We are currently deep into this generation of console gaming with the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. You can count the number of Japanese role-playing games on one hand.
So what has happened to the once thriving genre?
Let’s take a look at a couple of determining factors.
Normally industry leaders, Japanese developers were slower than usual with adapting to the new hardware. The only exception is Capcom, whose games cater more to the Western audience. Their only Japanese role-playing series, Breath of Fire, is nowhere to be found. While there could be many reasons for this (many of which are listed below), the developers are hesitant about creating Japanese role-playing games.
A problem for publishers around the world is the rising cost of game development for HD home consoles. Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 games today cost tens of millions to create.
The financial risk may be too great for some, especially in a niche genre. We may end up seeing more Japanese role-playing games on the Nintendo Wii since the development costs are significantly lower than its competitors.
Fall of the Playstation Home Consoles
Speaking of which, the rise of Japanese role-playing games were synonymous with the debut of the Playstation brand of Home console. The craze started with Final Fantasy VII on the first Playstation and continued into the Playstation 2 era. Sales for the Playstation 3 have been disappointing, however, and many developers are left scrambling.
As a result, we see many Japanese role-playing games either being delayed or jumping to another console.
Rise of Handhelds
While the Playstation 3 may not be doing so hot, the PSP is. The sales have proven that portable gaming is more important than ever with the Nintendo DS and PSP.
At least in Japan, the handhelds are frequently outselling their home console counterparts. Due to this and the cheaper development costs for handhelds, many Japanese developers would rather create role-playing games for the Nintendo DS and PSP.
Maybe the lack of Japanese role-playing games is because of the decreasing popularity of the genre. Gamers’ tastes changed over time. 2D platformers were the most popular genre during the Super Nintendo/ Sega Genesis. Those games went extinct with the arrival of the Playstation and Nintendo 64 and their 3D processing technology.
The same thing could be happening to Japanese role-playing games. The flavor of the current crop of consoles (on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 at least) is first-person shooters thanks to the multiplayer-focused consoles.
No matter the reason, Japanese role-playing games won’t be completely abandoned on home consoles with top titles like Final Fantasy XIII and Star Ocean 4 still to come. Just don’t expect to the genre to be as bountiful as before.