Remember When Japanese Console Games Were a Big Deal? So Does Sony.

Remember When Japanese Console Games Were a Big Deal? So Does Sony.

PlayStation 4's 2016 lineup looks like a return to form for what many find to be a fading corner of the industry.

The first thing that struck me as I followed Sony's pre-Tokyo Game Show 2015 press conference is that, unlike in America, Sony's Asian arms remember that the Vita exists as a platform. It was front-and-center in many of today's announcements, in marked contrast to the company's past few E3 showings.

Yet as I watched, it dawned on me that the Vita remains a secondary platform even here in the east. That's not a slight on the system itself, however; rather, it's a demonstration of just how impressive the PlayStation 4's lineup looks for the coming year. Watching Japanese publishers show off great-looking games in rapid succession, you could almost believe you had fallen back in time to the PlayStation 2 era, when the console market offered a phenomenal array of solid, interesting game releases that demonstrated admirable production values but didn't necessarily feel like they were shooting for AAA status. Sony showed off a fair few of those upmarket titles, but the focus for TGS is less on big-budget releases like Uncharted, Assassin's Creed, and Call of Duty and more on somewhat more modest projects — the kind of games that withered and all but vanished a few years into the PlayStation 3 era.

World of Final Fantasy seems to be positioning itself as the Duplo of RPGs. D'aww.

It was a welcome sign. With a very few exceptions — most notably the uninspiring Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps, which some unkind Twitter observers compared to Metroid Prime: Federation Force in the sense that it represents something few fans of the franchise have been wanting — Japanese developers seem to be moving away from the quagmire of trying to develop games in a more Western style for Western markets in favor of just making the games that come naturally. I'd like to hope it's part of the same industry self-correction that has also manifested in Square Enix tapping Avalanche to help build Final Fantasy XV's open world. The optimist in me wants to read this as a collective realization that not all games have to adhere to some universal standard, and that diversity makes for a stronger medium all around.

Not that great Japanese games have, as some less observant critics have suggested, died off altogether. But the nation's studios tended to shrink toward portable platforms during the PS3 generation, which reflected both the shifting play habits of Japanese gamers and the relatively low budgets required to make a great-looking game for DS or PSP technical specs. That trend has slowly reversed itself of late, something demonstrated to tremendous effect by Sony today. One of the lead announcements for their press conference was a sequel to cult classic Vita launch title Gravity Rush, for PlayStation 4... preceded by a port of the original game to PS4 as well. While this was likely a tacit admission that the game received far too little attention as a Vita title, it also stood at the vanguard of PS4 announcements for games that a few years ago would have been relegated to a handheld system.

In fact, I believe the conference only featured a single Vita-exclusive announcement — SaGa: Scarlet Grace, the latest entry in Akitoshi Kawazu's delightfully opaque RPG franchise — with everything else appearing either on Vita and PS4; Vita, PS3, and PS4; or PS4 exclusively. This is by no means an insignificant trend; it favors the resurgence of consoles. It would be just as easy — if not easier, to say nothing of more profitable — for those would-be Vita titles to follow in so many others' footsteps and jump to mobile platforms. Danganronpa, for example, would be a perfect fit for iOS; but instead, Spike Chunsoft announced New Danganronpa V3 for PS4. These moves collectively present a vote of confidence for console gaming... even if PS4 still hasn't found much traction in its home territory.

"Every game was Dark Souls," said Dolan.

Some other notable news from Sony:

  • I'm ready to declare "games in the vein of Dark Souls" its own genre. Hidetaka Miyazaki just might be the most imitated designer in gaming right now; besides an obligatory Dark Souls III trailer, we also received news of a Bloodborne expansion due in December (in Japan, at least): The Old Hunters, which includes a number of new features including more ranged weapons beyond guns. But Koei Tecmo also showed its own takes on the genre, including Toukiden 2 (which appears, like the original, to take equal inspiration from Monster Hunter and Dark Souls) and, surprisingly, the long-forgotten Nioh. Originally announced as a PlayStation 3 launch title before vanishing into the realm of vaporware, Nioh now looks basically like Dark Souls in ancient Japan. It seems likely to face fairly stiff competition, then, from Ubisoft's For Honor, a game that evidently throws vikings, samurai, and European knights into what could only be described as an attempt to capture a Dark Souls vibe in the Assassin's Creed engine.
  • Remakes remain a steady business. Besides the Gravity Rush remake, we also saw announcements for a PlayStation 4 port of Phantasy Star Online 2, the original Yakuza, and the final piece in the Kingdom Hearts remake lineup: Kingdom Hearts HD II.8 Final Chapter Prologue. Its features include a remake of Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance, with a new chapter of the Birth by Sleep story, a new movie about the series' lore, and probably the single worst title in the history of the video games medium.
  • And finally, Sony and their third parties showed off plenty of other games that fit comfortably into gaming's sub-triple-A niche. Sega is working on a new Yakuza title; Sony has the curiously Mario Golf-sounding New Hot Shots Golf (which also has a rather Mario-like title); Vanillaware teased 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (which you'd better believe looks blatantly inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion and Pacific Rim); SNK announced King of Fighters XIV; Square Enix had the unabashedly Minecraft-like Dragon Quest Builders and the hyper-cute World of Final Fantasy; and Spike Chunsoft/tri-Ace collaboration Exist Archive cemented the PS2-era vibe of the whole affair with its lovely yet humble-looking role-playing action.

No doubt a good number of these games will appear at the show this weekend, many behind impossible lines. I'll be at Tokyo Game Show beginning Thursday, braving the crowds to go hands-on with as many of these games as possible. I have to say that I'm quite looking forward to it. TGS 2015 may be short on huge, flashy announcements, but it's looking to have even more middle-tier games than anticipated. Expect impressions throughout the week!

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