Makuhari mess

The big­gest Tokyo Game Show in years was marred by con­tro­versy and mixed mes­sages

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Makuhari mess Con­tro­versy and mixed mes­sages at Tokyo Game Show 2016

Search hard enough and there will al­ways be a met­ric by which a trade show’s or­gan­is­ers can demon­strate yearon-year growth. This year, the Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment Sup­plier’s As­so­ci­a­tion (CESA), or­gan­iser of the Tokyo Game Show, pointed to a record num­ber of com­pa­nies in at­ten­dance: 614, up from 480 last year. It’s a boast, how­ever, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. This year there were al­most a hun­dred fewer stands on the show floor of Chiba’s cav­ernous Makuhari Messe ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre than in 2015. More­over, many of those were of a far more mod­est size.

In part, this is as much a re­flec­tion on the cur­rent state of videogame trade shows as it is of the Ja­panese in­dus­try proper. E3’s fu­ture has never been less cer­tain, as more com­pa­nies choose to skip events such as these in favour of com­mu­ni­cat­ing di­rectly with cus­tomers through self-branded chan­nels, cut­ting out in­de­pen­dent­think­ing jour­nal­ists. As com­pa­nies beam demos of their lat­est games di­rectly to con­sumers (PS4 and Xbox One play­ers were able to play the up­dated TGS ver­sion of the com­pany’s Res­i­dent Evil 7 well be­fore those at the back of the Makuhari queues, for ex­am­ple), the videogame show has never felt more like an anachro­nism.

Ja­pan’s mar­quee event in par­tic­u­lar ap­pears to be in a state of on­go­ing flux and di­min­ish­ment. The power cen­tre for smart­phone game de­vel­op­ers, whose ti­tles com­prise al­most a quar­ter of the games that ap­pear at TGS, has fully moved from Ja­pan to China, Korea and Sin­ga­pore, each of which have their own vast trade shows, ex­clud­ing PC and con­sole games. GREE’s stand at TGS, for ex­am­ple, was a shadow of its for­mer self. More than half of the com­pa­nies ex­hibit­ing were for­eign, re­veal­ing CESA’s ea­ger­ness to po­si­tion it­self as a global rather than lo­cal con­cern. Fur­ther ev­i­dence for this could be seen at the indie booth, po­si­tioned in a sep­a­rate hall from the main show. Here, west­ern ti­tles dom­i­nated the field. One Ja­panese in­de­pen­dent de­vel­oper com­plained that this showed CESA had turned its back on Ja­pan’s bur­geon­ing indie scene in favour of invit­ing bet­ter-known Amer­i­cans.

All of this left VR to do the heavy lift­ing for the Ja­panese crowd. This was, CESA stated, like so many be­fore it, the year of VR. But of the 1,500 games on the show floor, only a hun­dred were VR-spe­cific and, of that num­ber, it was mostly Sony’s clutch of PSVR launch ti­tles that could be de­scribed as tra­di­tional games. Many more fell into the cat­e­gory of light pornog­ra­phy, an in­ter­ac­tive genre that sits a lit­tle un­com­fort­ably along­side the likes of Rez In­fi­nite and Bat­man Arkham VR in cul­tural terms. There were signs of stress even here. The on­line out­cry fol­low­ing the post­ing of a photo show­ing a Ja­panese man ca­ress­ing the sil­i­con breasts of a man­nequin while wear­ing an Ocu­lus Rift head­set led CESA to de­mand that the game’s pub­lisher purge its stand.

On­line bile had prac­ti­cal out­comes for Square Enix too, after a man tweeted that he would stab the com­pany’s staff at the event if he showed up to find Fi­nal Fan­tasy XV was be­ing shown at its booth. A clutch of plain-clothes po­lice spent the fol­low­ing day min­gling with the crowd, while footage of the com­pany’s flag­ship game roared away on the widescreen above them re­gard­less, along­side scenes from the im­pos­si­bly ti­tled King­dom Hearts HD II.8 Fi­nal Chap­ter Pro­logue and Nier: Au­tom­ata.

Yakuza 6 en­joyed more acreage of the TGS floor than just about any other game at the show, while a stylish demo re­vealed Per­sona 5 to be, ar­guably, the most ex­cit­ing game of the event – though Sega’s forth­com­ing Valkyria: Azure Rev­o­lu­tion, a spinoff from Valkyria Chron­i­cles, was also a big draw. In­deed, it was a show en­livened by cameos from by­gone eras. Sony placed Square’s ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated re­mas­ter of Ya­sumi Mat­suno’s mas­ter­piece, Fi­nal

Fan­tasy XII: The Zo­diac Age, at the cen­tre of its stand. Else­where, an en­tic­ing logo for the sought-after Sega Saturn shoot ’em up Bat­tle Garegga her­alded the ar­rival of M2’s re­vival of some clas­sic his­toric shoot­ers on PS4 via its ShotTrig­gers se­ries – a set that in­cludes a re­lease for Cave’s elu­sive Dan­gun Feveron.

De­spite the show’s motto, ‘Press Start To Play The Fu­ture’, cel­e­brat­ing past glo­ries was a ma­jor theme, even away from the mar­ket­ing booths. CESA ded­i­cated an en­tire area to the past 20 years of Ja­panese videogames, show­ing off the cases of scores of clas­sic games (along­side a clutch of playable ver­sions). Tellingly, this proved to be one of the most pop­u­lar ar­eas of TGS. On a white­board above the games, vis­i­tors could write mes­sages about what each one meant to them, and which ones they’d like to see re­vived. By the fi­nal day, the wall was a scrawl of hope­ful trib­utes. When it comes to press­ing ‘start’, clearly many are just as keen to play the past as the fu­ture.

De­spite the show’s motto ,‘Press Start to Play the Fu­ture’, cel­e­brat­ing past glo­ries was a ma­jor theme

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