TGS 06: 360 comes full circle in Japan

[UPDATE] Microsoft Japan reveals details on 360 HD-DVD add-on at TGS press briefing; Lost Planet and Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 to carry unusually high price tags. Video inside.

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TOKYO--The 2006 Tokyo Game Show is mere days away, and Microsoft Japan kicked off the festivities today with a press conference at the Cerulean Tower Hotel in Tokyo's Shibuya district. GameSpot was front and center at the event to bring you all the updates in a rolling, up-to-the-minute fashion.

On the eve of TGS and with Microsoft's own European press event, X06, set to unfold in Spain next week, the content of today's presentation focused on the company's upcoming strategy and products in the Japanese territory. The publisher unveiled Japanese release plans for a number of its peripherals, including the HD-DVD add-on, which will retail for about $177 in Japan when it is released on November 22.

On the games side, Microsoft promised more games for the Japanese market and more of them exclusive to the region. The company also touted its Xbox Live service and mentioned a few new retro games that would be making their way to the platform, including Yie Ar Kung Fu (which will be one of those Japanese exclusives), Ms. Pac-Man, and New Rally X.

Moving to retail Xbox 360 games, Microsoft confirmed Japanese launch dates and prices for a number of its anticipated titles from Japanese developers. Interestingly enough, Tecmo's Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 and Capcom's Lost Planet will retail for the equivalent of $79 and $71, respectively. Microsoft gave no indication as to how those price points were decided. However, they don't appear to be the new standard, as the publisher's highly anticipated role-playing game Blue Dragon is set to release in Japan in December and will retail for about $61.

The calm before the storm?
The calm before the storm?

RPGs played a big part of Microsoft's conference, as Blue Dragon and fellow Mistwalker title Lost Odyssey were showcased, with in-game footage of the latter being shown for the first time. Two more RPGs for the system were mentioned: Trusty Bell from Namco Bandai and Infinite Undiscovery from Tri-Ace, developer of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile.

For more from the presentation, check out the blog as it happened below.

2:02 pm: The event is beginning with a video montage of many of Microsoft's biggest upcoming titles like Gears of War and Viva Pinata, as well as a lot of stats on the Xbox Live user base. General Manager Takashi Sensui has now taken the stage to open the event with a prediction: 10 million sales of the Xbox 360 worldwide by the end of 2006.

2:07: Games need a "qualitative transformation" to progress, says Sensui. He goes on to proselytize about the ease of 360 development and the development advantages offered by unique features like Xbox Live.

2:09: Microsoft Japan wants to increase the 360 user base in Japan (surprise). To that end, it's introducing a new marketing campaign described as "Do! Game, Do! Choice, Do! Live." In regard to the "game" aspect, Sensui says there will soon be 100 titles available in this territory, including Live Arcade games.

Now THAT'S a slogan.
Now THAT'S a slogan.

For "choice," he's emphasizing customization of the console and especially of the online experience. This is the same stuff we heard from the American execs before the 360 launch.

Finally, "live" is self-explanatory--communication and social aspects enhance the gameplay experience. These concepts have driven the 360 to strong sales in the US and Europe; will they finally catch on here in Japan?

2:15: Sensui is moving on to describe upcoming peripherals and packaging. A new core system is on the way for November 2; looks like the same configuration as the American one, at a price of 29,800 yen (about $254). At least PGR3 and Ninety-Nine Nights round out the package.

Now the Xbox Live Vision camera, which is finally on the streets--officially--in North America. The package looks the same as it is across the Pacific--a month of Live Gold and a free copy of Uno. Also out November 2, at a price of 4,200 yen ($36).

The posh Cerulean Tower Hotel.
The posh Cerulean Tower Hotel.

Next up, something American gamers are eagerly waiting for: the wireless headset. As early pictures have indicated, it's ergonomically shaped like those ubiquitous Bluetooth cell phone headsets. November 2 again, 6,300 yen ($54).

Now it's the wireless steering wheel, which we already knew has force feedback included. Pricing and release yet to be announced.

Finally, the hard drive and remote control will be hitting stores along with the core system at 9,500 yen ($81) and 3,000 yen ($26), respectively.

2:21: Ah, something everybody wants to know more about: the HD-DVD add-on. It connects with a USB, as we know, and supports 1080p. Mr. Kawanaka from the hardware division is now leading a live demo of the peripheral, which seems to integrate seamlessly with the 360 dashboard. Insert an HD-DVD disc, see an option to play it at the bottom of the screen, just like normal.

And what finer cinematic masterpiece with which to demo the new peripheral than The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift? We're seeing some demo features that can be found in all HD-DVD players, like bookmarks and picture-in-picture commentary. Playback also integrates seamlessly with the dashboard. No big surprises here--except perhaps that you can do video chat while you're watching a movie.

The drive will be hitting the streets November 22 at a price of 20,790 yen ($177), including tax. But when will it be out in the US?

2:29: Next up is everyone's favorite spokesman, Peter Moore. Time to pull off this dumb headset!

It seems Moore is a big fan of doing.
It seems Moore is a big fan of doing.

"There's never been a more important TGS for Microsoft." Moore is promising more Japanese content, made by Japanese developers and for Japanese gamers than yet seen. Of the aforementioned 100 titles, 50 will be exclusive to this market.

The Japanese market isn't the only one Microsoft is focusing on. In the next few weeks, the Xbox 360 will be launching in India and South Africa, bringing the total number of countries in which the console is available to 32.

More big numbers about Live. Moore mentions the effectiveness of Live as a marketing tool. After the Dead Rising demo hit Marketplace, preorders of the game purportedly doubled.

2:35: Discussion turns to Live Anywhere, Microsoft's initiative to unify the Xbox 360, Windows Vista, and Windows Mobile devices. Alas, no real new details about the service, other than to reinforce Shadowrun as the initial Live Anywhere launch title.

Everyone loves Xbox Live Arcade, and here's a demo reel of what's coming soon. Any new surprises in store? Among the games not yet out: Defender, Gyruss, Contra, Lumines, Dig Dug, and Fatal Fury Special.

2:38: Whoa, here come new additions to the service, including the Japan-exclusive Yie Ar Kung Fu, along with Rush 'n Attack, Ms. Pac-Man, and New Rally X. Yie Ar exclusive to Japan?! What about us poor Western gamers?

Wow, and in early 2007, Microsoft will conduct a Pac-Man world championship. The top 10 players on the game's leaderboard will be flown to New York City to compete for the top prize. Pac-Man creator himself Toru Iwatani from Namco is now onstage to discuss the enhancements to the game available on Live.

Seems like the big enhancement is the worldwide leaderboard. Not a mind-blowing new feature, but similar features have certainly enlivened Xbox Live Arcade competition for other titles since the 360's release.

Here's an interesting parting shot: Iwatani-san will assume the title of "professor" next spring, as he begins teaching game development at Tokyo Polytechnic University. Four Tokyo universities in total will adopt the recently released XNA Express as a tool for teaching development, joining a number of other schools around the world.

2:47: Sensui has retaken the stage to present a photo-op with the rather bulky HD-DVD drive in hand. Doesn't look like that thing and the 360 itself will fit on the same entertainment-center shelf.

HD-DVD player with man shown for scale.
HD-DVD player with man shown for scale.

2:51: What are the titles leading Microsoft's efforts in Japan? Winning Eleven, Lost Planet, Blue Dragon, and everyone's favorite, uh, soft-physics simulator, Dead or Alive Extreme 2. We feel a little funny watching this demo reel. The game's due out in America on November 15 and November 22 in Japan, where the price will be a whopping 9,240 yen ($79). Why, we're not sure.

We're seeing a new trailer for Lost Planet. Let's just say there's a lot more to this one than the snowy action levels we've seen previously. The game will be out in Japan on December 22, for 8,379 yen ($71).

Next up, a new role-playing game from Bandai Namco, Trusty Bell. Looks awfully Japanese-RPG-like. No release date for Japan or America as of yet, though.

3:04: Now, another new RPG called Infinite Undiscovery from Tri-Ace, developers of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile, in conjunction with Microsoft's own game studios. No video here, but the art style looks more realistic than whimsical from the one screenshot on offer.

The HD-DVD add-on will fetch about $177 in Japan.
The HD-DVD add-on will fetch about $177 in Japan.

Next, Mistwalker's Hironobu Sakaguchi takes the stage with an update on Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, Microsoft's two flagship RPGs for the 360. Blue Dragon will be out on December 7 in Japan, and Sakaguchi is now starting up the Lost Odyssey demo, marking the first time gameplay from this anticipated title has been shown.

A CG cinematic shows scenes of a massive battle full of armored, sword-wielding knights and bizarre, mechanical engines of war. All hope seems lost, but a single warrior rises from the battlefield to take on hordes of enemies all by his lonesome.

After some flashy sword moves, the cutscene segues quite smoothly into a real-time, playable version of the battle that looks strikingly similar. Sakaguchi is able to issue RPG-style commands to this warrior to make him fight lesser enemies and a gigantic, flame-spewing tank single-handedly.

After dispatching the machine, the player character is surrounded by enemy soldiers. But then the sky opens up and spews molten rock and ash across the battlefield, obliterating the opposing armies while the lone warrior is left standing. This scene gives way to an exploration phase, but Sakaguchi has now ended the demo. Think of Lost Odyssey as Dynasty Warriors meets Final Fantasy with a little of The Matrix thrown in.

As opposed to an untrusty bell?
As opposed to an untrusty bell?

3:17: Sakaguchi continues by demoing a nearly completed version of Artoon's Blue Dragon, which is certainly more fanciful and lighthearted than Lost Odyssey. The demo features hero Shu and friends making their way through an industrial complex, fighting a series of sentry robots in standard turn-based style, using their quirkily animated sentient shadows as weapons.

Finally, the crew reaches a large chamber where a brief cutscene takes place with a couple of dastardly villain types. A boss fight against a giant, spindly legged robot ensues. In typical JRPG fashion, lengthy and lavishly animated special attacks are traded back and forth until the robot finally goes down. Shu and posse flee the hangar in a real clunker of an airship before becoming embroiled in a tense situation with a busty, piratical character with an abundance of 'tude. The game's cutscenes look nicely animated from the little we got to see before Sakaguchi ended the presentation.

The Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon demos will be available at TGS, so we'll bring you a more detailed report in the coming days.

3:30: After a lengthy promotional video for Blue Dragon, it looks like the game features all the elements you'd look for in a Japanese RPG: explosive turn-based battles, a job system of sorts, a poignant Nobuo Uematsu-penned score, even an airship! Will it secure Microsoft a foothold in the Japanese market? They sure seem to hope so. The game will go for 7,140 yen ($61).

Sakaguchi: the man, the myth, the moustache.
Sakaguchi: the man, the myth, the moustache.

On the same day, a commemorative Xbox 360 core system including Blue Dragon will be launched for the same price as the core system, including PGR3 and Ninety-Nine Nights. Looks like it's just a vanilla system and the game--no special faceplate or anything was shown.

3:36: Sensui retakes the stage one last time with a quick "See you at TGS!" and a demo reel of games to look for at the show, including such high points as Epic's Gears of War, space shooter Project Silpheed, and everyone's favorite party-game sequel (ahem) Fuzion Frenzy 2. Keep your eyes on GameSpot for updates on all the hot games for the 360--and everything else--when the Tokyo Game show commences on Friday.

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