Last year was a rough one for Japan. China overtook the country as the world’s second largest economy, yet another prime minister upped and resigned and the economy was stagnate as ever. Things weren’t much better for the game industry.

Year after year, the game industry here keeps shrinking in size and relevance, finding fierce competitors in America and Europe. But this past year, a whole slew of big titles where churned out by Japanese game studios. Some of those games were truly innovative. Some were tremendous flops. But one thing that many had in common was that in 2010, they made waves in Japan.

Here’s a look back at the biggest, but not necessarily best, Japanese games of 2010.

Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)

Gran Turismo 5 is not simply a driving simulation game. It’s a role-playing game. Like in an RPG, players “level up” their skills in hopes of amassing more money and better abilities. Here, gamers don’t buy shields and swords, they buy Subarus and super cars. There were complaints about lazy car modeling and “dumb” computer A.I., but the game’s developers continue to roll out new features and fixes for any in-game issues, which makes the title feel like it hasn’t quite yet crossed the finish line.

Final Fantasy XIV (PC)

In what could be this year’s biggest bungled release, Final Fantasy XIV was released on PC to wide groans and moans from players. The game didn’t feel finished, with players saying it was “broken.” The reception was so bad that the studio replaced the game’s director and producer and extended the 30-day free trial to 2 months. The release of the PS3 version was moved from this March to an unspecified later date.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP)

The latest entry in the Metal Gear stealth series, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was originally going to be called Metal Gear Solid 4. The game was written, produced and directed by Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima. In hopes of cashing in on Monster Hunter’s popularity, the game even has a Monster Hunter-based mission, featuring creatures from the game. The result was that Peace Walker was a smash in Japan, but floundered embarrassingly abroad, due largely to the declining interest in Sony’s PSP.

Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoushi (Nintendo DS)

Ni no Kuni is the first of two games from venerated anime company Studio Ghibli (“My Neighbor Totoro”) and Fukuoka-based game studio Level-5 (the Professor Layton series). It is also the first Ghibli game collaboration. The game’s art, done in the Ghibli style, is a treasure for the eyes. And like with most Ghibli productions, the score is by famed composer Joe Hisaishi. The game even comes bundled with 350-page book of spells!

Monster Hunter Portable 3rd (PSP)

Right now, Japan is in the midst of Monster Hunter panic — and has been for the past few years. The country’s penchant for clocking hours upon hours in Monster Hunter hunting . . . monsters doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Monster Hunter Portable 3rd looks set to be one of the biggest PSP hits ever.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

The original Super Mario Galaxy is a great, great game. But with the sequel, Nintendo fine tuned the title and made it greater. Joining Mario is his green friend Yoshi as they once again save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser. But Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn’t feel stale. Even 25 years into the series, Nintendo turned out a truly imaginative and purely fun Mario game.

Super Street Fighter IV (PS3, Xbox 360, Arcade)

Super Street Fighter IV is an updated version of fighting game Street Fighter IV with new characters and stages. While SFIV initially got an arcade release, Super Street Fighter IV was originally announced for home consoles — only. Fans went bananas, expressing their displeasure, and the game’s studio finally released the title in game centers last month.

Vanquish (PS3, Xbox 360)

From the mind of the man who created Resident Evil, Vanquish was originally inspired by the classic anime Casshern and is game designer Shinji Mikami’s love letter to cool robots and fast-action. While the game is furiously fun, the single player story is on the short side (around 6 hours) and Vanquish does not have multiplayer, something that no doubt hurt the game abroad, where multiplayer is considered a standard feature.

While 2010 might have been rocky at best, this year is looking up for Japan. In February, Nintendo is releasing its glasses-free portable 3-D gaming console, the Nintendo 3DS. A slew of game companies pledged support for the portable and will be releasing big name titles such as Resident Evil and Metal Gear for the console, along with Nintendo who will put out fan favorites including Mario and Zelda.

The 3DS isn’t the only new portable expected this year. Rumors are circulating that Sony is prepping a new PlayStation Portable, a PSP 2, if you will. The device apparently has touch sensitive controllers and more processing power. If this indeed exists, Sony could help Nintendo turn 2011 into something special not just for Japanese gaming, but gaming in general.

Brian Ashcraft is a senior contributing editor at gaming website Kotaku.com.


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