No doubt by now you've had an opportunity to read one of the millions of other sites covering TGS2003. And you’ve probably already read Lawrence's take on the show linked here at insert credit.
Well, it took me a while to get home and so, subsequently, I'm going to
pretend like I get to get the last word in on TGS2003, Day 1.
To make things short, I want to preface this by quoting the TGS press
release, "This Year's Theme: 'A Playful Spirit Can Change the World' - 111 Exhibitors - the Highest Number Ever! - Focus on Online Games & Mobile
Phone Games - A lot of New Packaged Games from Japanese Game Companies."
In other words, welcome to the biggest TGS ever, focusing on a bit more
than the traditional PS2 games. In fact, the most impressive and
pervasive booths at the show belonged to the numerous Korean MMORPG
companies trying to break into the Japanese market. Similarly, DoCoMo and
other cell phone providers had presences that, at times, surpassed the
traditional gaming companies. Along with the gems hidden in between the
big releases, these newer formats may be the real stars of the show. But,
first the games...
A couple of things about Square Enix's presentation were really impressive
(excluding numerous otaku doing aerobics with Dragon Quest Kenshin).
Foremost was the news that Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy were being
ported to imode. Being about to purchase a Japanese phone I am very
excited. More seriously though, the graphics in Final Fantasy looked
close to the Wonderswan ports. And the Dragon Quest port/remake
had large colorful sprites and detailed backgrounds. Most impressive.
Secondly, the first clip of a Final Fantasy 7 something. Displayed was a
broken down church, stained glass coloring the ground rainbow, with a dark
figure walking along. The figure turns and reveals himself to be Cloud.
The graphics are realistic in the sense of a grim FF8 more than anything.
Otherwise, the booth was pretty sparse. I also got an opportunity to play Drag-on Dragoon. I couldn't help but think of Panzer Dragoon as I
wheeled clumsily about the skies and found myself bored. The graphics are
superb (as can be expected), the story looks involving (as can be
expected), but I walked away after five minutes and forgot about the title
until this very moment. Similarly, Square Enix was showing videos of Full
Metal Alchemist, a popular manga and soon to debut anime. It looked
interesting enough, with a game engine possibly derived from Kingdom
Hearts (it looks that way). In other words, a 3-d action, ARPG sort of
game. Finally, Square was heavily pushing Front Mission, with extended
footage of all 3 original games, to be released together as Front Mission
Complete, and the fourth installment. 'nuff said.
Here is the mixed results booth of the show. The Konami booth was
massive, including Genki and Hudson within its grounds. The list of games
Konami had on display was impressive. However, it was difficult to get
around and games were slammed together. This was no Capcom booth with 3
games and video walls to back them up. Of course Konami has J League
Winning Eleven on display, as well as Castlevania. Castlevania was a pleasure to
play, the same old rocking music, clean graphics and comfortable, but
complete controls (using both analogs, digital etc.) You definitely find
the camera focused on your character each room you walk into, leaving you
unaware of what's ahead. However, once you enter the area, the fixed
camera proved pretty reliable and seldom hindered in game action. Metal
Gear Solid 3 looked great and had a healthy crowd watching each video.
The real stars of the show, however, were the Hudson remakes. Bonk (PC
Genin) was a blast to play. The controls were true, graphics just right
(think Yoshi's Island) and sentimental appeal unmatched. Unmatched in
particular by Adventure Island, which was also on display and looked
decent, just not as polished as Bonk.
(Free form random game thoughts)
The SNK Playmore booth was also an interesting stop. There were plenty of
KOF2001 ports and other games lying around. However, most interesting was
a pre-rendered video of KOF, presumably from a new step in the series. It
looked...different. Very shiny/glossy, kinda like Kakuto Choujin for Xbox. I wouldn't have recognized the characters myself. I'm
not a KOF fan, but I was surprised. Capcom had a very focused booth, with
massive video towers for Onimusha 3 and rack of Biohazard outbreak
systems. Grand Theft Auto 3 also got a large space to itself. Watching
videos of Onimusha 3, I was excited. The game looks beautiful and only
seems to get funkier as the preview videos progressed (imagine Jean Reno
talking to black haired pixie and then using a blue laser whip - odd). On
the other hand, the Onimusha Buraiden put in a less impressive
performance. Coming out as a powerstone meets ancient Japan, I just
couldn't get into the gameplay. Seemed too frantic pace-wise and difficult
to focus on your enemy.
That pretty much covered the biggies for me. If Lawrence had issues with
the abundance of 3-D adventure, I felt overwhelmed by the numerous horror
games on the show floor. From SCE's Siren to the Glass Rose, plenty of attractive
prerendered adventures were on hand. Few of these seemed to offer any
significant amount of suspense and fell into a more generic vein of B
movie horror. Watching Biohazard 4 made me pretty excited. The rest just
seemed campy. The ability of Biohazard to inspire anxiety in spite of
the player knowing what will happen is a feat unmatched in the other
games (and I'm talking about watching their intro videos ;)
So, onto the future of video gaming. As noted, Square Enix has a number
of properties going to cell phones. They even have a group mail program
to coordinate with friends using Chocobos that looks really cute. On the
grander scale, though, cell phones were everywhere. Some games promoted
connection to cells. In the more extreme setting, you could use your
cell-phones IR port to control model tanks, trains, race cars etc. While
one's ability to properly play Final Fantasy on a 2.2" screen can be debated,
the cell phone is becoming a legitimate gaming platform nevertheless.
On a side note, the N-Gage put in a subdued appearance. There were two
playable versions hiding in the corner. The screen has been praised here
and there, but it is only a hair over 2" and the resolution doesn't match
the QVGA screens that most new Japanese phones ship with.
Similarly, the penetration of online gaming at the show was obvious.
Every manufacturer had a multiplayer game on display somewhere or another.
Tecmo was actively promoting Dead or Alive Online (which looked killer),
Capcom had Monster Hunter hidden in the back of their booth with Biohazard
Outbreak spread across the front, Square Enix's Crossgate is some sort of
motorcycle fighting game (think Akira) with Minna no Golf character design
and Junk Metal; a kind of apocolyptic multiplayer mechwarrior mercenary
type thing. The list is nearly endless. Back to the industrious Koreans; NCSoft had a
fabulous booth and had goods behind the best booth babes of the show.
Lineage II is the strongest game graphically with a strong 3-D engine,
detailed character models and beautiful artwork (they also gave me a great
backpack so I'm not impartial ;) Ragnarock had a strong booth and the employees were passing out demo discs to anyone in the area. People seemed
interested in the games and the preview booths were always full. This
really underscored the growing significance of networked gaming in Japan
and in the industry in general. While the systems aren't quite ready for
fulltime online gaming (I think a stock network adaptor is needed), the
interest is there and its seems to be the direction that the industry is
pushing towards. Does it compensate for a show filled with generic titles
and rehashes? Maybe not. Still, a major shift is about to occur in
Japanese gaming that industry consolidation will only accelerate.
[next: A game industry analysis/opinion (Lawrence)]