Proof That Western Gamers Really Do Want Japanese RPGs

Does the world still care about Japanese role-playing games? Do people still want to buy them? Do they still deserve our attention? Ask your average gamer — or your average game developer — and they'll tell you that the JRPG is a dying genre.

They'll tell you that Japanese RPGs haven't evolved or that nobody buys them anymore. That JRPGs are too niche to bring to America. That the style isn't worth anyone's time.

Western gamers disagrees.

For a long time now, I've been arguing that JRPGs are underappreciated — that the genre is far more diverse and interesting than people believe. I've also argued that the fanbase for JRPGs is larger than most people think it is.

Robert Boyd thinks so too. Boyd, an American indie developer who makes turn-based, Japan-style RPGs, believes that there are lots of Westerners who would happily buy more JRPGs or JRPG-styled games. If only there were more to buy.

"I think the market for quality JRPGs outside of Japan is grossly underestimated," Boyd told me in an email yesterday.

His proof? Boyd's 2011 game Cthulu Saves The World sold 300,000 copies on Steam alone — and another 100,000 on mobile platforms and the Xbox indie marketplace. Cthulu Saves The World is a traditional turn-based RPG that in many ways emulates classics like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. It's also funny, charming and interesting in its own way. And it's a big success.

Granted, Cthulu is a cheap game, and Steam has promoted it a few times with bundles and sales. But those are massive numbers even for a $3 game, and Boyd believes his JRPG isn't an anomaly.

"Zeboyd Games is a two-man studio and we made Cthulhu Saves the World in under a year (and not even working full-time on it)," Boyd said. "Not only that, but at the time, we had very little previous development experience. If we were able to find that kind of success with our low-budget JRPG-style RPG, I don't see why a bigger studio with a solid understanding of the genre couldn't find even more success with bigger-budget higher priced games."

There are some other Westerners making JRPGs — Adam Rippon's Dragon Fantasy has been a success on iOS, and it will soon be on PS3 and Vita. A number of developers have started Kickstarters for JRPG-style games, like Echoes of Eternia. But Boyd thinks the market is still untapped.

"PC in particular has exploded in the US over the past few years thanks to Steam's growing popularity and the rise of indie games," Boyd said. "And yet there are still very few JRPG-style games being released professionally on the PC."

You don't have to be an indie to get an audience — despite common consensus, big-budget console JRPGs have also found a fair amount of success over the past two years. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told me he was quite pleased with Xenoblade's sales when we chatted last year, and Xseed has said that The Last Story is their most successful launch to date.

Most recently, the stellar Ni no Kuni tore up the charts in early 2013 — according to one person in a position to know (who spoke to me under condition of anonymity), Namco Bandai was very pleased with the RPG's sales in the United States. Although the publisher has yet to say anything about the game's reception, Ni no Kuni was the number-one seller in the UK in January as well.

People want to play good JRPGs. Just look at the charts for February's PSN sales, via Sony:

Yeah, that data happens to coincide with Square Enix running a sale on Final Fantasy games for half of February, but it's not a coincidence. People aren't just buying up old Final Fantasy games because they're cheap. People are buying them because they want to play good JRPGs.

So let this be a message. To a few different groups of people.

To Japanese publishers: Bring your games to the West! If they're good, people will buy them. Word will spread. We'll help.

To game developers: Make JRPGs! They're not obsolete. People want to play them. Not every role-playing game has to feel like Skyrim or Mass Effect. There are a lot of different styles to play around with.

Most importantly...

To gamers: Speak up! Let your voice be heard. Support great JRPGs. Spend your time telling companies like Square Enix that you want to see games like Bravely Default come to the West, and tell indie developers that you'd love to see them make more JRPGs.

Don't lose faith, no matter how many people tell you that this is a niche, undesirable genre. The numbers tell a different story.

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


    Yea, i'll buy FF7 so Square can know i want more games like FF14.

      I doubt they'd make another MMO Final Fantasy for another ten or so years... though we might have a XIII-7 by then.

        If Square were smart they would stop developing the FF series completely. Just give it to tri-Ace and be done with it.

          And then every character will have creepy anime doll eyes that stare into the players soul.

          seriosuly tho square still make good FF
          just FF13 was not great but 13-2 was good
          just because they made 1 bad games doesnt mean its all going to be bad

    Was there ever any doubts that we want JRPGs?

    I keep hearing this ("We want JRPGs") and then I look at the list of upcoming and released JRPGs this year, the ones being planned, that every second Kickstarter and Indie game announcement is a JRPG-like and wonder if it's more a case of "I'm blinkered into looking at the ones I want that don't have a Western release date yet". I don't even have enough time to get through my current backlog of JRPGs, let alone the ones coming out in the next few weeks...

    On a related note, if a Western developer is developing it, is it still a JRPG? Or a JRPG-like? It's a little like Rogue-likes, most of them aren't really Rogue-like, but are really Rogue-like-likes.

    Last edited 09/03/13 7:00 pm

      Yeah I think it's kind of wrong to call a western game Japanese as well...

      But then again even if Justin Bieber starting singing in Japanese would you call it J-pop? Perhaps you could think of western developers making games in a Japanese style as a similar thing. Though that all won't matter is Bieber starts singing J-pop... Even the natives would abandon the culture then.

    Well I guess people would be happy to know that I'm in the process of making a JRPG style game. Unfortunately though, it's been held back by a lack of helpers.

    Diversity, variety, even story and international flavour don't matter when the game is garbage.

    NOT ALL JRPGs ARE AMAZING. Some are, very true. I've always been fond of Dragon Quest and the Shin Megami Tensai series but for every one of those, there's something generic with the exact same story as every other game. JRPGs are the FPS of Japan for me. I don't doubt that i play half as many JRPGs as a "true" fan but i'm not exactly sure where anyone is supposed to find truly innovative systems, story or style in these games. Sure, maybe magic and summons might be different or the combat could be arena, turn or menu-based but i see all these things as iterative, not innovative. I don't think i've ever played a JRPG that i felt was truly different from the others as a core level, usually it's just the style or how much fun the game is willing to let me have outside of obtuse save points that helps me decide.

    I really don't get how anyone can defend things like save points that happen an hour before three-hour boss battles and things like that, however. I really don't it seems like such an arbitrary decision and i feel like they've just demanded i stay there for half a day flipping through menus. When JRPGs can grow out of arrogance like that, that's when my interest will spike again.

    I disagree. I don't think people want JRPGs. I think they want GOOD RPGs in general.

    I'm playing Grandia 3 on PCSX2.. it's so pretty that it puts FF-X to shame.. linear as hell but I like the turn-based combat... plus did I mention it's lovely?

    The thing is I love Japanese games but really there are so many gameplay mechanics they stilluse today that are just terrible and abandoned by western gamers years ago. I gotta say I can definitely see why they have dropped in popularity for western gamers.

    What I think all Western gamers really want is just some some god damn games with good story lines and complex characters!

    Im happy enough to play the biggest name ones they see fit to release here, whether it be subbed or dubbed. JRPG's are just as hit n miss as any other genre. Final Fantasy 5-12, Lost Odyssey and the Star Ocean series stand out as terrific games, but theres also a LOT of generic grind for the sake of it titles in the genre i just cant be bothered with.
    Also, for all the praise JRPG's get for being story driven experiences they sure do like telling the same story over and over. Whether it be a group of young adults out to save the world, or find the true meaning of friendship etc... Even the games i like fall victim to the Japanese "When we work together we can do anything!" trope.

    of course we would love more JRPGs!! loved Final Fantasy IX and X! Xenogears, Breath of Fire IV, Suikoden II... and the list goes on!!

    I just want interesting games at this point.

    Ni No Kuni was brilliant. I'm struggling to see any other game I might want that's coming out before June.

    Dissidia Duodecim is AWESOME!

    Obligatory "Earthbound and Mother 3" comment here.

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