Rising Fun: Dawn for Japanese Games

The second half of the 80s and entirety of the 90s were a golden age for Japanese games.  From the moment Super Mario Bros. revived the American console industry, Japanese games absolutely dominated consoles.  While there were some exceptions, the vast, vast majority of good console games came from Japan during the third, fourth, and fifth generations.  Even the most prominent exceptions were made by western developers that were working with Japanese companies: Naughty Dog, Insomniac, and of course Rare.  Things started to change in the sixth generation, games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto 3, and the rising Tony Hawk series were critical and commercial successes, something very few western console games had achieved before that point.  Japanese games were probably still bigger or at least equal at that point, but it definitely wasn’t the absurd level of domination they previously held.  This was, of course, a good thing: there’s no reason for one country to dominate the way Japan did at one point.

 

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And thus Japan conquered console gaming overnight.

 

In the seventh and eighth generations, however, things started to become unbalanced in the other direction.  Several Japanese companies went into slumps at the same time, while western mega-publishers increased their dominance.  This led to an attitude in the 2010s that Japan was becoming irrelevant to the gaming industry.  I was not happy about this, but it would be fair to ask why when I was fine with how things were in the 90s.  Well, I have a few reasons.  For one, there was a fair amount of nationalistic gloating, treating this as “revenge” and calling the Japanese gaming industry a failure for not being able to match the combined output of two continents.  There’s also the fact that the fading Japanese companies had made so many great games in the past, and losing something is a lot more painful than never having it to begin with.  And while this may be too subjective and in the moment to use as a reason, I would much rather have 90s Capcom, Konami, and Squaresoft as the dominant publishers instead of companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision.  I’m not saying we need to go back to Japanese dominance, but all game producing regions making great games is the optimal situation and always will be.  I just want Japanese games to make a comeback for their own sake.

 

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Market Combat Evolving.

 

That seems to be what’s happening.  After many years of turmoil, Japanese-developed games are making a substantial comeback in 2017, in both the released and upcoming categories.  This year we’ve already seen Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2, Nier Automata, Nioh, and Persona 5; quality releases that have mostly seen a good deal of commercial success and attention from the gaming community.  Looking ahead, we have Sonic Forces, Tekken 7, Tokyo Xanadu, Ys VIII, and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite as some promising 2017 releases.   Compared to the past few years, this is a huge upturn in quality Japanese games.

Going beyond a simple games list, many of these games represent once mighty Japanese publishers and developers showing signs of recovering from their slumps.  Capcom finally made a Resident Evil that was well received, Team Ninja made their first well liked game in who knows how long with Nioh, Sega has two promising Sonic games coming out this year (although one is technically by western developers) – there are decades that would kill for that amount – and Square Enix has brought an underrated series into mainstream success while giving Platinum a chance to shine simultaneously with Nier: Automata.  Series that never had a huge western presence, such as Persona, Ys, Yakuza, and the aforementioned Nier/Drakengard also seem to be getting more attention than they previously did, which is great for the Japanese gaming industry.  The light of dawn may be starting to break through the cynicism that has clouded the concept of Japanese games in recent years.

 

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Looks like JRPGs don’t have cooties anymore.

 

There are two major Japanese publishers I consciously avoided mentioning up until this point.  One of them is a hugely conspicuous absence considering who is writing this article.  Why have I waited until now to say anything about Nintendo?  Because I like building things up before playing my strongest card.  Nintendo is in their own league among developers, and I’m don’t mean because they’re my favorite, their situation as the primary developer for their systems puts them in a very different position than the third parties I’ve covered.  Nintendo has always been prominent as a software publisher, even during the Wii U days their games sold millions with absurdly high attach rates that annihilated the best selling games of other systems with a low userbase.  However, Nintendo’s health is often measured by their console’s sales, and that has certainly not been going well in recent years.

Then it was like someone simply flipped a Switch.  Seeing what happened when they tried to copy their competitors with the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch is showing all indications that it recaptured the lightning bottled by the original Wii.  With the system selling out every shipment it makes almost instantly (and this is in March and April) and a non-pack in game managing to attain an unprecedented over 100% attach rate in at least one region, we have plenty of reason to believe that Nintendo’s console division is back on track.  And they’re definitely contributing to Japanese games making a resurgence in 2017.  This year we have or are scheduled to get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ARMS, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade 2, Fire Emblem Warriors and the game that means so much to me it was my most anticipated game of 2017 based on a six second “tech demo”, Super Mario Odyssey.  Breath of the Wild, the only one released so far, is one of the highest rated games of all time and would single handedly make this a better year for Japanese game reception than some of the last few.  Nintendo is back, and they’re ready to lead the charge in the Japanese game resurgence.

 

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Mario is back, and he’s not alone.

 

And what was that other company I avoided mentioning?  Well, it’s one that’s pretty easy to ignore, if the bitterness doesn’t get you, at least.  Konami, tormentor of employees, bane of Kojima, the Japanese EA.  No other Japanese publisher fell as far as Konami, but even with them, there is a glimmer of light this year.  Super Bomberman R is one of the more prominent Switch launch games that isn’t Zelda, and has been selling amazingly well for such a niche game.  Konami has publicly announced plans to revive more dormant franchises, as opposed to fleeing video games to make pachinko machines.  The slightest bit of hope for Konami is a miraculous step forward at this point.

 

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This game existing at all is a frigging miracle.

 

So, with the games released and announced in 2017, I think it’s safe to say that the sun is rising again for Japanese games.  Again, I’m not asking for western console games to go back to their dark age.  While I generally prefer Japanese design philosophy, western developers (many of whom grew up with games from Japan’s golden age) are perfectly capable of using it, and both sides can learn things from the other’s games.  Gamers benefit from as many developers as possible making great games, no matter what region they’re from.  With E3 fast approaching, we will hopefully soon have even more games to look forward to from Japanese developers and proof that the revival trend will continue in 2018 and beyond.

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Top 10 Games I Want Ported FROM PC II: The Secret of the Ooze

Last year, I decided to change things up when it came to my long-running series of PC port wishlists by doing a list of games that would be great games currently available on PC, but not consoles. I have to admit, I actually had a lot of fun doing it – looking back on lesser-known games that were only available on PC just struck me as a much less futile endeavor than constantly mooning about games that might never get re-released in any format, let alone on PC. At least with PC, there’s always an odd chance that maybe at some point, one of the console manufactures will stumble across one of these obscure gems and decide, “Hey, this could work well on our system” and pay someone to port it to their current platform. Considering the sheer length of your average PC game’s shelf life, I’ve got plenty of material for future lists: I’m even considering making this into a yearly tradition.

First things first, let’s go over what’s been announced since the last time I discussed this – both in terms of console releases and PC. Considering the topic of this article is focusing games being ported from PC to console, that seems like the logical place to start. As I already mentioned, both Ys Origin and Kero Blaster were announced for PlayStation consoles back in December – since then, Ys Origin released on PS4 in February and is expected to hit the Vita on May 30th. Kero Blaster still lacks a release date, but another game being handled by the same publisher (Playism) that didn’t quite make the list – Momodora: Under the Reverie released on March 16th and 17th on the PS4 and Xbox One respectively. Likewise, a game I originally intended to include on this year’s list: Pocket Rumble will be released on Switch sometime in the near future. Ironically, I would’ve suggested putting it on a Nintendo platform anyway, simply due to the lack of fighting games on the platform and the low-definition graphics seemed like a better fit for Nintendo’s core audience. An even bigger surprise came less than a week before this article was set to post: Lethal League is hitting both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on May 10th, adding another win to what I had originally intended as a joke article.

Fortunately, time has been kind to the PC platform as well. First and foremost, when NIS America announced their obtained the localization rights to Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, they also announced a release on Steam. This news is particularly inspiring, considering it comes hot off the heels of the fact that the Steam version of fellow Falcom title Tokyo Xanadu – being localized by Aksys Games – will be based on the PS4 release, Tokyo Xanadu eX+. Both games are expected to release late this year and I cannot wait for both games. The only thing that could make me happier would be PC ports of the 2 modern-era Ys games currently missing from PC – and XSEED did mention they had some big PC news coming up soon, so I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Other good news include de Blob making its way to PC on April 27th, courtesy of the good folks at THQ Nordic and Blitworks. To make matters even better, Blitworks may have also leaked the existence of a port of the game’s sequel, which means that soon we could have the entire duology! Finally, Arc System Works teamed up with FK Digital to bring Chaos Code -New Sign of Catastrophe- to PS4 and Steam with a new online mode. Not to mention they confirmed that the “REVELATOR 2” upgrade for Guilty Gear Xrd will be hitting Steam alongside the console versions. It’s encouraging to see how ASW has embraced PC gaming. O

With those musings out of the way, let’s get onto the actual meat of the article: the next ten games I’d like to see ported to console from PC. Same rules as last time – we’re mostly going to be looking at relatively recent PC games, specifically those released during the seventh and eighth generations of video game consoles, that have not appeared on home consoles by the time this article has been posted. I’ll also be discussing which platforms I’d consider the best choice for these games if they do actually manage to make it to at least one platform.

Carrie’s Order Up!

Best described as a cross between Pac-Man and Tapper, Carrie’s Order Up is a fun little throwback to old-school gaming with graphics I’d liken to a lost Neo-Geo game. Players take on the role of Carrie, a crab waitress trying to raise enough money to keep the restaurant where she works afloat. The gameplay is simple enough: customers come into the restaurant, usually ambling around looking for the perfect seat; they place their orders which are made by Carrie’s coworker Calcia and Carries brings them to the right customers to keep them happy. But watch out! Once Carrie gets started, she doesn’t stop and bumping into customers is a big no-no. Fortunately, she can twirl to bypass customers, but using it too much leaves her dizzy. Plus, if the customers aren’t served in time, they’ll also leave angry. The game’s a mere $3 yet offers a great value at that price: in addition to the standard arcade mode, there’s an endless mode and tons of other unlockables.

Best Platform: I’d have to give this one to the Switch, no contest. The cutesy aesthetic coupled with the classic arcade-style of gameplay seems like a perfect recipe for getting lost in the shuffle on Sony – and I doubt Microsoft would ever want to pursue this style of content. Meanwhile, I could see Nintendo advertising this as one of their “Nindies”, perhaps not enough to receive a special announcement in a direct, but definitely a dedicated section in one of their sizzle reels.

Xanadu Next

Okay, now if you want to get technical, Xanadu Next has technically already been on home console – in fact, it was the first time it was available in English. Unfortunately, the system in question was Nokia’s N-Gage and from what I’ve heard, that port wasn’t exactly representative of the original PC game. From what I’ve heard, Xanadu Next has been described as a cross between Metroidvanias, Diablo and Falcom’s own Ys series. There’s no doubt in my mind that console gamers would want to get their hands on that kind of action.

Best Platform: PlayStation 4 and maybe the Vita, if it hasn’t died at that point. Falcom’s had a poor track record with Nintendo-original releases – ranging from as far back as Ys III on the SNES all the way to the ports of Ys I & II on the DS. Given the fact that Falcom gave up on their history of PC gaming to survive in Japan’s console-centric market, a tryst with the Xbox brand is laughable. No, just like Ys Origin before it, I could see Xanadu Next on Sony platforms – I’m just going to assume it won’t happen until after DotEmu has backported all of the Ys games currently available on Steam back to PlayStation all over again.

Super Killer Hornet: Resurrection

Here’s another game where I’m technically cheating by including it: both the original Super Killer Hornet and its remake appeared on the Xbox Live Indie Games service. However, given the fact that XBLIG is set to be taken down later this year – not to mention the fact that it wasn’t that big a priority for Microsoft in the first place – it seems like now would be a good time to try again. SKH:R is an odd mixture, focusing equally on fast-paced shmup action and mathematics. You see, power-ups like score multipliers, options and shot upgrades are tied behind completing simple math problems: first you collect a number with an operator, then a second number to complete the formula, then you’re given the choice of three answers. Answer correctly and you get upgraded. It may sound boring, but the game gets hectic pretty quickly considering this is all happening during a typical shmup.

Best Platform: This one’s going to be difficult. On the one hand, the game does have history on the Xbox brand, but it’s not exactly a stellar one. PlayStation has apparently tried to encroach upon Xbox’s former status of best console for shmups, but I’m not sure if they’d go for something quite like this – granted, the graphical style might be right up their alley. Nintendo, on the other hand, might be open to this unique title – so I guess I’ll give it to the Switch by default, though I wouldn’t count out a PlayStation release as well.

The Wonderful End of the World

I think the best way to describe The Wonderful End of the World would be if Katamari Damacy were less Japanese, made on a smaller budget but at least 90% as quirky. Made by the good people at Dejobaan Games – who have also brought us such games as AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, Drunken Robot Pornography and Tick Tock Bang Bang – The Wonderful End of the World takes place, well, exactly at that point: a demon with a fish for a head is going to eat the world and all that inhabits it. Fortunately, you’re thrust into the role of a puppet that can absorb anything it touches – and everything you absorb only makes you bigger. You’re in a race against time to save as much of the world as you can before it’s all over. A short game, but a fun one all the same – probably my favorite of Dejobaan’s entire library, even if it’s not their most popular title.

Best Platform: Another hard choice. Dejobaan hasn’t really strayed from PC and mobile development throughout their existence. I’d imagine that Sony would probably be happier to prod Bandai Namco to make a new Katamari game and this game doesn’t really seem like the kind of Microsoft would go out of its way to put on Xbox. Nintendo’s Switch just strikes me as a the most viable option by default, just because I think the game’s quirkiness would be a good fit. Honestly, if Dejobaan were to start releasing games on console, I’d wager they’d probably go for something a little more contemporary.

Camera Obscura

I’m a huge fan of platformers – from the twitchy ones that require perfect hand-eye coordination and reflexes to the puzzle ones that force you to rack your mind. Camera Obscura is clearly of the latter camp, but it’s got some unique mechanics: players take on the role of a lone photographer scaling a ruined tower, the failed work of a long since passed cult planning to reach the sun itself. On your trek, you’ll have to face off with wild animals that have taken refuge in the abandoned obelisk, as well as crumbling architecture and traps left behind by the structure’s creators, armed with nothing but your trusty camera. However, this is no ordinary camera: it’s capable of creating afterimages of the world around you – allowing you to bridge gaps, climb ledges, create floating platforms and ever crush deadly monsters between objects in the real world and your copies. But will this ability be enough to scale the tower’s 57 floors?

Best Platform: Once again, I could see this working best on the PlayStation 4, though I wouldn’t rule out releases on the other two consoles. The puzzle elements are a pretty solid match for Nintendo or Sony, but I feel like Sony would probably jump on this one before Nintendo, simply due to the grungier take on pixel art present in the graphics. While Microsoft did get their hands on Fez and Braid – both noted as inspirations for Camera Obscura in its own Steam page – before anyone else, they just don’t really seem like they’re going out of their way to bag pre-existing indie games at this point, preferring to finance their own.

Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge

Perhaps this is a bit of an odd choice, but we’ve seen games of this style released on home consoles both in the past and fairly recently. Starting life as a direct remake of an old computer game called Phantis developed by a little-known company call Dinamic Software, Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge absolutely oozes early 90s western PC game. Players are thrust into the role of heroine Serena S who is inspired to strike revenge on a dangerous alien planet …because someone trolled her on the internet. The gameplay in each level is split into two phases: a side-scrolling shmup inspired by games like R-Type and a side-scroller run-and-gun not unlike the Turrican games of old. Considering its classic artstyle was handled by Andrew Bado, a former alumnus of WayForward and Gameloft and its soundtrack was provided by the incomparable Jake “virt” Kaufman, Ultionus not only feels like a classic ‘90s Amiga throwback, but looks and sounds like one too.

Best Platform: I’m going to have to go with PlayStation this time around. As a similar Amiga exclusive, Psygnosis’s Shadow of the Beast received a remake on PS4 not that long ago, there’s at least precedent to allow something like this to hit the platform. Also, given the fact that main character’s design is brimming with fan service, it might be better suited for Sony’s platform simply due to the perceived maturity of the game’s design in general.

Terrian Saga: KR-17

Another game clearly evoking the spirit of early ‘90s PC games, KR-17 is somewhat evocative of western retro platformers like Commander Keen, the old Duke Nukem games and Jack Jackrabbit. Boasting over 60 levels across 9 worlds, varied level designs, a storyline that’s interesting without bogging everything down, mind-bending puzzles and precision run-and-gun gameplay, Terrian Saga delivers an impressive package at a reasonable price point.

Best Platform: This time, I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, this game seems to have “Nindie” written all over it, with its clear retro style, relatively family-friendly tone and its tendency to achieve “Nintendo hard” levels of difficulty at times. On the other hand, the game’s developer is currently working on getting their next project on both PlayStation and Xbox in addition to PC. I guess because of that, I’d give the edge to PlayStation 4, but I could definitely see this game doing quite well on the Switch too.

Devil’s Dare

If there’s one type of game that never really managed to adjust to the death of arcades, it would have to be the humblest of video game genres – the beat-‘em-up. An entire genre built from the ground-up for the sole purpose of bilking the young and young-at-heart out of entire GDPs worth of quarters, the transition to the console era didn’t do the genre any favors: games had to choose between unlimited continues – which defeats the entire purpose of the games – and a set number of limited continues, which just leaves me disappointed. Devil’s Dare thinks differently: opting for a perma-death mechanic instead. Continues cost in-game money, which can be obtained by performing well. Run out of continues, and the game deletes your save. It’s an interesting concept in my book. Even if the rest of the game’s components aren’t quite the pinnacle of the genre, I think it’s still worth sharing with a wider audience.

Best Platform: I’d honestly be willing to go with the Xbox One on this one, simply because of the game’s gritty yet retro tone. I’d recommend a slight overhaul of the base gameplay and that kind of an undertaking might make the effort to port Devil’s Dare to new platforms more of a Microsoft-friendly project, simply due to their obsession with “getting things first”. Label it as “Devil’s Dare DX” or something along those lines and I’m sure the folks at Xbox would lap it right up.

Owlboy

Developed over the course of nearly a decade as a love letter to old-school platformers, Owlboy dubs itself a “hi-bit game”, due to the fact that it recreates the classic look of 16-bit games at a much higher resolution and with much more fluid animation than what was possible back when 2D pixel art was the apex of its popularity. Players take on the role of Otus, a young anthropomorphic owl. Unfortunately, he struggles with living up to the expectations set for him, because he was born mute. When sky pirates show up, things only get worse and Otus must set off on an adventure. Fortunately, Otus has friends in the form of various Gunners, whom provide him with cover fire while in flight.

Best Platform: This is perhaps the most difficult decision of them all, but I’m going to have to give it to the Nintendo Switch. While you’d think that the fact that the game was built in XNA would make it a shoe-in for Xbox, you’ve got to remember that Microsoft discontinued the service and it isn’t compatible with the Xbox One. Likewise, while PlayStation would likely want to pursue getting this title, much of the game’s inspiration comes from various Nintendo properties, including Kid Icarus and the Tanooki Suit in Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s also fair to bring up that D-Pad Studios, the game’s developer, did consider console ports back in 2013, when the game was still in development – not to mention the fact that ports to both Mac and Linux were released this year – so who knows just where this gorgeous game might end up in the future?

Environmental Station Alpha

Developed by small Finnish studio Hempuli Oy, Environmental Station Alpha is a Metroid-like, pure and simple. It boasts a minimalistic pixelated artstyle, ambient music and solid, yet simple gameplay. Alas, it’s still a Metroidvania – and we’ve reached the point where the independently developed Metroidvania has become a cliché unto itself. Still, when Tom Happ – the man who single-handedly developed Axiom Verge, the last Metroid-like indie to escape being deemed “unoriginal” – says that ESA is worth checking out, I’m not going to argue with him.

Best Platform: The Switch or possibly the 3DS, no question. This game totally evokes the look and feel of a Metroid game and Nintendo would be foolish to not at least try to get their hands on this game to quell that particular fanbase’s hunger. I’m fairly certain that a significant portion of both the PS4 and Xbox One’s core audiences might be turned off by the primitive graphics – though, Vita fans will beg for just about anything.

There you have it, 10 PC games I’d like to see ported to consoles. No honorable mentions this time – might need to save those games for next year after all. I already own every game on the list, but of course, that’s not really the point of this list – it’s less about getting the games myself and more about sharing them with a much wider audience. You know, better to give than to receive and all that mumbo-jumbo. Having said that, it was probably more fun to do this article than the last one: I had already blown through most of my obvious choices last year, so searching for new games that weren’t already on console was pretty fun. Not to mention the fact that actually seeing some of those titles I picked last year getting console ports – that definitely made things more exciting this time around. I wonder which (if any) games will make it over out of this batch. You know, aside from Pocket Rumble, considering that got announced before I started writing this article.