For the sixth year in a row, I journeyed up to Los Angeles on the 4th of July weekend for Anime Expo. As always I had a thoroughly awesome time. In addition to concerts and panels and buying merchandise, a core pillar of my annual AX experience is trying out as many games as I can on the show floor. This year I managed to play eight games and I wanted to share my thoughts on each of them. After that, I also want to share some of my highlights from this year's show, so let's get started!

Under Night In-Birth Latest (PS4, digital only on PS3 and Vita, Late 2017)

After wrapping up my first priority, securing Persona 5 merch, the first game I saw and immediately wanted to get my hands on was Under Night In-Birth Latest. When I encountered it, the game hadn't been announced for the West yet, so I was surprised to see it on the show floor. I adored French Bread's original fighter when it came out on the PS3 two years ago though I never put it through its paces as much as I wanted to. Playing the latest version...uh Latest...instantly reminded me why I loved UNIEL so much. The mechanics are rock solid, the characters exude attitude, and the soundtrack is ace. I played UNIST twice during my AX trip and was able to try four characters: Linne, my favorite character from UNIEL, and three of the four new characters, Wagner, Enkidu, and Mika. Of the new characters I played, Wagner and Enkidu were both a ton of fun. Wagner is a fairly straightforward sword character and her attacks have great reach thanks to her fire powers. Enkidu, a buff, shirtless, martial arts master, has deliberate attacks that feel satisfyingly powerful and are surprisingly swift. The other new character I didn't get to play, Phonon, seems like the most fascinating of the bunch as she wields a whip that hits fairly hard while offering exceptional reach. Hopefully now that UNIST is reaching more platforms it will reach a wider audience than UNIEL, because it truly is a fantastic fighter. 

Dragonball Fighter Z (PS4, Xbox One, PC, 2018)

Though I enjoyed Dragonball growing up I never cared enough to buy a Dragonball fighting game. The moment I heard my favorite fighting game developer, Arc System Works, would be making a 3v3 Marvel Vs Capcom style Dragonball fighting game I assure you it immediately rocketed to the top of my most anticipated games. As such I couldn't wait to get my hands on Dragonball Fighter Z so nothing else would distract me from playing it next. There was a decent sized line to play a round so I played one on my first day with my friend Alex and returned another day to play again. I tried out all six characters available across those two matches: Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Frieza (my early favorite), Cell, and Buu. I knew from the trailers, but playing it in person only reinforced that Arc System Works are enormous Dragonball fans. The attention to detail is obscene, everything looks and animates exactly the way it should and everything calls back to specific frames of animation from the show often with the exact camera placement. Even only 20% done, the fighting feels strong though it did seem some characters were too eager to keep comboing after whiffing a hit. I felt far more comfortable during my second match because I learned how to call in my partners to take over and assist in combat. I was surprised just how fast the game is. You can close the gap very quickly, which makes sense since projectiles rapidly cover the whole screen. Even after two rounds I'm fully convinced DBFZ is going to deliver and I can't wait to get my hands on it again.


Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4, PC, November 10)

Let me be upfront about this, the original Ni No Kuni was a terrible RPG. I understand why people wanted to latch onto it, but the story and combat were absolutely shallow. With morbid curiosity, I approached Ni No Kuni II. My demo opened on a town being destroyed by a dragon-like guardian and I was quickly whisked away to an alternate dimension to battle it. While I can't tell you if the story has improved based on that meager scene, I can say that the combat system is already a marked improvement. The first Ni No Kuni's combat resembled Pokemon, but you ultimately had little say in the outcome of fights since the monsters strictly autobattled every fight and for boss battles it was merely a matter of hitting defend during well telegraphed moments and spamming your latest and therefore best spell. In Ni No Kuni II, the young king Evan is directly controlled by you and you need to attack foes with his sword to build your magic meter to use abilities. The boss fight I tackled was long, maybe a little too long, but it was fairly engaging since he had a lot of different attacks including bathing the field in fire, summoning minions, and launching explosive rocks that you could disarm by attacking. While I'm not quite sure how and why they operate, a legion of small creatures travel the battlefield and you can take a break from sword swinging to activate buffs they set up. After playing the demo, I'm more hopeful that Ni No Kuni II will at least be a more enjoyable game than its predecessor.


Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time (PS4, PC, Early 2018)

This was another game I was pleasantly surprised to find on the show floor because it was only announced very recently in Japan and just the morning of the show opening for the West. I'm always more skeptical of license games usually since the best developers aren't attached to them and they typically have tight production cycles, but I like Little Witch Academia so I wanted to give it a shot. I'm glad I did because while the build on the floor was very early, the standard enemies didn't even attack at all, it did a great job showing off the animation and controls at least. All the characters brim with life just like the show and Akko has her loveably arrogant attitude on full display. While the enemies didn't resist it was fun chaining attacks and launching colorful spells at them. The boss fight was fully operational and he had some interesting attacks to dodge. My favorite part of the battle was when he started launching giant fireballs at my team and I had to move into position to launch them back at him. I'm glad I happened to finish him by activating my ultimate attack because it looked suitably spectacular. After playing the demo, I think the Little Witch Academia game is definitely worth keeping an eye on.


Sword Art Online Vs Accel World (Digital Only PS4 and Vita, July 7)

I like Sword Art Online and I love Accel World so I've been looking forward to this crossover for some time though the digital only release and lack of marketing did make me wary of its quality. With that in mind, I was curious to try out the game at Anime Expo. I was able to play it for a decent amount of time and I ultimately came out of the demo unimpressed. Bizarrely, there wasn't any obvious objective to work towards so I was free to fly around and fight any monsters I came across. My party consisted of Kirito and Asuna in their Fairy Dance forms and Kuroyukihime from Accel World in her duel avatar form and I could swap between them by pushing a button. No matter who I was playing as I took out every enemy with relative ease since nothing was particularly aggressive. The landscape was fairly unremarkable, though it did have some floating islands to land on. The most amusing part of the demo was playing as Kuroyukihime. Unlike Kirito and Asuna who could reliably fly, Kuroyukihime could charge up a jump that violently rocketed her into the sky where she could then endlessly jump in midair to fight flying foes before slamming back down to earth. The dull demo put me off on buying SAO Vs Accel World entirely, but the game is available now so there should be some more reviews and impressions floating around the internet if you are still intrigued.


Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4, Vita, PC, September 12)

As a huge fan of Falcom, one of my most anticipated games this year is Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. The Ys games are fantastic action games and getting my hands on Ys VIII affirmed it is already on the right track. Combat feels wicked fast and exact even as you chain together special moves and swap between characters. Also, no matter how many games it appears in, I will never get tired of triggering slow motion after a perfect dodge especially when it feels as good as it does here. I enjoyed blitzing through all the standard enemies and then taking my time battling a big turtle dinosaur mid-boss. The most notable changes to Ys VIII are the new camera perspective and a bigger emphasis on story. Ys VIII is a fully 3D world and the camera this time is behind Adol's back rather than hovering above which is great since it lets you take in the sights more and gives the combat a different feel. I most felt Ys VIII's new emphasis on story in the new approach to cutscenes as they reminded more of Trails of Cold Steel's than the brisk cutscenes of previous Ys games which I'm hopeful will pay off in the long run. Playing the demo and attending the panel (which I'll talk about shortly) have only increased my enthusiasm for playing the final game so I'm glad Ys VIII is barely two months away.


CyberDimension Neptunia Four Goddesses Online (PS4, 2017)

I've only played and beaten the abysmal, original HyperDimension Neptunia, but I've always remained fond of the characters, Neptune especially, despite that. Since I had time to kill waiting for a panel, I decided to check out Neptune's latest game. The four main Goddesses are playing an MMORPG with several of their friends and you play as the avatars themselves. From town you can prepare your party to tackle dungeons. Combat is in real time and isn't particularly challenging, but is still engaging enough to be fun. Even though the graphics and art direction were fairly simple, they were fairly good by Compile Heart's low standards and the game ran solidly enough as well. More impressive were the fairly exciting and stylish attack animations which gave the game some good personality. Four Goddesses Online looks to be a pretty breezy game so as long as the script is fun it might be worth checking out.

Indivisible (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Linux, 2018)

I've been curious about Lab Zero's Indivisible since its announcement as it mixes Metroid exploration with RPG gameplay. This early demo, which should go out to Kickstarter backers soon, seems promising and a bit undercooked in equal measure. The core concept is already in place and the platforming feels fairly good, though it loses its flow when you have to keep breaking away for battles. I overheard the developers talking with some fans and they mentioned they are currently working on giving the enemies better tells for when they attack which is good since combat feels a bit hectic at the moment. I started my demo with one character and quickly assembled a full group of four. Each character is assigned to a button and has a clear role such as a heavy hitter and healer. By timing your moves right you can combo an enemy to deal more damage, but the problem I had in the demo is that I was never sure why my buff guy kept whiffing attacks so I didn't experience the proper combat flow the developers likely intended. Still this demo is very early and the concept is interesting, so I hope Lab Zero can take the time to make it shine.

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Before I wrap up here, I did want to talk about some of my Anime Expo highlights. Definitely my favorite part of the event was the three concerts I attended. I went to both of the Anisong World Matsuri concerts, Japan Kawaii Live and Japan Super Live, as well as Miss Monochrome's US debut concert. I attended the first Japan Super Live last year so I knew what to expect there. The opening half of the concert was definitely my favorite part as Konomi Suzuki, Mashiro Ayano, and GARNiDELiA all played back to back. To help close the first half of the concert, GARNiDELiA called Mashiro Ayano on stage to sing a cover of the Gurren Lagann theme song Sorairo Days which was especially awesome. Japan Kawaii Live was the idol concert which I decided to try despite having no knowledge of idol groups since the preview night schedule was fairly dull. I'm glad I went because I enjoyed it more as it went on and I even ended up buying some Aquors songs on iTunes after I got home since I enjoyed them so much.

On the first actual day of AX, I tackled the Final Fantasy XIV Trials of the Bahamut escape event with my brother and my friend Alex. Regardless if you've played FFXIV or not, I haven't, if you are a Final Fantasy fan and it is coming to city near you I strongly recommend trying to get tickets as we had a ton of fun. If you tackled Scrap's Zelda escape event, this event is very similar as teams of six are all in the same room and have to solve puzzles and travel to stations, like a dungeon or an item shop, to acquire items and advance the story. One unique thing about this room is that every teammate chooses a job at the start of the game and each is armed with specific abilities that will help them overcome obstacles. My team was seconds away from finishing it as we had the right answer, but we just couldn't deliver it to the right guy in time.

Finally there were two panels I really enjoyed this year: the Danganronpa V3 voice actor panel and the Ys VIII gameplay panel. I've never attended a voice actor panel before so I wasn't sure what to expect from the Danganronpa panel, but it ended up being one of my favorite panels I've ever attended. After some basic Q&A the moderator presented a dating game that the voice actors answered in character which was hilarious. I obviously haven't played Danganronpa V3 yet so I don't know the new cast, but the voice actors present (all of which have played characters in previous games) had so much enthusiasm for it I'm convinced it is going to be as wild a ride as the previous games. As for the other panel I enjoyed, the Ys VIII panel, it showed off the same demo on the show floor, but the panel was hosted by Toshihiro Kondo, the president of Falcom. I was lucky enough to get front row seats and I even got to ask him a question during Q&A! I asked about whether he was considering bringing Falcom games to more platforms, especially the Nintendo Switch, and he mentioned he was interested, but Falcom has to be careful about each platform they bring games to since they are such a small company. The best response Kondo offered was in regards to a Ys V remake as he shared they still have all of the original planning documents and would love to include all the ideas that had to be dropped during development.

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That concludes my Anime Expo 2017 blog, I hope you enjoyed it! If you have any questions about Anime Expo or any of the games I played be sure to share them in the comments below. I always enjoy reading and responding to your comments!