Part of my PAX East experience included a rather lengthy visit to the NISA booth where I got to try out a handful of their upcoming games. NISA is primarily a localization company so most of these games are already out in Japan, but they’re still worth talking about given how this will be many Westerners’ first experience with them.
Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories
The primary type of natural disaster Japan has to contend with is earthquakes, and experiencing and living through that traumatic experience is exactly what Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories is about. This was a title that was actually originally supposed to release in Japan in 2011 for the PS3 but was canceled due to the Tohoku earthquake disaster that happened that same year. After playing this revived version that came out in Japan in 2018, it’s easy to see why that decision was made.
You control a customizable protagonist as they pull themselves out of the wreckage of a bus after an earthquake rocks the Tokyo metropolis. The scenery you find is somewhat haunting with wrecked cars, collapsed buildings, and people at varying levels of panic scattered about trying to figure out what the hell just happened. It’s highly evocative of a real disaster, and the purposeful lack of music only heightens the sense of stupefaction.
That said, the gameplay itself–which consists of talking to other people and assisting them in this crisis–contains a surprising amount of levity and occasional absurdity to it. When talking to others you’re presented with a range of dialogue options that run the gamut of how someone may respond in an emergency. There are no “wrong” options per se, but there is a morality system in play that will track your decisions throughout the game and affect how the ending plays out.
Since this wasn’t my save file, I made sure to be as much of a scumbag as I possibly could; helping a female teacher while harboring ulterior motives and charging the equivalent of $50 for a single bottle of water were only a couple of my misdeeds. At one point I even claimed I was the manager of a convenience store to the actual manager of said store. Unfortunately, characters’ responses to my actions were almost disappointingly dismissive and somewhat undercut the serious subject matter of the game. That’s only if you do decide to play the douchebag protagonist, though.
Outside of conversations is exploration of this rattled city. Aftershocks occasionally reverberate throughout the concrete jungle, and if you don’t hit the ground with a dedicated button press you may find yourself taking a tumble for some damage. Falling debris is also a constant danger, with collapsing buildings, toppling street lights, and falling signposts all nearly causing my untimely demise on numerous occasions. These all serve to remind you that not all the danger has passed even after the main quake has concluded.
Disaster Report 4 definitely seems to be a slow burn of a game that will require someone to really immerse themselves in it and grow attached to the city their character is a part of. It’s hard to get a sense of that in a relatively short 40-minute demo, but it certainly shows promise and is, at least, very different from the large majority of games out there.
Langrisser I & II
While Fire Emblem may be lighting the SRPG genre on fire nowadays, it wasn’t the first of its kind. The Langrisser series dates back almost as far, with its first game releasing in 1991 for the Sega Genesis. It features a similar grid-based battle system as Fire Emblem with a few key differences and also takes place in a medieval fantasy setting. Though it never took off quite as well as Fire Emblem did (especially outside of Japan), it’s now receiving what’s probably its best shot at a revival with the remasters of Langrisser I&II.
This is a collection of the first two Langrisser games–the second of which never released in the US–with completely updated art, redone music, and added voice-overs. You can switch between the drastically different classic and updated visuals on a dime, too, which provides a nice option for those seeking that retro feel.
Anyone familiar with classic Fire Emblem gameplay will feel right at home with Langrisser’s. Units move and attack on a grid with a weapon triangle affecting the outcome of battles: infantry beat lancers, lancers beat cavalry, and cavalry beat infantry. There are a few key differences, though, the first of which being the lack of permadeath. There’s also the system of how troops are split into hero and mercenary units.
Heroes are the unique characters that actually play roles in the story while mercenaries are generic troops assigned to the heroes, and both take up their own spaces on the grid. Heroes have a commanding aura around them that varies from unit to unit and powers up mercenaries in its area. Mercenaries can be used offensively or defensively in conjunction with their commanding hero, but beware: if the hero is felled in battle, all their associated mercenaries will also disperse. This is a particularly effective tactic if you have an assassin on your team like I did in the second mission I played.
Something else of particular note is just the sheer number of units that can be on the map at any given time. The first mission I played was the very first mission of Langrisser I and even that had almost as many units in it as the mid-game of a modern Fire Emblem title. Waves upon waves of bodies crash into each other in these missions and really sell the idea of these being large-scale battles with hundreds or thousands of individuals taking part in.
Unfortunately, this also means that turns can sometimes feel a bit bogged down. There are tools to accelerate your own turn–such as having your mercenaries automatically move with their hero commander–but enemy turns still feel a bit long in the tooth even with the fast-forward feature on and the ability to skip individual battles.
Battle speed aside, I definitely felt this scratching that SRPG itch after I moderately burned myself out from playing too much Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Langrisser I&II have plenty of unique aspects that set them apart as something definitively different, and this pair of remasters absolutely has the potential to re-spark interest in this forgotten franchise. If you’re curious, you don’t have to wait long; a demo is available now on PSN and the eShop, and the full game will be available on Switch, PS4, and Steam on March 10th in North America and March 13th in Europe.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
I’ve already written a full review of the original PS4 release of Trails of Cold Steel III, so I’m not going to talk much more about the game itself here, but I will talk about how the Switch port that’s coming out this spring is shaping up. The short end of it is that it’s a fine port that still feels somewhat lacking. The locked 30fps and 720p are perfectly serviceable for a turn-based RPG, but it’s hard not to wonder why both aspects had to take a hit for this port when the Switch has already demonstrated its prowess with considerably more demanding games (see Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice). Granted, only docked mode was available for this demo so perhaps the somewhat blocky graphics aren’t as noticeable on the Switch’s handheld screen, but it’s hard to get rid of that nagging feeling after playing the PS4 version.
Don’t get me wrong, Trails of Cold Steel III is still a phenomenal game and it’s great that it’ll be able to reach an even wider audience now; it just feels like unnecessary compromises were made for this Switch port. If Switch is your console of choice then this port will absolutely suffice, but if you’re able to play on PS4 or PC via the upcoming Steam version then that is much more preferable.