Wherein I discuss the erasure of history, the standby innovation, the loss of a localizer, and some limited-time freebies.
This week fared worse than I expected from a time management perspective, as I worked several long days and have been too busy or exhausted to do as much writing as I wanted to. No writing means no posts, and while I am confident in my ability to deliver a Ramble for October 21st, I will need to take a week off on October 28th and will be pushing back Random #011-2 until November 11th.
I’m sorry about this delay, but I need to be in the right mindset to write productively, and I just haven’t been in that creative mindset this past week. I have been in the mindset of an accountant trying to decipher a catastrophic failure in cryptocurrency record keeping.
Last week after Sony revealed details on the backwards compatibility of the Playstation 5, I went on a minor tirade about how Playstation has a responsibility to preserve games released on previous systems. They have been with the industry for a long time, put out a piece of hardware capable of playing 99% of the libraries of the PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, and PS Vita, and could turn the system into this glorious device with a library of over 10,000 games, but they simply aren’t, and that upsets me.
You know what upsets me even more? The news that Sony is planning on revising their web-based storefront and will remove the option for users to buy PS3, PSP, and PS Vita content. The content will still be purchasable directly via the systems themselves, so it’s not like the storefronts are going offline, but this does represent Sony moving away from their legacy content, and I think that’s just… horrible. By shying away from this content, Sony is effectively stating that they are not interested in legacy content beyond what was released for a home console in 2013. Establishing a clear cut-off that they very well might keep pushing upwards as the decades go on.
It is all such a stark contrast from the Xbox team, who has been working hard on making backwards compatibility feasible on their systems, enhancing games from several generations ago, and views nothing as the true cut-off date. I actually consider this to be one of the biggest reasons to get an Xbox Series S or X, as not only will it be a system that will last 5+ years, but it has access to a library spanning nearly 20 years of titles… even if the backwards compatibility list for the original Xbox is limited to a paltry 39 games at the moment.
Now, I say all of this, but I can also say that the Playstation 5 looks to be a particularly slick games machine, as detailed in a recent look at the user experience for the system. The UI is simple, clean, and while it has the modern design problem of teensy tiny text, I think it looks nice and neutral. However, my takeaways from this showcase is the number of minor quality of life features being added on a system level.
The ability to pull up video walkthroughs on how to obtain certain things or get past select parts is a great quality of life feature for those who need it. Being able to jump right to a level or chapter via a system-menu is nifty, though I am dubious as to how many games would support it. The option to quickly hop into a multiplayer session with a friend puts fewer barriers between the player and the actual playing of a video game. A customizable picture in picture feature that, assuming it works how I hope it works, could allow players to watch a video in the corner of their screen while grinding away at the latest and hottest live service. And of course, the ability to quickly resume multiple games right where one left off.
The last one in particular is an interesting feature to me, as I am used to starting and restarting games up whenever I want to play them, and even when playing games on Switch, I always shut the game and system off when I am done with a session. I do this because this is how I learned to play games, but now an entire generation is growing up with the ability to immediately resume whatever game they were playing, without needing to worry about saving or reloading from scratch, as their state is saved and suspended until they are ready.
It is undeniably a positive addition that makes playing a game less of a commitment and means that players do not need to worry about reaching a save point in order to end their session. But there’s something about simply leaving a game where it is and resuming it without returning to the main menu and booting it up again that I find to be just… wrong. Not because of anything inherent, but because of how I tend to operate under the mentality that you should turn electronics off and put media away when one is done with it. Which is becoming an increasingly dated way of looking at media in this modern world, where everything is always on, and technology waits for you, at least in theory.
Level-5 is a developer that has perplexed me throughout the duration of its existence. They went from a developer of cult-classic PS2 RPGs to the developer behind two mainline Dragon Quest titles to the developer behind a collection of successful handheld series such as Inazuma Eleven and Professor Layton, before exploding the following decade. They delivered high quality and robust console JRPGs during a generation when they were allegedly in a decline. They established popular multi-media series, most notably Yo-kai Watch. And they had enough resources to play around with publishing compilations of short games from renowned Japanese game developers in the form of Guild01 and Guild02.
In recent years, however, they have been on a decline. Despite being a massive step forward for the series, 2019’s Yo-kai Watch 4 sold below expectations in Japan. Their next multi-media series, Snack World, failed to garner much groundswell, and by the time it came out in the west, it received a tepid reception and barely any marketing push despite being a Switch exclusive. And the developer as a whole has been shifting much of their focus from console to mobile games in recent years… to mixed results.
I honestly would love to read through their financial and investor reports to see how they reconcile their successes and failures and get a nice broad overview of how the company is doing, but I could not find that information on their official website, and I don’t think they make that information available in English. Which is at least a little bit surprising since Level-5 does have western branches in the form of Level-5 International America, who localizes Level-5’s self-published titles and the western spin-off Level-5 Abby. Or perhaps I should say had, as it recently came to light that Level-5 has virtually halted all North American operations.
According to GamesIndustry.biz, these two offices have been in the process of shutting down since August 2019, when a number of employees were laid off. Following that, the studios were led by skeleton crews up until recently when there are apparently not even bones left steering this ship. It is not clear what this means for future Level-5 titles, if they will license them out or simply not localize them, and raises many questions about Yo-kai Watch 4, which was announced for the west at Anime Expo 2019, but never spoken of since.
I naturally don’t like hearing about companies shutting their doors like this, but at the same time… I get why this is happening. Level-5 has always been a very Japanese minded company that puts their home country first and makes products for the market that they know. They have tried to bring their games over, and aside from the Professor Layton series and the first Ni No Kuni, both of which were localized by outside companies, they routinely struggled to put out something more than a niche hit. Even Yo-kai Watch, their golden boy, failed to find much of a western audience… though I would argue that most of that is due to how gimmicky the combat of the series is, and how the titles came out several years after their Japanese counterparts.
They tried to break into a new market by themselves, it did not pan out, and I hope that the Level-5 at least licenses out their self-published Japanese titles to interested western publishers so that the western audience can get titles like Yo-kai Watch 4 and the upcoming Inazuma Eleven: Great Road of Heroes.
To end this week on a more positive note, Sega is currently celebrating their 60th anniversary with a series of Steam-based promotions, including not only several weeks of sales, but the release of four smaller releases that are being staggered across the span of a few days, and will only be available until October 19th. Now, I think that releasing a digital product for free with a designated cut-off time is outlandishly stupid on many levels, as its existence and availability does not hurt the company in the slightest.
I thought it was preposterous with Shin Megami Tensei – Synchronicity Prologue, which was delisted less than 3 months after its release but can be easily downloaded through unofficial means, and I think it is nonsense here… but at least these games will be available somehow, and I will have the opportunity to add them to my Steam library.
Now, what are these four games? Well, they are all spins on various Sega IP done by smaller studios that lack the depth of a full title, but are nevertheless cute little curios. These include Armor of Heroes, a plain-looking retro-styled multiplayer tank combat game based on Company of Heroes. Endless Zone, an exploration-driven shoot ‘em up that is based on the vibrant arcade classic Fantasy Zone, but looks to be made using generic space game assets. Streets Of Kamurocho, a mashup between Yakuza and Streets of Rage 2 that looks to lack the same depth and sophistication of the original Streets of Rage series, but still looks like a rock-solid co-op respite. And most interestingly, Golden Axed: A Cancelled Prototype.
According to the store page, during the beginnings of the 2010s, Sega Australia was working on a series of reboots of classic Sega IPs as part of an initiative known as the Sega Reborn project. They were working on a number of projects, including 2.5D reboots of Golden Axe, Altered Beast, and Streets of Rage, but the studio closed its doors in 2013, shutting down the project in its entirety, never to be heard from again. But the developers did finish a single level prototype of their Golden Axe project, and rather than let it sit and rot, current Sega management has decided to release the title as a free limited-time offering to the masses, showing them what could have been, and letting them play a game that was canceled nearly a decade ago.
One of my biggest pet peeves with the industry is just how cagey and secretive everything is, how there is so much mystery and so many things need to be brought to life via subterfuge and off the record conversations. So seeing a major publisher just throw out a prototype like this is both unprecedented and amazing to me. They are unearthing part of gaming history that few ever knew about as part of a celebration of the company’s legacy and lineage. Thank you very much Sega… but what was that about another canceled Altered Beast and Streets of Rage title? Care to show the community just what that game was going to be?
With that bout of signature #Gamer ungratefulness, that’s all for this week. Again, sorry about the delay, but stuff takes time, and time is in short supply at the moment.
Header image comes from Koakuma Utopia (Kyuuai Utopia) by Wakamesan. An 18-page TSF comic that is wildly transphobic, but I kind of love it for how extreme and blatant it is.