Japanese video gaming adapting new tech for familiar titles

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Visitors try out a game with a virtual reality headset device at the Tokyo Game Show in Chiba, near Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

Visitors try out a game with a virtual reality headset device at the Tokyo Game Show in Chiba, near Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Photo: AP)

CHIBA, Japan (AP) — The Japanese video game industry is finding its way out of the doldrums by adapting new technology for decades-old titles. And that energy was evident at the annual Tokyo Game Show, which opened to media Thursday before opening to the public over the weekend.

"Our old fans used to play Japanese games, and those people are excited those games are coming back and they recognize them as Japanese-style games," game creator Koji Igarashi told The Associated Press at the show in Makuhari Messe hall in Chiba, a Tokyo suburb.

"Truly game-like games" is the way Igarashi described the genres enjoying revival, including his side-scrolling role-playing games. His latest version will come with a 3-D movie section.

Although smartphones hammered the video-games market for some years, from about 2010, the companies have adjusted. After the dust settled, some of the games that stood the test of time turned out to be Japanese, such as "Monster Hunter" and "Resident Evil," known as "Biohazard" in Japan, both from Capcom Co., the "Super Mario" series from Nintendo and "Gran Turismo" from Sony, to name a few.

Also helping are new consoles from the Japanese makers, such as the PlayStation 4 from Sony Corp. and the Nintendo Switch. More than 60 million PlayStation 4, or PS4, consoles have been sold since they went on sale last year. Switch sales already total some 4.7 million globally. Switch went on sale in March.

Kyoto-based Nintendo Co. initially scoffed at the threat from smartphones but did an about-face and began offering smartphone versions of their flagship games like "Super Mario" since 2015. "Pokemon Go," featuring Nintendo's Pokemon characters and played on smartphones, became a global hit.

Games are also taking on more features, such as massive online communities, as well as immersive virtual reality, not only leading to new kinds of games but also helping revive interest in old-style genres.

Igarashi compared that to the way Japanese movie-making has endured along with Hollywood films.

"We are just offering what we find as fun," he said, noting that what he called his "Japanese idea of fun" can cross borders. "And we must never lose sight of that — what makes us truly us."

Game creator Koji Igarashi plays a new game called
Game creator Koji Igarashi plays a new game called "Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night" while speaking during an interview at the Tokyo Game Show in Chiba, near Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

In his latest game, "Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night," the player becomes Miriam, an orphan who awakens from a coma and battles demons as she tries to end a curse that is turning her skin to crystal.

Igarashi, known as "Iga" among game fans, produced the classic "Castlevania" vampire-action game series, which started in 1997, while at major Japanese game software maker Konami until he left three years ago to be on his own.

He has raised $5.5 million in pledged funding, mostly from the U.S., on Kickstarter for his Gothic-horror "Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night." It is set to be playable on the Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Vita, when it launches in the first half of next year in seven languages, including Chinese and Italian.

Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan, Sony's game division, said Japanese culture is at the root of visual story-telling that began with manga comic books, went on to animation and films and now allows for an interactive element in games.

Many people used to play games, Morita added, but they have stopped as they got older. But with new technology like the virtual reality headset that Sony has developed and an array of software products coming out, the time may be finally ripe for the Japanese game industry to reap the rewards, he said.

"We want people to once again remember and rediscover the fun of games," said Morita. "We want people to re-experience that joy, that emotion."

Square Enix Holdings Co. President Yosuke Matsuda said his company is putting out the 15th game of the longtime hit "Final Fantasy" series. Long lines were forming at its giant booth at the Tokyo Game Show for a chance to try it out.

"Japanese games are loved by the world," he said.

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