For years—or even decades—many gamers have longed for the chance to see the famous Tokyo Game Show. Perhaps the second largest gaming conference in the world, this industry-wide event is a big chance for companies to hype and push their newest games. The four-day event is split into press days for big announcements and general public days for showing demos and promotions. This year, I was lucky enough to be one of those gamers who got the chance to see this massive event in person.
A month has passed since I went to TGS, and I’m only just now sitting down to write about it. There are many reasons why, including a busy schedule and having gotten a cold during the conference. But one of the biggest reasons is because, well … there doesn’t seem like a lot to talk about. Many people I talked to about the event said the same thing: there was a lot talked about, but very little actually shown. The press days were filled with announcements, many of which were for interesting new titles and promotions. But during the public day, as you walked around the floor, there was a general feeling of an industry in slow decay.
Some of this slow decay feeling could easily be written off as me just having a cold, but other people who weren’t sick said similar things. None of the major developers had much of anything new to show off at the conference. Few of the announced projects actually translated into working demos or large-scale displays. One of the biggest booths at the event was for Granblue Fantasy, a game that has already been on the market for nearly a year. There were a lot of lights and fluff, but very little in the way of gaming substance (Metal Gear or otherwise).
A few things did stand out about the experience. The whole thing was at least visually appealing. Granblue Fantasy had a giant airship, Ace Attorney 6 had a full courtroom (pictured above), and Konami had … well, a full pachinko parlor, basically. There was a lot to look at, but often nothing to really see. Most of the big companies were putting on huge façades, although some of the smaller booths did contain some gems.
One booth I was particularly interested in was Flyhigh Works, which has released several smartphone and 3DS eShop games of surprising quality. In their booth, you could wait in line to play a 10-minute demo of either Majin Shoujo 2 or Fairune II. Majin Shoujo 2—a Mega Man clone with cute girls—was the most popular, with nearly an hour wait. However, Fairune II had no wait, so I quickly jumped into the sequel of a game I randomly called my eShop Game of the Year in 2015 (despite it coming out in 2014). While the demo didn’t show me much of the game’s new concepts and the studio didn’t have a release date, I was able to confirm the most important points. The game still has cute pixel graphics, a wonderful chiptune soundtrack, and a cute princess who becomes a warrior to save the little world. Expect to see more information from me on Fairune and Fairune II soon!
Also of note was the indie games section, which had small, one or two person mini-booths all lined up in a row. Most of these were prototypes, concept art, or mediocre demos, but a few really stood out. Most prominent of these were the demos for Armed Blue Gunvolt and La Mulana 2. Initially, I tried to play both, but the line for Armed Blue Gunvolt got long and wasn’t really moving. I watched the gameplay and was mildly impressed, but in all honesty, I saw little that Majin Shoujo hadn’t already done.
I did get to play La Mulana 2 and I was very pleased with it. Here was a game that looked good, had a classic feel, fun platforming, and a cool lady protagonist. If you played the first La Mulana, then you know what to expect. However, if you didn’t, expect a maze-like platforming game with endless traps, puzzles, and getting lost. If that sounds fun, then you should definitely check this game out. If not, then perhaps just be glad that another strong lady protagonist is making waves while possibly also parodying America.
In another surprising twist of feminism, I randomly got to try out two other indie games with protagonists who were women. One was a cute/sexy otome game called Sweety Prince. Targeting the heterosexual women demographic, the game is a mixture of attracting hot anime guys and Atelier-style item fusion in the form of a bakery. It was adorable and had a lot of options, including customizable characters and a room you could decorate. It wasn’t something I’d call ground-breaking, but it certainly had a decent level of charm for a smartphone game. It also looked fantastic on the iPad’s bigger screen, which always pleases me. They had a survey you could fill out in order to get a clear file folder with game art printed on it. If you’re interested in item management and anime guys, it’s worth a quick look.
The other indie game with a lady protagonist that I played was a simple smartphone dungeon adventure called Tottoko Dungeon. Imagine the plot of Cinderella, except the Prince is locked in a dungeon somewhere, and the heroine is hilarious, irresponsible, and clumsy. The game is unique as it’s a platforming action-RPG where you neither control the character’s movements or attacks. Instead, the character moves and attacks automatically, and you use different equipment and abilities to manipulate where the character goes and who she attacks. For example, there’s an ability that lets you stop her from auto-climbing stairs, allowing her to deviate from the set AI path to explore other routes.
Through fast level-ups, new items, upgrades, and abilities, you can indirectly (instead of directly) manipulate your way through the game’s dungeons. It’s a simple, but neat concept that perfectly fits its freemium price point. Notably, it also has a hilariously Engrish release, making it playable for Western audiences. And again, it’s another example of Japanese developers slowly recognizing that independent women characters are viable.
Still, a nagging question remains in all of this. Where were the big developers? What were they doing? Yes, there were awesome-looking demos of Star Ocean and Star Wars: Battlefront, but Square Enix seemed weirdly invisible, despite having the largest booth. The same was true for other companies like Koei Tecmo or Konami, which had big booths full of nothing interesting. Nintendo was nowhere to be found, either. There was a sharp disconnect between the day before’s announcement-filled press day and the demo-less public day. However, Square Enix did have somewhat of an answer.
While there wasn’t much in the way of demos and substance for Square Enix, there certainly was a metric ton of merchandise to buy. They had two separate large booths in the merchandise area with one being dedicated completely to soundtrack CDs. As a huge music fan, I gladly grabbed an order sheet and got in the half-hour long line to throw away my money. Meanwhile, I convinced some friends of mine in the other booth’s line to buy me a SaGa series 25th anniversary mug.
Back in my line, I set about the task of choosing what CDs I wanted from the large catalogue available. I was very impressed with the vast selection of music for sale, as can be seen from the 86-item order sheet. In the end, I bought several SaGa remix and soundtrack CDs and the remastered Final Fantasy V soundtrack. While they were slightly expensive, at least one of the CDs was a 2015 TGS exclusive, and Square Enix was good enough to throw in a free, full-length CD of new remixes, as well as a cloth Square Enix Music tote bag. As an owner of the SaGa 20th Anniversary 18 CD box set, a chance at owning more SaGa music was irresistible. If you’ve never heard of SaGa before, you might want to check the series out, as it continues to have a soft spot in my mind for featuring my first introduction to a lesbian character in a video game.
In the end, even with getting a cold and not enjoying things as much as possible, it was still definitely worth going to. But as the gaming industry in Japan continues to crumble under the weight of giant companies collapsing, the decline was highlighted by the style-over-substance excess of a Tokyo Game Show with little to show.