Sunday, 27 February 2011

Day 14: Realm of Games

Mark woke at 11:30 on the fourteenth day, but the late start did give me the chance to finish Small Gods, the Terry Pratchett book I had borrowed from him at the start of the trip. I quite enjoyed it, but there was something about it didn’t quite work for me, and I don’t think I’ll be exploring his extensive catalogue any further. I am very easily amused by the dry sarcasm in, for example, Nick Hornby’s early works, but my sense of humour isn’t quite sure how to react when it comes across jokes that are actually funny as they were in Small Gods. That completed, I started getting back into A Clash of Kings, which I had started on the plane. It’s the second book in George R. R. Martin’s heavily political fantasy series, and with a word count of about double that of The Fellowship of the Ring, the longest book I’ve ever read.

When we were all ready at around 12:00, we headed out to the Tokyo Games Show. We hadn’t specifically planned our trip to coincide with this annual event, but the fact that it happened to fall on the final day seemed too good a coincidence not to take advantage of. Our journey took us just outside of Tokyo itself, and was just over an hour long, meaning we arrived at lunch time. Everyone else wanted something simple, so my attempts to promote a Japanese omelette restaurant fell on deaf ears. We did at least end up at a Japanese fast food place rather than a McDonalds, though, and I had a shrimp burger with some rather pleasant spicy sauce.

It took us a bit longer than expected to find the entrance of the Games Show. There were about thirty exit and entry points, all of which were restricted to cosplayers, stallholders, journalists and so on. We walked up and down the massively long hallway twice, fighting against the crowds of people who were doing the same thing, until we finally had the sense to ask at the information desk only to find out that our entrance was in a completely different place. Finally locating it, we presented our tickets and were allowed in.
The Entrance
Predictably, the crowds outside didn’t begin to compare to the crowds inside, which were incredibly densely packed. By means of bellowing into each others’ ears, we agreed that we would meet outside if we were separated, and then began to look around. The first hall seemed to have most of the really big players in the industry, with Square Enix and Microsoft being the two that first caught my eye. The market for games is often different in Japan to the western world. The Japanese generally prefer storyline and dialogue-driven games, whereas Americans would sooner have shooting take precedence over the storyline, which is usually weak if it exists at all. There are a few Japanese games that have been popular enough to get professional translation. Square Enix are powerful enough to be able to take on American giants such as EA and Activision by translating and marketing their games for audiences in the US and Europe. For the most part, however, western fans of Japanese games generally have to make do with amateur translations, and don’t often get those.
Part of the main hall
Having decided to glance around at everything and then come back and look in more detail later on, we moved through the first hall and into the second, which was packed full of cosplayers. As I mentioned in the Harajuku entry, cosplaying (dressing up as anime, film or, in this case, game characters) is rather an art form in Japan. Mark and I spotted a number of Final Fantasy cosplayers (even those from VII, VIII and IX - it’s good to see that those games have endured for over ten years). There was an excellent Lightning, a pretty good Selphie and Irvine partnership and a passable Tidus. Unfortunately, Henry and Yingke don’t share our enthusiasm for Japanese games, so I haven’t ended up with any photos of the Final Fantasy cosplayers; I’ll have to make sure I take some of my own next time.

The second hall had a greater number of stalls, and most of them were from smaller companies. There were a number of stalls marketing mobile and handheld games, as well as those from companies that had maybe only released one or two games on a tighter budget than those allocated by Square Enix and Microsoft. We were in luck, however. As Yingke was admiring a driving simulator, I spotted a stall advertising a console port of When the Seagulls Cry, which I mentioned earlier. The series of games has gone down in my estimation significantly since the release of the eighth game, as the final solution to the overall mystery is frankly stupid, even if the way the individual locked room mysteries are constructed is still very clever, and I feel a bit annoyed that I wasted so much time thinking about it. Even so, I was still very enthusiastic about it back then, and so was very glad to see the sparkling pile of ‘gold’ as well as people dressed up as Beatrice and Battler, the two central characters.
The central characters of When the Seagulls Cry
The final hall was a tournament hall, with a large crowd watching two guys battle to the death in some fighting game that none of us knew. It was pretty intense, and we all stayed and watched the match that was going on, but in the end, we didn’t have all that much time, and wanted to look at the exhibits properly, so we headed back into the main halls to have a more thorough look around.

We paused briefly at an Evangelion stall for Henry to take pictures, although I hung back a bit. There are some shows that you know you’re just going to hate based on watching a single episode; Evangelion was certainly one of those. I’m rarely a fan of giant robot shows at the best of times, and Evangelion is a giant robot show served with a reasonable helping of philosophical pretentiousness. In any case, I kept my criticisms to myself, and moved on when the others were ready to. Back in the first hall, we stopped to check out the Microsoft stall properly and watch the demonstrations and trailers. There were some very impressive graphics and pyrotechnics, especially in Halo Reach. Clearly the Idolmaster 2 trailer is the one that stood out for Henry, as I’ve ended up with a massive collection of photos of it. Idolmaster is a pretty good example of Microsoft’s ability to throw their weight around. Their purchase of the franchise and exclusive release on Xbox 360 in Japan resulted in Xbox 360 live subscriptions increasing by something like ten times on the day it came out. A lot of their success doesn’t come from the abilities of their staff, but just that they have enough money to buy out any company that looks like it might be reasonably successful.
'Idolm@ster' - more than a little creepy.
The Square Enix and Eidos stalls were our next stop, the latter of which was responsible for my becoming interested in gaming with its release of the epic Tomb Raider II back in ‘95, and who has since been taken over by the former. The Tomb Raider series is still going, although wasn’t being advertised by Eidos, who were concentrating on the new Deus Ex game, which is coming out a good seven years after the previous one.

The queues were predictably ridiculous, and we weren’t tempted by the hour-long waits to spend ten minutes actually trying out the unreleased games. That said, I would have been tempted to spend an hour waiting for Final Fantasy XIII-2 had the dialogue not been in Japanese. Nor were we able to interest ourselves in Japanese games that we had never really heard of, and we gave the stall advertising Love++ a wide berth. Even being single as long as I have been, I still find the concept of a ‘dating simulator’ a little sad. Instead, we went off to explore the merchandise stalls at one end of the main hall. Prices were predictably ridiculous, and having already spent so much, I wasn’t even really tempted by the Tohsaka Rin T-shirt. The Final Fantasy soundtracks might have been of some interest, but CD prices in Japan are absolutely ridiculous. My upper limit for a CD is £13, and even then, I’m only prepared to go that high if it’s something I really want but is difficult to get hold of. The standard price for a CD in Japan is around ¥3000, which is well over £20. While I had counted myself lucky to pick up a battered copy of The Art of Life in Akihabara (a legendary single-track twenty-nine minute classical-inspired speed metal epic) which had been somewhat reduced, I certainly wasn’t paying over £20 for a soundtrack.
Not sure what these guys were advertising,
but they are pretty impressive.
As fun as boarding the same train back to Tokyo with a million other people as the game show closed and everyone stampeded for the exit would have been, we ended up deciding to leave twenty minutes earlier and catch a different train, thus avoiding having our limbs crushed. We therefore left at 4:40pm, boarded the wrong train, sat in the reserved section and were charged ¥500 by an irritable ticket inspector. The train was fortunately still going to Tokyo, so we did at least end up in the right place. Henry somehow had about ¥10000 ‘extra money’ left. We weren’t quite sure how this had happened, given that he had spent about as much as the rest of us put together, but in any case, we did make one final stop at Akihabara for him to sort out this terrible problem by purchasing the blu-rays of the Fate/Stay Night TV reproduction for exactly that amount. That was our last purchase, however, and we headed back to the hostel after that to finish our packing.

In some ways it’s a shame that I don’t really have the interest in games that I used to. I remember cycling home at suicidal speeds to pick up my copy of the original Fable, and bolting down breakfast so that I could spend half an hour playing Knights of the Old Republic before school when it had just been released. But I’ve had Final Fantasy XIII for almost a year now, and I’m not even half way through (and this is Final Fantasy - my favourite series of games of all time). I’ve got a bunch of other games sitting at home (Dragon Age, WET) which I’m half way through and bored with. I think it’s probably me that’s changed rather than the games, and while in some ways I miss getting the levels of excitement I used to get out of gaming, in some ways it’s a blessing. Conquering challenges in the real world is, after all, much more satisfying than taking down dragons and demons in the virtual world, and time is scarce enough that one invariably comes at the expense of the other.

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