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A visitor to the Tokyo Game Show experiences a PlayStation VR game. Photo: EPA-EFE

Tokyo Game Show: Japanese video games adapting VR and other new tech for classic titles

Ex-Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi and Sony’s game division president Atsushi Morita are among the major industry figures at the Tokyo Game Show highlighting a revival of classic Japanese franchises thanks to new technology

Video gaming

The Japanese video game industry is finding its way out of the doldrums by adapting new technology for decades-old titles, a trend evident at the annual Tokyo Game Show being held this weekend.

New features such as immersive virtual reality are not only leading to new kinds of games but also helping revive interest in old-style genres.

“Our older fans … are excited those [old] games are coming back and they recognise them as Japanese-style games,” said game producer Koji Igarashi at the show in the Makuhari Messe convention centre in Chiba, describing the genres enjoying revival as “truly game-like games”.

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Igarashi compared that to the way Japanese movie-making has endured along with Hollywood films. “We are just offering what we find as fun,” he said, adding that what he called his “Japanese idea of fun” can cross borders. “And we must never lose sight of that – what makes us truly us.”

Game producer Koji Igarashi plays his upcoming title Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night at the Tokyo Game Show. Photo: AP

Although the rise of smartphone gaming has taken its toll on the video games market, many franchises have stood the test of time with more than a few of them Japanese: Capcom’s Monster Hunter and Resident Evil (known as Biohazard in Japan), the Super Mario series from Nintendo and Gran Turismo from Sony, to name a few.

Show attendees play Fire Emblem Warriors at the Koei Tecmo booth. Photo: Bloomberg

Kyoto-based Nintendo initially scoffed at the threat from smartphones but did an about-face and has since offered smartphone versions of two of its flagship games: Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes. Pokemon Go, a mobile title developed by Niantic but featuring Nintendo’s Pokemon characters, was also a global hit.

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Igarashi, known as “Iga” among his fans, produced the classic Castlevania action-adventure game series from 1997 until he left Tokyo-based developer Konami three years ago to branch out on his own.

He recently raised US$5.5 million on Kickstarter, mostly from the US, for his upcoming gothic-horror title Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Players take on the role of Miriam, an orphan who awakens from a coma and battles demons as she tries to end a curse that is turning her skin to crystal. The game will be released in the first half of next year on the Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Vita, coming in seven languages, including Chinese and Italian.

Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan, with a PlayStation VR headset at the Tokyo Game Show. Photo: AP

Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan – Sony’s game division – said that Japanese culture is at the root of the country’s visual storytelling that began with manga comic books, went on to animation and films, and eventually became a part of games.

We want people to once again remember and rediscover the fun of games
Atsushi Morita

He echoed Igarashi in adding that while many people stop playing games as they enter adulthood, new technology such as virtual reality was one way of tempting them back and the time may be finally right for the Japanese game industry to reap the rewards.

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“We want people to once again remember and rediscover the fun of games,” Morita said. “We want people to re-experience that joy, that emotion.”

Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda announced that the company’s own long-running franchise, Final Fantasy, would be putting out a multiplayer expansion to its popular Final Fantasy 15 title later this year. Long lines formed at its giant booth at the show for a chance to try it out.

“Japanese games are loved by the world,” he said.