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Vita and 3DS give RPGs a chance to shine at E3


This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.

Next week, representatives from Nintendo and Sony will take the stage at E3 with the goal of fostering excitement for the Vita and 3DS. When it comes time for the sizzle reels and the assurances of publisher support, watch closely. For Japanese RPG developers, the time is now to make a splash.

By any measure, Japanese-developed RPGs play an important role on mobile devices dedicated to gaming. It's not just that Monster Hunter dominated the PSP. Many of the best Japanese-developed RPGs of the past few years, The World Ends With You and Dragon Quest IX among them, have been handheld. With the 3DS exploding in Japan, there's little reason to believe that will change any time soon.

As such, RPGs ought to figure heavily into the long-term plans of both platforms – a process that will begin at E3. For the 3DS, the main goal will be to solidify the gains in public perception made over the past year. Sony, for its part, will be trying to woo people still on the fence about the Vita's future. Given recent history, both Nintendo and Sony have a vested interest in their machines being seen as solid RPG platforms.

In many ways, Nintendo is at an advantage right now. Beyond the built-in advantage imparted by Pokemon, the maturation of the 3DS has lured in publishers who were previously wary about the system's prospects. In Japan, Namco Bandai is preparing Project X Zone, one of their patented franchise mash-ups. Atlus is preparing a remake of the Saturn's Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, which has a strong chance of making it westward. Square Enix is publishing the wonderfully titled traditional RPG Bravely Default: Flying Fairy.

One of Nintendo's biggest success stories so far has been Fire Emblem: Awakening, which saw the biggest sales in the history of the franchise earlier this year. When E3 2012 kicks off next week, it will almost certainly be leading the charge for the 3DS in North America. For fans of the series like myself, there's every reason to excited. Apart from being prettier than ever, Fire Emblem: Awakening is bringing back many of the best features of the past games. Even now I'm planning my support pairings so that their kids can assist my army on the field.

I'm also feeling pretty good about the prospects of Etrian Odyssey IV. Having been a staple on the Nintendo DS for some years now, it's not surprising to see it make the leap over to the 3DS. It will bring with it a dedicated following who appreciate it for being an old-school RPG in the best tradition of PC dungeon crawlers like Wizardry. Atlus has been pretty good about bringing their games west, so I fully expect an announcement at E3.

The Vita, meanwhile, may end up going in some very interesting directions of its own. Foremost is the long-rumored Vita update of Final Fantasy Type-0, which may open the door for a slew of PSP RPGs that never made it to North America. Anyone who has downloaded a PSP game from the Vita store will tell you that they already look great on the screen. Ports and remakes are already playing a big role on the Vita, with Final Fantasy X HD and Persona 4 being two prime examples. I'll admit to being part of the problem. I'm more than happy to double-dip if it means being able to play two great PS2 RPGs on the road.

I will say that if a major handheld RPG is announced at E3, it will probably be for the Vita. How about this: Square Enix's Yoshinori Kitase goes up on stage at the Sony press conference and formally announces Final Fantasy XV for simultaneous release on the Vita and the PS3. I'm not saying that it's likely, but if Sony were ever to shoot for the stars, now would be the time. If no Final Fantasy XV announcement is forthcoming, though, I would happily accept a sequel to The Worlds Ends With You.

Regardless of what happens, this is an interesting moment for Japanese-developed RPGs. With both the 3DS and the Vita out to make a statement and set the tone for the next five years or more, I can't think of a better time to make a splash with global audiences than now. Barring that, all I really want is to be able to look over the release lists for the 3DS and the Vita and say, "Wow, there are a lot of great RPGs coming out soon." We're already well on our way.

So keep an eye on the Nintendo and Sony press conferences. Even if Kitase isn't on hand to announce Final Fantasy XV, there's bound to be at least a few roleplaying gems on display at E3. For the 3DS and the Vita, it will be the Fire Emblems and the Ragnarok Odysseys that provide the foundation for years to come.

Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.

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