What Are Japanese-Only Games Doing On Steam?

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I mentioned this game briefly in a bullets section a while back, but the question of what a Japanese-language-only game is doing on Steam still presents a lot of possibilities for the future of the store, especially as Japanese games become more numerous on it.

Particularly here I’m not talking about console ports, but the obscure world of existing Japanese PC games, RPGs and simulators to be more specific. I’m vaguely aware of a whole market of these games that has pretty much gone completely unknown outside its home territory. 

I think it was while I was browsing Steam’s new releases or the discovery que that I came across something just titled “ルナティックドーン 前途への道標.” On the page is a short description in English, a title card identifying the game as Lunatic Dawn: Passage of the Book, and a warning saying it’s only available in Japanese. A look at the developer reveals Artdink — what I assume to be an obscure Japanese developer someone else would probably gladly educate me on, has dropped a few of its games onto Steam, none of them in English.

They seem to be train simulations, baseball simulations, and at least three Lunatic Dawn games. All I was able to research was that the Lunatic Dawn is an RPG released in Japan on PC (I don’t know if it was PC-FX or Windows) around 1996, with sequels that may have been on PC and PlayStation. The reason I’m so interested is not only the rarity of non-English games on Steam, but because this looks like a game I might actually want to play. The description and one testimony makes it sound kind of like Fable a few years before Fable. The screenshots show an isometric-style RPG with combat and visuals that remind me of something Yasumi Matsuno would come up with. It looks like a Japanese CRPG basically.

A handful of people in the game’s Steam community hub are already beginning to translate it, though I have no idea if they’ll see it through. This seems to be a very text-heavy game, but they already have a patch ready that translates location names. Something like this isn’t uncommon coming from non-English speakers, usually in the form of Steam Workshop mods that translate games into languages like Chinese and Korean. English patches for obscure Japanese PC games are also a thing, it just doesn’t happen for games people find through Steam. When you think about it though there’s a potentially big market out there.

The western PC game market has transformed through digital distribution, and some (myself included) have wondered where Japanese PC games fit in. PC gaming is nearly nonexistent in Japan today but it did indeed flourish through the 80’s and early 90’s on pre-Windows 95 proprietary home computers like the MSX or PC-9801. I imagine such games get ported and emulated to Windows all the time, but they never show up commercially in the west other than XSEED localizing some of the more well-known Falcom games. I’ve heard of one Japanese site that specializes in selling old home computer games — a sort of Japanese equivalent to GOG, but I can’t even remember what it’s called.

As far as I’m aware Steam in Japan is mostly used by westerners living there, for obvious aforementioned reasons. I think it’s either about to or just recently started letting people pay for games in Yen, and Japanese developers are becoming more aware of its importance in the western market. I don’t honestly think this is going to translate into more releases like Lunatic Dawn but it’s at least a possibility. Some developer over there could begin to see Steam as a dumping ground for its old home PC library and through it start selling those to Japanese consumers. It would be an odd but effective way to further globalize Steam.

Now I’m sitting here wondering if there’s any future for the global distribution of the almost completely unknown Chinese RPGs (the non-MMO ones).

BULLETS:

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3 thoughts on “What Are Japanese-Only Games Doing On Steam?

  1. wersy2 says:

    “Chinese RPGs (the non-MMO ones)”?

    Are there any? I would gladly play something in an original setting, something developed outside of Japan/Europe/Anglosaxon World core zone of game development.

    • RedSwirl says:

      I have been told there is indeed a hidden industry of Chinese single-player RPGs, and there has been for at least a decade if not two. I’m pretty sure they’re made for PC, and probably very few are translated into languages other than Chinese. Most cover Chinese history and myths. Not sure about Korea.

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