At 8AM EST this morning, Microsoft livestreamed its virtual Tokyo Game Show 2020 Xbox Showcase, a program that was largely Japanese-language only (no English subtitles) and appropriately aimed at Japanese audiences. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer, who led off the event with a very humble and congenial speech celebrating the Japanese game industry was carefully calm and reserved, which made a lot of sense.
After all, while the software and videogame console manufacturer made a note to downplay their attendance in the days building up to TGS, it’s obvious that on the heels of announcing their acquisition of Bethesda/Zenimax Media Inc. as well their chaotic but ultimately very successful opening of pre-orders for the Xbox Series X and S consoles in the West, it would have been very easy to allow a sense of smug confidence to seep into Microsoft’s TGS proceedings and spoil a crucial moment in what is effectively a fresh start for Xbox in Japan. Armed with Xbox Game Pass, Cloud Gaming (coming soon), the most powerful console ever made in the Xbox Series X as well as a slightly less powerful, smallest Xbox console ever made in the Series S, Microsoft knows that this generation will be the best shot its ever had to change its fortunes in Japan, which has always been a Sony and Nintendo stronghold. A lot is at stake. So what went down? Despite my Japanese being incredibly rusty, I tuned in and muddled through. Here’s what I was able to dig up.
To start off, “Phil from Xbox” (as Spencer casually referred to himself in Japanese) reconfirmed the promised Series S and Series X launch date for Japan, which of course will be the same as ours here in North America, November 10th. Pricing for both consoles has lined up quite predictably with US pricing, with the Series X at 49,980 yen and the Series S at 29,980 yen (around $500 and $300 USD respectively). Pre-orders are set to open on September 25th (tomorrow). Given the current popularity (or lack thereof) of previous Xbox consoles in Japan, it’s unlikely that pre-orders there will be adversely affected by the pandemonium that brought down the site of nearly every online retailer in North America during its pre-order window. Then again, scalpers and bots have no borders, so who can tell… I guess we’ll know by this time tomorrow! Also, it was announced that Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly known as Project xCloud) will be coming to Japan in early 2021), making it possible for Japanese gamers who don’t own or ever plan on buying an Xbox console to still enjoy games on the Xbox platform.
Moving on to content, famed Japanese publisher Bandai Namco lead off the show proper in impressive fashion, offering an extended look gameplay from its upcoming title, Scarlet Nexus, an action-adventure game with strong Code Vein and Astral Chain vibes. While not in any way exclusive to the Xbox platform, the game was first revealed during Microsoft’s May 2020 showcase, heavily associating it with the upcoming Xbox Series X and S consoles, so it made a lot of sense for it to reappear at an event aimed at specifically at Japanese audiences. The game looks to be running far better than it initially looked during its reveal trailer in May, and with luck the game will be even more dazzling when it launches (rumored to be in late 2021, so there’s lots of time).
The next big announcement was a love letter to the Land of the Rising Sun, as Xbox Game Studios and Asobo Studio revealed the first free content update for Microsoft Flight Simulator, named “World Update 1: Japan”. Six new cities were featured, Sendai, Takamatsu, Tokushima, Tokyo, Utsunomiya and Yokohama, as well as six updated local airports: Hachijojima, Kerama, Kushiro, Nagasaki, Shimojishima and Suwanosejima. In addition, several famous Japanese landmarks and Heritage Sites such as Kobe Port Tower, Mount Fuji, Himeji Castle, Amanohashidate, Itsukushima Shrine and more have all been included, and will be rendered in fantastic, photo-realistic detail along with the rest of the island nation via an “upgraded digital elevation map” and high-resolution 3D photogrammetry. The update will go live on Xbox Game Pass for PC, Windows 10 and Steam on September 29th.
The program then took a lengthy pit-stop to focus on the Japanese Minecraft Creator/YouTuber community, which was mainly a montage of creator works and/or antics culminating in a feature on Dr Bond. Dr Bond is a Japanese-American content creator who has been working with the Minecraft RTX beta on Windows PC to create jaw-dropping Japanese summer festival-themed works powered by the game’s new ray-tracing (RTX) engine. A visual showcase for the potential of the engine on PC moving forward (and by extension, the potential of the Xbox Series X and S consoles), the video served as a reminder for Japanese PC gamers to check out the RTX beta for themselves.
With deference to the unstoppable beast that is Minecraft out of the way, the showcase turned its focus to the main course: more games. Regrettably, there was not a lot of meat to dig into for anyone that has been closely following the recent Game Showcases from both Sony and Microsoft. To be fair, when Microsoft announced it would be virtually attending TGS last month it was made clear that there would be “no new next-gen news”, so it was not surprising that practically all of its First-Party exclusive lineup games shown in today’s showcase, such as Halo: Infinite, Avowed, Psychonauts 2, Grounded, Fable, Everwild, State of Decay 3, Tell Me Why, As Dusk Falls and Forza Motorsport and more were all represented in montage form only.
What was terribly disappointing however was that the montages shown were the same montages already shown at the previous Xbox showcases, with the only difference being the replacement of all the English text with Japanese. And despite personal words of congratulations, well wishes and a genuine commitment to develop games for the Series X and S platform from at least one staff member of each Japanese developer featured in the program, some developers elected to follow Microsoft’s lead. The worst offender was Capcom, who simply dusted off and trotted out the trailers for Pragmata and Resident Evil VILLAGE (RE8) that had already been shown at earlier Sony (!) events. The RE8 reveal video from Sony’s State of Play event in June was especially egregious, as it remained just as horribly optimized as it was during its first appearance, if not worse. RE8 is slated for a 2021 release, while Pragmata is pegged to come out sometime in 2022.
Square-Enix and the legendary Yuji Naka of Squeenix’s subsidiary The Balan Company also phoned it in with their June Xbox Showcase pre-show trailer for Balan Wonderworld, but it still looked as good as it did the first time, reaffirming the colourful game will be bringing the old-school NiGHTS feels to Xbox in a brand new, platforming action-RPG package on March 26th, 2021. Meanwhile, SNK put its best foot forward with a beautifully bloody new trailer for Samurai Spirits (a.k.a. Samurai Showdown) celebrating the game’s upcoming “Optimized for Series X/S” upgrade timed to coincide with the launch of the next-generation Xbox consoles. The trailer completely fails to communicate that little detail (it took a visit to Xbox Wire to confirm it), but the game still looks as lovely as ever.
Tetris fans in Japan and all over the world are going to have their hands full (of tetrominoes that is), if both Sega and the developers of Tetris Effect have anything to say about it. Co-developers Resonair, Monstars and Stage Games re-confirmed that Tetris Effect: Connected, the new online/offline multiplayer-enabled version of their hit game Tetris Effect will launch into Game Pass day and date with the Xbox Series X and S on November 10th, and less than a month later, Sega will follow up with the release of PuyoPuyo Tetris 2 on December 8th.
Bright Memory Infinite, the first person shooter/slice-‘em-up action game which made quite the splash opening up Microsoft’s Xbox Games Showcase back in May reappeared with some impressive new gameplay footage, and looks as though it will be settling in for launch in early 2021. The game that followed however came completely out of left field, R-Type Final 2, a new installment in the R-Type franchise and the direct sequel the PlayStation 2 game from 2003. The announcement trailer appeared to be the first official confirmation of the game coming to the Xbox family of consoles in addition to those previously confirmed back when the title was still being crowdfunded.
Finally, the show wrapped with a quirky yet ambitious game that was likely to delight of many a Japanese gamer and RPG: RPG Time: The Legend of Wright, a role-playing game that takes elements from traditional JRPGs, the Paper Mario games, Tearaway, the few good parts of Drawn to Death, and more, but mashes them altogether into something even more exciting and hilarious. Japanese indie developer DESK WORKS is making something the likes of which have never been seen on the Xbox platform ever before, and at least for Japanese gamers, they won’t have to wait long to play it. RPG Time: The Legend of Wright will be launching “Optimised for Series X/S on November 10th, 2021”. It remains unclear at this moment if it will be a worldwide launch.
Overall, it was an impressive showcase despite many past Xbox events and TGS Presentations conditioning this writer to keep his expectations low. At the very least it can be said that Japanese games will continue to have a strong presence on the Xbox platform past the launch of the Xbox Series X and S this November, and that Xbox will likewise have an unprecedented presence in Japan, not just on new Xbox consoles, but also Xbox Game Pass and Cloud Gaming. It’s going to be interesting to see if Microsoft’s big gamble pays off.