Well, it’s taken her a shipwreck, some subsistence hunting, the skill to avoid two kidnapping attempts and a series of gunfights to get here but, finally, Lara Croft is raiding a tomb. We find the entrance nestled in a crevice behind a waterfall in Tomb Raider’s first small hub area, but only after having searched some abandoned weatherworn shacks and scaled a sheer rock face. It’s an unostentatious little hole that lacks the grandeur of some of the old Lara’s discoveries (there will be no 100-foot-tall statues carved by the hands of alien civilisations inside), but that doesn’t stop us feeling a slight thrill. It is, after all, our first archaeological find, and it’s all the more intriguing for the fact that we could have blithely stumbled on by. And so Lara lights her torch and creeps inside.
It’s always a great shame when a game is cancelled, but much more so when a genuine original is lost. Catacombs, the Square Enix shooter that was revealed by Siliconera in April of this year, fell firmly into that category: its fast-paced, team-based shooting owed a debt to Valve’s Left 4 Dead, but its narrative was distinctive, dealing with themes of perception, existence, and social and cultural disharmony in an uncommonly bold manner. What began as a simple story of four treasure hunters exploring a mansion became something much more interesting.
With the use of thirdparty engines more prevalent than ever, Square Enix’s creation and use of Crystal Tools in games such as Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV and Dragon Quest X marks the company as one of a select few to work on proprietary tech – something Hashimoto has much to say about. “In reality, when trying to do something a little unusual [using a third party engine], it becomes necessary to engage in negotiations with the company who created it, perhaps asking them to improve or extend some of the engine’s capabilities,” he explains. “The process is inefficient, and becomes a shackle to the artists. Therefore, with the technical side of Luminous Studio under our control, we can fashion an environment which allows our creators to let loose their full capabilities.”
Vagrant Story is a story told on its own terms from that obsessively detailed cover artwork down. A cropped version of character designer Akihiko Yoshida’s image graced every territory’s release instead of a safer, shelf-friendlier, but ill-fitting render – on that note, the opening FMV feels like both a weary concession by the designers and a beautiful, vacuous shrug of the shoulders from the Final Fantasy VIII cinematic team, asked to sell a dungeon-crawl-as-Shakespearean-tragedy in 20 seconds or less.
Square Enix’s second iOS collaboration with rhythm-action veterans iNiS is silly and sentimental, yet sweet and heartfelt. It weaves a tale of sibling rivalry between a pair of conductors in a music-obsessed city, overcoming the odd lapse into anime cliché with the emotive force of its classical soundtrack.
An origin story which adopts many of the textures you’d expect of a survival horror, Tomb Raider has faced stiff questions over both its depiction of Lara Croft and its cinematic gameplay. Provocative footage and some poor choices of words have inspired some rather psychic predictions of a torture porn version of Uncharted, the gloss and eyeliner of earlier games swapped for QTE-inflicted cuts and bruises. Assuming the full game won’t be quite so monotonous, what can its island – a series first in being the game’s one location – bring to the format? Art director Brian Horton explains.
The protagonist’s name may be Serenity, but there’s precious little calm in Inis’ apocalyptic iOS rhythm-actioner Demon’s Score, in which sees a spirited hero tackles a succession of demons after her scientist father creates an app that opens a portal to the netherworld. It’s the flimsiest of excuses for this fine developer to return to the systems which served DS import hit Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! so well: you tap, swipe and drag your finger across the screen in time with the music as an Unreal Engine-powered battle rages in the background.
Square Enix’s App Store strategy is a brave one. Here in 2012 the post-iPhone mobile space is booming, but Square Enix is still experimenting; in the last two weeks, it has released three original made-for-mobile titles with different approaches. Demon’s Score is a £4.99 rhythm action title, Guardian Cross is a free-to-play card battler and Drakerider an episodic RPG, the first chapter of which is free.
Time has not been especially kind to Final Fantasy VIII’s reputation. The standard line on the trio of PlayStation games is that VII is the godhead, IX the neglected gem, and VIII the red-headed stepchild. In 2011 they’re all still a lot of fun, but while VII probably isn’t as good as you remember, VIII might just be better.
"This was undoubtedly the game that changed everything.” Yoshinori Kitase, director of the most important RPG ever, has cause for hyperbole. “We felt a wind of change inside the company during the development process. There was this incredible feeling I’ll never forget: we were making a new thing… making history. Imagine.” He pauses. Imagine.