As much as I hate to admit it, I was dead wrong about this year's Tokyo Game Show. Days before the show opened, I wrote that this year’s Japanese trade show was going to be the most important in years, finally bringing back the “big time feel” TGS had been missing for some time. TGS 2013 would supposedly be the show where Japan caught up with the west via a bunch of ground-breaking next-gen games. Yet, despite my hopeful predictions, Tokyo Game Show continued its march inward. Instead of this upcoming console generation being a time for renewal in Japanese development, it seems more likely that this will be the generation where the companies finally give up on the west for good.
In my defense, TGS 2013 was theoretically going to host games that would prove Japanese development was on the rebound. Metal Gear Solid V and Final Fantasy XV both look like top tier next-gen games, but the pair lacked any real presence at the show, least of all anything playable. Sony may have had footage of both at its booth, but that was all you were going to get out of those PS4/Xbox One frontrunners.
What about the rest of Japan’s next-gen titles? The Evil Within was there in non-playable form, as was Yakuza Ishin, but given that America hasn’t recieved the last two Yakuza titles, don’t count on playing that one soon. D4, the Xbox One exclusive from the creator of Deadly Premonition was shown behind closed doors, similarly unplayable (though we liked what we saw). Other than that, PS4 exclusive Deep Down was one of the very few Japanese-developed next-gen games that were actually playable.
Deep Down was also a standout for being one of the very few PS4 games--Japanese or otherwise--that wasn’t a retread of what had been shown before at E3 or Gamescom. Sony and Microsoft had large booths to show off their new consoles, but they were displaying weeks old demos to fresh audiences instead of having any international premiers. The overall lack of new content made the whole thing feel smaller, even if Sony and Microsoft were trying harder than other exhibitors.
Instead of next-gen content, much of the floor space was taken by mobile heavyweights like GungHo and Gree, publishers whose games rule the smartphones of Japan. Outside of those and smaller mobile companies, console heavyweights like Square Enix, Capcom, Sega and Namco showed up, but current gen games only. At least they showed up, unlike the notably absent Konami and Level-5. However, their booths were mainly dedicated to titles that have low odds of being localized.
Capcom had flashy areas devoted to Sengoku Basara and Gaist Crusher, titles remain unannounced for the west. Sega teased even more games that have no planned localization, like the aforementioned Yakuza and new Phantasy Star and Puyo Puyo releases that (frustratingly) look like some of the best franchise entries in some time. Both publishers increasingly treat the US and Japan as separate markets, and that divide only extended at TGS this year.
Capcom and Sega played to the fans in their home country about as hard as Namco did, but I’ll give Namco credit for actually localizing its intensely Japanese titles. Games based on popular anime franchises like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and One Piece headlined the booth, all of which are coming to the US, as are more obscure fighters like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Saint Seya. Sure, you likely won’t see J-Stars Victory in America, but Namco appears to have far more faith in the western market than its colleagues.
Despite my disappointment, TGS broke its previous attendance records this year and the previous week saw Monster Hunter 4 sell an astounding number of copies, so Japanese gamers clearly haven’t vanished. But they don’t seem too excited for anything that isn’t portable. PS3 games still do fine, but Wii U sales have been weak, even for major games like Wonderful 101 and Wind Waker HD. Meanwhile, neither Sony and Microsoft are launching their next consoles in Japan this year. This marks the first time ever a PlayStation console was released in Japan after the US. If a thoroughly Japanese corporation like Sony wants to wait on launching there, that should be more than enough proof of Japan’s next-gen disinterest.
So what happens at TGS 2014? The PS4 will be on store shelves by then and hopefully major releases like MGSV and FFXV will be far enough along that they’ll make a splash with some playable demos--demos that will likely be identical to what’s shown at E3 2014. Maybe the next 12 months will allow the country’s developers to catch up with technology, and they’ll have next-gen titles the whole world can get excited for. I truly want to believe Japan can be a global leader in gaming, but each year I go to TGS, my optimism fades.
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