The Tokyo Game Show is Japan’s premier video game trade show. Each year thousands come from around the world to this gaming mecca to see the biggest titles of the coming year. For many, it’s a pilgrimage of sorts, with the novices finding themselves woefully unprepared for the experience in both mind and body. It is to these first-time pilgrims and those who can only dream of going that this guide is written.
The first and perhaps most misleading misassumption about TGS is present in the title itself. The Tokyo Game Show is not, in fact, in Tokyo but in the prefecture (state) east of Tokyo, Chiba. The Tokyo/Yokohama metropolitan area is the largest in the world, leaving more than a few disoriented gamers lost in the urban jungle. Even assuming your “Tokyo” hotel will be close to TGS is a huge gamble. Each year, many find themselves in hotels hours away from the show because of this simple assumption.
And because the Tokyo/Yokohama metropolitan area is also the most populous in the world, saying that TGS is crowded would be an understatement. This year, attendance swelled to 80,000 on the public days. At this point, you need to put aside all stereotypical ideas of Japanese over-politeness because people in crowds, especially these crowds, are not nice. Trying to reach certain booths will invoke experiences not unlike trying to reach the last chopper out of Nam. A small shoulder bag for swag is the absolute most you should carry, and wearing a full backpack is just begging for a physical assault. And yet, being pushed, pulled, twisted, mashed and molested inside a seething mass of humanity is not the worst part of the experience. No, that assault comes not against your sense of touch, but rather your sense of smell.
Do you really think he’ll bother to wash first?
There is nothing quite like the odor of 80,000 unwashed bodies. It doesn’t help that a sizable portion of those are Otaku who are well known for their lack of personal cleanliness. Add to this that, as a rule, Japanese people wear neither deodorant nor antiperspirant and a few hours in the heat of a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd may have you wanting to break out bandanas soaked in vinegar. It’s not quite “rub Vicks under your nose” bad, but this is a trade show that should have signs posted to flat out tell people to go bathe.
So whether you choose to wield a bottle of Febreze like a flame thrower or just bear with it, the wait will be an even greater enemy as you stand in the unbearably long lines. Much like Chinese water torture, the first few minutes of waiting seem like nothing, but soon, shoving pencils in your eye seems like a good distraction from boredom. The best way to avoid long lines at TGS is planning. The most popular booths will be the ones showing the most anticipated Japanese games. To maximize your play time, avoid anything with “monster hunter” in the title, along with the Level-5 and Square-Enix booths. The Microsoft booth and those belonging to non-Japanese developers, however, will be relatively uncrowded and even the biggest western titles will have waits less than 30 minutes.
That said, it seems foolish to avoid the biggest Japanese developers. After all, you’re on a pilgrimage! So if you truly have the patience of a Zen monk, there is a trick to seeing the most popular things at the Square-Enix and Sony booths. Both of these booths give away tickets at the start of each day: Sony to play with their new technology (i.e. Move and 3D) and Square-Enix to play the most popular games. These tickets have a time printed on them at which you will return and play the game of your choice. However, it is not a joke nor an exaggeration to say these will be all gone within the first 5 minutes of the show. There will be a rush toward these booths not unlike Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls. But if you are willing to be in line at 6 am, a full 4 hours before the show starts, you may just be lucky enough to pick up a ticket or two. Maybe. Don’t underestimate the insanity of the Japanese gaming Otaku.
A more sane alternative to lining up early is that some of the most popular games are featured in more than one booth at the show. Sony and Microsoft often have shorter lines for big-name titles than the actual developers’ booths. However, these will become more crowded as the day goes on so it’s best to hit those early.
Perhaps the best way to spend a few hours is to check out the far corners of the show. Whether it be the games of local Japanese colleges or the International Pavilion, you will often find some real gems of the show with no line at all. Try out a toy helicopter controlled by a PSP or a wear-anywhere pair of goggles that mimicks watching a 50-inch HDTV from six feet away. Even if you are unable to see the biggest of the big-name titles, there is still plenty to experience.
The key to enjoying TGS is preparation. Going to TGS without a plan can turn your dream of a busy and fun-filled experience into a horrible one. So keep this guide handy and remember: Don’t feed or pet the booth girls. They bite.