Before E3 this year, Kyoto was host to a large array of Indie Developers as Bitsummit held its seventh annual event. In 2018, over 11,000 people attended the event. This year, there were over 100 games present, including panels with industry veterans and legends like Shuhei Yoshida and Koji Igarashi.
This year’s Bitsummit featured games from a wide range of publishers and developers, from experimental and student games, to western games making their Japanese debut. I made my way to the show to check out what was going on out on the floor, and am now here to report back to you on some of the coolest things I saw while I was there.
These are in no particular order, nor does this reflect everything I played at the show. I did not include games that are already out, nor games that were Japanese only, because while I live in Japan, my language skills are severely lacking at this moment. I dig the vibe of Necrobarista though.
Chrono Sword – 21c Ducks (PS4, XBox One, Steam) Release: 2021
Chrono Sword is an isometric pixel art souls-like game, drawing inspiration from Nordic lore. The demo I played starts with the player talking to Freya, discussing Baldur and several other characters. In somewhat of a departure from other souls-likes, there are conversation trees, though I cannot say if your conversations will have an impact or on the story or if they will simply serve to give the player information on what is happening in the world.
The demo had me working my way through a church-like courtyard/neighborhood before making my way inside and up to the top floor of the building. I did die a few times on the way, often due to my own impatience. The combat felt a little stiff to me, at least early on. As I got used to it I was able to adjust to the style it wanted me to play. Armed with a very large sword, I had a three hit combo, with the first two hits being quick, and the third putting me into a vulnerable state if I missed. I could also hold down the X (Xbox controller) button to charge a more powerful attack. That charge attack is key for knocking shielded enemies off balance so you can finish them off.
The combat has some contextual elements to it as well, like standing near a wall when you run out of stamina will help you recover quicker, as your character places her hand on the wall for extra support. It was hard to get a sense of these contextual elements in the brief time I had with the demo, but that could be very interesting. One of the things that made it easy to see the contextual elements was the skill tree, which gives things like additional damage after a parry, or the ability to backstab or stab enemies near walls for extra damage by using the triangle button.
While the game is still a ways off, I think this early demo of the game is quite promising and I look forward to seeing the finished project. Also, sure sex is great, but have you ever beaten a souls-like boss on a convention floor?
You can find more info about Chrono Sword by visiting their website. http://chronosword.com/
Frog Detective 2: The Case of the Invisible Wizard – Worm Club (PC) Release: 2019
Sequel to The Haunted Island: a Frog Detective Game, Frog Detective 2 puts you back in the shoes of the Frog Detective (Not to be confused with Lobster Cop). The demo at the show was short, and merely showed the basic mechanics and style of humor the game is going for. Someone has trashed the parade to celebrate the Invisible Wizard, and the Frog Detective must chat with the various residents to discover who is guilty. I would have liked to have seen a conclusion in the demo, but perhaps that would give away the actual contents of the game. The writing in the demo was sharp and witty and delightful to experience. Definitely keep an eye out for this one if you enjoy talking to animals with outrageous personalities, and mysteries.
You can buy the first Frog Detective game on Steam and Itch.io, and visit their website for more information on Frog Detective 2. https://frogdetective.net/
Infinitesimals – Cubit Studios (PC)
While only in a prototype phase, Infinitesimals showcased neat mechanics and visuals. The sandbox that you were able to play in seemed to take place in a small patch of dirt, with blades of grass towering into the sky around you. Spread about the area were a handful of enemies are vehicles that would take aim at the player. Luckily, using your trusty jetpack, it was easy to navigate your way out of harm’s way. It is in very early development, but I enjoyed the mechanics and aesthetic that the game is working with now.
You can keep up with the development of Infinitesimals by following their Twitter account. https://twitter.com/cubitstudios?lang=en
Kanji Wars/Neko Card – Nekologic (Android, iOS, VR) Release:Currently in beta on iOS and Android
Being in Japan, learning Japanese is a constant journey, and it can be quite difficult if you are not consistent with your studies. Often, when I try a new method that seems promising, I end up forced to review the same vocab and kanji that I’ve learned before. Nekologic is looking to alleviate that pain point in learning kanji (it also teaches kana characters) by allowing the learner to mark kanji they already know. It then uses that information to assume other kanji that the learner probably knows, and places those lower in the review order. It will occasionally surface one of those kanji, and depending on if you get it wrong will then begin to pull those kanji that it assumed you knew. Currently, this system is not implemented in the beta version of the app, but it will be coming.
Another thing that I spoke with the representative there about is their AR app, Neko Card, which he described as Pokemon Go for Kanji. You will be able to go out into the world, and use the app to pull in any unknown kanji you may see. It will then bring those Kanji into your study app, and help you learn them.
The last, very early stage prototype I saw from Nekologic was their VR app. In its current state, I was put into a series of water-coloresque environments, with a few Japanese sentences around me. I could then use the controller (this was all within Oculus Go) to select a sentence, and have it broken down into its component pieces and words. Then, I could select on a specific kanji and then be taken to more information about that, and then be able to find more uses for that kanji in other sentences. In the future, their hope is to create a sort of “mind palace” where you can create your own mnemonics by placing objects around the room for each kanji, and using motion control to give you activities like drawing the kanji in sand or stabbing a kanji out of the air with a sword and throwing it into a word. It is very early, but a more immersive study environment may be helpful for many when it comes to studying.
You can learn more about Nekologic and their work on their website. http://neko-logic.com/
Onkou Cha-han – Miyaza Works
In Onkou Cha-han you play as a chef making some delicious fried rice. That’s roughly all there is to it. Oh, and the only way to control the game is with a microphone and a plastic bag. You hold the plastic bag in front of the microphone and rub it on itself to create a noise similar to sauteing in a wok. Very simple, but neat.
You can find more from the creator(s) of Onkou Cha-han on their website. http://www.warateru.com/
Shores Unknown – Vallynne (Switch, Steam) Release: 2020
Lately, I’ve been on a bit of an RPG kick, playing games of Dungeons and Dragons, restarting Divinity: Original Sin 2, and just generally looking for something to scratch that itch. Shores Unknown popped up and started scratching at it quite well. The game forgoes the traditional grid-based tactical combat of games like Divinity, for a more free form movement style. It is still turn-based, but you don’t have to worry about spending points on movement. Instead, you choose what your character would like to attack, and then when that characters turn comes they move into position and make their attack. Based on the demo, characters seem to be put on a set progression path. So, if you find yourself paralyzed by choice in RPGs like Divinity, Shores Unknown may be the game for you.
You can find out more about Shores Unknown on their website. http://shoresunknown.com/
Star Renegades – Massive Damage (XBox One, PC) Release: 2020
Star Renegades was easily the most striking game I saw at Bitsummit. Everything from the environment to the character design had me in awe. Each new enemy had me remarking “That is incredible,” to the artist of the game who was there giving demos. The pitch I was given for Star Renegades is that it’s a JRPG like Chrono Trigger, “without the baggage.” It is an RPG, but it’s also a Rogue-lite, meaning you can finish a session or story in a reasonable amount of time. The game also will feature a take on the nemesis system from Shadow of Mordor, where an enemy who defeats your party can move up in the ranks and gain new abilities and will become a named enemy. So when you return with a new party, you’ll know when you encounter the person or thing that killed your previous party. Also, they are planning on implementing ways to force players to change their party, like if your party dies, you cannot use those characters on your next run.
So, you will build your party and then set out into one of several planets, where you will have various missions, and can find new characters (who you can then take into subsequent play-throughs). I was actually pretty bad at the game, but it is easy to tell there will be a wide range of strategies you will be able to execute through team construction. The relationship between your party members will also be important for developing your strategies. As characters improve their relationship with each other they will gain combo moves which allow them to do more damage. One way you will be able to improve these relationships is through a card game that takes place while your party camps. This aspect of the game was not in the demo I played, so I can’t give any details on the mechanics of the card game, other than you will have a limited amount of time to play the game in camp.
The demo I played was a few months old, and it sounds like much has changed since then, including some of the art, and a UI overhaul is also in the works. What I saw looked nice, but was a bit unintuitive to navigate, so I look forward to seeing the finished product.
You can find more information about Star Renegades, and sign up for their mailing list on their website. http://starrenegades.com/
Lonely Mountain Downhill – Megagon Industries (PS4, XBox One, Switch, Steam)
Lonely Mountain Downhill, as you might be able to guess, is a mountain biking game. It uses an isometric perspective which can be a little awkward to get a mastery of at first, as you try to figure out which way to move the stick. But once you start to get comfortable with the controls the game starts to shine. The objective is simple enough, race to the bottom of the mountain as fast as you can. There are checkpoints along the way, so when you inevitably crash you won’t be set back too much. There are hidden shortcuts all over the mountain in the demo, but they are not immediately apparent. I often did not see them until I was passing by the exit of the shortcut. It seems like a perfect game to take on-the-go with a Switch.
You can find a one minute demo and more information about Lonely Mountain Downhill on their website. https://lonelymountains.com/
Greak – Navegante Entertainment – (Switch, Steam) Release: TBD
Greak was an easily missable game on the show floor. It was on a switch sitting under a TV playing another game, with no signage. I’m happy I found it though because it is a game I want to keep my eye on. Greak is a metroidvania where you play as a group of three siblings, each with their own unique set of skills. In the demo I played, I only had two of the characters; Greak and Adara. Greak uses a sword, and can double jump, while Adara fires homing magic attacks and can levitate. The older brother, Raydel, uses a sword and shield and has a hook-shot. As you run around the world, the player can hold the left bumper button to cause the other character(s) to follow along with you, keeping your party together. Occasionally, you will need to break up the group to and solve puzzles to help the whole party progress.
The game is still early in its development, parts of the opening cinematic were just storyboard art, so it is difficult to say when the game will be out. But, the mechanic of having three different characters that you can switch between at will, with their own unique skill sets is intriguing, and I will be keeping an eye out for this one.
You can sign up to get updates about Greak and sign up to get access to a demo in the future on their website. http://playgreak.com/
This is only a small sample of what was available to play at Bitsummit 2019, but you can be assured that there were plenty of other awesome games available. If you go to any conventions like PAX, be sure to keep an eye out, and think about giving these games a shot yourself when they release.