SLOWLY GETTING BETTER

Hello, all! Sorry for the delay – my life is suddenly in a different place, and there’s no telling when, or if, I’ll be able to get articles out like I used to. This should have been posted two weeks ago – I apologize that it was not.

You could say this is the part where 2020’s release calendar turns around. With a number of games cramming themselves into the end of the financial quarter this month, it would appear that game releases are finally on the upswing. This is, however, only half of the story. We have some new games to discuss, but there are still remakes and remasters on the horizon, and ever-present mainstays like MLB The Show to talk about as well.

You may notice that I’ve excluded some bigger name releases from the list this month. As always, let me just say that I write these lists at my own discretion, and I usually try to go where I find the most interesting stories. It may seem strange that I’m talking about MLB The Show instead of DOOM Eternal, but I’d be lying if I said I found the latest DOOM to be particularly interesting. There are new details about The Show that could change the series as we know it – DOOM does not.

There are plenty of other stories worth mentioning, too. For example, this month NIS America is releasing two retail collections I find fascinating: Langrisser I & II and La-Mulana I & II. These two franchises couldn’t be more different, but each of their histories tell stories about the niche/indie side of gaming that is very common, yet not talked about enough. And then there’s the appearance of Nioh 2, which is part of a burgeoning franchise that has succeeded where very few have before. These are just some of the stories – there are plenty more if you know where to look.

Anyway, I know what I’m getting this month, and maybe this list will help you decide for yourself. See you in April!

Can you imagine trying to make a Pokémon game without Pikachu at this point?

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX
(
Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokemon Company | Developer: Spike Chunsoft | Release Date: 3/6/20


What is it?
Mystery Dungeon DX is a remake of the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team. When these titles were first introduced, the idea of a “roguelike” wasn’t as common or well-known as it is today. In the years since, randomized dungeon layouts have taken the industry by storm, from Rogue Legacy to Crypt of the Necrodancer. It’s interesting how times change. Once upon a time, one of the coolest aspects of this game was how Blue Rescue Team was a DS game and Red Rescue Team was on GBA and they could communicate with each other on one DS. Now, this is the first major Pokémon game to get a single retail SKU since Detective Pikachu in 2018.

Why is it important?
Nintendo is rarely one to let a property like Pokémon get featured in a series they don’t own the rights to. Evidently, however, the success of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is enough to continue to let Spike Chunsoft do their thing. Mystery Dungeon games aren’t limited to the Pokémon series, yet they’re easily the most well-known entries. This series began with Torneko no Daibōken: Fushigi no Dungeon, a spin-off of Dragon Quest IV, and has since expanded to the Etrian Odyssey series, as well as its own line of original games.

If you like Fire Emblem, you may like this.

Langrisser I & II
(PC/PS4/Switch)

Publisher: NIS America | Developer: Chara-ani Corporation/Extreme | Release Date: 3/10/20


What is it?
In the 1990’s, when strategy RPGs were among Japan’s best kept video game secrets, several franchises came to market besides the Fire Emblems and Advance Wars we may be most familiar with. Langrisser was one of them, dating back to a title on Sega Genesis that was released in the West as Warsong in 1991. After Warsong failed to make an impact, it would be another twenty-five years before Aksys Games released another localized entry – Langrisser Re:Incarnation Tensei on 3DS – to pretty poor reviews. After that came the mobile game, Langrisser Mobile, which launched in January of 2019. NIS America’s release of Langrisser I & II is only the latest attempt to get this franchise noticed outside of Japan, and considering the strange localization history, I say: good luck.

Why is it important?
With gaming becoming more and more global, and with niche markets continuing to grow, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a more concentrated effort to localize Langrisser games before. I imagine a lot of it has to do with the fact that post-2000, the series went on an extended hiatus as its sister series, Growlanser, came into prominence and had its own strange and twisty relationship with the West. With Re:Incarnation and Mobile both getting localized, there may be hope for this series yet, but that depends on how much NISA is willing to herald the franchise’s grand return.

I’d love to see Moon Studios and Vanillaware team up on a game. It’d look stunning.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps
(
PC/XB1)

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Developer: Moon Studios | Release Date: 3/11/20


What is it?
Will of the Wisps is the long-awaited sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest, an indie Metroidvania-style platformer published by Microsoft on the Xbox One, PC, and most recently the Switch. In the five years since Blind Forest, Wisps has taken its time to improve on the formula, taking direct inspiration from games like Hollow Knight, and adding developers from popular fan projects like AM2R to the staff. As recently as last year, when Microsoft’s first party calendar was paper-thin, this was one of the few titles fans could look forward to. Now, with the Series X on the docket for later this year, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Why is it important?
Ori and the Blind Forest is one of most discussed indie games of the current generation, often brought up in the same breath as The Witness and Cuphead, as people find it, fall in love with it, and pass it on to their friends. Hopefully, developer Moon Studio can expand upon that word of mouth excitement by presenting a game that represents all of the things they’ve learned over the last five years. I don’t know if that will necessarily make Wisps better, but considering they’ve been teasing it since 2017, I hope it’s worth the wait.

No one said this was a horror game…

Nioh 2
(PS4)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: Team Ninja | Release Date: 3/13/20


What is it?
Nioh, Tecmo Koei’s take on a Souls-like game, came from the most auspicious beginnings. Chris Priestman explains its origins as a script worked on by legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in his write up on the game’s history for Kill Screen. Starting development in the mid-2000’s alongside a tie-in movie, it underwent a gradual transformation that took two console generations and several restarts along the way. It eventually came out as a PS4 exclusive in 2017 and is getting a second game, a prequel, only three years later. In an industry where most stories like this end in one-and-done projects like The Last GuardianDuke Nukem Forever, and Final Fantasy XV, the appearance of a Nioh 2 is pretty significant.

Why is it important?
For the amount of shady business Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja get up to with game monetization, making a Nioh sequel is one area where I can’t really fault them. After all the time and effort it took to get the original game out the door, it only makes sense they’d want to capitalize on its critical acclaim and make another in significantly less time. I doubt it’d be based on another old Kurosawa script but, man, if there are anymore of those lying around, I’d sure like to read them…

I also read that as La-Mulana 12 at first.

La-Mulana 1 & 2: Hidden Treasures Edition
(PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: NIS America | Developer: Nigoro | Release Date: 3/17/20


What is it?
When we talk about the rise of indie games in the mid to late-2000’s, one game that’s usually mentioned in the pre-Xbox Live Arcade era is Pixel’s Cave Story. However, the first La-Mulana was also there, released first in Japan on Windows in 2005, before having a Cave Story-esque remake for WiiWare years later. It was subsequently ported to other consoles, and also had a sequel, La-Mulana 2, funded via Kickstarter in 2014 that released a couple years later. These two games serve as an interesting time capsule, comparing where the indie scene was fifteen years ago, to where it’s gone in today’s world.

Why is it important?
I think games like La-Mulana are fun to highlight. When even March proves to be a middling month for game releases at best, plenty of opportunities exist to look back on games you may have missed, and this collection is only the latest example. I’m fascinated by NISA’s recent commitment to releasing new versions of older Japanese games like this and Langrisser, but I’m not complaining. I always say that any game you haven’t played is still new to you, whether it was made in 1991, 2005, or even 2020. They’re all worth your time.

Sony’s Show will soon expand to other markets.

MLB The Show 20
(PS4)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: SIE San Diego Studio | Release Date: 3/17/20


What is it?
MLB: The Show 20 is Sony’s latest first party baseball sim. These aren’t always games I make a point of covering, but The Show 20 is a special exception. Back in December, it was announced that, due to a new licensing deal with the MLB, The Show won’t be a Sony exclusive anymore. On top of this being the last year the series would be exclusive to the PS4 with the PS5 horizon, we now have to contend with the idea that this series may appear on Xbox, Switch, Steam, and wherever else SIE’s San Diego Studio may go in 2021 and beyond.

Why is it important?
Sony’s hold on digital baseball in recent years has been interesting, especially as the thought of exclusive license contracts makes less and less sense. With Horizon: Zero Dawn and Death Stranding (via 505 Games) coming to PC, having The Show go multiplatform around the same time puts Sony in a very weird situation. Microsoft has been warming up to putting their games elsewhere over the years, going back to new versions of Minecraft being published after their acquisition of Mojang. However, where it felt like Microsoft wanted this for themselves, it seems like Sony’s had their hand forced. They’ve gone from dipping their big toe in the water, to being pushed into the shallow end of the pool. Will they experiment with bringing their franchises to other consoles? Well, the Switch is a good successor to the Vita…

Run with the crafting system for all that it’s worth.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Nintendo EPD | Release Date: 3/20/20


What is it?
Animal Crossing finally comes to Switch with New Horizons – the proper successor to New Leaf on 3DS that many of my friends and I have been waiting for. This time, you’re not just the mayor of your own town, you’re its founder. Starting from a small deserted island, you basically build your town from scratch with more customization options than ever before. You can set paths, build almost all of the buildings, and terraform through any pesky mountains or rivers you want. Having this much power over your island is an intriguing premise, but this entry might very well depend on how people take to the new crafting materials at the core of the gameplay.

Why is it important?
Nintendo’s offerings for the first part of 2020 have been about as light as everyone else’s. New ports of Tokyo Mirage Sessions and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon are cool, but they’re just that. Ports. Here, finally, is a new game that many people have been anticipating. The game that will likely set the tone for how people see Nintendo and the continued success of the Switch for the next few months. And also one that keeps the company’s March tradition alive. Almost every year the Switch has been around, March has seen the release of a Nintendo game that’s been delayed more than usual, as games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Yoshi’s Crafted World can attest to. What will next year’s game be, Metroid Prime 4?

The return of the corridor shooter.

Half-Life: Alyx
(
PC/VR)

Publisher: Valve | Developer: Valve | Release Date: 3/23/20


What is it?
Set between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, Alyx will be a big showcase for the Source 2 engine, and is, arguably, the biggest VR project since Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. It’s a new Half-Life game, it’s a return to traditional game development for Valve, and it’s also their flagship VR game. It’s the kind of title that means a lot of things to a lot of people, and it’s just as much a game as it is a statement about where the company is at this moment in time. 

Why is it important?
Valve has always treated the Half-Life series as a harbinger for the future of technology and game distribution. Just look at Half-Life 2‘s part in introducing Steam to PC users. You could even point to the Half-Life 2 Episodes as both one of the first major franchises to adopt an episodic format, and one to show the dangers of that kind of content delivery. With the announcement and imminent release of Alyx, this message is as clear as ever. If you want Valve to make a new Half-Life game, you need to invent the technology they can use with it to show the next step forward.

Looks almost like the Enslaved sequel we never got.

Bleeding Edge
(PC/XB1)

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Developer: Ninja Theory | Release Date: 3/24/20


What is it?
Ninja Theory’s first big project with parent company Microsoft is finally here: a melee-focused hero-based online game in the vein of Overwatch, but with character designs straight out of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Following the development of stylish, motion-capture heavy games like Heavenly Sword and DMC: Devil May Cry, along with the serious exploration of mental illness in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Ninja Theory’s pivot to Bleeding Edge is surprising but not unheard of. It’s like Enslaved went back in time to meet their first game, Kung-Fu Chaos, and came back to the year 2020 with plenty of stories to tell.

Why is it important?
Unless this game is a complete failure, it’ll likely make its way to the Xbox Series X. This makes Bleeding Edge a good glimpse at what Microsoft’s strategy will be going forward. To make up for the dearth of content this generation, they’re jumping on all the trends, and starting live services now, so that when they try to take the market back, they will theoretically have all their ducks in a row. I’m admittedly a little skeptical from what I’ve seen, but we’ll see how critics and audiences respond when this title comes out. At least Hellblade II is in the works as well.

Good luck with those next 100+ hours.

Persona 5 Royal
(PS4)

Publisher: Atlus USA (Sega) | Developer: P-Studio | Release Date: 3/31/20


What is it?
Make an expanded edition of Persona 5, and release it a few years after the original, just like Persona 3 before it. In all fairness, Persona 4 Golden got a huge upgrade when it moved from PS2 to Vita, but that’s just the point: there was a major leap from console to handheld. Being generous, you can say that Persona 5 Royal is an upgrade of a PS3-based game that includes a new character and expanded story elements, but it’s interesting that Atlus made this version at all when the PS5 is right there on the horizon.

Why is it important?
2020 has a good chance of being remembered as “that year when all those games got ported and re-released because everyone was too busy making games for the new consoles,” and this new version of Persona 5 only supports that theory. Like I said in the beginning, the release calendar is slowly getting better, but we have a long way to go before we get back to how packed 2019 was. Until then, our days will be filled with more moments like this, where we can sit back and commit ourselves to 100+ hour JRPGs if we so choose. At least, for those of us who don’t try to do so already.

La-Mulana harkens back to the old-old days.

Ten Games to Look For is a series that rounds up the most interesting releases of the coming month and tells you why they might be worth your time. Not every month is exciting, but there’s always new games to check out. For more articles from A Gaming Life Pt. 2, you can head here. If you’d like to leave a comment, the comments section below is always a good option. You can also get in touch with me on Twitter, and by email too: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com.