Old games find new life amid the buzz of E3

The China Post - - ARTS - BY LOU KESTEN

Seen and heard on the floor of the an­nual Elec­tronic En­ter­tain­ment Expo as it be­gins its three­day run at the Los An­ge­les Con­ven­tion Cen­ter:

E3 is all about the new: new games, new gad­gets, new ways to con­nect with like-minded play­ers. So the in­ven­tors and de­vel­op­ers who are hop­ing they’re cre­at­ing the next big thing must be be­wil­dered by the out­pour­ing of en­thu­si­asm for a re­make of an 18-year-old game.

That game is Square Enix’s land­mark “Fi­nal Fan­tasy VII,” a clas­sic Ja­panese role-play­ing ad­ven­ture that in­tro­duced many Western­ers to the genre. When Sony an­nounced a re­make would be com­ing to the PlayS­ta­tion 4, its fans — many of whom were chil­dren when it first ap­peared — roared with ap­proval.

But it isn’t the only old game get­ting at­ten­tion this week. Mi­crosoft won over some skep­tics by an­nounc­ing it would be mak­ing the en­tire li­brary of the good old Xbox 360 playable on the Xbox One. Rare, a stu­dio whose games date back to the early 1980s, an­nounced “Rare Replay,” a US$30 com­pi­la­tion of 30 of its old hits, in­clud­ing clas­sics like “Bat­tle­toads” and “Banjo-Ka­zooie.” And then there are re­vivals of long-dor­mant se­ries like Bethesda Soft­works’ “Doom” and Nintendo’s “Star­Fox.”

Nintendo, more than any other pub­lisher, has been min­ing nos­tal­gia for years: Ev­ery new “Mario Bros.” or “Leg­end of Zelda” ti­tle takes gamers back to the ‘80s, when they played the orig­i­nals on the Nintendo En­ter­tain­ment Sys­tem. When the com­pany’s “Su­per Mario Maker” comes out later this year, I sus­pect we’ll see tons of fan-cre­ated tributes to the Mario games of our youth.

Another old ti­tle draw­ing buzz is “Shenmue,” a wildly am­bi­tious Sega game from 1999. It was an in­trigu­ing and not en­tirely suc­cess­ful at­tempt to com­bine role­play­ing, brawl­ing and, well, fork­lift rac­ing. De­spite its draw­backs — in par­tic­u­lar, some very slow pac­ing that’s a lit­tle too life­like — it pi­o­neered the sprawl­ing open worlds of mod­ern games like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Far Cry.”

Af­ter a 2001 se­quel flopped, Sega ditched plans to com­plete the tril­ogy. But on Mon­day, “Shenmue” cre­ator Yu Suzuki ap­peared at Sony’s pre-E3 event and an­nounced a US$2 mil­lion Kick­starter cam­paign to fund “Shenmue III.” It reached its goal 12 hours later.

The whole af­fair has raised plenty of ques­tions. The orig­i­nal “Shenmue” cost nearly US$50 mil­lion to pro­duce, and games cost a lot more to de­velop these days. And some crit­ics slammed Sony for ask­ing fans to fund “Shenmue III” rather than pro­vid­ing the fi­nanc­ing it­self — although Sony is ex­pected to kick in some cash now that fans have demon­strated their ar­dor.

E3 has al­ways been a place where East meets West, and nowhere was that more ev­i­dent than Square Enix’s pre-E3 show­case. Square’s port­fo­lio is a fas­ci­nat­ing mix of beloved Ja­panese fran­chises like “Fi­nal Fan­tasy” and Western- de­vel­oped se­ries like “Tomb Raider,” and the com­pany’s pre­sen­ta­tion was di­vided pretty much evenly be­tween de­vel­op­ers speak­ing English and Ja­panese (some­times with­out trans­la­tion).

The epit­ome of this di­chotomy is the newly an­nounced “King­dom Hearts III,” the latest col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Square and Dis­ney. The se­ries mixes anime-inspired char­ac­ters with clas­sic Dis­ney toons like Goofy and Don­ald Duck; the latest chap­ter adds the cast of “Tan­gled.”

That struck me as an odd choice, but di­rec­tor Tet­suya No­mura said through a trans­la­tor that Ra­pun­zel and her hair of­fered some in­ter­est­ing po­ten­tial in the game­play. He also pointed out that “Tan­gled” fol­lows the “tra­di­tional Dis­ney struc­ture.” He was less forth­com­ing when asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of Dis­ney-owned Marvel and “Star Wars” char­ac­ters com­ing to “King­dom Hearts” — but, given the se­ries’ fo­cus on old-school an­i­ma­tion, I wouldn’t count on it.

AP

(Right) At­ten­dees watch a Square Enix “Hitman” video game at the E3 Elec­tronic En­ter­tain­ment Expo at Los An­ge­les Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Tues­day, June 16.

(Left) This photo pro­vided by Bethesda Soft­works shows a screen­shot of a scene for the video game, “Fall­out 4.”

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