Author’s Note: This isn’t an exhaustive account of the history of Japanese games on the Xbox platform but rather an examination of the ebbs and flows of support coming from Japan to Xbox. I hope you find it informative and illustrative of Xbox’s current situation. This post will cover the OG Xbox while Xbox 360 and Xbox One posts will come in the following weeks.
The OG Xbox
It was truly an interesting moment in gaming when the first Xbox hit store shelves in November 2001. Sega had exited the console market in order to save itself from extinction and Nintendo was regrouping and reassessing what to do about the juggernaut that Sony had become with its PlayStation consoles. As Microsoft’s first foray into the console space and the first American company to offer a console since the Atari Jaguar, many people didn’t know what to expect from this new contender. What services would it offer? What kinds of games would it provide? The answer is (in my humble opinion) probably the most diverse exclusives for any Xbox console, ever. This is particularly true of the Japanese games that were on the console. It had strong support from Japanese developers and publishers as well as a commitment from Microsoft Game Studios (the Microsoft department primarily responsible for securing content and exclusives for Xbox) itself to procure unique Japanese experiences.
Two of my favorite games on the Xbox (despite their flaws) were Blinx: The Time Sweeper and its sequel Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space. Developed by Japanese studio Artoon and published by Microsoft Game Studios, the Blinx games were meant to be Microsoft’s answer to the so-called mascot platformers on other consoles (think Jak and Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, and Super Mario 64). Despite the fact there were two games made in the series, they weren’t very successful. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in my circle of friends who even owned them. I do remember playing Masters of Time and Space with my one friend as it did offer co-op and we made a great time with it if I recall correctly. It makes me sad to even think about the Blinx games since Microsoft Studios (the name of Microsoft Game Studios nowadays) offers nothing even remotely similar to it now. They truly represent Xbox’s past and not its future.
Another interesting title to come from Microsoft Game Studios during the Xbox’s lifespan was Phantom Dust. Released in Japan in 2004, it was initially designed to widen Xbox’s appeal in Japan but was later localized for a North American release. It was a unique experience since it combined elements of third person shooters with those of a collectible card game. It was unlike anything else available on the Xbox at the time (and even today to be honest) but it ultimately failed to bring in an audience. It under performed big time in the sales department and thus we never saw another entry in the series. We had a brief glimmer of hope for the series when the Xbox One launched but that will be covered in Part 3 in four (or more, who knows?) weeks’ time.
One studio which supported the Xbox from its inception was Team Ninja and its publisher Tecmo. One of the launch games for the Xbox was Dead or Alive 3, the third (obviously) entry of Team Ninja’s signature fighting game series. Dead or Alive 3 would go on to sell more than a million copies in the United States alone. It wasn’t very successful in Japan, however. This wasn’t the only Dead or Alive game to grace the Xbox. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (a volleyball spinoff of all things) and Dead or Alive Ultimate also came to the system. Perhaps the most successful and widely known game of Team Ninja’s to grace the Xbox system was Ninja Gaiden and its expanded version, Ninja Gaiden Black. Noted for its difficulty and audio visual presentation, Ninja Gaiden garnered a dedicated following on Xbox. Both Ninja Gaiden and its Black counterpart would go on to sell a combined 1.5 million copies by August 2007. They were so popular in fact that they were playable through backwards compatibility when the Xbox 360 launched in 2005. Despite its success, future iterations in the series wouldn’t be exclusive to the Xbox platform.
The biggest Japanese supporter of the Xbox by far was Sega who had recently abandoned its own console, the Dreamcast. This was largely due to the efforts of Sega of America’s President and COO at the time, Peter Moore (remember this name as he will reappear in a later post). In fact, before Xbox had even launched and just on the heels of Sega announcing it was pulling out of the console race, Moore and Microsoft’s Chief Xbox Officer Robbie Bach announced an eleven exclusive game deal with Sega on March 31, 2001. Moore said of the deal that “We believe that Microsoft will be very successful with Xbox, which is why we have such a close, strategic relationship with them.” And a close relationship it truly was as Sega would release games such as Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jet Set Radio Future (a true gem), Sega GT 2002, and even the North American version of cult classic Shenmue II on Xbox. There was so much Sega support for the Xbox that one can’t help but believe that the Xbox was the unofficial successor to Sega’s line of consoles.
Two games published by Sega are worthy of note, I think. These two games are Otogi: Myth of Demons and its sequel Otogi: Immortal Warriors. What makes these titles interesting is that they were hack and slash games and were developed by FromSoftware. I personally never played these games so I can’t be a hundred percent sure but these seem to be predecessors to Demon’s Souls and the even more popular Dark Souls series. I think these screenshots make my case a little better but it is a shame that the Xbox platform missed out on the chance to make that type of RPG exclusive to the platform.
Despite all of this support from Japanese developers and publishers, there were a few notable exceptions. There were no really well known (or even obscure) single player traditional JRPGs (Japanese role-playing games) on the Xbox. The biggest omission from Xbox’s lineup was from the JRPG giant of the time, Square Enix. There were no Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or even Kingdom Hearts games to be found during the entirety of the Xbox’s lifespan. I personally remember Final Fantasy X, XI, and XII and Kingdom Hearts I and II being pretty big deals when they released on the PS2 back in the early 2000s. Heck, even the Game Boy Advance saw a Kingdom Hearts release in the form of Chain of Memories. Without any support whatsoever from Square Enix, I fear that the Xbox didn’t reach as wide an audience as it could have.
There were of course a few other exceptions to Japanese support for the Xbox. One was the fact that the only Metal Gear Solid game released for the console was Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance. This was an expanded version of the earlier Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty that was released exclusively on the PS2. The next entry in the series, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, skipped the Xbox entirely and didn’t come to an Xbox platform until later on in the Xbox 360’s (the successor of the Xbox) life cycle. In addition to the Metal Gear series, Xbox never saw any Resident Evil or Silent Hill games at all. The omission of Resident Evil 4 itself is egregious enough in its own right (I know Nintendo had an exclusive deal with Capcom at the time but that didn’t stop it from being released on the PS2. Also, the game came out at the end of the Xbox’s lifespan so that may be why it never released on the system. Ok, this parenthetical tangent is long enough. Back to the post at hand!). Any of these games would certainly have made the Xbox library much better as both Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Resident Evil 4 are considered by many to be the best both series’ have to offer.
The OG Xbox was truly an all-around interesting experience. It was Microsoft’s first foray into the console business and they didn’t know what would be the most popular genres or titles on the system. They truly experimented with each and every exclusive and even with third party games they actively sought out. This experimentation revealed itself in the Japanese developed and published games that appeared on the console. The Sega published Jet Set Radio Future, Shenmue II, Panzer Dragoon Orta, and the Otogi series along with Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden and lesser known titles Blinx: The Time Sweeper and Phantom Dust all showed Microsoft’s commitment to bring Japanese games to Xbox. A few succeeded and many failed but they all served to broaden the Xbox’s library and brought us all some truly unique gaming experiences.
Thanks for reading and tune in next week when I review a little known indie game. Also, look out for Japanese Games on Xbox: Parts 2 and 3 which will appear in the coming weeks!
Check out these photos of my copies of some of the games I talked about above. My Blinx: The Time Sweeper copy is currently at a friend’s house and my Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance copy is MIA. I believe it is in a box somewhere.