Seven Thoughts From PSX 2016

Observations on Last of Us Part 2, Persona 5's English localization, and everything else we saw at Sony's December showcase.

Article by Kat Bailey, .

Long lines had already formed at the Anaheim Convention Center when I arrived at PSX on Sunday. Fans wearing gaming t-shirts, Steelers jerseys, and the odd fursuit were waiting patiently to play some games, and perhaps get a glimpse of what 2017 might have to offer for PlayStation.

Now in its third year, PSX is ostensibly a community get-together and a showcase for the upcoming year—a sort of mini-E3 meets PAX. PlayStation has never commanded the fanatical dedication of, say, Nintendo, but the crowd was plenty excited to check Horizon Zero Dawn, try out the PlayStation VR, and see familiar faces like Sony President of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida on stage. More importantly, they were there to see whatever Sony had to sell them. This year may be just about over (and thank god); but in the constant churn of the videogame hype machine, it's never too early to get excited for next year.

I arrived in the wake of Sony's big keynote ready to play some games; and as I promised on Twitter, I have Thoughts. Here's what jumped out at me about this year's show.

1. For better or worse, Last of Us: Part II will be the perfect realization of a modern triple-A game

I tweeted some harsh things about Last of Us in the wake of the announcement of the sequel, which was long in coming and probably overdue.

Okay, let me be clear: I don't hate Last of Us. Actually, I have a lot of admiration for its exceptional polish, the strange inability of the Fungus Zombies to see your CPU allies notwithstanding. It just happens to be a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller, which is territory that has been covered exhaustively by... well... everything. Maybe that's being overly dismissive of its genuinely excellent craftmanship, which includes some really strong individual moments (the opening comes to mind), but it also speaks to how risk averse blockbuster development has become. And to be honest, it leaves me cold.

I know I'm in the minority, though, and Last of Us 2 will absolutely be one of the biggest games of 2018 (or whenever it is ultimately released). You could even argue that it's more important than Uncharted, the mass appeal of its post-apocalyptic setting eclipsing even Nathan Drake's jungle adventures. It will undoubtedly be beautiful; and in shifting the perspective to Ellie, the young girl who served as Joel's ward in the first game, Naughty Dog is hinting that the second game will be even darker than the first. "This is story is about hate, through Ellie this time," director Neil Druckmann said at a PSX panel.

Shifting the spotlight to an older Ellie is a good move, and Naughty Dog will have undoubtedly learned a few tricks in the four years since the release of the original. There biggest task will be nailing the emotional core, which in my opinion felt a tad hollow and forced in the first game. Do that, and they will have a game worth of the accolades that will inevitably be heaped upon it.

2. It looks like 2017 will lack a Soulsborne game

I had predicted that Bloodborne 2 would appear at PSX 2016, partly because From Software's Soulsborne series has become an annual series, and partly because Sony would no doubt love a killer exclusive to go toe-to-toe with Project Scorpio and the Nintendo Switch. But Bloodborne 2 was nowhere to be seen, suggesting that the Soulsborne games will be taking a break for the first time since 2013.

This is probably for the best. While the Soulsborne games are as popular as ever, the series is at risk of overexposure, and recent evidence suggests that creator Hidetaka Miyazaki is on the verge of burning out. With that, Bloodborne 2 probably won't be revealed until E3 2017 at the very earliest, which will give the hype time to build back up.

Of course, the Bloodborne 2 hype will be strong no matter when it comes out. The original Bloodborne is well-regarded by the fandom, and its standing has only grown since its only release. Expectations for the sequel will be high, and both From Software will be well-served by taking the time to get it right. Then again, who knows where Miyazaki and From Software will jump next. Anyone excited for more Armored Core?

3. MLB The Show 17's Retro Mode is a pleasant nod to the days of Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball

You'll often hear casual sports fans say, "I wish we could go back to the days when sports games were actually playable," before calling back to NHL 94, NBA Jam, and Tecmo Bowl. MLB The Show 17's Retro Mode is an homage to those days; and while it might not be much more than a novelty, it's a fun addition.

MLB The Show 17 will, of course, feature Ken Griffey Jr. on its cover, lending extra weight to the new Retro Mode. Griffey famously starred in the Super Nintendo's Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, which featured buffed up players and simplified but enjoyable gameplay, and is fondly remembered by videogame baseball fans. Indeed, Retro Mode appears to be explicitly designed as a nod to that game, though Sony San Diego's Ramone Russell was careful to say that it was an homage to many retro baseball games. Its text is definitely straight out of the days of the SNES.

The gameplay is simple in the extreme: everything is controlled with the X button, and pitches can be influenced once they leave the pitcher's hand (sound familiar, SNES fans?) It's a little odd to see all of this juxtaposed on the modern MLB The Show engine, but Sony San Diego may include graphical filters that make it look even more faithful to the look and feel of a classic baseball game. If they do, they'll really be on to something special.

This isn't the first time a sports sim has borrowed from its past, of course. In celebration of its 20th anniversay, NHL 14 included an NHL 94 mode complete with an authentic-looking rink, much to the delight of fans. But MLB The Show has much greater ambitions than NHL 14, which was an end-of-generation release looking to fill a release gap. In putting Ken Griffey Jr. on the cover, Sony San Diego is seemingly evoking NBA 2K11, which is remembered as one of the great sports games of all time. Russell wouldn't say whether there would be a feature akin to that game's Jordan Challenges in MLB The Show 17, but he did say that Griffey's likeness will be utilized in interesting and unexpected ways, which offers hope that he won't just be a Diamond Dynasty card.

Regardless, the well-regarded MLB The Show appears to be on the cusp of a truly special entry. The Retro Mode is just the tip of the iceberg.

4. Dreadnought is better than expected on console

I rolled my eyes a tiny bit when I saw that one of PSX's "unnanounced games" was a port of Dreadnought: the multiplayer capital ship game currently in beta on PC. Not that I have anything in particularly against Dreadnought, but I tend to be suspicious of free-to-play ports to console, and I had my doubts that the mechanics would translate to controller. Imagine my surprise when I found that it not only looks quite good on console, but actually plays better with a controller than a mouse and keyboard.

As in the PC version, Dreadnought puts you in control of a starship in a team vs. team multiplayer battle. The ships range from nimble corvettes to hulking dreadnoughts, and all have individual strengths, weaknesses, and weapons. Playing as a dreadnought, you are huge, heavily armored, and capable of firing massive swarms of missiles, but you are also a giant target, meaning that your teammates have to work hard to keep you alive. The sluggish ships can be a little frustrating to control at times, but otherwise it's a pretty good mix of skills, tactics, and teamwork.

To my surprise, that all translates quite nicely to the console, which maps the attack commands to the controller's face buttons and the shields to the touchpad. Matchmaking is fast and painless, and I had no trouble maneuvering around the battlefield and assisting my allies. It feels so good that I actually think that the PS4 will be my preferred console for Dreadnought, even if the graphics take a slight hit (but only slight).

As you all know, I'm a sucker for spaceships, which puts me very much in Dreadnought's target market. Up until this point, though, I've been hesitant to jump in because I don't really want to go through the trouble of getting it setup on my PC (yes, I'm lazy). But now that it's set for console, the barrier to entry looks to be lower than ever. Look for Dreadnought to be something of a stealth hit in 2017.

5. Ace Combat 7 highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the PlayStation VR

I finally got to play Ace Combat 7 on PlayStation VR while I was at PSX, and it was... fine. It reminded me of the good and the bad of VR in its current state: its sense of immersion can be incredible, but its often blurry visuals hurts the experience immeasurably.

Unlike EVE Valkyrie, Ace Combat 7 is set on Earth, so it can't hide behind the darkness of space. As such, when you pull on the headset and look around the aircraft carrier for the first time, you're just overwhelmed by giant pixels. I actually kind of felt like I was inside a game of Afterburner, which was neat, but not necessarily the effect that Bandai Namco was trying to achieve.

But once you're in the air, those issues mostly fall away. As with EVE Valkyrie and Elite Dangerous, you can look around the cockpit and visually track enemy planes above and around you, and it's a real game changer in how it makes everything feel so much more real. It makes me want a real VR X-wing game so badly.

Of course, this is Ace Combat, so it basically is an X-wing game masquerading as a flight sim. The flight mechanics are forgiving in the extreme—no need to worry about stalling out or anything like that—and you get dozens of missiles to fling at enemy planes. But that's how the series has always been, and it is pretty cool to play a classic flight sim in a VR setting. I just look forward to the day that VR games no longer look like they're stuck on the PS1.

6. Some quick thoughts on Persona 5's English voiceovers

I got my first real look at Persona 5's English localization at PSX, and so far it looks to be about par for the course in terms of Atlus localizations, which is to say that it's very good. Interestingly, the honorifics are still there, but it seems as if Persona 5 has really toned them down, only occasionally dropping a "-kun" or a "-san" into the conversation. The voiceovers are typically Persona in the way that they're energetic and over-the-top, but stop just short of being completely cheesy. Of the voices, Ann Takamaki was probably my favorite, effectively hitting a wide range of notes while defining the character's personality early. I'll reserve judgment on the rest of the cast, but it doesn't seem as memorable as those of Persona 3 or 4. Then again, it could be that I'm just not used to them yet.

The scene I saw took place early in the game, and followed the protagonist and his friend Ryuji as they brought Ann into the fold. As I've written before, Persona 5 is absolutely gorgeous, which I was reminded of during every menu transition and loading screen. Persona 5's artists don't waste a single moment, and the result is overwhelming, but also delightful and charming. It's a shame that it's been delayed until April; but as someone who generally prefers the Japanese voice cast, I appreciate the original language track, which was apparently the subject of some internal wrangling on the part of Atlus. I don't think I have to say that I'm excited for Persona 5: that's pretty much a given. I'm just ready for it to be out already.

7. It's hard to say what 2017 will look like for PlayStation

PSX occupies an interesting place on the calendar: it's ostensibly a fan event, but it also exists as a platform for big announcements, as well as to hype up the Spring slate of games. But walking through the showfloor, which mostly featured games I had already seen, I found myself wondering what 2017 will look like for PlayStation.

Sony shipped the PlayStation VR and PlayStation 4 Pro in 2016: two major pieces of hardware seemingly positioned to beat Microsoft and Nintendo to market. Now that they're out, it's incumbent upon Sony to release games that will augment those two platforms and make them more desirable, especially with Nintendo rolling out the Switch and Microsoft prepping Project Scorpio. I didn't really see those sorts of games at PSX, which was heavy on second-tier VR games, indies, and HD remakes.

But that's not to say that next year will be weak. Horizon Zero Dawn has justifiably generated a lot of hype, and it looks to take full advantage of what the PS4 Pro has to offer. Persona 5 is another heavy-hitting exclusive due in the first half of the year. Depending on how things shake out, 2017 could also see the release of the new God of War and the first episode of the Final Fantasy VII remake.

All of which is to say that Sony will be fine. The PS4 has unquestionably been this generation's big winner, and it will continue to profit from its strong foundation for the forseeable future. But next year's headlines will almost certainly be going to Nintendo and Microsoft; and outside of an updated PSVR, it's hard to say what Sony's next step might be. Maybe next year will provide some answers, but it's more likely that Sony will choose to stand pat while they prepare their next move.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #1 SuperShinobi A year ago
    I think their next step will simply be to continue to support the PS4 as well as possible, as it is and will remain by far their most important platform. It's the undisputed big dog in the marketplace and all the other platforms, including the Scorpio and the Switch will be the underdogs and challengers.

    For 4K TV owners there will be games like Horizon, Days Gone and GT Sport, which I'd expect will be competitive with Scorpio games graphically. GT Sport for example, with its 4K, HDR, wide color and VR support seems to have been upgraded and delayed to go head to head with Forza 7, which is expected to be the flagship game for the Scorpio.

    PSVR support is somewhat more of a question mark. I'm glad that there are some AAA games with VR support coming, such as GT Sport, Ace Combat, Resident Evil and Far Point, so that it's not all just indies. It feels like there's a lot riding on those 4 games, so hopefully they will all turn out fine.

    I also hope Ace Combat will take advantage of the PS Pro's extra power to alleviate the blurriness issue. Still, I think the blurriness issue was blown out of proportion with DriveClub VR for example. The greatly increased immersiveness and thrill of racing in VR ultimately overshadows the blurriness issue in that game, once you get used to it and play it extensively.

    I'm a big fan of NHL 94 and while the classic mode in NHL 14 was certainly fun, I don't think it came even close to matching the classic gameplay of the Genesis NHL games, despite using the same control scheme. I hope one day there will be an authentic Genesis classic sports HD remaster collection.
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  • Avatar for tomjonjon #2 tomjonjon A year ago
    Now I want VR Afterburner. Also Space Harrier and Outrun. Not remasters though, lets see some 16-bit Super Scaler games in VR!
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  • Avatar for camchow #3 camchow A year ago
    Oh you got to play Ace Combat 7? Were you a fan of the series previously? I'm really excited that they seem to be going back to the style of 5 and Zero. Try as I might I can't find any info on if they are still trying to push that weird countermeasure maneuver thing they introduced in the last game? Couldn't stand that.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #4 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @camchow I liked Belkan War. Felt straightforward. Missiles were easy to dodge even without countermeasures, but that might have been due to the demo balance
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #5 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    @Kat.Bailey You're not the only one who was left cold by Last of Us. I've actually heard a lot of people express those same sort of complaints. A game needs more than polish, and Last of Us is a thoroughly mediocre, repetitive experience that happens to have a pretty decent narrative.

    But I am very excited for Persona 5 and Neir Automata! The first part of 2017 is already looking better than the entirety of 2016!
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #6 Roto13 A year ago
    I thought The Last of Us was actually pretty fun to play (which I can't say for most big cinematic AAA games) but I wasn't nearly as impressed with it as the internet was. It was weird to see people act like they'd never seen a zombie story before and couldn't recognize one when it was right in front of them. "They're not technically zombies!" "The monsters are just a setting! It's actually a story about people, not monsters!" Really, queens? Rules number 1 and 2 of zombie fiction?
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  • Avatar for docexe #7 docexe A year ago
    I haven’t watched the full keynote yet, but based on the announcements and games that were shown at the event, it indeed was great, better overall than Sony’s showing at E3.

    Something that strikes me as interesting (and that wasn’t commented in the article) is the number of remakes of old IP that were traditionally associated with Sony’s consoles (Wipeout, Crash Bandicoot, PaRappa The Rapper, etc.) and that have been dormant for a long time. Sony doesn’t really appeal to nostalgia to the same degree that Nintendo does, but seeing all those old franchises given a new lease of life is much appreciated.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #8 touchofkiel A year ago
    2017 is looking good, but then, I'm a hardcore FFXIV player, so I suspect that game's next expansion will be my big PS4-hogging game. But I do like to see Sony roll out the nostalgia a bit, with the likes of Crash, Parappa, etc.

    Lots of big games for fans of JPN games - Persona, Yakuza, the entire remastered Kingdom Hearts... wouldn't be surprised if FFXII (the best in the series, natch) gets its HD release in '17. Hell, it might even be possible we see FFVII's episodes start next year.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #9 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @touchofkiel good news is that they have already confirmed FF XII for 2017 and i'm guessing it will be released in April. It is also my favorite in the series and if i'm being honest I have been looking forward to it more than I was XV.Edited December 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #10 himuradrew A year ago
    Can't wait for Persona 5 and the news that we'll be getting 3 Yakuza games in English (0, Kiwami, and 6) is total joy...

    ... but where's the Vita love Sony?!?!
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  • Avatar for FirLocke #11 FirLocke A year ago
    Honestly, next year is the year I'm excited for a PS4. Finally. Don't get me wrong, the past 3 years have been good, but 2017 is exciting, very exciting to me.

    Gravity Rush 2
    Horizon: Zero Dawn
    Persona 5
    Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (probably 2018 let's be real, but anyway)
    Danganronpa V3
    Nier: Automata
    Crash Bandicoot Remakes
    Kingdom Hearts 1.5,2.5,2.8.....maaaaybe 3? The collections are awesome to see anyway.
    Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite

    Most of the above are day one purchases.

    Also interested in:

    Yakuza 0
    Resident Evil VII
    Tales of Berseria
    Mass Effect: Adromeda
    For Honor

    A truck load of indies like Heart Forth, Alicia, Cosmic Star Heroine, Vane, Pyre (!!), Dreadnought, Chasm, Yooka-Laylee..

    And the Wii U will get its swansong in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Heck, even 2018 is already shaping up with Bloodstained and Yakuza 6 confirmed for that year. Damn great time to be a gamer. This is probably the best year in gaming so far in my life!
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