Japanese gaming properties in America aren’t what they used to be. While the old days heavily featured Japanese games being brought over to America, from the NES era on, evolution has allowed game development in the West to catch up to Japan, which has in turn allowed developers to cater to American tastes. When I was growing up, Japanese games were either catered to Japanese tastes and cultures, or Japanese tastes with a laughable understanding of Western cultures, and we took what a Japanese businessman thought, with limited actual understanding, would be palatable to our tastes. The rising standards of gamers, the costs involved in localization, changing tastes in the Japanese, and the ruthless calculations of Japanese salarymen in larger companies are all combining to change the number and content of games coming overseas. We’re getting far less than we used to, and the games we’re getting are nowhere near as good, leaning heavily towards “moe”, which can best be described as the catering to a fetish.
Needless to say, as a fan of the culture and the games themselves, this has been somewhat depressing.
However, 2013 is looking to be a far better year for fans of Japanese games, both mainstream and niche. Defying conventional trends both real and imagined, we’re getting some outstanding games in America, most of them within the next month. What follows is a list of the best games that are confirmed to be coming to America in 2013. All release dates are tentative, and only games with confirmed release dates are being included.
For people who understand these names, all I have to do to describe Ni no Kuni is this: it’s a Studio Ghibli (Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away) RPG done by Level-5 (Dark Cloud, Dragon Quest XIII + IX, Professor Layton).
Any more questions?
For those not familiar with those names, one of Japan’s more legendary animation houses is teaming up with one of the country’s best developers, and releasing a game filled to the brim with the standard Studio Ghibli charm. The demo is out on the PlayStation Network, and it’s a sight to behold. The gameplay is simple enough, but the sheer joy of playing this game cannot be underrated.
The only real complaint about Ni no Kuni coming from those that have played it is that it’s a bit of a grind. While this might scare off more casual Western players, those who play RPGs will remember why they fell in love with them in the first place. Ni no Kuni came out today, and it so far has been glorious.
After skipping the American market with Fire Emblem: Shin Monshō no Nazo: Hikari to Kage no Eiyū, Fire Emblem makes its triumphant return on a system far less prone to piracy than the DS, and with a heavy marketing push behind it to boot. Fire Emblem: Awakening is not only a return to America, it’s a return to power for the series, taking the tried-and-true tropes of the series and adding in other goodies.
Furthermore, in a nod to fans of the series, they’re releasing, via DLC, additional characters from the previous games. Though release details haven’t been given out yet, it’s basically free money for Nintendo, as hardcore fans of the series will gobble them all up. My wallet is already whimpering.
With everything going for this game, there’s no excuse for it to fail. It’s put up or shut up time for Fire Emblem, with it coming out on a piracy-free system during a slow month with a marketing push. If this game doesn’t sell well, this will likely be it for Fire Emblem in America. With that said, momentum is positive; reports are that this is potentially the best game in the Fire Emblem series since the legendary Seisen no Keifu, with Japanese fans (and dedicated importers) almost universally praising the game. Fire Emblem fans are a tough market to please, so hearing this is indeed a good omen for what is shaping up to be a great game.
I debated weather or not to even put this game on the list. I’m not really the world’s biggest Sting fan, and them working with Idea Factory – who I tend to loathe – could turn out to either be amazing or deplorable, with virtually no middle ground.
However, one can’t deny the potential in such a pairing. A drastically different game than its predecessors, GoC: Pandora’s Reflection features a real time battle system, with attacks being timing-based as if they were a rhythm game. The game certainly looks good – most Sting games do – and while Idea Factory has their share of misses, when they get it right, hooo BOY do they get it right.
Most interesting is that this is one of the last gasps of the PlayStation Portable, a system that might not have been as popular as the Nintendo DS, but was a godsend to RPG fans and anyone enjoying Japanese games. Hopefully, this will be a last hurrah worthy of the system.
When the original Etrian Odyssey came out in 2007, I figured it was cute, but ultimately a one-shot deal with a Western fanbase who left behind the game’s tenets years ago. A difficult dungeon crawler that requires you to physically draw a map!? Halo, take me away!
Six years and four games later, I’m ecstatic to be wrong. Etrian Odyssey III was one of my favourite games of 2010, and the series is now moving up to the 3DS with even more of what makes it popular to begin with. More dungeon crawling, more side quests, more classes and more class skills, more, more, more.
“More” is really all fans of Etrian Odyssey want. Atlus created a wonderful package that combines the essence of old school dungeon crawlers like Wizardry with modern niceties that don’t pander to modern players, but instead make the difficult trek through the dungeons as enjoyable as possible. Each floor reached is an accomplishment, each boss an endeavor that must be trained and prepared for, and even failing that, a little bit of luck is required. Etrian Odyssey is not difficult for the sake of being difficult; instead, it is a challenging game that offers great reward for the risk taken.
Etrian Odyssey IV drops in the same month period as Ni no Kuni and Fire Emblem, making the months of January and February equally gleeful and painful on the wallets of series fans.
Monster Hunter is what happens when a bunch of Japanese developers are told “make a Western RPG”. It’s deep to the benefit of the largest micromanagers, all without the confines of a linear story. Ironically, Japan’s idea of a WRPG hasn’t taken off in the West, but is a phenomenon in its home country, being one of the best selling console games of all time.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is essentially an expansion of Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii, with the Wii U version featuring online play. For the dedicated Monster Hunter fan, the addition of Wii U controls is a godsend, adding a new element to the OCD-level gameplay. There’s also more of everything; more monsters, more help, more items, more of everything.
While some have intimated that the closing of the Wii game’s servers is a bad thing, the fact is that there’s more of everything in the latest game, and its moving to the Wii U and 3DS is going to work out in the end.
I have to admit it: I didn’t think Operation Rainfall would amount to anything. As organized as it was, I pointed out when it was new that it was likely going to fail. Not only did it fail, but my original prediction – that the games would come out on the Wii U – turned out to be wrong as well; Pandora’s Tower will be the third and final of these games to make it to America, all on the “dead” Wii, brought to America by XSEED.
And what a way for the system to go out. Focusing the quest of Aeron, who is setting out to reverse a horrible curse on his friend Elena, and with only a limited amount of time to do it – the longer the two spend in dungeons, the worse Elena’s curse gets, in real time – Pandora’s Tower is what happens when someone looks at Majora’s Mask and decides it’s not dark enough. Also featuring a bonding system (like almost every JRPG of the past ten years) that features heavily in the game’s ending, Pandora’s Tower is going to be a tense, heart-racing experience that draws parallels between it and other games, and helps the Wii go out in style.
As time passes, the barriers that once kept certain JRPGs from coming to America are continuing to fall. The ones that aren’t translated by fans are being brought over by their original companies, and oftentimes updated to reflect modern technology, as the internet helps Americans understand Japan’s cultural moores and vice versa.
Devil Summoner: Soul Survivor, a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series, was released for the Saturn in 1997. Like most of that series, it didn’t gain a real foothold in America until the more stylish Persona 3 gained some mainstream appeal, after which we started getting more of this amazing series. The main draw of this part of the series is monster loyalty; keeping a monster loyal is the key to them getting stronger, while losing their loyalty could cause them to either misbehave or leave the party altogether. Atlus has always weaved complex battle systems into their games, and Soul Hackers won’t be any different.
By not only porting but also updating the game, Atlus continues to add brilliantly to their legacy with their number one series, on a system that is proving to be an otaku’s dream.