After 3-and-a-half years of working at RPGFan (and a half year of being bad and slacking off from the site), I finally was able to fit attending E3, RPGFan's annual social gathering, into my annoyingly busy schedule. In past years, I had heard many things about the expo from all of the editors who were fortunate enough to go to this game-filled gymnasium, but nothing that they told me truly prepared me for the massive multimedia madhouse that it is.
First of all, E3 is incredibly *loud*. From the excited clamor of the thousands of showgoers to the maxed-out volume of all the playable game demos to the blaring music that accompanies the multiple presentations that the majority of the larger game developers and publishers hold for their new and upcoming products, the aural portion of E3 is somewhat reminiscent of going to see a rock band play live, except that it lasts all day for 3 days, not just for a few hours like most concerts do. Adding to the audio sensory overload are the seizure-inducing flashing lights emanating from the thousands of regular and oversized video screens present. So the actual experience as whole is much akin to being in a club where nobody (OK, maybe a few people) is dancing. Despite the fact that the show is overwhelming, it is indescribably enjoyable, and it's no wonder that there were very few stimuli that elicited a response from me for the first week after the show.
Since RPGFan's coverage focuses primarily on RPGs, the first thing I looked for at the show was an abundance of quality RPGs. Sadly, the RPG contingent at the show left me quite wanting, as there were too few titles, and many of those present were unimpressive. Square's Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XI were both playable, and neither left me drooling. Cloying premise aside, Kingdom Hearts failed to impress visually, looking more like a high-level PlayStation game rather than something on Sony's current platform, though it did control very well during the game's action-based fighting scenes. Ditto Final Fantasy XI; although the newest installment of Square's flagship series showed much more promise than Kingdom Hearts did, the demo playable at the show wasn't anywhere near as visually impressive as FFX.
Another disappointing title was Enix's Grandia Xtreme, also on the PlayStation 2 and also playable in English at E3. As a huge fan of the first 2 Grandia games, I was expecting and hoping to like this one, even though I already knew it was a dungeon crawler, which I usually can't stand. Sad to say, I was disappointed. The battle system was exceptional, like in past Grandia games, but the dungeon crawling was a snore, and the awkward camera angle didn't help.
Other letdowns included Enix's Star Ocean 3 and Namco's Xenosaga, both also for the PlayStation 2. Both titles remain perhaps the most promising of their genre, but both were only present at E3 as low-quality non-interactive video presentations.
A trend that is likely jumping out at those of you reading is that all of the RPGs that I've mentioned are for the PlayStation 2. Which brings me to my next RPG gripe: the lack of games in the genre for other platforms. The new Zelda game for GameCube and the Phantasy Star Online ports for Xbox and GameCube did look good, but they were about it for noteworthy RPGs on non-Sony consoles.
There were some bright spots on the RPG front, however. Bandai's PlayStation 2 RPG .hack was perhaps the most intriguing title of its genre at the show. Although I kept getting destroyed in battles due to a lack of gameplay directional knowledge, what I was able to play of the game was impressive, with smooth execution, pretty graphics, and a unique and exciting premise, set in an MMORPG, for its storyline.
Konami's Suikoden III was similarly commendable. Although the visuals weren't anywhere near as nice as I'd expect for a PlayStation 2 title coming out now, the playable demo did successfully capture the feel of the earlier games in the series, and playing through the storyline from 3 different viewpoints (a la Shining Force III) sounds riveting. The one element in question is the battle execution speed. The speedy battles of Suikoden I and II were among the games' finest points, and Suikoden III's combat looks to run much slower than that of its prequels.
Another highly promising piece of news was the fact that PlayStation 2 RPGs Growlanser II and III were both announced for US release by Working Designs. Although Growlanser I, the best in the series according to most who have played, was not announced, and the playable demo of Growlanser II spent more time frozen up than playable at the show, my hat's off to WD for bringing this excellent but overlooked series to these shores.
Interestingly, even though I was at E3 to cover RPGs, I found my attention pulled towards games of other genres. Nintendo's Metroid Prime for the GameCube is a first-person shooter; not exactly my genre of choice, but it runs super-smooth and looks to incorporate a little more depth than a typical game of its type. Sega's Shinobi, for the PlayStation 2, brings the publisher's classic action series into the present and future in grand style, playing fast, smooth, and in 3D. Sega's sports lineup for 2003 also was impressive, even though Eric Farand beat the pants off of me in everything that we played.
Somewhat surprising was the promise that the Xbox showed with its upcoming software. In my opinion, the most impressive game at the show was Sega's Panzer Dragoon Orta, a shooter in the vein of the first 2 Panzer Dragoon games. Blending beautiful visuals with all-out shooting intensity, PDO is the game that made me say, "I'm getting an Xbox." Also, at the Tecmo booth, the new upcoming installment of Ninja Gaiden was present only in CG-movie format, but it looks great and invites anticipation.
And last, but certainly not least, the numerous promotional spokesmodels hired by the various companies were extremely pleasant, passing out lots of free stuff, helping teach showgoers how to play the new games, and posing graciously for countless pictures.
E3 turned out to be an incredibly fun experience, and it's one that I'll never forget. I truly hope that I'll someday be able to return to this wonderfully manic party.
Favorite RPGs (playable only):
- .hack (PS2)
- Growlanser II (PS2)
- Suikoden III (PS2)
- Final Fantasy XI (PS2)
Favorite Others (playable only):
- Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox)
- Shinobi (PS2)
- Metroid Prime (GameCube)
- Sega Tennis 2K3 (PS2)
Best of Show:
- Stacy at the Sammy booth. View RPGFan's E3 2002 picture gallery for details.
- Chickeeeeeeeeeen………… The chicken at Pollo Campero. I swear to God that they used coke as the flour for the batter there.
- Backseat threesome on the way back from Santa Monica in Eric Malenfant's Mitsubishi Lancer.
- Panzer Dragoon Orta
- Finally getting to meet the many RPGFan staffers that I hadn't met before.
Worst of Show:
- The line to get the chicken at Pollo Campero. Never in my life have I had to wait over an hour to order fast food. Chickeeeeeeeen........
- The line to meet the WWE's Stacy Keibler. A half hour before she was even in the building, the line was out the door, around one corner of the building, and around a second corner of the building.
- The prices for the school cafeteria-quality food on show grounds. $10 for a puny hot dog, a small bag of chips and a coke…..
- The relative lack of RPGs.
- Having to leave this wonderful, wonderful party.