E3 2018: Hands-On With Five Upcoming NISA RPGsFrom lost children to labyrinths, and more.06.27.18 - 12:46 PM
This year's E3 may not have featured a huge number of RPGs on the show floor, but as has been the case in many years past, NISA's private meeting room hid away a treasure trove of upcoming JRPGs that should appeal to a wide variety of tastes. We sat down with five such titles included in the prolific publisher's busy release schedule for the remainder of 2018 to suss out which titles might set our hearts ablaze and which might leave us feeling lukewarm.
Just recently released, The Lost Child is the least likely title in NISA's lineup to undergo any sort of dramatic transformation before hitting store shelves. It's already out of the oven, waiting to be served up to hungry fans of biblically charged dungeon-crawling action. (That is an established audience, right?)
The Lost Child's themes, presentation, and gameplay are immediately evocative of the Shin Megami Tensei series, particularly more recent entries like SMTIV and Strange Journey. Its inspiration is such that the game's core mechanics of first-person dungeon exploration and demon taming should feel immediately familiar to fans of Atlus's popular franchise, though The Lost Child also contains a Lovecraftian twist. As occult journalist Hayato Ibuki, players utilize a magical gun called the Gangour to capture and purify demons and angels (called Astrals), with the aim of using their powers to investigate a bloody war between heaven and hell.
My brief time with The Lost Child revealed little beyond what I already knew about the game, but I did learn a bit more about its gameplay systems. Although Hayato can summon captured Astrals to fight alongside him in battle, he has a limited number of charges in his magical gun that are only refilled upon leaving a dungeon and returning to a safe area. Hayato can also "load" Astrals into his gun and use their abilities to execute special attacks. Although I grasped the basics of the game's systems quickly, I am intrigued to see how they grow in complexity over the course of the game. Above all, I was most fascinated by the game's eerie and terrifying monster designs, many of which can be viewed at the game's official website. Less exciting are the game's uninspired character and dungeon designs, as well as the low-budget feel that permeates the entire experience. However reductive it may be to say, The Lost Child does come across as a "poor man's Shin Megami Tensei," so I would need to investigate further before making a definitive judgment on the game.
The title I was most excited to see in this year's NISA lineup, Metal Max Xeno stands as a celebration of the series' 25th anniversary. It also marks the series' return to English-speaking territories after more than thirteen years; in fact, the only other game under the Metal Max umbrella to make its way west was Metal Saga, which released in the distant era of the PlayStation 2. (I had just graduated high school then! Oh, how time flies.)
As something of a reboot, Metal Max Xeno requires no previous experience with the series to appreciate. This PS4-exclusive title follows the mercenary Talis on a quest through a post-apocalyptic world to recover his lost memories. Humanity has already faced near-complete annihilation and is on the precipice of true eradication at the hands of killer machines that roam the earth, hunting down any remaining survivors. It's a fascinating premise, one I hope to see fleshed out further in the final game.
I encountered two main gimmicks pertaining to the game's turn-based battle system. First, Talis has a mechanical limb called the "Left Hand of Revenge," which he can use to execute powerful attacks in the heat of battle. Careless use of this trump card can leave him paralyzed, introducing an interesting risk/reward mechanic to battles. Second, the series' signature vehicle-based combat returns, meaning that Talis and his comrades can utilize personalized tanks to obliterate their foes. Tanks are highly customizable, with over 500 available parts and cosmetic upgrades. You can even name them! The wasteland suddenly isn't so intimidating when you're behind the wheel of Tanky McTankface, eh?
My main concerns with Metal Max Xeno are the quality of its script and apparent simplicity of its systems. The text I saw, while part of an early English build that is unlikely to resemble the final product, felt flat, and none of the game's stereotypical characters made a good first impression on me. I also worry that its turn-based battles might be overly simple, but again, I saw an early slice of the game that featured only a single character and an uncustomized tank to pilot. Here's hoping that Metal Max Xeno opens up into the exciting, strategic adventure I'm hoping for when it releases later this year.
It's tough to say anything about the first Disgaea that hasn't already been said at this point. At the time of its release, it was a huge departure from anything the industry had seen within the realm of grid-based tactical RPGs, featuring wacky characters, inflated statistics, and an extreme degree of character customization. Over the years, the series doubled down on its penchant for anime-styled absurdity, while adding increasingly complex systems. It lost me for quite a few years until the robust Disgaea 5 Complete released on Switch last year. Disgaea 1 Complete, on the other hand, stands diametrically opposed to the latest iteration of the series; the game returns instead to the relative simplicity of Disgaea 1 with a fresh sheen of modern HD polish. Disgaea 1 Complete is targeted at fans who still hold fond memories of the series' roots and want to re-experience where it all began. While it lacks many of the systems introduced from Disgaea 2 onward, Disgaea 1 Complete includes every piece of DLC ever released for the game across its many iterations, plus brand new playable characters added specially for this release. The only question any prospective buyer should be asking themselves is, "Did I like Disgaea 1 and do I want to play it again?"
Labyrinth of Refrain is Nippon Ichi's answer to the first-person dungeon crawler. It features the same art style and sense of humor as Disgaea, Witch and the Hundred Knight, and several other titles in the company's catalogue. That alone should say plenty about which audience it should appeal to. We already got a fairly comprehensive look at the game back at NISA's February 2018 press event, so I won't repeat the same points here. My own time with the game reaffirmed my disinterest in its sense of humor, but I remain intrigued by the possibilities afforded by its party system — controlling entire "covens" of characters instead of individual units could engender highly strategic and nuanced play at higher levels. We'll find out for sure when Labyrinth of Refrain releases this Fall.
Touhou seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it property, but nobody can argue that there are plenty of genres represented within the games that carry its namesake. For my part, my unexpected delight with Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity is unlikely to be replicated with Touhou Genso Wanderer Reloaded, a roguelike dungeon crawler that leans heavily into the series' moe aesthetic. Featuring randomized dungeons and cutesy characters pulled from throughout the Touhou mythology, Genso Wanderer Reloaded is an enhanced port of a game that released in 2016 for PlayStation 4 and Vita. The key difference here is that it includes a brand-new, 50+ hour campaign and additional character stories. I find the wide-eyed “monsters” that populate its many dungeons to be unsettling, despite their creators’ intentions, but they certainly stay true to the Touhou legacy. Fans of roguelikes will find plenty to do in Genso Wanderer Reloaded when it releases for Switch on July 17.