Why do we even call this “Tokyo Game Show” anymore? Microsoft and Nintendo didn’t tag along to tout their wares this year, so the convention more or less became Sony’s show to lose. The Japanese mega corporation did everything but that. The convention this year could just as easily been called “PlayStation Experience Japan Edition,” and the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita only looked that much better with an army of generic mobile games to compete against.
Much has been said about the console market sagging in Japan with the Wii U and PlayStation 4 slowly losing ground against the erupting smartphone market, and if Tokyo Game Show 2015 wasn’t enough to teach Japan how there is still plenty of value in gaming in front of a television set, I doubt anything would be enough. Sony brought its A-game, a handful of solid third party hits designed to cater to Japanese audiences, and promises of even more blockbusters beyond the horizon to help entice its home country.
Tokyo Game Show 2015 wasn’t nearly as ground-breaking as last year’s show, when Japan loudly proclaimed that it wouldn’t be going down without a fight, but this year had a few standout and obvious conclusions to draw.
The Sony Show
It was obvious Sony was going for a kill stroke before the show even kicked off. By Wednesday, the day before the floor opened to the press, the games confirmed for an appearance nearly doubled in number during Sony’s preshow press conference.
Of course, the biggest announcement came from PlayStation VR, which has been known as Project Morpheus up until this point. Sony bringing the tech under its PlayStation branding shows an awful lot of trust in both the quality of the product and the recognizability of the name. Point to any other product made by Sony these days, and it’s not doing as hot as is bosses would like. Point to PlayStation, and that’s a whole other story.
We still don’t have a release date or a price on PlayStation VR, but Sony did claim that it would be priced as a new console. I sadly didn’t go hands-on with it because the line was swamped, nor did I feel like dealing with motion sickness while touring the brightly lit floor afterward. Still, the enthusiasm was there, and it was most telling that people wanted to experience it when the doors opened and that’s where people dashed first. It was at that time I went hands on with Dark Souls III, but in retrospect, I should have been a bit more conscious about the hype generated by PlayStation VR.
I mean, I’ve played four Souls games already so far … what’s a new one going to prove?
As for games, we didn’t get as many announcements for original titles as I would have liked. The biggest newly announced games were Yakuza 6, which always has a predictable announcement at the show, Gravity Rush 2, and maybe Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps, Capcom’s first attempt to get an eSports contract. The other announcements were reserved for remasters of older classics. Yakuza: Kiwami, a remake of the first game, and Gravity Rush Remastered come to mind, but then again, Tokyo Game Show isn’t usually used to announce games but rather reinforce what we already know.
All of the usual heavy hitters showed up. Konami brought along the PlayStation 4 version of Metal Gear Online for what might be the last time we see it as a AAA developer. Resident Evil had two games playing on PlayStation and PC: Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster and Umbrella Corps. Final Fantasy XIV consistently had one of the biggest lines around it with the PlayStation 4 version of Heavensward, which is crazy because the game is already out and can be played at home. Persona 5, Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and Final Fantasy XV all had announcements to show off and footage to release.
The only Xbox One label to be seen at the show was at the Koei Tecmo booth, hanging on a banner for Romance of Three Kingdoms XIII.
It was a Sony show, and we were just living in it. However, you have to wonder if the show will even continue on like this if traditional giants stop showing up. Microsoft dropped this year, Konami won’t have anything next year. We’ll need the third parties to step up if we want to continue to enjoy the success of the consoles at this show. Sony can’t pull the weight itself.
Return of tri-Ace
The best story from Tokyo Game Show 2015 was longtime RPG developer tri-Ace coming forward and proving it still has what it takes to make great games. The masterpiece days of Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean: The Second Story seem so much longer than 15 or 20 years ago, and recently, the company has been more about aiding others in development like with the Final Fantasy XIII sequels, rarely putting its own name on a product.
To make matters worse, tri-Ace also received the death notice of being bought out by a mobile company, leaving longtime fans worried about its future on the console development front. Usually, such news never leads to a positive situation for game developers, which are stripped down and gutted of what makes them special after being acquired, but so far, its owner Nepro Japan has gone against the grain and has stuck to its promise of letting tri-Ace develop the kind of games it wants to make.
Tokyo Game Show 2015 proved the company still has plenty of great ideas to put onto our home machines with not just one but two excellent games.
Of course, all eyes were on Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness to see if that series could get itself back on track, and so far, all signs are indicating a big, fat “yes.” The game was a huge hit at the show with long lines all day and fans eager to finally get their hands on it. The demo too was a lot of fun even if it played it a bit safe with its content and design choices. Nobody is expecting tri-Ace to break the rules and revolutionize anything at this point. They just want the company to survive, and so far, Star Ocean shows they are willing to exceed those expectations and excel.
However, I walked away from Tokyo Game Show 2015 with tri-Ace’s other game, Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky, being the one I want to learn more about. This fun little collaboration with Spike Chunsoft combines everything I love in video games: an original JRPG battle system, metroidvania exploration, bright and fun colors, and unique settings.
I was a bit lost in my demo, playing in Japanese and learning the complicated systems of a tri-Ace game obviously deep into the campaign, but that only made me want to understand what I was doing even more. I really would like to experience this game from the beginning, learn about its inner workings at the natural pace the game sets, and eventually become an expert at pulling off insane combos.
Not a lot of JRPGs require as much thinking as tri-Ace games, and Exist Archive seems to nail that paper thin line between complexity and accessibility. I don’t think it was the best game I played at the show, but it is definitely the one I want to play the most again. By convention standards, I think that makes it my “Game of the Show.”
Success of mobile gaming is crippling creativity
Not a lot to say here. Japan’s success on the mobile market has been phenomenal, but it is clearly leading to a lack of creativity on the development front. Not every game can be as charming as the indie hit Brave Yamada-Kun. Animé cliches polluted the convention floor, and everywhere I looked laid a scattering of overly designed stereotypes meant to look exactly like Puzzles & Dragons.
I’m not 100 percent anti-mobile, free-to-play gaming, especially since Terra Battle still holds a safe and permanent position on my phone, but it’s obvious that this gold rush, which was seen as inventive in Japan just two or so years ago, has been strangled of all the creative juices which got it flowing in the first place.
This had two major effects besides the obvious one of selling the idea that the future of Japan is uninspired mobile gaming. First, it made the traditional developers of higher end games look that much better, and two, it pushed much of the indie presence which was at the show last year into quieter corners. The BitSummit games were few and too far between, not having a dedicated place to be enjoyed like in previous years, at least from what I saw.
I get why free-to-play mobile gaming is taking off in Japan. People enjoy games on the train, using whatever spare free-time they have at home to enjoy parenting or other joys in life, and they don’t enjoy paying for them either. It’s a great way to numb your mind on the way to a busy day at the office, and it’s just as easy of a way to numb your mind after a busy day at the office.
On my part, it’s just emotionally tough to see the once dominant Japanese gaming industry lean so much on it. This movement is compromising some companies values, like Nintendo, and in some cases, downright stealing years of talent and legacy to be poured into forgettable yet profitable time sinks, like Konami.
This year offered even more free-to-play titles than last year, and I can only imagine how much real estate the companies are going to nab at next year’s show. Square Enix is going to look like an indie booth by the end of the decade.
Game of Show
This is a tough one, but I kind of already bluntly stated what my favorite game at the show was. Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky was a whole lot of fun, and it is the game I left the convention wanting to play again the most. As for it being the best game, well, that’s debatable. It has solid competition from three further games which could also be in the running as being better final products.
First up, we have Dark Souls III. I thought I was done with the franchise, but From Software just refuses to let me go. I was and still am no fan of Dark Souls II, a game I don’t feel comes close to the excellence it is sandwiched between, and I gave Bloodborne a solid chunk of my time before leaving it behind feeling satisfied. However, here we are with Dark Souls III, a game which promises to be everything that Dark Souls II originally promised to be. If it can deliver, I’ll consider morphing back into fanboy mode over this quickly tiring formula.
As mentioned before, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness was also a standout title at the show. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre or anything like that, but it obviously wants to be the game to bring back the old-school JRPG days on modern consoles. That, plus the fact that there wasn’t anything too mind-bending or boundary-pushing at the show, makes it solid enough for a win in my book.
The last wasn’t even on a Sony platform! Seriously, PlayStation wasn’t branded on every successful title at the show, and Capcom put the Nintendo 3DS to good use with Ace Attorney 6 and our final nominee, Monster Hunter Stories. I was a little harsh in my hands-on impressions, but the more I think about it, the more I think Capcom has a solid winner on its hands here. It’s not a Breath of Fire, even if it should be, but I can always pretend that my dragon pet is just a blue haired Ryu in disguise.
In the end though, I’m still going with Exist Archive after what was a somewhat underwhelming show. Tokyo Game Show 2015 might not have convinced you to love Japanese video games again, but if you already do, the answer to your question is all too obvious. PlayStation … 10 out of 10 times.