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The Worst And Best Of Pax 2023: Final Fantasy 7: Ever Crisis, Prince Of Persia, Tekken 8, And More

In the bustling halls of PAX West 2023, gaming aficionados and newcomers alike converged to witness a spectrum of digital novelties that promised adrenaline rushes, nostalgic journeys, and other virtual escapes from everyday life. From the serendipitous discovery of hidden gems to the much-anticipated unveilings of iconic franchises, the event unfolded over four days as a playground for every kind of gamer, streamer, cosplayer, and content creator. You could almost feel the palpable energy in the air, a cocktail of excitement, curiosity, and undying passion for the digital realms that beckon us with the promise of adventure and online or couch camaraderie.


Among the standout showcases were undoubtedly the revivals and expansions of major franchises, each looking to eclipse its predecessors and other franchises in the genre. "Final Fantasy 7: Ever Crisis" aimed to enrapture fans with its meticulous rendition and lore, while the rejuvenated "Prince of Persia" sought to whisk players away to a 2.5D world of nostalgia. The fighting and action realms were not left behind, with "Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name," "Granblue Fantasy: Relink," and "Tekken 8" throwing their hats in the proverbial ring, ready to deliver more power-packed performances than ever before. Moreover, new entrants like "Infection Free Zone" and "Pacific Drive" beckoned with an innovative approach to gameplay, grounding the survival narrative in a realistic setting, and offering a fresh yet terrifyingly authentic experience.


Join us as we take a look at the best and the worst of PAX 2023, a rollercoaster of innovations and resurrections that promises to add to the gaming landscape in a year that is already an incredible one.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Justice

Stepping into the grim yet captivating realm of "Vampire: The Masquerade – Justice" with your PlayStation VR2, you feel a dark and immersive virtual reality experience envelop you as you navigate the haunting streets of Venice. The sensation of rain-soaked alleys and the echoes of your mentor reverberating in your pursuit for vengeance, create an environment that's both immersive and unsettling.


There is a major focus on stealth, which helps prevent you from getting into sticky combat situations — whether you're using melee or your crossbow. Healing is probably the most enjoyable mechanic, in which you consume blood from rats and unsuspecting humans to restore lost health.

Each movement in this game, from tactically climbing walls and pipes to engaging in intense combat, is heightened by the tangible physicality required in real life. You're actually climbing up that drain pipe; it actually feels like you're dropping down to the street from great heights. The rich narrative pulls you deeper, beckoning you to uncover ancient secrets buried in the heart of the city's underbelly. The visual finesse lies in the detailed environments, where darkness meets stark, realistic beauty, captivating your senses at every turn ... all just from your VR headset.


"Vampire: The Masquerade – Justice" will launch on Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest 3, and PlayStation VR2 on November 2, 2023.

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name

"Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name" from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio emerges as a striking experience, blending smooth combat mechanics with its deep yet quirky storyline. In the demo, we were introduced to Kazuma Kiryu, guided by a woman named Akame, into a high-stakes, off-the-grid adult playground known as The Castle. Once he's within the walls of The Castle, Kiryu can engage in various activities including gambling in the casino, embarking on romantic escapades inside the cabaret club, and throwing his hat into the ring — literally — by fighting in the Coliseum where fierce battles await.


The game features fluid fight mechanics, exhibiting effortless combos and utilizing innovative gadgets, not to mention the incredibly goofy rocket shoes, enhancing the 1vMany brawling experience by adding a fresh and silly dimension to combat. The gameplay extends to the non-combat escapades, emphasizing the game's balance between serious and comedic elements.

What makes the game even more enjoyable is the fact that it welcomes in new players, regardless of their familiarity with the "Yakuza" or "Judgment" series, seemingly making it a great jumping-off point before eventually diving into the back catalog with Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's other titles.

"Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name" will launch on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on November 8, 2023.


Tekken 8

In 2023, the fighting game genre is witnessing a remarkable resurgence, heralded by the much-anticipated release of "Tekken 8," alongside other blockbusters like "Mortal Kombat 1" and "Street Fighter 6". In that same vein, "Tekken 8" was a top highlight of PAX West 2023. After nearly a decade of waiting, the world's premier fighting game series finally makes its grand return with its eighth installment, promising fresher, more aggressive gameplay, designed not only to thrill the players but also to provide a visually spectacular experience for spectators watching tournaments or streams.


Leveraging the capabilities of Unreal Engine 5, "Tekken 8" is the franchise's debut on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, promising improved character models and more immersive stages, promising the most aesthetically pleasing "Tekken" game to date. "Tekken 8" encourages players to adopt a more offensive strategy, even rewarding you with slivers of health for going on the offensive when your health is low and you're backed into a corner. There's no turtling here.

The highlight of "Tekken 8" is its roster of familiar characters, offering both newcomers and returning players a wonderful gateway into the series. The all-new Heat system accentuates the theme of aggression (think Rage mode), where your attacks become more potent. Moreover, the inclusion of different control schemes — which both "Mortal Kombat 1" and "Street Fighter 6" employ — caters to varying skill levels, making the game accessible to both veterans and newbies alike.


"Tekken 8" will launch on January 26, 2024 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.

Pacific Drive

In the PAX West 2023 demo of "Pacific Drive," developed by Ironwood Studios, players were treated to a compelling adventure that moves far beyond the run-of-the-mill realms of zombie survival games. And, frankly, after playing the demo, we have more questions than answers (in a good way).


This first-person driving survival escapade centers profoundly around the symbiotic and oddly emotional relationship between you and your car, which serves as a mobile base of operations as you navigate through a surreal, anomaly-ridden reimagined Pacific Northwest.

The immersive gameplay offers more than just survival; it prompts you to unravel a deeply entrenched mystery within the heart of the Olympic Exclusion Zone, a forsaken research site set in a bizarre version of the Pacific Northwest. As you venture deeper into the "road-lite" experience, every foray into the zone presents peculiar challenges and shifting landscapes — all of which make zero sense in the moment — encouraging you to continually adapt and upgrade your vehicle using materials and upgrades scavenged along the way.


The unique mechanic of fostering a personal connection between you and your vehicle grants you the freedom to modify and personalize your wagon extensively, gearing up to face the unpredictable perils that lurk in the evolving world of the zone. It's a wildly effective take on the typical base-building genre, with the car feeling more like your home than a base of operations.

Ironwood Studios has clearly poured its passion and dreams of surreal worlds and the affinity for road trips into "Pacific Drive," creating a canvas for players to craft their own unique narratives. It's shaping up to be a distinctive adventure that will be something truly special (and new) within the gaming industry.

"Pacific Drive" is slated to release during Q1 2024 for PS5 and PC.


The demo of "Foamstars" was somewhat of a mixed bag. The newly unveiled game, brought to life by Square Enix, is a vibrant four-on-four online shooter coming to PS4 and PS5, where foam is your primary resource that gets used for a myriad of strategic moves in the battle arenas.


The game seems to draw plenty from successful franchises like "Splatoon," "Fortnite," and even "SSX," providing a colorful, fast-paced arena with unique foam-based mechanics such as surfing around the arena, constructing high ground for advantageous viewpoints, or engaging in direct combat with the other team. Different characters with their own special abilities allow for different playstyles. In our playthrough, defending teammates by creating defensive walls of foam was surprisingly fun and rewarding.

In that regard, "Foamstars" is no lone-wolf type of online shooter. The game emphasizes teamwork heavily, making it a potentially rewarding experience for groups of friends playing online. This focus on team dynamics, though great for fostering online friendships, might pose challenges for individuals joining random lobbies, potentially spelling doom for the gameplay experience.


In its current form, the gameplay does not seem to fully carve out a niche of its own, raising concerns about its potential longevity. While the character abilities are a nice touch, offering room for players to find a style that suits them, the overall impression is that there might be too much happening at once, which could potentially overwhelm players. Despite these reservations, there is still hope that further developments and updates can address these issues and take "Foamstars" from a little underwhelming to having it stand proudly on its own.

"Foamstars" is slated to release at a later date for PS4 and PS5.

Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis

"Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis" struck as a genuine celebration of the beloved title, masterfully adapted for mobile platforms. This is not just a mere retelling of the renowned tale; the game skillfully encapsulates major lore plot points and significant events, trimming away less pivotal moments, and adding fresh narratives.


Playing the game, there were instances where the combat sequences and meticulously crafted narrative made you forget that this adventure was unfolding on a tablet. Even moving around the levels with your party felt fluid using the on-screen controls. The sheer nostalgia the game invokes seems to be a central attraction, particularly for long-time fans of the iconic "FFVII."

However, a critical deciding factor for the game's success will lie in its microtransactions, a potentially costly feature that will influence player engagement and investment. Despite this, the connection with the series that it fosters cannot be understated, leveraging well on the nostalgia and the series' rich legacy.

Whether "Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis" should be played over its original or even the remake, might hinge largely on the players' preference for mobile gaming — and the need to be able to play while on the go. The PAX demo demonstrated that the game certainly holds its own, offering a refreshing and at the same time familiar journey into the "FFVII" universe, promising both enjoyment and a trip down memory lane for ardent fans.


"Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis" is available now for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R

The opportunity to explore the rejuvenated world of "Star Ocean: The Second Story R" was pretty wonderful. This title, heralded as a seminal installment in the "Star Ocean" series, comes back with a modern touch while maintaining its classic allure.


Visually, the game stands out with its unique aesthetics, merging 3D environments with 2D characters, creating a nostalgic and innovative look that, while kind of hard to wrap your head around, ends up working really well. Players will appreciate the addition of new quests and content, including revamped battle mechanics that allow for real-time combat with the ability to move freely around the battlefield. If you're only in it for the story? There's an auto-battle option that can be utilized to expedite battles. The catch, though, is that success is more or less based on your characters' abilities — so you'd better be confident in your team and your choices.

Fans of the original PlayStation and PSP versions are in for a treat as the game includes several callbacks to the earlier iterations, providing a nod to the series' longstanding followers. Alongside this, the game introduces new difficulty modes catering to a range of player expertise, and a captivating storyline revolving around the characters Claude and Rena, whose perspectives shape the narrative trajectory. Hello, replayability.


Overall, the demo at PAX West 2023 showcased a game that beautifully marries the old with the new, promising an engaging RPG experience filled with action-packed gameplay, complex relationships, and a healthy dose of nostalgia.

"Star Ocean: The Second Story R" will be available for Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, and PC on November 2, 2023.

Infinity Strash: DRAGON QUEST The Adventure of Dai

"Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai" is crafted with the vibrant anime visuals that stay true to the iconic "Dragon Quest" lineage. It offers an engaging yet easy entry point for newcomers, promising a satisfying combat experience that is simple yet incredibly gratifying.


The gameplay unfolds in two primary modes: the classic Story Mode and the intriguing Temple of Recollection — which was the mode we played PAX West — an evolving dungeon that challenges you with increasingly difficult enemies as you make your way through the different floors.

The characters — Dai, Maam, Popp, and Hyunckel — come with distinct combat styles, allowing for a rich experience where you can switch between characters to execute visually striking combos with just a few button presses. This simplicity doesn't detract from the excitement; instead, it adds to the fluidity of combat, making the gaming experience both engaging and accessible, especially if you're new to the series.


Based on our experience with the PAX West demo, "Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai" not only promises an adventure filled with intense battles and intriguing narratives but also offers a welcoming entry for new players, effortlessly merging simplicity with vibrant, satisfying gameplay. Of course, there is still plenty here for longtime fans of the series, including lore pulled straight from the 90s manga. It stands as a testament to the "Dragon Quest" franchise's enduring appeal, with an added layer of roguelite elements, promising a fresh yet nostalgic journey in the "Dragon Quest" universe.

"Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai" releases on September 28, 2023, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown

"Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown" marks the thrilling return to the franchise's side-scrolling platform roots, albeit with a modernized 2023 flair, presented in an engaging 2.5D format. In this highly anticipated installment developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, you step into the shoes of Sargon, a formidable member of The Immortals, embarking on a valiant mission to rescue the kidnapped prince in the time-cursed city of Mount Qaf.


This new rendition offers an expansive and intricately designed map to navigate, promising a seamless blend of action and exploration through layered levels. The demo at PAX West 2023 unveiled the dynamic combat system that, although exhibiting moments of jankiness, demonstrated immense potential for fluid and strategic engagements. A standout feature is Sargon's time-manipulation abilities, now re-envisioned not just as a "redo" tool for correcting mistakes but as a potent strategy during combat, allowing for mid-fight teleportations that add depth to battle tactics.

Despite some intermittent interruptions to the smooth flow of combat, the experience feels as fresh and exciting as it does nostalgic, offering a harmonious blend of vibrant visuals infused with anime and comic book elements. The overall experience still felt a bit half-baked, but there's no denying the sheer potential of this highly anticipated title.


"Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown" is set for release on January 18, 2024, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Journey To Foundation

"Journey to Foundation," inspired by Isaac Asimov's renowned literary series, hopes to provide an immersive VR adventure into uncharted realms of space. Developed by Archiact, known for the award-winning "FREEDIVER: Triton Down", the game had its playable debut at PAX West 2023, where we were treated to an exhilarating demo a few chapters into the story.


In the role of Agent Ward, you are thrust into a pivotal mission at the brink of the Galactic Empire, navigating complex relationships and uncovering truths that could alter history. The demo revealed an effectively immersive VR setting, placing you in the heart of riveting action sequences and choice-based branching narratives (which ultimately speak to different outcomes and overall replayability). A major highlight was the integration of your telepathic abilities, working seamlessly with gunplay mechanics to facilitate crowd control during combat encounters.

While jump-based movement is great for reducing VR sickness, freeform movement is the best way to go in "Journey to Foundation." Immersion falters with jump-based movement, proving to be an awkward option during heated gunfights. Thankfully, with freeform movement, the game doesn't immediately bring on VR sickness (if you happen to be prone to it), allowing you to play for longer than other titles that don't do quite as well in that regard.


"Journey to Foundation" is expected to be released in Q4 2023 for Quest 2, PSVR2, and PICO 4.

Granblue Fantasy: Relink

If there's one game that took the crown for the most visually striking and overall fun factor experience at this year's PAX West, it was, without a doubt, "Granblue Fantasy: Relink." Developed by Cygames in collaboration with Platinum Games, this highly anticipated action RPG follows Gran and his allies on a mission to save the world from destruction. This isn't the same thing as "Granblue Fantasy: Verses," falling into the action RPG genre rather than the fighting genre.


The demo showcased the beautiful visuals in full glory, blending stunning anime artwork with stunning 3D environments. Combat is fast-paced and visually spectacular, with an intuitive control system that takes advantage of each character's unique skill set for a cinematic experience. The game already felt quite polished despite not being released until mid-Q1 of next year, offering smooth animations and satisfyingly fluid battles of epic proportions.

Even from the brief demo session, it was evident that "Granblue Fantasy: Relink" offers an incredibly immersive adventure — one that will have long-time fans of the franchise and newcomers alike eager for its release.

"Granblue Fantasy: Relink" is set to release on February 1, 2024, for PS4, PS5, and PC.


Silent Hope

Another XSEED Games title showcased at PAX West 2023 was "Silent Hope," a modern yet nostalgic isometric dungeon-crawler, which offers a fresh perspective on the classic genre.

The game resonates with the essence of adventure and exploration, featuring Chibi-styled seven distinctive heroes, each boasting unique weapons and fighting styles, accompanied by specialized non-combat roles. The narrative unfolds in a vivid world where you embark on a mission to rescue a princess encapsulated in a crystal teardrop and restore the universe. This endeavor sees you plunging into the perilous depths of The Abyss, with each expedition promising a novel experience thanks to procedurally generated layouts, enhancing replayability and maintaining a sense of uncertainty.


Within the same vein as "Hades," albeit a bit more lax, the demo for "Silent Hope" was a pleasant surprise, blending nostalgic RPG elements with modern sensibilities, offering an exciting yet accessible dungeon-crawling adventure fit for all levels of players.

"Silent Hope" is set to release on October 3, 2023, for Nintendo Switch and PC.


In the upcoming food-centric action roguelite game "Cuisineer", you hop into the adorable shoes of Pom, a budding entrepreneur revitalizing her parents' beleaguered restaurant. During the gastronomic adventure, Pom ventures into the vibrant world beyond her quaint yet thriving hometown, where she faces quirky challenges like giant chickens and fire-breathing peppers which — once defeated — become part of her bag of ingredients to take back to her restaurant. A significant part of the game involves gathering ingredients from various biomes, each offering a unique, procedurally generated experience (and grub) with every visit.


The gameplay is a delicious blend of dungeon exploration and culinary creativity. Pom utilizes a plethora of unique weapons and abilities — such as her melee spatula or pile of dishes that can be tossed from long range — bringing a zesty twist to combat. You'll be able to master over 100 different recipes, transforming the dilapidated eatery into a bustling hub of culinary delight. Pom's journey is sprinkled with interactions with the colorful townsfolk, each offering quests and recipes that further enrich the gameplay experience.

The demo showcased a cute and cozy atmosphere, while being welcoming to both newcomers and seasoned veterans of the roguelite genre. It was definitely a refreshing take on the traditional roguelite experience, blending elements from both the action and cooking genres with an emphasis on story-telling that will draw players in for hours.


"Cuisineer" is set for release on November 9, 2023 for PC.

World of Horror

Spooky season is nearly upon us — and so is the release of the incredibly unique "World of Horror." Developed by solo developer Paweł Koźmiński, this old-school text-based RPG blends cosmic horror elements with classic Japanese adventure games for a one-of-a-kind experience with its chiptune soundtrack and 1-bit visuals. To say that the unique atmosphere is both nostalgic and unsettling would be a gross understatement.


The game revolves around the growing chaos brought on by eldritch creatures and otherworldly manifestations in 1980s Japan. You explore an isolated town and attempt to unravel the mysteries behind these eerie events. Every playthrough is different, due to the randomly generated narrative and puzzles, giving it a certain appeal that goes beyond its horror-filled atmosphere.

Having been in Early Access for a few years, most of the updates presented in the PAX West demo came as small adjustments and quality-of-life updates that ultimately create a more immersive experience while playing. One of the highlights was using hot keys on the controller. With such a PC-centric interface, it was interesting to hear that the game was coming to consoles as well, but the updated controls make it surprisingly easy to progress through the different menu screens. Put plainly, console players are in for a treat.


The blend of H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito continues to impress as the game heads towards its release with even more stories, monsters, and mysteries to be solved. With its unique world, characters, and eerie stories, we can say with confidence that "World of Horror" is going to be a must-play for horror fans looking for something truly special.

"World of Horror" is set to release on October 13, 2023, for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC.

Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland

"Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland" invites you to revisit your childhood favorites — Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil — in a retro-inspired, puzzle-platforming escapade that adeptly recreates the NES-era charm.


Despite the fact that we couldn't appreciate the game's soundtrack and audio as much as we would have liked due to a live DJ playing in the same space, the gameplay itself proved to be an absorbing experience, albeit one that occasionally teetered on the edge of becoming a masocore title in terms of difficulty (were all NES-era games this hard?!). Playing with other players seems to be the real charm of the game, not only bringing a reunion of cherished character combinations but also making the level runs more streamlined and efficient — and because the game really is that hard.

The game beautifully encapsulates the spirit of the beloved TV show, offering an exciting journey brimming with imagination, where players can traverse various themed levels, each harboring its own secrets and boss encounters.


Fans of the original series will undoubtedly feel a surge of nostalgia. While it remains to be seen how the younger generation will take to this title, for those who grew up with the Rugrats, this game promises a delightful walk down memory lane, enriched by hand-drawn animations and the option to toggle between 8-bit and HD art styles. Even the "Bah Bah" of the episode title screen is there, serving as a vivid reminder of the show's legacy.

"Rugrats: Adventures in Gameland" is coming to PC and consoles sometime in 2024.

Infection Free Zone

During our time at PAX West 2023, we stumbled upon the hidden gem of "Infection Free Zone", a real-time strategy game that stands out for its immersive utilization of real-world data from OpenStreetMap to craft a survival experience deeply rooted in real locations. Though we didn't get the chance to play it — owing to the game's slow-burn nature (this is an RTS, after all) — we were given a detailed overview of its gameplay.


In the game, you find yourself amidst a world ravaged by the Mad Virus, tasked with creating a sanctuary amidst the chaos. The remarkable feature here is the realism infused in the in-game cities and structures, mirroring their real-world locations so closely that you would easily recognize them from a map. You have the ability to select from different locations from around the world to establish your "Infection Free Zone", a haven where you organize shelters, develop production facilities, and reconfigure adjacent structures to suit your survival needs.

The game tests your strategic skills and knowledge of cities, nudging you to recall potential defensive points and vital resource centers like grocery stores and pharmacies from before the apocalypse occurred. The nightly assaults from infected hordes bring in elements of intense action, where you have to employ every resource, from weaponry to fortifications, to safeguard your community. A nuanced layer to the gameplay is the interaction with other survivor groups, fostering trade alliances or encountering hostilities.


"Infection Free Zone" looks like a rich, layered experience where you can either strive for the ultimate triumph through vaccine research or relish in the process of rebuilding civilizations, brick by brick. There is no launch window yet, but a free demo is currently available on Steam.