Japanese development has had a great year so far in 2017. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, Yakuza 0, Nier: Automata, and Resident Evil 7 have all been released in the early part of 2017 to generous acclaim. Tekken 7, the latest in the long-running fighting game series, is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on June 2, 2017.
Finder asked Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada if Japanese game development was "back and better than ever", countering comments made by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune years ago.
"I was one of the first people, back in the nineties, to say that Japanese game development is over and I haven't really changed my opinion," said Harada. "There are a few hits like you mentioned, but Japan was once seen as being at the top of game development. Then it fell right down, and while it might be a bit better [than a few years ago], it hasn't really changed all that much."
"Compared to the USA, over there you have a lot more game developers just because of the population," continued Harada. "You have a lot more funding. Just the scale and scope of development is something Japan can't really compete with. Although there are a few titles that only Japanese can make – and sometimes they do quite well – it's not like Japan will ever be back on top of game development. That's our position: it's a realistic view, I guess you could say. We're not too high, but we're not too low."
To a point, that is true, merely because of the size of Japan. The region is strong enough to keep certain platforms alive, like the PlayStation Vita, but Western sales tend to dwarf Japanese ones simply because of population size. The Nintendo Switch continues to dominate in Japan, with 76,679 units sold in the region last week, but that's due to supply constraints: Nintendo could sell more, but it's likely prioritizing shipping systems to larger regions like North America and Europe.
Japan's industry is strong, but that industry does not have the scale and scope of some of the larger Western companies. Still, I think developers are realizing that HD and 4K asset creation is prohibitively expensive and players have expanded their viewpoint to include games of all shapes and sizes. The overall vision of Japanese developers can still stand out.
In this new wider market, there's more room for mid-range Japanese games to thrive. Japanese developers are clearly coming to terms with the PlayStation 4, offering PC releases on a regular basis, and have a new portable platform in the Nintendo Switch. Japan may not take the crown anymore, but there's still life left in it.