Something About Japan: Square Enix on Luminous Studio and “pushing back” against the west

Agni's Philosophy

Agni's Philosophy

All we have seen of Luminous Studio so far, though, is Agni’s Philosophy. Surely Square Enix has at least one game in the works?  “Yes, I think I can tell you that we’ve already entered that phase,” Hashimoto says. “However, the engine itself is not yet fully finished, so we’re not working on anything full-time. Right now arrangements are being made as we prepare to work using the real thing.” An engine, of course, is only half the battle, and Square Enix’s Japanese studio will need to produce games of a higher quality than the likes of Final Fantasy XIII to justify what is surely a considerable R&D investment.

Capcom has been at the forefront of Japanese game makers courting the west since Keiji Inafune’s infamous “Man, Japan is over” comment at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show. However, the publisher’s most recent work, PS3 and 3DS shooter EX Troopers, was designed from the ground up for a Japanese audience. Speaking to 4Gamer, producer Shintaro Kojima discusses the process and philosophy behind making a game in a relatively unpopular genre inJapan.

“EX Troopers isn’t a shooting game,” he insists. “It’s an action game with a good tempo, satisfying shooting and cool-looking dodging. Our original plan was to make something like a more relaxed shooter. Even though a lot of shooters come out in Japan, it’s still a big hurdle to overcome as it’s still generally considered a difficult genre. Personally, I enjoy those games, and would like to try and dissipate the air of difficulty that surrounds them.”

Using cel-shaded manga art that would be familiar to the Japanese, Kojima’s design approach was to integrate the feel and mechanics of Japanese action games into the new project, such as those one might expect to find in Devil May Cry. “The style we went for was ‘action game with shooter elements’,” he explains. “Building on the idea, the pace improved, and the whole thing felt better than if we had gone down a fully shooter-like road. While concentrating on getting the feel of the shooting right, we adjusted the level of auto-aim to ease target acquisition, while also adding in a lock-on system to easily switch between potential targets. This turned out to be the solution in our struggle to create a satisfying shooting system.”

Though it’s refreshing to see Capcom release a title not chasing a western audience – or developed by a western studio – after so many years of doing so with varying degrees of success, it seems to me that E.X. Troopers may well be more forward-thinking than it at first appears. As a title aimed at middle-school children, Capcom could well be playing the long game, trying to instil a taste for western game mechanics in its players from a young age. It seems like Capcom could well have a grasp on a strategy for the future of their games in both east and west.

EX Troopers

On the topic of western game design, and the future of Japanese games, Hashimoto of Square Enix had much to say. “I believe Japan is capable of producing interesting games, but looking at the influence, we are being pushed around by western games without a doubt.” He was hopeful, however, when talk turned to the topic of Kojima Productions’ own next-gen tech, Fox Engine, as seen in that stunning Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes trailer. “Honestly, I thought it was amazing,” Hashimoto says. “I also thought, ‘We [Square Enix] won’t lose to this though!’ It was quite motivational.

“Recently, it feels like the Japanese game industry hasn’t lost, and is gradually pushing back.”

Hashimoto is certainly optimistic about the future: “For us not to lose, we really have to exert ourselves… But, I feel encouraged.” After years of being perceived as struggling to compete with western studios, here’s hoping the Japanese games industry is finding its feet again.