Tokyo Rush

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Tokyo Game Show 2015 presents a Ja­panese de­vel­op­ment scene de­ter­mined to suc­ceed

Go­ing by the sights of Tokyo Game Show 2015, the ru­mours of Ja­panese gam­ing’s demise have been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated

from the van­tage point of the V2 Tokyo, a strato­spheric night­club in the Rop­pongi Hills, the no­to­ri­ously sleazy dis­trict out­side looks al­most beau­ti­ful. A con­stel­la­tion of red and white lights twin­kle far be­low, sur­round­ing the lung­ing strip-club touts, with their “Hey, how you do­ing tonight?” open­ing gam­bits. There are stars up here in the V2 Tokyo too, nes­tled be­tween mir­rored pil­lars and tou­sle-haired wait­ers in their bow ties and pris­tine aprons, who carry plat­ters of tee­ter­ing rum-and-Cokes. The great and the good of the Ja­panese videogame industry are gath­ered here tonight be­fore the of­fi­cial open­ing of the 25th Tokyo Game Show. And while th­ese lu­mi­nar­ies may be fewer in num­ber than in years gone by, they seem more de­ter­mined than ever. Koji Igarashi, once as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of Sym­phony Of The

Night, holds court over a gag­gle of younger Ja­panese de­vel­op­ers in one cor­ner. He looks con­tent in his post-Kon­ami life, no doubt buoyed by the re­cent suc­cess of the $5.5 mil­lion Kick­starter cam­paign for his new Castl­e­va­nia remix, Blood­stained: Rit­ual Of The

Night. If those news­pa­per re­ports de­tail­ing the chal­leng­ing work­ing con­di­tions at Kon­ami are true, who can be­grudge his con­tent­ment? Mean­while, 17-Bit founder Jake Kaz­dal weaves through the crowd, can­vass­ing opin­ion on whether or not his stu­dio’s lat­est re­lease,

Galak-Z: The Di­men­sional, is too dif­fi­cult. The game will soon ar­rive on Steam, and the de­signer, known for Skulls Of The

Shogun and his work on Tet­suya Mizuguchi’s Rez, is ea­ger to im­prove its chances, al­beit while pre­serv­ing his vi­sion.

Pa­pers, Please’s Lu­cas Pope, also a Toky­oite, dis­cusses his forth­com­ing Re­turn Of The Obra Dinn, and the dif­fi­culty a solo creator has in know­ing when to stop tin­ker­ing and just get the game out the door. As To­mo­hisa Ku­ramitsu, bet­ter known by his DJ name Baiyon, sets the drum’n’bass am­biance, Dewi Tan­ner, a Welsh­man who once worked along­side PaRappa The

Rap­per’s Masaya Mat­suura, talks in ex­cited tones about his first few weeks work­ing at Sega in Ja­pan’s cap­i­tal. He joined the com­pany’s mobile team, he says, to help “make Sega great again”. Even Fu­mito Ueda, that phan­tasm of the Ja­panese de­vel­op­ment scene, makes a brief ap­pear­ance, al­though he spends most of his 20 min­utes mur­mur­ing in­tensely into his phone, try­ing to sort out a prob­lem with The Last Guardian’s stand on the show floor.

That stand is the cor­ner-piece of Sony’s booth, a vast screen that runs from the floor most of the way to the ceil­ing, onto

OF 1,283 GAMES PRESENT AT THE SHOW, AL­MOST HALF OF THEM AP­PEAR ON SMART­PHONES

which Trico, the bird-dog crea­ture from Ueda’s long-ab­sent game, is pro­jected and with whom at­ten­dees can in­ter­act by wav­ing their hands. The in­stal­la­tion, mir­ror­ing the game it pro­motes, does not have an easy ride of it over the four days, suf­fer­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, yet its im­pact is nev­er­the­less sig­nif­i­cant. As a piece of work it is am­bi­tious, a char­ac­ter­is­tic shared by the or­ga­niz­ers of this year’s Tokyo Game Show. As

Hideki Oka­mura, chair­man of CESA (the show’s or­gan­iser), puts it in the of­fi­cial pro­gramme: “We are do­ing our ut­most to en­sure that the event pro­motes fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of the game industry and even the Ja­panese econ­omy.”

If Ja­pan’s game de­vel­op­ment scene has de­clined in re­cent years, then the fans ap­pear obliv­i­ous. The 5am subway train out of Tokyo sta­tion en route to Kai­hin-Makuhari, the clos­est plat­form to the cav­ernous Makuhari Messe con­ven­tion cen­tre, is stand­ing room only on the morn­ing of the show’s first pub­lic day. A thick line of pun­ters wends in hur­ried si­lence through the Chiba streets, still grey in the emerg­ing hum of day­break. Nei­ther Amer­ica’s E3 nor Europe’s Gamescom are able to lure quite this many vis­i­tors from their beds quite so early. In­deed, this year’s TGS boasts the event’s sec­ond­high­est at­ten­dance fig­ures since its in­au­gu­ra­tion in 1996, host­ing a quar­ter of a mil­lion vis­i­tors across the show’s four­day stint. There are 480 ex­hibitors (246 of which are for­eign), in­clud­ing the 69 in­de­pen­dent game mak­ers who to­gether com­pose the In­die Game Area. Young game de­sign­ers from Osaka Elec­tro-Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Univer­sity show off their projects, and there is an un­de­ni­able buzz on the show floor about the fu­ture. Ja­pan, ev­ery­body seems to be say­ing, is down but far from out of the race. Nev­er­the­less, the fact that this industry has changed in pro­found ways dur­ing the past decade is also made clear in the of­fi­cial statis­tics. Of the 1,283 games present at the show, al­most half of that num­ber ap­pear on smart­phones.

Some of the largest stands are given over to th­ese iOS and An­droid ti­tles. Gran­blue Fan­tasy, the smart­phone-based RPG cre­ated by ex- Fi­nal Fan­tasy team mem­bers (in­clud­ing, no­tably, se­ries com­poser Nobuo Ue­matsu), has a stand that is larger than Capcom and Sega’s com­bined, with a gi­gan­tic air­ship as its cen­tre­piece. It is sur­rounded by a few hun­dred teth­ered smart­phones on which vis­i­tors can play the game. Clash Of Clans boasts a sim­i­larly ex­trav­a­gant stand, as does World Of

War­ships, the most re­cently re­leased free-to-play PC game

from Wargam­ing. The lat­ter has been tai­lored for the Ja­panese mar­ket by in­clud­ing lav­ish anime cutscenes fea­tur­ing im­prob­a­ble schoolgirl naval cap­tains.

Con­sole games are a mi­nor­ity, then. Nei­ther Mi­crosoft nor Nin­tendo have a pres­ence at the show, leav­ing Sony to do the heavy lift­ing, with more than 100 PS4 ti­tles on the floor. Most of th­ese are de­cid­edly Ja­pan-fo­cused and there are few ma­jor nov­el­ties. The strong­est games of the show are, in most cases, ad­denda or spinoffs, such as Blood­borne ex­pan­sion The Old

Hun­ters and Me­tal Gear On­line, which com­bines the stealth strate­gis­ing of Me­tal Gear Solid V: The Phan­tom Pain’s main cam­paign with the fire and fury of squad-based com­bat.

There are two new playable char­ac­ters for Street Fighter V (a game that tells its own story of shift­ing Ja­panese soil in the fact that it is be­ing de­vel­oped with Sony’s financial sup­port and will not, for the first time in the se­ries’ sto­ried his­tory, make an ap­pear­ance in coin-op form). Mean­while, Square’s Dragon Quest Builders is an adorable third­per­son­viewed trib­ute to the era-defin­ing

Minecraft, which is it­self also present on the show floor, squeezed onto Sony’s Vita. (A Mo­jang in­sider makes it clear that Ja­pan is a key pri­or­ity for the com­pany in the com­ing months.)

At Sony’s press con­fer­ence, the com­pany an­nounces Grav­ity Rush 2, a PS4 se­quel to its idio­syn­cratic Vita ti­tle, and also shows off Grav­ity Rush Re­mas­tered, an HD ver­sion of the orig­i­nal, plus its DLC, also des­tined for the con­sole. Else­where, Sega’s Toshi­hiro Nagoshi con­firms that Yakuza 6 is in de­vel­op­ment, al­though it won’t be seen prior to the re­lease of the HD re­make of the se­ries’ first game. And the flam­boy­antly ti­tled King­dom Hearts HD II.8, with its mish­mash of Ro­man and Ara­bic nu­mer­als, pro­vides fur­ther ev­i­dence that di­rec­tor Tet­suya No­mura is a se­rial tin­kerer. This, of course, will not be news to fol­low­ers of Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV, the long-awaited se­quel that hopes to undo the dam­age ren­dered by Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIII.

FFXV, which is built upon foun­da­tions laid down by No­mura in the un­re­leased FFXIII Ver­sus, isn’t playable on the show floor, but Square Enix is ea­ger to as­sure fans that the project is on course for its 2016 re­lease.

New footage shows the in­tro­duc­tion of drift-ca­pa­ble Cho­cobo mounts, and a lux­u­ri­ous fish­ing minigame. Di­rec­tor Ha­jime Ta­bata spends time dur­ing the show be­hind closed doors speak­ing with fans, tak­ing on their crit­i­cisms and feed­back. The team, he says, has been tak­ing cues from ma­jor open-world suc­cesses such as The Witcher III and Me­tal Gear Solid V, and he even ad­mits to meet­ing with se­ries founder Hironobu Sak­aguchi re­cently to seek ad­vice. The im­mense pres­sure on th­ese costly block­busters, es­pe­cially in a post- Me­tal Gear Solid V world, is clear. Per­haps it’s for this rea­son that many of Square Enix’s forth­com­ing ti­tles are fo­cused on the Ja­panese mar­ket, in­clud­ing Gun­slinger Stratos, Lord Of Ver­mil­ion Arena and Alice Or­der, plus new iOS/An­droid en­tries in the com­pany’s en­dur­ing Se­cret Of Mana and SaGa RPG se­ries.

Capcom’s booth is dom­i­nated by its bank­able fran­chises, with Mon­ster Hunter X and its more car­toon­ish cousin, Mon­ster Hunter Sto­ries, for 3DS, Res­i­dent Evil Zero HD Re­mas­ter (there is no sign of Res­i­dent Evil 7), and a new Ace At­tor­ney game for 3DS, Dai Gyakuten Saiban: Naruhodo Ryuno­suke No Bo­ken. The lat­ter of th­ese is pro­moted via an ex­hi­bi­tion stand decked out like a tiered court with hand­helds po­si­tioned on the jury benches. The com­pany’s only new propo­si­tion is Res­i­dent Evil spinoff Um­brella Corps, a cut-price three-on-three shooter. Bandai Namco, mean­while, presents God Eater Res­ur­rec­tion and a gag­gle of re­leases based on the com­pany’s pop­u­lar Ja­panese anime li­cences, in­clud­ing games themed around JoJo’s Bizarre Ad­ven­ture, Gun­dam, Naruto and Dragonball Z.

The in­die booth pro­vides less ex­pected cu­rios. PooPride is a scat­o­log­i­cal rac­ing game that’s al­ready avail­able for Google Play. It was cre­ated by Ak­i­hiko Koseki, a de­signer who once worked along­side Sa­toru Iwata at In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems. Shadow Shooter boasts one of the most un­usual in­ter­faces yet seen: a fully func­tion­ing bow that projects a vir­tual land­scape onto the sur­round­ing walls. When tar­gets pop up, you pull the string back and fire; the harder the draw, the far­ther the vir­tual ar­row will fly. For­get Me Not: My Or­ganic Gar­den’s creator, CavyHouse, de­scribes its game as “an avant-garde or­gan­icclick­ing game”. In it, you have to grow and ship hu­man or­gans, which sprout from spe­cial plants. But the most un­usual game of TGS 2015 is Rac­ing Musume, in which play­ers race girls dressed up as cars around tracks.

Vir­tual re­al­ity is a ma­jor fea­ture on the TGS land­scape, which, for the first time, reaches out across all 11 of Makuhari’s halls (even though it could, in truth, be con­tained in fewer). Sony uses TGS to an­nounce that Project Morpheus’s of­fi­cial name is PlayS­ta­tion VR, though there is no word on re­lease date or pric­ing. Sony again has the largest show­ing in this area with demos of a Koei Mu­sou game (in which play­ers have to de­fend a cas­tle from fa­mil­iar waves of largely non­threat­en­ing at­tack­ers) and a VR demo ver­sion of Fi­nal Fan­tasy XIV.

There are demos, too, in­tended to show off VR’s po­ten­tial. One of­fers play­ers a peace­ful stroll through a cherry-blos­som­flecked Ueno Park in the spring. The other, Joysound VR, puts you in the heels of a J-Pop girl band. Dur­ing the first half of

YOU HAVE TO GROW AND SHIP HU­MAN OR­GANS, WHICH SPROUT FROM SPE­CIAL PLANTS

the demo, the band per­forms at you from a small stage in a some­what dingy club. Then play­ers hang out with the girls back­stage, be­fore per­form­ing along­side the group in front of a cheer­ing crowd of fans. Else­where, a domed am­phithe­atre hosts a ver­sion of Shi­row Masamune’s clas­sic anime film Ghost In The Shell, which has been re-ren­dered in 3D, and is broad­cast onto the dome’s ceil­ing, al­low­ing at­ten­dees to wit­ness what the vir­tual re­al­ity ver­sion will feel like.

As well as Ja­panese-fo­cused projects and stu­dios, there is a vis­i­ble pres­ence from a raft of western com­pa­nies hop­ing to suc­cess­fully mi­grate their ser­vices into Ja­pan. Net­flix has a screen on the Sony booth (the ser­vice launched in Ja­pan ear­lier in the week), while YouTube Gam­ing, Twitch and League Of

Leg­ends have all in­vested in vast stands, some of which are staffed by women sport­ing QR codes on their faces.

In com­par­i­son to the west, the cre­ative mid­dle ground here hasn’t been squeezed so much by the pres­sure of ex­pen­sive block­busters on one side and indies on the other. The King Of Fight­ers XIV is given a high-pro­file slot dur­ing Sony’s press con­fer­ence, even if there’s no chance it could ever ri­val the sales of SNK’s free-to-play Me­tal Slug De­fense, which re­cently be­came the com­pany’s most prof­itable ti­tle. Dar­ius Burst: Chron­i­cle Sav­iors, the lat­est en­try in Pyra­mid’s aquatic-themed shooter, is also on the show floor, while long-run­ning MMOG Phan­tasy Star On­line 2 is re­vealed to be head­ing to PS4 in 2016.

Nin­tendo re­mains con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence, es­pe­cially since the com­pany’s an­nounce­ment of its col­lab­o­ra­tion with mobile game go­liath DeNA. In re­cent years the Ky­oto-based pub­lisher has be­come far choosier in terms of the pub­lic events it at­tends, but any show that aims to show­case Ja­pan’s bright­est de­vel­op­ment tal­ent can’t help but feel in­com­plete or un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive with­out Nin­tendo. The at­mos­phere is fur­ther soured by ru­mours dur­ing the show that Kon­ami is set to cease all con­sole game pro­duc­tion apart from its prof­itable Pro Evo­lu­tion Soc­cer se­ries, ru­mours since con­tra­dicted by the pub­lisher. Re­gard­less, for some, the sup­posed move is a rea­son­able act of adap­ta­tion in or­der to sur­vive. For oth­ers, it is merely proof pos­i­tive that Ja­pan’s rel­e­vance in the medium is slip­ping yet fur­ther.

Not so, ac­cord­ing to Tak Fu­jii, a se­nior pro­ducer who left Kon­ami last year due to ill health. “Too of­ten I’ve heard col­leagues com­plain­ing about a lost era,” he says. “They blame every­thing but them­selves and show no will­ing­ness to shift into new mar­kets. They sit around wait­ing for the good old golden days to come back. It will never hap­pen.” Per­haps not, but at this year’s TGS, many com­pa­nies showed re­newed will­ing­ness to adapt to the shift­ing tech­no­log­i­cal and eco­nomic sands. Nev­er­the­less, as the fi­nal day ends and a tinny key­board ren­di­tion of Auld Lang Syne pipes through the PA sys­tem, sig­nalling to the crowds that it is time to leave, the lyrics seem to sound out as a warn­ing as much as a me­mo­rial: don’t let old ac­quain­tance be for­got.

“THEY SIT AROUND WAIT­ING FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS TO COME BACK. IT WILL NEVER HAP­PEN”

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FROM TOP Re­turnOfThe ObraDinn from Lu­cas Pope; The Last Guardian, not playable at TGS but still able to draw crowds

FROM TOP King­dom Heart­sHDII.8 is a com­pi­la­tion of old and new; Capcom worked with an ex­pert to en­sure Rashid’s garb is cul­tur­ally ac­cu­rate

Sony is the only ma­jor plat­form holder with TGS pres­ence. Still, 103 PS4 ti­tles are rep­re­sented at the event this year, com­pared to just 27 Xbox One games and 23 Wii U ti­tles

TGS takes its cos­play se­ri­ously, with a ded­i­cated 90-minute stage show for top-tier per­form­ers (drawn from across the globe) tak­ing place on the Satur­day

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