Playing: Destiny Listening to: Foo Fighters Watching: New Girl
8 years ago now almost to the day I was standing in Makuhari Messe at the 2006 Tokyo Game Show. As a lifelong gamer and lover of all things Japanese, it was an experience that I will never forget. I can still picture the sights and sounds as I shuffled my way through unbelievably dense crowds made up of gamers, journalists and cosplayers. I remember seeing Metal Gear Solid 4, Elebits, Blue Dragon and countless other games all developed in Japan. As a gamer there was nothing cooler than being at the center of it all.
We’re coming up once again to TGS time, but a lot has changed from 8 years ago. As a gamer, I don’t find myself getting excited about the event. In fact until getting a text message a few days ago from John, I had forgotten that it was even approaching. The Tokyo Game Show recently has lost a lot of it’s shine. There just isn’t that much that makes the event stand out from other like-minded spectacles like E3 and PAX.
This is because the video game industry as a whole has shifted West. This is something that us veteran gamers have seen happen slowly over time as once powerful industry giants like Sega, Namco and Capcom have seen their shadows shrink over the landscape of today’s games. Today we have BioWare, Bethesda, Naughty Dog, Valve, and other companies from the West that are blazing new trails and leaving the pioneers behind.
Take a look at the console market itself. Where once we had Nintendo, Sega and Sony (whose game division was bred in the heart of Japan), we now see Nintendo fading from the spotlight to be replaced by Microsoft and a now more globally branded Sony as the face of our industry.
So what caused such a striking shift? Many people, including Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune believe that traditions and the inability to adapt to the modern gamer has hurt the Eastern market. Nintendo has been criticized for years for not being forward thinking enough with their franchises. And if there’s a better example than Nintendo of how not keeping up with the changes can hurt you, I cannot think of one. Other signs point to the focus in Japan steering towards mobile gaming. Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy, is making his latest game for smart phones. Is that the future of Japanese gaming?
Now all of this isn’t to say that Japan is still not giving us fantastic console entertainment. Nintendo, while not being as cutting edge as Sony or Microsoft, still gives us premium games like Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin. Konami is giving us Metal Gear and Silent Hill treatments to bring them into the modern world. And Capcom… well… Capcom is still here too. What’s missing for me is creativity outside of the franchises that have just held on through the years.
Where are the Katamari Damacys and the Parappa the Rappers? Where are the Icos and the Ape Escapes? Those original Japanese titles that gave us such a unique look into what games could be? Things that had never been done before and had such amazing personalities. When you compare the new IPs that are coming out of Japan today with the new IPs that are emerging in the Western market it is clear where the innovation is happening.
I really want Japan to figure it out. I’m hoping that Japanese developers remember what it was that made them the powerhouses that they were in the golden years: Innovation. I want Xenogears. I want Shadow of the Colossus. I want Silent Hill 2. I want something new and beautifully different. And maybe next time I find myself on the show floor of the Tokyo Game Show I will again be back at the heart of the gaming world.
Oh yeah and since I’m asking for things… Final Fantasy XV was at TGS in 2006 and I’m still waiting for that too. Thanks. XOXO
What is your favorite video game from a Japanese developer? Let us know in the comments!