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Digital Games Expo 2023 was held in Akihabara UDX on 12th November 2023. Digital Games Expo, which is also known by its Japanese name “Dejige Haku” is an event dedicated to indie and “doujin” games, and this was the eleventh time this annual event was held since 2013.

Official website: https://digigame-expo.org/

What ARE doujin games, though?
“Doujin” refers to fan/hobbyist-created content, and doujin games are thus games created by fans and hobbyists.

Japanese hobbyists have been creating games for platforms such as the MSX and X68000 on a large scale since the 80’s, distributing them at events such as Comic Market (some even argue that the history of doujin games goes back as far as the 70’s).

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Japan thus has a rich history of independent developers and hobbyists working on games, as well as a large following. For the most part of their history, however, doujin games were mostly distributed on physical media at local events, meaning that they had low visibility outside of Japan. This has been gradually changing in recent years, with the advent of digital storefronts that distribute such games, and publishers willing to pick them up.

Some famous franchises even have their roots in doujin games: For example, Type-Moon, famous for the Fate series and especially Fate/Grand Order which is one of the highest-grossing mobile games of all time, was first made famous by their doujin game Tsukihime (which had a retail release for its remake last year).

The boundary between doujin and indie games is ambiguous, but the rule of thumb is that indie games are generally created to be products by professionals or semi-professionals, while doujin games are generally created by hobbyists for fun, but one can find many exceptions to this, and the difference (or lack thereof) between the terms is a frequent hot topic for discussion.

Today, doujin games account for 5% of all doujin works altogether. While this might not initially sound like much, one should consider the sheer scale of doujin activity in Japan, with Comic Market 97 having 32,000 participating doujin circles, and a total of 750,000 participants in the event overall.

While doujin games used to be mostly exclusive to PC, the ease of development in recent years has resulted in more diversity in platforms, and we saw games for PC, current generation consoles, retro game consoles, iOS and Android, and VR at the event.

Due to the sheer number of participants, it would be hard to cover all of them, and so we are only able to show off a fraction here: Anyone who is interested in seeing more should check out the complete list of participants available on the official website.

 

Lidlocks

Lidlocks

Lidlocks is an independent developer that was showing off Chronicle, an RTS game featuring historical figures that will be coming to Steam, iOS and Android.

 

Asanoha Factory

Asanoha Factory

Asanoha Factory is an indie visual novel developer that was showing Haiyuuenchi no Memento Memoria, a post-apocalyptic visual novel taking place in an abandoned amusement park.

 

Tokyo Polytechnic University Programming Club

Tokyo Polytechnic University Programming Club

Several clubs from universities were also present at the event, such as Tokyo Polytechnic University‘s programming club, which had an assortment of 93 games and other media such as animations that they made on sale for 500 yen.

 

6th Sense Games

6th Sense Games

6th Sense Games is a two-person theme making Inou no Karte, an adventure game in which the player is a counselor who talks to children with secret superpowers, trying to figure out what their powers are. The player can click on objects in the environment in order to use them in the conversation, and has to balance trust and sanity along the way.

 

ELECTRIAR LABO

Electriar Code

Electriar Labo had the game Electriar Code, which is available on iOS and Android, on display. Electriar Code has a similar world to that of series like Busou Shinki and Megami Device, in which sentient action figure-sized robots exist and are pitted against each other in battles by their owners. The game is similar to the old Busou Shinki game Battle Rondo (which closed down in 2012), with the player customizing their robot but not actually controlling it in battle: In Electriar Code, fighting is completely automated based on the loadout and AI settings, keeping in line with the setting.

 

Atelier Mimina

Atelier Mimina had past games like the retro MSX2 RPG Traditional Story, “3D music + adventure game” Giraffe and Annika, and the upcoming 2025 sci-fi RPG Haruka: Beyond the Stars featured. Both Giraffe and Annika and Haruka both support English and are listed on Steam.

Alaska Ohdanbu

Alaska Ohdanbu showed off Dramatic Road: The Origin of Wind, a Fire Emblem-like strategy RPG set in modern Japan.

Tazigen Clock

Tazigen Clock

Tazigen Clock had ManaCollect 2 on show. The game is basically Minesweeper, but selecting a tile immediately tells you if it contains mana (the equivalent of mines) and the goal is to collect as many as possible within a certain time limit, and the game has a versus mode where two players compete on the same grid, which results in great fun.

 

Tempoku Koubou

Tempoku Koubou

Tempoku Koubou deals entirely in games by and for people who love trains, and had the new game Hokkaido 4,500km on display. Taking place in Hokkaido in the summer of 1967, the goal of the game is simply to ride on every single train line in the region.

 

Wakuwaku Games

Natsu no kanata

Wakuwaku Games showed off the upcoming new version of indie darling natsuno-kanata – beyond the summer, an adventure game in which the player talks to a girl in a post-apocalyptic parallel world through actual computer inputs – The player can type out what they want to say, similar to 1998’s Starship Titanic, except that it actually works (in the Japanese version, at least). The upcoming new version, entitled Natsuno-Kanata: Beyond Summer, will be coming to Steam and the Nintendo Switch in 2024. Though the Steam page states that English is not supported, we got confirmation that the game will eventually be released in English.

 

Project ICKX

Project ICKX

Project ICKX, which specializes in Ace Combat-style flight action games, had a bunch of their existing games for sale. Their game Vertical Strike: Endless Challenge, which allows the player to pull off all sorts of crazy post stall maneuvers, is available in English on multiple platforms such as Steam, and their classic sci-fi flight action game EFFY will be coming to Steam as well.

 

POLYGONOMICON

POLYGONOMICON

Polygonomicon is a one-man dev team that had Varvarion, a 3D action game with a pretty unique aesthetic and cool gameplay at the event. Though the game describes itself as having anime-styled fights, it should be noted that the characters are mostly of the heavier, macho sort, and so “anime” here seems to be less like Naruto or Jujutsu Kaisen and more along the lines of Berserk.

 

Inti Creates, which is one of the event’s sponsors, was of course also present, with playable demos of Gunvolt Records: Cychronicle, Umbraclaw, and Yohane the Parhelion -Blaze in the Deepblue- available.

 

As always, the Digital Games Expo was filled with passionate developers who clearly love working on games, and even a quick glance yields all sorts of unique and fascinating games.

As stated before, the sheer number of participants means that this article is only able to show off a small fraction of what was available at the event: Anyone whose interest was piqued by the snippets here should definitely check out the complete list of participants available on the official website.

 

Also see:

Japanese indie games show their stuff at Digital Games Expo 2022

Digital Games Expo 2021 Event Report – A celebration of indie & doujin games

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