Square Enix Shows Off New Luminous Engine Tech
It has long been a mystery as to why Hajime Tabata decided to quit Square Enix after being gifted his own studio to run (Luminous Studios). This week the situation has become a little clearer, as it appears that Square Enix may have turned the studio responsible for pinching out Final Fantasy XV into an engine development and support studio. Now, we will likely never have confirmation that this is the case, and just because the studio is actively developing a AAA open world engine that does not mean that Luminous Studios now lacks the capacity for active game development, but it sure would explain why Square Enix forced Tabata to take his planned Final Fantasy XV DLC out back, and shoot it.
So this week Luminous Studios dropped a new Luminous Engine next gen tech demo in partnership with Nvidia. The tech demo showcased some amazing ray tracing effects for its lighting and reflections, and realtime texture deformations to depict a young woman applying lipstick and make-up. But who knew the Luminous Engine was even still a thing? Square Enix have been badly botching their Final Fantasy games, and barely even managing to release them for years now – all thanks to their arrogant and narcissistic insistence on developing their own in-house game engines instead of utilising popular all purpose licensed game engines.
Recently it was looking as though Square Enix had turned over a new leaf though. High profile Square Enix titles like Kingdom Hearts III, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Dragon Quest XI, Octopath Traveller, and the Trials of Mana remake are all being developed on Unreal Engine 4, and look visually great. It would appear that Unreal Engine 4 is just a stop gap however, as Square Enix continue to bash their head against a wall called Luminous Engine. When was the last time that an in-house engine worked out well for Square Enix? Final Fantasy XII? This new tech demo looks great, but then these demos are almost never a realistic depiction of what to expect on next gen hardware once the hardware also has to run game physics and overhead. The now seven year old Agni’s Philosophy demo also looked great (and still does!), and yet when that same engine was used to create Final Fantasy XV the environments looked drab, the characters clipped through one another, and character hair was hideously dithered (it looked like Sega Genesis water transparency effects!).
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a far more attractive current gen game than Final Fantasy XV, and it is running on the general purpose Unreal Engine. The great thing about middleware engines is that they free up developers to work on making the actual games, rather than continually reinventing the wheel. Back in 1997 Squaresoft was universally lauded for the graphical effects they were able to pull off using their in-house engines. This praise continued through the years, and up until around 2006 this praise was richly deserved. In recent years Square Enix has managed to continue to visually impress with their engine technology, but then this same technology ends up hurting their ability to develop games, and the games themselves do not always even look that good. In this situation a rational developer would do away with their reliance on in-house development software, yet all the praise that Squaresoft received during their formative ‘90s decade has led to them having such an ego about pushing graphics with their game engines that they refuse to eliminate this massive distraction. Square Enix would be much better served by attempting to wow the gaming world through making the best looking Unreal Engine games, which is still a technological feat worth pursuing.
Nintendo Directs can be of varying quality, but this week was one of the big ones. SNES games are now available to Nintendo Online subscribers, and subscribers are able to order authentic looking wireless SNES controllers, just like the deal with the NES controllers. This announcement came with a sting in its tail after reading the small print, but for the moment people were basking in the announcement that after months of dribs and drabs twenty SNES games were now available for play. Also now available for immediate play is Banjo, as part of the Smash DLC pass. Terry Bogard of Fatal Fury and King of Fighters fame was then announced as the fourth character as part of the DLC pass, and is coming on November 19. It was then announced that the team would continue to develop DLC characters past the five character DLC pass set, so presumably there is a second DLC pass coming.
There were a couple of notable dates in Nintendo’s direct. The first release date was for Square Enix’s excellent looking Trials of Mana remake, which will be available April 24 2020. The second release date was for Game Freak’s Switch exclusive JRPG, originally titled Town. One has not been following Game Freak’s Town since it was initially announced, and so was quite surprised to find that it was now titled Little Town Hero, and was coming out next month on October 16. Surprisingly, it turns out that the game is also a $25 digital only purchase (when one had supposed it would get a proper release) – and one suspects that the game probably began life as a technical demo for the new Pokemon engine. One was also quite flabbergasted to find out that the soundtrack had been composed by Toby Fox, and not in a good way. In all fairness the soundtrack was one of the least offensive things about Undertale, but seeing the name ‘Toby Fox’ being associated with anything that is not the disadvantageous end of a firing squad is enough to elicit in this author a strong negative physiological response – and as such this is probably going to be a hard pass.
There were a couple of new games announced, the first being Deadly Premonition 2, which was a huge announcement for the sizeable niche of gamers who played the original title, and is coming in 2020. Deadly Premonition is the closest thing we will ever have to an open world game based on the Twin Peaks license, and enjoys a bit of a cult following online. This has been one of the things that Nintendo has been excellent at this generation: bringing over games that might not be AAA megatons, but which have dedicated audiences that will follow them over to the Switch. Not gonna lie, it is pretty great that Nintendo have allowed us to experience the crazy world of Deadly Premonition for a second time. The second game announced was Super Kirby Clash, a free to play game which is available right now. The game looks attractive enough, but obviously, being free to play, it is complete cancer.
There were also a very nearly literal avalanche of belated and retro ports, many of which are great games. The first one was a no brainer – to accompany Deadly Premonition 2, the first game was ported over to Switch, and is available immediately. Also available immediately was Divinity: Original Sin II. Coming September 24 is Star Wars: Jedi Knight II. Not really one’s cup of tea, but the game seems to be held in particularly high regard by people who were into PC gaming in the early 2000s. It is also coming to PS4. October 15 will see the belated release of both The Witcher III and Overwatch; readers should only look to play the latter if they truly hate themselves, but one figured that it was a big enough announcement that it really should be mentioned. Doom 64 is coming out on November 22, and is also allegedly being released for the PS4. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is being released on the 17th of January 2020, and looks to be a great fit for the Switch. Unfortunately there are early signs that the game is still brutally censored, and it looks as though the Japanese market might also be getting the censored version this time around. Finally, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition will release at some point in 2020, and the game looks to have received a stunning facelift. And there you have it – this is not even an exhaustive list of all the ports that are coming to the Switch in the near future, as a whole handful of games were omitted due to their lack of site relevance. The Switch has always been something of a port machine, but never more so than right now. This is just crazy, not that one is complaining though, as there are some truly fantastic games here!
Nintendo’s Sneaky Footnote
While Nintendo’s Direct stretched on for an impressive forty minutes, it was seemingly insufficient to divulge all the announcements that Nintendo had in the pipeline. The first is the announcement that Nintendo will no longer adhere to a schedule of regular monthly releases of retro ROMs for Nintendo Online subscribers. Nintendo just dropped twenty SNES titles for their Direct announcement, and so they probably feel that they have met their obligations to Nintendo Online subscribers for the next twenty months. See you in two years, Mr Nintendo!
The second announcement was that Nintendo have yet another “new way to play Nintendo Switch”! Nintendo are looking to introduce Nintendo Hoop (Nintendo Stick to be sold separately). Now the hoop that Nintendo consumers must jump through need not be metaphorical! The trailer shows Nintendo Hoop owners enthusiastically attaching their joycons to a plastic hoop, and then doing goofy things with it. Nintendo have sold us cardboard, and now they are selling us a plastic hoop – what is next, the Nintendo Use Your Imagination?
Finally, yet another port has been announced. This one is a port of a 1997 PS1 game called Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, a title which has never before been localised. The game was developed by a team of former Squaresoft staff, most of which seem to have come from Mario RPG and the Mana series. The game seems to be a sort of post modern deconstruction of JRPGs, which admittedly gives it a sort of unpleasant Undertale vibe – however this game is at least much more visually appealing. The game could turn out to be shit, but it might also be worth picking up. One trusts SNES era Squaresoft employees a lot more than a fart sniffing self-satisfied douche like Toby Fox. The game will release on the Switch sometime this year.
Late Breaking News
Dragon Quest I,II, and III are coming to Switch with English language support confirmed! This was apparently part of the Japanese Nintendo Direct, but did not make it into the Western version. All three games will launch on September 27 in Japan (the same day as Dragon Quest XI), though no word as yet on whether they are releasing on the same day in Western territories.