It’s tough to pinpoint precisely what happened to Japanese strategy/RPGs in the last half-decade. They were very prominent on consoles and handhelds during the halcyon days of the 90s and early 00s, though shifted more to the latter with the Japanese market’s preferences a decade ago. But following that, they slowly started vanishing as developers and consumers shifted their interests elsewhere, to the point that they’re almost nonexistent these days. Can you think of any quality recent strategy/RPGs from Japan outside of Disgaea 5 and Fire Emblem Fates? (Hyperdevotion Noire and Lord of Magna might count, though opinions towards both are mixed.) Can you think of any upcoming examples? I can’t offhand, and that’s tragic.
I have no insight on why the Japanese gaming audience stopped buying SRPGs, but with the country’s dedicated gaming market in dire straits (just see how low sales numbers are in this week’s top charts), some genres had to go down sooner or later. It was simply this genre’s time.
And speaking of those last two games: Nippon Ichi Software has a bunch of games coming soon, but none are SRPGs. Considering how Disgaea 5 sold in Japan, they might have put the franchise on the backburner, despite how well Disgaea PC sold on Steam. While a new Fire Emblem game coming down the line is all but certain, it will be a while before it arrives.
Fortunately, some developers outside Japan are trying their hand through crowdfunding. While the once-promising Unsung Story remains unsung, Children of Zodiarcs has potential for tuning out well; and now we have a new contender: Arcadian Atlas.
The protagonists of Arcadian Atlas’ tale are Desmond and Vashti, soldiers who take orders from the queen of the Arcadian family’s royal guard, which is on the brink of war. Both characters are also a couple, who previously met on the battlefield, and they’ll be joined by a cast of colorful adversaries from their kingdom and other locations. The game will also have units capable of taking on various classes, all of which are traditional for a game in the genre — though there’s no problem with that. As the game progresses, the player will have the option of evolving those classes to learn advanced skills. It’s gameplay style isn’t challenging any known conventions, but with this genre on the ropes, you’ll see no one complaining about familiarity.
That also applies to its gameplay style, which is nearly identical to titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. Both close and long-ranged weapons, spells, and items will be available to characters depending on their class, with more options being unlocked throughout the game.
The first thing you’ll notice upon visiting the previously-linked Kickstarter page is how beautiful the sprite art is. When Becca and Taylor Blair, the brother and sister duo running indie outfit Twin Otter Studios, say it’s “inspired by “classics” (the page could use a proofreading, honestly), they meant it. The art style looks great in stills, regardless of the heavy use of green and brown in battlefields, but it’s incredibly appreciable in motion. Make sure you see the plethora of GIFs on their page, which show how proud of their work they are.
The duo is asking for $90,000 for the initial goal, which will be used to complete what they already have. Keep in mind that will only fund a game that lasts around ten hours. Options to extend the quest are attached to the stretch goals, but it’s not likely to reach many (or any) of them; it’s only raised half of what they’re asking for, with 16 days remaining in the campaign. While it’s good they’re not planning to stuff the game with too much content to prevent from stretching themselves too thin, the audience for SRPGs tends to enjoy games that last far longer than that. But no one should have the same expectations for an indie game than they would with one from a developer financed by a publisher, especially if the final product is a rewarding experience in the end. There’s nothing wrong with short games in any genre, especially if they offer extra incentives for replay value.
That said, hopefully the developers of Arcadian Atlas are capable of crafting such an experience. The duo behind this don’t have much of a game development pedigree, so it could be tough for potential backers to trust them with their cash. I don’t think they’ll be the type to take the money and run, especially since they already have more to show than Playdek does with Unsung Story. But there’s no way to tell whether they’re talented enough to create the experience they’re promising, especially on such a small budget. There’s a good chance this could turn out perfectly well, but keep in mind that Kickstarter pledging is essentially a donation with little-to-no guarantee if the developer isn’t known.
That said, hopefully it turns out well. Provided everything goes to schedule, the game should release in February 2018.