The Xbox One started with a terrible Japanese games lineup but things are looking up.
As with most things, it is oftentimes hard to follow success with more success. So it was with the Xbox One. With the Xbox 360, Microsoft went toe-to-toe with Sony in the console race and very nearly came out on top. They were so successful, in fact, many analysts, observers, and gamers themselves assumed Microsoft would continue to grow their market share with the next console. How wrong they all were. The Xbox One had a disastrous reveal and even worse management in the first few years of its existence. Studios were closed, games cancelled, and an endless number of third-party games were skipping the Xbox One entirely. Things could not have been more different between the launch of the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, was the fact that there were barely any Japanese games for the One. The 360 had such great exclusive Japanese titles like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and The Last Remnant along with timed exclusive titles like Tales of Vesperia, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, and Eternal Sonata in its early years. The Xbox One, on the other hand, took a big step back and didn’t have any big name Japanese games exclusively on the platform. The One didn’t even have many third-party Japanese games on the system either. The tide seems to have shifted over the past year but the early years of the Xbox One were truly atrocious in terms of Japanese support for the system.
In the beginning:
Let’s start with the exclusives. There was a night and day difference between Japanese exclusive games on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. There are two games that came out within the first year of the One’s lifespan that were both exclusive and Japanese developed. These were Crimson Dragon and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. Crimson Dragon was an on-rail shooter in the vein of Panzer Dragoon which, as I hope you remember (but probably don’t) was exclusive to the OG Xbox. In fact, the director for the first three Panzer Dragoon games, Yukio Futatsugi, directed Crimson Dragon as well. Despite its similarities with its predecessor series, Crimson Dragon was not received well by either critics or gamers and it sold very poorly.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, directed by Hidetaka Suehiro of Deadly Premonition fame, was a truly unique experience. It is one of my favorite Xbox One exclusive games despite the fact its story will never receive an ending. It is an episodic game and only the prologue and first two chapters have ever been released. Although it certainly found its fanbase, it did not sell very well due to the fact it was a Kinect-focused game with a control scheme specifically made for the unpopular Xbox One peripheral. I am most upset by the fact that this game will never receive a proper conclusion because the story was so good and the whole game had that goofiness that only Hidetaka Suehiro can pull off. The game can now be played using just a normal Xbox controller and it’s on PC now so I recommend checking it out but be forewarned that it will never be finished.
And now we come to the cancelled projects. I know I ruined the surprise but most of you probably already knew about these two. If you recall my Japanese games on the OG Xbox article, you will remember there was a game called Phantom Dust. Well, as it turns out, Phil Spencer, Head of Gaming at Microsoft, was a huge fan and tried to make a reboot for the Xbox One. It was to be made by an American company so it wasn’t technically a Japanese game but the original one was so (and I’m being generous here) I’m going to count it as a Japanese project. It doesn’t matter, the project was cancelled anyways. We did eventually get a release of the original Phantom Dust on the Xbox One (and for free no less!). There were rumors that, if the re-release attracted enough attention, another attempt at a reboot would be made further down the line. I’m skeptical but it would be nice if that actually came to fruition to diversify the lineup of the One.
Discussion of this next game will certainly be a sore spot for many people. Announced at E3 2014, Scalebound certainly took a lot of people by surprise. Mostly because it was a Japanese title being developed exclusively for the Xbox One. That was completely unheard of at the time (and even now). Phil Spencer, who had just taken over leadership of Xbox, had been teasing the game staring in March of 2014. Although I was personally skeptical of the game, Scalebound did cause quite a lot of excitement. I believe there were two reasons for this: that it was being developed by Platinum Games and that nothing else like it was coming to the Xbox One. Remember that Microsoft had, at this point, really turned away from the Japanese market and its developers so to see a big name Japanese studio making a game for Xbox One was truly surprising. The game was to be all about riding big dragons and fighting with them. What’s not to like about that? Many people were excited for Scalebound and continued to be right up until it was cancelled in early 2017. This caused quite an uproar as some people had bought Xbox One’s just to play this title (my one friend included). It was made even worse by the fact that Platinum Games released a great title for the PS4 and PC at the same time while Scalebound was canned (more on that other project later). I wasn’t so upset by the cancellation of this single game but more so by the fact that its cancellation was indicative of Microsoft’s relationships with Japanese developers and publishers in general. I was worried it meant that not very many Japanese games would come to the Xbox One in the future. In some ways I was right and, just recently, I was proven wrong.
The Party on the PS4:
Some of you may be wondering why I’m going to discuss the PS4 at all in this post. I’m going to talk about it because the Xbox One doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If it was the only console in existence then its lack of Japanese game support probably wouldn’t be a problem but it isn’t the only console and so it is an issue. By showing how many Japanese games were exclusive to the PS4, I hope to demonstrate just how dire the Xbox One’s Japanese problem is.
Let’s start with Square Enix. Square Enix’s support of the Xbox One has been spotty, to say the least. The Xbox One did receive Final Fantasy XV and its many add-ons and DLCs but that’s about it when it comes to Square Enix’s flagship series on the console. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy VII, IX, X, X-2 and the MMO XIV have all been released on Sony’s platform. PS4 also received Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, an updated version of the popular entry in the series. These titles are nowhere to be found on Xbox One and neither Xbox’s management team nor Square Enix itself seem interested in bringing these games over (oh, and PS4 also got The World of Final Fantasy). On a similar note, none of the older Kingdom Hearts games have come over to Xbox One either (including II.8). In addition, the Xbox One has never received Square Enix’s two games from Tokyo RPG Factory: I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear. Perhaps the biggest shame of all is the fact that Xbox One didn’t receive the great Nier: Automata (good news on this front further down the post) when it first released. I absolutely loved playing this game when it came out in early 2017. While everyone else was playing Horizon: Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild, I was playing Nier: Automata (I’m weird, I know). The shame was made even more apparent by the fact that Nier: Automata was developed by none other than Platinum Games, the makers of the recently cancelled Xbox exclusive Scalebound.
Besides Square Enix’s games, the Xbox One has missed out on a huge number of games from other publishers and developers as well. Many SEGA games in particular seem to have skipped the One. The great Persona 5, the Yakuza games (0, Kiwami, the upcoming Kiwami 2, and 6), and Valkyria Chronicles: Remastered have all skipped the Xbox platform. On a non-SEGA note, given that the Xbox 360 received Tales of Vesperia exclusively in the West you would think that the Xbox One would at least get the newest Tales games, right? You would be wrong. Neither Tales of Berseria nor Tales of Zestiria are on the Xbox One. In addition, neither the well-received Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana nor Nioh are available on the platform as well.
What do all of these titles I just mentioned have in common? They are all available on the PS4 in both the West and in Japan. That is a bunch of games that are missing from the Xbox One’s library and it is frankly embarrassing that it even happened. In Japan, it explains why the Xbox One’s sales numbers are always so abysmal. It also explains why, in the West, the PS4 has outsold the Xbox One by a large margin. People who were even marginally interested in some of the biggest Japanese games got a PS4 instead of an Xbox One because of this fact. It is also worth mentioning that many of these titles are available on the Nintendo Switch as well but only the PS4 has them all. The list I have presented here isn’t even an all-inclusive one of all the Japanese titles available on PS4 but not Xbox One (Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. See? I just thought of another one). The good news for Xbox One owners who like Japanese games (I know there’s more than just me) is that something seems to have changed recently and good news is starting to come in.
The Age of Spencer:
Back in the post about Japanese games on the Xbox 360, I said that Peter Moore was the one who was ultimately responsible for getting so many great Japanese titles onto that system. I said he was the advocate for Japanese games within Microsoft who really pushed the company to recruit Japanese developers and publishers. Just like what Peter Moore did for the Xbox 360, I think Phil Spencer is doing for the Xbox One.
Phil Spencer (mentioned above) has always talked about his love of Japanese games. Phantom Dust and Blue Dragon are two of his favorite Xbox exclusive Japanese games. He has, in the past, encouraged (although I can’t find it now) Xbox One fans to keep requesting Japanese games on the Xbox One and he has promised to work to get them on the platform. He hasn’t just talked in this regard, either. There are a few examples of Phil actually listening and getting results.
The first time I noticed Stranger of Sword City on the Xbox store, I thought it was a little strange. It was a Japanese-made dungeon crawling RPG that wasn’t on the PS4 yet was on the Xbox One. I dismissed it as a fluke at first (due to the fact that most Japanese games only release on PS4) and thought nothing more of it. Then I discovered that Romancing SaGa 2 had released on the Xbox One. That was truly a weird one as it’s an old SquareSoft RPG and we never see those released on Xbox. I would have dismissed that one as a fluke as well except for the fact that it was part of a trend. Valkyria: Revolution had also released on the Xbox One and Xbox was getting Monster Hunter: World and Dragon Ball FighterZ in early 2018. Monster Hunter was truly surprising as I believe it is the first Monster Hunter game on Xbox outside of Japan at least. Another surprising arrival on Xbox One was Ys: Origin. It is noteworthy for the fact it is the first Ys game to ever grace an Xbox platform. All of these releases pointed to a trend (admittedly a slow-moving one) of Japanese games coming to the Xbox One. Something must have changed over at Xbox HQ and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. That was until E3 2018.
At E3 2018, Microsoft’s press conference featured a plethora of Japanese games: Jump Force, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Devil May Cry V, and Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition were all presented on Microsoft’s stage. The biggest surprises were perhaps the fact that two big Square Enix games were onstage as well: Kingdom Hearts III and Nier: Automata Become as Gods Edition. There had always been rumors that Kingdom Hearts III would be on Xbox One but (since all the previous Kingdom Hearts’ had skipped all Xbox platforms in the past) I had to see it to believe it. Nier:Automata was a surprise too given Microsoft’s past relationship with its developer. All of these announcements were music to my ears as I had long wished for more Japanese games on Xbox (in case you couldn’t tell from my three long posts about the topic). And I give all the credit for these games coming to Xbox One to Phil Spencer.
The reason I give Phil Spencer all the credit is because he is the only Xbox executive who talks about getting Japanese games on the Xbox One. A few weeks before E3 2018 he talked about how he was trying to get Japanese developers on stage. This drew much derision from the gaming community given the lack of Japanese games on the Xbox One up ‘til that point. I also place the credit with him because of two interviews he gave following E3 that are pertinent to this topic. In one interview, he was asked directly about Japanese support for the Xbox One and he responded that Xbox had really lost its way in this regard over the past few years and that much work still needed to be done. In the second interview, he said he was proud of having Japanese developers on Xbox’s stage at E3 and he looked forward to getting more support in the future. He has also been very vocal about his travels to Japan and frequently meeting with Japanese developers. In fact, he is travelling to Japan two more times this year alone. By actively talking about trying to get more Japanese support and by actually travelling frequently to Japan, Phil Spencer is showing that Microsoft is taking this issue seriously. I only hope that more Japanese games come to the Xbox One in the wake of this newfound commitment.
More to Come:
Although the Xbox One had truly terrible Japanese support in its early years, things seem to be slowly turning around. The releases of Monster Hunter: World, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Ys: Origin for Xbox One as well as the announcements of Kingdom Hearts III, Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, and Nier: Automata for the One really make me believe that change is coming to Xbox. I also need to mention that Shining Resonance Refrain, Valkyria Chronicles 4, Code Vein, and Shenmue I & II are also coming to Xbox One this year. All of these titles are great additions to the Xbox One’s library and I hope it’s a sign of things to come. The Xbox One needs these games to diversify its lineup and to make people believe that more than just shooters and racing games are on the platform.
I truly believe that Phil Spencer is the reason that all of these games are coming to the Xbox One in the first place. I think it’s because Spencer is approaching Japanese developers with a different perspective. In the interview with Jeff Gerstmann cited earlier, Spencer said that instead of trying to get Japanese games on Xbox One to sell the console in the Japanese market, he will instead focus on getting those games on the system to give those titles a more global audience (think American). I believe this is the right move as it is obvious, judging by the lackluster sales of the OG Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One in the Japanese market, that Xbox will never be very popular in Japan. However, having those games on the Xbox platform going forward will allow them to reach a broader audience outside of Japan since the American and European game markets are a lot more competitive. There is still a lot of work to do for the Xbox One to get more Japanese game releases given that way too many are still announced only for PS4 and PC. Despite this, I think the right steps are being taken to remedy the problem.
Thanks for reading this incredibly long post/rant. I hope you enjoyed it!