Tokyo Game Show Report
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Full coverage of the Tokyo Game Show from our own Chris Morgan...
It’s my second year at the Tokyo Game Show and the crowds are bigger this year than last (which broke records). There are other gaijin all around me, pasty, spotty things that make me uncomfortably aware that by association, I’m “with them”. And there are otaku, of course. Sweaty, spherical otaku who seem to make a habit of pressing up against me when I’m not even in their path, depositing their cold sweat against my bare arms. I have to repress the urge to gag and blow chunks over the booth babes every time it happens.
Leaving at 7 o’clock in the morning has put me some way ahead of the horde, but there are still legions of people in front of me, and in the merciless Tokyo sun, I bitterly hope that its all worth it. After ninety minutes of queueing and carefully outmaneuvering other attendees, we are finally let in. We make a decision to survey the whole area, find out exactly where everything is then select the games we want to play the most and prioritize them. It all goes perfectly to plan for about two minutes, until I spot six playable Mass Effect 3 booths with a paltry queue. I literally pivot on my heels and grab my friend, point at the booth like some kind of cartoon character (seriously, I stopped and pointed, who does that?) and when she sees it her hands fly up to her face in a slap as her mouth makes an ‘O’ of surprise. “Go!” I say, practically pushing her.
The queue has perhaps five people in it, including us. It’s mind-boggling. Don’t these guys know what this is? It’s MASS EFFECT 3 for God’s sake! But there is a shockingly muted reaction to seeing Shephard’s third outing being playable, and four of the six booths are occupied by gaijin. It speaks volumes, but ME is simply not a big name in Japan. After about twenty minutes, it’s my turn.
Mass Effect 3
If you’ve been following coverage of ME3 so far, you probably know most of what I’m about to report, but if not, and you don’t want any spoilers whatsoever, you may want to skip ahead a little. The demo takes place on an unknown planet that looks reasonably sophisticated and well-developed. Garrus and Liara are your teammates, and Mordin makes an appearance but is unplayable. I hope that’s temporary. Your mission to escort a female Krogan “princess” off-world for safe procurement by Urdnot Wrex, who makes an appearance via voiceover, though you never actually see him.
Of course, things are never simple, and Shephard soon finds himself fighting squads of Cerberus troops, your former allies. Before I even enter combat, I’m prompted to go to the squad menu and spend my ability points to upgrade my squad. Immediately, it’s clear that the ability customization has taken a pretty big shift, almost as much as it did in ME2. This time round the menu is a tranquil blue like in ME1, and the ability customization is somewhere between ME1 and ME2. There are more ability options to unlock and play with, but more options within each ability. For example, if you get Lift Grenade for Liara (recommended), you’re given the choice to upgrade the ability’s range versus power, duration versus cooldown and so forth. Whereas in ME2 you were given the simple choice of one of two significant upgrades, here you are given an option at each step of the way. This feels like a good thing, as it allows you to experiment with a variety of different playing styles, even within a single class. In fact I got so wrapped up in this customization that I realized four minutes of my precious fifteen-minute demo had already gone by! My Shephard is a sentinel (I was given a choice of this, soldier or engineer), a blend of both tech and biotic abilities.
In terms of actual combat, the power wheel makes a return and is essentially the same as previous outings. My Shephard comes ready equipped with a heavy pistol, submachine gun and battle rifle, which is a scaled back assault rifle but it feels pretty hard-hitting. Enemies definitely feel tougher this time, with smarter AI and a general increase in difficulty level. The cover system has been a little improved, too. This time it’s not simply a case of take cover, pop out, shoot, return to cover. Shephard is a lot more maneuverable, and simply pressing ‘A’ with a direction tilt of the left stick which put Shephard into a roll in that direction (including backwards rolls, which is extremely handy in near-death situations). The melee system has also been overhauled, and each class now has a unique melee attack that will, in most cases, kill your opponent in one hit. If you’re into
flanking your enemies, you can use this pretty effectively throughout the game.
Without getting too heavy into spoiler territory, the game climaxes with you about to escape with the Krogan princess until a Cerberus mech gets dropped in. It’s a reasonably challenging boss battle, but believe it or not folks, yours sincerely’s fifteen minutes are up by the time I’m about twenty seconds into the boss fight. Damn it. There isn’t actually that more to say other than I’m extremely excited and can’t wait for ME3 to hit in March. Other small things to note; Shephard is curiously scarred up again, just like he was at the start of ME2, he’s looking more beardy than usual and there’s a rather surprising texture pop-in on the characters faces in the squad menu, much like there was in the first ME game. But if you have any questions, be sure to post them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to reply.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
After ME3, everything else at the show feels just a little bit anti-climactic, but the day still has plenty of merits. After ME3 we head over to the Sony area where there is a massive area sectioned off for SquareEnix. There are playable demos of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy Type 0 and Final Fantasy Theatrythem. Mild curiosity more than anything else combined with my friend’s urging puts me queuing up to play FFXIII-2. The queue time is an estimated 90 minutes but within half an hour we’re ambling in. The demo picks up in a crumbling urban environment in heavy rain. The first thing I notice, which stuns me, is that the game seems to be suffering from some pretty unwieldly frame rate issues, just whilst running around the field. FFXIII never had this problem, and despite its many failings was never less than gorgeous to behold. But FFXIII-2 seems to be struggling to hold itself up in some areas. In battle though, it’s as smooth as it ever was. The battle system is fundamentally the same with a few tweaks here and there, but generally there isn’t much different. Paradigm Shifts still exist, as do the old classes like Sentinel and Ravager. The lack of interaction is unfortunately still apparent too, and again its obvious how much Final Fantasy is about watching these days, rather than playing. During a cutscene, a new feature comes into play in which you have to, God of War style, push button and directions at the appropriate moment to perform a certain cinematic action. Predictably, it adds virtually nothing at all and feels totally gimmicky. If you were holding out hopes for this Final Fantasy turning things around, abandon hope now. This really feels like a cheap cash-cow that SquareEnix want to exploit, squeezing all they can out of the (admittedly great) FFXIII engine. This will be the first “official” Final Fantasy game that I won’t be buying since FF7, but I have finally given up on this franchise.
After lunch (a sumo-sized portion of curry rice and katsu chicken) we head back to the floor. Further exploration leads us to see plenty of big titles on display; Ico and Shadow of the Colossus HD, Asura’s Wrath, Street Fighter X Tekken, Battlefield 3, Gears of War 3, Resident Evil Revelations, a whole section of Playstation Vita stuff, and hundreds more. There is simply too much choice for the time we have.
Assassin's Creed Revelations
So we decide to try out Assassin’s Creed Revelations, crossing our fingers that it’s a demo from the campaign rather than a multiplayer match. The line for this is one is the full anticipated ninety minutes, during which we get to watch trailers for Revelations, Rage, Saints Row: The Third (which looks surprisingly awesome) and Skyrim, and even though I’ve seen the trailer for it about seven times, it still manages to make my hairs stand on end. It looks incredible.
When we finally get into the demo area, I’m a little disappointed to see that we will indeed be playing a multiplayer match, something which I’d already sampled during the PSN Beta. Ultimately it isn’t a world away from Brotherhood’s multiplayer and I’m not given enough time to figure out the different abilities. It’s still fun, and coming in second place certainly helps add to the smile on my face.
By this time it’s two thirty and my feet and back are beginning to feel like that of an OAP. There’s time for one more demo and there’s no doubt in my mind what it has to be…so when I roll up to the Skyrim booth only to be told that they’ve closed the queuing line (this with two and a half hours to go should give you some indication of the level of interest in the game), I’m pretty depressed, but unfortunately there’s nothing to be done.
We make our way around the show floor once more and decide to gamble with Dragon’s Dogma. After a two-hour wait, we finally get in. A very Japanese J-action-RPG, it’s a kind of cross between Monster Hunter and Final Fantasy. That may not be the best pitch in the world, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. The game does suffer from some extremely cheesy dialogue and voice acting, and by the time I’ve finished the battle I’ve heard my teammates shout “Take the offensive!” enough times to want to murder them. The gameplay itself is fun, but the controls feel a little overcomplicated at times, particularly in the heat of battle when you need to switch to a bow, or jump onto a creature’s back. Things like that should be very simple but feel needlessly complicated.
Graphically it’s quite impressive and the character and creature designs are realistic without being gritty. It feels very prettified, and while the demo doesn’t give a feel for the scope of the world map, you definitely get the sense that this would be a great world to explore if it’s as big and open and it promises to be. The trappings of the game lie in its muddled and pretentious dialogue and what one suspects will be great big stonking heaps of melodrama with a depressingly average story. Such is the JRPG.
And so, exhausted but satisfied, another year of the Tokyo Game Show comes to an end. Be sure to check Shadowlocked regularly for coverage of the Eurogamer Expo, which is set to be even bigger than TGS.
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