Good afternoon dear readers! This weekend is action-packed for games with events happening all across the United States. We're caught in the crossfire as we will attend PAX East live and in person for all four days!
Returning to Boston, this year is expected to be greater than the last as many developers from around the world are returning or debuting for the first time ever. Readers familiar with last year's PAX East coverage will notice that the format is a bit different this year. That's because I'm testing out a different way to cover events while also making things tidy and organized.
For an example of what this style of post will be like, check out my beginner's guide to Need For Speed Unbound. There will be demo coverages and developer spotlights, this time all in one convenient package. Regardless, as usual, we'll work around the clock to bring updates as they arrive.
Whether you're tuning into the news from PAX East live or you're following up on information from us, this will be a very packed weekend, so stay tuned for all the fun things we have in store for you guys!
Thursday began with an electrifying start, with many attendees returning from last year as well as newcomers and others who may have missed out on last year’s experience. PAX East 2022 was the first in-person event following 2021’s digital-only experience and its success was a positive sign of the future for offline events. With many larger developers tying themselves to the event, 2023 was shaping up to be bigger than last year’s event—over twice the amount.
If Thursday was anything to go by, it may be at least quadruple instead.
Returning for the second time felt like a homecoming as if it wasn’t almost exactly twelve months since PAX opened its doors at the Boston Convention Center. The marina was every bit as chilly, but the scenery remained beautiful until you reached the inner city at least, and the crowds were just as packed. Lines of attendees awaited the opening of the expo hall as vendors and exhibitors finished setting up. I’ve seen t his scene many times before so it was best to take in the calm before the storm.
One thing that I immediately noticed was that some of the games I demoed last year, returned with a much greater presence. An example is WrestleQuest, a “wrestling-themed RPG” that was partially inspired by Super Mario RPG and other mini-game-based action RPG titles. Last year, the game was tucked away between many other titles. This year, not only were there multiple setups but there was also a giant wrestling ring included as part of the game’s booth.
Before PAX East opened its doors this year, I understood immediately why events like these were important. With enough players, word-of-mouth, and positive reception, a relatively underground game can pick up enough hype to the point where it's given its own space the following year. Even the most legendary of indie titles had to start from a “hole in a wall” before reaping the benefits of their hard work.
This was the energy I felt when I visited Knight Shift Games to play their game Elsie, a Mega Man-inspired roguelike with the intent of giving the player creative freedom in movement. Despite a five-year development cycle that placed their backs against the wall, a major influencer, The Completionist, helped make the connections for the game to have a publisher understand their vision.
Regardless if the games have their own extravagant booth or if they are one of many smaller booths, PAX East never undermines the hard work everyone puts into making not only their games a reality, but also the concept of presenting them to hundreds of attendees. Usually the first day, especially on a Thursday, is the least busy but this certainly wasn’t the case this time around.
Nintendo, Capcom, THQ Nordic, and various other publishers returned with many of its fans waiting in line to try whatever exclusive content was waiting for them. Street Fighter 6 was playable on various set-ups as well, with an invitational tournament this weekend. The PAX Arena returns with other esports-themed tournaments and Nintendo even has its own special tournaments with Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon 3 being the main titles.
Hours after PAX had opened its doors, one of the first panels of the weekend was an FGC panel based on the state of the community. The "FGC," or "Fighting Game Community" as it is known colloqually, is a term for the vast ecosystem of players, facilities, systems, and philosophies involving the genre. As fighting games in 2023 had seen a huge boon, it still sees struggles in becoming as prominant as other competitive "eSports" genres. Panels like these help inform others about the stigma involving fighting games with an attempt to bring more out to the local scene.
Personally, I agree that while offline is slowly returning to form, the presence of the online FGC shouldn't be ignored. It's up to the developers to ensure that everyone no matter where they are can play anyone within a reasonable distance without having to struggle. A perfect online experience can never compare to playing the game with others offline, which explains all of the major tournaments held at PAX East. However, online has its own utilizations and sometimes it's all others may have until they go to a local or a major. It was a thought-provoking panel and readers who wish to follow more of the lead panelist, Saki Sakura, can check her out via Twitter and Twitch.
For more information on the individual games and developers we have played and briefly interviewed,. including Elsie's gameplay in depth, please look forward to the sidebar on the right as it's steadily updated over the course of the next few days! Stay tuned for more!
Friday is the final day of the weekday, which meant that while the initial crowd was small, the size of the number of attendance slowly rose until it reached its peak mid-afternoon as school and jobs let out. Today was dedicated to more scheduled meet-ups, but even crossing through the expo hall, there was always a cosplay that I recognized that was around every corner. It was also the day of the official Final Fantasy 14 panel, which was PAX East's biggest panel audience this year thus far. Final Fantasy 14 is a very popular title and with a lot of fans missing out on the lottery, many look for alternatives to get the "Fan Fest" experience.
In a controversial decision, this year's Fan Fest's ticket distribution was a lottery-based system, capping at a hard limit that's less than a fraction of the main player base. The best thing about Final Fantasy 14 players is that they will find a way to have their own fun if they can't make it to the larger events. The influx of Final Fantasy 14 fans in cosplay today served as the truth to the statement. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the panel because I had other plans.
Today's meet-ups include meeting Toge Productions and talking about the Coffee Talk episodes, including returning to offline events and the impact the game made during the lockdown period. The second game I played, Felicity's Door, combined "music and narrative" in rhythm games, with Deemo serving as inspiration.
That's because one of the developers of the original Deemo worked on this game, with his own vision of what was missing from a rhythm game. Felicity's Door features an impressive cast of artists, including DE DE MOUSE, Ayako Saso, and Shinji Hosoe. During the interview with the developers, this was the result of almost a decade of passion, twists, turns, and ultimately betting on themselves by publishing and developing Felicity's Story.
The number of redemption stories I've heard so far in PAX East is nothing short of inspiring and nothing could reference this more than the final game, Alien Hominid Invasion. Alien Hominid was one of the original "modern" independent titles released on major platforms, paving the way for others including The Behemoth's future titles. The intro to Invasion recreated the intro to the original Alien Hominid as I remembered it as an adolescent. It's interesting to see a game that I grew up with from the beginning see a reboot while keeping the iconic style from The Behemoth.
Day three began as Day two ended over at Balance Patch, an esports hub located on the other side of Boston from the convention center. Months before PAX East, I was planning a trip over there with the intent of highlighting the Boston, and general Massachusetts area, fighting game scene. It’s no surprise that as someone who has roots within the community, I would not only cover their weekly tournament but even compete! And commentate as well!
What surprised me was how welcoming the community was to everyone, each other, and to “invaders,” as we were known. It wasn’t just 1 UP Infinite that was there, but rather it was many players from around the Eastern seaboard. While players were initially there for PAX, learning about a local tournament was enticing enough for those to bring their controllers just in case. In my defense, the Snack Box Micro by JunkFood Arcades came in clutch in terms of portability and efficiency. It got me through the tournament quite far, and I was happy to play against some of Boston’s talent.
While appointments were light, I was able to meet the developer behind Treachery In Beatdown City Remix. Readers may remember the title as it was showcased during the New York Game Awards to a really positive reception. What drew me into the game and ultimately influenced my decision to focus on covering this was that I developed a soft spot for its existence. We’re also based in New York, just like the developer and the city that “Beatdown City” is based on.
The many references to 90s pop culture and media created by people of color are unapologetically displayed, with many like me loving it. Representation matters on all fronts and most of the time, it’s up to us to tell our own stories instead of waiting for someone else to do so. With an updated combat system and a chance for attendees to try out a cool fighting game RPG hybrid, Treachery In Beatdown City Remix exceeded my expectations.
Another game we played was 30XX with its new “Level Editing” update. Having played the first game for the first time ever, 20XX left a quick yet lasting impression that prepared me for its sequel and it was dynamic in every single way. The art style in 30XX is vastly different, going for a traditional pixel art style over its hand-drawn cel style.
Personal preference aside, the new art style helps make the game feel explosive and in the player’s face. Ace and Nina are also revamped to have unique kits dedicated to their game plan. As with Trinity Trigger on the first day, we experienced co-op and it added an entirely new layer of experience than if the game was played as single player.
The big event of the day was the Final Fantasy 16 panel hosted by Naoki Yoshida and Michael-Christopher Fox, colloquially known by the community as Yoshi P and Koji Fox. Final Fantasy 16’s gameplay was captured via a PlayStation 5 that was on the stage, giving the audience a taste of the latest numbered title in the series in real-time. Part of the huge expectations for 16 is attributed to the large install base and trust that Yoshi P and Koji Fox worked on for the past decade.
The team behind Final Fantasy 16 is also the team behind Final Fantasy 14 A Realm Reborn and a lot of the previous game’s influences can be seen in 16. To the general Final Fantasy fanbase outside of the MMO, the team is doing its best to remain in its graces and build the same trust with the fanbase as it had with its organic community. It’s not often that an MMO director is in charge of a main game from the series, but the ethics and success of the team caused Square to give them the reins. If the main game is anything like what was shown in the demo, then those who are concerned with the changes will have nothing to worry about.
Finally, we've reached the final day of PAX East. Four days on paper may seem like loads of convention time until Sunday approaches, the bags are packed, and the rooms are checked out. Despite this, there are still tons of convention left to explore and we begin our day with yet another tournament.
No fighting games this time, but a Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 tournament that was unexpectedly satisfying to compete in. What was meant to be the beginning of a revival for the Tony Hawk series screeched to a halt due to Vicarious Visions moving from Activision to Blizzard.
Despite this, there's a fairly dedicated scene that still plays this game to this day and it was also a game I briefly played for high score purposes. Giving a shout out to Violent JD, a fellow local Tekken player who grinded THPS during it's peak and helped me learn the game during fighting game burnout.
Ultimately, I didn't win, but I used this time to explore the hall and play games that I didn't have a chance to check out due to a watertight schedule. Wreckreation, a sequel to Wreckfest, was on display and playing it for the first time gave me a spiritual successor to Burnout vibes. Sundays are usually calm and this one was no exception, yet there were still plenty of attendees in cosplay. Families brought their children to the convention as Sundays are not only the cheapest but also the most convenient as the less crowds makes it kid friendly.