(Not so) Special Edition

One of E3 2019’s biggest stories was the new footage of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Expo-goers seemed to love what they saw and much frenzied fanboy whooping and cheering ensued. Hitting the videogame news outlets a little more quietly was the information on several special/collector’s editions that will be available when the game releases in 2020. The most premium of these editions will include a statue of Cloud astride his Hardy-Daytona motorcycle and be available exclusively available at Square’s online store. It’s also going to be very expensive. If you want the details then I suggest you check out Strange Girl Gaming’s blog since that’s where I learnt about it.

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But I’m not here to talk about this particular special edition specifically. This pricey collector’s piece is simply the inspiration that I’ve needed so that I might collate my thoughts on special editions in general and put my opinion out there. You see, in the past, I would have been all over a product like the FFVII 1st Class Edition and making sure that I slapped that pre-order down before it was too late. Times have changed however because the 2019 version of me doesn’t lust after collector’s editions anymore.

In fact, I think the majority of them are just garbage. There; I’ve said it.

The market for special editions wasn’t always this way of course but you have to cast your mind back to a time when special editions were the exception rather than the rule. Younger readers amongst you might not remember but most games prior to the PS3/360 generation only shipped as standard copies. Special editions were unusual and the ‘special’ in the designation actually meant something. They were actually limited (today’s “limited” editions have pretty big print runs in comparison), difficult to find and came with bonus items that actually had some thought and money put into them.

There were two examples that immediately sprang to mind when I first started thinking about the evolution of special editions and how the older examples were simply much better. The first was The Last Ninja 2 on the Commodore 64. Here, the special set came with a real shuriken (imagine that being permitted now!) and a wearable ninja mask/hood. The other was the Ecco the Dolphin boxset for Sega’s Mega Drive. Manufactured in tiny quantities, proceeds from the sale went towards a real dolphin in the London Aquarium that had been named ‘Ecco’ as part of the tie-up.

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[Source: ebay]
But somewhere along the line, publishers realised that they could charge a small premium on top of the standard RRP of a game by placing the regular game case within a flimsy card outer sleeve and including a non-comprehensive artbook and sometimes a soundtrack CD (again, non-comprehensive and usually more of a sampler CD). JRPG’s were the first genre to frequently receive this treatment in the PS2 era and while nobody can deny the appeal of some nice extras, the problem for me was that if you enjoyed the art of the game THAT much, then there would usually be a ‘complete’ artbook available to buy from Japan which included ALL of the concept art. Likewise, a complete version of the soundtrack would be available in a standalone CD set.

The trend wasn’t so bad when confined solely to JRPG’s though. After all, JRPG players are more likely to be collectors in general so a pretty boxset that offered a little more than the usual retail release was a welcome option. But then the concept spread to pretty much every other genre and by the time of the PS3/360 era, seemingly every game had a special/collector’s/limited edition. Steelbook editions became a widespread trend as did packing games into oversized boxes with massive figurines or statues. Some games had multiple special edition variants exclusive to different retailers and then came the ‘Day One’ editions of games which usually included a voucher with some free DLC on it (did you feel ‘special’ buying those ones?). I seem to remember one of the Call of Duty games going a step further and shipping with a ‘Day Zero’ special edition.

Ar Tonelico 2 SE
The JRPG side of the PS2’s library regularly featured boxsets like this Ar Tonelico II special edition of mine that I recently sold.

The reasoning for all of this was actually quite simple. Videogame publishers were losing money thanks to the a) the pre-owned market b) retailers slashing prices within a week or two of a game’s release in order to be ultra-competitive with their rivals and c) the ignorant, entitled consumer expectation that they should receive incredible gaming experiences and pay nothing for them. Eliminating manuals, reaping extra revenue through DLC and selling season passes were methods employed to recoup some of the profits they were losing. Exploiting the materialistic magpie in us was another.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, the contents of the special editions would cost more to produce in the first place so the publishers wouldn’t make that much money on them.” It’s a fair point until you consider that a great chunk of these collector’s editions were packed with cheap tat that really wouldn’t have cost that much to manufacture. Outer boxes were flimsy for example. Many steelbooks were produced from cheap tin, as evidenced by how many older ones are rusty or corroded at this point in time. And the bundled statues were cheap, low quality efforts that paled in comparison to dedicated releases from specialised figurine/toy outfits, trading on their eye-catching size rather than finish.

And as I touched on earlier, the vast majority of these so-called premium variants were not as limited as many believed. Some were still readily available from major retailers months after release with heavily discounted price tags to encourage buyers to take these hunks of plasticky shit off the hands of stores. The Duke Nukem Forever ‘Balls of Steel’ edition for example was far cheaper than the RRP of the standard game in no time at all. I too got burnt when I bought the special set for Driver San Francisco, only to discover that the bundled Dodge Challenger model was nowhere near as good as I’d expected. Worse still, it launched for around £60 before tanking to the £20 territory.

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Looked impressive but rapidly lost all value. [Source: Youtube]
Whichever way you choose to analyse the market for special editions, there is only one truth as far as I am concerned. That truth is that publishers saturated the market with this crap and forged a paradox where something ‘special’ isn’t actually ‘special’ anymore. Take billionaires for example: we see them as extraordinary people with masses of cash that lead the kind of lives we can only fantasise about (unless you, valued reader, are a billionaire too in which case I feel a little honoured by your presence on my blog!) but if everybody was suddenly to become a billionaire then none of us would be extraordinary. In fact, we all be extremely average and ordinary. Boring, even. It’s a similar thing that has happened to special editions.

To put it another way, you EXPECT there to be a some form of limited/special/collector’s/ultimate/Day One/Day Zero/steelbook/exclusive (delete as applicable…) variant of any new release these days. There’s no surprise anymore; no value. We all could have safely bet next month’s paycheck on Square unveiling a lavish special edition for the Final Fantasy VII Remake but the odds on such a bet would have been incredibly low because we’d all win that wager.

I very rarely show interest in special editions anymore. Partly because of what I’ve discussed so far in this post but there are other reasons too. Storage space is one. These big boxsets take up a lot of room and when you are buying a lot of special editions, that space is eaten up rather quickly. They also cost a lot of money and investing both space and money into piles of cardboard and plastic that is often never used or displayed (just stored in boxes, cupboards or attics for the sake of ‘having’ it) is not something I see much logic in doing. For me it is just straight-up materialism and I am personally attempting to move away from materialistic personal values. I want a more minimalist, rooted approach to life where I own a few things but not excessive amounts of products that don’t enhance my life.

You might be wondering if there was a specific tipping point or collector’s edition that broke the camel’s back and you’d be correct in asking that question. For me, it was the Soulcalibur VI collector’s edition on the PS4. I was hyped for this game and pleased to say that the end product surpassed all expectations I had – SCVI is fantastic. Unfortunately, that hype led to me pre-ordering the collector’s edition which I consider to be one of my biggest wastes of money.

The big draw was the large Sophitia figure that takes up most of the box. Sophie is my favourite character in the series and so I was enticed by the prospect of owning a decent model of the Greek warrioress. Unfortunately, the actual figure felt cheap and unimpressive once I had her in my hands (I’m sure the real thing – if Sophitia wasn’t just polygons and code – would be less disappointing!). If I’m being generous, it was extremely average and not something I was happy with.

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Looks good from a distance and in pictures but up close, I wasn’t impressed. [Source]
To add salt to the wound, I then discovered that we’d been utterly shafted here in Europe by Bandai Namco. Our soundtrack was a download voucher rather than physical as in the North American version of the collector’s edition. Also, we didn’t receive the artbook or steel case. The Euro version of the SCVI CE felt like a cheap, watered-down imitation of the American counterpart. Worse still, the pre-order price for this (incomplete) edition was £130. At the time of writing this article, that translates to $163.41 which is an utter joke when you consider that the US equivalent launched for $149.99…for MORE extras.

Right now, the Euro version of the CE is still available from Amazon for just under £80. So…it’s still in stock and cheaper than it was when idiots like me pre-ordered the fucking thing. Thus proving my earlier observations that CE’s are over-priced, undesirable and nowhere near as exclusive as made out.

All I had to show for my purchase in the end was the game and bundled season pass (which has proved to be great in fairness). I struggled to sell the figure, soundtrack voucher and box on ebay for more than £25 so had to take a massive loss on the chin and learn a valuable lesson. I won’t be buying any more special editions in a hurry, that’s for sure.

What is your opinion on special editions? I’d love to read your comments/thoughts on the subject.

My E3 2019 thoughts

e319-2I’m fairly confident that the internet doesn’t need any more opinion on this year’s E3 but look here for a moment: I need to put out some quick ‘n dirty content to stop this blog from completely flat-lining. If it hasn’t already, that is (I’ll let you guys be the judge of that). On a positive side, I don’t plan on boring you with in-depth E3 2019 analysis or any attempt at “complete” coverage. What this is going to be is my thoughts in quick-fire format.

But quickly, before I get into that, I’ll just give my brief thoughts on the event overall. Personally speaking, E3 hasn’t made me feel moist for some time now. A lot of what is big in gaming at the moment doesn’t really appeal to me. Nor does the push for more power and better graphics because I’m satisfied with what we have now when it comes to the aesthetics. Lastly, I have so many games still lingering in my “to play” pile that I don’t really need anything else so unless a game strikes me as “essential”, I won’t add it to my wishlist.

With that said, let me jump into those quick-fire thoughts on some stuff I saw…

Blair Witch Project

This one came out of nowhere and despite what I’ve just said about not being interested in hyper-realism, I was very impressed by the trailer. Blair Witch Project looks creepy as fuck and I would certainly be interested in experiencing the final product.

A new Xbox console

A new Xbox is coming next year and promises to be uber-powerful. At first I was like, “really? already?”. Then I checked the dates and was horrified to see that the Xbox One was released in 2013! Where has that time gone? The XBO and PS4 still feel new to me but I guess Project Scarlett will arrive at the end of its predecessor’s 6-7 year lifespan which is consistent with previous console life cycles. One thing I WILL say however is that I’m positive that the Xbox One, PS4 and their beefed-up X/Pro versions were touted as hardware that would last longer at retail and thus save consumers from having to keep buying new consoles. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering though. In any case, I’m really not interested in more raw power so I couldn’t care less about a new Xbox and the inevitable PS5 that will surely be announced in due course.

Marvel’s Avengers

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Just…no. This is like some sort of bootleg Avengers thing. Black Widow looks like a guy in drag. [Source]
So there’s an Avengers game which isn’t surprising given the current popularity of Marvel’s superhero franchises and the Avengers movies. Ironically though, this game doesn’t look to be linked to the MCU despite looking eerily similar. The gameplay looks okay but nothing outstanding. And can somebody tell me why Black Widow looks like a man? One to try when it’s in the bargain bins methinks.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

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I know she’s just a bunch of polygons and code but damn, Aeris is cute. Aeris’ eyes > Tifa’s boobs. Tell me I’m wrong.

The first part has finally been confirmed for 2020. Honest opinion: it looks better than it did before but I’m still not sold on the action-based gameplay. Also, I think they shrank Tifa’s boobs a little bit. Because progressiveness and all that boring jazz.

Link’s Awakening

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How awesome does this look? Genuine Switch envy right here, folks.

One thing that E3 2019 proved to me was that the Switch is now a very appealling console with lots of great exclusives on the horizon. The super-charming remake of the Gameboy’s Link’s Awakening is one such game. I had great fun playing the ‘DX’ version on my Gameboy Colour back in the 90’s so I would be down for this.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

I should be hyped for this because Fire Emblem WAS one of my favourite series’. Times have changed though and now all I see is the waifu content and anime tropes so I find it hard to want to be a part of the FE fanbase these days. What I need to do is try some of the other games that came after Fates (the games that killed my interest in FE) and see if my cynicism can be put to rest.

No More Heroes III

A Switch-seller for me that WILL be awesome by default. I don’t even need to see any more footage or gameplay to confirm this theory.

Panzer Dragoon

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I didn’t ever expect this to happen. Any chance of Saga next, Sega? [Source]
I loved Panzer Dragoon on the Sega Saturn so a remake was both surprising and welcome. I don’t necessarily condone excessive remakes over original games but nobody can deny that 3D games on the Saturn haven’t aged well. And that’s a shame when Panzer Dragoon has such beautiful world design so this is one instance where I will grant a free pass to a remake.

More Resident Evil ports…

This time it’s 5 and 6 to the Switch. My opinion on these? Just stop already. Enough with the ports of older Resident Evil games.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3

I missed the first two games back in the PS2 era because I was busy playing other stuff but by all accounts, the Ultimate Alliance games were solid action efforts and I know that fans have been shouting for a third one for some time. Also receives bonus plus points from me for NOT being influenced by the MCU.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2

It’s happening. I still haven’t finished the original though due to getting sidetracked by random exploration so I need to get that sorted at some point. I sequel that is set to follow the same formula took me by surprise but I’m not complaining.

Mai and Kula in Dead or Alive 6

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It must be her winning smile… [Source: knowyourmeme.com]
No, I still haven’t bought into DOA6 but I liked these two character reveals. Kula has long been one of my favourite characters in KOF and so I’m looking forward to seeing her fighting style and breezy personality in DOA-vision. Mai was no real surprise having already successfully integrated herself in DOA5 but I’m a sucker for Ms. Shiranui’s charms (you can read that how you like).

Those are my brief thoughts on things shown at E3 2019. I’m sure I’ve missed lots of trailers and announcements but you’ll never find me watching the live streams of videogame events or sinking my time into those mammoth recap videos on Youtube. There’s actual gaming to be done you know.

Let me know what you thought and whether you agree or disagree with any of my verdicts.