Initially, it seems a little strange that Japan Expo, a convention celebrating Japanese animation, fashion, music and games, would be held in Paris. But actually, France isn't as unusual a choice as you'd imagine.
In fact, the country enjoys a much closer relationship to Japanese culture than most. The bleed is similar to that of the UK and the US in the 80s, when popular Saturday morning cereal cartoons like Transformers and Voltron crossed the pond, thus informing our tastes and interests for years to come.
While US-made robots swept up much of Europe in a wave of Americana, France became enraptured with anime, even going on to co-create classics like Ulysses 31 and The Mysterious Cities of Gold, both which eventually were aired in the UK.
It makes sense then that video games based on these properties are treated with equal reverence. Although most video game publishers forgo attending Japan Expo, Namco Bandai, along with Final Fantasy publisher Square Enix, has a prominent presence.
As the premier developer and publisher of video games based on anime, Namco Bandai releases Naruto, Dragon Ball and One Piece games yearly. There's no doubt that these games are definitely more iterative than innovative, and if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed you could rightfully argue they're lacking in ambition.
But in the aspect that matters the most, authenticity and respect of the source material, Namco Bandai's games can't be faltered. At Japan Expo the publisher showed off its latest line-up of anime games, below is a round-up of each, along with brief interviews with developers.
- Tekken Revolution
- Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers
- Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z
- One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2
According to Tekken director and chief producer of Namco Bandai's fighting games Katsuhiro Harada, Tekken Revolution has been in development since last year. The free-to-play fighting game appeared recently, somewhat unexpectedly, and is available now exclusively on the PlayStation 3.
The core fighting gameplay is as deep as ever, not surprising considering the pedigree of the franchise and its developers, but some changes have been made to make the experience a little more comfortable for newcomers. The most obvious of these are the addition of Special Arts, which make characters invincible briefly at the start of a move but leave you vulnerable when blocked, and Critical Arts, which increase damage on a critical hit.
Revolution launches with just eight characters, cherry-picked from the much larger roster of fighters the series currently has, but additional characters can be purchased separately using in-game gift points.
Character progression has also been introduced to the franchise for the first time. By playing matches and accruing experience, players can upgrade a character's Strength for more attack damage Endurance for more health and Vigor for an increase in the chance to land critical hits. By tweaking stats, players can forge a character more attuned to their own playing style. Though, it would be nice to have a greater number of variables to tweak, this certainly serves as a good starting point.
Interview: Katsuhiro Harada, project director
How long has Tekken Revolution been in development?
We actually started at the end of last year, I got the idea to try it around October of last year and we got to work.
Was there any pushback from execs about making Tekken free-to-play?
As far as console games go there isn't that many, but Japan has a lot of free-to-play mobile games. So when I proposed that we take it to the mainstream with Tekken they agreed.
Do you see more Japanese developers and publishers exploring free-to-play on consoles in the future?
It really depends on the game, when you look at a series like Tales Of, where a lot of the consumers simply want a disc package, maybe not for something like that. But there are new titles that are starting to come out that might be better suited.
Did you consider hardcore fighting game players when designing Revolution?
The fighting game crowd seems to be pretty happy with Tekken Tag Tournament 2, so this one was really more geared towards an audience that might not play fighting games or perhaps played Tekken in the past but hasn't kept up with it. Those that have an interest, but not enough to warrant purchasing a full-priced game or used copy. It's free, so it's easy to check out.
Not everyone will get into it, but out of the people that do try it out some will stay with the game. We wanted to get those people and introduce them to Tekken and fighting games.
Do you foresee a future with the next, fully-fledged sequel is released as a free-to-play game?
Whether a new instalment will be released similarly is kind of hard to say. We really weren't thinking about free-to-play last year, it depends on how things go in terms of business.
Do you think fighting games are in a stable, healthy position right now or do you think popularity and interest is tapering off again?
It's kind of hard to say, with Street Fighter there was a ten year gap until we got a new entry so it seemed like a resurgence. But there hasn't really ever been a dropoff for Tekken. I guess if you're talking about the Japanese market, I guess it's more defined now by communities, there's a lot of players in arcades in Japan.
Fighting games are very fragile, more so than any other genre. Do you think they need to evolve for next-generation consoles or is it safer to stick to what works to preserve the current audience?
There's a lot of ways to change things without losing the current fanbase, the way you portray the game for example, character animations, the feel of the game, the impact of moves. If you change it to much, Tekken for example, fans might not stay on board. But you can make a new fighting game and change something drastic just for that.
Are there any features in the Xbox One or PS4 that you're particularly interested in?
There's a few! For Xbox One the Kinect could be used to see the player's reaction and use that as feedback for the game. If they're losing a lot for example, you could provide advice or change the difficulty. The PlayStation 4's share button could be used for more than just uploading gameplay, maybe you could overlay inputs once it has been shared.
As a Japanese developer, what was your perspective on the always-online requirement on the Xbox One and how do you feel about the backpeddle?
It's hard to look at those circumstances from the viewpoint of the consumer. Obviously we make video games and we see the background and what's involved in that, so I can easily understand what Microsoft was trying to accomplish with those first announcements. Not to say whether it was good or bad, but we understand why they were doing what they were.
That being said, now the internet is very prevalent, so it's not the age anymore where you can just continue your business plans as you originally proposed. There's the internet, everyone has a voice now, and you have to adapt.
That's kind of the same case as Tekken Revolution, it's free-to-play and we kept that in mind quite a bit because we tailor future content to what people are asking for or saying about the gameplay experience.
Back in the days of NES or even the PlayStation the internet wasn't a big thing, so people didn't have a voice that could be heard, they had to play whatever game machine was manufactured for them. Whereas now you really don't have a choice but to tailor yourself to what fans are saying. It can't be helped.
How do you feel about Shinji Mikami's comments that Japanese developers don't take enough risks and companies aren't spending enough money on triple-A experiences
It really depends, if you look back, the way the two different territories differed was Japan took over the world first with arcade, then with NES and PlayStation. Obviously video games were invented in the west, but Japan had that era where it was very strong in development, while the west wasn't so much.
Leading into PlayStation we had they polygon based games and people were really into that. That's where Japanese companies were strong, their focus and development resources were on that, whereas in the west they had a period where it was quite tough for them. They were focusing more on PC development and they were developing software that required high-specs, they were creating game engines and middleware, not for the sake of it, but to test out their ideas more quickly and easily.
All of the investment they made in those kind of resources really started to pay off when we came into the era of the PS3 and Xbox 360. They reaped the benefits of all that research and development while Japanese companies haven't. And I can agree with Mikami's statements on the money and investment in franchises too.