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JRPGs Going Global

| Tuesday, April 8, 2014

WEB_Banner_JPGRAllie Tollaksen | The Observer

Once upon a time, long ago (three whole decades), a Japanese company named Squaresoft made some of the first roleplaying video games that took the world by storm. Known as JRPGs (for “Japanese roleplaying games”) Squaresoft’s roleplaying video games involved players controlling a protagonist in a story-based game, often set in a fantastical world. Today, that company is known as Square Enix, but the brand has not stopped developing games, some still JRPGs.

One of those video games, titled “Bravely Default,” is an excellently-produced JRPG that sold more than 200,000 copies in its first three weeks in the United States after its release in 2012. Sales numbers can be deceptive or hard to put into context, and this may be catastrophic for an AAA home console game such as “Call of Duty” or “Grand Theft Auto.” But for a handheld Japanese roleplaying game, however, the numbers are outstanding and surprising.

In a recent interview with Japanese magazine Nikkei Trendy, Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda commented on the unexpected success of “Bravely Default” in western markets.

“Fans of JRPGs are really spread around the world,” Yosuke Matsuda said, “For the new games we’ll be developing from this point on while this may sound a bit extreme, we’ve been talking about making them as heavy JRPGs.”

By “heavy JRPGs,” Matsuda means genuine, traditional roleplaying games, which the company has been attempting to move away from in unsuccessful attempts to reach a global market in recent years. This makes the success of “Bravely Default,” a real JRPG, all the more surprising.

Still, many Japanese developers are currently struggling in the roleplaying game market, even within Japan. What’s needed is for these developers to take a closer look at the global gaming landscape and realize that there is an unbelievable demand for JRPGs. It’s amazing that Square Enix and a number of other Japanese developers have been so hesitant to expand on the worldwide success of their JRPGs. In fact, most developers simply appear to not be concerned with their global audience.

For instance, Japanese developer From Software produced “Dark Souls,” one of 2011’s most critically acclaimed games. The game received an 89/100 on the Metacritic scores for both its PS3 and Xbox 360 versions and was a financial hit as well, selling more than 1.19 million units in just the U.S. and European markets.

Nintendo’s Pokémon JRPGs have always been incredibly prosperous as well, with the most recent games, “X” and “Y,” selling over 12 million copies worldwide.

With so much profit to be had over here in the west, the apathetic attitude of most Japanese developers is almost unfathomable, yet they still continue to ignore these markets. Sega is another example of this disengagement. Two years ago, the company promised that “Phantasy Star Online 2” would come west in early 2013, but silence is the only thing they’ve given the western market since. Square Enix’s “Final Fantasy Type-0,” announced back in 2006, still has not made it over here either, though it was released in Japanese markets in 2011.

Even the games that do arrive in the west take an absurdly long time to make it. Games like “Tales of Symphonia Chronices” have taken months after their Japanese release to reach western gamers, while many others do not even have a release date.

When Japanese developers have tried to appeal to western audiences, they have gone about it with an “Americans don’t get it” mentality, trying to make games more global. This has proven to be a resounding failure. Konami tried to create a Castlevania game that attracted American gamers with “Lords of Shadows 2,” but it was nothing but a disappointment, flopping both critically and financially.

This regional approach is not good for Japanese developers, and it has definitely been damaging. Developers need to realize that Americans want more than their latest football game or military simulator, and are prepared for “heavy RPGs.” Hopefully now that Square Enix is planning to give more attention to their American consumer base, other companies will follow suit.

There are a slew of incredible JRPGs set to come out this next year, from “Final Fantasy XV” to “Persona V,” and it would be great if these publishers finally gave the western world the consideration (and games) we’ve been waiting for.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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