When Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 in 2005, it spent millions promoting the platform across Japan. Stung by the first Xbox's poor reception in the island nation, the software giant spared no expense on a spate of flashy--and carefully choreographed--launch events. It even went as far as to divert inventory away from Europe and North America, where the system was in great demand and extremely short supply.
However, for all Microsoft's advances, Japan greeted the 360 with a collective shrug. Sales of the console were slow, with unsold units piling up on store shelves as bored clerks looked on. Then, the company attempted to seduce Japanese role-playing gamers by enlisting such high-profile Japanese designers as Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Q Entertainment boss Tetsuya Mizuguchi to make 360 exclusives. Unfortunately, the resulting crop of tepidly reviewed games didn't contain major bestsellers on either side of the Pacific Ocean.
Despite these setbacks, Microsoft continues to pursue Japanese publishers, developers, and gamers. This year, the company stunned the game industry by announcing that it had struck a deal with Square Enix to release longtime PS3 exclusive Final Fantasy XIII day and date on the 360 in Europe and North America. Microsoft also held a Tokyo 360 JRPG event where it showed The Last Remnant and the exclusives Infinite Undiscovery and Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Also on hand was Namco Bandai's exclusive Tales of Vesperia, a well-reviewed JPRG which was so popular that it helped the 360 sell out in Japan in August.
So what does Microsoft have up its sleeve today? That's what the journalists and analysts gathered in the International Conference Hall of the Makuhari Messe came to hear. On hand to tell the crowd will be John Schappert, Microsoft corporate vice president. A 16-year veteran of Electronic Arts, where he managed the company's dozen-plus internal developers, Schappert now heads up all Microsoft Games Studios, Games for Windows, and Xbox Live projects.
Today, anticipation was rife that the executive would be on hand to show off the progression of the upcoming avatar-based New Xbox Live experience. However, the crowd on-hand--who had just sat through a dry 90-minute presentation and discussion by Square Enix president Yoichi Wada and others--were also hoping for bigger surprises.
[12:05] The hall was packed to capacity to hear the execs from Square, Capcom, and Namco Bandai debate about the future of the Japanese industry, but half the crowd is now leaving.
[12:06] Room's just gone dark, and a trailer starts.
[12:07] Cue orchestral music and shots fro The Last Remnant.
[12:09] Looks of full CG battle shots now, intercut with some actual gameplay showing various character melee attacks and spells.
[12:10] People are now starting to trickle back in!
[12:12] Last Remnant dated for 360 on 20 November 2008. Looks to be a simultaneous release globally.
[12:13] Schappert's now on stage, boasting about the great lineup of games for the 360 developed in Japan.
[12:14] Schappert starts to lay praise on the legacy of Japanese games, stating his childhood heroes included Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto. He says everyone looks to Japan for inspiration.
[12:15] He says to go global and be successful, you need world-class development tools, good online, and a console that everyone can afford. No prizes for guessing what he's referring to.
[12:17] Here it comes: Schappert says the 360 is the best way for Japanese developers to go global.
[12:16] He says US sales have doubled, are up 62 percent in Europe up, and a five-fold increase in Japan ever since the recent global price drops.
[12:18] Slide now up showing worldwide purchases of Japanese games on Xbox was 1 million last year, up 60 percent on previous year. He predicts this year will break the billion mark.
[12:18] Schappert now chatting about Star Ocean: The Last Hope, another Square Enix game which is the first Star Ocean game on current-generation consoles.
[12:18] Room darkens again, and the Star Ocean: The Last Hope trailer starts.
[12:19] Voice-over states that man has began to look for new worlds among the stars, and apparently did it in 2087. The Space Reconnaissance Force is formed.
[12:19] Main character is Edge Maverick, the captain of the first SPF force. Shots of a starship bridge looking very Enterprise.
[12:19] Now there's actual gameplay, with what looks like your typical Square Enix attacks.
[12:20] Schappert's back on stage, where he says Star Ocean: The Last Hope is coming Feb 19 to Japan and March 3 in the US.
[12:20] Topic changes to Biohazard 5, better known as Resident Evil 5 to Western markets. A RE5 player now starts to play.
[12:21] Close-up of an African guy grabbing the hand of a mysterious hooded figure. The man starts to convulse, and an eerie red ooze creeps out all over him.
[12:21] Angry crowd of zombies on the street, who appear to be led by a man wearing sunglasses and speaking on a megaphone. He orders the execution via wicked beheading of a prisoner.
[12:21] Now lots of fast shots of zombie attacks.
[12:22] Shots of game hero Chris Redfield taking on a Neo-looking dude who seems to have the ability to appear and disappear.
[12:22] Now our heroes are on a ship being attacked by giant tentacles.
[12:22] Final shot is of the gravestone of Jill Valentine.
[12:23] Ninety-Nine Nights II is coming to 360, Schappert says, as an exclusive.
[12:23] One more surprise announcement to come apparently.
[12:23] Room goes dark, and a Namco Bandai logo appears.
[12:23] Holy cow, its Tekken's very own Jin Kazama.
[12:24] Looks like Tekken 6 is coming to the 360. Cue fanboy joy and outrage.
[12:24] Schappert makes it official that Tekken--"the number one fighting franchise in the world"--is coming to 360.
[12:24] Release is set for fall 2009.
[12:25] Schappert shifts topics to classic arcade titles, and now starts to speak about Xbox Live Arcade.
[12:27] Schappert says Taito's Space Invaders Extreme is coming to XBL. Also in the works from Taito is Arkanoid Live, which has 120 stages, online coop, and versus modes.
[12:28] Moving onto SNK, Metal Slug 7 is coming to XBL. Ditto King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match, which is set for spring 2009.
[12:28] Now a trailer for R-Type Dimensions starts, which takes classic R-Type levels and looks to shift them into modified 3D environments.
[12:30] Schappert now starts to talk about Xbox Live Community Games, saying they have partnered with a dozen universities in Japan. They've had more than 1,000 submissions globally, including many from Japan.
[12:30] Schappert says more than 14 million members are now online on XBL.
[12:31] He now starts to talk about the Xbox Live Experience, an expanded tour of which is now available via GameSpot's Feature Preview.
[12:31] First screen is the avatar selection screen, showing a group of avatars that can be chosen as a templates.
[12:33] Schappert goes through some customization options. He's created a rock-star wannabe with spiky hair and dark glasses. He then takes a picture of his new character, which can be used as your avatar picture.
[12:35] Now Schappert is talking about creating your own themes.
[12:36] He shows off the new games channel, which scrolls game pics in a cascading manner.
[12:37] The presentation is similar to recent posts on the official Xbox Live Blog describing the NXE.
[12:38] Now Schappert is showing off the mini-blades, and how it works compared to the rest of the new Xbox Live Experience.
[12:39] Schappert says the new Xbox Live will be coming to 26 countries, 19 languages localized, and will be coming on November 19. Mark that date folks!
[12:40] Now he's switching to what's next for the Halo franchise. Nope, not a new Master Chief game, but more on Halo Wars.
[12:41] Graeme Devine, lead story writer for Halo Wars, takes to the stage. He's going to show off some gameplay from the campaign.
[12:42] Halo Wars is set 20 years before the start of Halo 1, and he reiterates that you can command the entire UNSC arsenal when they it was its peak to take on the Covenant.
[12:42] Onscreen, two elites are having a conversation, telling them to open a massive gate. In the distance, a UNSC soldier asks, what does this mean?
[12:43] Actual gameplay starts, with a dropship dropping off a large base to get the game started. Now with the base built, Devine starts to build barracks, power stations, and more.
[12:43] All of these commands are being input via a radial menu which pops up onscreen.
[12:43] Warthogs and soldiers are now being created from the base.
[12:44] Devine goes through some command options, showing the crowd how to select and move units.
[12:45] He's selected all of his units, which now include a massive Scorpion tank, and gets them to storm a nearby Covenant position.
[12:45] Now he shows off how to call air strikes from the orbiting starship Spirit of Fire, which makes quick work of some Covenant troops.
[12:46] A Covenant Scarab appears, apparently the most powerful unit the bad guys can muster. Devine focuses all of his attacks on the armored unit.
[12:47] Devine now says that zombie-hybrid Flood race will definitely be an enemy you'll have to take on in Halo Wars, showing a quick snippet of some Flood facehuggers streaming out of a mound.
[12:47] Schappert's back, saying Halo players have logged on more than 1 billion of hours on Live.
[12:48] Still more Halo news. He says "We're not done with Halo 3 yet," linking it to the mysterious trailer which debuted two weeks ago.
[12:49] Trailer starts, shots of New Mombasa being absolutely carpet bombed with capsules for Orbital Shock Drop Troopers.
[12:49] The city is now in ruins, and one capsule breaks through a building.
[12:50] It's Halo 3: Recon, with a new hero and a new campaign!
[12:51] It's a prologue apparently, seen from the eyes of a UNSC ODST marine who has crash-landed behind enemy lines.
[12:51] From the trailer, the soldier carefully lifts himself from the capsule, and has to hide to avoid a company of brutes patrolling the area.
[12:53] The last shot is the lone ODST--sporting armor very similar to the Chief's--alone in a ruined city.
[12:54] Halo 3: Recon is set to hit Fall 2009. That's a bit later than expected.
[12:57] And that's it! For more on these and other games, check out GameSpot's full coverage of the 2008 Tokyo Game Show.