There is a point that many often like to make, which is that Japanese games aren’t relevant to mass market success for a gaming console as western games like Call of Duty or Destiny are. Part of that statement is true- Japanese games are generally not as successful as western games (Nintendo’s titles excepted). But the assertion that they’re not important to a console’s success at all is balderdash, and presents a wilful misunderstanding of market dynamics.
The simple fact of the matter is that while no one Japanese game might be as important to a console’s success, collectively, put together, they represent its appeal to a very important segment of the market that is substantial enough that it cannot be ignored. While Nioh, DanganRonpa, Yakuza, Persona, Tales of, Street Fighter, NieR, and so on, might not sell Battlefield level every year by themselves, collectively, they appeal to a segment of the market that a console without these games simply doesn’t reach out to. To put it simply, a console without Japanese games ends up locking itself out of appealing to not insignificant portions of the market of its own volition.
Sony is actually well covered on the Japanese games front- as a matter of fact, every single game I named above is at least console exclusive to PS4. Nintendo, of course, is very well covered in this regard, too. Not even counting Nintendo’s own Japanese fare such as Fire Emblem, Xenoblade, and Pokemon, Nintendo gets games like Octopath, The World Ends With You, Steins;Gate, Disgaea, Atelier, Yokai Watch, Ace Attorney, Shin Megami Tensei, Bayonetta, No More Heroes, and more. In fact, the bulk of games on a Nintendo platform will be Japanese, because not only are most of Nintendo’s own games Japanese, but most third party support Nintendo gets is also Japanese.
The problem is that Xbox One has so far completely dropped the ball on trying to enlist Japanese games for release on the platform- every single game I have named above has skipped release on the Xbox One entirely. While the console continues to get the big Japanese games as multiplatform releases, such as Final Fantasy, Dark Souls, or Monster Hunter, all the mid tier stuff I am talking about skips the platform entirely.
"The lack of Japanese games on Xbox One is especially baffling, because Microsoft’s previous two consoles actually did well on getting Japanese titles on them."
This is especially baffling, because Microsoft’s previous two consoles actually did well on getting Japanese titles on them- remember the excellent Japanese games on the original Xbox? From Shenmue 2 to Ninja Gaiden? Loads of Japanese third parties threw their weight behind the Xbox, and even more behind the Xbox 360 in its early days. Remember Chromehounds? Lost Planet? Dead Rising? Ace Combat 6? Tales of Vesperia? Ninety Nine Nights? Ninja Gaiden 2? Monster Hunter Frontier? Eternal Sonata? Microsoft even commissioned two high profile first party Japanese RPGs for their console, with Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon. How they went from that, to where the Xbox One is at the moment, is baffling.
Not having Japanese games on their console does hurt the Xbox One’s prospects. An entire market- Japan- is locked out to them. And I know that someone will try to argue that Xbox has never done well in Japan, but, for example, the Xbox 360 managed to sell 1.5 million units in the country- that’s 1.5 million units that the Xbox One has not sold, because, in the complete absence of compelling Japanese content, the console hasn’t even cracked 100,000 units sold in the country yet.
It also means that people in the rest of the world who game primarily for Japanese content won’t even stop to consider an Xbox- and there are a lot of such people. The popularity of Japanese media internationally (Persona 5 sold 1.5 million units outside of Japan, NieR sold 2 million units in non-Japanese territories, most of Xenoblade 2‘s sales come from outside of Japan) is evidence enough. In fact, many major markets, such as continental European ones like France and Spain, are very inclined towards Japanese content- which means, again, Xbox, in those markets, is reduced to being a non-factor (this is something we ca actually observe, from the Xbox One’s poor sales in continental European markets, and the high sales of Switch and PS4 there, as well as of Japanese games). Xbox, then, only ends up locking itself out of an even larger portion of the market willingly.
"Japanese support also means that people in the rest of the world who game primarily for Japanese content won’t even stop to consider an Xbox- and there are a lot of such people. The popularity of Japanese media internationally (Persona 5 sold 1.5 million units outside of Japan, NieR sold 2 million units in non-Japanese territories, most of Xenoblade 2‘s sales come from outside of Japan) is evidence enough."
It’s not just about sales- Japanese games are very different from western games, and they flesh out the variety in a console’s library. Nothing the west ever makes will be like Octopath or Persona– so if you want to play something distinct from big budget western fare, and you want Japanese content, Xbox is, again, not even in consideration for you.
So yes, Japanese games are something that a successful console requires- why would someone pick up an Xbox One, with western games, over a PS4, with western and Japanese games? An entire segment of the market has been excluded from the Xbox One, and some of the console’s underperformance, at least, can be explained thanks to this.
The good news is that Microsoft seems to be coming around to the realization that it can’t do without these Japanese games on its platform. It has expressed a desire for games like NieR and Persona on Xbox, and Phil Spencer has already made at least a couple of trips to Japan to enlist support for the system. More niche Japanese titles, such as Ys Origins and the upcoming Code Vein, are starting to come to the system, and Spencer has already said that Xbox plans to show off at least one Japanese RPG on their E3 stage this year.
So, yes- Japanese games, even the smaller Japanese games, are ultimately important to a console’s success (why anyone would want fewer games is beyond me, anyway). Thankfully, Microsoft seems to get it- they’ve started to work on this recently, and we are starting to see the results too. All I can hope for is that they won’t give up too soon this time, like they did with the original Xbox and Xbox 360- as outsiders, as well as a company that has already made similar outreaches to Japanese developers twice before, they have a long road ahead of them that will require steady investments for steady payoffs. As long as they ca stay the course in terms of enlisting Japanese support, and not just quit trying after a few years of no immediate results, they will eventually manage to have a secure line of Japanese games for their consoles too.
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