News Article

Sakaguchi: To Succeed Internationally, JRPGs Need to Change

Posted by Trevor Chan

Will Last Story lead the way by example?

There have been many Japanese games that never made it out of their own country but far from publishers being lazy or concerned that localisations won't be profitable enough for the hassle, perhaps the reason genres like Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) sometimes struggle to find success in the Western hemisphere is because the developers have forgotten what made them popular in the first place.

In an Iwata Asks session with Xenoblade director Tetsuya Takahashi and Last Story director Hironobu Sakaguchi, the panel discuss a variety of topics, one of which was the difficulty in producing a JRPG that sells internationally as well as it does in its home country. Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata suggests that one of the reasons why JRPGs aren't as successful outside of Japan is because their creators are simply repeating the same patterns and conventions that have been utilised before, to which Sakaguchi agrees:

Because of this, RPGs need a change.

Although welcoming something different, Sakaguchi also notes that Japanese-developed titles are good examples of games that put emphasis on feelings and details, and if developers can apply attention to these core values, it's more likely they will be accepted around the world. One observation that all three agree on is the acceptance of foreign films in Japan, despite the cultural differences. It's a sign that there are things people from different countries and cultures can universally find interesting. If developers can tap into this universal curiosity, then it clearly makes it more likely JRPGs can succeed in the world market.

Oh, and news just in... people are still waiting for localised versions of Xenoblade and Last Story to be announced.


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User Comments (38)



Kimiko said:

Yeah, translating them in the first place would make a big difference in being successfull abroad. Second would be not to redo the voice-acting, subtitles are much better. Other than that, don't change too much in the patterns and conventions that already work. A lot of what's popular in Japan can be successfull internationally if only given a chance (okay, and some advertising then).



zezhyrule said:

Change how? Isn't the genre already broad enough in variety? Well if the games in the numbered FF series are JRPGs, I'd say they don't have a problem with changing.

@2: I'm fine with my english voice actors, thanks.



OverlordMao said:

Well they're Jrpgs, they're meant for a different culture entirely than other countries. If people like them internationally, then that means they're already successful as it is.



StarDust4Ever said:

Isn't the Final Fantasy series developed in Japan? It is by far the most successful RPG series of all time, internationally as well as in Japan.

I believe the language barrier is the most significant hurdle. But sometimes a direct word-for-word translation won't make sense. Puns, humor, and cultural references must be rewritten with extreme care if it is to be relatable to western gamers. Otherwise, the game simply won't make any sense.

For example, the common English phrase "kicking a dead horse" (which figuratively means "pursuing a hopeless endeavor") would likely sound highly grotesque if taken for the literal meaning of the words. Common phrases like "walking on cloud nine" or "it's raining cats and dogs" would likely sound like utter nonsense if translated directly to Japanese, or any other foreign language for that matter.



SolarJetman said:

How about renaming them – appropriately – for North American audiences?

Some of these games have the most ridiculous, meaningless titles that will turn off anyone who isn't already a diehard RPG fan.
Examples include: Fullmetal Alchemist: Duel Sympathy (huh? sympathy for what? The money-losing NA publishers?); Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (two out of four words mean nothing to most people); Luminous Arc (something's glowing?); Nostalgia (that could be about anything!), and my two favourites, Radiant Historia and Shin Megami Tensei (que????).

And when I say 'meaningless' titles, I mean it in the sense that when looking at the game on the shelf. I realize that, eventually, when you get to a certain point in the game, the meaning becomes apparent. But a title should help sell the game; not confuse potential buyers.



StarDust4Ever said:

@ 9. SolarJetman: How are extremely popular game titles like "Smash Brothers", "Halo", or "Little Big Planet" really any different? Hint: They get advertised more!



the_randomizer said:

@SolarJetman, I don't think some titles need to be directly translated; if you translated Shin Megami Tensei for example, you'd get "New Goddess Reincarnation", which would be weird. I do agree with mickeymac, that they need to localize these game outside Japan. If not, I'm importing it and playing it on my non-Japanese Wii. Luckily I can read the language, so it shouldn't be that bad to play it in the US.



JakobG said:

I can agree.
Over here, JRPGs on the DS plummet within weeks underneath the 10€-price.



LztheQuack said:

@3: They have Hinthint and they sucked at sales hinthint

This ^ is why we don't see them often enough



SolarJetman said:

@the randomizer
I'm not suggesting that the titles be translated literally. In fact, that's probably part of the problem.

What I am suggesting is renaming the games completely to help market the games to a wider audience.



taffy said:

@SolarJetman: I think with the Fullmetal Alchemist titla was a play on words so to speak cause it was on the DS, like you had Resident Evil: Deadly Silence and Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. Although I do agree that the titles are a bit odd



HeroOfTime007 said:

#9 you have a very good point, but some of your examples are not that bad like Luminous Arc wich is the same thing as Halo. But Shin megami tensei and Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier are some of the best examples of what not to do. They could have made taisen "Wars" and change the OG (original gangster?) to origins or whatever it is short for.

Also I hate subtitles. Having to read it sort of takes it out of the cinematic feel. Also it would be bad if it was direct subtitle translations.
If only all Japanese games were translated by the team who translate into English at Capcom. A Dirty Harry reference in Resident Evil 4?! A-Team and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air hidden in Phoenix Wright 2?!



Robo-goose said:

Lol, even when the English voice acting is sucky, I still prefer it over Japanese voices w/ subtitles. Sometimes, it's so bad that I love it!



FonistofCruxis said:

@solarjetman While some games might benefit from this, overall I disagree with you. The ps1 version of the first SMT: persona game was infamous for it's bad, overly westernized localisation. Also, some of the SMT games don't have the SMT logo in Japan but do in the west. This is because some people may think it's a game in a totally different series and jrpgs in series that have been going on for a while are more likely to sell than new ones.



DarkKirby said:

The fact of the matter is JRPGs are not a desirable type of game to many westerners. The U.S. is a place where games with high action and little to no story (or an extremely poor story) often get more sales then games with less action and more focus on story. I've even heard people complain that the story in games gets "in the way" of the action, which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, but many people actually feel that way in the U.S.. I'm proud to not be one of them. I love games where attention is put into the story and character development. But as said, the games that make the most profit in the U.S., are the ones that barely give you a reason as to why you're doing something, then hand you a gun to kill things, and after an under 6 hour campaign have a good multiplayer which was probably what people purchased the game for in the 1st place.



FluttershyGuy said:

Sakaguchi, I owe you much for Final Fantasy. But, how about you start by bringing The Last Story to the United States. You know. Like you DIDN'T DO with Final Fantasy II NES, FF III NES and FF V SNES in the 1990s? If Last Story doesn't come here now, this article is really going to feel like him spitting in America's face.



SolarJetman said:

@Dark Kirby

"I've even heard people complain that the story in games gets 'in the way' of the action, which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.'

I'm one of those people. It's not ridiculous. I just don't want to read too much when I play games, because I read all day at work. When I play games, I want to play; I like shmups, puzzle games, Mario games. I have little patience for stories in video games, and Metroid Other M, while it didn't make me read, irritated me with its long cutscenes. Besides, if I want a good story, a video game is the last place I'll look. These game developers are no Brian De Palma or Philip K. Dick.

That said, I still do enjoy RPGs, but only when I haven't been working much.



Linkuini said:

Mass Effect is a western RPG, and its plot is probably more intricate than many JRPGs I've played. The problem isn't so much the length or complexity of the plot that makes a JRPG less appealing to its audience, but more of a stylistic trend (one might call it a rut, depending on one's attitude) that players associate with it.

To me, JRPGs are often prone to using familiar narrative archetypes (amnesia, anyone?), formulaic character designs (get a haircut, pretty-boy!), and an excess and/or misapplication of either melodrama/morbidity (I'd be scared if I still cared) or over-the-top silliness (was this even funny in the country it came from?). Not all gamers get tired of these so easily, but the ones that do turn to western RPGs.

Even with all that said, a JRPG in the States is hardly doomed to failure. The Last Story itself could probably get a lot of attention just for its production values. If they localize the script well, hire good voice-actors, and show a commercial with some action scenes like the ones we saw in one of those trailers, plenty of gamers ought to get interested before they even know it's an RPG at all!



Objection said:

Step one: make good, original JRPGs. They can borrow concepts and stylesa of course, but they need something cool to make them stand out, be worth playing. Examples include: story/premise, gameplay mechanic, battle setup/style, other.

Step two: release it in NA/give it to me to consume. I will let you know what needs work and what you are doing right.



BulbasaurusRex said:

@HeroOfTime007 Amen.

@DarkKirby I'm with you on that one. I enjoy a good story while I'm playing, although gameplay is still priority #1 for me. I even turn on subtitles when I can my first time through a game in case I miss something someone says in the cutscenes (although I still want to hear English voice acting for the immersion it brings). Some people complain about the long cutscenes in Metroid: Other M, but I loved them. I think Nintendo could take the Cinema Mode (or whatever it's called) in that game, add some bonus features, and sell it as a DVD for $15-$20.

Outside of Pokémon, I'm still not a big RPG fan, though, but not because of the stories. I've slowly been warming up to them, though, and I think I'll eventually get FF2/4 on VC.



MeloMan said:

I just need Last Story and Xenoblade... please N, give the Wii a double punch of swansong RPGs...



Gamesake said:

@LegendofPasta99 I agree that the style is hurting JRPGs. Long gone are the days that any and all things Japanese equal big seller over here.

But it's more than just a good presentation that makes today's Western RPG superior to JRPGs. You get to create your own avatar, you don't just talk to people--you interact with them, and there are tons of little choices to make. Western RPGs basically give the user as many ways to customize the game as they can.



MasterGraveheart said:

I agree.. 30 hours of taking turns with a slightly different story kinda gets old over the years. This is why The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will always be far and away superior to Final Fantasy VII (since it seems those two games are always drawing parallels to one another with less educated gamers...)

Right now, I'm playing Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. It's a pretty awesome SRPG with a dating sim hybrid. It actually single-handedly rekindled my love for RPGs in general. I know it isn't exactly a JRPG, but the turn-taking system kind of holds true. The up-side is that you get extra variation in what you can do per turn and a heavy emphasis on strategy, utilizing your limited movement points per turn while also managing your HP and SP and keeping the battlefield in check.

I think, one thing we need, are RPGs like Sakura Wars and Tales of Symphonia to break the mold. Last Story looks like it can do that wonderfully if given the chance. And that can also make more tradition-rich RPGs like Dragon Quest have more percieved value. However, that may not entirely solve the conundrum that is the JRPG.

Meh, I'm no expert on the matter, I guess... now if you'll excuse me, this Ratchet Altair ending isn't going to unlock itself. <3



kkslider5552000 said:

it's like any genre, some games are good, some are not, some are original, some are not

and really, I HAAAAATE the "IT'S GOOD BECAUSE IT'S DIFFERENT" crap as that usually really means "It's original but we didn't make a good game with that originality"

And really considering the fact that even the most bland, unoriginal JRPGs that get no advertising often have a surprising amount of fans in America, plus considering the recent Dragon Quest games, PLUS considering the "people want something new" stuff is kinda made moot by the somehow still amazing sales of CoD games...well you get the idea.

Now if he means there needs to be more JRPGs that aren't pathetic melodrama and don't have impossibly girly looking male characters, I'm all for that.



Vinsanity said:

I really wish they'd stop making these comments until they actually play an RPG from another region of the world. Pick up Fable, Venetica, Mass Effect, Alpha Protocol or Fallout 3/New Vegas dudes. Japanese developers make far better visuals and music for their RPGs, but they're univerally horrible role-playing games. Meanwhile, western games are derivative at best (hello, Renaissance Faire!), and ugly at worst. But at least they get the whole, "Playing a role" part.

Customizing characters, having characters that AREN'T just "plug and play" archetypes*, obtaining and wearing new armor, getting conversation trees, going off on side quests. You guys over in Japan need to incorporate this stuff UNIVERSALLY into all of your RPGs. Stop coming up with gimmicky battle systems (cough Resonance of Fate), super cliched awful bad anime storylines (Final Fantasy XIII), and clunky un-rewarding combat (Monster Hunter, Kingdom Hearts). What's really sad and ironic is that that's how Japanese RPGs got started - they looked at Ultima and Wizardry and said, "that's ugly, but cool. We can do it but better" and voila! Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and Digital Devil Saga Shin Megami Tensei (that's a really old series too), were born. Why are they so resistant to looking at, and learning from, western rpgs nowadays?

Sakaguchi, for the love of god, play Jade Empire or Mass Effect or something. You don't have to get far, you don't even have to like it, but you just need to see why people are so damn disenchanted with JRPGs this generation because of them. Even Dragon Quest has evolved to the point where there are no random battles, there are tons of subquests and you can customize your whole party - THANK YOU, by the way, Level 5, for making DQIX so damn progressive (and still retaining all the old school charm of classic JRPGs). I'm just really getting sick of these comments; like when Square-Enix infamously called Tomb Raider and Hitman examples of western RPGs? If they don't know what the dick they're talking about, then they should stfu. I hope the Last Story avoids some of these pitfalls, but if it doesn't than it can stay in Japan for all I care.

    • serious, the "plug and play" archetypes, ripped directly from horrible, melodramatic anime, needs to stop. How many RPGs star a lazy kid who sleeps in all the time? Or have characters where one of the girls is ridiculously bubbly, like Yuffie (FF7), Selphie (FF8), Rikku (FFX), Vanille (FFXIII), etc. There's literally just a pool of character "types" that japanese developers pull from, assign it to their designs, and call it a day. I was SO HAPPY to hear the dialogue NOA gave Stella in Dragon Quest IX, just because I feared she'd just be a typical bubbly moron. But here in the US, we got spoiled - she has specific quirks to her accents, she calls people out for being stupid and rude, and just in general sounds like a REAL PERSON. Why is that so rare in JRPGs? For every Eternal Sonata (good), there are at least a dozen Final Fantasy XIIIs (bad).


Cia said:


At least there's more than 1 character type in JRPG:s, unlike western games where every hero is about 30 year old man with brown hair or bald (just to name few: Nathan Drake, Frank West, James Marston, Shepard from ME2, the Left 4 Dead fellas, Nico Bellic, Francis York Morgan, Alan Wake, Edward Carnby...)



JebbyDeringer said:

I like JRPG's and western RPGS. JRPG's tend to be much more linear though especially in more recent years. There's nothing I hate more than an RPG where leveling up happens at predetermined intervals or there are only a certain number of enemies so no matter how many times you play the game you level at the same time.

With western RPGs I like the open worlds and sidequests but I dislike it when the leveling system is tied in with the enemies meaning all the enemies are weak when you are weak and strong when you have leveled up (Elder Scrolls Oblivion). It becomes almost pointless to level up. Racing Games often do this with car upgrades too.



PSICOffee said:

I don't get it. We get crap like FF XIII to come Stateside, yet other actually good RPGs like Mother 3 and possibly Last Story (wouldn't know, can't play it) don't have a worldwide release!?!



Retrogamer88 said:

i totally agree with Vinsanity,i am glad someone else knew that Dragon Quest is more popular in japan because thats what i was going to say after reading comments were ppl were saying FF was more popular



Fuun_Saiki said:

I have no affection for JRPGs. I prefer my games to have actual substance rather than glossy cutscenes and 'epic' narratives. As a genre JRPGs are a complete disaster in design philosophy. If Sakaguchi wants to try and remedy the situation then all the best to him but considering his track record I'm not holding out any hopes for Last Story. I think it will be released in the west, but unless he does something really revolutionary with it then I’ll probably give it a miss.



SoulReaverCross said:

Sakaguchi is smoking crack! There are plenty of jRPGs (like Persona series, DDS series, Disgaea, Atelier Iris) that have a nice niche & sell well enough to get sequels. Now those sales figures for FF13 on the other hand...ROFL @ Sakaguchi.

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