Tokyo Game Show 2010 Report

By Garnett Lee, Sep 21, 2010 4:20pm PDT Last year, the diminishing relevance of the Tokyo Game Show to the global videogame community left as big an impression as any of the games on display. That put this year's show under the microscope as watchers look to see whether Japan, one of the cradles of the videogame industry, can reassert itself. A handful of the titles on display offered some indication that the development community there still taps into a unique creative sensibility, but even among the best, none shone brightly enough to be the definitive star of the show.

From the western perspective, Last Guardian for the PS3 stood as the most exciting prospect again this year. The new trailer and Ueda's update on the game's development became one of the top topics of conversation from the show. But it got overshadowed in the Japanese domestic market by the latest edition of Monster Hunter—Portable 3rd—for the PSP. Four-player co-op demo tables attracted throngs of attendees, allowing players to experience the action much in the same way the current version captures groups across Tokyo. That appeal is lost, though, on much of the rest of the world.

Another of the more attention-getting games at the show faces a potentially similar challenge in finding a large audience outside Japan. Ni no Kuni features gorgeous animation by Studio Ghibli—renowned for their animated films including Princess Mononoke and the Academy Award winning Spirited Away—that made it impossible to walk past. The fluid way characters moved on screen and vibrancy of the color palette looked exactly like one of their movies. But while appreciated by fans around the globe, their work holds much less drawing power outside Japan. And underneath that beautiful exterior lay a game that as soon as I played it I recognized as a classic Level-5 developed Japanese role playing game. In contrast to the imaginative spark the visuals inspire, even fans could be disappointed if playing the game feels mundane.

Despite the lack of a clear marquee title of the show, Sony passed on the opportunity to have this TGS remembered as the one when the PSP2 got announced. The rumored dual-stick, back panel touch pad PSP successor remains under wraps, for now. Not wanting to steal the thunder from the strong PSP games on the show floor likely played a big part in their decision. In addition to the aforementioned Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, two of my personal favorites of the show were PSP games.

Though it lacks the name in the title, the Parasite Eve series finally continues in The 3rd Birthday on PSP. It's been a long while since the first two games came out for the PSOne and this new game distills the action to being purely a third-person shooter, but, from what I played, it felt good, retained the Parasite Eve character, and protagonist Aya Brea was as appealing as ever.

Another series that started on home console and then went portable, Valkyria Chronicles looked even better in its second PSP outing, Valkyria Chronicles 3. The hand-drawn on parchment look the original PS3 achieved started to show through and the game returns to a grittier, frontlines battle setting as opposed to the Harry Potter-like kids at the academy of the second game.

Ironically, given their challenges in the market, Microsoft 's best hopes to show that their new Kinect motion control system holds more than casual appeal suddenly appear to fall on Japanese developers. After saying, "we asked Japanese developers to bring us their wildest, craziest ideas," in his keynote, Microsoft Game Studios vice-president Phil Spencer introduced a handful of games, including several Kinect exclusives, that embodied his word. Among them, Grasshopper Manufacture's Suda 51 promised Codename D would be an action game for the hardcore gamer but one without a gun, sword, or, for that matter, a controller in your hand. And the quiet stunner of the show came from the revelation that key members of the team that made Panzer Dragoon are working on a kinect-controlled dragon riding combat game titled Project Draco; those initials are certainly not coincidental.

This marked Microsoft's best presentation for a Japanese audience to date and their continuing strides in the region. Their modest success offered an interesting contrast to the general unevenness I saw around the show this year. To me, one theme emerged from this year's Tokyo Game Show: the quest for a westernization formula has increasingly become a distraction and Japanese developers will be better off getting back to just making the best game possible. I suspect next year, with its release impending, the Last Guardian will illustrate the potential of this point. Will it come too late?

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