It's official: next-gen is now current-gen. We've got a whole new generation of video games to complain about, and two brand new consoles with zero JRPGs to play on them.
Yeah, that's a thing. If you've followed next-gen mania at all, you've probably noticed the serious lack of Japanese role-playing games. I've been keeping a count on Twitter. The results are depressing.
Here's a complete list of currently-announced JRPGs for PS4 and Xbox One in North America:
- Final Fantasy XV
- Kingdom Hearts III
That's it. The whole list. And short of a few smaller, cross-gen, JRPGish games that will get PS4 ports like Child of Light and Pier Solar, our shiny new consoles won't have much in the way of turn-based action.
Yes, we've got time. More announcements could be coming. But as the world gets hyped over the next generation of video games—look at those graphics! so immersive! so visceral!—I'm starting to worry that there's not going to be a whole lot on these consoles for people who want that JRPG feel.
This apparently-dismal next-gen JRPG future has been in the cards for a while now—Japan has gone mobile. They've gone portable. They've embraced a future of free-to-play gaming filled with businessmen who salivate over buzzwords like "monetization" and "in-app purchases." Long gone are the days of high-end console RPGs that try interesting things: your Rogue Galaxys, your Xenosagas, your Dark Clouds. Beloved franchises like Breath of Fire and Mana have been thrown to the dregs of "social" gaming—a phrase that has become scarier than ever in 2013.
So what's next? Is this drought going to continue? Are JRPGs going portable from now on?
To answer that question, we have to talk about Final Fantasy XV, the game that came out of development hell to dazzle fans during Sony's press conference at E3 earlier this year. Final Fantasy XV is going to be important, not just for the sake of a series that has been long tortured, but for the growth of a genre that seems to rely on Square Enix as the be-all and end-all for all things JRPG.
See, when Final Fantasy succeeds, console JRPGs succeed with it. We live in a world of imitator culture, and when a Final Fantasy VII or a Final Fantasy X comes along and sells 5-10 million copies, it becomes the vanguard for the genre. It encourages big developers and publishers to release their own takes on the genre—filled with back-of-the-box quotes like "sci-fi Final Fantasy!"—and it convinces dollar-hungry execs that hey, maybe the JRPG isn't all that dead after all.
So Tetsuya Nomura's epic, a project now almost eight years in the making, has a lot on its shoulders. If FFXV goes the way of Final Fantasy XIII—a game that received mixed reactions, to say the least—and turns out to be a directionless blob of eye candy, it could scare off other developers in the field. From conversations I've had with people at Japanese companies, it seems like all eyes are on Square Enix, for better or worse.
That's my prediction: if Final Fantasy XV, whenever it is released, becomes a critical and commercial success, we'll see a whole new generation of JRPGs on the PlayStation 4. (The Xbox One is a bit of a wildcard, given that Microsoft seems to have very little interest in supporting their console in Japan.)
If Final Fantasy XV is a flop, expect Japanese developers to stick with what's worked for them: handhelds. Mobile. Free-to-play.
Big next-gen JRPGs will come either way, of course. Over the next few years, we'll likely see sequels to some well-received games like Ni no Kuni. We'll see new Tales games on the PS3 and perhaps even the PS4. There will be some surprises—maybe some long-dead franchise will pop up once again—and maybe one day we'll even see a next-gen Persona 5.
But these guys aren't taking any big risks yet. Not for a while. We're not going to see a new next-gen JRPG every month or even every year—not until something comes along to show everyone that monumental success is still possible for a Japanese role-playing game. Over the next year or so, keep a close eye on Final Fantasy XV. It could be more important than any of us know.