Tag: squareenix

Square Enix’s Project Hikari makes a good case for VR comics

Comics are big business in Japan, but here in the West, Japanese and American titles alike tend to get overshadowed by movies, television and video games. In fact, many of those programs might even be adaptations of popular comic titles. For its first big VR project, Square Enix's Advanced Technology Division is putting the spotlight back on manga. But it isn't just about taking these stories and pasting them into a headset. Due for release in 2018 on all major VR platforms, Project Hikari aims to capture the look and feel of reading a manga while taking advantage of the immersive nature of VR to let the viewer delve deeper into these worlds.

Square Enix is best known for console role-playing games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But it has also been a manga publisher for several decades now, putting out popular titles like Soul Eater, Black Butler and Fullmetal Alchemist. When the team first encountered the Oculus dev kit back in 2013, project lead Kaei Sou says they were inspired to do something more story-focused than the usual VR fare, as well as something unique to Square Enix. The company's large back catalog of manga gave them that opportunity.

For Project Hikari's first outing, the team chose Tales of Wedding Rings, a lesser-known title from the company's oeuvre. The idea was that working on something more high profile like Fullmetal Alchemist would draw criticism from fans if they didn't like how it looked or if something was left out. But while the creator of Tales of Wedding Rings has been giving the Advanced Technology Division some feedback and art assistance as it develops the project, he's been mostly hands off, though apparently pleased with the results.

Instead of a fully interactive experience where you wander around a virtual space and click on things that interest you, Project Hikari is focused on feeding you the story. That means there are stretches where you're looking at panels floating in front of you, dialogue and all. It's similar to other attempts to translate comics into VR, with images floating in a simulated space. But the Square Enix team has also added spoken dialogue, sound effects and music.

Square Enix is hardly the first to try to meld comics with other media. Marvel has been experimenting with concepts like motion comics and adaptive audio for decades. And then there's popular webcomic Homestuck, which incorporates various multimedia and interactive elements over its thousands of pages of story.

Where Project Hikari differs is how it incorporates animation. For companies like Marvel, calling something a motion comic was a way to cover up the fact that it was essentially a cheap cartoon, with limited motion and reused backgrounds akin to an old Hanna Barbera show. But Project Hikari aims for realistic 3D animation, something that looks smooth and natural from every angle.

One of the team's biggest challenges has been taking 2D drawings and reconceptualizing them for the virtual space. Artists may need to take a lot of shortcuts or distort their character designs in order to get them to look the right way on the page. It doesn't matter if something isn't anatomically accurate, as long as it looks fine in the finished drawing. But when transferred into a 3D space, the flaws in the images become obvious, with things like overly long limbs and crooked facial features seeming downright horrific.

So the character designers have had to rework the character models, making sure protagonists Satou and Hime look well-proportioned and detailed while still maintaining the distinct look of manga. It's not unlike how the Disney short Paperman is computer animated but still carries many visual markers of hand-drawn animation. The artists on Project Hikari pay a lot of attention to line thickness and shading, aiming for the natural, somewhat imperfect look of ink on paper. But they still need to give it some 3D shadowing to give the characters weight in the eyes of the viewers who will end up standing next to them.

The animation right now is done through motion capture. That means although it looks fluid and natural, it's impractical in the long run. The eventual goal, which the company will work toward with later chapters, is to fully animate the story from scratch on a computer.

The characters aren't the only thing the team has had to build out though. Even if Project Hikari heavily leans on its floating-comic-panel structure, it still takes advantage of the immersiveness of VR by dropping you into fully rendered environments from time to time. For example, during my demo at this past weekend's New York Comic Con I saw the inside of Satou's apartment first as a comic panel, but then it slowly opened up to surround me so that it felt like I was standing inside the room. I could look out the window at the town and forest beyond, even though the original comic panel only faced the door.

One of the challenges Square Enix's environment artists face in recreating the world is figuring out what lies beyond the comic panels. They can glean clues from the manga's content. For example, in a later scene from the same chapter Satou does look out that window, so they can extrapolate what it would have looked like in the earlier part of the story. But other places, like the alley behind Satou and Hime's apartment complex, don't get as much panel time, forcing the artists to come up with their own designs.

But with all this work into creating a full 3D world, how is this adaptation of Tales of Wedding Rings still a manga? It goes a lot further than Marvel's experiments with sound and motion, and at times it very much falls into the "walking simulator" genre of video games, where you poke around an unfamiliar environment to uncover bits of story.

But one thing about Project Hikari is that it's more strictly regimented. The New York Comic Con demo had all interactivity removed in the name of expediency, keeping it as short as possible to ensure that more attendees could try it. But the interactive elements planned are more about making it a better reading experience: The team wants to add the ability to skip to or rewind parts of the story and to slow down or pause the action so players can look around more. The most gamelike addition will be interactive objects that can be clicked on to reveal more about the story, though these additional bits of the experience won't be required for finishing each chapter.

The other thing that makes it more mangalike is how the story transitions between sections. Individual scenes are often separated by panels, with the viewer's focus shifting from one to the next and something even sliding or stepping through them to reveal the next scene. This keeps the comic book feel to it but also has a huge side benefit: It's really good at reducing VR sickness. That disconnect you often get between what your eyes are seeing and your lack of movement doesn't happen in Project Hikari because your viewpoint isn't being dragged around from place to place. I'm prone to motion sickness, and I'm happy to report I didn't feel ill once during the 11-minute demo.

Manga is supposed to be relaxing, so making the viewer as comfortable as possible is key to Project Hikari. In fact, the Advanced Technology Division might have succeeded already, as several people who tried it asked if they could lie down during the demo, since that's how they usually read manga at home. But still, one of the things many people enjoy about reading manga is the portability of it, and that's sort of lost when transferred to VR. You not only lose the ability to curl up on your bed but also can't throw it in your bag and read it on the subway. But Square Enix isn't looking to replace manga any more than an anime replaces the work it's based on. Project Hikari is just another way to experience it.

Try the gorgeous RPG ‘Project Octopath Traveler’ tonight on Switch

Project Octopath Traveler is stunning -- and tonight, Switch owners can try it out for themselves with a new demo. The game comes from Square Enix and the team behind lauded RPG series Bravely Default. Project Octopath Traveler is also an RPG filled with epic monsters and treacherous adventures, all in a hand-drawn, CGI, pixelated, shadow-filled world that developers have dubbed "HD-2D." Whatever it's called, the overall effect is fantastic.

There are eight playable characters in Project Octopath Traveler, each with unique abilities and backstories. For example, Olberic is a warrior who can challenge anyone to a duel, while Primrose is a dancer who uses "Allure" to convince fellow travelers to follow her anywhere.

Following the demo, Nintendo will roll out a survey to gather player feedback so developers can further fine-tune the game.

Nintendo revealed the demo date for Project Octopath Traveler during today's live stream all about new 3DS, 2DS and Switch games. See all the news from today's event -- including announcements for Switch versions of Doom and Wolfenstein II -- right here.

Setting fire to teenage souls in ‘Life is Strange: Before the Storm’

There are plenty of reasons to be wary of Life is Strange: Before the Storm -- it's the prequel to a highly successful, influential series, but it isn't being handled by the same development team. This time around, Deck Nine is in charge of a three-episode arc featuring two of the most mysterious characters from the full series. Even the voice actor for Chloe, the game's main foil, has been swapped out for someone new. The circumstances are ripe for Before the Storm to become a flimsy parody of Life is Strange, full of shallow awkwardness and referential quasi-humor.

Luckily, that's not what happened. Before the Storm slides into the Life is Strange library like butter, opening up storylines that were only hinted at in the full game. Part of this insight surely comes from Chloe's original voice actor, (the Emmy-winning) Ashly Burch, who stayed on as a writing consultant for the prequel.

But, just because Before the Storm isn't an embarrassment to the Life is Strange brand doesn't mean it's perfect. Engadget associate writer Timothy J. Seppala and senior reporter Jessica Conditt found different delights and drags in the first episode of Before the Storm, largely influenced by their own experiences as teenagers.

Spoilers for the entire Life is Strange series, including Before the Storm, reside below; you've been warned.

Jessica Conditt, former teenager

I've never related to a video game character the way I do to Chloe Price. She's a passionate, unapologetic teenager filled with rage, but at the same time, she craves love. And, despite her propensity to piss people off, she isn't afraid to chase that feeling when she finds it. When Chloe runs into Rachel Amber -- her school's prima donna -- at a late-night concert in an abandoned mill, she's thrust into a whirlwind of attraction, confusion, day drinking and train-hopping. She runs with her feelings, completely. Chloe contains multitudes, and in its first episode, Life is Strange: Before the Storm isn't afraid to show the depths of her disparate sides.

But maybe that's just how I'm playing her. Maybe one of the reasons I relate so much to Chloe (despite the fact that she's essentially the cool kid I thought I was in high school, down to the Illuminati-branded tank top and black bra) is because I get to choose how she responds to the most important moments in the game. I get to choose what kind of love she feels for Rachel Amber and whether she plays a round of D&D with some acquaintances before class -- Chloe's story is mine to mold.

However, shaping her story would not be nearly as satisfying if the choices presented felt inauthentic to the experiences of a suburban teenage girl. This is where developer Deck Nine hits gold -- in shaping Chloe's attitude, internal monologue and actions, they've built a truly believable person. A relatable one, even.

Tim, I'm curious how you feel playing Chloe, without the baggage of actually having been an angry, mosh-pit-diving teenage girl yourself.

Timothy J. Seppala, former teenager

Well, I was more of a mosh-pit-avoiding guy because I wear glasses and was going to Slipknot and Slayer shows in high school, but I digress. When I started the game, I was thrown off a bit by how awkward everything felt. The way Deck Nine wrote Chloe in the first half just felt hollow. Hopping a gate with a "no trespassing" sign and then giving it the finger, scrawling Sharpie graffiti for her favorite band on a high school wall and somehow being $175 in arrears with her weed guy all felt like a paint-by-numbers picture of teen angst, telling rather than showing in those early moments.

Let's be real though: The first game was awkward too, especially in its opening moments with Max reciting dialogue about DSLRs and plasma TVs. But it was an adorable sort of awkward. Here it felt like a cringey type of awkward. Max and Chloe aren't the same person, however. The former is meek and mild, and as you said, Chloe is a badass.

Maybe it's because I tried not getting in trouble with my parents on a regular basis, but Chloe's heated interactions with hers didn't feel genuine or believable either. So, I made amends with her mom (while speaking my mind about her boyfriend) and offered an olive branch to said boyfriend on the ride to Blackwell. That's when Chole started to feel more genuine.

Further empathy came when I was guiding her around her living room and I stumbled upon a wilted plant. Her only job around the house was to water the plant, and she wistfully recalls that it was her dad's job to remind her to do it. After her dad died, she forgot and it started to shrivel. I was really young when my grandma passed and as such, the plant I brought home from the funeral perished in short order because I forgot to water it for a week. To this day I feel awful if one of my houseplants dies.

The relationship between Chloe and Rachel didn't feel like something real until I hopped in a northbound boxcar. Did you notice any sort of clear dividing line, or was that just me?

Jessica Conditt

All teenagers are hollow, banal shells of the humans they might one day become.

OK, that's not 100 percent true, but I stand by the sentiment -- I actually found those cliche moments of teenage angst to be charming, but only because being a teenager is inherently cliche. Flipping off a "no trespassing" sign may not be the most innovative move, but it's also something a self-proclaimed teenage dirtbag would definitely do. Or maybe it's just something I would have done (or, did) when I was a teenager. Maybe I'm a cliche, Tim, and you just called me out for the entire internet to see. Thanks, friend.

I didn't feel the dividing line you're talking about, but I definitely enjoyed the second half of the episode, once the tense dynamic between Chloe and Rachel Amber really took off. One of my favorite aspects of this first installment is the amount of breathing room Deck Nine gives players, and this really hits home the first time Chloe steps onto the grounds of Blackwell Academy.

As in the original Life is Strange series, Before the Storm incorporates optional moments of contemplation, where Chloe can simply sit on a box, on a bench, in front of a fire pit, and think about her place in the world. This is where Chloe comes alive, for me -- her attitude is reactionary and brash, but her internal monologue is thoughtful and introspective. The camera pans around her as she stills, thinking about her mother, Rachel Amber, her father, herself or her best friend, Max, who's suddenly disappeared from her life.

Not everyone will take advantage of these scenes, which I think is fitting. These are personal, quiet moments that most emotionally fueled teenagers would attempt to hide from the rest of the world, after all. But that's not where the breathing room ends -- Before the Storm invites players to exist in its environments, simply exploring the scenery and talking to people. And that D&D game I mentioned earlier? It's one of my favorite scenes, but it's completely optional. If you choose to play, Chloe sits at an outside table with two of her classmates. There's no music, and nothing else to distract from the game-within-a-game. Wind rustles the trees. It's immensely peaceful.

Timothy J. Seppala

I really liked those moments of quiet reflection. A ton. Chloe sitting on a crate silently pondering life while a "stay off the stage" sign hangs in the foreground said more to me about her rebellious streak than an argument about spark plugs with her mom's new boyfriend did. Speaking of squabbles, I want to talk about Storm's gamey new "Backtalk" conversation system where you can try your hand at winning one by using guile.

Whether the end result was sassing my way into the aforementioned sawmill concert or stealing a bottle of wine from some picnickers, I'm not sure I liked how I got to the end point. Listening for the "right" clues and then picking the dialogue options that they correlated to to advance the conversation felt a little too gamey for me. I love branching dialogue systems in games, but here, I felt forced and constricted. Picking the wrong option meant the segment would end, versus changing and adapting to my response. It kind of killed any sense of experimentation for me, which is the exact opposite of what the first game's time-rewind mechanic did.

Did you like it? Also, we've been dancing around it for a bit now, but we need to talk about that fire. Given that this story is only three episodes long, I was wondering how long it'd take for shit to get real, and man, I did not expect Rachel cathartically burning a photo of her dad to set Arcadia Bay's forest ablaze. I mean, it didn't help that she kicked over the garbage can holding the flaming photo, but I didn't expect the fire to grow how it did. But that's fire for you.

Jessica Conditt

Arcadia Bay is basically Gotham -- it's always in danger of absolute destruction. I actually enjoyed the Backtalk mechanic and the fact that you could "lose" the conversation at any moment. The game itself leans so heavily on traditional branching-dialogue systems that I thought it was a thrill to up the stakes. And, honestly, I think I only lost one of the conversations.

The first Life is Strange didn't need Backtalk because the time-control mechanics naturally infused action into the game. Without time travel, I think Backtalk works just fine in Before the Storm.

But, yes, let's talk about that fire. It's a dramatic way to end the first episode, but I think Deck Nine did a good job of leading players to such an explosive point. Chloe loses her goddamn mind in the junkyard (and it feels so, so cathartic), and then she confronts Rachel Amber, the physical embodiment of her demons and desires, about her fickle behavior over the past 24 hours. The conversation is fervent and revelatory, and it builds into a crescendo that can only be visualized by a massive wildfire. By the time the flames have consumed the tree, it looks like Rachel Amber's misery is literally feeding the fire, helping it grow. That kind of supernatural teenage power is par for the course, for Arcadia Bay.

Maybe I've read so many young-adult fantasy books that my tolerance for melodrama is higher than most, but the fire feels right to me. Plus, it sets up the next two episodes nicely -- there's now a physical threat burning beneath Chloe and Rachel Amber's relationship, potentially forcing them into intense situations. Since this is a prequel, we know how it ends -- but with just three episodes to tell a profoundly emotional story, the fire can serve as fuel for more action, thrills and deeper conversations.

I think the most satisfying way to play Before the Storm is to really lean into Chloe's pissed-off, devil-may-care outlook on life. Fight with her wannabe step-dad and revel in his disgust; use her devious cunning to outsmart the principal; tell Rachel Amber how Chloe really feels about her behavior and watch as their conversation sets fire to the city. This is exactly how I remember feeling as a teenager -- as if my emotions could burn down the world. I'm excited to see what happens when they do just that.

‘Secret of Mana’ remake gameplay video delivers throwback fun

Less than two weeks since it was announced, Square Enix is offering the first look at gameplay from the Secret of Mana remake. The clip is from the demo unveiled as part of the developer's Pax West showcase, which was captured in a Twitch livestream. It boasts almost ten minutes of in-game footage from the highly anticipated remaster of the classic RPG.

As you can see from the vid, the game is as close to a remake as we're going to get -- with 3D visuals to boot. It retains the characters (only with actual voices), enemies (rabites), objects (treasure chests are back), and items (candy and chocolate bars) that fans fondly remember from the original.

The clip starts from the game's opening sequence, and follows protagonist Randi as he slashes his way through those bouncing rabites, concluding with the first boss fight against Mantis Ant. All the while you can hear that iconic original score (with some slight modifications) in the background. And, there's even a cool mini map - - which as some keen observers have already pointed out -- is a replica of the original 2D game.

Although the announcement trailer gave us a good look at the characters and style of the game, it also left us with a bunch of questions. Thankfully, the livestream cleared some of those up. Firstly, the game will include a local co-op mode for up to three players (who will assume the roles of Randi, Primm, and Popoi). Aside from the outfits DLC that's available with pre-orders, more updates are also planned for the future. And, arguably the most exciting tidbit: It seems Square Enix may even be considering a remake of the Secret of Mana follow-up Seiken Densetsu 3. The third in the Mana series was only released in Japan (although an english translation is available as a ROM), so the thought of it making it to these shores is good news indeed.

Before then, you'll be able to get your hands on the Secret of Mana 3D remake for Playstation 4, PS Vita, and PC on 15 February 2018.

Source: WoWo Game (YouTube)

‘Assassin’s Creed’ is crossing over with ‘Final Fantasy’

So this is weird: Square Enix and Ubisoft have announced that this month will mark the beginning of crossovers between Assassin's Creed and Final Fantasy. Yup, really. "This collaboration is the result of being huge fans," Ubisoft Montreal game driector Ashraf Ismail says on the UbiBlog. "There's a lot of respect between the two teams and we couldn't be more thrilled with the opportunity to pay homage to each other's work."

The first part of this will launch August 30th. If you've snatched the Moogle egg from the Chocobo Carnival in Final Fantasy XV, you'll be gifted an Assassin outfit for Noctis. A day later, Square Enix will release a free add-on pack called "Assassin's Festival" for the latest entry in its long-running role-playing series. In addition to cosmetic changes to the town of Lestallum, the DLC adds "abilities that enable Noctis to explore more like an Assassin and even use some of the Assassins' more well-known abilities."

Presumably those feats include jumping from ledges and ramming a wrist-mounted dagger through the spinal cord of your enemies. Need proof? Look no further than the screenshot up above.

The partnership has been going on, unofficially, for a bit. For example, in 2011 Final Fantasy XIII-2 had unlockable costumes from the best Assassin's Creed protagonist, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. UbiBlog also mentions that there were hints of the partnership in the new Gamescom trailer for Assassin's Creed: Origins, its announcement trailer and a promo clip for last year's Final Fantasy XV. Are there more than that? You tell us.

Follow all the latest news live from Gamescom here!

Source: UbiBlog

‘Final Fantasy XV’ comes to your phone this fall

Square Enix is bent on bringing Final Fantasy XV to every platform imaginable, and that includes the phone in your pocket. It just unveiled a Pocket Edition of the road trip role-playing game that will hit Android, iOS and Windows 10 (yes, despite its dwindling influence) this fall. Its first episode will be free to play, while you'll have to fork out an unspecified amount to continue the tale of Noctis and crew. The title includes the "main story" and characters, but don't expect a carbon copy of the game you can buy on your console.

For one... well, look at it. The studio is adopting a "cute" art style that it believes will appeal to both newcomers used to mobile games as well as series veterans (that's debatable -- we'd say it's just adapting to the reduced processing power). The Pocket Edition also adopts "casual" touch controls, and it adopts more of a top-down perspective than its console counterpart. It looks like many of the core mechanics are still present, though, including cooking.

There's no question that Square Enix is trying to wring as much as it can out of its investment in Final Fantasy XV with the phone-friendly version. At the same time, it also speaks to the importance of mobile: the developer sees mobile gaming as big enough that it can justify bringing an expansive RPG (even if it's a streamlined version) to platforms it might have ignored in the past.

Source: Final Fantasy XV (YouTube)

‘Final Fantasy XV’ coming to PC early next year

Square Enix has milked Final Fantasy XV, offering not only PS4 and Xbox One console versions, but also a (bad) free mobile game, branded Sony Walkman and even a cookbook. What it doesn't have yet, surprisingly, is a Windows version of the game, but that's going to change soon. Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition is coming in early 2017, NVIDIA announced during its Gamescom press conference, and is of course loaded with NVIDIA tweaks and features.

Square Enix and NVIDIA didn't say whether there's any new material, but the game is bound too look good on Windows, thanks to Square Enix's next-gen Luminous Engine and an alphabet soup of NVIDIA GeForce features. That includes NVIDIA Flow, Hairworks, ShadowWorks, Turf Effects and VXAO (voxel ambient occlusion), offering more realistic fluid and fire, hair and fur, shadow-casting, vegetation and light occlusion physics.

It'll also support GeForce Experience sharing tech, along with NVIDIA Ansel, a screen-capture tool that lets you do in-game photography complete with filters, HDR, and 360-degree VR images. Finally, it'll use NVIDIA's ShadowPlay Highlights, letting you create highlights of the best action during gaming sesssion.

There's no specific date, but the San Francisco Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March, 2018 seems a promising time frame. During NVIDIA's press conference, director Hajime Tabata said Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition would be the highest quality version of the game yet, and it shows in the video below.

Source: NVIDIA

The next ‘Final Fantasy’ brawler ‘Dissidia NT’ heads to PS4 in January

We knew that the next entry in Final Fantasy's all-star brawler Dissidia series would be coming to PS4, and a possible Amazon mishap clued us in to an end-of-2017 release. Square Enix has announced that Dissidia Final Fantasy NT will arrive a little later on January 30th, 2018 -- and there are a couple collector's editions to choose from, if that's your thing.

The latest Dissidia comes out almost a decade after the first one launched on the original PSP. The series ventured to arcades in the interim, but NT will be the first on PS4 and feature sweet HD visuals. Notable also is the inclusion of Team Ninja, makers of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive franchises; Presumably, Square Enix brought them on to tool up NT's combat.

As we noted before, NT will have players picking three-person squads from a 20-character roster of Final Fantasy heroes and villains -- including FF XV's glum prince Noctis, as we heard at E3. Square Enix didn't have much else to add, but they did add details for two release options beyond the standard version of the game. The 'Ultimate Collector's Edition' gets a 21cm tall bust of the first Final Fantasy's stock hero alongside a soundtrack, 80-page artbook and season pass for six more characters after launch. There's also a Limited Edition Steelbook edition of the game for those who just want a fancy case and some extra art.

Source: Square Enix

Square Enix and AMD are giving away indie games with new GPUs

AMD wants to ensure you always have something unique to play with new graphics card. The new AMD4U program is a partnership with publisher Square Enix exclusively featuring games from the publisher's "Collective" initiative for indie developers. Folks who buy and register their GPU are eligible for up to three free games (PDF) including Tokyo Dark (above) and Black the Fall. The benefits here are twofold: you get free, unique games with your graphics card and smaller developers get their wares in front of a new audience.

Now, indie games don't tend to put graphics cards to the test the way that typical pack-in games do, but they do offer experiences you aren't going to have with the typical high-budget AAA fare. We'll just have to wait and see how this experiment plays out.

Source: AMD