Spring 2017 may go down in the hallows of Playstation lore as the best ratings season in the platform’s history. In this piece, I really want to highlight five PS exclusive games, and what they, and this season, mean for the PlayStation brand right now.
From a top-down view, this season signals that PlayStation is on a hot streak that it may not match for the rest of the PS4’s lifespan. Starting in January, and early February PlayStation released three console exclusives with a metacritic rating of over 80. Gravity Rush 2 at 80 on January 18th, Yakuza 0 at 85 on January 24th (in N. America and Europe), and Nioh at 88 on February 7th. These three games represent the beginning of what made this season so interesting for PlayStation. These are not big games by any stretch of the imagination, or at least that’s what everyone thought.
Great games usually get noticed in some capacity, and as of two months ago Nioh, a platform exclusive Dark Souls-esque action game from Team Ninja, had passed more than a million copies sold. This was a brand new IP, with a small marketing budget on a single platform, and because it was great it was given large-scale media coverage. In turn this created a demand for the game, and interest from the entire industry. Obviously in the two months since that announcement, the game has gone on to sell many more copies and has now become something of a little brother to the brilliant Bloodborne in the PlayStation ecosystem. The more that Sony can identify these seemingly niche, but truly great products in development, and work to bring them to the PS4 as an exclusive, the more their lead this generation will continue to widen. If nothing more, Nioh has become a prestige piece and a bit of an ego booster to brand as a whole. Not to mention that with Nioh’s surprising sales numbers, the potential for the birth of a new franchise is ripe. Is Nioh the next Dark Souls? Probably not, but it does represent one more great game PlayStation has access to that it’s competitors do not.
Undoubtedly, the most important Playstation exclusive of this spring season was Horizon: Zero Dawn, released on February 28th, with a fantastic 89 rating on metacritic. As Guerrilla Games’ first modern foray into a non-FPS universe there was a great deal of pressure to get it right. From fans of the company and those eager to jump into the world they were making, but also from PlayStation itself who allowed Guerrilla to spend six years, and many tens of millions of dollars to produce something other than a safe choice as their next game. Luckily for PlayStation, Guerrilla, and the general populace at large, Horizon: Zero Dawn might be the very best Playstation exclusive since Uncharted 2 in 2010. Horizon is one of the most wonderful games I’ve ever played. It is an amazing combination of truly fantastic storytelling (including one of the best twists in recent memory), and genuinely addicting gameplay that never once got old, or boring ever during the course of the many hours I put into it. As I said in my spring preview back in January, “If the Playstation brand is to continue cruising well into the future it must find new fuel…Sony hopes Horizon is rocket fuel”. As my 50 hour platinum trophy, and 2.6 million copies sold in the first two weeks on the market as the biggest new IP launch in PlayStation history proves, Horizon is not just rocket fuel, its something more akin to a warp drive.
March’s exclusive games also feature extremely high metacritic ratings, and fit into major industry niches. NieR: Automata is a Japanese RPG, much like Nioh, that has carved itself a space in the market, and the mindshare of players by being both extremely good, and extremely surprising. Generally, most people did not believe that the game would that good, let alone an 88 rating on metacritic good. The original NieR was released in 2010 to average reviews, and a relatively unenthusiastic response from consumers. However, the game did find a small but dedicated audience and over time developed into something of a cult classic amongst action-JRPG fans. It took seven years, but famed (and overworked) Japanese action game developer Platinum Games was given the reins to reboot the franchise. Eschewing the more traditional medieval fantasy aspects of the first game, NieR: Automata dove headfirst into the future. Playing as a cyborg and fighting robots in the far future after an apocalyptic event has destroyed the world may not be the most innovative of ideas (that’s like 80% of what makes up Horizon) but when paired with JRPG mechanics, and Platinum-style game play, however, it becomes a bit more unique.
Of course no year would be complete without an entry from PlayStation’s iconic baseball franchise MLB: The Show. 2017’s The Show is as fantastic as ever, boasting an 85 rating on Metacritic, and featuring a host of new additions to the game. Most notably of which include reworked ball physics, significantly improved player graphics and animation, and an RPG-lite version of the Road to the Show game mode that allows the player to create a character and lead them through an entire career. Each version of The Show is usually great, but as the only real baseball game on home consoles it can dominate its niche without effort (thank God they’re good then). This in turn means millions of game sales directed towards only one platform (PlayStation), and complete control of this portion of the sports video game world (the fantastic Out of the Park Baseball series on PC notwithstanding). MLB The Show makes a ton of money for PlayStation every year, and 2017 looks to be no different.
The big game in April, Persona 5, may end up becoming one of the most important games on the PlayStation platform this year, and perhaps a leading contender for game of the year discussions come December. The Persona series has always been a bit of a cultural phenomenon amongst its fans, but the fifth entry into the Japanese RPG series, with its unbelievable metacritic rating of 94 may prove to be the game that finally breaks Persona out into a worldwide phenomenon. For reference, that rating makes Persona 5 the 7th highest rated RPG in the history of video games (if you don’t count multiple instances of a game, like Mass Effect 2 on PC and Xbox 360). As I discussed in my spring preview my entry to the franchise was through Persona 4 Golden on the PlayStation Vita, and the greatness of that game blew away any reservations I had about the “anime-ness” of the series. Just like its predecessor Persona 5 features a riveting story, fantastic characters, and a really interesting and unique Pokémon-esque battle system. In the simplest terms possible, Persona is Pokemon if Pokemon was about catching a murderer or stealing things, while also attending high school. It is unlike anything else, and grabs a hold of nearly everyone who plays it.
So what do all these great exclusive games, and “The Spring of PlayStation” really mean? It means that Sony and its home console brand can continue to dominate this cycle. It is no secret that the PlayStation 4 is massively outselling the Xbox One, at least 2 to 1 by most estimates, and a dominant market season like “the Spring of PlayStation” is just more evidence of Microsoft’s inability to truly compete this time around. Not only that, but many of the games featured in this article are Japanese-developed. Being a Japanese company itself, Sony has access to these developers in a way an American company like Microsoft does not. This allows Sony the great advantage of identifying, and bringing over niche, but exciting and well reviewed titles that then can only be found on the PlayStation platform. For fans of Japanese games, the PS4 is really the only console to consider. This lack of involvement from the east is just another in a number of missteps from the Xbox brand this generation. To be fair however, Microsoft has always struggled both in the Japanese market, and at attracting Japanese talent to develop games for their systems. The Xbox 360 struggled in the same way, so this isn’t a new problem. This is most likely just another reason why Microsoft is so eager to create a new playing field in the market right now. Whether or not Microsoft’s impending mega-console, the still codenamed “Scorpio”, is the really more akin to an “Xbox 2” rather than the PS4 Pro, Microsoft and the Xbox brand are certainly treating it as though it is the beginning of a new status quo. However, it doesn’t matter how many teraflops the Scorpio can push out, or how well it can render games in 4k, if Sony continues to dominate the software market with great exclusive games everyone wants to play like in this “Spring of PlayStation” all Microsoft can ever hope to do is play second fiddle in the marketplace.