Japanese Role Playing Games: Why They aren’t being Localized?

Artist: tsunako

After watching a video about someone’s thoughts about Japanese RPGs and the losing popularity of the genre in the west, it got me wondering why this is the case because Japanese video game developers are becoming more reluctant to localize more releases. I think there are some reasons why they feel this way. (Image Source)

During the early 90s and 2000s, Japanese RPGs were popular, but now we are seeing fewer releases in the 7th generation. While people can blame the Xbox 360 as Microsoft tried to pay off Japanese developers in order to win the Japanese market that failed, there is a western bias against Japanese RPGs. I think people feel this way is because the cultural difference between the East and the West. For instance, Japanese people tend value fantasy and cuteness over realism and violence in the West as mentioned several times. Personally, I tend to prefer Japanese games to western games since most western games these days are rehashes of first person shooters and tend to focus more on violence. Not only that, Japanese games tend to feel more cheerful and escapist. These games tend to exaggerate the emotions because it doesn’t take a realistic approach.

I think the reason why western video game critics tend to be harsh towards Japanese video games, namely Japanese Role Playing games is for the fact that they don’t understand that these games are made for a Japanese audience and that these critics have a cultural bias for more western tastes.  I think this is the case as video games from Japan are heavily influenced by tends in Anime (such as Moe), which a Western audience may not like. This is probably one of the main reasons why Japanese video game companies have become increasingly reluctant to localize any games in recent years. Because of that, they think that these types of games won’t sell even if they are good.

In the past, Japanese video game publishers had no problem localizing these games until the mid 2000s because it’s popular. Now, they have become increasingly hesitant to bring over any Japanese video games. I think this is the case because companies are afraid that these games aren’t going to sell well since the western market is more into First Person Shooters and violent video games. Because of this, we tend miss out on a lot of Japanese video games for this reason and that most consoles besides Sony’s are region locked.  While there have been attempts made by the fandom to persuade Japanese publishers to localize their games such as Operation Rainfall with few of their games, namely Xenoblade Chronicles, I feel that people now have to do fight for support in order to play these niche games in the future. Not only that, these campaigns is not always successful. This is why I decided to learn Japanese just to play them (although I’m learning it for job opportunities too) in their original language. While it’s not feasible for all people, most will realize that there are some things that get lost in translation such as honorifics and cultural references.

On the other hand, I think Japanese role-playing games are clichéd to a certain extent, which is one of the main complaints regarding this genre. While there are many to list, the one that bothers me is that most of these Japanese role-playing games have a teenaged-male lead that wants to save the world.  Since most Japanese role-playing game have a male as a lead, I kind of wish I can play as a female one. Thankfully, some of these games are shifting away from male leads and instead with capable female ones or an all female cast. For instance, Tales of Xillia features a female protagonist while in Atelier Escha and Logy, the female character can take more hits. Furthermore, in all the Neptunia games, all the playable characters are female while most of the villains are males. While this genre should try some new ideas to make it less clichéd, I don’t think clichés are necessarily a bad thing as long the stories and characters are enjoyable.

As a whole, it’s clear that not every game made in Japan will make a localized release for the fact that it might be too niche or perhaps it won’t sell well in the west dominated by rehashes of first person shooter games. Perhaps Japanese publishers don’t like taking risks even though sub-only digital releases on Nintendo’s E-Shop or Sony’s Playstation Network would lessen this risk. Still, I think Japanese games in my opinion provide a good and enjoyable story with great characters. I just don’t agree with the consensus that Japanese games needs to be more realistic approach since this isn’t something that a Japanese audience would enjoy. Besides, it will take away the thing that makes Japanese games enjoyable: the unique art style. Even so, I still think they need to take some risks to change-up the genre once in the while.

With that, do you think the Japanese RPG is dying in the west? Do you think they need to shake some things up? Feel free to share your thoughts about games that never made it outside Japan. 

4 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Rarefindit says:

    I believe this holds true to the view of Western society and jrpgs. “Why do you resist when you know you have no future? They say public opinion lowers the moment eyes are laid on your graphics yet you persist. All you have to do is steal from the past. Sequels, rehashes, repackaged, remakes, and more of the same are all the public wants (and cheap apps and sports games).” – Sega Fantasy VI, paraphrased

    It’s through our twisted minds that we want to be something that we aren’t: a hero. It’s no wonder some of our guys are being ridiculed for playing murder simulators. There’s no yearning for variety, nor is there to try something new. It’s that fear of the foreign that we try to shut out and publishers know that based on the sales of their past attempts.

    On the other hand, Japan sticks with the formula that they know all too well and refuses to branch out. They know how to tell a good story, but rather stick with the Peripheral Demographic and that demographic is on some moe streak. Jury’s still out to why.

    • chikorita157 says:

      The trend with western games as mentioned is not because the audience would rather play the same games like the countless number of first person shooters and sports games, it’s for the fact that western games tend to put graphics first before anything else. It seems that people judge good games by how good the graphics than the important part, the gameplay and the story. I think Japanese games tend to balance these three elements or focus more on the latter two, which is why these games tend to get lower scores in the westerner’s eyes compared to reviews made in Japan. But still, there are probably a few western games that can be good and have good/enjoyable gameplay, graphics, etc, but I feel that it’s very few as developers are shifting towards mobile games which has less depth than PC or console games. While the stories in Japanese games are targeting to a certain demographic or a specific niche, at least it focuses on deep gameplay and story. To me, I would rather play a game with a good story and gameplay rather than play one which is overly realistic as people don’t realize that video games are meant to escape from problems in real life, not be reminded of them.

  2. Overlord-G says:

    JRPGs are more colorful, enjoyable and have more entertaining characters than WRPGs that obsess with being serious, realistic and epiphany inducing. The only way I would buy a WRPG these days is if it had yuri in it. Despite that claim, I still haven’t played the Mass Effect series. Ah well.

    • chikorita157 says:

      I haven’t played any WRPGS as they don’t appeal to me, but I agree that the characters in Japanese games, especially Japanese Roleplaying games tend to be more enjoyable. Of course, I don’t play video games for the graphics, but the gameplay and story.

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