Culture

Japan is Disappearing

Well, no, that’s not entirely true. Japan’s fine. However, when it comes to the UK releases of Japanese video games, I can’t shake off this sense that they are steadily becoming more uncommon.

There are plenty of big name Japanese franchises – Super Mario, Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil – that are showing no signs of slowing on these shores. But these aren’t the ones I’m concerned about.

Games like Valkyria Chronicles, Everybody’s Golf: World Tour, Gitaroo Man Lives! and Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! – innovative, refreshing, culturally defining games – are being given limited shelf life by their cautious publishers. These games may be outwardly peculiar – thus only appealing to a small niche – but that’s what makes them so great. They’re a world part from the raft of generic shooters and third-person action games we see every day.

These days it feels like quirky Japanese new releases are there one minute and gone the next. Take Eternal Sonata for example. This JRPG, from Namco Bandai, was released on Xbox 360 in 2007 and on PS3 in February this year. When the PS3 version arrived in stores I saw a very small number of copies on display. Eight months later the game has all but disappeared from stores. It’s still out there, but with demand being so low the game remains full price, and I’m positive retailers will have been given a finite number of copies.

Of course, things are much better on the import side these days. Global economy has encouraged game companies in every region to sell their products worldwide. And new releases can be imported from sites like Play-Asia at a relatively low cost price. Plus, PS3, PSP and DS are all region free, meaning you can buy that copy of Ni no Kuni: The Another World and play it without importing a whole new piece of hardware.

Importing games has opened up a new video game paradigm to me. Ingenious genre mash-ups, distinctive characters, art and music, and bewildering menus filled with so much Kenji and Engrish that it would be easier to find your way to the lavatory blindfolded then navigate your way to the options screen. So, if there are no longer any PAL releases in sight for Klonoa (Wii), Me & My Katamari, Zack & Wiki, Yakuza 3, Okamiden: Chiisaki Taiyo and BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger I can try importing them.

What’s more, actually having the opportunity to play import games has encouraged me to seek out even more press coverage of international titles (who’d of thought geriatric monster torment, Demon’s Souls, would be such a hit with critics?).

Unfortunately, foiling EU trade restrictions won’t help me in my quest to attain the ultra rare Space Channel 5: Part 2 for PlayStation 2 – a region locked Japanese copy will refuse to give me the scoop if I play it on an EU console.

If some Japanese new releases are getting pulled from UK shelves early then there’s even more reason for open-minded gamers to snap them up while they still can. I, myself, am still hunting for several Japanese titles I missed over the years – perhaps not by coincidence, a lot of them happen to be from Namco. After all, where else could you witness a gigantic mess-ball rolling up everything in sight?

2 thoughts on “Japan is Disappearing”

  1. madtyger says:

    It's an odd era in gaming with Japan no longer the forerunner of video games and genres like the Western RPG taking over the niche that was once ruled by true JRPGs. Coupled with the decreased western localization of Japanese developed games, it's definitely a hard time for the Jgamer. Plus, even with the games that have been brought over to the west, you barely see any advertisements or anything to help sell the game. And if the game doesn't sell, they won't bring over more . . . it's one big vicious cycle.

    Unfortunately, there are some extreme cultural differences that seem to really inhibit the exchange of video games between east and west. It goes both ways too; you'd never see a Call of Duty title on the shelf in Japan. Not that it's my favorite genre but it is a main staple of modern gaming in the west and something that just doesn't translate over to the needs and demands of Japanese gamers.

    With no solution in sight and rumors of a worsening situation (including foreigners being thrown out of geek havens like Akiba), soon there might not even be any Japanese games hitting the western shores.

    I'll make sure to be fluent in all forms of Japanese before then. That way we can take a trip over, spend a month and play all the Japanese titles that we've always wanted to play.

  2. DK33 says:

    No Japanese games coming to the West? I hope that never happens.

    I’ve barely tapped the surface of the Land of the Rising Sun, so not get to play any games from there would be a horrible reality. I’m still on the hunt for an EU copy of Eternal Sonata, which I’ve been longing to play for some time. I’ll get eventually. Fortunately, Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! (UMD) is in the bag for us both.

    I’ll certainly enjoy hearing your report from the ground once you do get the chance to try out your new linguistic skills in Japan for real.

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