You know, there’s nothing worse than being a kid in a sweet shop with limited access to the shelves. And, like a special brand of confectionary, video games can also have boundaries, where no amount of stopping and staring will ever change the fact that you just can’t have what’s clustered in the jar. A knockoff, perhaps, though never the real thing. That often bolts to a specific shelf, where only VIPs (or in this case, the Japanese population) have full access. And JRPGs, unfortunately, are like the forbidden cubes of sugar of the gaming world.
We’ve been scrubbing the Japanese market for a while now, digging up some truly outstanding video games that never quite made it out of the borders. Of course, plenty of petitions have been made over the years, with fans pleading developers for certain titles to release elsewhere. But unfortunately, some things just aren’t built to leave the country of origin, and, in Japan’s case, they’re pretty content with hoarding a boatload of fantastic games with little interest in distributing it to the masses. Just take these five, for example.
5. Tales of Rebirth
Of all the JRPGs that attracted attention from the Western front over the years, Tales of Rebirth definitely drew a few extra cliques — all of which felt betrayed when the game was never localized after launch. The popularity was most definitely there, and outside fans practically begged for Namco to distribute the title elsewhere. But, like earlier instalments to the highly respected series — it never happened, and Japan simply kept the lid sealed tight with little interest in ever swaying from the pattern.
Tales of Rebirth, like other Tales chapters, uses its trademark combat system, known locally as Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS). Besides becoming incredibly well-known for that, the Tales franchise has also established ground with fans for its rich storytelling, with no two stories remotely similar. Tales of Rebirth, however, possessed one of the greatest narratives, with an enjoyable roster and choice selection of environments. However, no amount of pleading from the fans ever managed to get Namco to spread its ingenuity with the rest of the world. Sad times.
4. Treasure Hunter G
Long before the merge with Enix, Square followed a pretty tight routine, in which games would only stick to the Japanese market. One of these games, of course, was the 1996 tactical role-playing game Treasure Hunter G, which went on to release exclusively for the Super Famicom. Although struggling to garner attention on a global scale pre-launch, Western territories did manage to unearth the game in later years. The problem was, Square had long since moved on to other established works, leaving the Japanese exclusive in the shadows of ’96.
Treasure Hunter G follows a combat system similar to those seen in other Super Famicom games of the late nineties. Latched with a grid, a turn-based structure and a set amount of Attack Points, players can strategize against the enemy force and dominate the map. Outside of combat, however, the world opens up with plenty of landmarks to explore with your accomplices. Although nothing exactly groundbreaking, Treasure Hunter G was still a well-rounded little gem that Square held on to for years before discarding it for other fresh IPs.
3. Mother 3
It’s true, the Game Boy Advance did have quite the library of releases between 2001 and 2010, with hundreds (if not thousands) of Japanese exclusives securing roots on the hardware. One of these, although sharing its world to some extent, was Mother. The first two games, although originally releasing on Famicom back in 1989 and 1994, did eventually get ported across the globe. In 2015. However, regarding Mother 3, the 2006 instalment, developer Brownie Brown has yet to even think about localizing it. But, going by its history, Western territories could still very well see it in the foreseeable future. In 2031, maybe.
Since the launch of Mother 3, fans all over the globe have looked to the Japanese developer to localize the latest chapter, with no luck whatsoever. Due to this, one enthusiast, in specific, went on to develop a fan-made version of the game, which garnered over 100,000 downloads in the space of a week since its launch. So, clearly, the demand is there, though Brownie Brown has yet to see the potential that looms over the Western market.
2. Bahamut Lagoon
Pushing towards the end of the Super Famicom’s lifespan, Square looked to shift as many memorable adventures as possible, rounding off one chapter and paving the way into the next. One of these final legs of the journey came in the shape of Bahamut Lagoon, a tactical role-playing game that would go on to revolutionize JRPGs like never before. And, being backed by some of the Final Fantasy heavy hitters, the Famicom release was quick to draw a crowd and establish a loyal fan base even before launch.
Come 1997, Bahamut Lagoon sold just shy of 500,000 copies in Japan, making it the 17th best selling game of the year. Praised highly for its visuals, storytelling and mesmerizing original soundtrack, fans were quick to brand it as one of the best JRPGs of its time. Fast-forward several years and an unofficial English version finally sprung from the corners of the web, effectively capturing the Western eye and strengthening its demand. But as for an official Square release — nothing ever came to fruition.
1. Live A Live
By now you’re probably wondering just how many games Square put out on the Famicom that never actually left Japan. But like millions of other frustrated fans, we too have pondered over the same question, with the ratio more than likely tilting against our favour. But to add salt to the wound, one of the greatest entries that released on the hardware was also published exclusively, too. The game in question, of course, is Live A Live, a cluster of role-playing chapters that was released back in 1994.
Unlike other role-playing games of its era, Live A Live put its toes into several worlds as opposed to one. And, rather than sticking exclusively to one protagonist with a single scenario, Square instead composed nine different games with eight unique protagonists. Combined, Live A Live resulted in a well-rounded cluster of stories that dared to be different. However, even with its innovative design, Western markets never received a full-fledged port. Sigh.
So, what about you? What were your favourite role-playing games from the Famicom era? Is there something you’d like to see make its way to Western territories? Let us know over on our socials here.