When Square famously returned their N64 development kits back in the 5th Generation of Console Gaming, they tore a JRPG-shaped hole in Nintendo. The action damaged both companies. Then-president of Nintendo Japan, Hiroshi Yamauchi tried to pass off the idea that RPGs weren’t needed, but the pain was felt through the gaming industry as the general audience were wooed by embedded video files, CD-quality audio, and a SNES-like controller that drew them to rival consoles. It would take two more generations before that hole would begin to heal.
During that time, Squaresoft’s gambit had ultimately failed them, and they ended up getting bought by their rivals Enix, who proceeded to turn Final Fantasy into the “dump-game,” to be pumped out and experimented on, while they used the research to more carefully develop Dragon Quest titles. Measures such as this certainly lent weight to the idea that JRPGs were not a supportable genre, or that dump-games were necessary to generate the seed-money for higher quality RPGs.
During this dark era however, something curious happened. Atlus, previously a strong supporter of JRPGs on non-Nintendo consoles, seemed to warm up to Nintendo during the run of the Game Boy Advance. When Nintendo released the GBA’s first RPG, Golden Sun, and proved that you could continue to make compelling RPG experiences without relying on the disc format, Atlus followed it up with their “Devil Children” titles (known here as Shin Megami Tensei: DemiKids) Later, Atlus announced a suspiciously large number of games for the DS, starting with Trauma Centre and Etrian Odyssey, and diving into the touch-screen concept headfirst. Over the course of the whole generation, lots of new and dangerously experimental Atlus games would show up on the DS and Wii, some developed by them, some simply localized. Baroque. Shiren the Wanderer. Trauma Team. Three games in the Etrian Odyssey series and two more first person RPGs. Most notably, they developed a game in their core “Shin Megami Tensei” franchise. A lot of players took Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey to effectively be S.M.T.4 at the time, due to it taking on the name and patterns of the core S.M.T. titles and updating them with modern technology.
When the 3DS came out, so did more support from Atlus, right from the launch announcement. 3 titles in Atlus’ S.M.T. franchise were announced, which turned out to be two remixes (Devil Survivor Overclocked and Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, the latter of which was to be localized for the first time) and the actual S.M.T.4, a brand new game. Soon after the Wii U had launched, Nintendo announced a cross-over game between Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem franchise and that of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei. Today, video game enthusiasts worldwide are keeping their thumbs on the Nintendo pulse to see what fantastic new 3DS and Wii U projects come to light. It’s looking like Atlus and Nintendo working together might be able to find a way to make high-quality RPGs popular and profitable worldwide once again.
If Atlus takes the place that Squaresoft once occupied, we could very well be entering a new gaming “Golden Era” with the Wii U and 3DS, where game quality rules, and with increased awareness (and the fact that the people who grew up with Nintendo hardware are all adults and thus have some more disposable income) that if it’ll promote better, richer experiences in video gaming, then it may be worth showing some monetary support to those now rare high-quality JRPGs that cross the pond.
Until next time, I give you this lovely pic of Nemissa from the upcoming Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers for 3DS. Clicking on it will take you to the official site, where you can preorder it (There’s apparently a soundtrack included if you do)!