Japan Ups Its Game

 As Japan’s domestic game industry increasingly shifts towards a mobile-centric revenue model and the rising costs of AAA games necessitate more high-budget games with global appeal, many pundits offered the opinion that “traditional” or console-centric games made by Japanese developers were dead and that this area ofJapanese game development was doomed to be eclipsed by overseas firms.  The stated causes of this were many: Japan’s focus on domestic tastes rather than those of gamers changing tastes from overseas, lack of flexibility in Japanese development methods, and even an inferiority complex among Japanese developers that they just couldn’t compete with their peers outside of Japan.

 Look at the current slate of games on Metacritic and view the top-selling lists of the US and Europe, however, and you will see that Japanese console games are enjoying a resurgence in both critical acclaim and popularity.  As of the date of this article, “Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, released by Nintendo for their new console, called the “Switch”, has shattered Metacritic’s all-time record for perfect scores awarded by reviewers.   It should be no surprise that Nintendo can still deliver critically-praised games, but alongside the new Zelda on the top of the ratings are titles like NieR:Automata, Resident Evil 7:biohazard, Yakuza 0, Nioh, and Gravity Rush 2.  All of these games are from Japanese developers and all were released in the last three months!

 On the sales front, Nioh (from Koei Techmo) has been sold out for weeks and it’s been reported that the game has exceeded 1 million physical sales worldwide.  Capcom has commented that Resident Evil 7 has sold well beyond  their expectations and similarly, Square Enix must be pleased that NieR:Automata debuted at the top of sales charts in Japan, and the PC version is currently sitting in the top ten sellers on Steam, which bodes well for the PS4 version’s chances, too.

 NieR:Automata was funded and published by Square Enix, but developed by Osaka-based Platinum Games, a name which has come to be known for quality among gamers everywhere. Platinum has developed games for Sega, Nintendo, Square Enix, and other Japanese developers, but they have also made games for US publishers Activision and Microsoft.  Their games are known to be high-quality and fans overseas list them among the top developers in the world, not just Japan. 

 From Software is another Japanese developer that is popular among gamers overseas, mostly because of their Souls series of games, which have sold extremely well and are critically lauded.  These games have practically invented their own “Souls” genre, influencing games outside of Japan such as Lords of the Fallen, For Honor, and Salt and Sanctuary. Reviews of these games often mention the Soul-like influences, showing just how big the presence of those games are among the mind space of English-speaking gamers.

 With developers like Platinum Games and From Software, and massive-selling, critically-loved games originating from Japanese studios topping the charts, it’s obvious that the Japanese console developments scene is not only far from dead, but experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Japan has upped its game and a bright future surely awaits!