Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
These are super-busy times for Square Enix. The Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts RPG powerhouse is diving headlong into the first half of 2021 with a stacked slate of projects as both developer and publisher; projects that’ll evolve its hit revival of Final Fantasy VII, massively expand its critically-acclaimed Final Fantasy XIV MMORPG, add an ace archer to Marvel’s Avengers, land on a new sci-fi planet with Outriders, and introduce the origins of the breakout NieR RPG franchise to a current-gen gaming audience.
This week’s Sony State of Play showcase saved its biggest gaming surprise for last, revealing a new between-the-games chapter for Final Fantasy VII Remake that brings a certain shuriken-wielding Wutai warrior out of the past and into Midgar’s steampunk spotlight. Fan favorite character Yuffie Kisaragi, understandably a no-show in Remake’s Midgar-centric PS4 installment last year, is getting a story all to herself as the game makes its PS5 debut under the tweaked title of Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade.
Intergrade is basically Square Enix’s answer to all the fans who’ve been asking how Remake would make its inevitable leap onto Sony’s new-gen hardware, bringing a slew of new quality-of-life enhancements to PS5 players. Those include boosted 4K graphics, a photo mode, optimized loading times, haptic DualSense controller features, and the ability to switch between a "graphics mode" that prioritizes 4K high-res graphics; and a "performance mode" that favors smoothed-out 60 FPS action.
As for Yuffie, her new content — “a brand-new episode featuring Yuffie as the main character” — comes as part of the game’s Intergrade PS5 version, and will only be available to PS5 players as a piece of story DLC — either by buying Intergrade all at once, or as a standalone purchase. While it’s not the awaited announcement of the next full-scale Remake installment fans are still waiting for, the DLC serves as a way to inch Yuffie a step closer to joining Cloud Strife’s growing player party, and introduces new character Sonon Kusakabe, who’ll complement Yuffie’s melee moves as a second party member. The new bite-sized chapter will follow our not-so-subtle ninja (just check out the trailer) as she “infiltrates the shadowy Shinra Corporation to steal a powerful materia and restore glory to her homeland,” as Square Enix teases.
In a welcome gesture, anyone who already owns a PS4 copy of Final Fantasy VII Remake can upgrade to the PS5 version for free — though players will still have to pay to snag Yuffie’s new DLC story. Also welcome is Square Enix’s decision to announce all this new FFVII awesomeness without making us guess at when it’s coming: both the Intergrade PS5 version and the new Yuffie story will be ready to play on the PlayStation 5 on June 10.
State of Play highlights
Believe it or not, there’s tons more Square Enix stuff (including a pair of new FF-themed mobile games) to talk about, and we’ll definitely get back to it in just a bit. But this week’s Sony State of Play showcase broke through a recent dearth of PS5 gaming updates with a fresh handful of trailers for upcoming games both new and previously announced, and it’s time to hit those highlights as well.
While Sony didn’t break the internet with the next big God of War or Elden Ring update that a lot of fans are still clamoring for, State of Play did give us a nice roadmap for PlayStation’s early 2021 plans…starting with a deeper look at the new indie IP that’s been turning heads ever since it was first revealed at last summer’s big PS5 gaming showcase.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Ember Lab may be a small studio, but every look they’ve shared so far at Kena: Bridge of Spirits has reinforced their Zelda-inspired passion for action-adventure games. State of Play finally introduced some new story elements and, for the first time, gave the upcoming game’s plucky main character a voice. But more importantly, it also gave the PlayStation console exclusive a release date.
Bridge of Spirits will debut on Aug. 24, launching Kena on a combat-laced salvation quest for her village, while marshaling an adorable, multitasking army of lil’ dark forest spirits called the Rot. The new trailer introduces human characters not previously seen, and serves up a little more backstory as a mysterious old quest-giver tasks Kena with earning her way to the top of a sacred mountain shrine.
In addition to her ranged magic bow-and-arrow attacks, we also got new peeks at how Kena can conjure her glowing blue weapon to take on baddies in other ways, including area-of-effect ground pounds, close-quarters melee attacks, and even magic force fields that wrap her in a protective ball of energy. Pre-orders for Kena have at last gone live ahead of the game's summer release for PS5, PS4, and PC (via the Epic Games store).
Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach
Five Nights at Freddy’s dispensed long ago with the idea that funhouse animatronics can’t be hilariously horrifying. State of Play’s new gameplay trailer for Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach sizes up that wackiness factor by an order of magnitude, breaking the mayhem out of the neighborhood kids’ pizzeria and into something way bigger — something, in fact, that resembles a scaled-up, audio-animatronic indoor amusement park.
“Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza is no longer limited to small pizzerias, as they have now opened the Mega Pizza Plex,” teases developer Steel Wool Studios, showcasing a sprawling new 3D theme park packed at every dark turn with ‘bots and beastly mascots gone haywire. The new mall-like setting serves up a dizzying diversity of creepshow environments, from a ball pit to a kid’s playground to a mini-golf course stalked by robotic terrors that won’t take “no” for an answer. We still don’t have a firm release date, but hapless kid hero Gregory gets his chance at escape sometime soon: Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach breaks out sometime this year for PS5, PS4, and PC.
Developer Sloclap showed up at State of Play to announce Sifu, its third-person fighting game followup to indie hit Absolver, with a trippy new spin on dying and respawning: Every time your Kung fu skills fatally fail you, you’re reborn just a little bit older. Inspired by old-school fighting films, Sifu tells the single-player story of a young Kung fu student on the path for vengeance, after his family was murdered 8 years ago by “a squad of mysterious assassins.” Even with years of training, it’ll take a magic pendant to get you back in the fight every time you die…but rapid onset aging is the price you’ll pay for the convenience of a supernatural revival.
Framed against a backdrop of classic martial arts movie environments including a grungy dojo, a tranquil garden, and crowded urban indoor scenes where no one blinks at a bar fight, Sifu kicks its way onto PS5, PS4, and PC sometime later this year.
The makers of 2D action-RPG hit Hyper Light Drifter are bringing their purple-tinged color palette into full 3D with Solar Ash, an action platformer first announced back in 2019. Developer Heart Machine used its State of Play spotlight to show off their first look at Solar Ash’s buttery-smooth gameplay action, which features protagonist Rei — a “Voidrunner” tasked with saving her sci-fi home planet from “a massive black hole that swallows entire worlds.”
The trippy, cel-shaded animation style covers a huge 3D world that’ll take Rei to “sunken cities, vast water shelves, and dangerous lava zones” as she skips across ashen clouds to combine “speed, fluidity, and movement” for a platforming quest that keeps the focus on fast-paced combat. There’s no firm release date, but Heart Machine is planning to scatter Solar Ash across the PS5, PS4, and PC platforms sometime this year.
We’ve already gotten a few good glimpses at Deathloop and we already know when it’s coming, so at this point any new look at the game from Bethesda’s Arkane studios (the same team behind the Dishonored franchise) is just icing on the time-trapped cake. The game’s new State of Play trailer serves up a moody look at the debauched island of Blackreef, where the inhabitants are “living out an endless party” while protagonist-assassin Colt tries to break through his déjà vu amnesia and take out his assigned targets.
The new clip feels like a classic James Bond movie intro infused with a lowbrow desert wastrel vibe, and offers some new glimpses at Colt’s FPS weapons arsenal while shining the spotlight on a (presumed) bad guy named “Ramblin’” Frank Spicer. By now, Arkane has given players a pretty full picture of what to expect when Deathloop circles its upcoming arrival as a PS5 exclusive — all that’s left is to circle the calendar for the game’s May 21 release date.
Just like Deathloop, Returnal has given us some previous close looks at how developer Housemarque is planning to make its PS5 debut. For this week’s State of Play outing, the studio put the focus on Returnal’s narrative and gameplay, showcasing how protagonist Celine crash-lands on an alien planet and must track down breadcrumb clues to solve the mystery of how to escape. Stuck with “corroded” memories and a roguelike environment that changes every time she respawns, Celine must use her arsenal of ranged beam attacks to stave off alien tentacles and decipher cryptic voice logs that drop clues about her past — and may even hold the keys to her future.
Returnal arrives as a PS5 exclusive on April 30.
Spare parts (the Square Enix edition)
Yuffie's PS5 debut only scratches the surface of all the goodies Square Enix is planning to unload in the weeks and months to come, both inside and outside the Final Fantasy gaming-verse. SE has dropped a small megaton of other announcements in the past few days, mostly for games and downloads that're either ready to play right now, or will be soon. With so much ground to cover, consider this your early-2021 Square Enix lightning round:
- Final Fantasy is going mobile with a pair of newly-announced titles for smart devices set in the world of Final Fantasy VII. First up is Final Fantasy VII: The First Solider, which makes Midgar the map of choice for the first-ever FF-themed battle royale game. Set three decades before the events of FFVII, play as a SOLDIER candidate who must wield Mako-infused magic, call upon summons, and hone your Shinra-tested fighting abilities in a last-one-standing fight to the finish. There’s no firm release date, but The First Soldier is set to arrive for Android and iOS devices sometime later this year.
- Also coming to mobile is Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis, a “chapter-structured single player experience which will cover the whole of the FFVII timeline, including the events of the original game along with all the FFVII compilation titles,” according to Square Enix. That’s a big timeline; one that conceivably could rope in the far-ranging events of spinoff titles like Crisis Core, Advent Children, Before Crisis, and (are we missing any here?) Dirge of Cerberus. New story elements penned by FFVII Remake writer Kazushige Nojima will also be part of the new narrative, and will explore “the origins of SOLDIER,” according to SE. Watch for more details ahead of the game’s arrival sometime in 2022 for Android and iOS platforms.
- If you fell off the Marvel’s Avengers bandwagon after completing the original game’s Ms. Marvel-focused story campaign, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics are serving up a fresh incentive to jump back in the fight. Hawkeye and Kate Bishop are heading to the game in next month’s big DLC update, enlisting the entire Avengers ensemble for an apocalypse-averting fight against Maestro. The Hawkeye: Future Imperfect story teaser above also dangles another reason to keep Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on speed dial: Marvel’s Avengers is making the next-gen jump to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S on March 18 — the same day as the new Hawkeye DLC.
- The much-hyped arrival of all-new sci-fi IP Outriders is close at hand, and players are finally able to get their first up-close look at the alien world of Enoch thanks to the new game demo that just landed for consoles and PC. Via months and months of Outriders Broadcast video updates, Square Enix and developer People Can Fly have labored mightily to highlight the game's spacey shooter vibes, and we’ll have more to say about it all once we’ve worked our way past the demo in the days ahead. In the meantime, form your own early demo impression of Outriders for free, while awaiting the game’s April 1 release for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and PC.
- Last but most definitely not least, NieR mastermind Yoko Taro is putting the final flourishes on an HD remake of the game that (kind of) started it all. NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… arrives this spring as “a modern re-telling” of the 2010 Japan-only version of NieR Replicant, itself a spinoff from Taro’s Drakengard game franchise that eventually found far greater success with 2017’s amazing NieR: Automata sequel.
Square Enix shared a meaty new trailer for the game this week, giving fresh looks at both the story and gameplay elements that’ll grace the new remaster — which, sadly, so far hasn’t been given the next-gen green light for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. Instead, NieR’s original tragic tale (and man, is it tragic) is bound for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on April 23. Behind that happy moon mask, you know Emil’s not actually smiling.