Now that E3 2012 is over, for my column, I decided it would be an interesting idea to rank the current Japanese RPG developers based on the software lineup they showcased at the event.
Before we begin, a couple quick stipulations.
- The publishers in question actually had to be showing a Japanese-developed RPG at the show. So no Capcom this time around; we'll probably have to wait until next year for another Monster Hunter announcement anyhow.
- The publisher in question actually have to be at the show. As far as I could tell, NIS America left it up to Tecmo Koei to show off Mugen Wars, so I'm leaving them off the list.
That XSEED has Last Story at all is a minor miracle in itself. Nintendo is notorious for sitting on the rights to a game when it decides not to publish it, even if there's significant demand (see: Mother 3 on the GBA). That Nintendo has finally decided to loosen up means that we're all winners, but most especially XSEED. XSEED's acquisition of the intriguing Ragnarok Odyssey for Vita and the Etrian Odyssey–like Unchained Blades only sweetens the deal. Of course, as an RPG fan, I can't help being fickle and demanding – how long until you pick up Walk Over My Corpse, XSEED?
#2. Nintendo (Fire Emblem: Awakening): Fire Emblem: Awakening – or Fire Emblem: Kakusei in Japan – is already looking like one of the best entries the series has seen in ages. This year's show also included a brand new Paper Mario for the Nintendo 3DS, which marks a welcome return to the turn-based combat of yore. And, of course, Nintendo has the official sequel to Pokemon Black/White coming out later this year. But what I'm really interested to see in the future is whether Nintendo will continue to boost Japanese RPG developers with the Wii U and the 3DS. It has Monolith at its disposal – currently working on a new project – and Dragon Quest X on the way. It may be that the next generation will be something of a return to the 16-bit era, when Nintendo's platforms dominated RPG development with the support of Square.
#3. Namco Bandai (Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch): When Ni No Kuni is finally released in North America next year, it will be burdened with some serious expectations on both sides of the ocean. For all the hype of the partnership between Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni didn't do extremely well in Japan. Put it this way: the PS3's Ni No Kuni sold about 67,000 copies in its first week, putting it well below (brace yourself) a subtitled Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Given the amount of money Level-5 surely threw at this game, it is surely hoping it does better in the U.S.
The good news is that Ni No Kuni will be a much easier sell in the U.S. (even if Namco Bandai really should have changed the name; even The Another World would be better). It's one of the best looking games to be released in quite some time, even putting the thoroughly beautiful Valkyria Chronicles to shame. Meanwhile, Namco Bandai is surely rubbing its hands in anticipation, delighted that it will be getting a cut of the profits for a game that is really a perfect fit for its audience. The only question: Will Namco do the right thing and give Ni No Kuni the same push it gave Dark Souls, or will it fall through the cracks, as has been depressingly typical of Namco's games?
#4. Atlus (Persona 4 Golden): Lots of reasons to love Atlus these days. I admire its continued support of Sting – a partnership that will soon yield a sold strategy game in Gungnir, and I'm delighted by the recent announcement of Shin Megami Tensei IV for the
#5. Square Enix (Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance): I don't know that I can feign interest in another Kingdom Hearts spinoff, even if it does broadly hint at a sequel to The World Ends With You (oh please Square Enix, let there be a sequel to The World Ends With You on the Vita). That it was the main RPG on offer at Square Enix's booth is even more depressing. The Final Fantasy rhythm game doesn't count (but I'll be purchasing it anyway). The big rumor going into E3 was that Square Enix would be revealing Final Fantasy Type-0 for the Vita. Had the publisher done that, I'd be inclined to kick Square Enix up a notch or two. But from what I've heard, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is all but dead. Shame!
#6. Aksys (Record of Agarest War 2): What to do with Aksys Games? On the one hand, we should all be grateful to it for unearthing a real gem of adventure game in Chunsoft's 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Door. On the other, its RPG selection consists of Record of Agarest War, which ... wasn't so good. I will say, however, that Record of Agarest War 2 at least looks pretty good on paper (literally on paper – Aksys didn't have a demo on hand for the show). High-definition sprites, multiple generations of characters, and a faster-paced battle system are all reasons to be interested. From the sound of it, the steamy sauna scenes will also be taking a backseat to the actual game (though they will be there, if you're so inclined to seek them out). So with that, Aksys has piqued my interest. We'll see whether it looks as good in action as it does on paper.
On the whole, JRPG fans have some thing to be excited about, there were disappointments as well. Hoped-for RPGs on the Vita failed to materialize, and Square Enix continued its dispiriting emphasis on western shooters, which seems to be the new normal for the publisher. The best piece of news was the confirmation that Fire Emblem: Awakening would indeed be published in the U.S., and even that announcement was accidental on Nintendo's part. As usual, the best games were to be found in the hidden corners of the show floor, whether with XSEED, or in the back corner of Sony Online Entertainment's booth, where it were showing a surprisingly compelling Wizardry MMORPG (I'll delve deep into that one another time, it really deserves its own article). It's a long way from the days when Japanese-developed RPGs dominated the holidays; but as I discovered over the course of the show, there are still some great RPG experiences to be found, so long as you know where to look.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.