Games This Month: January 2017

jan2017_gamesthismonth

The year is kicking off strong with a slew of fan favorite updates from the Land of the Rising Sun. Too strong, in fact, as we’re getting a bunch of RPGs and open-world games all crammed into the same month as Resident Evil 7 biohazard – haven’t we learned from games cannibalism last year?

In any case, we have handpicked a number of titles that caught our attention so far. It is by no means a comprehensive list for anything and everything that’s launching this month, although it should give a general idea of what to expect (read: Japanese games) in the coming weeks.

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone

jan2017_hatsunemikuprojectdivafuturetone

Genre: Rhythm
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Release: 10 Jan. (US)
Official Website

What Is It?
A console port of the 2013 Japanese arcade game, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade Future Tone. All tracks are original songs by Hatsune Miku and her Vocaloid friends, with accompanying music videos playing in the background. A total of five difficulty levels is available, earning the player in-game currency to purchase custom modules and costumes. Performance-wise it’ll run at 1080p 60FPS.

The release comes in three parts: a free Prelude (two songs) and two separate song packages. The ‘Future Sound’ pack collects over 120 songs from the Project DIVA series, whereas ‘Colorful Tone’ brings an additional 100 from Project DIVA Arcade and the Project mirai series.

The Chinese/Japanese version is already up on the PlayStation Store. If we’re to follow their pricing model, each sound pack will cost $47.50.

Who Should Get It?
Vocaloid fans aside (who probably own the Japanese version already), Project DIVA Future Tone is a solid pick for any rhythm game enthusiast – don’t be fooled by Miku’s cutesy personality, as the game can be ruthless if you let it be. The songs are composed by various artists too so they encompass a wide variety of musical styles. Try out the Prelude demo once it’s out.

Shares Similarities With
Persona 4 Dancing All Night

Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star

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Genre: Action
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release: 17 Jan. (US)
Official Website

What Is It?
A single-player hack-and-slash set in the sprawling Fate universe by Type/Moon. Its core gameplay is similar to Dynasty Warriors, in which a lone character takes on hundreds upon hundreds of enemy grunts, occasionally fighting larger bosses. The combat is fast and incredibly flashy, with objectives and pick-ups scattered around the map.

In keeping with Fate lore, the player takes on the role of a Master who commands one of sixteen playable Servants (basically spirits of historical heroes, if one were to give an incredibly simplified explanation).

Notably, The Umbral Star is the first action game in this multimedia franchise, with an all-new story penned by original series creator Kinoko Nasu. It also brings together Servants from the various Fate timelines.

Who Should Get It?
Fans of “‘Fate/stay night” and its various iterations. The appeal of these hack-and-slash type of games has largely hinged on its cast of waifus characters and, chances are, we’re not going to get a whole deal of newcomer-friendly context here. On the bright side, there’s plenty of content out there to get started.

Shares Similarities With
Dynasty Warriors series

Gravity Rush 2

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Genre: Action-Adventure
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: SIE JAPAN Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release: 18 Jan. (SG)
Official Website

What Is It?
A direct sequel Gravity Rush, this open-world action-adventure game lets players navigate and fight in a whole new perspective. By manipulating gravity, they can fly through the air, walk on walls, or simply dish out some serious hurt on their enemies. The sequel expands on the formula by adding two more styles of gravity, either making Kat lighter and faster or a heavier hard-hitter.

The story continues where the first left off, with amnesiac protagonist Kat searching for clues to her origin. She’s now joined by Raven, a fellow gravity-shifter from the first game, and the two are soon tossed into danger following a gravity storm investigation.

On top of the added gameplay mechanics, Gravity Rush 2 will feature a larger map, livelier cities and NPC interaction, as well as environmental destruction. There’s also a free DLC focusing on Raven, to be released sometime in March.

Who Should Get It?
Gravity Rush fans and anybody looking for an original experience. It’s hard to find a direct comparison – perhaps the Spider-Man games for the adrenaline rush on fast downward swings, yet even then the visual designs and narrative tones are strikingly different. Alternatively, start with the first game for a cheaper deal.

Shares Similarities With
See above.

Tag: Gravity Rush 2

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

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Genre: Role-Playing
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: 20 Jan. (US)
Official Website (2005), Nintendo Website

What Is It?
The next chapter of the venerated Dragon Quest series. Dragon Quest VIII made its debut back in 2005 on the PlayStation 2; this 3DS port, however, comes with a host of modern features. We’re looking at additional content, no random encounters, quick saves and fast forwards, and even StreetPass compatibility. Unfortunately, they had to ditch the orchestrated soundtrack for the MIDI version.

Expect to see traditional genre mechanics melded with advancements such as a beautifully-crafted 3D world and British English voice acting. There’s also a secondary skill system to customize each character’s abilities and spells.

Despite the immense popularity of Final Fantasy, the brand is still outshined by Dragon Quest in terms of influence and Japanese sales. And among the ten releases so far, Dragon Quest VIII is one of its most celebrated entries. The story begins with a curse and the journey to undo it but, as with all adventures, there’s more than meets than eye.

Who Should Get It?
Any fan of role-playing games, particularly those pining for the old way of doing things. Knowledge of the earlier titles isn’t necessary, making it an easy entry point for newcomers. It’s a good time to hop on board the franchise too, as Dragon Quest XI is nearing its Japanese release.

Shares Similarities With
Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue

jan2017_kingdomheartshd2-8

Genre: Action Role-Playing
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: 24 Jan. (Worldwide)
Official Website

What Is It?
The final piece of content preceding Kingdom Hearts III, which is still in development. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue comprises of:

  • ‘Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD’ – a full remake of the Nintendo 3Ds game;
  • ‘Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – a fragmentary passage’ – a new episode from the perspective of Aqua, taking place after Birth By Sleep; and
  • ‘Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover’ – approximately one hour of HD cut scenes from the eponymous mobile game, a precursor to the main games.

Yup, it’s still convoluted without referencing the community wiki.

Kingdom Hearts itself is an action-RPG. The incredibly successful collaboration between Square Enix and Disney Interactive Studios, it features an original universe that borrows heavily from Disney and Final Fantasy, going as far as to include original voice actors where possible. Narrative aside, it’s also known for having a great soundtrack.

Who Should Get It?
Only Kingdom Hearts fans, as this requires a certain investment in the story. The first two main games are available as part of their own HD collections on PS3, with a PS4 version releasing in March 2017.

Shares Similarities With
The World Ends With You

Resident Evil 7 biohazard

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Genre: Survival Horror
Platforms: PC (Windows), PlayStation 4 (Pro), Xbox One
Virtual Reality: Full Game – PlayStation VR
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release: 24 Jan. (Worldwide)
Official Website

*Featured: 30 games to look forward to in 2017

What Is It?
A first-person survival horror game that’s fully compatible with the PlayStation VR. RE7 is a return to roots for the franchise, eschewing action-heavy gameplay and campy heroes to bring back the terror of dark, creepy estates and the inhabitants that hunt you.

The player controls Ethan Winters, a regular civilian who heads into the dilapidated ‘Dulvey Haunted House’ after receiving a distress call from his wife, Mia. There are weapons to be found but ammunition is scarce are proficiency is lacking at best. Series-defining mechanics such as puzzles, resource management, and the all-mighty herb make a return.

Resident Evil 7 also happens to be written by a Westerner, Richard Pearsey, for the first time in the series. His other works include F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon, Spec Ops: The Line, and 1979 Revolution: Black Friday.

Who Should Get It?
Resident Evil and survival horror fans, as well as PSVR early adopters. That being said, this certainly isn’t going to convert anyone who isn’t a fan of scares – Resident Evil 4 would be the better candidate in the series for that.

Shares Similarities With
Outlast, Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Tag: Resident Evil 7

Tales of Berseria

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Genre: Role-Playing
Platforms: PC (Windows), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release: 24 Jan. (Worldwide)
Official Website

What Is It?
The latest role-playing game in the popular Tales series. For Tales of Berseria, Bandai Namco has updated skits – their way of doing dialogue cut scenes – as well as the various combat systems.

Notable additions to their trademark ‘Linear Motion Battle System’ is the free camera during (real-time) combat and the new Soul Gauge mechanic, the de facto resource bar for each and every character. Planning and reacting with the Gauge in mind will be the largest consideration for players as they juggle attacking, defending, switching characters, and stealing and restoring Soul.

In what appears to be a ton of Berserk references, the story is set in the Holy Midgand Empire (centuries before Tales of Zestiria) where Demonblight-afflicted humans transform into demons during an event called Scarlet Night. Velvet Crow, Berseria’s protagonist and the series’ first female party leader, was present during the fateful Night that changed her life and the world forever.

Who Should Get It?
Anyone looking to try out a new RPG formula, especially if they aren’t keen on turn-based combat. The earlier and thus cheaper games are good options for newcomers too, bearing in mind that the combat is updated with each iteration.

Shares Similarities With
The other Tales games, Star Ocean

Yakuza 0

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Genre: Action-Adventure, Role-Playing
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA
Release: 24 Jan. (Worldwide)
Official Website

*Featured: 30 games to look forward to in 2017

What Is It?
A crime-filled action-adventure rife with side missions and mini-games. Yakuza 0 is the prequel of the series, taking place in 1988 Japan before the rise of the Dragon of Dojima and the Mad Dog of Shimano – Kazuma Kiryu and Majima Goro respectively.

While comparable to Grand Theft Auto in some aspects, the Yakuza games actually share a loosely connected story, with gameplay broken into smaller segments and featuring level-up mechanics. What it lacks in terms of guns is made up for in terms of a fleshed-out brawling system and the ability to use nearby, everyday objects as weapons.

The Western release will only be available in Japanese with English subtitles, both a cost-cutting measure and as a means of preserving authenticity.

Who Should Get It?
Everyone. The Yakuza games have never secured a mainstream footing in the same way GTA has for various reasons (late localizations, misconceptions over gameplay, etc.) and that’s a real shame, for this underrated series offers one of the most memorable experiences in gaming. If nothing else, it’s a neat representation of Tokyo the way GTA V was for Los Angeles.

Shares Similarities With
Sleeping Dogs, Shenmue, Kenka Banchou, Grand Theft Auto

Memoranda

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Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)
Developer: Bit Byterz
Publisher: Digital Dragon
Release: 25 Jan.
Official Website

What Is It?
A point-and-click adventure inspired by the surrealist fiction of Haruki Murakami, the award-winning Japanese author. Fittingly, it’s a story about memories. As the official description puts it: “Memoranda is a game about forgetting and being forgotten!”

It all takes place in a quiet town, beginning with the protagonist slowly losing her memory, including her own name. She soon discovers that her neighbors – ranging from a World War II veteran to an elephant – are all losing something in one form or another as well.

Crafted with gorgeous hand-drawn animation, Memoranda is the debut project from Tehran-based indie studio Bit Byterz. The project was successfully crowdfunded in 2015.

Who Should Get It?
Anybody wanting to explore themes of memories and loss, in addition to point-and-click and Murakami fans.

Shares Similarities With
Machinarium, Samorost

Disgaea 2 PC

jan2017_disgaea2

Genre: Tactical RPG
Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Release: 31 Jan. (SG)
Official Website

What Is It?
A tactical RPG reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, only with a hilarious cast of characters and setting. Combat is turn-based on an isometric 3D board featuring terrain and height, with over 200 characters classes to form squads with. Outside of battle, the player will indulge in the story, upgrade their party, and get charged in the Dark Court.

This PC port includes all content from the original PS2 and PSP versions and then some, adding three playable characters that were, up till now, only available in Japan. Disgaea 2 brings back the Item World mode (where players ‘enter’ the item to improve it) and introduces the ‘Tower Stack Attack’ mechanic (literally using a stack of units on top of each other as a weapon).

Disgaea 2 follows the last remaining human, Adell, and his quest to defeat the Overlord responsible for turning the other humans into demons. To accompany him on the journey a companion is summoned, only for it to be the Overlord’s own daughter.

Who Should Get It?
Tactical RPG enthusiasts and anyone who wants an insane amount of replay value – high character levels, various squad combinations, plenty of experience grinding. Get a taste for its humor and mechanics via the public demo available on launch day.

Shares Similarities With
Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem series, Agarest series

Double Dragon IV

jan2017_doubledragoniv

Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Platforms: PC (Windows), PlayStation 4
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works
Release: 30 Jan. (JP)
Official Website

What Is It?
A 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up starring Double Dragon heroes Billy and Jimmy Lee. The game was announced only in December 2016 to scant details, marking the celebration of the series’ 30th anniversary.

In fact, all we know is that there’s a story mode set in Japan, an offline-only two-player duel mode, and a mystery ‘???’ mode. Delightfully, the ones teaming up behind this 8-bit NES-styled revival are some of the key members of the original arcade version.

Who Should Get It?
Fans and gamers with a fondness for beat ‘em ups. Also appears to be a good boost to the couch co-op games library.

Shares Similarities With
Streets of Rage, Golden Axe

Digimon World -next 0rder-

jan2017_digimonworldnextorder

Genre: Role-Playing
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: B.B. Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release: 31 Jan. (US)
Official Website

What Is It?
An open-world RPG where the avatar is accompanied by not one but two Digimon partners. Battles are automatically fought, with the player cheering and giving commands at the sidelines. Everything else follows the monster raising formula of providing food, entertainment, and more, all done in real-time.

The all-new story follows high school students Takuto and Shiki, both of whom are whisked away into the Digimon world. There they are joined by their Digimon partners, as well as classmates Kouta Hirose and Himari Ōbuchi; together the team must solve the mystery behind the Machinedramon threat before it’s too late.

Next Order is a port of the PlayStation Vita version released in Japan last year, enhanced for the PlayStation 4.

Who Should Get It?
Dedicated fans and anybody else wanting a break from Pokémon’s approach to monster raising. Next Order is also the first Western Digimon World release in over a decade, though it’ll take more than just one game to convert a new generation of followers.

Shares Similarities With
Pokémon, Yo-Kai Watch, Dragon Quest Monsters, World of Final Fantasy

Tag: Digimon World: Next Order

Divide

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Genre: Action-Adventure
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: Exploding Tuba Studios
Publisher: Exploding Tuba Studios
Release: 31 Jan. (US)
Official Website

What Is It?
A science-fiction action-adventure locked in an isometric perspective and driven by story, characters, and clues. Rather than spoon-feeding the player information, the game asks the player to separate fact from fiction. Uncertainty is a theme woven into both narrative and gameplay.

Sticking by the trend of ordinary men thrown into extraordinary circumstances, David is “a father who is ripped away from his daughter and the security of his familiar life,” winding up in a strange new world. Here, he must venture through derelict complexes and abandoned computer networks learn presumably dangerous secrets.

Combat can be tackled via stealth and misdirection or head-on but, either way, the odds are stacked against the player. To bring the isometric experience to consoles, the indie studio adopted the dual-stick shooter control for movement and aiming. Interestingly, Exploding Tuba was founded by a composer, Chris Tilton.

Who Should Get It?
Anyone who’s played old-school isometric adventures will find plenty that’s familiar in Divide. Newcomers, on the other hand, may appreciate the faster pace and shooter-like controls married with what seems to be an intriguing mystery.

Similar Titles
Syndicate, Shadowrun

Comments

Ade Putra

Ade thinks there's nothing quite like a good game and a snug headcrab. He grew up with HIDEO KOJIMA's Metal Gear Solid, lives for RPGs, and is waiting for light guns to make their comeback.