After taking a break from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in order to cover Outward, I recently rejoined the eponymous one-armed wolf to conclude our business together. With another exceptional FromSoftware adventure soon under my belt, I paused to consider where Sekiro ranks amongst 2019’s other releases, before quickly positioning it alongside Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 and Devil May Cry 5 right at the very top.
Sekiro, RE2 and DMC5, on the other hand, are all thoroughly artisan. They’re painstakingly handcrafted to ensure that their rewarding, challenging and unique mechanics are ultimately replayable. They often feel nostalgic, if only because they feel classically 'videogame-y', which serves to highlight just how much things have changed in recent years.
These three titles unapologetically focus on delivering a polished and complete single-player experience, which, let’s be honest, is downright cherishable nowadays.
I’ve even been dabbling in Kingdom Hearts III, which I admittedly haven’t been enjoying nearly as much, since it falls into many of the same character and narrative pitfalls which put me off most other JRPGs, but the fact I’m engaging with it at all is quite something.
The region hasn’t been infallible, however, with Left Alive being one hell of a billowing red flag so far. I also maintain that Shenmue 3 will most likely disappoint, but hey, this is the year to prove me wrong. Should Yu Suzuki pull it off (fingers crossed), Shenmue 3 will join a long list of promising Japanese releases still set to see light of day in 2019.
Nintendo have a strong suite of exclusives including their Link’s Awakening remake, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, Pokémon Sword & Shield (we’ve already picked our starters), and, potentially, Bayonetta 3. A few of those are a little too ‘anime’ for me on the surface, but I’m willing to overlook that as I grow increasingly disillusioned with games from my own fair shores.
PlayStation have a couple of more immediately-appealing exclusives on the way though, with Judgment in essence offering my route into the intimidatingly vast Yakuza series. Not only that, but, in a first, the game features English voice over, tearing down another wall that’s contributed to my dodging its gang-focused spiritual sibling.
Then there’s Death Stranding, which, provided it does hit this year, will be a biggie for me. Unlike Rob, one of our Staff Writers, I love prolific auteur Hideo Kojima’s work and his first jaunt since escaping Konami oppression (just forget they exist for now, since they don’t fit the current narrative) has me very intrigued.
In fact, the air of mystery surrounding Death Stranding and (to a lesser extent) many Japanese releases in general is something I’d link back to the region’s seeming greater care for their art. Pre-order culture isn’t as prevalent, so reveals don’t need to be pushed out of the door to start raking the money in, but moreover I think pride prevents showing a hand too early and risking later coming across as disingenuous in any way.
Avoiding unnecessary controversy is commendable in itself, but it’s a total win-win when you understand that less is often more, which this industry tends not to. I can’t be the only person that’s been plenty sick of plenty of games before they even hit store shelves, due in no small part to massive overexposure.
If you find yourself in a similar situation - looking at the upcoming release schedule and yawning at uninspired sequel after uninspired sequel, or drab shooter after drab shooter - maybe join me in looking towards the Land of the Rising Sun for inspiration.