Why 2013’s Tokyo Game Show is the most important one in a long time

Tokyo Game Show starts on Thursday this week, and I’m feeling more excitement for the show than I have in years. Japanese development could finally awake from the slumber that’s lasted the entire PS3/360 generation, and be ready for a whole new generation of consoles. For the first time in too long, Tokyo Game Show has that big time feel, something that was lacking the last couple shows (at least).

First, a quick and personal history lesson. Before I became a universally lauded games journalist, I would read everything I could about each year’s Tokyo Game Show. The annual event has been one of the top gaming events in Japan since it began in the mid-’90s, and I soaked up reports on new entries for mega-franchises like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid. I longed to cover the show myself some day, and when I finally did in 2011 and 2012--for as fun as it was--it felt like I was arriving at a party just as it was winding down.

Companies like Namco, Sega, and Capcom were there with expensive-looking booths that rivaled anything I’ve seen at E3, but it all felt far too insular. The companies focused on franchises like Yakuza, Gundam, and Monster Hunter; games that were localized almost a year after launch in Japan (or not at all). New demos for Metal Gear and Final Fantasy were present, but they were buried under mobile games and super-niche stuff that would never come to the US. Its as if Japan games were sick of being rejected by the US, and decided to stop asking American gamers to the prom ever again.

After years of seeing TGS direct so much attention to its base while ignoring (or giving up) the international impact it once had, TGS 2013 looks to finally be taking a step towards prominence once again. Japanese development is coming off its strongest E3 in years thanks to impressive next-gen reveals for the aforementioned Final Fantasy and Metal Gear. The top Japanese devs seemed hyp for the PS4 and Xbox One, and TGS is primed to take advantaof the excitement.

Sony’s home base is Japan, and despite the company’s surprising move to hold the PS4’s Japanese launch until next February, the makers of PlayStations are really bringing it to TGS. They’ll have a huge number of playable PS4 games, including the first ever hands-on with Capcom’s gorgeous PS4-exclusive, Deep Down. On top of next-gen wonders, Sony surprised everyone with the announcement of PS Vita TV, and the device will be at TGS to grant gamers a preview of the future of the Vita. Sony has one of the biggest booths at Tokyo Game Show, and it looks to be stacked with exclusive content from all over the world.

TGS 2013 isn’t just noteworthy again because of Sony, as Microsoft is making Tokyo Game Show a next-gen battleground. After skipping last year’s TGS--and who could blame MS after a long history of Japan’s disinterest in the Xbox?--Microsoft has returned to give the Xbox One a proper reveal in the country. Perhaps the Xbox One is just there to steal some of the spotlight from Sony, but the awesome byproduct of this competition is that TGS sees the exciting addition of exclusives like Titanfall and Forza 5 to the show floor.

Those two games are joined by big western titles like Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV, and they don’t appear to be treating TGS as an afterthought. It gives an air of inclusiveness to western development that was lacking in previous years. Franchises like Battlefield and Assassin’s Creed had been present in years past, but they felt like an addendum compared to the newest, indecipherable Idolmaster and Hatsune Miku games. Then again, it wouldn’t be TGS without incredibly strange Japanese titles you won’t find anywhere else, and for Japanophiles, Tokyo Game Show still has room for those too.

It will take some time for Tokyo Game Show to return to the level of E3 or Gamescom, but this is the first year in some time that it seemed like the show was even interested in reliving its glory days. After Japanese development had such struggles in the PS3/360 era, some of the biggest names in gaming look ready for this new generation to be a fresh start, with TGS 2013 being the next big step. So this week you should expect fresh impressions and new game reveals that will hopefully give Japan some of its lost relevance. Of course, the only thing that would make this show perfect is some news on The Last Guardian, but there’s only so far we can suspend our imaginations.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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  • n00b - September 19, 2013 7:04 p.m.

    sorry but I'll take Hatsune Miku over battlefield 4 any day
  • taokaka - September 18, 2013 3:50 a.m.

    Admit it, you're excited because this TGS will be the first to have a section dedicated entirely to dating sims!!!!!!!!
  • almostnot - September 18, 2013 12:35 a.m.

    WHY WHY WHY did you have to start this article with a picture of Yakuza 5? If that game's never getting localised I just want to forget it ever existed... So. very. dissapointed.
  • SpadesSlick - September 17, 2013 3:43 p.m.

    Sad to say we are going to have to wait for Japan's indie scene to get up to snuff before we start experiencing those unique and wonderful titles again. Luckily we have people like Keji Inafune leading the charge on that front. Hoping for a return to form from the normal developers is being too optimistic though. It's clear that the market is growing increasingly insular, and they don't really want to change that. Your examples are games that we already knew were coming eventually. As long as I get some KH3 news, i'll be happy with this show.
  • shawksta - September 17, 2013 2:06 p.m.

    You can see Microsoft is trying but the 360 already failed in that regard, they can try, but it won't get them very far.
  • BladedFalcon - September 17, 2013 11:30 a.m.

    I'd love to share in Henry's optimism... But based on Sony's presentation last Monday, I feel the Japanese industry is still set in remaining mostly interested in just themselves and their interests, worse still, I felt like most of their products, weird as they always may seem, no longer feel fresh and unique as they once stood. Of course, I could be very wrong, but most of what I've seen come out of Japan lately (aside from a couple of risk taking developers like say, Platinum or From Software, who stand out from everyone else.) seems to consist of largely more of the same, more monster hunter clones, more manifests in the style of samurai warriors, more games fetishising school girls in one way or another. Where is the japan that continually thought outside the box? that gave us wonderfully bizarre games such as Katamari Damaci, Zone of The Enders or Fatal Frame? And note that I'm saying they should appeal more to westerners, because they shouldn't. The games and developers I mentioned above are all stuff that aren't really aimed at western sensibilities, yet they still felt original and unique. And like Henry said, this has seemed to mostly fade this generation... (The most notable exception I can think of is the fantastic Demon/Dark Soul series, and even that is now become a franchise and no longer a unique concept.) And despite of what has been mentioned to appear in this TGS, I just don't see the spark that Japanese game making once had in general. Here's hoping I'm proven wrong though.
  • shawksta - September 17, 2013 2:02 p.m.

    "Where is the japan that continually thought outside the box? that gave us wonderfully bizarre games such as Katamari Damaci, Zone of The Enders or Fatal Frame?" This, we need a return to form on this level, even if it had a bunch of Japanese culture, it still delivered in a bizarre manner that isn't locked into the too obvious. The last game I can even remember on that bizarre level is Rhythm Heaven Fever and that came out in 2011-2012, and yet there are still more Hatsune Miku rip offs that keeps getting announced that are just dancing school girls. As you said, lets hope its proven wrong and something worth it comes out of it.
  • taokaka - September 18, 2013 5:14 a.m.

    I'm going to have to sort of agree and disagree with both of you, more games that push the boundaries like katamari damacy, zone of the enders and fatal frame would be fucking amazing but I believe these games have always been in the minority and always will be. We all know that Japanese developers have refocused their efforts this generation, instead of trying to outspend their western counterparts they have been focusing on smaller games which are cheaper to make but have smaller returns like mobile games, portable games and downloadable games. I think this is where we will see most of these types of games from now on. Just look at the 3ds eshop, just about every game worth owning on it is a Japanese game that ranges from creative to outright weird, for example crashmo, liberation maiden and attack of the friday monsters fit into the former while tokyo crash mobs and denpa men fit in the latter. In my opinion the creative Japanese games aren't dying, just last year when everybody was raving about XCOM and the walking dead games like gravity rush and asura's wrath had already stolen my heart and looking to the horizon FFXV, MGS:V, Bravely default, drakengard 3, rain and many more look like they too will be the brilliant creative, strange Japanese games we love.
  • shawksta - September 18, 2013 10:50 a.m.

    More or less your right. I think its more on major devs or atleast games that get a lot of attention, otherwise your right. Hell, DIllons Rolling Western is one of my favortie series in the Eshop and it was made by the same team who made the bizarre Tingle RPG games in japan