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Level-5 Leaves North America, Is This the End for Ni No Kuni?

After the 90s – early 2000s the Japanese Role-Playing Game golden age ended, we saw many a great series go the way of the Dinosaur. Suikoden, Grandia, and Wild Arms, to name a few are some of the more beloved series that just went under.  Unfortunately, it now seems that Ni No Kuni is likely to join that group.

According to a report from Gameindustry.biz, Level-5 has virtually stopped all of its North American operations at this point. Last August (2019) the company laid off most of its employees leaving only a few to complete essential operations while the company consolidated its business between its Japanese office and international advertising and branding company Dentsu.

A source in the report stated that there are no plans for future Level-5 titles to be released outside of Japan.

Why Level-5 Will Be Missed…

Ni No Kuni 2
Ni No Kuni II might have been the last big AAA game that Level-5 made for home consoles out side of Japan.

True turn based traditional Japanese Role-Playing games are hard to find these days on home consoles. These games instead, have been relegated to handhelds, and mobile platforms as game development costs have risen, and JRPG sales have slowed down.

Apart from some SquareEnix’s titles, Atlus/Sega’s Persona, and Namco’s habitual Tales game, there isn’t a lot happening for the genre right now at the big stage on home consoles.

Level-5 was one of the few companies producing true AAA JRPG experiences for our home systems. As recently as 2018, we received Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (84 Metacritic) on our shores.

The game has struggled to break the 1 million sales mark, as only 900,000 units had been counted as sold in its last sales update. NamcoBandai published that title, and its predecessor outside of Japan.

Still, the company seemed somewhat healthy, as Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch arrived on Switch last year. That title, prior to its Switch and PS4 Remasters, had sold 1.1 Million units on the PlayStation 3. Quite a success for both Namco/Bandai, and Level-5.

However, Ni No Kuni II didn’t do as well as hoped, and thus the series seems fated to meet the same end as other ‘once upon a time’ popular JRPG franchises.

Level-5’s history includes games such as the Dark Cloud series (PS2), and  Rogue Galaxy (PS2). Perhaps their greatest work ever came in form of Dragon Quest VIII (PS2), as the company was subcontracted by Enix in order to modernize the series.

It seems that the company’s most commercially successful work is the Profesor Layton Series (Nintendo DS/3DS/Android) which has gone on to sell millions of units as a series during its lifespan. The company made many other games, most which targeted Mobile/Handheld platforms.

Level-5 is likely to continue making handheld experiences as the genre remains profitable in that market. Sadly, its big time – home console – releases like Ni No Kuni, and ambitious projects like Dark Cloud and White Knight Chronicles (PS3) will be missed if the report’s source is right about the company turning into a Japan only developer/publisher.

Why This Saddens Me…

The J-RPG genre is a ‘niche’ genre these days, but that niche when tapped right can yield some success (Persona 5 sold 5 million units).  Apart from Dragon Quest XI, I can’t really think of another big AAA budget ‘old school’ turn based game that continues to appear on home consoles.

Thus, I will truly miss the occasional Level-5 big time entry. Playing through Ni No Kuni last year provided a refreshing break from the Witchers, Zeldas, and Skyrims that dominate today’s market. At times Ni No Kuni felt like a return to the good old days in the 90s, and all of the good and bad that such a statement implies.

Let’s hope that Sony at some point buys, or hires the studio for the development of another big time traditional RPG project. A project that in all likelihood will not do Horizon Zero Dawn numbers, but one that can attract those of us left thirsting for a AAA traditional JRPG experience. As Persona 5 has shown, if it is the right game, the genre can still be profitable.

By Samuel Rivera

Avid Video Game player, and Book Reader. Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.

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