2Brief or Too Thorough – The Curious Case of Square Enix at E3 2018

Due to my work schedule this week, I’m unable to watch many of the E3 press conferences live. While those that occur late at night in the Eastern time zone work out alright for me (my sleep schedule is another story), those that occur during the morning or afternoon I have to wait on. As a result of that, I see the reactions of Twitter and other bloggers before I know the full contents of a conference, and with Square Enix one message resounded throughout the internet: “that was way too short.”

The Square Enix press conference clocked in at just under half an hour, and in that time they showed off only a handful of titles: Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy XIV content, an X-Box port of Nier Automata, Dragon Quest XI, Kingdom Hearts 3 – there were a few others included as well but for the most part there wasn’t a lot to show here. Notably absent was the Final Fantasy VII remake (not that anyone is really surprised by that, I hope), so we still know nothing about the timetable for that particular title. But timetables are what I wish to speak about with this conference, as the amount of time allotted – or not – to each game was particularly interesting to me.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The main games given a significant amount of time were Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Dragon Quest XI, and Just Cause 4. This was particularly true of the first title as we got an in-depth look at the gameplay, watching Lara Croft jump out of an airplane, murder some dudes in the woods, and show off a skillset that could easily be grafted into any other modern-day action game like Uncharted, Far Cry, or Assassin’s Creed. Oops, sorry, my opinion is showing. While I’ve spent a decent amount of this conference stating that we could stand to see more gameplay from a number of titles, I felt like this one got a little too much. It feels like I’ve played this game before and there’s only so much sneaking up on goons in the jungle that a guy can take.

Then there was Just Cause 4, a trailer that came with a detailed instruction manual disguised as a voiceover. There’s this concept in fiction writing called “show, don’t tell,” which encourages you to utilize dialogue, scene framing, symbolism, and other similar tools in order to convey a point without just saying the point outright. Rather than say Consuela was angry, you might say Consuela gripped the edge of the table so tightly that her knuckles went white – when she spoke, her words were short and sharp. Just Cause 4 went the “tell, don’t show” route, explaining the whole story and premise of the game and even going into detail about enemy types and the game engine. While this overexaggerated method of explanation seemed odd, the trailer did at least have gameplay to offer in addition to the full-length novel about the story.

Conversely, Dragon Quest XI didn’t get gameplay at all. We got a lengthy story trailer with voice acting that hinted at what the game would be about, but there was nothing to be shown of what it is actually like to play the game. I suppose an argument could be made that Dragon Quest changes so little from title to title that series veterans can expect the same experience they’ve always enjoyed, but it would be nice to have seen what the graphics look like in combat or what kinds of new options are available in combat. “Show, don’t tell” was followed here but they only showed one part of what this game truly is.

Dragon Quest XI

So then, let’s compare those titles to ones such as the brand new game Babylon Falls. What do we know about that game based on the trailer? Neither the story nor the gameplay were displayed in any meaningful way. While onlookers may have been more interested in learning details about a brand new title, instead the majority of the show’s short run time was invested in the familiar. I think this was the cause for why the conference’s brevity struck people so hard – an information-packed show of that length would leave a lasting impact. Instead, we learned very little of Square’s plans for the future and are left knowing pretty much everything that we knew already.

Still, there are a few things worth talking about here. Final Fantasy XIV x Monster Hunter World is an interesting concept that I think will appeal strongly to a particular crowd of gamer. Hunting giant beasts as the classic Final Fantasy classes? Heck, I don’t play either of those games and the idea sounds compelling to me. I found the Nier Automata reveal interesting in the sense that a lot of folks were predicting a Switch version to be announced too – looks like Square’s support of the Nintendo console is predicated on developing games that are suited very particularly to the system.

And speaking of that, Octopath Traveler made a mild appearance, once again simply a confirmation of everything that we already know. I had a negative experience with the demo of this game and don’t plan to get it, but my feelings about it were related to personal reasons and not the quality of the game itself. For those who haven’t tried the demo yet and enjoy Japanese roleplaying games, I highly encourage you to check this Switch title out as the full game will hit the console in July.

Octopath Traveler Cast

And of course, it’s impossible to address the Square Enix conference in full without talking about Kingdom Hearts 3, a title long-awaited by series veterans. The thing that jumped out most readily to me was the new variety in the Disney worlds represented – we saw almost no returning cast members as Sora instead spent his time with characters from Tangled, Frozen, Wreck-it Ralph, and even Ratatouille. I always felt that Kingdom Hearts was a bit stale in the Disney department, so it’s nice to see a new group of characters in the game.

Also new were some of the abilities shown off by Sora. This title seems like it will feature a greater variety of unique abilities based on which world you are fighting in, and more unique designs for our main cast as you explore each Disney location. Sora, Donald, and Goofy appeared to have monster forms in the world of Monsters Inc. while Sora is clearly shown ice skating and fighting with ice-based attacks in the world of Frozen. This could be a good or bad thing depending on just how much the core gameplay is changed – if a majority of the game worlds don’t allow you to take advantage of your normal abilities and Keyblade collection, that could get frustrating after some time.

Now when it comes to story details for Kingdom Hearts, I checked out a long time ago. The KH series has a notoriously difficult plot where the seemingly binary light/dark philosophy is convoluted to soap-opera levels by a number of different creature types, cast members who change identities or use someone else’s identity, and deeply interconnected side stories incorporating content from multiple titles across a handful of consoles and devices. I probably won’t pick up Kingdom Hearts 3 for myself, but I truly am happy for the fans who have been waiting for this title for such a long time. May the end of Sora’s journey actually satisfy you after your long wait.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Monsters

Ultimately, I think Square Enix’s conference has taught us that short isn’t always sweet. With too little attention given to some titles and too much to others, there wasn’t a lot to leave a strong impression on those watching – particularly if you follow the industry closely enough to have already seen the Kingdom Hearts trailer. For those looking forward to Shadow of the Tomb Raider or Just Cause 4, there was a lot to like here – fans of anything else will simply have to wait.

What did you think of the Square Enix press conference, adventurers? Did you see something you liked? Do you wish you knew more about a specific title? Are you gonna grab Kingdom Hearts 3 when it comes out? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to keep an eye on Adventure Rules throughout the week as I discuss even more of the awesome games shown off at E3 2018!

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