Living in Japan allows me a certain freedom when it comes to my nerd-hood. Video game playing is all but encouraged, anime is the norm, and if you were to tell someone your life goal was to build and paint model robots, they would smile understandingly at you. Japan is indeed a land in which technology and entertainment hold hands and lovingly caress one another. As I type this, I am coasting at a leisurely 175mph on a bullet train as I watch scenery adorned with lush greenery and neon zoom by. One of the many nerdy perks to living in Japan is the knowledge that once a year, all of the big names in gaming (minus one) will converge in Tokyo and allow the public a glimpse of their brand new wares. This year is no different and I decided to make the pilgrimage from my home in rural Kyoto to the fluid craziness that is Tokyo and The Tokyo Game Show to see what was in store for gamers in the near future.
Nothing brings chubby, unshaven, white people in need of a haircut to Japan like the promise of seeing brand new and yet-to be-released video games at the Tokyo Game Show. For them, the fun begins as soon as they get off the train at the convention center. For me, it begins in Tokyo Station as I play a game I like to call Know Your Geeks. The rules are simple: as I make my way through the station to the Keiyo Line train ramps that lay at the end of a maze of twisting corridors and moving walkways, I try to pick people out of the crowd who are heading to the same place I am. Spotting the foreigners is easy, they are usually in their twenties, are either rather portly or deathly thin, and without fail, in need of a shave and a haircut. Spotting the Japanese Otaku requires looking for a different set of features.
If you are Japanese, by nature you look in need of a trip to the buffet or a sandwich but otaku are the mold breakers in this arena and chubbier models can easily be found. Many otaku like to sport photographers’ vests because they allow for lots of pockets in which to stash your “one coin” trinkets and portable games and they almost all wear glasses. The easiest otaku to spot are the Cosplayers and there are quite a few to be found at the Tokyo Game Show. These are the people who like to dress up as their favorite video game and anime characters. As I get closer and closer to the station near the convention center, the concentration of these people gets denser and toward the end of the trip it is kind of pointless to even play the game at all.
Once you hit the convention center, you would think Santa came to town early by the look of glee on peoples’ faces. Since E3 was scaled back a couple of years ago, TGS is one of the biggest forums for game designers to show off what they have in the works. There is one part of the whole convention that drives me nuts; Nintendo hasn’t come to it in years. The Nintendo fanboy in me sheds a tear in their absence. Fortunately, some of Nintendo’s third party developers do show up and they help to break up the monotony of mostly mediocre looking Sony and Microsoft titles; having said that, the majority of the convention is very Sony and Microsoft centric.
Unlike last year, this is not as bad as I make it out to be. Last year’s TGS was very strange, it was the big year for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to unleash their new consoles and gear and the TGS reflected that. There was a lot of hardware being shown but the media side of the convention kind of sucked. Sony’s release line up for the Playstation 3 was about as abundant and varied as the number of colors you could get the original Ford Model T in and Microsoft really only had Blue Dragon to show off. Microsoft did bring their HD-DVD drive to the show but it didn’t matter because the Japanese still avoided the Xbox 360 like the plague. Nintendo was also a no-show, opting instead to host its own media event, Nintendo World 2006, to showcase the Wii.
This year, there was almost no new hardware or gadgetry to be seen but I did spot some promising games coming to each of the consoles. Again, Microsoft was vying for attention from Japanese gamers by buying about a quarter of the floor space in the convention hall and making stuff as bright and loud as they could. They also had some of the better booth babes, I might add. Did the Japanese bite? Yes and no.
The new Ace Combat title drew a crowd but I think it was more because of the size of the screen it was on and not so much the game itself. Halo 3 could be seen but there wasn’t a very big line of people to play or look at it. For some reason, the Japanese have never gotten into the Halo series. The big draw that I saw was at the Beautiful Katamari demo booths. Many people were lining up to see who could roll their own the fastest and a cute gal armed with a hand puppet of the Prince from the game was there to motivate them. Graphically, Beautiful Katamari looks only slightly better than its predecessors but I think where we will see improvements is in the environments and eventual size of your Katamari in some of the later levels.
Having already admitted earlier at the conference that the PS3’s sales are doing about as well as a 300lbs., one eyed, midget hooker named Lou Anne, Sony definitely went all out. You could see the desperation in their eyes and their showcases. I am not a fan of Sony but I will say, they had a pretty good showing. First, there was the Metal Gear Solid 4 booth. Warzone may be a better way to describe it. The area was cordoned off with barbed wire and guarded by hotties in butt-hugging camo shorts and halter tops. You could play the game but you would be waiting for two hours to get a shot at it.
People actually brought chairs and were sitting in a very long line to finally be able to grab that Snake one more time and spray lead everywhere. It is times like these in which I come up short as a narrator for such an event. I like video games, no doubt, but I loathe standing in line and waiting to play them; I couldn’t do it when I when I was eight, I sure as hell can’t do it now. Therefore, you will not be getting any hands on impressions of games from me.
The Metal Gear Solid 4 team was also showing off the deathmatch addition to the game and it looked fun. Then there was the new Portable Ops game coming for the PSP. Koei was also in attendance showing off whatever iteration of whatever Dynasty Warriors-esque title they are making at the moment. I despise those games so I didn’t even bother looking. They had a huge screen set up though and it was very bright and pretty.
I found one game for the PSP that looked intriguing. And by “intriguing” I mean original. That game is called Patapon. In Patapon, you are the God over a bunch of little creatures and you must manipulate them in order to solve puzzles. It looks like it has the possibility to be an addicting game and the PSP needs more of that other than Lumines and Loco Roco. The slim PSPs were being shown off but seriously, I barely tolerate the PSP I have and have almost no interest in a new model until some more good games come out for it.
Square-Enix also went very big this year. The kicker is that for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. They were just showing off a bunch of new remakes of Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Dragon Quest. They really didn’t have anything original to bring to the table and I have written before about how that peeves me. Having said that, I can tell you that I spend more time diddling myself each morning than I spent at the Square-Enix booth.
Nintendo as a company was a no-show, again. Last year they had Nintendo World and before that they funded Spaceworld but this year, it looks like there will be no Nintendo sponsored event at all. I would guess this is the case for several reasons. First, anything with a Nintendo logo on it right now is gold and they are getting plenty of press just by proceeding with business as usual. Second, with the penetration of the Wii as a platform that is attracting all sorts of gamers, Nintendo is no longer as reliant on the tried and true, play-until- your-ass-bleeds, hardcore nerd.
There were some good looking titles for both the Wii and the DS. Actually, mostly the DS. Exit DS looks like it may be a fun game and I really like the graphical style that it brings to the table. A new Phoenix Wright -style game was also being shown, called Hollow Pen. Speaking of Pheonix Wright, I saw some excellent looking Cosplay versions of all of the major players from that series.
Okay, enough of all of the news bits; time for my general opinion of the show as a whole. Let me preface this by saying that when I was young, I saw, “The Wizard” with Fred Savage at a summer matinee. When I first knew I would finally be able to go to the Tokyo Game Show last year, I had visions of a wee Fred Savage walking into the Nintendo World Championships and being awed by Super Mario Brothers 3 and a badass with a Power Glove. When I went last year, I just got a bunch of dorky looking zombies waiting in line to try the Playstation 3 in a dimly lit cavern of a convention center. Last year, I was a very let down guy. This year, I kind of figured that the convention probably wouldn’t be much different and with that attitude, I was mildly surprised by some of what I saw. On the flipside of that, I was dismayed by the sheer amount of spin-offs, sequels, and remakes that I encountered. I was also disappointed in the Westerners I saw there.
For my non-Japanese readers, I have some advice. I implore you that when coming to Japan, shave and maybe even get a haircut before you come. While here, continue shaving and bathe on a daily basis. I know Japan can be a wondrous and mysterious place, but please maintain your hygiene. If you think you are not going to be able to fulfill this set of simple obligations, I urge you to bring your girlfriend so that she can embarrass and shame you into taking care of yourself while visiting this nutty little island.
Please leave your Cosplay stuff at home unless you plan to go balls out like the Japanese do, otherwise, you will only embarrass yourself. Please refrain from wearing goofy clothes, bunny ears, paper crowns, clichéd video game shirts with leet speak on them, and anything else that may tip off the Japanese to the fact that we are weak, stupid, and ripe for another bombing. When you are in Japan, remember that you are representing Western culture and try to act responsibly. There were a LOT of people attending TGS 2007 that did not adhere to these standards and it made me feel a little bad because I could understand what some of the Japanese people were saying about you.
The Tokyo Game Show is a fun event to go to if you live here or happen to be in Japan when it’s going down. I would not pay money to make the trip here just to attend though. Then again, maybe that is why I am a Nintendo guy at heart, I am just not hardcore enough to be thrilled at the possibility of blowing a whole day so that I may play three demos of a game that will be out in a couple of months anyway.
For more and bigger pics, check here.