Even fans of the PlayStation 3 will admit that if there is one thing the system lacked, it was Japanese role-playing games, henceforth referred to as JRPGs. Sure, the PS3 did receive a few JRPGs, such as Final Fantasy XIII, Ni No Kuni and Tales of Graces F, but this number pales in comparison to the PS1 and PS2 lineup, where it seemed multiple RPGs were released every month. What is the cause of this shift? Will the PlayStation 4 return the PlayStation brand back to the JRPG glory days of the past?
Before we can answer the second question, we have to take a look at the first. At the time of the PS1 and PS2, western RPGs were confined to the realm of the PC, a platform that not many users had access to due to hardware restrictions or just lack of interest. If you owned a console and you wanted a role-playing game experience, you were most likely playing a Japanese role-playing game. However, with the advent of the Xbox and Xbox 360, more and more western developers were able to make the jump from PC to console. Suddenly, JRPGs, typically known for being linear affairs, were competing with large, expansive and non-linear games such as Oblivion, one of the first major western RPGs to not only hit a console, but be a success, selling over four million copies.
Suddenly, a whole new generation of gamers experienced freedom in an RPG, making it hard to return to the constricted, linear progression and often cliched plots of JRPGs. In addition, western RPGs such as Oblivion outsold their JRPG counterparts by a large degree, which caused publishers to stop putting in the effort to translate and publish a JRPG for only a small amount of profit and begin work on their own western RPG which would amass far more in profit. When gamers started craving more western RPGs, publishers obliged leading to a dearth of JRPG games in the west. Even many well-known Japanese developers and publishers are focusing more on western styled RPGs just to get a piece of the pie.
But the RPG cravings of publishers and gamers weren't the only things that caused the JRPG disappearance on the PS3: the rising cost of development played a part as well. Making a video game on the PlayStation 3 is an expensive process and, with many RPGs boasting triple-digit lengths, an RPG is one of the most expensive games to produce due to the sheer amount of content. Quite simply, developers and publishers weren't making the amount of sales they needed to break even by releasing their RPGs on the consoles.
Enter handhelds, such as the Nintendo DS, 3DS, PSP and Vita, where developers could create the type of experience they wanted at a much cheaper cost. We've seen entire developers such as Atlus concentrate almost exclusively on handheld systems. Games like Persona, Dragon Warrior, Valkyria Chronicles and Suikoden have made the jump from consoles to almost exclusively handheld systems, where they have had a great measure of success due to the lack of western RPGs and the lower development costs.
With a new generation looming ahead of us, in particular the PlayStation 4, can we see the return of the console JRPG? After all, Square Enix already announced that a new Final Fantasy was in development, so surely a JRPG resurgence is likely to follow, right? Sadly, it's doubtful this will be the case. Final Fantasy is a unique example as it's one JRPG that can sell based on nostalgia and name alone; however, lately Square Enix has taken more risks with Final Fantasy as well, adapting it more for a western audience pushing it further away from what JRPG purists want. Capcom's PS4 RPG offering, Deep Down, also skewed heavily towards a western market.
Its unlikely that development costs will go down with the next generation, making it unlikely that we'll see smaller developers flock to the PS4 to capitalize on the lack of JRPGs In fact, rumors persist that the next game of the Persona series which has long been a console JRPG series, will be exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS. One look at the 3DS's releases, which includes Etrian Odyssey IV, a Shin Megami Tensei game, Tales of the Abyss and Nintendo's own Fire Emblem shows that JRPGs have already entrenched themselves in the portable space and will most likely continue to remain on portable systems.
Fortunately for Sony fans the Vita is also a bastion for JRPGs, with games in the Ys, Phantasy Star and Valhalla Knights series releasing soon along with Disgaea 3 and Persona 4 Golden already available on the system. It is always a possibility that the high interactivity between the Vita and PS4 might open up some doors to smaller developers that were previously closed.
It's just unfortunate that for all the great features the PS4 is giving us, it most likely won't include the rebirth of the JRPG.
Article by - Joshua Phillips
Insert Date: 3/14/2012
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