While talking to my friend about Japanese game development in this generation, I found myself getting sadder and sadder as I discussed the problems it has faced.
Not one company is more indicative of Eastern-developement problems as Square Enix. At one point in the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 era, Square could do no wrong. Every Final Fantasy was a runaway hit. New series like Kingdom Hearts were capturing our attention. And even The Bouncer and Ehrgeiz couldn't hurt our view of the RPG-making juggernaut. Critically and commercially, the publisher was on top of the world. Then something happened…time passed.
This is the biggest problem with Japanese studios this generation. They just seem to be taking their sweet time making games. Final Fantasy 12 came out in 2006 on the PS2, even though the PS3 was on the horizon. It took Square a full four years to release the next game in the series for the current generation of consoles. By the time Final Fantasy 13 hit, Gears of War, Uncharted, and Call of Duty were dominating. The Western-developed franchises were hitting the market at a steady pace, but more important, they were of outstanding quality.
Meanwhile, in Japan, Polyphony Digital took more than five years to create the latest iteration of Gran Turismo. In the same amount of time, the Forza Motorsport series was started and had two full sequels released. This is not an indication of quality by any means, but in this industry, what worked five years ago does not necessarily work today.
Think about it. When has a game five or six years in the making ever lived up to the hype?
When GT5 was released, it did gain critical acclaim but not to the extent of its predecessors. This is directly related to the time it took to come out. If Gran Turismo 5 had been released two years before, it might have been the astounding game we all assumed it would be. I know this is speculation, but when you put out a product with five years of hype behind it, people are less forgiving of its faults.
I believe the same principal works for Final Fantasy 13. I was so heartbroken with the game, but I have to wonder, is the game not up to my standards or is the development time clouding my appreciation? I have real grievances with the game, believe me, but had I waited two years instead of five, maybe I would like the title more. I wouldn't have had all that time to build the experience up in my head, which is a practice that is never fair.
This is why I'm so afraid of how The Last Guardian will turn out. I love Shadow of the Colossus and think Ico is interesting. To say I was excited for Team Ico's latest offering would be an understatement. Shadow came out in 2005. It's 2012, and we still cannot say for certain if The Last Guardian is coming out this year.
As I mentioned before, the public was split on FF13, so what does Square do? They announce a direct sequel while keeping a media blackout on Final Fantasy Versus 13, a game announced alongside FF13. I mean, do we know anything about that game at all besides the main character and something about a crystal? My point is that we still know what GTA stands for, and we have no clue what Final Fantasy means anymore.
I love Japanese games, and I miss them dearly. I don't know what is going on over there, but the industry is leaving those developers behind. I don't want that. Maybe the entire business model in Japan needs to be reevaluated because it's currently not sustainable. I owe a great deal of my childhood to Eastern studios, and I want them to get their act together.
And where the hell is Persona 5?