Feature: Tokyo Game Show Was Everything I Expected, And Somehow More 1
Image: Push Square

Growing up as a video game magazine bookworm through the 90s, there were two events I experienced vicariously every year: E3 and Tokyo Game Show. These euphoric, exotic nerd gatherings captivated me from an early age, and I used to imagine myself stepping inside the glossy coloured pages of Official PlayStation Magazine and attending in real-life. With the Entertainment Software Association’s well-documented issues, it seems highly unlikely I’ll ever walk the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Centre, and due to its diminishing importance, TGS seemed unlikely as well.

But as I’ve been living in Taipei for a little while now, a rare opportunity presented itself, with Japan’s capital just a short three-hour flight away. The Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association, who organises the event, had promised that this year would be a return to form, with the iconic Makuhari Messe booked out in its entirety for the first time since the pandemic. Having managed to convince the powers that be at Hookshot Media that I needed to attend, I embarked on a trip I’d been dreaming of since before I’d even reached my teens.

Japan, to my surprise, felt less foreign than I’d expected; a consequence, I think, of spending so much time in Taipei already. I’d heard stories of people experiencing culture shock in the capital, but I actually found it quite tame in comparison to where I’d travelled from: there’s a strong international flavour to the city, and honestly I felt at home pretty quickly – it reminded me of London in a lot of ways. In fact, my first experience wasn’t the best, as I was randomly (?) selected for a security search, which meant all my luggage got taken out and rifled through by two apologetic but still quite scary immigration officers. Not great.

I based myself in Akasaka, which meant I was going to have to commute to the Makuhari Messe every day. But my eye was on the clock upon my arrival in Tokyo, as I’d been kindly invited to a SEGA pre-show party, and I was eager to make it in time. After a quick journey on the Narita Express and various subsequent subway lines, I dumped my belongings in my unashamedly small hotel room and made my way to Ginza where the party was taking place. Interestingly, upon emerging from the subway I instantly noticed flashing blue lights in an adjacent building, and it served as a waypoint to where I was supposed to be.

The party – attended by several noteworthy SEGA employees, including Sonic Team’s Takashi Iizuka – was billed as a kind of pre-show celebration, with a DJ playing remixes of Jet Set Radio and Sonic the Hedgehog themes. The first thing that caught my attention was that staff were being personally attended to by a group of Yakuza-esque hostess models. While the entirety of Japan is littered with hostess bars, I assumed this was the publisher acknowledging the Ryu ga Gotoku games, as it would go on to make various announcements regarding Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth and Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name later in the week.

But I got my first taste of Japan proper after downing a couple of chili dogs, when a quintet of cyberpunk-style pole dancers marched out to the theme of Green Hill Zone and started gyrating on top of elevated podiums around the DJ station. This, to me, felt like something that’d be highly unlikely to occur at a Western party in the current climate, and struck me as something distinctly Japanese as a result. It’s important to underline that it was all conducted in good taste, and actually I think the outfits, music, and light show combined to create a memorable first night in the city.

The next day I’d take my first trip to TGS, which involved an uneventful train ride out to Chiba, on the same route that people use to visit Disneyland Tokyo. The first business day was on Thursday, which coincided with the release of Weekly Famitsu, a magazine I’ve always wanted to own. I easily found a copy in a 7-ELEVEN along the way, and flicked through during my commute. The thing that most impressed me about the magazine is its sheer scale; despite being a weekly publication, it pushes over 150 pages, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I thought it’d be a third of that size.

Interestingly, the issue included an overview of TGS itself, including a floor map and points of interest, so I already had a general idea of the layout before I arrived. And it’s important to stress that the show was big this year: it spanned about eight halls, which at casual walking speed would take about 15 minutes to go from one side to the other. There was no dead space either: while the convention didn’t feel overcrowded, every booth was occupied, and some attracted larger crowds than others.

I’ve obviously attended various gaming conventions over the years, so the actual event itself held few surprises to me. I was a little taken aback by how populated it was given the first two days weren’t open to the public, but I assume retailers, buyers, distributors, and so on were all invited, so the numbers quickly multiply. I’d purposefully left my schedule largely open on the first day to give me an opportunity to explore, save for an hour or so session with Bandai Namco.

Perhaps my biggest initial takeaway upon first exploration was that, despite the complete absence of Sony, Microsoft, and – perhaps crucially – Nintendo, the Japanese games industry seemed vibrant. Stalwarts like Konami, Capcom, SEGA, and Square Enix all had powerful presences, with gigantic booths populated by numerous console stations, huge television screens, and large speakers. Some even had their own stage shows, including one Resident Evil 4 pantomime-style performance involving the Chainsaw Guy and a hapless victim.

Perhaps underlining the cultural differences between Japanese and Western conventions, attractive ladies ushered in attendees at practically every booth, many of which actively encouraged photo opportunities in order to promote their associated brands. This was consistent across both the major global console publishers, and the more Asian focused smartphone games, of which there was no shortage. Specifically, the HoYoverse booth pulled in an enormous crowd almost as soon as the doors opened, and I was also interested in checking out Bluepoch’s upcoming Reverse: 1999 – a gacha card game I’m personally really looking forward to launching later this month.

Even though I tend to avoid video game swag, I ended up leaving my first day at the Makuhari Messe with a backpack absolutely stacked to the brim with pin badges, posters, t-shirts, and stickers. In fact, I collected so many stickers that I’ve since decided to decorate my laptop with them, as I really have nowhere else to put them. I laboured back to Akasaka with my bulging bag in tow, and ended up writing up a bunch of previews that same day based on what I’d played. In the evening, I decided to visit a nearby organic produce restaurant as I’d been craving vegetables after almost two entire days fuelled by junk food, and I ended up having a great meal which included a banana and kale smoothie, which was way nicer than it sounds.

My second day at TGS was more scheduled and dominated by appointments, and it was during this day that I delved out of the main halls and into the business areas, in order to conduct a couple of interviews and play Capcom’s entire upcoming lineup. Once I was done with my appointments, I wanted to spend a bit of time photographing as much as possible for the purposes of this article, as I’d already decided I was going to be documenting my days on the show floor. While I was eligible to attend the public days too, I decided against it, as I’d seen pretty much everything the event had to offer in two days and the crowds were only going to increase.

My major takeaway from the convention is that Japanese, and Asian, game development is in a good place. Even without the major platform holders in attendance, this was a stacked show – and it straddled a number of different categories, too. Yes, there were a lot of mobile games, but there were also a good number of console titles, indie efforts, and just interesting new interactive products in general, like the standalone Densha de Go micro-console I wrote about. While I never attended those famous conventions in the 90s, this felt like what I always imagined TGS to be, and I feel lucky I got the authentic experience. Now I just need to convince Hookshot Media to let me attend again...

Thanks for reading our big TGS diary. What do you think the future holds for the convention as the industry continues to mature and move forward? Are you happy to learn, amid E3’s capitulation, that the Makuhari Messe remains a vibrant destination for video game fans? Touchdown in Tokyo in the comments section below.