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Soapbox: Japan Studio Is Currently One of Sony's Best

Posted by Sammy Barker

East becomes beast

Historically when people have talked about Sony's strong first-party network, Japan Studio has been right at the bottom of the list. One of the platform holder's oldest developers, the division is probably best known for the likes of Ape Escape and Legend of Dragoon, as well as Fumito Ueda's output. But during the PlayStation 3 generation, much like the rest of the Japanese industry, the organisation seemed to fall apart. Now I think there's an argument that the 400 person firm is among the Japanese giant's best.

The developer's output on the manufacturer's last-gen system was embarrassing to say the least. While it did have a hand in the development of Demon's Souls – which would eventually go on to become a cult classic – Sony had so little faith in the project that it passed the publishing rights on to Atlus in North America. The rest, of course, is history. Outside of that game, though, it had little to offer; small PlayStation Network titles were its forte, and while I liked Echochrome, Trash Panic, and The Last Guy, they were never going to set the world alight.

At the time, the studio's focus did appear to be on the PlayStation Portable, with series like Patapon and LocoRoco proving mildly popular. It also collaborated with Level-5 on the ill-fated White Knight Chronicles and its sequel, a property which promised plenty but ultimately delivered very little. Word is that internally the developer was in disarray, and as of 2012 there were as many as 40 or so projects in production. Shuhei Yoshida appointed Sony Santa Monica founder Allan Becker to right the ship.

And he's done just that and more in my opinion. In mid-2013 he told Kotaku that his goal was to make Japan Studio relevant globally again within two and a half years, and with 2017 kickstarted by the release of Gravity Rush 2 – the developer's third well-received major exclusive in a row – it looks like he's very much achieved his aim. In fact, personally, Japan Studio has had a hand in my two favourite PS4 titles to date: Bloodborne and The Last Guardian. The latter was obviously a troubled project, but it launched in an outstanding state.

Things started to change shortly after the arrival of Becker, for me. Japan Studio released Puppeteer and Rain in late 2013 on the PS3, two very strong titles that sadly didn't get the credit that they deserved due to the timing of their arrival. You could argue that Puppeteer probably should have been a PS4 launch game, but the developer opted for Knack instead – perhaps the only blight in its output of late, which can be forgiven due to its status as a hastily produced launch project. You can bank on its sequel being much better – in fact, previews are already stating as much.

While most developers work on one or (at most) two projects at a time, Japan Studio has its fingers in many pies. For example, it developed The Playroom VR to coincide with the launch of PlayStation VR, and the Robots Rescue minigame that's included with that is one of the best examples of virtual reality to date. In fact, even though it's got a lot on its plate, if it's not working on a fleshed out version of that concept then it's making a mistake, because it's only a matter of time before another studio "borrows" the idea.

And looking to the future, things do look bright. Rumours are rife that it will be collaborating with From Software yet again – presumably on some kind of Bloodborne sequel. Meanwhile, the director of Gravity Rush has indicated that he'll beginning work on a new project soon, while we have to imagine that Fumito Ueda – despite the formation of his own company Gen Design – will collaborate with the developer once more. And that's ignoring the likes of New Hot Shots Golf, which it's involved in as well.

I think the thing about Japan Studio that I really love – and a lot of the big Japanese developers at the moment, actually – is that it's making games that are not only very good but also have a fresh flavour in an industry that's becoming increasingly homogenised. While the Western publishers are putting out strong games, a lot of them feel the same – but there's nothing quite like Gravity Rush or The Last Guardian or Bloodborne. And that, for me, is why Japan Studio is so important: it's delivering excellent games, but it's also bringing something completely fresh to Sony's first-party portfolio.

Have you been impressed with Japan Studio's revival in recent years? Are you looking forward to seeing what the developer does next? Praise the company's proficiency in the comments section below.


User Comments (21)



DLB3 said:

Yes Japan Studio have definitely made a 180 this generation. What I love about the studio is that you'll always get something different. Shame that Puppeteer didn't do well commercially, one of the most underrated games I've played. Would love to see a sequel.



Cassetticons said:

Wait, 40 titles were being developed by Japan Studio at one point?! How big is the team?



ApostateMage said:

Um, I really liked White Knight Chronicles. I put hundreds of hours into the online part of the game.



Quintumply said:

Completely agree with this.

Don't really have much to add! I wasn't crazy about many of their games until LocoRoco and Patapon brought such vibrancy to the PSP. The Last Guardian is a wonderful game, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of New Hot Shots Golf, despite not being a big fan of sports games.

Puppeteer somehow passed me by. I think it released alongside some heavy hitters at the time? If I still had my PS3, I'd definitely find a copy and give it a play.



get2sammyb said:

@Quintumply It was one of those games that released while PS4 hype was at fever pitch. I want to say it dropped like the week before Grand Theft Auto V, too.



Cassetticons said:

@get2sammyb Must have been a studio deep in pre-production ideas then - glad they've moved away from throwing stuff to the wall from the sounds of things then.



Rudy_Manchego said:

Shockingly the only Japan Studio output I can think I have played is the Playroom VR but Last Guardian, Bloodborne and Gravity Rush 2 are all on my wish list. I think they are a massive asset to the brand though, particularly with being able to get involved with multiple projects and foster those which give different titles.



DerMeister said:

I've unfortunately never tried any of Japan Studio's output. Despite being a near lifelong PlayStation fan, I've never played any Ape Escape games and only heard of Legend of Dragoon through PlayStation Access. Demon Souls I thought was just a one off title that would fade away when I first heard of it, and I've never been hype for The Last Guardian.

However, they have to be doing something right, as Bloodborne and Gravity Rush have been very well received, and not just this website either. And even a few years ago I've seen plenty of love for LocoRoco, which I've wanted to try out. Same goes for Patapon.

I'd have to say they are definitely a talented studio. If they don't make an amazing game, then they seem to make a cult classic. Or Knack.



chiptoon said:

So glad all that b*llocks from a few years ago about Japanese debelopers being bad is finally behind us! That was a stupid time.

Language - get2sammyb



wiiware said:

Pupeteer ps4 remaster in 4k with the cat as your guide, I'll buy that for $40



get2sammyb said:

@chiptoon Well, they did have a difficult transition to HD, but that's over now. The worry now is that the Japanese market doesn't seem very receptive to console gaming anymore.



ThroughTheIris56 said:

Not sure if Bloodborne counts because that was mainly FromSoftware, but despite Knack (apparently), Japan Studio have a solid record. Gravity Rush, Puppeteer, Rain and The Last Guardian are all good games and Gravity Rush 2 is getting good reviews. Hopefully Knack 2 and future games keep this up and I'm looking forward to see what else they'll come up with. Japan Studio should get more of a spotlight.



sinalefa said:

Of those I think I only have Puppeteer and Gravity Rush. Didn't enjoy the former and I haven't touched the latter, except for the demo of 2 that I liked.

Oh and Ape Escape 2 that is so good. Can't believe they also did Knack.



Heckteck said:

When I understood how the mechanics worked in white knight chronicles worked I played the heck out of it........although my PS3s hard drive got corrupted I gave up on it because I wasn't going to play another 100+ hours lol



Jake3103 said:

Oh man, Legend of Dragoon was great! Feeling all nostalgic thinking about that.



LieutenantFatman said:

Puppeteer should have been a PS4 launch game, they missed a trick there I think. Bloodborne is easily in my top 3 PS4 games and The Last Guardian is well worth playing as well so I think it's more than fair to say they are doing a fantastic job now.



Thegentleman said:

I hope they might make a legend of dragoon sequel or remake (even though I doubt it will ever happen)

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