Honestly, the seventh generation of video games (which is the era of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii) was not that great of a generation. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of great games have come out of it, but it had lost vision of what made the previous generation (the era of the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Sega Dreamcast, and the original Xbox) so amazing. The sixth generation of video games perfected 3D gaming and added such a grand personality to the industry that made it so unique. It’s also where many long-running video game franchises reached their high mark and the games made an impact on masses of the gaming culture.
Nintendo defined the GameCube as the perfect family console, but a unique thing they did was that they took their stapled franchises in a different route and made their exclusives stand out from all the other games on the market. Super Mario Sunshine was vastly different from the previous generations swansong, Super Mario 64, and put a heavy emphasis on water mechanics rather than Mario 64’s pure 3D acrobatic gameplay. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker turned the Zelda franchise from an open-world land-based exploration where you travel across the realm riding a stallion (like in the beloved Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask), to an ocean-based exploration where you travel island-to-island on a boat with a sail. And perhaps the biggest change was Metroid Prime. Turning Metroid, which was a 2D exploration, sci-fi side-scrolling franchise, into a first-person shooter in a 3D open environment. And this is evident in many more of Nintendo’s games in that era. What Nintendo did to its games was completely refreshing to the market as they brought a variety of gameplay to that console.
Sony excelled with the PlayStation 2, making it the most profitable console of all time. What Sony did was remarkable as they took notes from what Nintendo did in the 80s and 90s and applied it with the PlayStation 2. Sony perfected the concept of “mascots”, recognizable characters that would attach a lot of meaning to their brand. At the time, you couldn’t go into a GameStop or EB Games without seeing Ratchet and Clank, Kratos from God of War, Jak and Daxter or Sora, Donald, and Goofy from Kingdom Hearts. The PlayStation 2 excelled on charm and variety, giving something for everyone. There was an abundance of platformers, RPGs, action games, racing games, fighters, sports, shooters, rhythm games, etc. Many franchises excelled on the PlayStation 2, but on the PlayStation 3, some had games that were disappointing or even worse, franchises that never even saw the light of day.
The Xbox made a name for itself with its most famous and recognizable game, Halo: Combat Evolved. A game loved by millions and had Master Chief as the face of future Microsoft Xbox platforms. The Xbox was unique as it was the console that excelled in graphical fidelity. It quickly became that console that older fans of games (and the PC crowd) quickly gravitated to.
But what is this all coming to? Well, the next generation saw many failures. Instead of releasing new additions to the franchises or making new franchises entirely, a lot of the games for the seventh generation were just remastered ports of games from the previous generation. The generation had an oversaturation of first-person shooters, and the 3D platformer was basically dead as a genre.
Nintendo shifted their focus on motion controls for the Nintendo Wii and relied entirely on gimmicks rather than game design. Also, the Wii, although producing high numbers, was disregarded as a competitor with PlayStation and Xbox due to it having Standard Definition and almost completely losing third-party support. Nintendo also completely disregarded some important franchises of theirs, most notably Star Fox and F-Zero.
PlayStation 3 disappointed on many levels, first with the price point being absurdly high at $600, being the most expensive console on the market. Sony completely erased almost all their mascots, as Spyro, Crash, Jak and Daxter, Kingdom Hearts, and many more not even seeing the light of day. The platforming genre saw a drought as hardly any platformers showed up on the system, and if they did It was probably a remastered version of a PlayStation 2 game.
However, the biggest offense was the JRPG genre. The PlayStation 2 excelled in the genre as it had wonderful JRPGs such as Kingdom Hearts I and II, Final Fantasy X and XII, Dragon Quest 8, Persona 3 and 4, five Shin Megami Tensei games excluding the Persona series, and so much more.
On the PlayStation 3, Kingdom Hearts was nowhere to be found, Persona 5 was heavily delayed to have the spotlight for the PS4 rather than the PS3, Shin Megami Tensei and Dragon Quest were stuck on handheld platforms, and Final Fantasy had XIII, which is regarded as one of the most disappointing games of all time. Instead of Square-Enix (the creators of Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest) creating another numbered game in the franchise, they just made sequels to XIII that were just as bad if not worse than the first game. The JRPG genre was extremely disappointing with only a couple good games (Ni No Kuni and Valkyria Chronicles come to mind) to receive any recognition.
But aside from platformers and JRPGs, other genres like racing, fighting, and the action genre, were completely undermined by the over saturation of the first person shooter genre. The only good to ever come out of the PlayStation 3 was the Blu-Ray player, the Infamous series, and the developer Naughty Dog that made the Uncharted franchise and the beloved game, The Last of Us. Of course, the third-party content was excellent, but the PlayStation personality seemed to have been completely lost in the seventh generation.
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was the most popular out of the group as console excelled in graphical fidelity and third-party support, but still had some failures. The biggest being Microsoft’s acquirement of the developer, Rare. For those who don’t know Rare, they were an American, Nintendo-exclusive developer and were acclaimed as one of the best developers of the 90s as they made games like Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong Country, etc. What Microsoft had done was acquire Rare and all the rights to their franchises. But Microsoft only used Rare to make a Banjo-Kazooie game which turned out to be a commercial failure. Again, Microsoft also had an oversaturation of first-person shooters that undermined their other games on the market.
What about today? As I said in the title of this article, the gaming industry is going through a bit of a renaissance. That is because 2017 may be one of the best years in the video game history. Half the reason is due to Nintendo releasing their latest console: the Nintendo Switch.
The Nintendo Switch combines the experience of a handheld platform and the experience of a typical gaming console all in one packing. Nintendo is finally in a good place not only financially but critically as well, by putting out fresh experiences with their games such as with their latest Legend of Zelda title, Breath of the Wild. After listening to criticism regarding how the games are “repeating the same formula” they decided to take it in a fresh route and turn a franchise that has been quite linear, to a complete open-world experience that allows the player to play the game however they want.
Nintendo is also listening to fans about their problems with third-party support and finally have answered the call as it is releasing many third-party games. The Switch has new games coming out constantly, which was a problem with the previous Nintendo console: the Nintendo Wii U. Also, the Nintendo Switch has carved out an audience with indie games, as the support Nintendo has given independent developers for their games is above and beyond. In the first year of the Switch’s release, Nintendo already has made two of the best games of all time, one being Breath of the Wild and the other being Super Mario Odyssey, regarded by many as the best 3D platformer to date. To have made two masterpieces in the first year of a console’s life is an amazing achievement. And as of 2018, Nintendo seems to have more under their belt, especially with the release of newest Super Smash Bros. game: Ultimate, which again seems to be a product of developers listening to their fans.
But aside from Nintendo being in the spotlight, Sony has also seemed to have garnered back the fans they have lost, with the PlayStation 4 finally kicking into high gear. In 2017, Sony also had made a masterpiece under their belt with their new original game: Horizon Zero Dawn, which was a sci-fi, action RPG mixed with fast-paced gameplay and a wonderful story, giving us a fresh experience PlayStation has not really seen before.
Sony also seems to have brought back the platforming mascots, as not only did they valiantly bring back Ratchet and Clank in 2016, they also brought back Crash Bandicoot in 2017, who has been missing from the gaming culture ever since the 90s. Sony brought Crash back with a wonderful remake made from the ground up and had also promised us more to come in the future. This year, Sony is bringing back the beloved Spyro the Dragon which has also excited many gamers who have grown up with the Spyro games.
JRPG fans are also coming back to PlayStation as not only the world got Final Fantasy XV which was received well and Kingdom Hearts is returning with its third installment arriving in 2019. Sony is also putting out a custom designed PS4 Pro, which is a bundle that includes all the Kingdom Hearts games in one package. Thanks to Square-Enix, not only have Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy returned, but so has the famous Dragon Quest series with its newest addition Dragon Quest XI coming first to PlayStation 4 next month in the US. Also, other JRPG’s that are worth noting is Persona 5 and Nier: Automata, both of which to have come out last year. Persona 5 being a game that while it also released on the PlayStation 3, it has received much recognition on the PlayStation 4 and has been regarded as the best JRPG of this generation alongside with Nier: Automata being an action JRPG that has also been regarded as a masterpiece by many. Both games bringing fresh experiences to the table.
The PlayStation 4 is the best-selling console on the market as of right now and it’s easy to see why. Sony is once again solidifying their personality again, with their mascots back front and center, providing new original experiences, reviving old-franchises like God of War and putting them in a new light. The future of Sony is looking very bright.
Then that leaves Microsoft. How are they contributing to this “renaissance”? Well, just like Nintendo and Sony they seem to be doing the same: listening to their fans. They are creating more exclusives such as Cuphead and Sunset Overdrive to further diversify the gameplay found on their platforms. They have created the Xbox Game Pass, which is looking to be an innovative way to how we purchase video games as it is by following a Netflix-style subscription which gives you access to huge amounts of games for a very affordable price.
One of its problems, the oversaturation of first-person shooters, seems to have died down. A problem with many games, especially in the FPS genre, is the idea of DLC and Pay-to-Win systems with games. The main offender of this is Electronic Arts, and after the backlash EA received for Star Wars Battlefront 2 last year. Since then, many developers have started to lower the amount of paid DLC and extra content with their games and have started to make complete games rather than unfinished, lag and bug-filled nonsense.
All of this is contributing to this “renaissance”. Companies are finally giving love to their dead franchises. Fans of every genre always have something to look forward to. Beloved video game characters are back. Game design is being innovated and always being excelled. New genres of gaming are being created. Fresh original ideas are finally given the spotlight. Games are looking to be more ambitious and are pushing beyond the norm. Developers are listening to their fans and are putting care into their work rather than making a cash grab. More and more talented independent developers are up on the rise creating small but magnificent independent games. The current state of the video game industry seems to be thriving more than ever, and I am looking forward to experiencing the new works of art these talented people have worked so hard to give us.