E3 season is upon us. For many, this is a momentous occasion. An annual ritual like no other. A period of sheer glee where we can bask in child-like wonder and speculate on what Santa Claus will bring come his next visit. Few companies inspire this essence of wondrous nirvana like Square Enix, a company with a history of igniting pure, unadulterated excitement while barely saying anything of substance. Square Enix can drive a fan crazy like few other major corporations can, besides maybe Apple. So unsurprisingly, when they announced in the run-up to this year's E3 that they have a press conference for the first time since 2015, auspiciously touting it "the next chapter is about to begin", expectations soared.
Back in 2015, the existence of the Final Fantasy VII Remake was already made known at the Sony conference. Riding on that goodwill, Square Enix debuted new hits such as World of Final Fantasy, I am Setsuna and NieR Automata. Though also a lacklustre show on its own terms given the lack of genuine gameplay demonstrations, the event delivered a few satisfying blows with its new project announcements. Square Enix held no such similar event in 2016 or 2017; their decision to return with a press event this year led to feverish, excited speculation. Was Square Enix now prepared to unleash a large stable of new releases and announcements the likes of which would reduce any popular gaming website into an inaccessible burning building? Was the elusive Final Fantasy VII Remake finally due to make its appearance? Could there even be a Final Fantasy XVI? Is former FFXV producer, Hajime Tabata, ready to offer us a glimpse into his team's new IP?
Enter the online press event itself. Unlike the shows put on by the likes of EA, Microsoft, Bethesda and Devolver Digital, Square Enix opted for the Nintendo method this time with a pre-recorded event, probably because they anticipated that any live event would expose a presenter to a volley of bricks hurled at them. The smooth, sexy voice of Keith David turned up to narrate the event, further inflicting a painful reminder to me of Mass Effect's inglorious demise.
Kicking things off was Shadow of the Tomb Raider. If you came to this event to hear Camilla Luddington's intense exhaling and the exasperated voice of Lara's companion, Jonah, you were in luck. If you came here for the actual tombs, they were not on display, though there was plenty of gratuitous violence on display as Lara took on the DNA of both the Predator and Rambo and proceeded to skulk through the jungle, brutally dispatching by any means mercenaries standing in her way.
The reboot Tomb Raider trilogy may have started off with a vulnerable Lara whom we so frantically wanted to protect, but at this point I'm more wary about the local wildlife and mercenaries who are simply trying to put food on the table for their families. Who is going to protect them?
Next was Final Fantasy XIV...with a trailer for the MMO's latest patch, titled Under the Moonlight. After Lara's adventure involving a solar eclipse, we now have something related to the Moon! Heh, heh, heh.
There was no actual surprise, especially for players currently already busy chipping away at the grindstone on FFXIV...until the Monster Hunter World collaboration burst its way on to the screen, possibly supplanting the previous Yo-kai Watch event as FFXIV's best, most ambitious collaboration event yet! There was only a tentative window of "this summer", which sounds unambiguous enough unless you're a confused resident of the southern hemisphere (though you are likely used to this already).
Dontnod Entertainment's new project, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit appeared. The problem is, this game was already announced accompanied by a debut trailer at the Microsoft conference the day before. The impact of its appearance at the Square Enix press conference was unfortunately diluted through no fault of the game itself.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age then took over, along with very British voice acting for the game's roster of characters...except for the main protagonist himself. He does not get to speak, in typical fashion for this series of games. I have no doubt the game will be well-received (though unlikely to set the sales charts on fire), but again, its existence is of no surprise to anyone. The game is already out in Japan and it is simply a matter of waiting for its release in the West.
Finally Square Enix deigned to deliver to us something new and fresh. Fresh from turning NieR Automata into a veritable success, PlatinumGames are back for another collaboration with the publisher, this time with far fewer gothic female androids with blindfolds and katana blades. Called Babylon's Fall, this new project looks considerably dark in tone, with a gritty, worn-out fantasy feel with the art style. You can make out four silhouettes staring at a fortress before them, potentially signalling a co-op action game. So what is this exactly?
We don't know. In classic Square Enix fashion, they announced a brand new game only in terms of concept in the most vaguest sense, but no accompanying gameplay to boot. This is no surprise Final Fantasy announcement, but it stokes the imagination.
Speaking of NieR Automata, the game is coming to Xbox One as a definitive 'Become as Gods' edition. But you already knew this from the Microsoft conference, so its presence here raised no eyebrows.
Octopath Traveler! A game with a seemingly nonsensical name, until you realise it actually makes sense and genuinely communicates to you what the game is about. You have eight characters and there are eight different journeys to experience. Compare that to a name like Infinite Undiscovery (a Tri-Ace RPG published by Square Enix for the Xbox 360). What on earth is an infinite undiscovery? Is it the game's way of warning the player not to dig it up from the stony grave it was consigned to?
Again, the problem is apparent. We know this game exists and is coming out. There was no element of surprise involved. It was merely a friendly reminder to viewers to go purchase Octopath Traveler.
An extensive look at Just Cause 4 ensued. Yes, I can confirm this did indeed look like a Just Cause game, complete with the mindless explosions enough to even prompt Michael Bay to advise them to tone it down, the humorous attempts to bend physics in ways that would upset any deity out there, and...wait, what did they do to those cows? Belazor, what did you witness?
Anyway, as fun as the game looks, Just Cause 4 was already announced at Microsoft's event. Thus far it really looked like Square Enix was putting on a show of no particular purpose. The fans already enamoured with western offerings already received their fill at the Microsoft press conference. The people tuning in for Square Enix's event were almost certainly anticipating a major new showing of Final Fantasy VII Remake or a slate of groundbreaking new announcements related to Final Fantasy. A show so far dominated with games we already know of and have seen was bewildering.
Wait! Square Enix heard our protests and responded mercifully with an announcement of an unseen game.
Could it be?! The Bouncer 2?
This was The Quiet Man. No, not the film from the 1950s. No, not Iain Duncan Smith. This one is a video game. Supposedly it is an 'immersive story driven story driven cinematic action experience seamlessly blending high-production live action, realistic CG and pulse-pounding action sitting'. It can also be completed in one sitting, so it should all hinge on constant replayability. But I have to tell you this. Square Enix themselves did not during the conference.
Kingdom Hearts III!...
...with largely the same trailer from the Microsoft conference albeit with some extended scenes, including the above shot of Lea (not Axel!) and Kairi.
I'm sensing a pattern here. It's almost like Microsoft's event rendered most of this show somewhat obsolete.
Half an hour of the press conference had already passed. So far, it was largely underwhelming, composed mostly of decent shows by games that were already announced or known ahead of time, interspersed with friendly reminders to support Dragon Quest XI and Octopath Travelers by actually purchasing them. As pleasant as it was to see gameplay demonstrations of Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Just Cause 4, this was not what the fans were tuning in for. Fans were expecting bombastic surprises and announcements effortlessly able to take their breath away and reduce them into a pulsating lump, unable to speak or type coherently on account of hype and excitement proving to be too much for ordinary brains to handle.
There was another half hour to go, surely. Maybe Tifa could make her proud reveal with a Final Fantasy VII Remake appearance. Or Aerith, hopefully without a katana wedged through her abdomen! How about more Final Fantasy XV DLC? Maybe the time was ripe for Final Fantasy XVI! Or for the more sensible viewers, this was an excellent opportunity to see what Thanos Crystal Dynamics have to offer with The Avengers. Or indeed, an appearance from Left Alive, an action-survival game set in the Front Mission universe.
Imaginations were running wild. What was next? What was Square Enix preparing to show next?
In conclusion, Square Enix expertly raised expectations and dashed them like an impatient parent telling their 5 year old kid that Santa Claus does not exist, has never existed, and that all the presents under the tree were purchased using a credit card with money that doesn't exist and cannot easily be repaid later. These people are masters at the art. I should seriously consider apprenticing under their tutelage...