Tekken 7’s Harada says Japanese development still dead

Chris Stead 8 May 2017

tekken-7-harada

Despite a string of great games, and great game announcements, Japanese development is still in a rut says industry icon.

Do you remember all that talk a few years ago about the state of the Japanese game development scene? On the back of flagging franchises, a rejected Wii U console and the outsourcing of key IP to Western developers, many were declaring its doom. This included influential figures like Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune. From the outside looking in, the view the Japanese had of their own industry was downright depressing.

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But surely it has bounced back, right? Recent returns to form for series like Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Dark Souls and now Tekken 7 are impossible to ignore. There are new success stories, like The Last Guardian, Nier Automata and Nioh. While titles like Death Stranding, Ni No Kuni 2 and Kingdom Hearts III rank among the most anticipated in the world. Add in the record-breaking sales of Nintendo and its suite of upcoming games, most notably Super Mario Odyssey, and the runaway success of the VR-enabled PlayStation 4, and Japanese development seems to be coming along nicely. In fact, it looks great.

That’s not the case according to industry legend Katsuhiro Harada. With 25-years at Namco leading, among other things, the genre-defining Tekken series, Harada’s voice is powerful and respected. While in Sydney to tour the latest instalment in the series, Tekken 7, I was given an audience with the man. During our conversation - which included an update on the MIA Tekken X Street Fighter - I asked him if his views on the Japanese development industry had changed at all, but the answer wasn’t what I expected. Here is how the conversation went:

A few years ago there was a lot of talk that the Japanese development scene was in a rut. However, recently we’ve seen great returns to form for Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, The Legend of Zelda and now Tekken: do you think Japanese development is back and better than ever?

I was one of the first people, back in the nineties, to say that Japanese game development is over and I haven’t really changed my opinion. There are a few hits like you mentioned, but Japan was once seen as being at the top of game development. Then it fell right down, and while it might be a bit better [than a few years ago], it hasn’t really changed all that much. Compared to the USA, over there you have a lot more game developers just because of the population. You have a lot more funding. Just the scale and scope of development is something Japan can’t really compete with. Although there are a few titles that only Japanese can make – and sometimes they do quite well – it’s not like Japan will ever be back on top of game development. That’s our position: it’s a realistic view, I guess you could say. We’re not too high, but we’re not too low.

I wonder if there is a cultural difference here between Japan and Australia that leads to such a pessimistic view because it’s at odds with what you’d expect from someone trying to promote their game. Harada would know the “good old days” as well as anyone, but things change and it seems to me that Japan still plays a vital and incredibly significant role in the global gaming industry.

What we’ve played of Tekken 7 is a great example. The stunning visuals, tight gameplay, a huge roster of 38 characters and surprisingly engaging Story Mode experience are some of the highlights. Fighting fans will have plenty to enjoy, which is reason enough to thank Japanese development for still putting in the hard yards.

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