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