By Ted AYALA
Are Japanese video game developers in a decline? It’s a question that has provoked lively debate from many video game pundits today. But even if their industry is sinking, they’re certainly not going away quietly.
Some brilliant games from the Land of the Rising Sun were on display at last week’s E3, perhaps some of their strongest showings in the last few years.
Nostalgia – or, depending on how one looked at it, a commitment to classic game play – was at the forefront of the best games on display.
Melding the worlds of music rhythm games and the august Final Fantasy franchise may seem a dubious proposition. But in “Theatrythm Final Fantasy” (Nintendo 3DS), Square-Enix has managed to pull off a coup: creating a surprisingly addicting and deep game from this unlikely union.
Though aimed primarily at fans of the series – now touching the quarter-century mark – the game is accessible even to those who may not be familiar with the series. But in its evocation of scenes from past games and, most crucially, in some of the best loved musical tracks by the series’ long-time composer Nobuo Uematsu, the game exerts a powerful hold on the player.
Striking, too, is its ease of play that manages to hook players new to musical rhythm games, as well as provide a satisfying challenge to seasoned players. For those reared on this classic franchise, however, the game will be rich with moments evoking favorite memories of Final Fantasy games.
Harking back to the past in a different way is the old-school appeal of Ni no Kuni (PS3), a solid JRPG in the mold of Dragon Quest. The product of a collaboration between developer Level 5 and Studio Ghibli – whose “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and “Princess Mononoke,” among others, have established themselves as worldwide classics of animation – Ni no Kuni is firmly grounded in traditional JRPG game play.
Gamers who grew up with the NES and Super NES will find much to enjoy in Ni no Kuni. It combines the best aspects of traditional JRPG stylings with the stunning presentation that modern gaming systems are capable of. Gorgeous environments, whimsical enemies and characters, and a superb musical score by Joe Hisaishi come together to create a memorable summation of the JRPG.
For the Wii U came a new game from Platinum Games, whose outrageously wicked “Vanquish” (PS3, Xbox 360) was one of the most unique and endearingly bizarre games in recent memory. Commandeering a team of super heroes, “Project P-100” scales back the adult intensity of Platinum’s earlier games with cartoony graphics and goofy play. The player handles their troop of super heroes in a manner reminiscent of Nintendo’s Pikmin games. Using the Wii U tablet, players can recruit citizens on the street to join their team and forge kooky group attacks against the outsized robots invading Earth.
Originality of expression – sometimes bordering on the eccentric – have long been the hallmarks of the best of Japanese video games. Even if their industry may be in a slump, this E3 proved that the best of Japan’s developers still have that vitality that made their games world-beaters in the not-so-distant past.