Welcome to the first installment of Points of View, a special style of editorial which brings several Lusipurr.com staff members together to address a single topic.
In this first issue, three Lusipurr.com staff members–SiliconNooB, Deimosion, and Blitzmage–were asked about the state of the JRPG industry. Read their responses and add your own comments to the discussion below. Our authors will reply to the discussion in turn.
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Q1: What do you think is the biggest threat to JRPG development; and why?
SiliconNooB: The biggest threat to development of JRPGs is Japan’s ebbing creativity (and dwindling sense of their own efficiancy in this regard), which has seen the JRPG genre become overpopulated with generic, anime-style, fan-service games that play very poorly in the Western market. Flagging Western interest along with rising development costs pose a grave existential crisis to the genre, which has become fettered by its own myopic insularity.
Deimosion: Budget and time constraints are by far the biggest threat to JRPG development. JRPGs, as of late, have not been as popular as they once were, and declining sales of the genre mean that smaller companies have to work on tighter budgets. While I wholeheartedly disagree that JRPGs are dead or even dying, it is hard to deny that the glory days of the JRPG have passed, and the genre as a whole seems, at least from my observations, to be a much smaller part of gaming than it used to be.
Blizmage: The biggest threat to JRPG development is the unnecessarily long development cycle. Looking at the Final Fantasy XIII Fabula Nova Crystalis series, it has been a little over eight years and gamers have still barely seen anything of Versus and Agito (now Type-0). Many gamers are fed up with the waiting game and the announcements of announcements.
Q2: In a genre which places high value on tradition, what special challenges confront JRPG developers who want to innovate?
SiliconNooB: The most meaningful way in which JRPG studios could innovate would be for them to re-learn how to create the kinds of games they were making fifteen to twenty years ago. JRPGs have been falling over one another over the last five years in their attempts to include Western-oriented mechanics in their game designs, all to no avail–for that was never the appeal of JRPGs in the West (there are other games to provide those sorts of experiences). A good many JRPGs used to tell universal stories imparted with pleasing presentations: an approach which held universal appeal. The answer is not to expunge any and all Japanese DNA from these projects. Instead, properties which have an exclusively Japanese/anime focus should be limited in number, because they are only going to be facing diminishing returns. The challenge for the JRPG industry going forward will be to regrow the popularity of the genre in the West before tightening game budgets become too burdensome for them to easily do so. Failure will find the JRPG industry locked into a slow death.
Deimosion: Westernization is a touchy subject among JRPG fans, and a difficult issue for JRPG developers. On the one hand, making games that appeal to Western fans is a must for JRPG developers seeking to tap into the large American gamer base. On the other hand, JRPG fans typically do not want Westernized games, particularly those made with the Japanese idea of what the West wants. JRPG makers must then deal with the unique challenge of innovating enough to keep the genre from stagnating while simultaneously keeping close enough to tradition to please their fans, many of whom cling tightly to the traditions and cliches so readily associated with the genre.
Blitzmage: The challenge JRPG developers have to confront is that they are no longer the paramount console RPG developer. With the wider and wider spread of Western RPGs, JRPG developers have to face the music when it comes to innovation and how much they want to put into their games. For a JRPG developer, it is high time to look at other genres and decide how they are going to define their JRPG.
Q3: Where do you see the JRPG genre in ten years?
SiliconNooB: If the JRPG industry fails to look to addressing the health of their market, then in ten years time I can see it well upon its way to being solely relegated to mobile phone platforms. At present, JRPGs are retreating from console development in favour of handheld platforms, but when the next generation of handhelds hit the market it would seem unlikely that the greater share of Japan’s RPG developers will be able to afford the inflated budgets which will accompany them. And so it will be time to fall back to mobile phone platforms to sell five dollar doodads and curios!
Deimosion: I see JRPGs becoming a very niche genre of game–one with which the “mainstream” Western gamer is not very familiar. JRPGs, I suspect, will still remain popular in Japan, and I do not see the genre dying off any time soon. Overseas, however, I doubt the JRPG will ever reach the level of popularity it had in the 1990’s. The niche JRPG fanbase and the otaku gamer market will still buy the games, but while anime may be breaking into mainstream culture, I highly doubt the JRPG will do the same.
Blitzmage: Sadly, I see very few JRPGs coming out ten years from now. If we look at the fiasco that Nintendo made this past summer with games like Xenoblade and Last Story, the obvious question is: how much longer will we have to wait before more first party companies decide that JRPGs will not sell well in the American territories? In the next ten years will we see the JRPG moved to just a genre that is nothing but downloadable and Facebook games?
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Now is your chance to engage in the discussion. How would you answer the questions posed above; do you agree or disagree with our panelists; what are your reckons on this topic? Use the comment box below to send us your reckons and join in the panel’s discussion.