Previewing the next wave of big video games at Tokyo’s annual expo

Final Fantasy XV got old, fast—and it’s not even out until November.
Todd Hailstone

Tokyo Game Show is the largest video game convention in Japan and one of the biggest in the world, and I was fortunate enough to be in Japan’s capital when it took place. The show floor was packed for the 20th edition, which drew a record attendance of 271,224. The convention burst with spectacle—music and trailers all around, with booth girls and game cosplayers inviting attendees to line up to try games and pose for photos.

The Resident Evil-focused Capcom booth was particularly outrageous, home to a huge, haunted house-style theater in the shape of the Baker House, an airsoft zombie shooting range and a walk-through museum showing off in-development CG film, Resident Evil: Vendetta. Not to be outdone, Mafia III’s booth re-created a late-’60s street corner, complete with Western cosplayers roaming for photo ops and an old-fashioned movie theater playing its new trailer. The Wargaming booth had a mini-submarine and a full-sized tank on display, and Koei Tecmo’s Nioh booth was shaped like an ancient Japanese shrine, lorded over by a giant Ogre.

Distracted as I was by all the crazy excess, I did manage to play some games. Here’s a rundown of my most notable demo experiences.

YAKUZA 6 (U.S. release TBD) With its star-studded Japanese cast and a story that feels like the series’ strongest yet—plus a highly detailed world, impressive graphics, exciting combat and a plethora of side content—this is shaping up as one of the best releases of the year.

FINAL FANTASY XV (November 29) The next entry in this series seems like a mashup of its many missteps: a single controllable character, a cast of interchangeable Japanese goth bros, boring combat, uninspiring art design and laughably overdesigned hair animation. I played a 10-minute demo and got bored in five.

PERSONA 5 (February 2017) This series is huge in Japan, and I can see why after my painfully short TGS demo: a huge cast of characters with distinct looks and abilities, engaging combat and incredible art and music. This might be the Persona installment that finally breaks out in the U.S. I’m looking forward to it more than any other role-playing game.

NIOH (February 2017) People have been comparing Nioh to the Dark Souls series since its first playable demo. The incredibly difficult, almost punishing combat and dark art style do feel strikingly similar, but its Japanese setting and more direct story set it apart from its inspiration. I stood in line twice to truly experience the deep combat and wide range of weapons and stances. I was also just having a hell of a good time playing—a good sign for the full game to come.

RESIDENT EVIL 7 VR (January 24, 2017) The PlayStation VR line was excruciatingly long—I waited three hours—and we were unable to choose a game upon reaching the front. Expecting an anime concert experience or an on-rails shooter, I was elated when the Sony rep escorted me to RE 7 (titled Biohazard 7 in Japan). As I sat down she warned that the game can be extremely scary, encouraging me to take off my headset if I felt overwhelmed. She wasn’t exaggerating. At one point in the relatively short demo I actually screamed, surrounded by people on the busy convention floor. In most horror games, looking away allows you a short reprieve as you build up the courage to turn back to the screen. But trapped in my VR headset, there was no escape from the creeping despair, short fits of panic and perfectly timed jump scares—I was trapped in this frightening world. When I buy the game, I might opt for the non-VR version, for the sake of my wallet and my psyche.

WORLD OF FINAL FANTASY (October 25) I played this Final Fantasy series tribute game directly after trying out the FFXV demo, and its over-the-top cuteness and lighthearted story were just what I needed to clear my palette. With it’s whimsical art style, throwback game mechanics, beloved character cameos and cute monster collecting, this game does a great job heaping on the nostalgia, and nailing what we loved about the series as kids.

DRAGON BALL XENOVERSE 2 (October 25) I hoped this DBX sequel would improve on the monotonous combat, bizarre movement control and wonky camera. It didn’t. Fans of the original game can rest easy, this is still the same button-mashing garbage game you remember.

GRAVITY RUSH 2 (December 2) Changing your personal gravity on the fly feels fantastic playing Gravity Rush 2. Leap high into the air, fly toward an enemy and then pound him into the ground—and getting the hang of it is relatively easy. This sequel sports the addition of two new gravity modes: lunar, which makes your character move in wide, bounding arcs, and Jupiter, which gives your character an extreme amount of force and smashing power. The world of GR2 also feels far more detailed than the original, with a denser population and destructible environments. I’ll definitely be picking this game up in December.

BOKOSUKA WARS II (U.S. release TBD) The original Bokosuka Wars, released in 1983, is credited for laying the foundation for real-time strategy games and tactical role-playing games. Part chess, part reverse tower defense, part RPG, this sequel boasts an amazing art style and challenging gameplay that had me engaged far longer than I expected. The ability to toggle back to the 8-bit retro graphics is a great touch, too. Here’s hoping it gets released stateside.

BANDAI NAMCO PROJECT I CAN VR ARCADE Not a specific game demo, but rather an arcade of various VR experiences, this booth solidified for me just how versatile and amazing the future of VR looks. It also nearly gave me a heart attack. One exhibit had me riding an elevator to the top floor of an unfinished building, where an adorable cat sat at the far end of a long plank suspended high above a city. I was then asked to save him, with no hand rails to hold onto. As I inched my way out (in reality four inches off the ground), I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking.

And some quick impressions …

BERSERK AND THE BAND OF THE HAWK (February, 2017) A musou (1v1000) game set in the brutal anime world seems like a good fit. The controls were tight, and mowing down soldiers by the dozens with a giant sword felt satisfying.

VALKYRIA: AZURE REVOLUTION (U.S. release TBD) With an extremely complicated but engaging combat system, the Valkyria series’ new direction shows a lot of promise.

HORIZON ZERO DAWN (February 2017) Everything about HZD is wonderful: amazing controls, beautiful graphics and a gigantic world. I played the demo for 10 minutes, and it flew by. I can’t wait for its release.

MONSTER HUNTER STORIES (U.S. release TBD) This adorable adaptation of the Monster Hunter series is aimed at younger audiences, but I really enjoyed the action RPG.

TITANFALL 2 (October 28) I played 5v5 in the bounty hunt mode and had a blast. It helped that I dominated my fellow writers. This looks like a home run for developer Respawn.

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