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Japan Service: What’s New This Week in Japanese Gaming

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Posted on May 28, 2014 AT 07:01pm

Welcome, everyone, to Japan Service—a new column here on EGM where I’ll be taking a look at some of my favorite finds when it comes to news, announcements, or interesting tidbits from the world of Japanese gaming.

Throughout my years of playing video games, I’ve long had a love for the weird and wonderful creations of those talented developers living on the other side of the Pacific ocean from me. While the Japanese industry has changed quite a bit over the years—and not always in a good way—it’s still a source for some of the most interesting, creative, or downright bizarre experiences you can have with our favorite form of digital entertainment.

The rules for what I’ll be covering in Japan Service are simple: it has to be developed in Japan*, it has to be based around or focused on a title or franchise of Japanese origin, and/or it has to be something that wouldn’t be big enough for us to write a dedicated news posting to it.

* I reserve the right to be a liar and break this rule at times in order to talk about other Asian-developed games.

Old Natsume had a farm…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls—there has been a huge shake-up in the world of Japanese niche gaming!

No matter what happened, no matter how crazy things may become, there was always one constant, one certainly we could hold onto daily in our lives: Natsume will exist, and they’ll have a new Harvest Moon game for us.

Ever since the company published the English-language version of the original SNES game on our shores back in 1997, Natsume has been the steward of the series for us Americans. Harvest Moon became so synonymous with Natsume that many just assumed the company created the series—and that the series defined the company. The truth is, Harvest Moon has never been a Natsume game, as it was developed by a team that went through various name and ownership changes until becoming what is now known as Marvelous AQL. As well, Natsume’s North American branch was around long before Harvest Moon was even a twinkle in Yasuhiro Wada’s eye—though, at this point, the franchise is far and away the company’s biggest property.

So what’s happened? XSEED Games has happened. The company had been teasing a new game announcement this week, and today, the news broke: the next official release from the series will come from XSEED, not Nastume. Why? It’s simple: XSEED is owned by Marvelous AQL, and by having them publish it instead of Natsume, it cuts out the middle man. From a business perspective, it makes plenty of sense.

For a fan perspective, I’ve both positive and negative feelings on the move. The good? XSEED is a great company, and I know that, in their hands, the games will do fine. The bad? I’m not so sure this is a move I want to see for either company. On the XSEED side, I’d rather they continue concentrating their efforts on what they do best—bringing over crazy niche Japanese games that wouldn’t get a chance otherwise. And then we have Natsume, who has just lost what is easily their most prominent and popular source of game releases. I’m not saying that Natsume will be in trouble due to losing Harvest Moon; I am saying that I can’t help but worry about them and their future.

Of course, that’s if Natsume doesn’t have a new Harvest Moon game up their sleeves. I know, that seems to go totally counter to what I just said—but, see, there’s a big catch here. Natsume owns the rights to the Harvest Moon name. They can, so far as I understand the situation, release new games under that same banner, so long as they have someone to develop those games for them. Will they go that route? If I were them, I certainly would, if the financial means to do so are there. That, really, could be a huge stumbling block in the idea–being able to finance the development of what would essentially be a brand new series of games, and make sure they’re of high enough quality to not damage the brand’s reputation.

It’s also hard not to wonder if Natsume hoped that Hometown Story could be something to take the place of Harvest Moon, either short- or long-term.

And what of the games we once knew as Harvest Moon? Their original Japanese name, Bokujou Monogatari, translates to “Farm Story”—not exactly a name that excites. Instead, the series will now be called Story of Seasons. It’s a more interesting name, certainly, but also one that will require XSEED to put out a lot of effort informing people that it’s “the series formally known as Harvest Moon”.

Will Harvest Moon—as in, the series of games people have loved for nearly eighteen years now—be okay? Absolutely. It’s the various details surrounding it that are now harder to judge.

Indie-sent exposure at TGS thanks to Sony

While you can’t swing a dead Cait Sith here in the West without hitting an indie developer who is working on a project for one of them big gaming platforms, in Japan, the indie scene has gone down a pretty different path. To be clear, there’s been indie games for years and years as part of the grassroots doujin scene, but in many ways, there’s hasn’t been nearly as much of a sense of culture built up around those developers.

As the power of coming together into a larger community is being better understood, that’s starting to change–and one example of that was the introduction of an indie gaming booth at last year’s Tokyo Game Show. The booth wasn’t overly impressive, it didn’t offer a whole lot of room, and it was tucked away in a weird corner of the show during the final two public days. Still, it existed—and everything has to start somewhere.

This year, the indie area of TGS 2014 will grow from 41 to 50 slots, with those booths available for 99,000 yen ($975) for all four days, or 32,400 yen ($320) for just the two public days. Well, except that there’s a special promotion running, where both of those costs have been reduced to the low, low price of free.

Why? Because Sony Computer Entertainment has announced that they’re footing the bill for any indie developers that want to be a part of this year’s TGS indie booth. Well, that’s awfully kind of them, isn’t it? Of course, that means that they’ll control what’s shown at the indie booth, and they can only be games that are coming to some sort of PlayStation platform, right?

Wrong.

“I should point out that just because we’re picking up exhibition costs doesn’t mean we have any say in what’s exhibited. That’s all TGS,” said Brad Douglas, PlayStation global third-party relations guy on Twitter. “That said though, we don’t care if the game is on a PlayStation platform or not. The more indie games, the better! Just bring cool stuff!”

It’s easy to be cynical about gaming, and there’s no question that Sony’s push for supporting indie devs is partially being done to help their systems be more attractive to the development community—but still, at the end of the day, this is a cool move. Having to shell out hundreds of dollars to show off your game can be a big deal to someone who’s doing game development as a hobby or small business, and anything that helps indie gaming get more exposure in Japan is a good thing in my eyes. So, good job Sony, PR stunt or not.

 

III + III = VI -> X1

Ahh, but what about the other side of the fence, where the grass is greener—because, you know, green is the color of the Xbox. As opposed to, I guess, blue grass on the Sony side.

…err, anyway! The Xbox One is coming to Japan, and there’s been some big news about that lately. And by big news, I mean news, because let’s face it, things have been pretty quiet when it comes to that system and its release in Japan. No longer!

First, we’ve got an official price: 39,980 yen for the Xbox One by itself, and 49,980 yen for the system bundled together with Kinect. No surprises there, really.

But then there are the games! And not just Western games translated into Japanese, but honest-to-goodness Japanese games! Well, I mean, we already know about Swery’s D4, and Crimson Dragon was definitely a Japanese-developed title. What I actually mean are new, unexpected, exciting announcements!

Like, for example, three games coming to the console from publisher Mages / 5pb. Up there in that little YouTube embed you can watch the teaser trailer for Chaos;Child, a new 2014 visual novel from Nitroplus that continues their proud tradition of game titles with semicolons in them. (Hey, they bought them in bulk, and they need to use them or they’ll go bad.) Chaos;Child is connected to the previous-released Chaos;Head and, if I’m not mistaken, linked in some way to Robotic;Notes and Steins;Gate.

In addition to Chaos;Child, 5pb will bring Xbox One owners Mystereet F: The Detective’s Curtain Call (a reworking of the original game combined with an all-new Mystereet 2), as well as an original game based on the Psycho-Pass anime that will feature Kinect and Smartglass integration.

Ahh, but if you buy three new Japanese Xbox One games today, you get three more for free! It seems ex-Cave shooter-ing master Makoto Asada will play a part in bringing three more games to Microsoft’s next-gen platform through the publisher. (So far as anyone can tell, the three games Asada is working on aren’t the first three I mentioned.) What will he be working on? Talk from the 5pb blog is that one of the games will be shown off at E3, and won’t be either a shooter or a visual novel.

Japanese support of Xbox platforms has been nothing short of fascinating. The Xbox 360 did terribly in the country—as of this week, lifetime sales as just under 1.7 million units—and yet it got a number of not only great, but exclusive, titles. Will that be the same for the Xbox One?

Well, the thing is, I don’t know for sure that any of these games will be exclusive to the system. They certainly may be, but I (and others) have seen nothing indicating that any of them are for sure just yet. It does, admittedly, seem weird that we’ve not seen a lot of similar announcements for the PS4.

 

Coming Soon

  • 05.27 - Mind Zero (Vita)
  • 06.24 - XBlaze Code: Embryo (PS3, Vita)
  • Spring – Monster Monpiece (Vita)
  • Spring – Wonder Momo (PC, Android)
  • Summer – Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed (Vita)
  • Summer - Hyper Dimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 (Vita)
  • Summer - Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment (Vita)
  • Fall - Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PS3, Xbox 360)
  • Fall – Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth (3DS)
  • Fall – Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Vita)
  • 2014 - Natural Doctrine (PS4, PS3, Vita)
  • 2014? - Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest (PS3)
  • 2015 – Persona 5 (PS3)
  • 2015 – Persona 4: Dancing All Night (Vita)

 

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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