Wherein I discuss rising numbers, the return of two masks, a Chinese solution to never losing your luster, becoming a Mudkip, another brand new world to explore, and why the 9th generation of console gaming will disappoint the children.
When reviewing the annual site statistics for Nigma Box in 2019, I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of the quantitative improvements my site has made when comparing 2018 to 2019. Annual views went up from 95,000 to 145,000. My post count rose from 107 to 129. My comments boomed from 31 a year to 122. But most surprisingly of all, my total word count across all my posts more than doubled from 151,332 to 327,724. Which is completely wild when you stop and think about it because that means I must have written nearly 1,000 words a day when preparing Nigma Box content.
Now, the reason behind this could be attributable to a change in the content I delivered and the introduction of Randoms and Rambles, both of which feature far larger word counts than most of my Reviews or Rundowns, along with the teensy little fact that I released a whole gosh-danged 50k+ word novel on this site.
Having identified the causes for this change, and looking at my tentative 2020 schedule, I can safely say that this trend will only continue as time goes on. Randoms are now monthly, Rambles have nicely settled into being these prolonged diatribes that last a solid 5,000 words at a minimum, and I also plan on posting four re-edited novels with a combined word count of about… 250,000 words. So, yeah, take all that math, shove it in a pot, fudge the numbers a bit, and it sounds reasonably plausible that I will be able to put out an average of 1,500 words a day on this fair little website of mine.
Alright, I think that’s enough yammering on about statistics, writing, and artificially inflating metrics that do not matter. So, as a palate cleanser, let’s begin the news proper with another instance of obscure Japanese game trivia that only I care about! Utawarerumono was a 2002 Japanese tactical RPG visual novel hybrid that was later ported to the PS2 and PSP. Then about a decade later developer Aquaplus decided to make a two-part sequel to the series, in the form of Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth. Those did well, were supposedly a lot better than the original game, and this seemingly inspired Aquaplus to pursue a remake of the original 2002 title, dubbed Utawarerumono: Prelude of the Fallen, which is set to release in the west later on in 2020.
When Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth released in the west in 2017, they were met with praise from the sorts of people and places who would like fantasy adventure tactical RPG visual novel hybrids, which naturally put both of them on my radar. But there was one little problem. They were only released on the PS4 and Vita, and while I could have always dug out my Vita or Playstation TV to play these games, I really wasn’t in the mood to do so, and promptly forgot about both of them. That is until today, as both Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth are both coming to PC via Steam on January 23rd. An announcement that, while exciting for me, somebody who at least sort of wanted to check these games out, strikes me as rather odd. Not the ports themselves, but the decision to release them both on the same day. The order of these games is important, Truth is a direct sequel to Deception, and I can easily see somebody mixing the two up due to the lack of a numbering system of a blurb on the page for Truth saying that it is a direct sequel.
Over the past few years, PlatinumGames has been musing about the idea of self-publishing their titles, presumably after getting into assorted disagreements with publishers over the years, and developing a desire to pursue their own passion projects. However, such ventures require capital, which can be hard to come by when you need tens of millions. Enter Chinese gaming giant Tencent, who has formed a partnership with Platinum that supposedly will allow Platinum to retain their independence as a game developer while affording them the resources needed to independently publish their own titles.
Naturally, this announcement spurred a slew of anti-China sentiment, which is something that I’m sure will only getting increasingly tiresome as time goes on. While China has engaged in a number of unscrupulous activities over the past decade, and the government does have a greater degree of sway over corporations than many other nations, I do not believe that these things warrant vitriol or disdain towards any company who chooses to engage with this global superpower. Two companies are forming a partnership, one’s providing capital, the other is making some games, and… that sounds pretty alright to me. And while Tencent is not bereft of fault, they do not strike me as anything more than a company trying to make money and fill a void in the Chinese tech and games industries.
Speaking of news that is laced with a sense of debatable vitriol, because it’s 2020 y’all and we ain’t gots no more o’ dat good clean fun, there was a Pokémon Direct held this week, upsetting both Nintendo fans thirsty for news, and Pokémon fans, because Pokémon fans are never happy. And trust me, I think I know a thing or two about Pokémon fans.
Things started happily and giddily with the announcement that a beloved 2006 classic was being remade. Yes, after so many years, so many wishes, and so many dreams, time and space have contorted and bent themselves, and brought with them Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX! The title is a full remake of the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games for GBA and DS, complete with a 3D makeover, a storybook shading style, and a number of quality of life improvements.
I loved the DS version of the first Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, and have been in the mood to revisit the series for a couple of years now, so naturally, I am quite giddy and happy to see a new one peering over the horizon. Well, that’s actually a bit of a stretch, seeing as how this hot Switch exclusive will be dropping on March 6th. A date that I might just need to clear away a hole in my schedule for, as I played the demo released after the title’s announcement and… let’s just say that I was most pleased with what I played.
However, that was not the primary takeaway from this event. Instead, it was announced that Pokémon will not be receiving a new mainline title this year, and that Pokémon Sword and Shield will not be receiving a third or updated version. Instead, Game Freak will be releasing the Pokémon Sword Expansion Pass and the Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass. A pair of $30 DLC expansion packs for each respective game that introduce two new areas to the game, the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra. These environments will function similarly to Wild Areas, be home to a total of 200 Pokémon from past games not available in the base package of Sword and Shield, feature their own stories, and feature both new legendary Pokémon and new Galarian forms. Though, rather than lock-off returning Pokémon behind a paywall, they will instead be added to the base game, where players who only own the base game can acquire these newly added Pokémon via trading or Pokémon Home, which will be launching this February.
Moving over to the actual content of the expansion pass, I think it looks pretty good. I like the new character designs, I think the new areas look nicer than the original Wild Area, I think the Galarian forms for Slowpoke, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres all look radical, and the new legendaries… look stupid, but in a way that I have quickly endeared myself towards over the past couple of days. And while I am positively tired of catching the same legendary Pokémon again and again, I am quite interested in the prospect of exploring dungeons in Pokémon via co-op, as players will be able to do in the Crown Tundra.
However, and this is a big however, I don’t like the idea of building upon something like Pokémon Sword and Shield laterally by introducing content, rather than addressing shortcomings. Pokémon Shield lasted me roughly 65 hours, which I think is a pretty good chunk of time for any game, yet I walked away with a plethora of problems, none of which will likely be fixed by this DLC. Or in other words, this is not really what I wanted, but sure, I’ll play through the Isle of Armor when it launches this June and the Crown Tundra launches this fall.
Also launching this fall are the next generation of big boy consoles, with the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X both likely eyeing that juicy November launch month. This event will naturally spur outlets to drum up hype, for technical analysis to be performed, and for people to misunderstand what a tech demo is supposed to actually indicate. Meanwhile, fans will tirelessly scrutinize the launch library by insisting on how it is one of the most important parts of any console generation and should be THE place where innovation and newness reign supreme. Even though we are long past the halcyon days of generations marking a stark difference in the way games are designed, look, and played.
Nowadays, everything is some derivation of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 generation, which brought online play for consoles and digital distribution to the forefront, while introducing a number of monetization methods that were later exploited throughout this current generation between microtransactions and normalized DLC practices. While design trends have changed, and the reliance on online services has increased, most big games released on the PS4 and Xbox One aren’t too different from what was seen a generation prior, with the biggest distinction between the two probably being the number of games that take place in fully open worlds, a side effect of having 10+ times the RAM to play with.
Anyways, my point here is that I doubt the next generation will blow anybody’s mind beyond featuring big resolutions, big frame rates, big textures, and low load times. As such, I believe that it will take a good while before most publishers begin making games exclusively for new systems, and one of these publishers is Xbox Game Studios, who do not plan on making an Xbox Series X exclusive title until one or two years after the system is out on the market. It is a curious move from the perspective of driving hardware sales but from a broader perspective… it is a perfectly sensible move.
If they stopped making Xbox One games when the Xbox Series X launched, then many Game Pass subscribers would lose a core reason to retain their subscription, people who shelled out for the Xbox One X will realize that they spent $500 on a system with a two-year life cycle, and they would likely sell fewer copies of their latest games. This is their way to ease people into the new generation over time, rather than harshly pulling them forward, and while I can understand why some people want everything to move over to the next generation as soon as possible so games can become ‘true next-gen experiences,’ that simply is not going to happen.