TGS 2023: Sega-Atlus Repeating Itself


Sega Atlus have had a varied past five years, with the company experiencing highs and lows in terms of sales and critical acclaim. In recent years, they saw an increase of popularity due to their successful releases such as Persona 5 and the ever-going Yakuza series, as well as a rather successful Sonic: Frontiers. Is that going to be enough?

The Context

In terms of overall company growth, the answer is probably NO. The sales have been sluggish at best, and you can see in their annual report that their financial performance has been stagnating over the years, and took a dive during the COVID19 period:

Of course, Sega is not just about video games, as it’s actually called the Sega Sammy group, and Sammy’s main business is Pachinko and slot machines, which is a very, very local business. But that business is growing very slowly compared to what they call the Entertainment business, which is mostly video games, and Video games now represent the largest chunk of their revenues and profits across the board (and also where they have the most employees).

In this context, Sega’s plan is to keep expanding on their existing licenses and milk the cow as long as possible with their existing IPs, and eventually come up with a “Super Game” (sic) to lead the new growth of the company. Are they for real?

Not sure if they are serious or is this is some kind of parody from the corporate office? There’s no such thing as “planning for a Super Game”. Nobody knows what will stick and what will explode in sales - if you want to come up with something like that, the most reliable way is to keep creating new games and experiment a lot until you eventually come up with a true hit (eventually).

At the Show

In terms of experimentation, you could not see much of that happening at this Tokyo Games Show 2023. The big titles shown were all sequels of over-extended IPs: Persona 5 Tactica, Another Like a Dragon / Yakuza title, and of course Sonic with Sonic Superstars who’s apparently going to be around the save the day until the end of time. Overall they all seemed like decent games, while there was nothing too extraordinary about any of them.

Persona 5 Tactica

This is a new spin-off of Persona 5, this time as a cutesy grid tactics game (think Fire Emblem). It benefits from the usual level of quality from Atlus: artstyle, music, voice acting are top notch, animations look slick and game runs well. However nothing stood out in the demo yet compared to other similar tactics games. Need to see more to judge its potential. It’s not clear at this stage if we should expect more, but it looks like it’s going to be positionned as a good game for tactics-loving persona franchise fans. In any case, they had a dance number on the Persona 5 theme on the second day of the show, and that was pretty cool:

Check also the one they made for Persona3 if you liked this one.

Persona 3 Reload

This is a remake from-scratch of the older Persona 3 for the Playstation 2. The visuals are amazing - in the style of Persona 5, but upgraded for the PS5. Combat animations were up to expectations for a PS5 anime game. Music is even better than the original. But I saw no difference with the original Persona 3 except for the visuals and music - the same auto-generated dungeon, group attacks mechanics… Overall, I am looking forward to it, but it needs a few more mechanical improvements on the original by learning from their more recent titles to feel like a truly modern game.

Sonic Superstars

Sonic is back (again!) with Sonic Superstars which is a another 2D-like game (for the most part) reminiscent of the early Sonic titles from the Megadrive/Genesis days. It feels very much like a modern Sonic 2, albeit with every thing rendered in 3D on screen, including the characters. You could play the first few levels until the first boss battle and then the demo was over, which was less than 10 minutes total.

While the game plays like the older ones, the animations were clunky (the 3D characters don’t look very good) and it has this budget game feel to it. The first boss battle was also not very exciting, with the typical tropes used (obvious weakpoints to hit). The highlight of Sonic 2 was also its soundtrack (composed by the legendary Nakamura Masato from the Dreams Come True band), and the newer title pales in comparison. Overall, probably not a bad title, but purely building on nostalgia without a speck of originality.

Yakuza: The Man With No Name

We did not try that one at the show, but it’s yet another series that keeps selling year after year and doing well with Japanese audiences. Most of the interesting stuff will be related to the storyline, since the gameplay hardly changes since its inception. Here’s the trailer to give you a taste:

The Future

In terms of licenses, Sonic is probably a cash cow but it’s showing signs of exhaustion. Nobody is actually excited for a new Sonic game anymore, because there’s just too much crap that they made out of it. Like a Dragon/Yakuza has some known potential, as it’s taping in a specific audience and we know roughly how well each episode is going to perform. Persona is probably the most juicy one of the lot. It still has this little gem image, and while it’s been getting widespread attention with the 5th episode there’s probably more room for it to grow. The move into the tactics genre is a good move to attract new gamers to the franchise who are not into the regular games of the series.

Overall, Sega Atlus feels a little dry, just like most of the other big companies in this year at the show: over-reliance on older titles which does not bode well for a ever-green future. Unless they actually come up with the “Super Game” that their financial report expects to materialize out of thin air…