Why So Many JRPGs Are Never Released Outside Of Japan

Feeling screwed? If you're a fan of Japanese games, you certainly should be. Publishers in the East have not treated us very well over the past few decades. They've given us rushed and incomplete localisations. Often they don't send us ports at all.

Sometimes, it feels like Japanese game makers just don't want us to play their games.

From Nintendo's Mother 3 to Sega's Valkyria Chronicles 3 to countless ports and remakes on the PlayStation Network and other platforms, there are a whole lot of great Japanese role-playing games that most overseas fans have never even had the chance to play. But Victor Ireland wants to change that.

You might not be familiar with Ireland or his former company, Working Designs, but if you played Japanese role-playing games during the PlayStation era, you probably played something they made. Ireland was responsible for the localisation of Alundra, Vanguard Bandits, and the wonderful Lunar series, among many more.

Working Designs is long gone, but Ireland is still trying to translate and port over as many Japanese role-playing games as he can. The first step, he told me, is printing a deluxe physical copy of the PSP dungeon-crawler Class of Heroes 2. He partnered with publisher MonkeyPaw Games to launch a Kickstarter for the physical copy of the game in hopes of showing Japanese publishers that crowdfunding is a viable way to stir up fans and get Americans interested in their products. And he says that if Class of Heroes 2 meets its $US500,000 goal, it will open the doors for future localisation projects.

"Once it's a known quality, it becomes easier," Ireland said in a phone interview. "If we do [succeed], we can go back to Japanese publishers, show them that we funded it, and get them excited about the whole model."

So why start with a game like Class of Heroes 2? This is hardly the dream RPG that fans have been craving. It doesn't have the clout of a Lunar or a Suikoden. And even Ireland admits that its predecessor was not very good.

"We're doing what's possible rather than what's wished for," he said. Niche games and licenses might have done well in overseas over the past few months, but to Japanese publishers, Kickstarter is an unproven commodity. And Ireland says he had a great deal of difficulty getting people on board. Japanese developers Acquire and Zero Div were willing to participate, so he took them up.

Ireland wouldn't tell me what games he hopes to bring over next, for fear of ruining business deals that are not yet finalised. But there are quite a few big hitters in Japan that haven't made it here. In addition to the aforementioned Valkyria Chronicles 3, we've missed out on PSP role-playing games like Final Fantasy Type-0, the new Suikoden, Shining Hearts, and many others.

So why have so many RPGs on the PSP never made it here?

"I think it's a combination of the hardware and retail," Ireland said. "It's a combination of existing sales for stuff that's already out and retailer enthusiasm for stocking the product."

For one, Sony's first handheld has not done nearly as well in the US as it has in Japan. And with the release of its successor, the Vita, earlier this year, the PSP is all but obsolete.

And "Best Buy is not just gonna step up and buy 20,000 copies" of a game like Class of Heroes 2, he said. Nor have those retailers shown interest in some of the other niche PSP games out there.

Japanese publishers don't like taking risks, Ireland says. Even when a overseas publisher promises to take on a game's financial burden, a publisher is afraid of losing face in the result of a failure or poor performance.

At this point, the obvious solution might be to localise RPGs and then bring them over to here on a digital platform like Steam or the PlayStation Network. Some Japanese developers, like Falcom, have dipped their toes in the water of digital distribution. But others aren't as interested.

"The reality of the market is that publishers are sceptical," Ireland said. So he wants to show them numbers — not just words.

I don't think Class of Heroes 2 will meet its $US500,000 goal, and that's a real shame. Not because Class of Heroes 2 is a particularly great game, but because it could open up unprecedented possibilities for Japanese game localisation in the future.

So all we can hope is that, even if Class of Heroes 2 doesn't take off, Japanese publishers start looking at Kickstarter's success in the West and turning to people like Ireland to help bring their games to a new audience. I think there are many JRPG fans here in North America. Japan just has to find them.

This Week In JRPG News

  • Bravely Default: Flying Fairy might be one of the best-looking titles on the 3DS, ridiculous title and all. Still no word on a US release, but I have faith in Square Enix...
  • ...because they're giving us Theathrythm Final Fantasy, another ridiculously titled game for the 3DS. that looks fantastic.
  • Tales of Graces F makes a responsible parent out of Kotaku's Mike Fahey. Isn't this a great story?

What To Play This Weekend

Something new: Chaos Rings II, the turn-based RPG that hit iOS this week. It's a bit expensive and I haven't played it yet, but I'll trust Fahey, who says it's worth the $US17/$20 Square Enix wants.

Something old: Persona 3 Portable, which Kirk Hamilton says is the "best game ever yo". (Note: Not his actual words.) Also, it's now $US20.

Your Questions Answered

Every week, I post several reader questions about JRPGs.

Jorge writes:

Without adding nostalgia into the mix... do you really, honestly and objectively (with all your JRPG experience) think modern JRPGs have gone downhill? If yes, why? If no, then why is the media making it look like so? To favour Western developers?

No. I just think many writers and critics don't have the time, energy, patience, or interest required for many JRPGs. And very few of them want to try.

That's OK, of course. Every reviewer is entitled to his or her niche. But there are so many excellent modern JRPGs out there — games like Xenoblade, Radiant Historia, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and so many more — that it's hard not to scoff when people throw around generalisations like "JRPGs are dead". (Final Fantasy, on the other hand, is stuck on life support.)

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.


    As i said on the other thread..

    Donate NAOW people!! xD

    ERm, most of them are so simple you can play them without knowing Japanese anyway... you know the way they're meant to be played?

      Played without understanding anything?

    If anything I think this will hurt our possibility of seeing more localisations. Class of Heroes 2 was a poor choice, as an unknown game with a poor reputation. There's no way in hell they're going to hit the $500,000 mark. Now if word of the failure gets around, Japanese devs will be even less likely to participate.
    If he had started this with Valkyria Chronicles 3 or Final Fantasy Type-0, I'm sure it would have been a success.

      I tend to agree, I don't think it'll make it. I donated regardless, since I thought if they make it, I'll get my game, and if they don't, I'm no worse off and I'll just buy the digital release. But I agree they should have started with something higher profile with a bigger fanbase.

      Actually, having looked at the pledges, it's really got poor choices there. Most of these types of things have had you pay $10-$20 to get yourself a digital copy of the game. The cheapest option for the game in this one is $59, and it's for a physical copy. If you want a digital copy, it's a minimum of $100.
      They've really shot themselves in the foot from the outset here. The people who special collector's editions that they talk about in the Kickstarter are a small group of hardcore fans. Those fans alone are not going to finance this.

        The reason for that is that the digital release is funded regardless of whether this kickstarter works out, the kickstarter is for a physical collector's edition of the game. It's already a done deal, we'll get it even if the physical release falls through. I agree though, the teirs they have aren't fantastic, they need one at the $20 or so mark which is just a digital copy.

      i think the problem with those is that they are PSP titles, which aren't as popular.

      however i heard type-0 will be getting a VITA port, and i'd bet my money that it may then get a western release.

        I'd buy it for Vita in a heartbeat. The system's starved for games of that caliber.

    Not just JRPGs, I bought my PS3 console so I could play Musou Orochi Z and Sengoku Musou 3Z. With Western reviews on other fantastic Koei titles like Warriors Orochi 2, I can understand why they'd be hesitant to finance a port. I'm glad they released Warriors Orochi 3, its much more authentic with Japanese voices anyway.

    I can't help but think this is because all people seem to do here is non-stop bitch about how bad everything is.

    I don't think the standard of JRPGs has dropped at all. The media seem to focus on Final Fantasy and assume that it is an accurate indicator of the entire industry.

    "Feeling screwed? If you’re a fan of Japanese games, you certainly should be."

    Yes, Japanese publishers don't release to the western market just to spite the manbaby JRPG fans. It has nothing to do with the fact that 99% of the western market has no interest in JRPGs.

    Self entitled garbage.

      What about the sims? You can Make them bonk till drop and spawn full family trees, which pass on getneic traits. That's pretty sophisticated no? Spore will fit that too. Though I guess you mean spawning babies in an rpg particularly.In NWN2 the druid love interest will talk with you overlooking the battlements, then when you head to get some sleep together, she tells you she has no intention of sleeping *nudge nudge snicker*. Sex is often alluded to, but it's true that offspring never appear as a significant emotional connection (except for the sims). Sometimes they are mentioned in an epilogue though, like in Harry potter 7.It would be fun to play a chapter of a game, battle evil (or good), fall in love, settle down and spawn babies. Then as chapter 2 play the child grown up. The house and natural inclinations of the character could reflect those passed on by the parent. Even the way people treat them could be passed on. There could be generation long family feuds.Chapter 3 could be the child's child, etc, etc... What if you didn't want to have a kid though? Well in this imaginary game too bad. Story over. I'd let it slide for a game an innovative as that, as long as I didn't have to marry scum. Though there wouldn't have to be marriage. Hmm.. My mind is boggling with epic story lines.Think of a child brought up by the enemy to hate their father and/or mother. Actually tragedy is far more emotionally powerful when amplified by time. Although as time approaches infinity tragedy approaches absurd.

    I was going to say it was because the majority of JRPG's are rehashed garbage and the Japanese games industry is suffering because of it but everyone is entitled to their own opinion I guess.

    if you're into H-Games, there are plenty of fan translations on hongfire

    I'm quite sure we'll be getting Final Fantasy Type-O. I remember reading somewhere that they were working on an English version for the Vita :)

    Well, Ghostlight seem to be doing very well bringing JRPGs to the West already, and being a UK company, us Australians often get to see the releases before the US. I'll take any decent game from any source though. I'm a huge fan of Alundra so these guys get at least a look in from me.

    The us release of Final Fantasy Type-0 will be Vita only as the PSP release ran into allot of issues like camera controls which were addressed with the full game release in Japan but too many users complained...

    To many users complained about performance issues especially on the older model psp where the game went single digit frame rates....

    Apparently since they started a HD version of it on Vita they scrapped the psp version as it will feature significantly better graphics, better controls, better frame rates and feature much more content

    I play Ninokuni Shikkoku no Madoushi with a Japanese dictionary. You should start a podcast.

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