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This Week in Games – Burning Bridges

Animenewsnetwork - Column

Boy, it’s a messy week for online services starting with the letters TWIT, huh? There’s a lot of toxicity and anger online right now, and I don’t blame anyone who wants to take a break from their online lives and play The Stanley Parable for a while. For me, though, there’s news to report, so I can’t completely disconnect for the weekend just yet.

So, let’s talk about… people getting very angry on Twitter, followed by people getting very angry at Twitch. Hopefully once we’ve got all of that out of us, we can relax a little. Maybe.

YUJI NAKA JUST WENT NUCLEAR

It’s always an interesting time when a prominent figure in gaming history decides to just throw tremendous amounts of shade on social media, and especially when that shade involves a game that’s pretty notorious. That’s precisely what Yuji Naka did over on Twitter this Thursday, emerging from the shadows and publicly burning his bridges with publisher Square-Enix.

The game in question, as you’ve likely already guessed, is Balan Wonderworld, the Square-Enix published action-platformer that Naka and former Sonic co-creator and current Arzest boss Naoto Ohshima both worked on. You might recall that I was very hyped for Balan initially due to its pedigree and my desire for more big-budget, original 3D platform games on the market, but the final product was a disappointing mess. While Naka’s tweet thread was entirely in Japanese, it didn’t take long for folks to translate it, and he is very clearly unhappy about how Balan went down.

To start off, Naka alleges that he was forced out of the director’s position about half a year before release, and subsequently filed a lawsuit against Square-Enix that kept him from speaking publicly about it until now. According to Naka (and the court documents, he claims), he was forced out for two reasons: A rather mundane dispute over a soundtrack-related YouTube promotion, and Naka “ruining the relationship” with co-development company Arzest through comments he made about the game being buggy. He also puts a lot of blame on Square-Enix producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto for making the team crunch.

(Fujimoto, as you might recall, was the guy who penned this public “YOU JUST DON’T GET IT, OPEN YOUR MINDS” response to folks reacting poorly to Balan‘s demo and asking for the game to be delayed.)

He ends his tweetstorm with some incredibly harsh words:

Daaaaaaayum. At this point Naka seemingly does not give a shit about making amends. And, I mean, given that we’ve seen Square-Enix higher-ups talk joyously about a metaversal NFT-laden future where fun plays second fiddle to the ability to earn, it definitely hits hard. This isn’t the first time Naka’s been screwed out of his work, either: publisher Kadokawa Games basically took his Rodea the Sky Soldier IP from him, made mediocre 3DS and Wii U games from it, and released his original (and much better) Wii game as an afterthought. It’s easy to see why he’s bitter! (Also, I couldn’t help but notice he’s no longer Twitter buddies with Naoto Ohshima, who he’s always had an on-again off-again friendship with, so I assume that they’re not on speaking terms for the foreseeable future.)

Of course, there are plenty of rumors of Naka himself being difficult to work with, and many folks are bringing up the commonly-heard (though not well-corroborated) story of Naka supposedly “ruining” the famously cancelled Saturn title Sonic X-Treme… though that game was basically cursed from the get-go, I’m afraid. But I don’t think this is a matter so much of who is right or wrong, but that Balan was horrendously mismanaged in a bad work environment, and it shows in the final project. It’s a cautionary tale, and one I really wish had a better ending.

CHANGES ARE REPORTEDLY COMING TO TWITCH, AND NOBODY’S HAPPY

In the modern-day gaming landscape, Twitch is a huge deal. It’s helped mint e-celebrities, turn small games into massive global hits, and allowed many folks to transform their gaming hobby into a career. But there may be changes in store, if a recent article from Bloomberg is any indication.

According to the insiders quoted in the piece, Twitch is considering lowering the revenue from subscriptions and bits for its top streamers to 50%, down from 70%, while encouraging them to run more ads during streams. There may also be tiered partnerships with varying revenue splits, some of which would allow streamers to live-broadcast on other websites like YouTube and Facebook. None of this is finalized, however, and if the higher-ups at Twitch sense backlash they might just drop the whole thing.

So we know what we need to do: make a whole bunch of backlash and broadcast it. LOUDLY.

Full disclosure: My partner is… well, a Twitch Partner, though he’s not one of the mega-popular streamers; he’s just a guy who plays primarily arcade games in front of a couple hundred people for a few nights every week. This is a nice way for him to make some extra cash and have fun doing it, not a full-time career. Since he’s not pulling in tens of thousands of viewers, these changes might not even apply to him. But there are a substantial number of streamers for whom this is their livelihood, even if they’re not household names, and those are the folks I worry about with these potential changes. Running ads during gameplay time can be very difficult, and I don’t think many folks are particularly interested in branching out to other streaming services after having spent years building Twitch audiences.

Also, Twitch‘s parent company is Amazon, and Amazon makes about a bazillion dollars every second. Why the hell do they need to take more money from the people who make Twitch what it is? How is that going to help anything? The logic behind these proposed changes is baffling – all of it sounds like something that would drive away streamers and viewers instead of fueling more growth.

Anyhow, none of these changes are set in stone yet, so hopefully these ideas get dropped and Twitch manages to continue in its current state, which is fine just the way it is. Actually, how about giving more of a cut to the creators? Jeff Bezos really doesn’t need another yacht for Christmas.

THE LEGEND OF MANA ANIME HAS A TRAILER AND A DATE

Hey, remember that Legend of Mana anime announcement from a while back? Well, good news, it’s still happening – in fact, it’ll be broadcast and streamed later this year! Here’s the brand-new, English-subbed trailer introducing the staff and cast (make sure you have captions turned on):




And here’s the key art for the show:

Rather than attempt to adapt the whole massive, meandering plot of Legend of Mana, the staff at Graphnica and Yokohama Animation Lab are focusing on the Jumi storyline, which is arguably the most compelling out of LoM‘s long-running story threads. A wise decision, if you ask me. Jinbo Masato is in the director’s chair, and notably, beloved maestro Yoko Shimomura is credited with the music – though whether she’ll be providing all-new compositions or just see bits of her game OST reused isn’t clear. A firm date hasn’t been set just yet, but we should have animated Mana by year-end. Will it be good? Hmmm… given the track record of gaming anime, I wouldn’t get hopes up too much, y’know?

Speaking of the Mana series, mobile action/RPG spinoff Echoes of Mana is now available. I’ve downloaded it but haven’t been able to play it much yet, though I did manage to get a bunch of characters I wanted off of my initial roll, so I’d call that a success. But I swear, if I see a single awful little dudbear in my rolls I am deleting this app SO HARD. Dudbears are the worst.

ASSORTED NEWSBITS

  • Granzella announced that R-Type Tactics, the turn-based strategy spinoff of their famous shooter series, is re-releasing on modern platforms sometime in the future. Both R-Type Tactics I and II will be included in the set, though specific release timing and platforms are as of yet unknown. You might recall that the original R-Type Tactics on PSP was localized and released in English as R-Type Command, though it apparently didn’t set North America on fire as the second game remains a Japan exclusive. Since NISA picked up R-Type Final II for international sales, maybe they’ll license this bundle, too?
  • AQUAPLUS‘s latest entry in the Utawarerumono series, Monochrome Mobius: Rights and Wrongs, has been announced for PS4, PS5, and PC via Steam for release on September 8th of this year. Interestingly, only the Steam version has been confirmed for an English-language release so far, and that will drop simultaneously with the Japanese digital release. Here’s a trailer!



  • Sony has detailed their rollout of the new, tiered PS Plus that includes options for an on-demand library of classic games and (in some territories) cloud streaming. Southeast Asia will get the new PS Plus first on May 23rd, followed by Japan on June 1st, North and South America on June 13th, and Europe on June 22nd. It’s also being reported that Sony is demanding publishers make ~2-hour playable game trials of titles priced $34 and up specifically for the service. Sounds like a pain in the ass for devs, but what are you going to do, tell Sony no?

Alright, then, we’ve wrapped things up for this week. Got any thoughts about this week’s news? We can guarantee that the ANN forums will never be bought out by billionaires having an extended, divorce-fueled midlife crisis, so please come join us there for delightful chitchat about gaming topics. (Link conveniently placed below!) Take it easy, folks!

This Week in Games – What in The Fresh Hell is Going On With Square-Enix?

Animenewsnetwork - Column

Hello again! It’s another week with… honestly not a lot of gaming news, but what we do have is very much worth digging into.

This would normally be the time of year where E3 hype would start building… except that E3 got taken out back behind the barn and shot to put it out of its misery. So instead, we’re reliant on Geoff Keighley and his many, many celebrity connections to fill in the void left by E3’s departure and bring us Summer Games Fest 2022 on June 9.

Yes, if you really want to, you can go to an IMAX theatre in your area (provided one exists and they’re participating) to watch all of the announcements as they happen. Watching a bunch of game trailers in a theatre with random obnoxious console warriors trying to be Tom Servo sounds like the exact opposite of a good time to me, but if it sounds fun to you, knock yourself out.

But that’s not the big news. The REAL big gaming news this week involves Square-Enix, and I’ve got a lot of things to say about it. So, for this week’s column, we’re going to be asking:

WHAT IN THE FRESH HELL IS GOING ON WITH SQUARE-ENIX?

Square-Enix made headlines again this week when they announced that they were selling off a bunch of their western studios and IPs to the Embracer Group. Specifically, they’re selling off IPs and studios that they had acquired from the purchase of Eidos back in 2009. This includes historically significant and well-loved franchises like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, and Thief, along with the studios Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal. The Embracer Group—a Swedish conglomerate that owns a good amount of entertainment companies like THQ Nordic, Gearbox, and Dark Horse Comics—will assume ownership over all of these properties for a mere $300 million, which seems really low!

But perhaps it was inevitable. Square-Enix and Eidos seemed like a bizarre marriage from the outset. But 2009 was the start of that brief period where big Japanese publishers, seeing a decline on their home turf, were exceptionally desperate to get some of that Western money. But instead of playing on their internal teams’ development strengths to make quality games with broad appeal, they opted to acquire Western studios instead.

So here you had Eidos, a publisher with beloved, very Western-focused franchises and a unique identity, paired up with Square-Enix, a big Japanese conglomerate that operated in a very corporate Japanese way and whose specialty was games that were the polar opposite of Eidos’ output in terms of aesthetic and design approaches.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I’m surprised Squeenix held onto them for this long. In so many ways, it feels like Square-Enix had hilariously unrealistic expectations for them. Remember how games like the Tomb Raider reboot and Sleeping Dogs sold millions of copies, but still not enough to please Squeenix’s corporate moneymen?

This process seemed to repeat for practically every single game the former Eidos crew released. They did exceptionally well by most metrics, but not exceptionally well enough. Squeenix’s investment in Marvel properties like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—which they proceeded to give to Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal to work on—looks more and more like a last-ditch effort to try and make the continued investment in these studios worth it.

Meanwhile, formerly flourishing IPs like Legacy of Kain, Conflict, and, uh…. Gex lay dormant. (They may be a punchline now, but Gex games made bank. The late 90s were peak Tail Time.)

The low selling price of $300 million reads like a big “yeah, we’re done here, we want to sell all of this and wash our hands” statement. (As a side note, the Embracer group is somewhat known for buying up studios, IPs, and publishers on the cheap, usually after bankruptcy, so I’m sure they’re pleased as punch for scoring this bargain.) Usually when sales like this happen, there’s a lot of consternation among fans who worry about the fate of their favorite franchises, but in this case… the reaction was almost universally positive. Longtime fans of Eidos’ games were deeply unhappy with how Square-Enix had handled things. When developer IO Interactive managed to re-acquire the rights to their Hitman games, there was a spark of hope that maybe other beloved Eidos series might be freed from Squeenix’s iron grip. Now it’s finally happening, and everybody is relieved.

It really feels like the end of an era—one that probably should have ended a long time ago when Japanese studios realized their ill-thought-out Western pushes weren’t working. Did any Japanese publisher manage to do well with its Western studios? The only one I can think of is Sega, who own developers like Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Two Point Studios, among others. Sega of Japan seems content to let these studios make games that appeal to specific niches—Total War, Football Manager, Company of Heroes, etc.—without much meddling. Compare that to how Square-Enix tried to make every Eidos game a massive multiplatform all-appealing blockbuster. I think Sega‘s approach makes a lot more sense. (Though I am worried about this whole “Super Game” initiative impacting their studios’ freedoms going forward…)

The sale of Eidos brings up a much bigger topic of discussion, however: what is Square-Enix even trying to do nowadays?

Right now, Square-Enix is primarily buoyed by Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts, all massive properties with long histories that can be spun-off and merchandised for years on end. All three of these series have big new numbered installments coming, but they won’t be available for a quite a long time. Square-Enix needs something to fill those gaps, and they’ve just officially given up on Eidos… which means now they’re throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. So now we’re getting another Star Ocean, a new action Valkyrie Profile that isn’t really Valkyrie Profile, a new strategy-RPG we’re not entirely sure we want yet in DioField Chronicle, and the massively-budgeted isekai action-RPG Forspoken. These games don’t have a lot in common, but Square-Enix sure hopes at least one of them manages to take off!

This isn’t new, though: Square-Enix has been operating this way for years, but nowadays it’s really noticeable. While it’s good not to put all your eggs in one basket, this approach causes a lot of problems: it makes games more difficult to properly market, it stretches staff thin and results in less quality oversight, and ultimately results in a push to make products simpler, less unique, and more mass-market-appealing. Hits like NieR Automata and Octopath Traveler do happen on occasion, but there are also stunning disasters like Balan Wonderworld (which we discussed last week) and Babylon’s Fall (a game that was heavily delayed and turned into a generic live-service slog to capitalize on market trends). Not to mention a whole mess of assorted sales and critical disappointments. Let’s not forget Squeenix’s retro missteps, either: the combined retro libraries of Squaresoft and Enix are filled with games ripe for remakes and remasters, but when they do decide to dig something out of the vault, the quality is a complete crapshoot, suffering the same issues I listed above.

It all leads to a feeling that Square-Enix are a soulless, money-hungry corporation whose management doesn’t care about what they’re putting out. Folks like Yoko Taro and Naoki Yoshida certainly have passion, but the executives above them seemingly couldn’t care less. The last few months have been especially bad: the headass comments from company leaders about NFTs, the metaverse, and “playing to earn” around the new year rightfully ruffled feathers, and Yuji Naka‘s Twitter tirade against the company last week accusing them of mishandling their games backs up the idea that Squeenix is hostile to consumers. And then you see them dumping Eidos for a relative pittance. As good as that might be for Eidos, it really does feel cold and uncaring on Squeenix’s end.

I don’t think Square-Enix is in any danger of going belly-up in the immediate future, but I do think things might get rocky if they continue to alienate fans and former employees. And as much as I’m not happy with Squeenix’s current direction, I really don’t want to see them gobbled up in an acquisition by another megacorporation and lose what personality they have left. But to do that, they’ll need to give their future releases the development time, marketing, and creative freedom they need to flourish—and since they’re currently distracted by chasing crypto and live-service money, that’s not easy to do.

As long as they allow Taito to act mostly autonomously, though, they’re doing at least one thing right by me.

PHEW. Man, it feels kinda nice to get my thoughts about Square-Enix out there. What do you think—is Squeenix headed in the wrong direction? What can they do to improve their output? How does the Eidos sale affect your perception of them? Are you a long-suffering Legacy of Kain fan hoping that this sale will finally make something happen with the series? (I feel for you, I really do.) There’s plenty to talk about, so you’re quite welcome to sound off in the forum—link below! Thanks again for reading, and I hope you all have a lovely weekend.

This Week in Games – The Tales Mobile Curse

Animenewsnetwork - Column

I don’t know what I was expecting in game news this week, but I can say that I certainly didn’t expect the revival of decades-old gaming drama.




But here it is. Someone managed to get ahold of an old build of Duke Nukem Forever from 2001 and uploaded all of its assets and data to The Internet Archive. I’m aware that some of you reading this column weren’t even alive when Duke Nukem Forever was first announced, so you might not understand the significance of this. But for those of us who were online and religiously following game news in the late 90s and early aughts, this is historic… even if it makes the sad state of development the game was in extremely clear. Duke Nukem Forever was the ultimate case of development hell: extremely hyped, eternally delayed, constantly reviving and falling silent, and then finally releasing in 2011 under a different development team to an overwhelming “wait, that’s it?” I don’t think anything will ever top it, unless Star Citizen actually releases.

But the release of these materials has reignited memories in many of its former development staff. Bad memories. And it’s reignited a fight over who’s to blame for Duke Nukem’s fall from grace. It started with a blog post from former 3D Realms and Apogee Software founder Scott Williams, who stated that “DNF was a constant money pit for the company” and putting the blame on unnamed internal powers that shot down ideas like handing development over to future Warframe creators Digital Extremes. This didn’t sit well with former DNF director George Broussard, who took to Twitter with his comments.

Aww yeah, it’s 2000s forum wars all over again! Duke Nukem: now and forevermore the game franchise of disappointment and drama.

TALES OF LUMINARIA SHINES NO MORE

Tales of Luminaria, Bandai-Namco‘s heavily-promoted, all-original mobile Tales series title, is shutting down. The Tales series on mobile feels particularly cursed, as this is the fifth Tales game so far, and many of those five games have faced shutdowns in one form or another. But what’s particularly OOF-inducing about Luminaria is that, despite a lot of a promotion, co-development from Shironeko Project studio Colopl, an anime tie-in, and a lavish simultaneous localization effort, it went from startup to shutdown in a mere eight months.

Luminaria’s failure calls to mind another recent mobile bomb: Sega‘s Sakura Kakumei. Sakura Kakumei was similarly heavily promoted and budgeted, featured co-development from a studio with a proven hit (DelightWorks, now Lasengle, who worked on Fate: Grand Order), and stumbled almost immediately out of the gate. Sakura Kakumei could be seen as the Sakura Wars franchise not being the big draw it was years ago, but Tales? Tales is pretty big right now off the success of Tales of Arise. Of all the Tales mobile games, this should have been the one that would take off.




So, what happened? I didn’t play Luminaria myself, so I don’t have any personal opinions about the game’s quality, but folks I know who did play it say that the gacha-tization was particularly egregious, and frustrating content locks and other gameplay barriers were prominent. This likely turned a lot of players off, as gacha games have to walk a fine line between convincing you to open your wallet but not looking like obvious pay-to-win cash grabs. Luminaria, it seems, veered too far into blatant “we want you to spend money” territory. (If you’ve played Luminaria and have opinions, please do post them in the forums – I’m interested in hearing your experiences with the game.)

It’s also worth noting that Tales of Luminaria isn’t the only recent high-profile mobile game flop from Bamco: their latest [email protected] game, Poplinks,announced its closure after about a year and a half in service. That game was a bit of a head-scratcher: I don’t think [email protected] fans really wanted a music/puzzle game spinoff when they’re already invested heavily in the numerous other [email protected] mobage. Even most die-hard fans get some franchise fatigue after a while. But two big, heavily-promoted mobile games based on tentpole franchises shuttering after a brief service period within the span of a month isn’t a great look for Bamco, even if they do have several other mobile titles raking in moolah.

If anything, this further shows how absolutely cutthroat the mobile game market has become. It was once viewed as a cheap development platform with lots of monetization potential. Now the market and player expectations have matured to the point where games cost multi-millions in development and marketing and the future success of a title can be determined within months, if not days. Even a tie-in with a big, established franchise or developer is not a guarantee of success. It’s got to be rough for any new mobile game entering the market – success is based on player spending, but when players are worried that the game might die in a matter of months, they’re not going to spend, making it even harder to compete against the long-established mobile powerhouses.

Will Bamco ever try another mobile Tales game again? Who knows, maybe Luminaria is the final nail in that particular coffin. Maybe someday publishers will realize that not everything has to have a mobile spinoff.

DO I REALLY HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THIS STUPID STREET FIGHTER THING

Here’s some non-news that somehow blew up! Okay, so, earlier in the week Daniel Lindholm, a freelance composer for the Resident Evil and Street Fighter series, was livestreaming a Q&A on YouTube where he made an offhand comment about characters in future Street Fighter games – specifically, Fei Long, CAPCOM‘s obvious tribute to legendary martial artist and film star Bruce Lee.

“…I mentioned earlier a character I would like to rewrite the music for would be Fei Long…I do have other sources — not only CAPCOM, but friends of mine in the U.S., who are very close friends with the Lee family — and they have basically said that any kind of resemblance to Mr. Bruce Lee is now omitted for comedic effect, comic stuff. It needs to be honorable… That’s why we won’t see Fei Long again.”

This is prime “I heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend, and I trust my friend of a friend, so it’s gotta be real” kind of stuff that probably should be taken with a tablespoon of salt. But that didn’t stop it from blowing up on social media and turning into prime clickbait, with headlines proclaiming FEI LONG WILL NOT BE RETURNING TO STREET FIGHTER! and fueling speculation that Quentin Tarantino was somehow at fault for this happening because of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and ugh, my head hurts. Daniel immediately walked the comments back to numerous news outlets, calling them “hypothetical” and claiming the whole thing was ruining his relationship with CAPCOM. (He also deleted the stream archive, but the internet never forgets.)

It got so bad, in fact, that the estate of Bruce Lee commented about it on Twitter:

While Daniel probably shouldn’t have been running his mouth about that sort of stuff on stream, hypothetical or no, the fact that so many folks took it as some sort of official confirmation is, frankly, kind of disturbing. Just more evidence that people nowadays will believe anything they hear online if it comes from a source with even the smallest degree of authority. Anyway, moving on…

ASSORTED NEWSBITS

  • Fiscal-Year reporting is in, and CAPCOM had a pretty good year, with RE8 moving over six million units and Monster Hunter Rise shifting 4 million. They’re planning on releasing “multiple major new titles” through March 31st of next year, several of which have already been announced: Exoprimal, Street Fighter VI, and likely the mysterious Pragmata.
  • Nintendo, meanwhile, stated that the transition to the Switch’s successor is a “major concern” in an investor meeting. I mean, yeah, new console launches are always a major concern, aren’t they? Nintendo‘s had some real ups and downs in their launches, though, so I can see why they’d be extra worried that people might not migrate from the Switch when a follow-up platform comes around…
  • Warner Bros. Multiversus, the Smash Bros-like featuring a bunch of characters from the Warner/Discovery media empire, will have a closed alpha in the near future, which you can sign up for on the official website. WB Games will also be hosting a special 2v2 tournament for the game at this year’s EVO event. I do wonder what the reception for the game at EVO will be like, since Smash isn’t part of this year’s lineup, and Smash players are a primary target audience…
  • According to Gematsu, the trademark for cult dark RPG series Shadow Hearts has been renewed in Japan. Don’t get too excited, though: it may just be for re-releases of the PS2 games on the newly-revamped PS Plus series. But we can dream, can’t we?

Okay, I think that about wraps things up. Like I said above, if you played Tales of Luminaria and have any insights into the game’s poor reception, I’d very much like to hear about your experiences and invite you to post your thoughts in the forums (linked below, as always). But even if you haven’t played this week’s big topic of discussion, there’s still plenty of news worth reflecting on, so don’t be shy – share your thoughts! Thanks as always for reading, and have a lovely spring-weather weekend!

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