To say that Japanese game development has been a letdown would be underselling it. The once bastion of brilliant original games had become lost in mediocrity, reliving exhausted tropes and dated mechanics. Games stuck in development purgatory as they never seemed to fully grasp how to actually build a game in a world filled with ballooning budgets, massive sales expectations and technology that managed to make the once thoughtful and artistic look dull and boring.
Rather than take risks, Japan became a nation filled with companies who were afraid to gamble, afraid to put themselves out there to recapture the illustrious magic that brought us all into gaming in the first place. With smart phones and tablets threatening to kill the home console we have seen names like Capcom teeter on the brink of oblivion, Konami give up on console development and Square Enix look west.
But then a trend developed. Brave developers soldiered on without their companies. Keiji Inafune brought Comcept to the forefront with Mighty No. 9. Koji Igarashi smashed through crowd-funding ceilings with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. And Sony brought life to the classics that made Japan the Mecca of gaming.
Three vastly unique games, each with their own story of development turmoil. One mired in mystery and cryptic messages, with many wondering if it would ever see the light of day. Another a standout classic of one of the most famed franchises of all time. And the last the concluding chapter to a game that the entire world had written off.
It was a simple, calculated move that ended up being a perfect storm for Sony. One that Microsoft never saw coming.
The tone was set early today with Microsoft’s frenetic whirlwind of a E3 presentation that had many feeling invigorated by their renewed focus on core gaming. They hit as hard as they could with refined peripherals, backwards compatibility, not to mention a pair of Xbox standards in Halo 5 and Gears 4.
But Sony didn’t even blink. They managed to trot out the games that everybody knew about in No Man’s Sky and Uncharted 4. They turned a few heads with Horizon: Zero Dawn. But by recommitting to Japanese development, they are going back to what made the PS2 a standout purchase.
We are still a ways off to see how these investments pay off with The Last Guardian due next year and no solid date for the Final Fantasy VII remake. Shenmue III, while a glorious undertaking, will need to pass the public barometer of Kickstarter (a place where it is currently blowing past records) and is projected to release no earlier than 2017.
But the proof is out there that Sony is supporting these projects openly. The Last Guardian is an in-house exclusive. Final Fantasy VII will arrive first on the PlayStation 4, as will Shenmue III when its development finally concludes. Pair Sony’s bombshell announcements with their support of Street Fighter V and the pending releases of Metal Gear Solid V, Final Fantasy XV, the Kickstarter projects of Mighty No. 9 and Bloodstained and all of the work Nintendo is doing, it appears that Japan has finally recaptured the magic .