The Xbox 360 proves that a strong start does not mean a strong finish.
Last week we looked at Japanese support on the OG Xbox platform. This week is the Xbox 360’s turn. What the Xbox lacked in JRPG’s (Japanese role-playing games), the Xbox 360 more than made up for it. There were not many experimental Japanese titles like Phantom Dust or Jet Set Radio Future on the 360 but there were plenty of JRPG’s on par with the Final Fantasy series (those games even made an appearance on the console too but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). Microsoft was determined to have the Xbox 360 succeed where the OG Xbox failed and break into the Japanese market in a big way. To accomplish this end, Microsoft invested heavily in Japanese developed and published games.
It usually isn’t wise to give one person all the credit but, in this case, I think it’s prudent to do so. I believe that the reason the 360 had so many JRPGs was because of the efforts of Peter Moore. If you remember from Part 1, Peter Moore was the Sega executive who was instrumental in getting Sega published games onto the Xbox platform following Sega’s exit from the console business. Moore left Sega in 2003 and joined the Xbox team at Microsoft shortly afterwards. He was to help Microsoft develop the next generation of the Xbox (which was the Xbox 360). Moore played an instrumental role in the development of the Xbox 360 and contributed heavily to Japanese support for the platform since he would eventually become the Corporate VP of Worldwide Marketing and Publishing for Xbox.
Moore’s support for Japanese games was apparent even before the 360 was even announced. In February 2005, he conducted an interview in which he stated that “Japan is the cradle of the game industry and the home of very creative and innovative minds and it’s vital to see the Xbox as a viable competitor in that area.” He went on to say that breaking into the Japanese market by partnering with big Japanese developers and publishers was a part of Microsoft’s long-term strategy and would provide a “platform-driving set of games for our next-generation system.” He also mentioned several potential partners (which we will cover below) that he had personally met with to secure their support (he even mentioned Square Enix in the interview but again, we are getting ahead of ourselves). I say that he was the one behind the effort to get Japanese games on the 360 because he is the only Xbox executive I have ever heard who explicitly talked about it in those days. This coupled with the fact that he left Microsoft in 2007 (and the fact that exclusive Japanese games practically disappeared from the platform after 2009) leads me to believe that he was the sole advocate for those types of games at Microsoft.
Of all the Japanese studios making games for the Xbox 360, Mistalker was perhaps the most interesting. Founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, the studio was largely funded by Microsoft itself. Its purpose was to create high quality JRPG exclusives for the 360 that carried the pedigree of the father of the Final Fantasy series. In addition, Nubuo Uematsu would compose the soundtracks for all of the studio’s titles on the 360. For those of you who don’t know, Uematsu composed the soundtracks for the majority of the mainline Final Fantasy games (he is very famous for his work on the franchise, just ask any Squaresoft fans). The very idea of these two men working together yet again caused quite a buzz in the lead up to the launch of the 360 and helped cement the idea that Microsoft was serious about courting Japanese developers.
As it turns out, the real tragedy of the Mistwalker -Microsoft relationship was that only two games would come out of it; Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Released in 2007 and 2008 respectively (earlier in Japan), these games were story-focused and featured traditional turned-based combat typical of JRPGs (which they were criticized for). Blue Dragon was even the first game to feature multiple discs on the Xbox 360, a common feature of future games on the platform. Both of these games went on to be moderately successful both in Japan and in the rest of the world. Oddly enough, however, neither title would receive a sequel (on the 360 at least) despite the fact there were discussions to that effect. Blue Dragon did receive a sequel on the Nintendo DS but Lost Odyssey never received one even though Microsoft itself discussed the possibility. A third Mistwalker-developed game, Cry On, was announced for the 360 but was later cancelled. There was no official reason given for Microsoft ending its relationship with Mistwalker, but an obvious conclusion is that both those titles didn’t sell very well or at least didn’t sell very well compared to what was popular at the time (Call of Duty and Halo). It is a shame for me personally because I really liked Lost Odyssey (it will eventually get its own review here on The Pretend Gamer) but alas it was not meant to be.
Perhaps the biggest surprises came from one of the most famous Japanese publishers, Square Enix. For a company that hadn’t published a single game for the OG Xbox, it went on to support the 360 in a big fashion. It would even release two games exclusively for the 360; The Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery. Both were released in 2008 and when asked why they had released them for the 360 instead of the PS3, Square Enix responded that it was easier to develop for the 360. Unfortunately for both Square Enix and Microsoft, both games were received rather poorly upon release and didn’t sell very well. After 2008, Square Enix wouldn’t release a single game exclusively for the Xbox 360 (except for the timed exclusive Star Ocean: The Last Hope).
The biggest surprise, however, came at E3 2008, when Square Enix announced that the mainline Final Fantasy series (the MMO Final Fantasy XI was the first Final Fantasy game on the Xbox platform) would be coming to an Xbox platform for the very first time in the form of Final Fantasy XIII. This was a very big deal at the time as Final Fantasy had only ever appeared on PlayStation platforms since the original console released in the 1990s (the series was on Nintendo platforms before Final Fantasy VII). Although the game failed to sell nearly as many copies on the 360 as the PS3 in Japan, it nearly managed to keep up with the PS3 in the United States. By April 2010, it had sold 500,000 copies on the 360 as compared to 800,000 on PS3. That was quite an achievement in my opinion given that most people had always associated Final Fantasy with PlayStation. It was such a success that Square Enix would release both sequels to Final Fantasy XIII on the 360 (in fact, they’ve continued to release the mainline Final Fantasy releases on Xbox but we’ll cover that at another time).
Although some Japanese titles were completely exclusive to the 360, many were simply timed exclusives on the platform to give the 360 version a head start. Notable timed exclusive titles include the Square Enix developed Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia, and Deadly Premonition (this was timed exclusive in North America). Many of these titles achieved moderate success on the 360. The main problem with these timed exclusive deals was that most of these games received expanded versions with more options and even more playable characters on PS3 a year later. This created a problem whereby players wouldn’t purchase a copy on the 360 since they figured a better version was on the way to the PS3 in the future. Microsoft should have worked harder to ensure that their version was updated with the expanded material when the games released on PS3.
In addition to these timed exclusives, the 360 received many great games that had previously been exclusive to the PlayStation platform. The 360 saw releases in the Resident Evil, Street Fighter, and the Dark Souls series. Dark Souls was a notable series as its predecessor, Demon’s Souls, was a PS3 exclusive and Sony passed on the chance to make Dark Souls PS3 exclusive as well. This showed a big commitment from Microsoft to get big name franchises onto the Xbox 360 to broaden its appeal. Despite these efforts, the 360 still missed out on many big Japanese titles.
Most of the Japanese titles that the 360 missed out on were published by Sega. That was ironic given Microsoft and Sega’s close relationship during the days of the OG Xbox. There were no titles like Jet Set Radio Future, Otogi, or Panzer Dragoon released on the 360. In addition, Sega didn’t bring any of its most popular titles like Yakuza or Valkyria Chronicles to the 360. They did, however, bring several Sonic titles to the platform. Square Enix was also guilty of this uneven support Microsoft’s second console. Although they brought the Final Fantasy series to the platform, none of the older Final Fantasy titles were released on the 360 despite many of the them releasing on the PS3. Also, although the PS3 received ports of the always popular Kingdom Hearts games, they never appeared on Xbox. No Dragon Quest games (new or old) bothered to show up either. Titles in the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series (besides spinoff dance titles) also didn’t come to the 360. One of the most famous titles to not appear was Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. It was a PS3 exclusive that many credit for PS3’s monumental comeback against the 360. I think missing out on these titles really hurt the 360’s sales in the long-term as the system’s games library became less and less diverse as the console generation went on.
As you can see, the Xbox 360 enjoyed quite a lot of Japanese support from the outset. From exclusive games like Lost Odyssey to timed exclusives like Tales of Vesperia to multiplatform titles in the Final Fantasy series, the 360 had some great and interesting games that diversified Xbox’s offerings. Despite this, however, after 2009, the Japanese exclusives (both timed and complete) disappeared almost entirely from the platform. Although the 360 continued to receive great multi-platform games like Resident Evil and the Dark Souls series, it became clear that getting Japanese games on the console wasn’t a priority anymore. There are many theories as to why but, if I had to guess, I would say it’s because the Japanese games didn’t sell millions of copies like all the military shooters that were popular at the time (think Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War). I would also argue it’s because after the departure of Peter Moore in 2007, there weren’t any advocates for bringing Japanese games to the platform. Whatever the reason may be, it doesn’t change the fact that the focus did change for Microsoft and that this attitude would carry on to the Xbox 360’s successor.
Thanks for reading and tune in next week when I review a game that the Illuminati probably do not like!