Do you remember the golden age of Japanese RPGs? I do. But what happened to it? Where did it go? And why is America starting to get JRPGs later than other English speaking countries if at all? It doesn’t make any sense! Fortunately though, it looks like us Wii gamers will be getting some new gems this year including Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story. But Europe and Australia are getting them first.
The Last Story (ラストストーリー) is an action JRPG for the Wii developed by Mistwalker and AQ Interactive. It was created by the father of Final Fantasy (now head of Mistwalker), Hironobu Sakaguchi and even has music by Nobuo Uematsu. Personally, I believe the Final Fantasy series took a nose dive after Sakaguchi and Uematsu left the team and Square merged with Enix. Not surprisingly, the last Final Fantasy I actually enjoyed was Final Fantasy X, the last numbered installment published under the Square name.
Since leaving Squeenix, Sakaguchi has released a few games with Mistwalker including Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey and I’ll admit, they were pretty good – but nothing close to the classic Final Fantasy games I fell in love with as a lad. The Last Story however seems like it could be much better than anything Mistwalker has released to date. Will it be as fantastic as I want it to be? Maybe. Will it come to America? Why yes, yes it will.
While I was in the process of writing this post I stumbled across an article over at Joystiq.com informing the world that The Last Story will be coming to America in the summer of 2012. It will be published by XSEED Games and everyone involved seems to be pretty stoked about the project. I’m pretty stoked too.
The Last Story has already been released in Japan (January 27, 2011) and just came out in Europe and Australia last week. What I really find strange though is how Europe and Australia are getting these games sooner than we do in America.
Take Xenoblade Chronicles (another popular action JRPG) for example. Xenoblade came out in Japan in June of 2010, was later released in Europe in the summer of 2011, and now has a confirmed American release date of April 2012. Why do these RPGs take so long to make it over here? Two years behind Japan is one thing, but a year behind other English speaking countries? What’s the deal?
My best guess is that the demand for JRPGs is higher in those countries than it is in America, or maybe the licensing rights and all that is cheaper to do in those countries. I couldn’t find much data regarding this, but if anyone has any further insight as to why this happens, please share your knowledge with us down in the comments section. Some insight may be gleaned from this message board, but most of it just seems to be speculation.
Playing The Last Story
I actually got my hands on a Japanese copy of the Last Story back when it came out, but unfortunately my Japanese just wasn’t quite up to snuff to really fully enjoy the story. As story is an integral part of most RPGs, I stopped playing the game. The amount I did play however was great. I really enjoyed playing the game and I was even thinking about working my way into getting a European version of the game before I made the discovery that it would actually see an American release.
For more information on The Last Story, you can check out some other trailers at Gametrailers.com, some great message board activity over at Gamefaqs.com, and the official site for the game over here.
And like I said, the Japanese used in The Last Story is a little difficult, so for those of you looking to actually play games in Japanese for the learning experience, maybe you should check out my post on the Top 5 Nintendo DS Games for Learning Japanese. That’d be a much better place to start. Or for those of you who have your heart set on a Wii game, maybe you should check out the Japanese Wii version of Tales of Graces (which also happens to be coming to America for the PS3 on March 13, 2012).
The Japanese used in the beginning of Tales of Graces is surprisingly easy to understand (mostly because all of the main characters are children), but once the characters grow up, so does the language they use, and it becomes a bit more difficult to decipher. However, it is a great game, so definitely check it out if you’re looking for a good RPG for the Wii to play in Japanese.
But what really frustrates me is that I have to wait so long for these games to make it over to America for me to play. And then some of them end up not even making it over here at all! I remember the days when I was practically swimming in great JRPGs. What happened!?
Why JRPGs Don’t Make it to America Anymore
Most of the time there is a good reason for why certain Japanese games aren’t brought over to America. Some games are inspired by anime that no one in America really knows about. Some games just don’t do well in Japan in the first place so there is no reason to think it would do any better over in America. But these aren’t the only reasons Americans are missing out on some awesome Japanese RPGs.
We also have to keep in mind that localizing a Japanese game and releasing it at retail is an increasingly expensive undertaking. Platform owner licensing rules and rising distribution costs are another important factor. And it also seems like another one of the big reasons games like The Last Story aren’t brought over to America anymore is because of the sort of games America is interested in nowadays.
Today’s mainstream American gamer is mostly interested in first/third person shooters, online competitive gaming, and casual gaming. The market for traditional RPGs (Japanese ones especially) just isn’t what it used to be. Growing up with games, I still remember the golden age of JRPGs. From the time of Final Fantasy on the SNES to Final Fantasy X on the PS2, I always had a good JRPG to play and an even better one to look forward to. Some of my favorite JRPGs (and just games in general) came from the fantastic libraries of games on the Super Nintendo, Playstation, and Playstation 2.
It seems that as graphics get better and games start to look more realistic, the mainstream focus moves more towards these fast paced action games and JRPGs get left in the dust. In this fast paced modern world where people can game on anything from their MP3 players to home consoles, casual gaming and games that offer instant gratification are much more popular than they used to be. The average gamer just isn’t willing to put 50+ hours into a great game like they used to be. Gone is the golden age of Japanese RPGs.
These days we still get the occasional awesome JRPG on modern consoles, but those games are few and far between. It seems like today’s gamers are more interested in headshots and leaderboards than they are in great stories and character driven adventures. And for those who are interested in those things, they turn to the likes of Western action RPGs like Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls. (Fun Fact: Skyrim was the only non-Japanese game to get a perfect score from Famitsu. Just goes to show that Western RPGs are starting to make a serious dent in the gaming market, even in Japan.)
Don’t get me wrong though, I love these sorts of games too and I can’t wait to get my hands on Mass Effect 3 – I just really, really miss the good ol’ traditional JRPGs I grew up with. Too bad more Americans don’t feel the same way I do, otherwise we might get more games like The Last Story arriving on our shores much sooner.
For those of you who want to learn more about the fall of JRPGs, you can check out this great post from 1UP.com detailing Why the Golden Age of JRPGs is Over. It’s a really great read and if you’re interested in hearing more specifics as to why there just aren’t as many JRPGs as there used to be, you should really check it out.
The JRPG Future
So what can be done to encourage more games to be brought over from Japan? All I can really think of is supporting the ones that do come over here and support online groups that do fan translations just to show that there really is a demand for these games. Some fan groups do actual fan translated releases and some groups just gather together to rally support to bring the official releases to their shores.
The latter includes fan groups like Operation Rainfall who I’m sure had some influence over getting Xenoblade and The Last Story to be released in America. They are also hoping to see an American release for Pandora’s Tower, but only time will tell if they will succeed there as well. As for supporting the releases that do make it over here, unfortunately a lot of them just aren’t all that much to get excited about such as FFXIII and FFXIII-2. Who knows – maybe one day Square-Enix will get Final Fantasy back on the right track. But then again, probably not.
So tell me, are you looking forward to Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story when they make it to America later this year? Or if you live in a country where they’re already out – how do you like them? Any other games you wish would get localized but you just don’t see it happening? Do you think there will ever be a return to the golden age of JRPGs? Let us know in the comments!