It's no secret that the outlook is bleak for console gaming in Japan. Tastes are changing, with mobile games emerging as the most financially rewarding development option available to studios. However, they're not the only option available to developers, as demonstrated by the announcement of Figure Heads by Square Enix.
Figure Heads sees teams of five go head-to-head in online third-person shooter combat. Players take on the role of battle mechs piloted by anime-inspired avatars. While it's difficult to get a read on gameplay from the title's first trailer, it looks to have the potential to produce an engaging multiplayer experience.
Set to be a free-to-play PC exclusive, it's expected that players will be able to customize their mech and avatar via in-game purchases. Whether this will be limited to cosmetic items or will spill out into weaponry and equipment is yet to be seen, although we've seen plenty of titles try find that balance in recent years.
Games ranging from Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to Team Fortress 2 have demonstrated that free-to-play done right can be a boon for developers and players. However, there are plenty of instances where the business model hasn't worked out so well for either party.
Square Enix will be hoping that Figure Heads replicates some of the success enjoyed by Japanese arcade hit Border Break. That game offers a similar brand of mech-based combat, and has proven to be a huge hit for Sega since its initial release back in 2009.
While it's clear that Figure Heads takes inspiration from a host of different sources, there's a distinct hint of MOBA influence based on what we know about its core gameplay. Competitive gameplay between teams of five with a free-to-play system of cosmetic upgrades should sound familiar to anyone engaged with the genre.
If it takes off, there's no reason to doubt that Figure Heads could take its place among other MOBA-style games to enjoy a spot in the vibrant eSports scene. However, the gameplay will have to be particularly engaging and well balanced for the new franchise to elbow its way into the fierce competition of that growing marketplace.
Regardless, it's promising to see Square Enix trying new things rather than relying on the same old franchises. Mech action games always seem to find their audience, and there will undoubtedly be many fans eager to hear more about this auspicious new project.
Figure Heads is expected to release on PC in 2015.