Opinion: The Japanese games industry is making a comeback, and I’m ecstatic
I’ve always had a fond love for games developed in Japan. It’s likely because I grew up with Japanese classics. Super Mario Bros., Mega Man, (or Rockman via knockoff NES cartridges in SA) Street Fighter, Rocket Knight Adventures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Double Dragon, Contra , Sonic the Hedgehog, Gunstar Heroes, Duck Tales, Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers and many, many more. That’s changed considerably over the last decade, and we ultimately saw the Japanese video game industry crumbling. Lately I’ve seen a resurgence, and it makes me so, so happy.
Though the Japanese never thought it might happen quite as quickly, the West all but swallowed them whole. The West, for whatever reason, just had a better grasp of where games of the future were heading. The writing was on the wall when Ed Boon and his team made a huge success of Mortal Kombat. It was proof that the US was quickly catching on. In the PS1 days, we still had amazing Japanese titles such as the Final Fantasy series, Metal Gear Solid, Tekken, Gran Turismo, Nintendo’s first-party titles and so on really pushing the boundaries. Then came the PS2 era and everything started changing. Western RPGs really flexed their muscles and before you knew it, we had classics such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, The Elder Scrolls and Fable. EA forced their dominance into our lives with SSX, Need for Speed and their various sport titles. Naughty Dog continued their legacy via Jak & Daxter and suddenly the games we really loved were mostly developed in the US and Europe.
Yes, we had Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 2 & 3, Okami, Final Fantasy X and more Japanese games, but those numbers were declining rapidly every year. Then the news broke that the big guns at Capcom were splitting up, Nintendo lost its dominance, Square Soft and Enix were not quite getting their act together and it’s all just falling to pieces. In the last generation (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii) the West all but took over. Forza 2, 3 & 4 thumped Gran Turismo 5 & 6. Dead Space made Silent Hill look like a joke. Uncharted and Tomb Raider brought the adventure experience and if there was one RPG that you had to play it was Mass Effect. Not a fan of Mass Effect? How about Skyrim? The Last of Us, considered by many as one of the best games ever, came out of the West too. There was also the Batman series, Assassins’s Creed series, Fallout 3 and even Minecraft. What was memorable from the East in the last generation? Mario Galaxy was fantastic, Dark Souls (or Demon’s Souls to be technically correct) started a brand new trend and… perhaps one or two other games did the generation justice in Japan. But it looked rather bleak for the once powerful territory. There was one shining star and that was Platinum Games. They’re the one set of developers who reminded everyone that there is just something unique and special when it comes to Japanese games. Not quite sure who I’m talking about? They made Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Bayonetta and Vanquish, among several other titles. Move into this generation and things are looking much healthier for the Japanese developers.
If you’re a JRPG fan, you’d be a liar if you say that there aren’t any JRPGs to play in this generation. We have the massive (and hopefully amazing) FFXV incoming in under two months, followed by the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Now, before I continue I’d like to discuss that Remake. I don’t quite think anyone understands just how big an event it’s going to be. People think Battlefield or Call of Duty is big? I have this feeling that the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be smashing records. Perhaps not GTA-level records, but it’s going to be bigger than anyone might think. Other JRPG titles such as I am Setsuna, will take you back to the PS1 days where smaller JRPG titles made the rounds for fans of the genre. Sure, not everyone will play it, but it’s there for those who love that kind of game. Then there’s Kingdom Hearts 3 and Persona 5, just because. The Last Guardian is finally launching this year and Capcom has come to their senses and will be releasing a Resident Evil game that should return to its horror roots. Guys and gals who love Japanese games – this is great news.
Ironically Platinum Games have launched some serious stinkers as of late, but I’d like to point at Activision for that. It’s very unlike Platinum Games to release titles that have such a shallow battle system. Bloodborne is proof that the Japanese know a good thing when they see it as it improves on the Dark Souls formula, and Dark Souls 3 also launched earlier this year to much excitement. Tekken 7 will return in 2017 and will hopefully top that Street Fighter V launch we saw, though Capcom is working on that fix too, at least. Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm, as we all know, and put Pokémon Sun & Moon on the map. I’m also hoping Nintendo can continue these good fortunes for the East. Japan has definitely not dug itself out of its hole yet, but it’s putting the steps in place to walk out of it in style.
If anything, I feel the balance in the games industry has never been this good. If you look ahead at 2017, you’ll notice that there is an amazing balance of both West and East developed games. It feels like the see-saw battle is coming to an end and that there is something for any gamer from all walks of life. It’s just an amazing time to be a gamer.