Sunday Meditation: Sony Needs An RPG Studio
Can you call it a trend if an obvious success is consistently absent from the industry?
Either way, it's the trend I'd like to address in this particular meditation because a few thoughts just happened to converge for me this week.
My Playstation 4 awaits me beneath the Christmas tree and I'm really looking forward to setting it up and seeing what it's all about. I hadn't planned to get any games for it until inFamous: Second Son made its debut but I managed to land a great price on Killzone: Shadow Fall. Honestly though, I'm not all that pumped about either of those and 2014 in general seems like a deserted wasteland for my tastes.
I was pretty stoked about The Witcher 3 for awhile there but now it seems like there is little hope it will actually make landfall in 2014, and if it does it will be at the very end of the year. Dragon Age: Inquisition is on the way but it's a cross-gen experience and so can't take advantage of the new systems fully. Perhaps it's just me but I always feel like RPGs are where we get to really see our new consoles at their best and most capable.
I can't help but think that if there was an RPG, any RPG, on PS4 right now it would be something everybody would be talking about and playing now that the main action lineup is in the rear view mirror. Wouldn't it have been a great idea to plan to fill the dead time between now and whenever the cross-gen period ends with a PS4 exclusive RPG and a few rounds of DLC? More to the point, does it make any sense at all that there are no Sony studios making RPGs ever?
I recognize that casual sentiment is on the side of the flashy action games. They are definitely much easier to develop and have ready for a launch, but I think Sony missed a big opportunity by letting another generation come without tackling this major genre. Bioware titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age have been popular, Elder Scrolls games always bring in the numbers, and over in the competitor's camp the Fable games have been a big hit with the second and third games selling over 4 million copies each.
In every other genre Sony's studios have always sought to push the technical, artistic, and storytelling boundaries of what gaming is all about. That's why most agree that Playstation exclusives are the cream of the crop. Uncharted redefined the third person action adventure, Gran Turismo is the finest racing simulator available, Killzone has excelled in the first person shooter realm, God of War influences all other action titles, Team ICO pushes the boundaries of art, and while Quantic Dream is technically second party it's Sony backing their high aspirations. So why no RPG studio?
It could be an expensive endeavor but I believe they would have the edge in whatever direction they decided to go. If a Japanese studio wanted to re-imagine the JRPG in a modern way for a mainstream audience I think they would find a receptive public among their fans. Ni No Kuni and Tales of Xillia each managed about 1 million copies sold; those were exclusive but not first-party.
If instead Sony wanted to do something like Dragon Age where the game story is linear but choices and dialogue make a big difference then there is a lot of room to innovate there. If the studio decided that the big, huge open world trend is the better way to go I think there is plenty of room for an Elder Scrolls competitor (we won't see another one of those for many years). Even the less popular RPGs like Kingdoms of Amalur, Dragon's Dogma, and Two Worlds II all sold between 1 and 2 million copies; I'd bet that Sony could do a sight better than those projects.
As I see it a dedicated RPG studio at Sony is something that couldn't possibly falter unless the product came up short, and that rarely happens with Playstation exclusives. What kind of RPG would you like to see from a Sony studio?
12/21/2013 David D. Nelson