Japan’s happy little rut

I’ve been wondering for a while which way Japanese developers are going to jump in terms of his generation’s console race. Once upon a time, it was a foregone conclusion that the bulk of JRPGs would end up the PS3, and so would go my gaming dollar. But Sony hasn’t exactly done a good job of gaining traction, and Microsoft has done a good job of throwing money at publishers like Square-Enix, so I’ve been reluctant to commit either way.

And really, so have Japanese developers. Developing for the PS3 and Xbox 360 is still prohibitively expensive, and Japan has been generally slow to embrace HDTV and online multiplayer on consoles. So they’ve been biding their time with the PS2, Nintendo DS and PSP, hoping that Square-Enix will show them where to go. And now that Dragon Quest X has been announced for the Wii, I can almost hear the collective sigh of relieve in studios throughout Japan. They got the answer they wanted to hear.

And why not? The Wii has a huge install base, and developing for it is fairly cheap. It’ll buy developers a few more years to figure out how they’re going to get their act together and start developing for more powerful consoles. Until then, we’ll get Wii Monster Hunter, Wii Dragon Quest, and pretty much every shade of JRPG and licensed anime shovelware that developers can churn out in a two year period. It’ll be like PS2 2.0, except with a vestigial motion controller. And beyond that, they’ll be just fine with developing for the DS and the PSP for another year or two.

Personally, I’m not really surprised or upset by this. I like my Wii, PSP and DS just fine. But I do think that making a beeline for the Wii will only contribute to the notion out west that the Japanese development community is falling behind. That is, unless they decide to do something revolutionary with the motion controller. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on it.

So for all of you who were waiting for, say, Shin Megami Tensei on the PlayStation 3, I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to keep waiting. Unless their name is Capcom, Namco-Bandai or Square Enix, Japanese developers will be perfectly happy to toil away in their little rut until Square once again deigns to point the way for them. Say… around 2011. Just in time for Final Fantasy XIII.

26 thoughts on “Japan’s happy little rut

  1. As a mainly RPG-only gamer (not to mention strapped for money), I’ve discovered that handhelds, especially the DS, are the new home for the traditional RPG.

    So yeah, I feel yeah. I have no real reason to plop down for 360 or PS3.

  2. By the time they figure out how to develop for next-gen consoles, it’s going to be the next-next gen. Thank god Microsoft is out there throwing money around or there wouldn’t be anything in the Japanese RPG market for next-gen at all. It’s ridiculous.

  3. Considering that Japanese developers making a beeline for the DS got us The World Ends With You, I say bring on the token motion controls! Someone’ll do us proud eventually.

  4. I think this goes well with Parish’s post from earlier. I do fear that Japanese developers may be perceived as being behind in terms of development, but there’s nothing wrong with putting fun and quality and “heart” above technology.

    I would say there must be some sort of happy medium, where we can have HD graphics + a reasonably modest development budget, but the message from Nintendo and Squeenix seems to be that HD isn’t necessary to have fun, and I get that. At least for now. So I agree, I guess!

  5. I’m just thankful Kitase will never make a Final Fantasy game for the Wii. The TRUE (and perhaps only) JRPG SUPERGOD.

  6. I don’t think any company (eastern or western based) are really being “progressive” in terms of design. First parties are, a little bit, but really, the games we’re playing now are little more than last gen games with a bit of extra polish. They look better and have more enemies on screen, or some controls have been mapped to a kink of the wrist, but it’s a lot of retreaded water, so to speak.

  7. I don’t know about that. I’m still really excited about Mirror’s Edge, even with all the moaning about the “bad combat.” Also, things like LittleBigPlanet show that creativity at least has a pulse this generation.

  8. Sean, I’m generally a big fan of Final Fantasy (FFVI+ to be more precise), mostly due to the awesome gameworlds and complex storytelling.

    But the totally bland fairlytalish approach of the DQ series is just so frickin boring. DQ Wii will sell just as bad in the west as all the other DQ games.

    Although to be fair to DQ, I believe Motoru Toriyama or whatever his name is in the directors chair for XIII, so will probably get a lot of Matrix BS in that game (aka Lightning flying over countless enemies kicking all there butts without much of a sweat, as seen in that FMV sequence), since that’s a trademark of Toriyama.

  9. If the Wii is going to be the PS2 2.0 in terms of an enormous amount of RPGs on the system (including shovelware, too, I guess), hell, I just might be all for that!

    Also: run, Eric, run!!! Quick, before the Nomura zipper fetishists and Toriyama fans band together and eat you!

  10. Is it really a given that Dragon Quest on the Wii will galvanize Japanese RPG developers to the Wii? I personally think that, if the Wii were going to become some kind of RPG mecca, it would have more RPGs than Opoona and Tales of Symphonia by now.

  11. The Wii being viable for RPGs is a good thing for Atlus, since it would mean they could stay small budget.

  12. mrbuu82 – it’s not like the PS3 or 360 have much in the way of RPGs at the moment, either. (I’m probably missing some here) The 360 has Tales of Vesperia, Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, and…? The PS3 has a port of Eternal Sonata and…? Sure they have games in development but not much out there now. Things are moving a lot slower than last generation, that much is certain. This is one reason why I am glad that HD isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be – I like playing my games within two years from first announcement.

  13. Seems like most developers are biding their time on the DS while they figure out what to do. I should note that Dragon Quest IX seemed to mark the moment that Square Enix fully committed to the DS (previously, they had really only had Final Fantasy III in the works), and after that, a lot of RPG developers seemed to follow suit.

  14. Why is it assumed that full next-gen development should be the ultimate goal of a company? The real goal is to make a game with the lowest possible cost and sell to the largest amount of customers. That’s why the Wii is such a good decision here. I don’t see the relatively low HD adoption as a failure to understand or embrace the technology, but as the failure of the technology to serve the markets at large. It’s neat, but it’s not needed; HD is more than is necessary.

    Focused Wii development is not being ‘in a rut.’ Focused Wii development is not ‘falling behind.’ I don’t see how putting DQ X on the Wii is a bad idea in any sense.

  15. I agree that “in a rut” may be too strongly worded, but I think the point is that there’s a perception that Japanese designers who are sticking to more economical platforms like Wii and DS are “behind” in some way. I think that’s nonsense, considering that the apparently “not behind” game design philosophy in this country is largely centered on the question of how to make a better mousetrap. And by “mousetrap” I mean FPS. I guess you could accuse some Japanese designers of the same thing with RPGs, but at least they’re not throwing down movie-sized budgets on every “big” title–which is why I think it’s important to read this article alongside Parish’s on Retronauts 61.

  16. Japanese game design IS in a rut. There is a vacuum of new ideas and the only thing of quality that’s come from SE that was not a sequel was The World Ends With You. If you look at IU (which is correctly called ewww”) and TLR (a combat slideshow), you see that SE isn’t doing too hot. Someone earlier mentioned that FFVI+ had big worlds and complex storytelling. I’d make sure to say FFVI to X because XII certainly doesn’t fall into the complex storytelling category, but it certainly has a nice world and engine (at least on a non HD TV – conversion is TERRIBLE). RPG developers were on the DS long before SE jumped on the bandwagon and released a bunch of sequels and TWEWY. Its the other way around. Very few companies in Japan are trying out new ideas, like Mass Effect’s combination of different genres, the design of Portal and Mirror’s Edge or the breadth of GTAIV. The number of years it takes to make these kinds of games is the number of years its going to take for Japan to start to catch up in terms of new ideas once the game companies actually start going at it. The Wii is a japanese product and I like the little machine and I want to play it more, but rare are the developers making anything good for it. The last Wii game I played and enjoyed was Boom Blox.

    I am happy to hear that DQX is coming to SOMETHING and I think the Wii is a better idea than the DS (DQIX), but after what we saw with DQ8 on the PS2, I’m still cringing a bit. I thought DQ8 was the pinnacle of DQness, with the orchestrated soundtrack and the entire world being a cel-shaded rendition of everything Toriyama had designed in the past couple decades. With high quality voice acting at that! If SE can maintain this level of quality, I don’t mind that its on the Wii. If not, its a regression and its unfortunate.

    The only reason that SE went for the Wii is because of the PS3 and 360 sales in Japan. Even with the PS3 outselling the 360; if you look at the top 5 sales at 1up, its obvious that there are massive problems with the market (and probably game design) in Japan, with not even 1 title breaking 1 million sales. These sales numbers also point to why the PS3 market is not that significant because even though the PS3 outsells the 360 in Japan, the sheer lack of sales doesn’t compensate for how much the 360 outsells the PS3 everywhere else, a reflection of the relatively small size of the Japanese game market (20%ish). Which is why companies like Capcom and SE are trying out new things (though with bad results – see TLR). Its worth remembering also how fast MGS4 appeared in the bargain bin despite being the PS3’s apparently top seller.

  17. Wait, Sin – FFVII-IX had “complex storylines?” I prefer the term “convoluted.” I love those games to death, but really, they all had an extremely similar storyline – young heroes fight an Evil Empire, only to discover the ‘true’ villain sometime after the first disc (who may or may not be related in some fashion to the hero). Come to think of it, VI was like that too. In fact, the similarities in the plot between VI and VII are probably much more apparent than divided fanboys would want to believe.

    As for XII…. well, it’s kinda similar, but I would say it has a pretty complex storyline – not convoluted, but wonderfully complex. And the script is the best from SE yet. Anyway, that’s all – I have nothing to add to the actual conversation at hand :P

  18. Oh you people and misinterpreting articles. I didn’t say that DQX on Wii was a bad idea. I said that that I was curious where Japanese game development was going to go after the PS2 finally dies, and now I think I have my answer – Square-Enix is putting DQX on the Wii, and they’re going to happily follow suit. It’s not casting Square in a bad light. Just the rest of the Japanese industry.

  19. Addendum: And it’s not even because they’re developing on economical platforms. It just makes me sad that they’re going to put the same old RPGs on the Wii, with the main selling point of the system (motion controls) being an afterthought.

  20. Google for definitions:

    Complex: Consisting of interconnected or interwoven parts

    Convoluted: Having numerous overlapping coils or folds; intricate; complicated

    Sounds like a synonym to me.

    FFXII was not complicated. Yasuno Matsuno, responsible for FFT and a few other things, left the team in the middle of the development. The characters remained flat and underdeveloped and the story was left with gigantic unfilled plotholes to the point it was incoherent (the Judge who’s Basch’ brother made NO sense). I’m not going to argue the merits of FFVI-X because that wasn’t the point of my comment. The point was that FFXII was a botched work story wise compared to the others. You go from point A to point B with little incentive or reason and after doing that enough times, the game ends with little explanation about anything. The script wasn’t bad but I liked FFT’s PSP remake more, but that might also be in part because of the story it was telling in the process. The voice acting for the script wasn’t very good except for key characters like Balthier; how much is it the script’s fault for not having a great story to tell? I find it hard to tease out the two.

  21. @Sin

    Even though they’re “synonyms”, I think there’s a semantic difference, where one suggests complicated in a tangled, incomprehensible and largely “bad” way, and the other in a meaningful, orderly “good” way. I haven’t played either game, so I couldn’t say which is which.

    Kat, do you think there’re things that could be done on the PS3 that CAN’T be done on Wii (apart from HD graphics, I mean)? If a simple 2D side-scroller like Little Big Planet indeed represents the “pulse of creativity” (although, admittedly, I’m sick to death of sack boys), then obviously it’s not new powerful graphics technology that opens the way to inventive game design, and I think for that matter motion controls are a potentially MUCH more fruitful avenue of exploration that I’d prefer to see developers throw their resources into (plus, I don’t even own an HDTV).


  22. Quick thought: How difficult is it, really, to develop an RPG for a next-gen console. Sure, the graphics are labor intensive, but you don’t really have to worry about collision physics much at all, given that players don’t really control movement in combat. I mean, developers could throw us a 2.5 gen game that looks pretty but highly restricts movement…

    Part 2 of that thought is that I would gladly play a PS2 2.0 game in HD on my 360 (think Culdcept) if it were otherwise good. I just bought Persona 4, and would have purchased it for my 360 even if it looked exactly the same for the simple reason that I like not having to plug multiple consoles into my TV and the 360 has a wireless controller. Really, simple convenience makes all the difference when it comes to leisure.

  23. @mrbuu82: “I personally think that, if the Wii were going to become some kind of RPG mecca, it would have more RPGs than Opoona and Tales of Symphonia by now.”

    Have you looked at the Wii RPG list lately? It’s bigger than the 360’s, actually. This wasn’t supposed to happen! Besides stuff like Chocobo’s Dungeon, Baroque, Dokapon Kingdom and My Life as a King that we have already, next year is going to see either US, Japan, or both region releases of games like Little King’s Story, Arc Rise Fantasia, Fragile and Muramasa: Demon Blade (Vanillaware’s action RPG).

    When I got the Wii, I seriously didn’t think it would become an RPG console, despite some preliminary Square Enix support like Dragon Quest Swords, but now that 2009 is coming, the shift seems to be already happening and Dragon Quest X will only accelerate it. Maybe Squenix will actually get FF Crystal Bearers out sometime, too. Next stop: Suikoden? Konami is already trying out DS with Tierkreis, and have steadfastly held back from announcing Suikoden VI.

  24. Developers have to do what they have to do, but when anything gets announced as a Wii exclusive, it goes into the big pasture in the sky with Wii Play and Wii Music and all the other WiiShit that I won’t be playing because I’m not going to buy one.

    And that saddens me. However, the chances that I would have played DQX were slim to none in the first place, so I guess they made the kind-of-right decision.

Comments are closed.