The abject failure of the Xbox to capture any market share in Japan remains an embarrassment to Microsoft, with the console being outsold on a week-to-week basis by the PSone more often than not.
Few Japanese developers have signed up to work on the console – with Tecmo being the main obvious exception – and as a result there are few games of real interest to the Japanese audience appearing on the system, a vicious circle which has continued to turn ever since the original launch of Xbox in the Far East.
Marumaya-san, recently installed as general manager in Japan, understands this problem all to well, if his statements in Famitsu are anything to go on. “What the Xbox lacks now are RPG games, which Japanese gamers like, and games featuring strong characters like Gundam,” he told the magazine. “Obviously, something must be done about this.”
If anyone is likely to know what can be done to resolve this situation, it’s Marumaya – whose previously worked as a vice president at Squaresoft’s USA operation, and oversaw much of the work which made RPGs into a successful genre in North America.
However, he’ll have an uphill struggle convincing vital Japanese game-makers such as Square Enix and Bandai to come on board for Xbox development. Speaking to Famitsu, he talks vaguely about creating “an environment where they will want to do business on our platform” – which may imply licensing incentives, such as the special deal Nintendo struck with Electronic Arts to ensure continued support for the GameCube, or the more traditional “money hats” offered to companies to bring out key platform-exclusive titles.
For now, Xbox has only one major forthcoming Japanese RPG – namely Level Five’s True Fantasy Live Online, which will appear next Spring. Development work on the console’s other promising JRPG title, namely Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei Nine Online, ceased some months ago and the project was moved to the PC platform.
Of course, there is one other major Japanese-style RPG hope for Microsoft – namely the UK-developed Sudeki, which is due out early next year. Whether the title, which was created by developer Climax and has anime-styled character and environment designs as well as gameplay elements from modern Japanese RPG, can do the business in the Land of the Rising Sun despite being developed overseas will be very interesting to observe.