Tokyo Game Show 2015 kicks off two weeks from today, taking over Chiba's sprawling Makuhari Messe complex for a four-day glimpse at the future and direction of the Japanese games industry. Based on the announcements we've seen so far, the future looks unsurprisingly modest.
While it's not completely up-to-date, the full list of TGS vendors and titles looks about like you'd expect. The overwhelming majority of games to be showcased will be mobile titles and browser games, the free-to-play refuge of the Japanese industry. Releases for traditional handhelds will be fewer in number, and proper console titles look even more scarce. On top of that, there are no blockbuster-scale titles we haven't seen already; the biggest games at this year's TGS look to be Final Fantasy XV, Street Fighter V, and Star Wars: Battlefront... titles we've already covered quite comprehensively.
The traditional TGS caveats apply to this year's show, of course. Despite being the biggest force in the Japanese console industry, Nintendo never exhibits at TGS; the only first party title to be found on the list of exhibitions will be the 3DS port of Hyrule Warriors, which Koei Tecmo is demonstrating. And while Persona 5 looks to be the big Japanese breakout title for 2015, Atlus never exhibits at TGS. Unless P5 appears at Sony's booth, this imminent RPG will continue to slink about behind a veil of mystery up until its purported late-2015 release.
For the moment, though, we still haven't seen info on Bandai Namco and Sony's booths: Consistently two of the biggest displays each year, and the best hope for impressive surprises. You can definitely add Dark Souls III to the list of big titles slated for display but not yet listed on the Nikkei spreadsheet above, and Sony will presumably have heavy-hitters like Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, and Uncharted 4 in some form or another. Again, these are titles we've seen and/or played already, but they'll be a welcome antidote to the inevitable flood of moé mobile games spread across Makuhari Messe's exhibition halls.
Ultimately, however, I find the best indication of the Japanese industry's health can be found in the space in between blockbusters and browsers — the good, old-fashioned niche of games that in recent years mostly comprises handheld RPGs. These are frequently too esoteric or complex to be localized for international release, and they tend to feature modest paid add-ons at best, meaning they're games whose creators are confident enough in their prospects to release them "as is": That a self-contained retail release in Japan is enough to allow them to break even. This year's crop is already shaping up pretty nicely, and of all the titles already announced to appear at TGS or shown off in this week's Famitsu in advance of a show floor appearance, the following 10 titles appear to be most enticing.
Tokyo Xanadu: The latest entry in Nihon Falcom's long-running action RPG series sees the formerly pioneering franchise playing a bit of follow-the-leader. As the title suggests, Tokyo Xanadu takes its heroes into a near-future version of urban Japan, a setting that has transcended cliché status. Nevertheless, Falcom's commitment to quality gameplay, visual excellence, and massive stories makes this one to watch for — and, hopefully, one that XSEED will pick up for localization. [For PlayStation Vita]
7th Dragon III Code VFD: See what I mean about transcending cliché status? Code VFD is another RPG set in near-future Tokyo, meaning dudes in armor fighting dragons alongside girls in high school uniforms amidst the skyscrapers of Shinjuku. But like Xanadu, this series has proven its mettle (I'd give it a nod for best RPG series of the past decade that's yet to see a localization), and this latest chapter should prove equally excellent, tired setting or not. And now that Sega and Atlus are pals, maybe the latter will finally bring it to the U.S.... [For Nintendo 3DS]
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir: The one remake on the list, this HD version of the PlayStation 2 action RPG should be even better than it was a decade ago. Vanillaware's typically stunning artwork should translate beautifully into HD, and with luck the developer will mix things up a bit to minimize the repetition that set in with the latter half of the game. [For PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita; PS4 localization has been confirmed]
Dragon Quest Builders: Sometimes developers make games reminiscent of Minecraft. And sometimes they just straight up clone it. Builders definitely falls into the latter category, but appealingly so. There's sometimes incredibly charming about seeing Akira Toriyama's classic monsters rendered as voxel beasts. And the story takes players all the way back to the series' origins, 30 years ago, asking: What would have happened if the descendent of Loto had said "Yes" to the Dragon Lord? [For PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita]
Ace Attorney 6: Unlike Meiji-era spinoff Daigyakuten Saiban (Great Ace Attorney), Ace Attorney 6 stands better than a snowball's chance of seeing U.S. release. Great Ace Attorney committed the terrible crime of being set in Japan in the early 20th century, far too specific and "Japanese" a setting for Capcom to bowdlerize. But AA6 is the opposite of "too Japanese": It sees Phoenix Wright and company traveling to a "foreign land" (evidently China). Maybe while they're abroad they'll get to experience a legal system that isn't completely bonkers. [For Nintendo 3DS]
Exist Archive: A collaboration between Spike Chunsoft and tri-Ace, this action RPG is basically Valkyrie Profile with the serial numbers filed off. We don't know too much more about it, but you can expect to hear much, much more about it on Axe of the Blood God, as host Kat Bailey really loves Valkyrie Profile. [For PlayStation 4 and Vita]
Grand Kingdom: Another "like this one series you know, but different" title. In this case, Grand Kingdom looks to be a rather blatant take on Grand Knights History, a gorgeous Vanillaware-developed RPG from the latter days of the PlayStation Portable. GKH was slated for U.S. release, but those plans ultimately fell apart due to logistical issues; hopefully its successor will fare better. [For PlayStation 4 and Vita]
Monster Hunter Stories: A turn-based RPG derivative of Monster Hunter, the key art for this game makes it look shockingly like PlayStation-era Breath of Fire. Given Capcom's uninspiring localization track record for Monster Hunter spinoffs, I wouldn't hold my breath for this one to see the light of day in the U.S... but you never know. [For Nintendo 3DS]
Summon Night 6: The latest entry in the Summon Night series. The U.S. skipped a bunch of entries, but Gaijinworks is currently bringing the much-belated Summon Night 5 stateside toward the end of 2015 (or thereabouts), so you can bet they have their sights set on localizing this one as well. [For PlayStation 4]
World End Eclipse: And finally, a reminder that not all mobile games are bad. World End Eclipse looks like a high-end project from Sega, boasting a great deal of talent from the Valkyria Chronicle games. With such a pedigree behind it, and with such excellent production values, it's precisely the sort of game that promises to cause players to reconsider their aversion of gaming on their tablets and phones. [For PlayStation Vita, PC, iOS, and Android]
No doubt we'll see even more announcements in the final run-up to the show. While TGS has long since ceased to be a show about shocking news and first-look demos for major titles, there's still plenty to look forward to. I'll be hitting the show once it opens to report back on promising new releases (and, hopefully, ones slated for U.S. release) so be sure to key an eye on USgamer... in Japan.