TGS 2003: Scott's impressions


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...

Square Enix

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.

Konami Corporation

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.

Scott Mollett

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