This past weekend, I traveled up to the Anaheim Convention Center for the 2016 PlayStation Experience. This was my second PSX and I had an absolute blast. It was awesome being in the same room as so many amazing industry people, getting to say hi and catch up with friends, attend the amazing keynote and four cool panels (which included Uncharted The Lost Legacy, Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part II, and a live PS I Love You XOXO), and of course checking out some incredible upcoming games.

Over the course of two days I managed to play 19 games and I wanted to talk in detail about some of the best. Nine games in particular really stood out to me so they are the main focus of this blog. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about a few beyond that so I've decided I'd share some brief thoughts on the other ten games at the end in a quick lightning round. If you have any questions about any of the games I played at PSX, any of the panels I attended, or questions about PSX in general feel free to ask in the comments below.

I have to lot to cover, so let's get right into it.

Persona 5 (PS4, PS3, April 4)

The moment the keynote ended I grabbed my belongings and power walked into the convention center floor. While others stopped to take in the sights, I was a man on a mission to play Persona 5 as soon as possible so I made a beeline straight to the Atlus booth. I managed to be second in line to play it which was great because by the time the demos actually started the line already stretched way outside of the booth. I don't know how long I was able to play the English version of Persona 5, my first experience with Persona 5 in general outside of the first few trailers and the anime TV special, but it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes. I say this upfront, because there is absolutely no way to truly take in Persona 5 with that little time available to me.

My demo began on the rooftop to a dungeon. In addition to the protagonist, referred to as Joker, I had Ryuji, Morgana, and Ann in my party. When I entered through a rooftop window, I was in what appeared to be an art museum. There were no enemies in this first room, but it was littered with laser wires. The Atlus rep on hand warned me that every time you are detected in a dungeon, whether by a trap or an enemy, your detection gauge rises and if it reaches 100% you'll be kicked out of the dungeon. Thankfully you have context sensitive abilities to slide or jump under traps and also the ability to take cover behind walls and furniture to sneak up on enemies. The museum dungeon I played through was thus far more intricate and involved than the randomly generated, corridor-heavy dungeons of Persona 3 and 4. I probably snuck through four or five separate rooms before I was cut off and each was completely distinct from the last. For example, one was a winding maze of art displays, while another resembled a vault.

Beyond exploring the dungeon, the other major component to take in was combat. I roughly engaged in five battles during my demo and my big takeaway is that not much has changed from Persona 3 and 4. You are still in turn based combat with a party of four, your protagonist can still switch Personas on the fly, and your main objective is still to exploit the elemental weaknesses of enemies. In this demo, there were two major additions to the core formula. The first is that every character is now armed with a gun and each character's gun has different properties and a limited number of bullets. The second addition is that demon negotiations from the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games are now in Persona 5 and they happen seemingly at random mid-battle or as an alternative option to the All-Out Attack. With only five battles under my belt I cannot say if the gun or demon negotiations will significantly shake up the experience which became repetitive in past games, but they at least give a bit more flavor to Persona's combat which I appreciate. Before I move on, I do want to say that Persona 5 oozes style on every front and that the English voice acting seems on point. I'm glad Persona 5 is less than four months away now since I'm eager to see how the final game all comes together.

Hatsune Miku Project Diva Future Tone (PS4, January 10)

After checking out Persona, I walked over to the Sega side of the booth to play Hatsune Miku Future Tone and Yakuza Zero. Future Tone is by far the most exciting Hatsune Miku game to date. For only $54 on PSN, Future Tone offers well over 200 songs to play through which is a truly significant amount of content. Since Future Tone is a port of the Hatsune Miku Arcade game, it offers different mechanics than the other Project Diva games including holding specific buttons for additional points, prompts to flick the control sticks in specific directions, and prompts to hit multiple face buttons simultaneously. Those additional mechanics all make Future Tone significantly harder to play than any prior Project Diva game. I'm especially excited for the added challenge since I've played all the previous Hatsune Miku games on Extreme and can crush all but the toughest of songs. I played two songs at PSX on Hard, Miracle Paint and Odds and Ends, two of my favorite songs from past games and I barely beat the latter. While not confirmed, I do want to mention the Sega rep did openly discuss the additional DLC packs in Japan, so expect those to come out here eventually which is exciting because there are a ton of great songs in them including one of my favorite Miku songs AgeAge Again.

Yakuza 0 (PS4, January 24)

I had an unforgettable time playing Yakuza 0 at Anime Expo this year so I was eager to check it out again at PSX especially if there was a new demo. My Anime Expo demo consisted of a hilariously awkward encounter with a dominatrix in training, spontaneous street brawls, and disco dancing, but even so I doubt I could have predicted what I experienced at PSX. I was let loose in Yakuza's open world and I quickly encountered some punks in a back alley. They told my character that they wanted to fight me, but they wouldn't have just any old fight because it had to be a breakdancing battle. Suddenly the game cut to an open street with a huge crowd of pedestrians. All of my combat moves were replaced with break-dancing abilities and I had to punch and kick my opponents with them as the pedestrians threw thousands of Yen at us in approval. I loved that the camera zoomed in for every brutal, but goofy hit as it really elevated the amazing experience further. After this insane demo, I'm fully convinced I need to check out Yakuza 0 right at launch.

Yooka-Laylee (PS4, Xbox One, PC, maybe Nintendo Switch, 2017)

The absolute longest line I waited in at the show was for Yooka-Laylee. It didn't look that bad walking in with since there were two demo stations and maybe 14 people ahead of me. What I didn't know before I was trapped there for two hours was that one station would frequently be taken away for appointments and that the demo was always 15(!) minutes long. After a painful wait I finally got my hands on the substantial demo. The most important takeaway is that the game is most definitely Banjo-Threeie in all but name. The world I explored, pictured above, was fairly large and tall and was filled with googly-eyed things to collect and NPCs to talk to that only communicated in silly grunts. The platforming felt just like Banjo, though the traversal ability where the two animals roll into a ball to zip around and climb up hills felt distinct from Kazooie's Talon Trot. I collected five Jiggies Pageies during my demo by completing very different tasks. One had me fighting waves of enemies, another had me shooting targets to freeze rotating bridges, while another had me riding a Donkey Kong Country mine cart. I especially enjoyed one challenge that revolved around 2D platforming and I hope there will be more of that in the final game to add some more variety. After playing the demo it's clear Yooka-Laylee understands what Banjo fans want from this game and it looks to be well on track to meet expectations.

Heart Forth Alicia (PS4, Vita, PC, Wii U, 2017)

Metroidvanias are some of my favorite games of all time, so I was excited to finally check out Heart Forth Alicia, which I remembered from its Kickstarter campaign a few years ago. Since there was no one in line behind me, I was able to play the full dungeon demo on offer which was a condensed version of the dungeon at the beginning of the game. You play as Alicia, one of the last heirs to a cursed bloodline of magicians, and the dungeon you're exploring is her final test to become a full fledged magician. Immediately I was impressed by the colorful 2D sprite graphics and rock solid controls for both platforming and combat. The particular dungeon I played largely revolved around pushing, pulling, and throwing weights around which was simple, but engaging enough. Eventually I received an explosive spell (the first of many judging by the inventory screen) that helped me solve the last handful of puzzles. The boss battle towards the end of the dungeon against a big blue mole was quite difficult and surprisingly had a good handful of unique phases, but thankfully I managed to beat him and escape the dungeon. The demo dramatically ends with a meteorite crashing into town and completely obliterating it. I'm very eager to check out the full game when it comes out, hopefully in the first half of 2017.


Uncharted 4 Survival (Free DLC In December)

My brother came with me for the second day of PSX and I absolutely wanted to try out the new Uncharted co-op mode with him. I'm a huge fan of Uncharted co-op, especially the co-op adventure mode in Uncharted 3, so I was eager to see what Survival would be like. While I'm a bit disappointed Adventure isn't returning since that was a more unique mode, Uncharted's take on Horde is very fun and exciting. We were able to plays waves 6-10 of Survival in Madagascar City. A major change that I have mixed feeling on is that enemy health bars in Survival are comparable to Gears of War's Locust Drones (not even charged melee strikes could kill them in one hit) because it discourages the reckless charges and constant movement that makes Uncharted so special and so engaging. Clearly this change was made to encourage your three man team to stick together and it definitely was very intense just keeping everybody alive.

While waves 6 and 9 were standard waves you could tackle as you please, wave 7 mixed it up by featuring a king of the hill area to defend where kills only counted if you remained in the zone. This zone contained a treasure chest where you could buy more weapons and abilities. Since enemies were so tough, ammo frequently became scarce so it made sense for us to huddle around the chest for the next few waves. Wave 8 restricted us to just melee and pistols which proved hectic and did a good job changing up the pace. My favorite wave, wave 10, was a boss battle against a zombie pirate who was on fire and could teleport short distances at will and he of course brought some henchmen with him. We were told ahead of time the boss was vulnerable to explosives and in fact you could only hurt him after he was hit with one. I purchased a grenade launcher from the chest and I coordinated with my team to hit him hard after each shot. As his health whittled down, more henchman arrived on the scene, but thankfully we were able to dispatch the pirate before we were overwhelmed. While Survival isn't exactly what I wanted from Uncharted co-op it was still super enjoyable and satisfying in its own right and I'm very excited to play it soon.

Cosmic Star Heroine (PS4/Vita Cross Buy, PC, Xbox One, 2017)

I've been waiting a long time for Cosmic Star Heroine. I played the demo for it at the first PSX two years ago and have been eagerly anticipating it since because it reminded me so much of Chrono Trigger and presented a very unique battle system that holds a lot of promise. The demo this year was actually the very beginning of the game and it opens up with the main character sneaking into an enemy stronghold to rescue some hostages. After taking out some guards on the ground I met up with a coworker and friend and together we began rapidly ascending the side of the building. During our ascent we actually entered a fight, which reminded me of similar set piece battles in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. After winning a two stage boss battle I was sent to defuse a bomb that could blow up the city. The entire opening mission was very well paced, had a great mix of humor and sharp writing, and sets the bar high for the rest of the game. 

Following a quick cutscene you return to base where you are free to wander around and talk to people including your friends and a goofy robot guard. When you are ready, you can be briefed on your next mission which happens to be the one I played two years ago so I ended my demo there. The layouts of each area I explored, as well as the one I played two years ago, coupled with your character's particular movement heavily reminds me of Chrono Trigger which I consider a very good thing. As for the battle system, which revolves around one time use abilities that can only be recharged by defending, there is a lot of potential for strategy and it should make every battle dynamic since I always had to plan a few turns ahead. For example, during the boss fight I focused on dealing damage with one character, while I had another character focus on healing. In order to heal both characters at once I spent one turn using a buff to extend my Gunmancy abilities to effect multiple targets and then used my second turn to actually cast the healing spell. I learned at PSX you'll eventually have parties with four characters in them and there are around 10 party members total so your strategies will have to constantly evolve throughout the game. Finally I learned the current release date goal is around March to April and I sincerely hope Zeboyd Games can make it because I'm even more excited to play it after this extended demo.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4, February 27)

While I love the idea of Horizon Zero Dawn (Robot Dinosaurs!!) and its rich and beautiful open world, I wasn't sure if I was going to be fully on board with the game because its gameplay looked as intimidating as a Monster Hunter game in the early reveals. I actually played the game for the first time at the GameStop Expo in September (which incidentally also took place at the Anaheim Convention Center) and my fears were quickly washed away. Alloy feels absolutely great to control and all of her tools are very intuitive and simple to use. The demo I played at PSX was actually an expanded demo of the one I played at the GameStop Expo. The demo begins with you perched on a rock and below you are the raptor-like Watchers and some wild bull robots peacefully roaming through a forest. While the demo encourages stealth, I remember I went in guns blazing on my first attempt. The chaos I caused was amazing and I actually walked away fairly unscathed because the tight controls were so empowering. In addition to my arrows, I was armed with bombs and a powerful melee attack. Horizon's combat does have light RPG elements in that your arrows and bombs are frequently charged with an element like fire, ice, and electricity and each enemy has different vulnerabilities and weak spots. The Watchers for example are vulnerable in their big glowing eyes and parts of their armor fall off if they are caught on fire.

By walking outside of the boundaries the demo would be reset which I frequently did on purpose since I desperately wanted to see as much of the beautiful world as possible and because I wanted to take different approaches to the open-ended scenario. Sometimes I'd slide into the grass (which feels amazing!) and sneak up behind the Watchers to take them out silently. Other times I'd try to capture the bull enemy by using rope wires to disable him (which was much more simpler than it sounds, since you only need to strike him with two arrows). New to the PSX demo was a big spider robot across the river. This creature was far more aggressive than the others and he boasted a shield in front of him that disabled all of my attacks. By dodging around him I was able to hit him with trip wires to disable him and then use my most powerful explosives to take him down. With dynamic gameplay that's very accessible and a beautiful world that begs to be explored, I'm confident Horizon will live up to its full potential.

Eve Valkyrie (PS4 with PS VR, PC with Oculus, Available Now!)

Typically when I write a blog about an event I never cover games that are already out, but I'm making an exception for Eve Valkryie because it was my game of the show. After making my way through the line, I was lead to a fake starship cockpit to sit in. At this point a demo rep put the PS VR and some headphones on me and handed me a controller. I've played two VR demos prior to this including The London Heist with PS VR and Eagle Flight with Oculus and both left me increasingly excited for the technology, but weren't actual games. Eve Valkyrie is a real game and it is significantly enhanced by VR.

After choosing a spaceship you are soon launched into space to engage in a 5v5 dogfight. The controller controls the space ship and it felt favorably comparable to Rogue Squadron and Star Fox. What VR adds to the experience is the ability to look around without changing the course of your ship. When I was out in space, I quickly decided I was going to play it as aggressively as possible regardless if I'd feel sick afterwards. What I'm super happy to share is that Eve Valkyrie fully held up to playing it like I would Rogue Squadron or Star Fox and it felt very smooth in VR such that I never felt sick no matter what crazy maneuvers I was pulling. The coolest feeling is having a ship zip past your window and being able to follow it by turning your head which obviously turns faster than your ship. Looking at enemy ships with your eyes is actually a gameplay mechanic in Eve Valkyrie as by staring at an enemy for a few seconds your missile systems are able to lock onto it and automatically fire. The added fire power is nice, because it can be tricky (in a good, satisfying way) to line up shots with your basic lasers. I was the MVP in my match as I managed to score five kills while never being taken out once. Whenever I inevitably invest in VR, whether it is PS VR or beyond, Eve Valkyrie will be my first purchase.

...

That concludes the main section of my PSX 2016 blog. I hope you enjoyed it! Since I did want to share my thoughts on some of the rest of the games, I wrote some brief thoughts on all of the rest below if you are curious. If you have any questions about any of the games I played at PSX or any other thoughts to share, be sure to share in the comments below. I always enjoy reading and responding to your comments.

...

The Other 10 Games I Played At PSX (All 10 Are On PS4, Garou's on Vita too!)

Rain World - In Rain World you play as a bunny creature in a post apocalyptic world depicted in amazing 2D sprites. You need to eat bugs and fruit in order to hibernate and physics seem to play a big role in the gameplay. Brutal checkpointing caused me to lose a ton of progress and I left the demo unfinished.

Kero Blaster - I love Cave Story and wanted to love Pixel's Kero Blaster on iOS, but I couldn't because of the touch controls. It feels so silky smooth on PS4 and the weird story of a frog with a gun and jet pack working at a weird company seems intriguing. Can't wait to play it.

Momodora Reverie Under The Moonlight - I wish I played more of Momodora, but the person demoing the game failed to tell me it was a Metroidvania. The 2D action here felt silky smooth and the dodge roll that lets you sneak past defending enemies felt novel. Strong gameplay with Metroidvania progression and an intriguing premise (a priestess seeking to rid a cursed land of demons and eternal night) makes me very intrigued.

Gravity Rush 2 - I had 15 minutes to explore and tackle challenges in one of the new cities. Falling is still endlessly amusing, but precision movement remains difficult especially with the new gravity stances - one makes you heavier and more powerful, the other makes you lighter and thus more floaty (it's also awkward to swap between them on the touch pad). Even though I'm good enough at Gravity Rush to win gold medals in the races consistently, conquering each race feels like a fluke due to how finicky it is to control Kat. Still I'm up for one more Gravity Rush adventure since there is nothing else quite like it.

Garou Mark of the Wolves - Garou is an old SNK fighter that has a lot of personality. It feels mechanically strong and I had a great time playing a few matches with my brother. Garou was announced during the PSX keynote and it is already available on PSN for both PS4 and Vita if you are interested in checking it out.

Chasm - I enjoyed Chasm right away because mechanically it feels strong. It's a 2D Metroidvania (the 3rd and final one I played at PSX) and I had fun tearing through the dungeon I was in. Something felt a smidge off about the pacing though and it's probably because while the rooms are handcrafted, they are randomly arranged throughout the game. This dampens my excitement for the final game.

Celeste - The creator of Towerfall has gathered a team to make a brutally hard Super Meat Boy-like platformer about a girl who wants to climb a mountain. People playing the demo ahead of me died over 100 times (respawning is nearly instant) before completing it while it took me just 20 tries. Platforming feels good as you have a lot of mid-air control and the rocket-like double jump feels unique. The challenges frequently mix it up as some feature momentum puzzles and falling blocks while others are simply wall jump gauntlets. Collecting strawberries throughout the level by completing tricky jumps and by finding secret passageways adds more challenge.

Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One DLC - The Rogue One level kicks off with a space battle and transitions to a two part battle on the forest planet highlighted in the movie poster provided the Rebels win each phase. My first main takeaway is that controlling X-Wings is far more enjoyable in space, but the controls still aren't as tight as Rogue Squadron or even the original Battlefronts. My other main takeaway is that like some of the scenarios in the base game, one side is far more likely to succeed than the other as it felt effortless for me to complete the first and third sections on the Rebels side while the Empire had a distinct advantage in the second phase.

Ray's The Dead - This game is basically Little King's Story with a zombie protagonist. I had to organize and build a zombie army and send them out to fight guys, tear apart debris, and dig holes. I dislike zombies and didn't care for the art style, but the game seemed fun. Sadly it glitched out before I could finish the demo.

Parappa The Rapper 20th Anniversary Edition - The Chop Chop Master Onion stage was available to play at PSX. The graphics looked sharp, but the music game felt way too easy. I also ddin't care for the cutscenes aside from the one with Chop Chop Master Onion of course.