At Tokyo Game Show 2017, Japan’s game developers seem more interested in reprising the past than pushing things forward
Devs at Tokyo Game Show relive the past, rather than push forward
Private sales of nuclear fallout bunkers have, in recent months, reached their highest levels yet in Japan. Such is the level of national anxiety of being almost-neighbours to a North Korean megalomaniac who routinely plunges test rockets into the Sea Of Japan. Still, the existential dread that accompanies this kind of international sabre-rattling (not to mention the last shoe-soaking downpours of a lingering monsoon) only slightly dampened the atmosphere of this year’s Tokyo Game Show, which still managed to lure a quarter of a million visitors to its cavernous, gloomy venue, the Makuhari Messe convention centre. Here, on the bleak industrial outskirts of the city, a little over 600 companies, including a clutch of international indie developers, showed up. As in recent years, however, many of the big hitters, from Nintendo to EA, from Activision to Ubisoft, were conspicuous by their absence. In fact, there were 200 fewer games on display compared to last year, when 1,523 games made the journey to the show floor.
These shrinking numbers are, surely, a function of the diminishing role that these thundering shows play in the business of promoting and selling videogames at a time when a well-promoted tweet or precision-placed YouTube advertisement can shove a game in front of far many more eyes than any stand in a deafening, reeking exhibition centre. During TGS week the founder of one of Japan’s highest-profile PR agencies quietly admitted that he now advises smaller developers against booking space at the show. Far better, he said, to spend the money on a social-media campaign, where the competition may be equally stiff, but the potential audience is many magnitudes greater.
Thankfully, for this year’s attendees at least (the first two days of the show are restricted to the trade, the second two to the public) most of the larger Japanese publishers are yet to heed this kind of advice. Capcom gave the majority of its booth’s space over to Monster Hunter World, the latest entry in a series in which, despite a relatively small global following, the company continues to generously invest (the fact that brothers Ryozo and Haru Tsujimoto, who both coined and produce the series, are the sons of Capcom CEO Kenzo Tsujimoto may or may not have something to do with this). Questions of nepotism aside, Monster Hunter World, with its elemental huntsman appeal, wide scope for improvisation and showboating, and a more formal, guided story than ever before, has surely the best chance yet of becoming a breakout hit outside of its homeland, where, judging by the queues at TGS, it will be a guaranteed success. A simultaneous global release date of January 26, 2018, was announced during Sony’s TGS press conference.
Capcom made much
of the fifth anniversary of Dragon’s Dogma, another game centred on felling mythical beasts, which is due for re-release on current-generation machines later this year, no doubt hoping that the refresher will drive some players into Dragon’s Dogma Online’s somewhat forsaken servers (a code to jump the first 70 character levels in the MMO was given out to every attendee). The company has further raided its vaults with Clover Studio’s Okami, the last game that Hideki Kamiya directed for Capcom, which is due yet another, further beautified release later this year, complete with PS4 Pro optimization. Regretfully, there appears to be no Switch version. TGS brought the news that Nintendo’s machine will, however, host Resident Evil Revelations 2, Yasuhiro Anpo’s generally wellreceived, action-heavy take on the horror series. A Gold Edition of Resident Evil 7 was also on show, a sort of ultimate package that bundles the original game with three DLC add-ons, including the forthcoming final chapter, the forebodingly titled End Of Zoe. The game only had a minor presence at Capcom’s booth, but, thanks to Resident Evil 7’ s favourable critical reception overseas, it was mentioned by numerous devs around the show as a bright example of how Japanese companies can still compete with their Western counterparts, even if that particular game’s sales didn’t quite match the enthusiasm of the critics.
Final Fantasy XV, that long-troubled, finally redeemed project, is a game that, according to many senior Japanese devs at the show, has served as another
A PR quietly admitted that he now advises smaller developers against booking space at the show
particular national inspiration. Here is an expensive gamble that handsomely paid off (in the company’s end-of-year results call earlier this year, Square Enix reported that, “The greatest contributor to earnings there was Final Fantasy XV, which achieved global sales of six million units faster than any previous title in the franchise”). Whether any long-term damage has been done by the questionable decision to split the game’s essential story across various media remains to be seen, but Square is obviously using the game’s success as a springboard to create further spin-offs, most notably with the multiplayer expansion, Final Fantasy XV Comrades, and the barmy VR-enabled Monster Of
The Deep, which in November will spin the game’s fishing minigame out into a
Get Bass- style standalone diversion. In this, the 30th anniversary year of the company’s flagship series, Final Fantasy dominated Square Enix’s sprawling TGS stand. Rising above the card games and mobile phone spin-offs was Dissidia Final
Fantasy NT, a fighting game developed by Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja that has, since its 2015 coin-op debut, proven to be a tectonic-shifting success in Japan’s arcades. In January the game finally receives a home release on PS4, and during TGS it was announced that Prince Noctis, protagonist of FFXV, will make an appearance as a playable character.
Like Capcom, Square Enix
is a company well-used to reheating past successes, and in coming months remakes of Dragon Quest X, Final
Fantasy IX (whose arrival was lovingly revealed during Sony’s press conference) and, most enticingly, the Super Nintendo classic Secret Of Mana, will provide an enviable clutch. But the company is also clearly investing in new RPGs too. Lost
Sphear, the second game from its internal, skunkworks start-up, Tokyo RPG Factory, is set for release before the end of the year. Then, there was the announcement of the preposterously titled
Octopath Traveller, a Switch-exclusive game, also from the I Am Setsuna team, which features a more ambitious party of eight playable warriors.
Square Enix’s most prominent TGS revelation, however, was announced during Sony’s press conference. Left Alive is a mecha combat game set within the once-defunct Front Mission universe, directed by Toshifumi Nabeshima and that features the unmistakeable artwork of
Metal Gear Solid’s Yoji Shinkawa. Despite the fact that Left Alive’s story takes place between Front
Mission 5 and Front
Mission Evolved, the ponderous, tactical RPG pacing of Wanzer-sniping for which the series is bestknown appears to be gone. The focus of the tantalising snippet of footage was on a human soldier bustling through the dark, laying traps for the bipedal tanks, with their sweeping searchlights and ten-ton Gatling guns. Thirdperson direct-control action has been a slim part of the series’ tradition, but here it appears to provide the dominant mode of play.
Left Alive’s announcement took pride of place in Sony’s press conference, loosely followed by the company’s fullthroated support of Capcom’s Monster
Hunter World. Firstparty games, however, were scant, limited to new footage of the somewhat flimsy-looking remake of Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece, Shadow Of The
Colossus, and another so-called remaster in the form of Zone Of The Enders: The
2nd Runner, which will benefit from VR support. For cat lovers (and collectors), the news that breakout mobile hit Neko
Atsume is coming to PSVR softened the blow of what was otherwise a lacklustre showing for Sony on its home turf.
TGS always offers a bountiful harvest of curios and the 2017 show was no exception. D3 revealed no fewer than three new entries to its giant-insect thirdperson shooter series Earth Defence Force. One of which, subtitled Wingdiver The Shooter, takes the unlikely form of a vertical shoot ‘em up in the Cave style. The publisher’s strangest offering, however, was Happy Manager, a PS4 game in which you move in to a provincial apartment in Hansaki City with three ‘quirky’ women, who sporadically confide in you while you manage the apartment’s facilities.
Perhaps the most surprising stand at TGS 2017 was a hulking structure given over to the year’s breakout hit, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, which has proven as popular in Japan as it has everywhere else. The South Korean electronics giant Samsung even sponsored a major eSports festival around the game, with 40 players including Japanese celebrities fighting it
Perhaps the most surprising stand was a hulking structure given over to Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
out in the game’s bucolic take on Battle Royale. Other than PUBG, Street Fighter
V provided the only other major eSports draw at the show, with Capcom holding a special tournament in honour of the game’s 30th anniversary, an eight-player exhibition with a modest $9,000 prize pot won by Naoki ‘Nemo’ Nemoto. No official news, however, on the rumoured release of an arcade version of Street
Fighter V, the first mainline game in the series not to appear in coin-op guise – evidence that not all of Japan’s past glories are quite ready to be revisited.
Hiro Isono, who created Secret Of Mana’s memorable original concept art died in 2013. Controversially, Square-Enix has opted to redraw Isono’s character designs for its substantial forthcoming remake
ABOVE Square Enix’s commitment to crossmedia storytelling continues unimpeded when, in December, a reading of a new sidestory set within the
Dissidia universe will take place in Tokyo.
LEFT As well as support for 4K resolution screens, Okami’s budget re-release reinstates the original’s interactive loading screens (later removed from the PS3 update), allowing players to once again earn bonus in-game items during downtime. BELOW Left Alive’s disposal of the Front
Mission moniker is no great surprise; the series title was a hangover from a former era of less rigorous localisation, one with curious connotations for the native English speaker