Gravity Rush 2. Resident Evil 7. Yakuza 0. Just weeks into the new year, not only are we experiencing a deluge of great video games, a bunch of them are coming from the same place: Japan. Remember, it was only a console generation ago when people were openly wondering if Japan was would find a way to remain relevant. And while it may have taken some developers a few years to get their shit together, the last month has underlined the kinds of bold creativity that we've come to expect (and too often, miss) from Japan.
Though I've been patiently waiting for designer Keiichirō Toyama to make another Siren game, if he's spending his spare time working on projects as ambitious and fascinating as Gravity Rush 2, that's just fine. It's to joy to be flying around as Kat again, in a game that's as funny, touching, outrageous, and surprising, as it is beautiful. Plus, who would have expected Gravity Rush 2 would be the game with the most thoughtful commentary on class in a while? Both myself and Austin Walker were caught off guard by this, prompting us to write a letter series about it.
Here's a little bit from Austin:
I followed the thief through the twisting hallways of some smashed-together houseboats, was cornered by a group of confused, angry citizens—the thief had stolen from us to feed these people. The confrontation erupted into a brawl—everything was going as I thought it would. As that came to a close, a group of soldiers from Jirga's militaristic junta kicked in the door. "Ah, okay," I predicted, like a cynical asshole, "Now someone will be arrested and I'll see that thing's aren't as black an-"
But before I could finish my thought, the soldiers—their faces hidden behind masks—raised rifles to their shoulders. This happens in a cutscene; there's no chance to intervene. Kat watches as they cooly close their fingers around triggers, and hold. There was no attempt to arrest these citizens. This wasn't a "mistaken identity" story. No one thought that the whole group was part of the gang. These weren't rogue soldiers. This is what they were ordered to do, and they did it.
And while Gravity Rush 2 was a pleasant surprise, my expectations for Resident Evil 7 were both sky-high and purposely tempered; it's easier to avoid disappointment that way, you know? But that proved unnecessary, as Resident Evil 7 successfully leveraged the elements that made the first game so iconic—isolation, mystery, survival—with the game's franchise-bending choice of a first-person perspective. I wish I could play it again with fresh eyes. (It's also the best reason to buy PlayStation VR.)
You can read more of my thoughts on the game here, but here's a taste:
It's a game that embodies the phrase "speak softly and carry a big stick." Resident Evil 7 is painfully quiet at times, lulling players into a false sense of security, only to pull the rug from under them. When it's loud, it's loud, and inspires the dread you figure the poor victims from the Friday the 13th movies must have felt, knowing Jason Voorhees was slowly heading in their direction from both somewhere and anywhere.
Last but not least...my boy, my precious, my patently absurd—Yakuza 0. I'll have more to say about my first forays into the Japanese mafia next week, but lemme make this clear: if you've never played a Yakuza game before, stop fretting over whether or not you're going to understand what's going on and play this game immediately. In the first few hours, I've shut down a high school panty selling ring, helped a father and son bond over a stolen video game, given a flailing dominatrix the courage to talk down to her clients, and beaten the shit out of a lot of people.
Yakuza 0 is very good. Gravity Rush 2 is very good. Resident Evil 7 is very good. Other than that whole anime thing, Japan is very good. Keep it up.
[Editor's note: I tried long and hard to get Patrick to name this piece "Japanuary," but he couldn't be convinced. - Danielle]