When it comes to major gaming conventions, very few come close to the cacophonous crowds of E3 and PAX, which must be some sort of bummer to game fans elsewhere on the planet. All is not lost, though – my fellow game nerds in Japan have their own special festival; the annual festivities of Tokyo Game Show!
TGS works a little bit differently than E3 or PAX. Part trade show, part convention, TGS is where most of Japan’s notable publishers and developers show off their upcoming slate of games – with a few notable exceptions, Nintendo being one of them. There are private days where the show floor is only accessible to those in the industry, much like E3. Afterwards, though, the floodgates are open to the common folk, and excited Japanese gamers get to try out all kinds of weird, cool, crazy, broken, depressing, and nifty games from Japan’s top developers before anyone else. Much like E3, it’s a hotbed of news, trailers, impressions, and all things gaming, so let’s get to the goodies!
10 – Sony’s Playstation VR, née Project Morpheus
As far as big-picture, aim-for-the-sky, “The Future of Gaming”-style concepts are concerned, nothing comes close to capturing the public’s appetite for futurism like the old canard of Virtual Reality. I blame it on The Lawnmower Man.
Sony’s foray into silly VR goggles, the imaginatively-titled Playstation VR, is, by all accounts, ready to ship sometime early next year, and Sony brought 10 demos to the TGS floor. While none of the games themselves seemed to cause much of a stir, the general consensus is that the tech behind the device works well enough and is, importantly, comfortable to wear and won’t cause you any Virtual Boy-esque migraines. Whether or not the software that’ll be compatible with the device will spur any sort of mass-market adoption is another question, as is the price tag. Sony has said that it will be priced as “a new gaming platform,” which probably means you’ll have to drop a few hundred bucks on this thing if you want to get your hands on one next year. I’m still a bit skeptical myself, although if this Danganronpa VR tech demo actually turns into a real game, I’m on board.
9 – Persona 5 Gets Delayed, All of Us Are Sad
Japanese Role-Playing Games used to be a big business around the globe. And then Skyrim happened. All of a sudden, grinding through turn-based battles for 40-plus hours lost its appeal in the face of vast open worlds brimming with choice.
Luckily, the Persona series of RPGs have staved off the grind and remained relevant in the West with a shrewd combination of exceptional style, weird stories and fun characters. Persona 4 is widely hailed as one of the best RPGs of the past decade, so of course Persona 5, the first in the series for an HD console, held quite a bit of esteem and anticipation. Lookit how cool that trailer is! Is that yokai monster spiking a volleyball?! Holy shit!!
Unfortunately, as is often the case in Japanese game development, the Persona team felt like they needed a bit more time to polish the game to their liking, so we’re all bathing ourselves in tears and alcohol while the game slips into a nebulous “Summer 2016” release date. Fortunately, as this is rarely the case in Western game development, delaying a title to improve the game’s quality is probably good news all around. I’m happier waiting a few more months for a damn great Persona game, whereas companies like
Ubisoft are more than keen to shit out a new Assassin’s Creed game every year, regardless of whether it is actually “fun” or “works properly.”
8 – Anime Games Galore
Of course, no piece about games and Japan would be complete without some licensed anime/manga games taking the spotlight, and this years’ TGS is no exception.
First up is Koei Tecmo’s PS4/PS3 take on the popular Attack on Titan anime and manga sensation. It sure looks pretty good, but then again, everybody said the same thing about Spike Chunsoft’s 3DS game. Here’s hoping they actually pay attention to the gameplay this time.
There’s also Arc System Works’ Dragonball Z game, Dragon Ball Z Extreme Butoden for the 3DS, which I’m somewhat interested in considering that it’s an Arc System Works fighting game, they of Guilty Gear and Blazblue fame, and also a throwback to the old-school 16-bit Dragonball Z Butoden fighting games that I played all the time on emulators when I was in high school, even though they were almost always awful. I played the demo on the 3DS eShop; it plays fine! I guess that’s the best I can say about it so far.
Speaking of fighting games, Bandai Namco had Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven on display, a psuedo-sequel of sorts to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle, a game that was hailed for its amazing graphical representation of the legendary manga’s stylish exuberance, but panned for its horrendously exploitative DLC.
One last thing of note: It would probably take some kind of immense mathematical calculation to accurately determine how completely unexcited I am about a Naruto game, but Holy Fucking Shit Look At The Graphics on Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, This Is Like Watching An Anime But It Is A Video Game Holy Fucking Shit:
I haven’t played any of the Ultimate Ninja games since the PS2 era, which was coincidentally the last time I ever cared about Naruto, but damn if that doesn’t look cool. CyberConnect 2, you beautiful bastards.
7 – East Meets West: Part One
Since video games are clearly a global phenomenon, it would be silly to assume that Japanese developers aren’t keenly aware of the most popular games and genres ’round the globe.
In short, Square-Enix is obviously aware of the worldwide popularity of Minecraft. Their solution? Take Dragon Quest, perhaps their most popular IP outside of Final Fantasy, and make a Minecraft clone. I’m not ten years old anymore, so Minecraft is one of those cultural phenoms that I’ve looked at from afar. I get it; its unprecedented level of freedom has led it to be an accidental success, which allowed its rotund Swedish porkpie-wearing creator to outbid Jay-Z for an ostentatious mansion. But I’m the sort of guy who needs a little bit of “game” to go with his game, and the Dragon Quest skin might just be enough to entice me. Sure, I can put dumb blocks everywhere I want to make a replica of the Cheers set, but can I go into a dungeon and whack slimes for XP? I sure can!
Another interesting Eastern-flavored genre on display at TGS this year is the Multiplayer Shooter, a genre that Japanese developers haven’t, uh, really tried. Like, at all. Yet, Konami, despite their best efforts to deny people gaming experiences that aren’t crummy mobile games, still has something up their sleeve for all those among us who picked up a copy of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: a multiplayer shooter component of the game, Metal Gear Online, is almost ready to roll out as a free download to all of us who bought the game (and you should, as the game is uniformly excellent), and it also looks pretty great:
Metal Gear Solid‘s auteur, Hideo Kojima, has never been one to rest on his laurels, always attempting to fuse his love of Western media with his uniquely Japanese sensibility. If only other Japanese developers could do the same. Ahem.
6 – East Meets West: Part Two
Multiplayer shooters are still all the rage, and there’s no doubt some small component of every videogame company out there eager to slap whatever IP they have access to on top of a mediocre shooter and call it a day.
Case in point, Resident Evil Umbrella Corps, as generic a squad-based third-person shooter as anyone could’ve ever asked for. Considering the only Resident Evil game of the past few years that wasn’t an absolute travesty was the Revelations spin-off games, pardon me if I’m a little bit wary here. I’ll eat my hat if Umbrella Corps turns out to be fantastic, but the current vibe is that Capcom has another budget-level title on its hands.
But at least Resident Evil, beloved though it may be, doesn’t have the loftiest expectations. For me, anything with the Ghost in the Shell license carries with it a voluminous weight to bear, not only from Masamune Shirow’s manga and Mamoru Oshii’s legendary film, but also the brilliant Stand Alone Complex TV series and the quite-better-than-expected Arise OAVs. And then there’s this.
Just what everyone didn’t want! Another generic squad-based shooter, and also that terrible fucking Imagine Dragons song. Kill me and implant my brain in a cybernetic schoolgirl; I’m done with this.
5 – The Vita Is Dead, Long Live the Vita
While Sony wavers hither and yon about whether or not the PS Vita is considered a “Legacy Platform” or a tremendous failure, the PS Vita nonetheless soldiers onward in its homeland of Japan, much like its PSP predecessor, being the preferred home for very Japan-centric RPGs, visual novels, and the like. PS Vita owners will be treated to Nihon Falcom’s upcoming Persona-like Tokyo Xanadu, and SEGA’s Miracle Girls Festival, the trailer of which you were “treated” to above. You are so very welcome, Internet.
But more importantly, almost all of the games I’ve mentioned above, with a few exceptions, are slated for release on your usual platforms – PS4, Xbox One, PS3 – but are also slated for the PS Vita. It’s an interesting conundrum for someone like myself; I actually quite like my Vita, I enjoy playing games on it, but the system is essentially a dud in the US. A product without a market; mobile games are completely owned by mobile phones, with only a sliver of space available for Nintendo’s 3DS. And without Nintendo’s clout and development skill to pick up the slack, the Vita is a doomed traveler, a system with no home.
Japanese gamers, though, fucking love the thing. To the point where it seems like a given that any major Japanese video game gets a port to the Vita simply as a matter of cause. It’s fine for me, as a fan of said Japanese games, yet is still odd considering how hostile the gaming market is these days to dedicated handheld systems.
4 – Bloodborne: The Old Hunters
But who the fuck is playing weirdo Japanese moe games on a Vita?!? Nobody, that’s who. Meanwhile, who among us is dying over and over again in the magnificent PS4 exclusive Bloodborne? Everybody who knows anything about kickass games, that’s what!
For those of you who’ve played through Bloodborne, the main complaint was the lack of variety in the weapons, which of course is something the DLC is rectifying to some degree. Given From Software’s track record with the Dark Souls DLC, there are probably going to be a fair number of interesting secrets and lore added to the mix as well, which is definitely something to keep an eye on.
It’s interesting that what’s essentially a four-level DLC pack to a game that’s been released for nearly a year qualifies as one of the biggest games of Tokyo Game Show, but such is the success and power of Bloodborne. The Old Hunters will be released in November.
3 – Kingdom Hearts II.8: Final Chapter Prologue (Whatever the Fuck That Means)
I’m a pretty big fan of Kingdom Hearts, and it shames me constantly. The stories are ludicrous, and the gameplay varies between “extremely fun” and “I don’t know what’s going on.” Worse than that, half of the time I have to defend the honor of the games themselves from nitpicky online critics who’re making fun of the series’ continuously absurd titles.
Not that Square-Enix is doing themselves any favors. Kingdom Hearts II.8: Frank’s Chafing Prostate is just an absurd mouthful of mush of Biblical proportions. Still, if you’re a Kingdom Hearts guy, like myself, Kingdom Hearts II.8: Fresh Chorizo Prattle has some cool stuff.
Essentially, you’re getting an HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, which itself was a pretty solid 3DS game, as well as some HD cutscenes pulled from a Japan-only browser game. (Such value!) The actual “new” content you’ll be getting from this remaster is a playable epilogue to the 2010 PSP game Birth by Sleep, titled Birth By Sleep 0.2 – a Fragmentary Passage –.
If you’re confused, well, I am too. But don’t worry. I’ll probably buy this stupid thing anyway.
2 – Final Fantasy XV
An HD re-make of a bunch of portable games isn’t the big thing Square-Enix has to show at this year’s TGS, hell no – they brought Final Fantasy XV to the forefront, showing off a bunch of new features in the process.
The activities you can do in Final Fantasy XV are endless! You can fish! Race against NPCs on Chocobos! Stare into the abyss of director Tetsuya Nomura’s questionable taste in fashion and storytelling abilities! In all seriousness, though, I’ve been pretty burned by any game bearing the Final Fantasy namesake lately. All of the Final Fantasy XIII games were borderline sewage, and their mobile games are the worst kind of micro-transaction-based “pay-to-win” style of game, BUT. Final Fantasy XV has the advantage of actually looking like a real game, instead of a series of corridors to walk through like XIII or menus asking for cash like the mobile games.
Regardless, the hype for XV seems real, and it appears like the game’s development team is well aware of the pressure. This game is, for those who don’t know, a significantly re-tooled version of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, an “action-oriented” title meant to accompany XIII. When XIII was released and received as an expensive, idiotic dud, Square-Enix made the right choice and spun off its ancillary titles meant to accompany XIII into their own. Separating XV from the abyss of shit that is XIII is only good news in my eyes, so I’m at the very least hopeful that FFXV will be a playable game, instead of a slog of menus and combat and hallways.
1 – Dark Souls III
Of course, no TGS report would be complete without a cursory mention of Dark Souls III, easily one of the most iconic, successful, and well-regarded IPs in the Japanese gaming industry at this point.
Which, by the way, is startling to think about. Western gamers are salivating over an extremely difficult, very hardcore action-RPG from the developers behind such clunky Japanese gaming gems like Armored Core and King’s Field. Also, this is a series where Sony, who published the original Demon’s Souls in Japan, passed on releasing the game in English, fearing its intense difficulty would drive away Western audiences; it wasn’t until Atlus published the game itself that it found its niche, and only grew from there.
Dark Souls III is attempting to change up the formula somewhat drastically by using a legit magic system; instead of the set casting limits of Dark Souls II, this third outing gives you an old-fashioned MP meter, which can be refilled by various items and by restoring yourself at bonfires. That’s not to say the game is getting any easier or anything; the developers are quite aware that the punishing difficulty is a hallmark of the series.
The footage all looked sweet, and sweeter still is the fact that the game releases relatively soon, coming this April. Between the Bloodborne DLC and Dark Souls III, it’s a great time to play games where you die over and over again, again and again!
That’s not to mention all the obscure games and mobile games further and further down the TGS rabbit hole – a hole that those in and around the Japanese game industry get to see up close. I’m jealous.
Previously by Brian Hanson: