20+ Japanese Games Are Skipping Xbox – Why Is That?

    New titles exclusively unavailable on Microsoft's family of consoles.

    Last June at the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase, head of Xbox Phil Spencer closed the show by announcing three Persona games would be coming to the platform and that Hideo Kojima plans to collaborate with Microsoft on a game. It was surprising, to say the least; a focus on Japanese games on Xbox. At an event titled the “Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase”, they chose not to end with highly anticipated Bethesda-developed showstopper Starfield, but with the reveal of three ports of JRPGs ranging from 6 to 15 years old and the assurance that the creator of Metal Gear would announce an Xbox game at an indeterminate time in the future.

    This choice felt like a message. A message that Xbox had realized the lack of Japanese games on their platform was a weakness they intended to, and had begun to, address. Later, the revelation that the Persona trio was being ported to all platforms along with the lack of elaboration on Kojima’s Xbox project despite a stunning trailer for his PS5 exclusive Death Stranding 2 took some of the wind out of the sails of Spencer’s closing remarks, but there were signs that Xbox was keeping their word.

    Phil Spencer at this Summer's Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase
    Phil Spencer at this Summer’s Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase

    Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising was available on Game Pass at launch just a month before the showcase, and Xbox had also been championing the Yakuza / Like a Dragon series. Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion came to Xbox despite Final Fantasy VII Remake and Rebirth‘s PlayStation exclusivity. Soul Hackers 2 and Star Ocean: The Divine Force released on the platform despite being more niche than other IPs owned by their publishers. Microsoft marketed Persona 5 Royal on their consoles heavily.

    Persona 3, 4, and 5 Royal announced for Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC platforms
    The Persona trio’s full list of platforms took the announcement from an Xbox- centric one, to another rare instance of Xbox’s inclusion.

    Although these developments were promising, it’s become clear that either Xbox isn’t pulling its weight in securing Japanese games for its audience, or that despite Microsoft’s best efforts, Japanese publishers and developers aren’t convinced it’s worth their time and money. This is evident in the wave of upcoming Japanese games from publishers big and small, releasing titles on both PlayStation and Nintendo consoles, but skipping Xbox.

    The Damning List

    The following Japanese games have all been announced for PlayStation and Switch, but are skipping Xbox:

    With games from Capcom, Falcom, Square Enix, NIS, MAGES, XSEED, Koei Tecmo, Spike Chunsoft, Vanillaware, and more, it doesn’t look like Xbox’s paltry line of up Japanese titles is due to any one negative relationship with a publisher or developer, but a larger, overarching problem.

    Why Are Japanese Games Forgoing Xbox?

    Final Fantasy XVI
    At least with Final Fantasy XVI, it’s clear why Xbox is left out.

    With PlayStation’s penchant for securing exclusives (Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, Final Fantasy XVI, Forspoken), some believe the reason Xbox lacks an acceptable library of Japanese games is its rival scooping them all up. Exclusives are often secured by offering publishers payment for the potential sales from other platforms they miss out on, as well as marketing and sometimes development support.

    This isn’t the case, however. The list of 20+ Japanese games coming to every console but Xbox shoots down this theory. PlayStation’s pattern regarding exclusivity is consistent and doesn’t apply to titles on the list. If all of these games are “money hatted” by Sony, it’s awfully generous to allow them to launch on Nintendo Switch (and often, PC as well) the very same day. The lack of bespoke PlayStation marketing for these titles also indicates there is no deal between the publishers of these games and the brand.

    If Not Competitors, Then What?

    If not competitors blocking them out, what is preventing Xbox from securing not even exclusivity, but just standard releases of these games? There’s not enough sales data available to draw a concrete conclusion, but I theorize it has to do with Xbox’s Game Pass service, and how it has been a detriment to sales of games on the platform.

    The Xbox Game Pass lineup for May of 2021, including several japanese games
    For $10 a month (sometimes as low as $1), players have access to over 100 games, often including new releases.

    Why pay $14.99 to $59.99 for a single title when you can pay $10 to $15 for access to these games and many more? This value proposition combined with games arriving on Game Pass on launch day rather than coming after a waiting period exacerbates the lack of incentive for purchases; there’s no window where a player would feel compelled to buy the game rather than wait. Instead, it’s pay full price, or get a month’s subscription to Game Pass for much cheaper.

    Xbox’s own first-party titles have seen a huge hit in sales as a result. Digital Foundry estimates first-party Xbox sales have fallen around 80% since before the service existed. Microsoft’s marquee IP, Halo, didn’t manage to chart in the top 20 selling games of 2021. Game Pass is a great value for gamers interested in the Japanese games available, but I believe it’s also the reason there are so few.

    Disappointing Sales

    The widespread decrease in game sales on Xbox means the already lesser sales of Japanese games on their consoles have fallen even further. This is a platform where even the biggest Japanese games sell many fewer units than on other systems: Final Fantasy XV, Devil May Cry V, and Elden Ring all sold worse on Xbox than PlayStation or PC. If a publisher doesn’t expect their title to sell well on a platform, they’re not likely to take the development time or money required to port it.

    Further supporting this idea are games like Octopath Traveler II and Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection. These aren’t titles that have no history with Xbox and haven’t made their way over yet. These are series/franchises with previous releases on Xbox. Assumedly, based on their performance, their publishers have decided not to bother with Xbox releases this time around. I can’t see any other reason for the decision to consciously not release on a platform that previous games had come to. They’re also from two different publishers. Square Enix is plenty cozy with PlayStation, sure, but Capcom seems intent on releasing their games on all available platforms. It can be inferred that they have data indicating it just isn’t worth bothering with an Xbox release.

    Octopath Traveler II
    It’s theorized that Microsoft went as far as buying post-launch exclusivity for the first game with its inclusion on Game Pass, but this experience must have burned either Microsoft or Square Enix, as the sequel is coming to PlayStation, but not Xbox.

    Is It in Xbox’s Best Interest?

    What would make this worth publisher’s time is Xbox’s financial support. However, Xbox is unlikely to give it; the only two ways it makes sense for a platform holder to offer this kind of deal is exclusivity or inclusion in its subscription service. Xbox locking down one of these titles as exclusive would cost an exorbitant amount of money as they’d have to pay for potential lost sales on PlayStation and/or Nintendo, versus how cheap it would be for their rivals to cover how few projected sales would be on Xbox. Beyond this, even if Xbox offered a generous sum, no amount of money is worth your game being played by an exponentially smaller number of players; it’s bad for the game, bad for its franchise, and bad for brand awareness.

    And it makes no sense for Xbox to offer money to a company to include their product on Game Pass if they don’t think it’ll drive more subscribers to the service. We’ve reached an impasse. It’s not worth publishers time to port and publish games on Xbox, and it’s not worth Xbox’s time or money to secure these games as releases on their platform.

    Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series
    The Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Collection is quite a snub for Xbox. Six classic games in the most popular JRPG franchise in the world will be available on every platform but Microsoft’s.

    Where Do We Go From Here?

    Xbox would need to, as it’s proven willing to do with the Game Pass service already, be willing to take more losses to build a foundation for these games to thrive. They would need to invest in many of these smaller titles and ensure their launch on their platform to create more fans of Japanese games, and let potential Xbox customers know that they won’t be missing out if they decide to play on a Series S or X.

    Passionate JRPG fans who play on Xbox have taken to Twitter to make their voices heard. Check the comments on just about any tweet from the official Final Fantasy account and you’ll find users posting images of photoshopped box art for Final Fantasy VII Remake on Xbox or requesting other titles in the franchise come to the Series S and X. It mirrors the recent infamous fan campaign by “port beggars” for Persona 5 to come to Nintendo Switch and Xbox.

    Many of these Xbox advocates make it clear that companies like Square Enix are losing good will in their eyes, but with so few of their customers among Xbox’s install base, the onus is on Xbox to address the situation, as they have more to lose. It remains to be seen if Xbox will decide, as they seemed to do with Persona, that delivering these games to their fans is a worthy priority.

    BusterSwordBoy is a video game enthusiast who writes about them here, plays them live on Twitch, and talks about them endlessly to anyone who will listen. Subjectively believes that the PS2 is objectively the greatest console of all time, but also loves games from far older hardware, and new releases as well.

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