Welcome to the next level of the millennium. The year is still brand-spankin' new, but there's already more than enough hype for the games we're supposed to see in 2017.
If all goes according to plan, we'll make friends with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, Destiny 2, and Super Mario for the Switch, just to name a few. Which game are you looking forward to playing most through the Year of the Rooster?
In the short term, I'm most excited about Gravity Rush 2. The original was so good! And despite my love of handheld systems, I'm really eager to see what Sony Japan Studio can do with this concept once they're free from the relative limitations of the Vita.
But that being said, the game that I'm most eager to play in 2017 — knowing Bloodstained has been delayed until next year and that Dragon Quest XI will be lucky to see a localization into English any time sooner than, say, 2019 — would unquestionably be Etrian Odyssey V. Atlus hasn't actually announced the game for the U.S. despite it shipping in Japan half a year ago, which would normally seem a bad sign. Etrian games usually show up here about six months after their Japanese launch, but so far we've heard nothing… which, combined with the "on life support" status of the 3DS platform, suggests dire things. Hopefully, though, Atlus has just been head down on the massive localization commitment required for Persona 5 and will get back to business as usual once that's out of the way.
I've been a fan of Etrian Odyssey since I first sampled a pre-release ROM of the original DS game back in… whoa, was a decade ago? Indeed. I didn't think I liked dungeon crawler RPGs up until that point, so I didn't really expect anything from Etrian Odyssey. I mainly sampled it because I had made it a point to play and cover every DS RPG I could get my hands on, and because a good friend of mine helped localize it. But then I played it and was blown away by how well it all fit together: The party customization, the crisp visuals, the extraordinary FM synthesis soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, and above all: The need to draw a map.
Some people hate the fact that the Etrian games force you to draw out a dungeon map on a sheet of virtual graph paper, but let's share some real talk for a second: Those people are insane. That's easily the best part of Etrian Odyssey, a built-in throwback to the days before auto-maps and GameFAQs, and it really brings the entire experience together. The games have undergone considerable refinement since that first outing for DS, and Etrian V looks like it could be the best of the bunch so far (even if it does abandon the fourth game's wonderful overworld exploration).
Etrian V introduces new classes, new party skills, new dungeons, new character races that help define the specialities and makeup of your guild, and more. It also has some optional character portraits that break from the series' standard designs, such as the amazing Rabbit Grandma (a demihuman Hunter class option). Unlike Etrian IV, it also provides an alternate soundtrack so you can enjoy Koshiro's new compositions in their original FM synthesis arrangements. It's entirely possible Etrian V would end up being the final major RPG release for 3DS in America, and I can't think of a more fitting finale to the series… especially since the imminent demise of handheld gaming means the Etrian games (which revolve around manual mapping on a portable touch screen) may not have a future. What more satisfying blaze of glory for both system and series, eh?
With Gran Turismo Sport, Forza Motorsport 7, and Project CARS 2 all expected to appear during the next twelve months, 2017 is certainly shaping up to be a great year for racing fans. I wrote about the two former games earlier this week, and made it very clear that I'm excited about both of them for different reasons. More details about Project CARS 2 emerged this week and it also sounds very promising. I'm particularly interested in the fact that the game will feature Rallycross events - high-speed races that take place on mixed-surface tracks comprised of both tarmac and dirt. That should add a whole new dimension to the game's racing - Rallycross cars are incredibly powerful, and I imagine they'll be a real handful to drive, which should make for some very entertaining and challenging competition.
Choosing one game from this awesome-sounding trio is tough, but in the end I think I'm ever-so-slightly more excited about Gran Turismo Sport than the other two. Despite it featuring the lowest number of cars and tracks since the very first Gran Turismo game, I'm really interested to see just how good the final product will be. The game has been built from the ground up specifically for PS4, and features no legacy code or assets, meaning that it's essentially an all-new game. The early demo I played at E3 last year drove very well indeed, and looked fantastic - but according to Polyphony CEO Kazunori Yamauchi only represented 70% of what the final game will be. I can't wait to see what it'll look like with that extra polish and finesse.
But what really intrigues me is that Gran Turismo Sport will feature FIA-sanctioned races, and a comprehensive training mode that'll enable you to learn proper racing etiquette and behavior - to the point where if you score highly enough on its tests, you'll be able to earn yourself a real-life racing license. That's something no racing game has done before, and I'm incredibly interested to see how it'll work.
It's coming back! After being able to look forward to annual releases of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed, 2017 marked the first time that the publisher wanted to pump the brakes on an annual release. AC went away for a year to give the team behind the latest game a chance to rethink the franchise and its place in our industry.
I've talked about something called the 'shackles of success' before. It's the idea that given a major, successful franchise, most creators will attempt to stay in their lane. They may rejigger mechanics slightly and choose a new coat of paint, but it's equally important that your existing fanbase can pick up your project and get something that fulfills their expectations. Diverge too much and you risk alienating that fanbase (see Resident Evil fans who say Resident Evil VII isn't "Resident Evil" enough), diverge too little and you'll bore them.
Major works can only really break those shackles after a period of great weakness or backlash. In Ubisoft's case, while Assassin's Creed Syndicate was a better game than its predecessor, Assassin's Creed Unity, the sales trend was downward. Stopping this curve allows a creator the chance to actually step back, really look at a franchise, and ask, "What's wrong here?"
If my speculation and mental math is correct, the team behind AC 2017 is the same one that crafted the excellent Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Given the extra time and more leeway from Ubisoft, I hope that they can craft something that stands up to the best in the series. Either way, all I see is possibilities at this point, meaning it's my most anticipated game of the year.
Well I've only been waiting for Persona 5 for eight years now, so...
But in all seriousness, Persona 5 is looking really great. I had the chance to play the Japanese release and I was blown away by its music, its presentation, its pace, and the quality of its battle system. There is every indication that it will be the successor to Persona 4 Golden that we've been waiting for.
Persona continues to have that special something that other RPGs can't replicate: Its unique day-by-day structure, its deep but also fast-paced turn-based combat, its relationships. Some people might be put off by how unapologetically Japanese it is, but there's universal appeal to the way that it approaches themes likes growing up and figuring yourself out.
I called Persona 4 Golden the best RPG of the past 15 years, and I stand by that assertion. But it may soon have some competition in Persona 5...
Breath of the Wild, man. Breath of the Wild. I've said so many words about this game, yet when the topic comes up, I have no problem opening my mouth and letting my guts pour out.
I'm a mega-Zelda fan, which is reason enough to be excited for Breath of the Wild. There are other reasons, though: I can fling myself off cliffs and soar across Hyrule, climb mountains, hop on the backs of wild horses (safety not guaranteed). Of course, I can also indulge in the Zelda series' most popular activity: Swinging my weapon at any problem that gets in my way.
I don't think I've been this hyped for a Zelda game since I waited on Ocarina of Time as a teenager. That game gave me a real sense of adventure, and it's tiny by today's standards. I don't know how I'll handle Breath of the Wild. I might die of a joy overload. If that's how I go out, just know I couldn't have chosen a better death. Nice working with you all.