Just a few years ago, there was a lot more buzz surrounding the Tokyo Game Show. With tons of Japanese games, both good and bad, making the trip across the ocean, there was plenty for English-speaking gamers to check out from the TGS show floor. Fast forward to today, and the two industries seem to be growing ever further apart. We can't even count on localizations of big releases from former sure-thing companies like Square Enix, which leaves a lot of Western gamers feeling cold towards Japan's biggest gaming expo.
What happened? First, Japan's consumers started preferring portable games to home console games by a large margin. Whether for cell phones or portable gaming consoles, games tend to sell much better in Japan if they can be played on the go. In the meantime, North American gamers continue to prefer the home consoles that are hooked up to their big-screen TVs. More recently, Japan has experienced the same trend towards social gaming that we've seen here. At this year's TGS, social gaming company GREE had one of the biggest booths. Japanese social games are rarely released in the West, though, where the market is already saturated.
Then, of course, there's the theory that the Japanese game industry has become stunted and is suffering from a lack of innovation. It's not just Western critics putting forth this theory—several prominent Japanese gaming figures like Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) and Keiji Inafune (Mega Man) have been openly criticizing the current state of the industry in Japan. Both of these men lament that Japanese developers are focusing too much on the Japanese audience rather than the global gaming community. At the same time, many developers at this year's TGS were out to prove that the Japanese game industry isn't dead, and that they're dedicated to producing great games with global appeal.
With all that said, is it worth watching the latest and greatest games from Japan? There may not be as many games for English-speakers to check out as there once were, but there's still some great stuff coming from Japan in the near future, especially for fans of genres at which the Japanese excel, like role-playing and fighting games. There are also some interesting games that haven't yet been announced for localization, but hopefully will be.
Great Games Headed West:
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance moves the Metal Gear saga away from Solid Snake, instead starring everybody's favorite ninja-cyborg Raiden. The highlight of the game is the ability for the player to slow down time, letting Raiden execute precision strikes that carve up his enemies. Reports from the show floor are that the action is addictive and fun.
NAMCO Bandai took advantage of TGS to show off unique features in the Wii U version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Wii U Tekken players will be able to use the GamePad touchscreen to create custom shortcuts for certain moves, though the developers were quick to point out that many powerful moves will still require classical inputs in order to preserve difficulty and competition. There will also be a special "Nintendo Mode" in the Wii U version, featuring classic Nintendo music and power-ups like mushrooms.
Tales of Xillia, the latest in NAMCO Bandai's venerable action-RPG series, is shaping up well for Western release. Players will have a choice between two main characters, medical student Jude or mysterious and hairstyle-talented Milla. The choice will affect which scenes the player sees while going through the game. On top of this choice, Xillia adds a focus on two-character combination attacks to the classic Tales battle system.
Remember Me is a very intriguing-looking action game from Capcom. It stars a woman named Nilin, a memory hunter on the run in a futuristic version of Paris in which people's minds can be rifled through like yesterday's rubbage. At the Tokyo Game Show, Capcom showed off the game's Combo Lab, in which players can create their own customized combat combos for Nilin.
Mega Man and Dead Rising mastermind Kenji Inafune is getting a chance to work on a Ninja Gaiden spin-off title called Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. It stars a ninja who has risen from the dead to fight zombies and get revenge on his killer. Ninjas versus zombies, man—that's really all that many gamers need to know.
Games We Hope We Get:
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy may have a super-goofy title, but this 3DS RPG from Square Enix looks very promising. It carries echoes of the classic Final Fantasy games, but has modern touches such as the 3DS graphics and an augmented reality feature. The 3DS could certainly benefit from some RPGs, and with a title change for the West, role-playing gamers would probably eat it up.
Level-5's Fantasy Life is exactly what it sounds like: a fantasy-themed life simulator that allows players to choose between a number of lifestyles both peaceful and adventurous. It looks adorable, and should be especially popular with the younger set. Oddly enough, Level-5 released an English-language press release about its TGS offerings, but refused to confirm whether any of them were slated to be translated. We figure this one has a pretty good chance.
The Japanese can't get enough of the Monster Hunter series, which is just beginning to get a foothold in Western markets. Monster Hunter 4 is coming out exclusively on the 3DS, and hasn't yet been announced for localization. It may depend on how well the upcoming Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate edition for the Wii U and 3DS does in the West.
Project X Zone is a crazy crossover game starring characters from a wide variety of NAMCO Bandai, Capcom, and SEGA game franchises. It's a tactical role-playing game that is reportedly both wacky and fun to play. That kind of quality is unusual for crossover games, so perhaps if Project X Zone does well in Japan, these three companies would be willing to get together and work out the licensing issues involved in bringing the game over here.
From the showing at this year's TGS, the show certainly still seems to be worth watching for English-speaking gamers. In fact, from the determination shown by younger staff members at various Japanese companies, we could be witnessing the start of a resurgence in Japanese gaming. The Japanese themselves certainly seem to think so, as this year's TGS broke attendance records. Here's hoping that 2013's Tokyo Game Show will wow us with even more Westward-bound games and plenty of goodies for the next generation of consoles.
Date: September 25, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*