April 3, 2000 - One of the more popular events at the Tokyo Game Show was the "Square Theater," located in the center of the Square booth. Surrounded by large walls and a huge fence at the front gate, the whole thing was set up like a miniature auditorium, with a stage and movie screen in front. There seemed to be some kind of jungle theme to the whole thing and all of the Square staff wore khakis and denim shirts. A sign on the wall promised information on the new Square titles, to be followed by a "Special Talk Session" with the producer of Final Fantasy IX, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and the character designer, Yoshitaka Amano. This was definitely a promising beginning.
I had been fortunate enough to meet up with IGN Editor Dave Zdykro, and initially we were the only two standing in line, but it quickly filled in behind us. As it turned out, being first in line was a disadvantage since we had to fill in the front row in the seats farthest from the center. However, in typical Square fashion, numerous verbal and visual references warned everybody not to take pictures or video of anything on the screen. Therefore, where we sat didn't really matter. I was armed with my tape recorder anyway, as I didn't want to miss any important info, especially on FFIX or The Bouncer. Unable to take any photos, we decide to sit back in our chairs and enjoy the show.
A cute female announcer came out and welcomed us to the Square Theater and told us what to expect. Type S, Gekikuukan Pro Baseball -- At the End of the Century 1999, Final Fantasy IX, All-Star Pro Wrestling, The Bouncer, Play Online and Vagrant Story will all be shown, we are told. You can read full impressions on all of the PS2 games from IGN's Dave Zdykro. She also made sure to throw in a quick warning not to take any pictures or video during the presentation.
The Type-S video displayed basically everything we have seen before from the Square Millennium event and the PlayStation Festival 2000. One thing I did notice was that the replay on a crash looked pretty good. The car that was hit actually bounced up and down and responded realistically (This as opposed to a game like Ridge Racer V, where physics are basically thrown out the window). Just try this on RRV: Play a two-player race and have one player go around the track in the opposite direction. Eventually your cars will meet in a head-on collision. What should be a total disaster instead results in both cars going in reverse the same speed for a hundred meters.) Other than that, it was Type-S, now available here in Japan.
Square's pro baseball title is really shaping up to be something special. The movie showed the usual batting, fielding, and collision at the plate scenes, but also devoted some time to bean balls, showing the animations for players hitting the dirt. There must have been ten beaners/brushbacks in a row and I loved every minute of it. I was half-expecting the batter to charge the mound, but this is Japanese baseball after all... That was followed by the spectacular homerun animations. I must say that I am most impressed with this game out of Square's three sports games so far (racing, baseball and pro wrestling).
Finally, FFIX was up. I got my pencil and paper ready, hoping to catch some new tidbit on the game. But I forgot one thing -- this is Square. Imagine every screenshot that you have seen on the game and you will have what was basically shown. Of course, it was neat to see actual footage of the Black Wizard laying face down in the rain, but it wasn't anything new. Oh well, there was still The Bouncer to look forward to.
Next was All Star Pro-Wrestling. Much like Type-S and baseball before it, this was pretty much the same thing that has been published before. I did like how the camera kept the ropes on the screen, even when the camera zoomed in on the action. Games like WCW/NWO Revenge always cut the rope out of the picture, leaving an end on both sides. This way looks a lot more realistic. The video showed some footage and it was over.
Finally, The Bouncer was up. I got my pencil and paper ready, along with my tape recorder and was ready to go. There was more of this game shown at the Fall Tokyo Game Show. Heck, even the camera was playable there. This time around, the total clip must have been about 10 seconds long. It wasn't really even the game, but a movie scene. It showed some phrases on the screen like "Please Sion, stop him." And "The Final Battle begins." The movie sequence showed a bad guy jumping out of a window with a girl. And then it was over. Fortunately, the press CD that Square passed out contained shots of the game. But wait these were the same shots provided at the Square Millennium. They were laid out in an ad that read "The Bouncer at E3." So hopefully, the actual game behind this mystery title will be revealed then.
The Play Online presentation also showed the video from the Millennium event, with some Japanese kids playing Final Fantasy Online. Of course the game wasn't really FFXI, just a mock up of what the features may be like. Vagrant Story was the last game shown and it was also short. However, this game has been out in Japan for a couple of months, so there's not a whole lot of new info that can be revealed.
Once all the games were presented, the video of the talk session between FFIX's producer and character designer appeared on the screen. At last I got my pencil and paper ready once again, along with my tape recorder and was ready to go. It was a bit difficult to hear over the noise of the game show, but we were in the front, so I was still able to make out what was said. And what I heard didn't really surprise me that much. The two basically talked about Amano's return to the Final Fantasy series and showed the drawings of the main characters that have already been released. Anyone who has read anything about the game would have seen and known all the same things. Oh well, there's always next week's Famitsu.
The final demonstration was of All Star Pro-Wrestling in action. The challenger was a young Japanese idol/singer/model who Dave immediately took a liking to. The other player was the producer of the game himself. Didn't seem like a fair fight to me. They both picked their wrestlers and watched the entrance of the first wrestler. While it was pretty close to the real thing, there didn't seem to be much glitz or polish to it. The crowd is made up of individual people, but it is made up of the same people wearing the same clothes and moving in the same way. The match dragged on for 15 minutes, with neither player looking like they knew any of the moves, although I imagine the producer was just being nice. The game ended in a draw and the girl asked us to buy her new photo book that is on sale.
In the end, Square's booth proved to be no different from usual. There are never really any surprises with Square at a game show. It saves that for press events. Square has never been one to feel pressured to tip its hand and has held info on FFIX and The Bouncer up until now. It doesn't need to constantly release new info on things while they still have soon-to-be-released PS2 games to promote. Besides, Square EA treated us to a wonderful dinner and I got to watch Dave try to down some sashimi (sushi without the rice). Whenever Square releases new information on Final Fantasy IX or The Bouncer, it will probably be worth the wait.