PS Vita Is The Ultimate JRPG Console, But it Needs More Support From Sony

The PS Vita is definitely blooming in Japan, posting very solid sales numbers every week. The time in which Sony’s portable was struggling in its home turf is mostly history now and its current momentum has sparked a very healthy third party support, especially between JRPG developers.

The Vita is simply perfect for JRPGs: it’s beautiful and bright OLED screen brings the colorful worlds to life better than any other, and the screen’s small size keeps at bay the imperfection of engines that often aren’t state-of-the-art. The touch screen (even if it’s not universally used) is also very conducive to making the typical JRPG interfaces more intuitive and fast. Finally the strong focus on digital download makes smaller titles less costly to publish.

I can’t almost remember a single day in the last few months in which we didn’t get news about one of the many upcoming JRPGs Japanese developers are cooking for Sony’s portable (and you can probably notice it by yourself, since here at DualShockers we don’t ignore everything that isn’t Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed). The Legend of Heroes: Sen no Kiseki, Exstetra, Chronos Materia, Dragon’s CrownFreedom Wars, God Eater 2…these are just some of the many titles we hear about almost daily. We don’t even need to look to the many compatible PSP games and PlayStation classics, because if we did the amount and variety would become mind boggling.

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That’s a real JRPG treasure chest for everyone that loves the genre, but there’s still a problem, and it’s unfortunately the same problem that affected the PSP. Most of those games don’t get localized for the western market, with the result that most of us don’t get to enjoy a large percentage of the role playing gems available for the console.

If we take a look at the history of the PSP, the situation is pretty much the same. The console was (and to an extent still is) very popular in Japan, where gamers could enjoy an extremely rich line-up of games (again, many of those were JRPGs), while most of those titles didn’t make it to the western shores where the console languished due to a poor software line up. The dreadful sin that was the lack of a localization for games like Valkyria Chronicles 3 still burns.

Many Japanese developers and publishers are still hesitant to bring their games to the west because the installed base isn’t enormous yet, and because they don’t feel up to shouldering the localization expenses. Some simply aren’t interested in the North American and European markets because the local market gives them all the profit they need to thrive.

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Luckily we have a few brave niche publishers in the west like NIS America and XSeed Games that are ready to pick up some small titles and bring them over for us to enjoy, but their resources are limited, and they can only work on a mere fraction of what Japan offers. 

So who should take it upon themselves to bring us all that JRPG goodness? No one is in a better position for that than Sony Computer Entertainment itself.

Sony has made headlines lately with their support of indie developers, especially thanks to the PubFund, a rather sizable investment that goes into supporting select indie studios that want to create their games on PlayStation platforms. Something similar could be put in action to help JRPG developers bring their games to the West, by shouldering part or the entirety of the localization costs (that aren’t exactly enormous), in exchange for a share of the profits.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way advocating subtracting resources from the indies to allocate them to JRPGs. I’m talking about something completely separate. As a matter of fact, Sony could easily find it advantageous to creating a dedicated in house\ JRPG localization studio, and act directly as the publisher for the most interesting titles.

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The localized titles don’t even need to get a physical release, as publishing them on the PSN would be plenty to make most of the fans happy, further reducing the costs of the whole operation. This would allow Sony to effectively multiply the number of PS Vita titles available in the west at the price of a reasonably low investment, and I’m ready to bet that considering the average localization costs and digital publishing costs, Sony would end up making a respectable profit out of the deal as well.

As an added bonus Sony Computer Entertainment would solidify its relationship with several Japanese studios in the process, granting them a further source of income and fueling the development of additional games (many of which would surely be on PlayStation platforms), contributing to strengthening Japanese development as a whole.

Of course the project wouldn’t even need to be limited to the PS Vita, as it could easily involve the PS3 and the upcoming PS4, and it wouldn’t even need to stop at JRPGs. There are a lot of Japanese games belonging to other genres that would do quite well in the west if marketed the right way and published while keeping costs low. Yakuza 5 comes to mind.

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Let’s take a look at the history of PlayStation and the old, glorious years of the PS1 and the PS2. Think about the games that drove the brand to greatness, and I’m quite sure you’ll notice that many were JRPGs. I’m also just as sure that I’m not the only one that feels that the genre has been sorely missed by many in the PS3 generation.

Modern PlayStation platforms are targeted to a fairly mature audience, and a big slice of that audience was already gaming during the previous generations. They remember the wonderful JRPGs of old, and seeing more games like those today would make a lot of people happy, and definitely more interested in purchasing a PS Vita. PlayStation has always been a brand strongly rooted in its Japanese heritage, and many appreciated it exactly because of that flavor that is now partly gone. Bringing it back is definitely in Sony’s best interest.

It’s noteworthy that Sony already expressed some form of interest in bringing more JRPGs to the vita with the #jrpgvita “campaign” on Twitter by SCEE Senior Business Development Manager Shahid Kamal Ahmad, that incidentally is at the forefront of the brand’s indie support. We still have to see the results of that, but the interest is there, and it just needs to be pushed further with actual investment and resources.

Some could object that JRPGs nowadays aren’t system sellers, and it’s hard for them to make a real profit, but that’s not really true. It’s definitely not random that the highest rated PS Vita game on Metacritic is a JRPG coming from the PS2 generation: Persona 4 Golden.

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Companies with a lot less resources and marketing potential than Sony live and thrive almost exclusively on JRPGs, like the aforementioned XSeed games and NIS America. How do they do that? By keeping costs low and by focusing their promotion in the right places. For instance if you go to big anime conventions (that are very fertile ground for JRPGs, for obvious reasons), you’ll almost inevitably find the booths of those publishers showing off their latest games, promoting them to the right crowd that is already sensitive to the topic. Word of mouth and the clever use of social networking does the rest.

Of course Sony has a much larger arsenal of marketing resources, and if there’s a company that can push the genre to a wider audience without needing to spend inordinate amount of money it’s them.

Ultimately, Sony Computer Entertainment has the means, the motive and the opportunity to turn the PS Vita into the ultimate JRPG machine in the west like it is in Japan, and to extend that wealth to the PS3 and to the PS4 as well. They only need to have the courage to go back to their roots and take that step, reaching out to the Japanese developers that helped them raise to greatness in the past in order to forge a new alliance to conquer the west again. Nihon Falcom, Gust, Acquire and many others are there just waiting for a nudge in the right direction.

To conclude, let us give a look to the rich JRPG line-up on the PS Vita, from the past and the future, including the games published or to be published in the west, and those that are still waiting for a localization announcement. Titles published in the west will be in black, those published only in Japan will be in red, upcoming titles that already have a western release announced will be in blue, while those that still haven’t been announced for localization will be in green (for most you can also click on the title to see a relevant trailer). It’s the best way to show quite clearly where the problem is, and how much Sony has to gain by solving it

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