Welcome to the year of the Dog. Instead of sending money for Chinese New Year, the team at Bandai Namco sent me an invitation to preview a couple of games at their offices. I think it might have been more thematic to have sent me a puppy, but a golden ticket to their games palace seems like a close second. Last year, I previewed three games at each of my visits to the Bandai Namco offices. However, this time I was being treated to a pair of games – Soulcalibur VI and Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. So, while Australia had high hopes for Alex Pullin in Pyeongchang, I headed off on the first of my biannual pilgrimages to the Bandai Namco offices for 2018… with high hopes for both games, and high hopes that the time to preview a third game had been replaced with a dog petting session.
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Game Type: Role-playing
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PC
During the last visit, I previewed two slices of Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. Both slices were isolated boss battles- this was a little disappointing because JRPGs are typically lauded for the strength of their plot. Fortunately, this time I was thrown straight into Chapter 3, which featured an open world component and was quite heavy on cutscenes and plot development.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom follows the journey of young boy Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum of the cat tribe (in this fantasy world, the cat tribe and mouse tribe are at war) as he strives to reclaim the throne. In chapter 3, we find Evan and his three companions seeking Pugnacious in Goldpaw – a casino town with East Asian influences. It is a town of great character – the citizens rely on the roll of a die to determine their taxation and the outcome of criminal trials, and obnoxious birds follow anyone in debt. It is also beautifully illustrated.
The series of events that occur in this town are exciting, amusing, and cleverly constructed. There is a mystery to solve, and a diverse range of characters and personalities at play. Importantly, the dialogue is high brow, and the main quartet is genuinely likeable. I was so interested to see how the plot would unfold that I didn’t mind the bits of errand-running (bread and butter for most RPGs).
Ultimately, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a classic JRPG experience – there are collectibles, wandering monsters, a quality score, and a combination of open-world exploration and arena battles. Typically, JRPGs are only separated by their plot and maybe a couple of battle mechanics. However, Ni no Kuni II has something else that separates it from the rest – the in-game changes of art style. During open world exploration, the characters and creatures are represented by a Chibi art-style, in battle the art speaks more to Akira Toriyama’s style (though he did not work on the game), and during cutscenes, it becomes studio Ghibli-esque (Yoshiyuki Momose DID work on the game). All the art is high quality, and I particularly like the use of the Chibi style during open world exploration. It allows for an almost top-down view of the characters and environment and makes the landscape easy to navigate.
I could have spent many, many hours at the Bandai Namco office playing Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, but I do want to be invited back…
Release Date: TBC 2018
Game Type: Fighting
Developer: Project Soul
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One
Bandai Namco publishes a considerable number of fighting games. In fact, every time I’ve been invited to the Bandai Namco offices, there has been a fighting game on the list of previews. Soulcalibur VI – a weapon-based fighting game – keeps that tradition alive.
Soulcalibur does not feature on the list of fighting game franchises that I can claim to have played, and I am by no means anything more than a casual fighting gamer borderline button masher. However, I was assured that it was accessible to new players – and it felt like it was, which I believe can be attributed to three elements that are hallmarks of the Soulcalibur franchise.
This is one of few fighting games in which fighting occurs on a 3D plane. This makes the battlefield feel larger (more places to sneak off to while you get a feel for the game), you are less likely to be trapped against a wall, and you don’t have to become adjusted to moving your character on a 2D plane (a movement style that many would consider to be unnatural). I also found that the use of weapons as opposed to magical powers or hand to hand combat made it easier to judge the hitbox, and the “ring out” mechanic (ability to knock your opponent out of the arena with a kick) both forced me to learn to engage in fights and also acted as a cheap comeback option.
The slice of the game available featured six of the playable roster of characters – Mitsurugi, Sophitia, Nightmare, Xianghua, Kilik, and Groh (a new character). The grunts of exertion from the two female characters became irritating very quickly. It was like listening to a women’s grand slam tennis match between two Maria Sharapovas. Further, Sophitia’s pathetic backward kick made me embarrassed to be a woman… but the amazing supermoves erased that image of weakness.
Each character uses a different weapon and has a distinct supermove (with stock). These are flashy displays of strength that deal a considerable amount of damage. Unlike in other games, the mini cutscene associated with each supermove doesn’t feel as though it breaks the flow of the fight.
Unfortunately, I was unable to preview the story portion of Soulcalibur VI – the plot is an aspect for which the franchise is well known. However, stylistic choices with the characters’ armour, and allusions to classical mythology in the Shrine of Eurydice: Cloud Sanctuary stadium made me feel as though the Soul Edge/ Soulcalibur legend would be one that I would enjoy.
Soulcalibur VI subscribes to many of the classic fighting game tropes – cliché entrance battle cries, comical victory screens, absurd character physiques and armour… but these are features that you expect, and they don’t interfere with the actual fighting. Ultimately, there are plenty of combos and counter moves to keep experienced fighting gamers interested, but the developers also encourage new players to get involved by ensuring a low entry barrier.