This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.As we look ahead to the next generation of games, a lot of Japanese role-playing game fans figure to be looking somewhere other than the new PlayStation for whatever the future holds for the genre.
Seven years ago, that would have been inconceivable, but times have obviously changed. It's fair to assume that Japanese developers will stick with the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo 3DS for the time being, only occasionally venturing over to the next generation.
A lot of it has to do with the fact that Japan simply doesn't digest their games in the same way they did back in 2006. Mobile platforms have come to dominate what is a centralized culture that spends a lot of its time on trains, with home consoles increasingly relegated to a nerdy niche. The Nintendo 3DS, for instance, has reached 8 million units sold in Japan, and has already surpassed the lifetime sales of the PS3 on that side of the ocean. It's only natural that developers go where the customers are going, and that isn't likely to be the new PlayStation – at least in Japan.
Still, the new PlayStation is apt to have at least a few JRPGs at some point, if only a few. This is what I'm expecting to see from some of the bigger publishers in Japan:
Square Enix: Well, we're getting a new Final Fantasy on PS4. Will it be Final Fantasy XV or the long-in-development Final Fantasy Versus XIII? I'm leaning toward the former... in 2016. Kingdom Hearts 3 is almost certainly going to be a PlayStation 3 exclusive, but that doesn't preclude the series making an early leap. Dragon Quest is a Nintendo franchise these days.
Lately, Square Enix has scaled back their commitment to JRPGs, and leaning more heavily on the likes of Deus Ex, Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider. Being an international developer, I'm sure they will continue pushing their homegrown franchises in the next generation. New IPs like Bravely Default Flying Fairy, meanwhile, will likely remain on mobile platforms, where they are more apt to find an audience.
Level-5: Outside of Ni no Kuni and the lamentable White Knight Chronicles, Level-5 has primarily focused on the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS, with a couple Vita games being thrown in for good measure. There's not a lot to suggest that they will make a concerted effort to develop a major RPG for the new PlayStation.
That said, if Level-5 does jump over to the new PlayStation, it will likely be a new franchise leading the charge. Either that, or they will partner up with yet another major media entity in Japan. It could be that we're in for a Hello Kitty RPG. (I'm only half-joking, by the way.)
Namco Bandai: Sequels and spin-offs for the Tales series are a given. It's worth noting, however, that it took Namco Bandai until 2012 to make a Super Robot Taisen for the PlayStation 3. That's a shockingly long time for Namco Bandai, and it's apt to be much the same on the new PlayStation. It kind of makes me wonder if they will scale back next generation development in other ways as well. I hope not.
Sega: Valkyria Chronicles started off reasonably well, but it kind of trailed off once it went over to the PlayStation Portable. I would like to believe that it has a future on the next PlayStation. The rest of Sega's stable of RPG franchises are apt to remain dormant going forward. The exception is Phantasy Star Online, which is out next week on the PS Vita in Japan. Online RPGs figure to gain more traction in the next generation, which opens the door for a new PSO, I suppose. Heaven forbid that Sega actually go ahead and make a Phantasy Star 5.
Atlus: I expect they will stick with the current round of consoles for the time being, as they have in the past. That means Persona 5 will probably be a PlayStation 3 game. I think I'm okay with that.
Capcom: Deep Down (or perhaps Dragon's Dogma 2?) looks amazing. Full stop. It was one of the few games shown during the presentation that felt like it was part of the next generation of gaming. Sadly, it was also the only RPG shown during the presentation.
NIS: Idea Factory's main demographic – otaku – will probably buy the new PlayStation, which gives them incentive to make the leap. That should leave NIS will plenty to publish over the next few years. NIS itself hasn't been shy about pushing Disgaea on home consoles, and that figures to continue. Barring a major shakeup, it'll be pretty much status quo for them.
In fact, looking at this list, it will be status quo for pretty much everyone. So which publishers are apt to do the most to shake things up? I'm going with Level-5 and Square Enix. You never know when the former will come out with some big new IP; as for the latter, I suppose I have too much faith that Square Enix will do something, anything, of note with their vast resources. I wouldn't mind, for instance, if they handed the keys to some young turks and let them develop something new for the PlayStation 4, so long as it turned out better than The Last Remnant. Heck, I'd even venture to say that The Last Venture was an interesting RPG in its own right, even if it wasn't "good" in the traditional sense.
I suppose this is all a roundabout way of saying that I don't have much, if any, faith that the new PlayStation will matter as a JRPG platform. My decision to buy a PS3 was predicated almost entirely on its potential for JRPGs (and the fact that it was region free), and that went for the PS2 and PS1 as well. Now the new PlayStation feels like, well, the new Xbox (whatever that might be).
Ah well, I suppose I can wait. I still have to finish Ni no Kuni anyway.
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.