The Summer of Visual Novels, RPGs, and Killing Nazis

This month brings us a weird selection of games. We’ve got ports of classics (and some not-so-classics), a cool new indie game, and a good number of Switch releases. However, the month still feels pretty light. Maybe it’s because Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the only big multiplatform release of the month, or because a lot of these titles target very different niche markets, I don’t know. What is interesting is the lack of Xbox One titles – only two of the ten featured here will show up on Microsoft’s platform. There’s still something for that audience, but only in the sense there’s something for everyone. 

There’s something for the VR user, the MMO fanatic, and the anime fans, but honestly if Nintendo weren’t around to inject some of their first party titles into the summer, then this month would seem pretty barren. This trend is reflective of the industry as a whole: as many publishers wind down their releases to get ready for the next generation of consoles, the Switch is in its prime. There’s so much on the horizon for the system, that my guess is it’ll dominate this year’s holiday sales. We’ll still see other exclusives like Sony’s Death Stranding alongside standard-bearers like Call of Duty, but the story will be about which of the many titles Nintendo has planned between now and the end of the year do well.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot coming out this holiday season to be excited for, but I’m beginning to realize just how much different this year will seem compared to what came out in 2017 and 2018.

See you in August!

You’d be forgiven for thinking this exists solely to take advantage of memes.

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (Dadrector’s Cut) (Switch)
Publisher: Game Grumps
Developer: Game Grumps
Release Date: 7/2/19

What is it?
Developed by Youtube gaming channel Game Grumps (and co-written by Vernon Shaw and Leighton Gray), Dream Daddy has all the appearances of a joke, but thankfully isn’t. There are still terrible dad jokes, but it takes itself seriously as a dating sim where you’re a dad, dating other dads while struggling to bond with your daughter. When it first released in 2017, Dream Daddy was a huge surprise thanks to its writing, subject matter, and open approach to the player’s dating interests. Pride Month may be over, but that shouldn’t prevent you from checking this romp through a world where dads date dads and no one says a thing.

Why is it important?
Is it sinister, the way Dream Daddy presents a world where someone’s sexuality is never mentioned? Would it be better if it was set in a world that addressed issues that plague the LGBT community? Whether or not it wants to answer these questions, Dream Daddy poses them just by its existence. As a gay man, I can only answer this question for myself: while I understand the desire to have games that seriously tackle issues that relate to us, I appreciate the chance to experience a world without any of it. It’s a fantasy I think many of us want to explore. Of course, the visual novel format and dating sim aspects won’t be for everyone, and I get that, but Dream Daddy did get a number of awards when it came out, including an appearance on Giant Bomb’s list of the ten best games of 2017. If you’re interested at all, it’s definitely worth a look.

Ending the decade on a strong note.

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers (PC/PS4)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix Business Division 5
Release date: 7/2/19

What is it?
The story of Final Fantasy XIV’s development is fascinating. When it first launched in 2010 during the MMO boom, it was a disaster, both critically and financially. It ran for two years, receiving marginal improvements over time, before shutting down in 2012. In 2013, the game was relaunched with the title A Realm Reborn, and was essentially a new game designed to combat all the criticisms of the original. Since then, it’s remained one of the few challengers left in the MMO space to take on World of Warcraft, and boasts over 16 million users on a monthly subscription model.

Why is it important?
MMOs were long on the decline as gaming tastes changed, and titles that were MMOs in all but name like Destiny and Warframe kept popping up. Now that the “live services” trend is starting to stabilize and players find their footing in what they like, it’s nice to see Final Fantasy XIV doing better than ever. If you want to see how serious Square Enix is committed to the game after all this time, just look at the recent Shadowbringers trailer, starring none other than Tom Holland and Hannibal Buress. I’d expect that kind of star talent for a Kingdom Hearts game, but the latest Final Fantasy XIV expansion? That’s wild. Now if only they started advertising Final Fantasy XI like that…

There’s anime eyes, and then there’s Clannad eyes.

Clannad (Switch)
Publisher: Prototype
Developer: Key
Release Date: 7/4/19

What is it?
Not to be confused with the Irish band of the same name, Clannad is one of the key visual novels (both literally and figuratively) of the 2000’s. Following in a series of titles including Kanon and Air, Clannad was Key’s first visual novel designed from the ground up for a wide audience and follows the story of delinquent Tomoya Okazaki and his attempts to help the girls at his high school with their various life problems. Popular in Japan since its release in 2004, Clannad has been ported to several consoles over the years, and also had an anime series that ran from 2007-8.

Why is it important?
Key’s initial visual novels were still popular when they were part of the “eroge (“erotic game”) market, but when they went more mainstream with Clannad, they became a force to be reckoned with. Their titles were a direct inspiration for the next generation of visual novels, like 07th Expansion’s Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When They Cry), as well as titles like Hatoful Boyfriend and Doki Doki Literature Club, which have approached the genre from increasingly comedic and critical angles. Visual novels like Clannad have always been a hard sell because of their sometimes troubling subject matter, and ten years ago an English release would have been unheard of, but here it is on the Switch – on the fourth of July, no less.

Can Ang Lee direct the film adaptation?

Sea of Solitude (PC/PS4/XB1)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Jo-Mei Games
Release Date: 7/5/19

What is it?
Sea of Solitude is an indie game about mental illness and the ways our struggles with ourselves can manifest into challenges we try to overcome. Players slip into the role of Kay, a woman living in an abandoned city who fights monsters to learn why she herself has become one. Published by Electronic arts as part of their “EA Originals” program, this title has been in the works for a number of years and presents an interesting look at what happens when indie sensibilities meet a large corporate publisher. Hopefully it’s successful for all involved, and more games like this can get funding.

Why is it important?
Creating video games about personal topics like mental health is an important way for video games to expand as an art form. It inherently asks how we can reconcile what we see as a “game” with topics that aren’t fun to experience. Theoretically, games can tackle just as wide a variety of subjects as movies or books can, if not more so, but that’s always going to be a harder sell to an audience that’s so used to titles that focus on what feels fun. As this is following on the encouraging success of Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice however, perhaps there is a growing market for these experiences after all.

Minecraft 2 when?

Dragon Quest Builders 2 (PS4/Switch)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Omega Force/Square Enix
Release Date: 7/12/19

What is it?
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is Minecraft meets Dragon Quest – again. With numerous improvements over the original, including a first person mode, four player co-op and new traversal options, there’s a good chance this will feel like a real sequel instead of a new build of the game. However, the existence of a sequel at all is unusual in this genre. Most games with a similar formula like Minecraft, Terraria, or Don’t Starve are supported by their development teams for years; few get sequels, especially so soon. Having a new story taking place in relation to Dragon Quest II will help, but I’m interested to see if there’s an benefit to releasing another Builders title this quickly.

Why is it important?
Koei Tecmo has the interesting distinction of being involved with three major titles this month, all releasing a week apart from one another. This is the first one, and it’s being worked on by Omega Force, the division that usually works on Dynasty Warriors. This seems more than a coincidence to me – perhaps Koei just likes being that flexible? Was it an arrangement to get the game out on time? Regardless, Dragon Quest is one of Square’s oldest franchises and has been pretty consistent. I don’t see this one rocking the boat, but I also don’t see it setting the world on fire, either.

Like The Avengers, but more of an Alliance, really.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: 7/19/19

What is it?
The second big Koei Tecmo-related game this month is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, developed by Team Ninja. Once mostly known for the Dead or Alive franchise, Team Ninja’s past collaborations with Nintendo have yielded not only Metroid: Other M, but more recent titles like Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors. They’re also responsible for the modern Ninja Gaiden games and Nioh, so their credibility is solid – for the most part. I just think it’s kind of strange for the two companies to team up for a sequel in franchise that neither had any involvement with before.

Why is it important?
Disney’s video game licensing strategy is an interesting one. From the outside, it seems they’re letting specific teams work on different IP in the hopes they can bring their special touch to each one. This is why Insomniac Games got to work on Spider-Man, and why modern Crystal Dynamics got to do The Avengers. If these games all end up working out well (and Spider-Man already has), I hope it leads to more lesser known properties getting their chance at a game. Perhaps a She-Hulk game developed by Shu Takumi? Please?

To be honest, I really miss the pixel art of the GBA games. Those were rad.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems/Koei Tecmo Games
Release Date 7/26/19

What is it?
Three Houses is the first mainline Fire Emblem title to appear in HD. With a new school setting, new gameplay ideas, and a new co-developer under the hood, I would say that this has all the signs of a reinvention of the series, but that’s not really saying much. Over the course of three 3DS titles alone, the series saw lots of variety: Awakening was a culmination of the series that refined several core mechanics; Fates got released as three separate games that came together to tell one story, and Echoes was a remake of the Famicom-era Fire Emblem Gaiden, which had unique mechanics like dungeon crawling. Keeping all of this in mind, I’m sure Three Houses will fit right in as the natural next step of the franchise.

Why is it important?
I think Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo’s best franchises precisely because it’s prone to so much change. They find a way to make each one feel distinct. Bringing Koei Tecmo along for the ride will definitely add an interesting spice to the mix, but even if it’s a total failure (which I doubt it would be), the franchise can bounce right back. Especially if the next step is to do another remake.

This seems like one of those “political” games I hear about. Can I get 12 more?

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot (PC/PS4) (VR)
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios
Developer: MachineGames/Arkane Studios
Release Date: 7/26/19

What is it?
A companion game to Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Cyberpilot is a VR experience set in a 1980’s Paris that is overrun by Nazis. Players saddle up as a hacker employed by the French resistance to bring down the empire through their set of skills – temporarily taking the spotlight away from the Blazkowicz name, but also showing that people aren’t just relying on BJ and his family to get things done. Judging by the trailer, it looks like an on-rails affair, but that’s not a huge deal to me. Honestly, I’m more interested in the fact that it’s $20. That’s a pretty good deal for a VR game, especially when the game releasing right alongside it is $40.

Why is it important?
This may seem like a weird detour for the Wolfenstein series to take in lieu of a Wolfenstein III, but my guess is that that will be a next-gen title, while these games are stopgap experiments that keep the series fresh. I’m not complaining – more titles from MachineGames and Arkane Studios aren’t a bad thing. I just also really want to see a Wolfenstein III at some point, especially if they have to go through some hefty narrative hoops to keep it surprising if it still takes place before these titles in the timeline.

I doubt few video game twins will live up to these two.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood (PC/PS4/Swtich/XB1)
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios
Developer: MachineGames/Arkane Studios/Panic Button (Switch)
Release Date: 7/26/19

What is it?
A co-op adventure starring Jessica and Sophia, the twin daughters of William J. Blazkowicz, this title also takes place during the 1980’s in more or less the same location – France. On the hunt for their father, the girls take the city by storm and bring with them a different energy to the franchise. Players can go alone by choosing either character, but my money says that co-op will be the best way to play. At the very least, it’ll be an accurate representation of what’s going on in the story.

Why is it important?
After Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus released in a crowded holiday calendar against titles like Call of Duty: WWII, releasing Youngblood in July comes off as a smart choice. It avoids the crowd and gives the game time on the market before significant competition comes along. Sure, it’s technically competing against Cyberpilot for people’s attention but the titles serve such different audiences, that anyone who’s interested in both will probably get both. 

Yeah, I know, shut up.

Corpse Killer: 25th Anniversary Edition (PC/PS4)
Publisher: Digital Pictures/Screaming Villains (25th)/Limited Run Games (PS4 physical)
Developer: Digital Pictures
Release Date: 7/20/19

What is it?
I’ll be honest: I’ve never played Corpse Killer. It’s a live action FMV title from 1994, when several games like it were made following the controversy around Night Trap. It’s pretty much an on-rails shooter mixed with a bizarre plot and even weirder acting – nothing about it has ever seemed particularly “good” to me. Unless the controls are severely reworked, I doubt it’ll hold up that well. All of that being said though, I think it’s incredibly important this game is getting re-released, and applaud all involved for doing so.

Why is it important?
Game preservation is important. A video game isn’t a book or a movie. It can’t just be printed in a new edition, or restored and released on DVD and streaming sites. It has to be put on a platform, updated and supported until that platform goes away and a new port is needed for a new generation of hardware. It’s virtually impossible to do this with every title regardless of quality – especially when an aspect of a game might be caught up in a maze of legal paperwork. So it might sound trite to say, but I’m genuinely happy whenever there are new remastered games and ports. It keeps these older titles relevant and just that much farther from the dust of oblivion. I probably won’t be buying Corpse Killer, it’s not for me, but I wish the best to everyone who will. In the end, you’re still supporting a good cause.

If anything, Dream Daddy can also offer insight into how to be a better parent, too.

Contact info: You can reach me in the comments below. Also Twitter. And by email: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com. If you want to read about some of the cool stuff that came out in June, you can do that here.