Japanese games came back as a force to be reckoned with in 2016 as many classic franchises and studios caught up with modern technology. A decade of lagging behind their Western counterparts on the home console HD market was finally addressed with adjustments made across the board to development cycles and corporate structure within the biggest publishers on the market.
Square Enix itself underwent huge changes over the last several years, and this reorganization lead to Final Fantasy XV becoming an international hit and one of the best success stories of 2016. 5 million copies out of the gate and 6 million within the first two months was a nice little ribbon that tied off a successful year for Japanese games in general.
2017 promises to only be bigger with Nintendo launching a new console and all of its classic franchises being given modern treatments. However, we’re only a month and a half into 2017, and still half-a-month away from the launch of the Switch, and 2017 already feels like it could be an Empire Strikes Back quality sequel for all the success Japan saw in 2016.
Six games from Japan have already burst onto the scene so far this year, with two of them delivering over-achieving results. Generally, a game or two might slip into the early part of the year and make a buzz, but both Nioh and Resident Evil 7 so far seem to have the lasting power to be stealing headlines all year.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is, of course, the highly anticipated reboot of Capcom’s classic zombie franchise. Question marks hovered all over this game leading up to its release with many wondering exactly how drastically Capcom would change the formula or how far beyond recognition would this new indie look stray from 20 years worth of legacy. The demo became a mini-sensation in the gaming world with constant updates, and each trailer frightened viewers more than the last.
But… is it really Resident Evil, though?
This answer is simple. It doesn’t have to be! Resident Evil 7, one of Japan’s most iconic video game franchises, is a hit with critics and fans alike, and the fact that Capcom was able to resurrect the wayward franchise with such a universally praised game is nothing short of a miracle.
DLC, virtual reality, and a proprietary engine that Capcom seems more than ready to peddle out are all marks of the modern video gaming world, and it shows that Capcom is coming around to this generation without sacrificing its identity again.
Nioh has proven to be the other big hit early in 2017. Even though it’s always been seen as a dark horse that was bound to attract the same crowd that made Dark Souls a revolutionary franchise, I didn’t expect the game to sell out as rapidly as it did when it launched. However, that is exactly what’s happening. Amazon and other retailers around the globe reportedly sold through their stock and need more!
Likewise, the reception has been mostly positive with many praising its smart combat and interesting setting. I’m playing it right now for review, and I feel it’s going to take many more hours before I reach a final conclusion. However, the fact that it has strategy videos, bugs, and an audience that is constantly trying to break it prove that this game has legs that could carry on for many more months.
Nioh and Resident Evil 7 are leading the charge for 2017, and I also strongly believe that NieR: Automata is going to turn heads in a similar manner in when it launches on March 7. Three huge games in less than three months is not an accident.
Two more Japanese titles from more recent franchises also made a splash this year. Joey already says that Yakuza 0 is an early Game of the Year frontrunner, pointing to a story that is much easier to get into than the previous games in the series and its recreation of 80s Japan right before your eyes as his reasons. Gravity Rush 2 left less of an impact than I thought it would, but the praise is still there for those who like the series.
What’s funny is that both of these games share a similar structure. Both feature an open world city that is never overbearing in size, and they are loaded with missions, challenges, activities, and mini-games all across the cityscape. Neither can compare to Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim in terms of size, but Japan’s approach to open world design seems to focus more on packing as much content as possible into a smaller map than stretching it out over a world that many will never fully cross.
I consider that a perfectly fine ideology. Final Fantasy XV isn’t exactly huge, and I doubt Breath of the Wild is going wow us with its size. Of course, they are absolutely stunning with the amount of content in them. Yakuza 0 and Gravity Rush 2 are both smaller examples of this.
The JRPG is a genre that never truly gets old, and 2017 has already seen three big releases from three of its most classic franchises. Tales of Berseria didn’t resound throughout the gaming world, but the fans of the series have taken a much stronger liking to it than the previous game, Tales of Zestiria.
Kingdom Hearts is still doing its thing, releasing mni-sequels and interweaving chapters as we prepare for Kingdom Hearts III. It’s going to take far too many hours to get caught up on this canon, and even the title of this early 2017 release, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, scares me.
And yes, my glorious Dragon Quest saw a release several years in the making. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King feels fresher than ever on the Nintendo 3DS, which is saying something about just how ageless this series is. There’s just something special about Dragon Quest that makes its repetitive formula so immortal.
Dragon Quest VIII is where I spend most of my gaming hours on the Japanese trains every day, acting as an anchor to return to when my daily free-to-play routine has expired.
And speaking of which.
Nintendo doesn’t need to release the Switch to claim that it made an impact in 2017. Fire Emblem Heroes easily made up for the disappointing launch of Super Mario Run, and it has managed to make free-to-play fans out of the Nintendo crowd, perhaps the staunchest defenders of traditional gaming consoles that exist. The game has been praised for successfully boiling down the Fire Emblem formula into a light, easy to play package and also making Nintendo a ton of money in the process.
You can bet now that Nintendo has tasted this forbidden fruit, it is never turning back. Fire Emblem Heroes is no Terra Battle, but it’s solid enough to last Nintendo for quite some time.
Oh yeah… the Switch is coming out too, huh? And The Legend of Zelda. And Super Mario Odyssey. And Persona 5. And Fire Emblem Echoes. And even Shenmue III, if we’re lucky! What a great time to be a fan of Japanese video games, huh?