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.
For a long time now, I've been arguing that JRPGs are under-appreciated—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, Japanese-style RPGs, believes that there are tons of westerners who would happily buy more JRPGs or JRPG-style 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 e-mail yesterday.
His proof? Boyd's 2011 game Cthulhu Saves The World sold 300,000 copies on PC alone—and another 100,000 on mobile platforms and the Xbox indie marketplace. Cthulhu 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, Cthulhu 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 will soon be on PS3 and Vita, and 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 great 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.
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. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.