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Nintendo's Wii U may be an attractive device for Japanese RPG fans


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.

I didn't manage to get a Wii U over the weekend. By the time I got around to ordering one, pre-orders were closed, and I wasn't willing to camp outside in the rain or add my name to the wait list. I'm still getting a Wii U though, and not because of Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros. U, or even The Legend of Zelda. I'm getting a Wii U because I'm intrigued by the potential of its RPG library.

[Ed. Note: For more on the Wii U, check out Joystiq's comprehensive coverage.]

As I've discussed before, this is not a new development for Nintendo. Toward the tail end of the Wii years, it made a concerted effort to woo RPG developers. The result was the "Operation Rainfall" games – Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower. Last week, I listed the Wii's Top 10 RPGs for 1UP, and I didn't even have to include Shiren the Wanderer or Tales of Symphonia 2. That platform's RPG selection is deeper than many people know.

Slowly but surely, Nintendo is pulling well-known RPG franchises into its camp. It's locked down Dragon Quest, guaranteeing that Dragon Quest X will be released on the Wii U and the remake of Dragon Quest VII will be on the 3DS. It's all but stolen Monster Hunter away from Sony, in the process robbing the Vita of one of its surefire system sellers in the process. And, of course, there are second party RPG developers like Monolith and Game Freak, which have contributed Xenoblade Chronicles and all things Pokemon respectively.

In that list are three of the top five Japanese RPG franchises, plus one game in Xenoblade Chronicles that some RPG fans are calling their Game of the Year. That's no small selection of RPGs, and that's not even counting the likes of Kingdom Hearts, which recently appeared on the 3DS.

Simply put, the JRPG pendulum has swung all the way back to Nintendo. When it comes to franchises that continue to be legitimately popular beyond a particular niche (I haven't even mentioned Fire Emblem), it is holding nearly all of the cards. This could mean very little for its long-term prospects, but it could also make the Wii U a smash hit in Japan. Regardless, the Wii U is going to have the games that I want, so I'm going to buy one. It's as simple as that.

Out of them all, I think I find Dragon Quest X to be the most intriguing. You just don't see that many MMORPGs on consoles. If Nintendo can avoid charging a subscription fee, Dragon Quest X could be a very interesting showcase for the Wii U's online capabilities. Of course, it hasn't been officially announced yet, but I don't think we'll have to wait too long. I expected it'll be out here by Christmas 2013 at the very latest.

Of more immediate interest is Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, which is scheduled for simultaneous release on the 3DS and the Wii U in March. As I've already discussed in my preview, it's a series that really looks great in high-definition. Whenever I end up getting a Wii U, it will definitely be in my collection.

Perhaps the most heartening development, however, is only peripherally related to the Wii U. According to Trine developer Frozenbyte, the Wii U is friendlier than ever to independent developers, allowing them set their own prices and update their software almost at will. It's a move that puts the Wii U roughly on par with platforms like Steam, which have benefited heavily from independent development over the past few years.

In simple terms, that means even more games. 16-bit throwbacks like Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 3 have become quite popular over the past few years, and this is yet one more forum in which they can thrive. Frankly, the more RPGs the better.

Finally, like the original Wii, the Wii U will be based on familiar technology from the current generation. Even when the new Xbox and the new PlayStation inevitably arrive, the Wii U will be a tempting home for Japanese developers who are more cost-conscious than ever. Yes, raw specs do still matter to some extent, but it's not unreasonable to believe that the Wii U will end up carving out a reliable niche as a JRPG machine. And if you tell me that Bravely Default Flying Fairy is getting a sequel on the Wii U, I will probably buy it regardless of whether it has the most impressive lighting or the best textures.

And that's pretty much the bottomline for me. Over the past six years, I've sat and hoped that the PlayStation 3 would recapture some of the RPG dominance of the PS1 and PS2 era. I've seen flashes, but for the most part, I've been disappointed. In the meantime, Nintendo has managed to steal many of the best RPG franchises will continuing to develop its own. That hasn't stopped me from buying a Vita; but for right now, the choice seems pretty clear. If you're a JRPG fan, you should probably own a Wii U (and a 3DS!).

I'll be waiting a little longer myself; but when March rolls around, I'll be picking up a Wii U and a copy of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. I suspect I won't regret it.

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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