Past glo­ries

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

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