Atlus hasn’t announced a U.S. release date for Etrian Odyssey 3, but there’s not much chance that they won’t release an internally developed game in English, especially since Etrian Odyssey was a surprise hit among an underrepresented and loyal niche audience. I know that I’ve mentioned that I love dungeon crawlers, but aside from reviewing The Dark Spire way back last summer, probably haven’t said much about the genre besides the fact that I like it.
That the first-person dungeon crawler has seen resurgence is undoubtedly a good thing to me, but it really comes at a weird time for the game industry. The style itself originated on American PCs, but now it appears neither on PC nor under the distribution of American companies. Etrian Odyssey 3 might be most comparable to one of the latter Might and Magic games (after 4 but before 9, obviously) -- just as Class of Heroes was very much a latter era Wizardry and The Dark Spire called attention to its being a reworked Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord -- but probably a very select group of its players will know that, and of those, only a few will have played a Might and Magic game to completion. If I am wrong in my assessment, you are free to blame the internet for giving me a false impression.
But there has been much talk from both gaming “journalists” and fans about the recent demise of the Japanese RPG, and occasionally the entirety of the Japanese gaming scene. Both assertions are false, but it might seem true if the only games you’re looking at are a gaggle of by-rote, briefly Microsoft exclusive games from Tri-Ace, From Software, and Square Enix. All of the most interesting Japanese RPGs are on the handhelds. And while there have been some surprising localizations (like pretty much every dungeon crawler mentioned above) there’s a stifling atmosphere for games that are “too Japanese.”
The following are games that I think look incredible, and that have been hyped up pretty well among the enthusiast faithful. The chances that any of them will see localization are, none the less, pretty low.
Brandish: Dark Revenant
Brandish was originally an overhead action game for the PC98 which featured lots of inventory management and a huge labyrinth filled with traps and puzzles. It also had the unusual visual device in which, rather than the character turning around within the dungeon, turning is represented by the whole dungeon moving underneath the character, which is fixed in more or less the same spot. It is hell to play in 2D, but with this PSP remake’s 3D graphics it’s neither a jarring effect nor an unusual one, and it has Falcom’s expert dungeon design.
Chances somebody will localize it: Marginal, at least, since Falcom has been trying to get their work licensed in the US.
This game has been making waves for a while, in part because it was directed by Kazuya Niinou, director of Etrian Odyssey, and produced by Rieko Kodama, who is responsible behind much of the Phantasy Star series. It’s got EO’s cutesy graphics and character customization in a more familiar Japanese RPG package. Sega published it in Japan back in 2008 and American fans are still waiting.
Chances somebody will localize it: Pretty much nil at this point.
Blood of Bahamut
Described by a lot of people as being a handheld, 4-player take on Shadow of the Colossus, Blood of Bahamut is now this generation’s Bahamut Lagoon, a legendary Square RPG for the SNES that never made it to America. They’re even made by the same people.
Chances somebody will localize it: It’s the new Bahamut Lagoon.
Zettai Hero Kaizou Keikaku
Another in the long line of Nippon Ichi tactical/strategy RPGs, Zettai Hero Kaizou Keikaku is another tongue-in-cheek number crunch fest from a company that rarely makes anything but that. This one looks sillier than usual, but boasts cameos from anime characters like Dokoro-Chan, as well as various Nippon Ichi fan favorites. It also supposedly has no level caps and oodles of content in the form of extra missions and rare items. You already have to have debilitating, Ulillillia levels of OCD in order to appreciate some Nippon Ichi titles; this one supposedly trumps all that have come before it. Prism Rangers!
Chances somebody will localize it: Let’s see what NIS America does after Sakura Wars V.
This game has been around long enough (early 2008) for fans to have created a working translation patch. Developer Monolith is infamous for the overlong and bland Xenosaga games on the PS2, but Soma Bringer is actually something of a Diablo-like (this will be an accepted term at some point, I’m sure) with silly anime graphics. Lots of customization and rare weapon drops here.
Chances somebody will localize it: Very, very low. Glory of Heracles, but not this? Really, Nintendo?
Another Nippon Ichi game, this time an action RPG with faux 8-bit graphics, Classic Dungeon also promises an insane amount of content, including sprite building. You can make your own 8-bit avatar. As with the game above, it looks to be something like Diablo in its stat building, loot hoarding mechanics. It almost looks like a deeper, more involved and portable companion piece to From Software’s forthcoming PS3 game, 3D Dot Heroes. The difference is that the latter has US release date.
Chances somebody will localize it: Waiting on NIS America. Not real hopeful.
I can think of others, but this list is getting long. The good news is that even though all these are probably staying in Japan, at least we have a good chance of seeing Etrian Odyssey 3. Atlus’ Japanese website has a party creation tool (that’s mine at the top; yes, my guild was named “Grengarm” in the two previous games as well, and if you know the reference you are a nerd) so you can see what your potential party might look like. I played with it for a while, and felt better. As long as EO3 is released in English, I’ll probably be so occupied with sailing, multi-classing and basic dungeon crawling that I won't miss all of these games.
At least not too much.