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2023 was a big year for video games. Will 2024 come anywhere close?

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: 2023 was a big year for video games. Will 2024 come anywhere close? Well, one big thing being talked about heading into the new year is the highly anticipated release of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOREN ALLRED: (Singing) ...We can be together evermore.

MARTÍNEZ: Oof - I'm swept away. Millions watched the Game Awards in Los Angeles last month, and that's where the Final Fantasy VII theme song premiered with a live studio orchestra. Here to tell us what lies ahead for the industry in the new year is NPR's gaming lead, James Mastromarino. So, James, Final Fantasy VII came out nearly - what? - three decades ago, and now it's coming back again.

JAMES MASTROMARINO, BYLINE: Yeah, that's right. And it's bigger and bolder than ever. It has top-of-the-line graphics. And it's because it's part of this growing trend of a lot of remade video games. But in Final Fantasy VII's case, this is basically a franchise within a massive franchise. Final Fantasy XVI just came out last year. Now, this is the sequel to the first remake of the Final Fantasy VII game, which originally came out internationally in 1997. And unlike many remakes and reboots, it's also kind of a remix, taking characters that people love, like Cloud Strife and Tifa and Aerith, and putting them in entirely new situations with a newly revamped story.

MARTÍNEZ: So, James, this is where I'm going to name drop, because last year I got to speak to Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto - you know, the legend, the icon. The company debuted Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios. I got to talk to him after seeing that. And then I know the movie "Super Mario Bros.: The Movie" made over - what? - $1 billion. So how is Nintendo following up on that success?

MASTROMARINO: Yeah, it's got a lot to capitalize on. It had two huge hits last year, The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom and Super Mario Bros. Wonder, which I hear you've been enjoying a lot these days.

MARTÍNEZ: I bought one a few days ago. I haven't stopped playing it for three days.

MASTROMARINO: Yeah, and that's why the Nintendo Switch is still selling so well. It's got all of these first-party Nintendo titles that people love. But the big scuttlebutt out this year is that Nintendo is very likely to come up with a sequel to the Nintendo Switch, a new piece of hardware that can keep up with all the new games that are coming out. Because the Switch itself hasn't gotten a hardware update in over seven years, so we're expecting a new console by the end of the year. But again, that's not confirmed by the company yet. It's just our best guess.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. I'll keep working on my skill set until then. So what other games are you going to be paying attention to in the coming months?

MASTROMARINO: Well, there's a new Prince of Persia game coming out this month. Elden Ring, the 2022 phenomenon, is getting an expansion. There's a "Star Wars" game called Outlaws. And some smaller games that have really devoted followings - Hades 2 on early access, and maybe this will be the year that we finally get Hollow Knight: Silksong, which is the follow-up to this cult classic that's also on the Switch, by the way.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, one thing I remember last year - there were a lot of layoffs in the gaming industry - what? - 9,000, almost. Are developers worried about job security right now?

MASTROMARINO: Yeah, absolutely. Because even though a game can do extremely well, that doesn't mean that the company isn't going to find cuts that could affect your job. And unlike big entertainment like Hollywood, there's not really a strong union presence in the game industry. That's changing. And these layoffs are motivating a lot more organizing on that front. A new development - Microsoft acquiring Activision Blizzard King, the biggest acquisition in the gaming industry so far. But Microsoft, despite monopoly fears again striking that company actually is a lot friendlier towards unions than the old company used to be. So stay tuned for developments there.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's James Mastromarino. Thanks, James.

MASTROMARINO: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
James Perkins Mastromarino
James Perkins Mastromarino is Here & Now's Washington, D.C.-based producer. He works with NPR's newsroom on a daily whirlwind of topics that range from Congress to TV dramas to outer space. Mastromarino also edits NPR's Join the Game and reports on gaming for daily shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition.