA game with an N64 controller, but that was their setup, so I had to deal. The game played nicely, better than Circle of the Moon even. With the goal of being more of a successor to the incredible Symphony of the Night on PSX than CotM was, it looks as if the game will make good on this. I spent more hours on Circle of of the Moon than most people should, due to the 5 different play modes, and I loved it all. Here's hoping HoD will last awhile too. Oh right, Konami also had Contra: Shattered Soldier on PS2. You can stop praying now, as the game is 2D, and much UNlike the PSOne Contra games, which I shall not speak of again. Backgrounds and characters are rendered with polygons, but gameplay is pure old school Contra goodness. Praise be to Yevon.
Namco apparently had issues showing off Xenosaga on more than one TV. On video. Low quality video. So yeah, that won't be released here for awhile.
Sony had Dark Cloud 2, which was a big surprise, and Wild Arms 3. While DC2 supposedly plays like the first one, random dungeons and all (boo), it sure looked good. Wild Arms 3 though, looked great. Great. I didn't play WA2, and didn't get into the first as much as I'd have liked, but I think I'll finally give the series a shot when it hits here this fall. Or whenever. Sony also had... um... lots of other stuff that failed to impress me. Moving on.
Sega had a good showing, with PSO (mentioned above), Panzer Dragoon Orta (finally), Shinobi, and the long, long long-awaited Toejam & Earl III. Sadly, Toejam & Earl III, at least what I played of it, fails to capture any of the charm that made me fall in love with the first game back on the Genesis. I've been looking forward to this game for years, but no more. I already had concern when I heard it was to be Xbox-only, as I have no intention of buying a 'Box. The screens looked nice though, so I hoped for the best, and actually did consider getting an Xbox to play the game. Well, so much for that. It's nice to see the duo, er, trio now, back, but in its current state, I'll pass. Panzer Dragoon Orta rocked big time, which is also (at least for now) Xbox-only. One thing I'll give the Xbox is that it is powerful. Visually, PDO was great-looking. Fun too. Shinobi surprised me. I'd never played any of the series before, but I was aware of its popularity. I can't compare the new PS2 Shinobi to the old games, but I can say that this new one looks to be a hot property. Fluid control and animation, and (as usual) best of all, fun gameplay, this one is a game to look out for.
This is getting rather long... Next up is Bandai, and Digimon World 3. Or not. What Bandai DID have was the impressively innovative .hack. A virtual MMORPG, it's like playing PSO or something, but not online. They seem to really be pushing this title, and they have reason to. Very, very nice. Bandai's '.hack girl' wasn't too shabby either for that matter.
Enix had Grandia Xtreme, which looks somewhat interesting. It seems to play like Grandia II a lot, though I'm not sure if the whole dungeon crawling thing is up my alley. On the other hand, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, is. Hopefully it'll get a release date sometime, somewhere.
Kingdom Hearts, Square's only real game besides (cough) Final Fantasy XI, looks to be fun. I was once really excited about this game, but in light of everything else, this excitement has diminished a bit. Of course, I still plan to buy it, as it looks good, and fun to play. Final Fantasy XI doesn't look too shabby, but I'm not sure if it's something I'm really interested in playing. I prefer the more hands-on online games like Phantasy Star Online.
Working Designs had Goemon, which was amazingly bizarre seeing, as the little mystical ninja guy is a Konami property. The game looks cool, though I question if it can surpass the wildly wacky Nintendo 64 Goemon game. Growlanser II & III look nice (despite claims that they weren't doing Growlanser II...odd huh?), though it seems kind of weird releasing parts 2 and 3 in the US, which never got part 1.
Tecmo was decorated in a beach motif, to promote the 'oh my God they're sellouts' Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball. Say what you will about the concept, but the game was pretty nice looking. The game, not the women. Not that they looked BAD...
Sadly, the thing I was interested in seeing at Tecmo was not really there: Ninja Gaiden. I mean, sure, I saw the tail end of the trailer on their large screen... but every single time I went by the booth, including one time I stood there waiting, all that was playing was a looping Rygar video. I don't care about Rygar. I want Ninja Gaiden. Upon asking some Tecmo employees, I thought I could find the answer I seeked. Sadly, none of them knew when the thing played. Nothing on the press CD. Of course, it sounds like it's an Xbox-only game anyway, so screw it.
Next, let's not forget: APPLE. Being in a small room upstairs, they were hardly in a prominent location, but then, Apple's never about flash, but subtlety. A row of G4s with a lot of new games running on them was nice. Black leather couches and the glass table was nice. Free sandwiches, sodas, fruit juice, water and coffee? Godlike. Filling the windows of their room with Apple logos visible in the main hall, looking up from Sega's booth was a nice touch. And as if they weren't already my favorite computer company, the fact that they saved me from $7 sandwiches and $3 warm sodas makes them... yup, godlike. They also had ever-so-holy orange soda. Yes, for free. The funny thing is, their free 'make your own' sandwiches on the first day were far better than the $7 "it tastes like a rock" ones at the Convention Center food places too. Something seems odd about that... or godlike! Man, I'm such a fanboy.
You'd never guess seeing the Metroid Prime shirt hanging in my closet that there was such a bizarre story behind it, but there is. Nintendo was hosting a Wheel of Fortune-type game at their booth, with a line perpetually a quarter mile long. A lot of us had wanted to get in and give the game a go, but wanted to wait till the line was a bit shorter. Sadly, by the time WAS a little bit shorter, it was because it was CLOSED. Seems they were running low on prizes. Being the last day, I figured all hope of playing the game and winning a Metroid or Zelda shirt was gone. Then I remembered that while the shirts were a nice collectible item, there's one thing some people are sure to like more: cold, hard cash. Waiting around at the exit of the game with two of my friends, we approached anyone who won a Metroid shirt hoping to exchange $20 for it. We did find one guy with one, who was willing to trade... but only for a Star Fox shirt. The game then switched focus to bribing someone with a SF shirt to give to the other guy, to get a Metroid shirt. That never did happen, but we DID find someone willing to part with the Metroid one for $20. Let that be a lesson: when all else fails, try cash. It's amazing how well it works. Oh, plus I was able to get a Zelda shirt (for free, as he was unwilling to take my $20 offer) from a friend of my friend. Gee, and I could have used that $20 to buy myself a hamburger at the Convention Center. Oh, the pain.
I must say though, as much as I loved all the games and the show itself, the best part was meeting up with all of the RPGFan staffers, some of which I've never met before. You're not likely to ever meet a cooler, or more interesting, bunch than these guys and girls. We saw Star Wars, ate chocolate porcupine muffins at Starbucks, went to press conferences, ate lots of Asian food (those of us who weren't afraid to at least), took a tour of Little Tokyo, and more. Nicole is sure to have this stuff in more detail, except for the chocolate porcupine thing.
In conclusion, I can safely say of my three years going to E3, this was the best year by far. I can't even fathom what will be at next year's show, as all the cool stuff I saw this year will be out by then. I guess we'll wait and see.
Now for the lists:
Best RPGs of the Show:
- Zelda (GCN)
- Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II (GCN)
- Zelda GBA (um... GBA)
- Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA)
- .hack (PS2)
Honorary Mention: Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance (honorary due to it not being playable)
- METROID PRIME (GCN)
- Metroid Fusion (GBA)
- Shinobi (PS2)
- Megaman Zero (GBA)
- Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox)
Best General E3 Goodness:
- Meeting staff I hadn't met, meeting the others again, and general hanging out/playing games/etc. with said people.
- Apple's generous selection of free food, saving us from Convention Center prices.
- Finding people willing to part with their Nintendo shirts.
- All the other cool Nintendo swag, besides the shirts.
- Grotesquely and insanely large artwork on Nintendo's press CD (you'd think I was into graphic design and such).
- Meeting part of the PlanetGameCube staff.
Worst of E3:
- Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball. I'm sorry, but this is just going a bit far.
- Being stuck with Convention Center food on the last day. A sandwich as hard as a rock, and warm Hi-C that tasted like lightly flavored water.
- The service at the CC Starbucks.
- Not getting a chance to finish the Metroid Prime demo.
- My feet at the end of an entire day walking and standing. Not pretty.