GROUNDHOG DAY IN SEPTEMBER

Recently, I was talking with a friend when she brought up how she associates certain music albums with seasons of the year. Right away, I knew what she meant because this is something I do too. Troye Sivan’s TRXYE EP is something I’m more likely to throw on during the summer, because it’s filled with the kinds of jams you’d blast in your car while driving through a hot afternoon. Netutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, meanwhile, is an album I always turn to during the autumn. Something about that album’s warmth, love, and intense visual imagery reminds me of sweater days, leaves changing color, and the glory that is pumpkin spice. I also remember playing Aeroplane a lot during college for some early semester inspiration, but that’s neither here, nor there.

Anyway, that conversation had me wondering – are there any other kinds of art I associate with the seasons? How about video games? I took a glance at the list of games I whipped up for the month of September (the list you’re reading right now), and realized that most of them struck me as perfect autumn titles. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered has that back-to-school vibe. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has that dreamlike twinge of strangeness that seems perfect for the chilly weather and upcoming Halloween festivities. Titles like GreedfallBorderlands 3, and Daemon X Machina even have the color schemes to match the oranges, red, yellows, and browns of the leaves as they fall to the ground. Without intending it, most of the titles on this list strike me as a great way to ring in the new season – and all of the long-sleeved goodness it represents.

It’s not all perfect. Groundhog Day: Like Father, Like Son is a holiday-themed VR title based on the Harold Ramis movie that would be perfect for February. It’s festive in its own way, but as an autumn title, there isn’t much there.

No metaphor’s ever truly perfect, though. See you in October!

FF8
Squall/Leon looks a lot closer to his character model in Kingdom Hearts.

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered
(PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)
Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: Square Enix/Dotemu | Release Date: 9/3/19


What is it?
Final Fantasy VIII is the second mainline Final Fantasy title on the Playstation, and a personal favorite of mine. It is also one of the most contentious entries in the series, with criticism aimed at everything from its gameplay (most notably, the Draw system) to the moodiness of the protagonist, Squall. Rumors have circulated for a while that, even though a version of this title released on the PS3 as a PSOne Classic, we would never see a touched up re-release like Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X because Square Enix lost the source code. Maybe that was true at some point, but it could also be that the people who compare this to other controversial entries in the series, like Final Fantasy XIII, didn’t think it was coming back because they didn’t want it to.

Why is it important?
Rumors or not, the remastered version of this game will be in our hands very soon. I think it’s one of the most important releases of the month, because there are few titles with more potential for a critical reevaluation. The game reviewed well, as texts from IGN and GameSpot help show, but there was a level of hype surrounding it few games could ever match. Not only was it the follow up to Final Fantasy VII, which took over the world, but it was poised as the Playstation’s main defense against the Sega Dreamcast’s thematic September 9, 1999 release date. With all that pressure, it’s no surprise the things that make FFVIII unique were put under a microscope by fans. Now that we’re twenty years removed from that, it’s time to see what a fresh perspective can bring.

Creature in the Well
It’s a beast of a premise, that’s for sure.

Creature in the Well
(PC/Switch/XB1
)
Publisher: Flight School Studio | Developer: Flight School Studio | Release Date: 9/6/19


What is it?
Last year, Yoku’s Island Express impressed critics by recontextualizing the tried and true game of pinball into a side-scrolling platformer. Creature in the Well looks to do something similar, except now it’s pinball with top-down hack and slash action in mind. You hit the pinballs with your swords, they go flying into various obstacles and rack up points, and you can use the skills you learn along the way to face off against the protagonist’s enemies. The art style is pretty stellar, and the trailer is one of the better ones I’ve seen in recent memory.

Why is it important?
Discovering new indies like this is always fun. Especially when they come from a developer like Flight School Studio, who is mostly known for their work on VR and AR experiences. It’s hard to imagine the company that just debuted a VR recreation of World War I, created with Hardcore History’s Dan Carlin, pivoting to hack and slash pinball. However, I get the feeling this was something that got pitched, and everyone realized it was too good to pass up.

Gears 5
One more turn on the Merry-Go-Cogs.

Gears 5
(PC/XB1)
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios| Developer: The Coalition | Release Date: 9/10/19


What is it?
It’s been three years since of Gears of War 4, and excitement for the series is not what it used to be. Gears 5, announced with Gears POP and Gears Tactics, appears to be part of Microsoft’s strategy to find a way to bring this franchise back to its glory days. It has a new Escape Mode, which was introduced during its E3 2019 presentation, and seems like a fun time for people who like three person co-op. There’s also a crossover promotion with the upcoming film Terminator: Dark Fate that includes Sarah Connor and a T-800 if you preordered the game. Beyond that, it’s more Gears. For better or worse.

Why is it important?
Gears 5 is important just by being one of the few Microsoft exclusives to come out this year. At the same time, I’m getting some of the same red flags that came with Crackdown 3. Buzz for the title seems as low as ever, and there hasn’t been a convincing argument made to change that perception. 2019 as a whole feels like a dumping ground for Microsoft to release long-gestating projects that never quite came together, so they can start 2020 fresh in the ramp up to a new console. The Battletoads revival, which is still apparently coming this year, has the same energy. No one really knows what it’s about, or why they should be excited, but it’s coming anyway. It’s rather disappointing.

GreedFall
Assassin’s Creedfall.

Greedfall
(PC/PS4/XB1)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive | Developer: Spiders | Release Date: 9/10/19


What is it?
Developed by the team behind Bound by Flame and The TechnomancerGreedfall is set in a fantastical version of the 1600’s and tells an all-too familiar story: a new island is found, several different groups jostle for power, and it’s up to the player to side with the conquerors seeking to colonize the land, or support the Elven natives against such an invasion. Given that this is set at a high-point in the real world age of colonialism, I think Spiders is well aware they’re making an RPG that’s nothing if not political. More blatantly than most. Whether or not this premise is pulled off tastefully has yet to be seen, but the idea still fascinates me. I applaud them for putting themselves out there like this, at the very least.

Why is it important?
Titles like Bound by Flame have hit some players really well in the past, while others see them as budget attempts to take RPG mechanics found in Bioware and FromSoftware games and use them without the same level of grace and polish. I err on the side I see as more realistic: Spiders is a small French developer, and they seek to provide alternatives to the giant western RPGs that have dominated the genre for well over a decade. On the whole, they’ve improved with each title, and Greedfall could be their big moment if it hits the right way. As long as the politics of the game are good and have meaningful things to say, people will talk about it.

Borderlands 3
Yep, I’m doing this.

Borderlands 3
(PC/PS4/XB1)
Publisher: 2K Games | Developer: Gearbox Software | Release Date: 9/13/19


What is it?
Alright, Borderlands 3. Here we go. Without a doubt, this follow up to 2012’s Borderlands 2 is one of the most highly anticipated titles of the year. If you’re familiar with this looter shooter franchise, you’ll be happy to know that this is the game you’ve probably been waiting for. No more Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. No more Telltale’s Tales From the Borderlands. This is the real Gearbox Software-developed, Randy Pitchford-marketed deal seven years in the making. I’ve talked about my issues reporting on this title in the past, but I ultimately decided to include it here because of just how much people are looking forward to it. Whenever I talk with random people about games, excitement for Borderlands 3 always comes up quickly.

Why is it important?
Anything that gets people excited like this game is bound to be important. Plus, with the saga of a year that Gearbox Software and 2K Games have had, it’s genuinely impressive to see this game still standing.  It’s like it’s made of Teflon and it isn’t even out yet. I’m also sure that a lot of talented and great people working at Gearbox, 2K Games, and anywhere else that may have contributed work, went to great lengths to make this the best game they could, and I don’t want to demean their work by being so negative. However, so much of the press surrounding the game’s development has been pretty negative, and I think my coverage reflects that. I bet it’ll still do well though, so what I think doesn’t ultimately matter. If it hasn’t fallen yet, nothing I can say will tip the scale.

Daemon X Machina
Two high profile mech games in two months? That’s pretty metal.

Daemon X Machina
(Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Marvelous First Studio | Release Date: 9/13/19


What is it?
I liked what I played of the Daemon X Machina demo earlier this year, sensing a mech game that will appeal to the customization-heavy Armored Core crowd, as much as it will to fans who miss Monolith Soft RPGs like Xenosaga. It’s not often we see Nintendo stepping up to the plate to publish a game like this, but whatever forces brought this pairing together, let me just be the one to say: thank you. I might not be getting it right away, but it definitely looks like it’ll be up my alley when I have the change to pick it up.

Why is it important?
Nintendo’s roster of exclusives continues to impress. As I write this, Astral Chain has been getting great reviews, while Super Mario Maker 2 and Fire Emblem: Three Houses have been some of the most talked about games of the year. I know Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 didn’t end up scoring as well as these other three, but it was still one of the top five highest selling games of July, according to the NPD (via Venture Beat). Even if it doesn’t do as well as these other titles, there’s plenty of room for Daemon X Machina to do pretty well for itself. If Nintendo manages to wow audiences with the rest of their releases this year, there’s a good chance they could surpass their 2017 output, when Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild set the industry on fire.

Groundhog Day VR
We Happy Groundhogs.

Groundhog Day: Like Father, Like Son
(Oculus Rift/PSVR/Vive)
Publisher: Sony Pictures VR | Developer: Tequila Works | Release Date: 9/17/19


What is it?
Right now, I wish I could clearly remember the time Groundhog Day writer Danny Rubin gave a talk during one of my college classes. It was around when the Groundhog Day musical debuted on Broadway, and I’d be curious to know if he slipped any hints about this, or any other upcoming projects during the chat. What we have here is a VR sequel from the developers at Tequila Works, who also worked on The Sexy Brutale. This feels like the kind of project you’d conjure in a fever dream, but it’s here. It’s almost out. You play as the son of Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, as you have a similar kind of Groundhog Day experience that he had in the film. Weird? Yes. Did Danny Rubin know about this a couple years back? I hope so.

Why is it important?
In reality, Groundhog Day doesn’t need a sequel or a remake. However, since we live in an entertainment age when any story can be retooled at any point, I prefer something as wild as this, instead of a 2002 straight-to-DVD sequel starring James Remar as Phil, and Skeet Ulrich as the son. Not that I have anything against those actors, they just seem like the right kind of casting choices a studio would make if this hypothetical movie ever existed. Anyway, this VR experience looks way cooler than any of that, so I’m glad it went down this way.

Zelda
Nintendo and unique art aesthetics go so well together.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
(Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Nintendo/Grezzo | Release Date: 9/20/19


What is it?
In following up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has already announced a proper sequel is in the works. Before we get there, though, they’re giving us a detour into a reimagined version of Koholint Island in this remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. With an amazing art style that calls the old Rankin and Bass holiday specials to mind, and Link’s Awakening‘s reputation as a weird, dreamlike fantasy, this should be a rare experience for a generation who didn’t grow up with the Game Boy, and a wonderful nostalgia trip for those who did. It’s also co-developed by Grezzo, who most recently worked on The Alliance Alive.

Why is it important?
Between a Zelda remake and a new Borderlands title, I think Zelda is the more important of the two, but only by a hair. One of the most interesting additions to this new version of the game is “Chamber Dungeons,” which allow players to design puzzles for themselves like the Legend of Zelda Maker we never had. I’d argue the original release is still pretty timeless, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been done, if anything, to balance the difficulty. Honestly, I’d find it pretty funny if they went back to including more tutorials, but left some of the game’s more obscure puzzles alone.

Code Vein
Character designers are just the best.

Code Vein
(PC/PS4/XB1)
Publisher: Bandai Namco| Developer: Bandai Namco | Release Date: 9/27/19


What is it?
Bandai Namco, publisher of the Dark Souls series, has had their hands full since FromSoftware finished their trilogy in 2016. Code Vein is their in-house attempt to create a similarly styled game, and they’ve spent the last couple of years working on it in the public eye. Originally set to launch last September, the year-long delay hopefully means they’ve polished it enough to be really happy with the outcome, but nothing’s certain. It’s blood instead of souls and vampires instead of demons, but as long as the gameplay is good and the story moves things along, I can see audiences digging this. It’s not the only game of this type releasing this month, but I only had room for one. Sorry, The Surge 2!

Why is it important?
Are the Souls games good because FromSoftware is a great developer, or did they just hit on a formula that people can dig into, no matter where it comes from? That’s the question titles like Code Vein have been trying to answer for years. The problem is, there hasn’t been another game following FromSoftware’s pedigree that has reached the same level of critical acclaim and audience success. The name Code Vein has been around long enough that it has the best shot of any of these titles to make a breakthrough, but if the reviews aren’t there for it, its chances tank immensely.

Ori
And a sequel’s coming to Xbox One/PC next year!

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
(Switch)
Publisher: Microsoft Studios | Developer: Moon Studios | Release Date: 9/27/19


What is it?
Ori and the Blind Forest was an Xbox One indie darling when it launched back in 2015, and aside from Cuphead, there’s no title in this position better suited for the Switch. Microsoft has carefully laid the groundwork for deals like this, initially letting Rare develop for the GBA and DS back in the day, before being thrown into the middle of all the platform holders when they bought Mojang and decided to keep Minecraft multiplatform. Only Microsoft knows when, if ever, a deal like this will be struck again, but it’s worth noting Ori and the Will of the Wisps launches next February. Perhaps they’ll work out a timed-exclusive deal if this Switch version of the first Ori sells well.

Why is it important?
One seemingly small difference between the Switch releases of Ori and Cuphead, is that Cuphead developer StudioMDHR published the port themselves, while Ori is being published by Microsoft. This isn’t that huge a deal in the grand scheme of things, but if you told me this would be happening fifteen years ago, my mind would be blown. Microsoft? Publishing games on Nintendo platforms? I’d have to go lay down. And then curl up into a ball once I found out that Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s RevengeSabre WulfIt’s Mr. PantsBanjo-Pilot, and Diddy Kong Racing DS existed all this time, too.

Ori and the Blind Forest


That’s it for September 2019. There are no more games, sorry! If you want to get in touch with me about this article or anything at all, feel free to leave a comment below. You can also contact me on Twitter. I also have an email address you can use: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com.