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Ghostlight is an expert on localizing Japanese games, but we don’t hear of the company much in North America. That may be about to change as the European publisher has been working for months to bring Japanese role-playing games from consoles to PCs worldwide.
It announced its first today, a strategy RPG called Agarest: Generations of War (pictured), which is now visible on Steam Greenlight and is the first entry in developer Idea Factory’s Agarest series.
Generations of War has come to North America before on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 but not PC, and the popularity of Steam could be beneficial. Worldwide release on Valve’s digital distribution platform means the publisher can reach audiences in more territories and generate greater attention for these often underloved games.
That idea became Ghostlight’s mission in 2004 when it emerged with a focus on bringing Japanese PlayStation 2 titles to the PAL territories, like Europe and Australia. Its first published game was Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call, or Nocturne if you live in the United States or Japan. It then followed with the Digital Devil Saga series — “all of which met with great success,” said Ross Brierley, the community manager for Ghostlight, who spoke to GamesBeat about the announcement.
If the company’s vision sounds familiar, that’s because it’s not too far off from that of Atlus, a more recognizable name in North America. Atlus develops and publishes Japanese games like the Shin Megami Tensei line in North America and Japan.
Ghostlight has expanded since its early days, releasing games on PSP and PlayStation 3 and just recently on 3DS with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked. Naturally, the next step forward was to penetrate the PC market. Success on Steam could mean a different strategy for Ghostlight in the future.
“Should this first release take off, we will be looking to bring more JRPGs to PC,” said Brierley. “And with the nature of the PC as a platform, we would be looking to give them a worldwide release [wherever] possible.”
Where the genre fits in
The landscape is not identical around the globe, however. Not everyone is even clear on what a JRPG is.
“Personally, I tend to view them as being any RPG that comes from Japan,” said Brierley. “However, there are several things that occur far more regularly in JRPGs than in Western RPGs. JRPGs often concentrate on telling a single story with perhaps several different endings rather than the branching storylines you are more likely to see in Western RPGs.
“Moment-to-moment gameplay can often be different, too, with many JRPGs favoring a more strategic turn-based system as opposed to the real-time combat that many Western RPGs prefer. There are, of course, exceptions on both sides, with Japanese action RPGs such as the Ys series favouring real-time combat.”
Brierley says that while JRPGs are considerably more successful in Japan, for obvious reasons, they seem to sell better in North America than in Europe.
“This might partially be due to the underlying popularity of the genre, but one of the major reasons is the difficulty of localizing games for Europe,” he said. “The number of languages in Europe means that we are faced with the difficult choice of either limiting our audience by releasing our games in English only or increasing our localization costs drastically to release our games in multiple languages. Unfortunately, given the costs involved, the latter is not practical in most cases.”
He doesn’t think the genre has diminished in the West, either; although, it may appear that way to many fans here who cross their fingers and hope for RPGs like Pandora’s Tower or Bravely Default: Flying Fairy to make it stateside.
“Rather, the surrounding games market has grown larger — what with the casual market picking up like it has,” said Brierley. “In fact, the overall market has grown for JRPGs, but casual sector growth — as with many other genres — distorts the statistics.”
Keeping the love alive
“I think there’s also a bit of a problem with the perception of JRPGs at the moment in that some gamers who are new to the genre will assume that JRPGs are old-fashioned,” said Brierley. “I firmly disagree with that point myself. I’ve found that many of my personal bugbears, such as fixed save points instead of the ability to save anytime, seem to be on the way out. Also, perhaps it’s due to my increasing involvement in gaming, but I’ve seen a huge variety in battle mechanics and the like in this generation, and it seems like there are some awesome-looking games in the pipeline from Japan as well.”
Brierley also noted that limited releases have been an obstacle in the West.
“While there have been some excellent PS3 JRPGs, the supply has been somewhat limited on the home consoles,” he said. “This is not really the case with the handhelds, but unfortunately, many portable JRPGs have not made it over here. And for the ones that do, the coverage is not as great as it was in previous generations.”
Bringing these games to PCs overseas could change all that. “There’s a lot of interest in the idea of bringing JRPGs to PC/Steam,” said Brierley. “Every time we even mention the subject in a blog post, we get a large increase in traffic, and the overwhelming majority of comments we get are excited about the idea.
“As you’d expect, we get a lot of people asking us to bring particular titles over, but we also get lots of comments about what features a port should have to take advantage of the PC as a platform, which download services we should release the game, etc. We also get lots of questions regarding the possibility of a physical PC release. While we can’t please everyone, we are listening to everyone’s feedback and trying to do what we can.”
Localizing these games takes a lot of work even for a company like Ghostlight, whose years of experience means a longer list of contacts in Japan. The publisher has to form an agreement with a game’s rights holder and talk to Japanese publishers and developers about the idea. Sometimes it works the other way around, and companies approach Ghostlight first.
“Either way, we then have to crunch the numbers ourselves to work out if the release will be viable before submitting an offer,” said Brierley. “Should a deal be agreed [upon], only then can we start work on the port.”
It’s worth the effort, though: “There is still something about the JRPG which speaks to a lot of people,” he said. While other forms of entertainment, like social and mobile gaming, are on the rise, Brierley says the future of the genre is secure — at least in Japan.
“Here in the West, there are a few more potential threats, including the possibility that the gap between the popularity of certain platforms here and in Japan will continue to widen, increasing focus on big-budget triple-A titles,” he said.
“Having said that, the success of several JRPGs, such as those from Carpe Fulgur on Steam, has shown that there is still a lot of interest in these types of games and that you need to bring the games to the people rather than expecting people to come to whichever platform the game is on.”