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5 Japanese Game Developers You Should Know
With TGS 2010 fast approaching, we profile five men that are keeping Japan's game industry relevant.

By Ray Barnholt

Gamers who know their stuff are well familiar with the names of the legendary Japanese game designers that helped shape our taste in games in the first place. Miyamoto, Kojima, Mikami... They've made their mark on history, but for every one of those superstars, there are even more individuals who aren't as known, but have matched their talents with titles that ever so slightly nudge the Japanese game industry back into the spotlight. Here is just a handful of longtime Japanese producers notable for recent games that provided something different, blew up in popularity, or just plain caught the attention of game fans worldwide.

Ryozo Tsujimoto

Ryozo Tsujimoto

Producer, Monster Hunter

As one of the main brains behinds the Monster Hunter series, Ryozo Tsujimoto is also one of the people who stand in the eye of the storm that is the Monster Hunter phenomenon: an action RPG series that has become practically as prominent as Dragon Quest in Japan. Part of that has to do with its multiplayer modes, where both solo and co-operative play coexist, with the player free to take their characters far in either direction. Although the series gained decent popularity when it started on PS2, it wasn't until the Monster Hunter Freedom series on PSP when a groundswell among gamers (mostly teenage boys; the PSP's prime market) transformed the franchise into a powerhouse.

In turn, the bolstering of Monster Hunter bolstered sales of the PSP, and on top of that, competitors started crafting their own Monster Hunter playalikes, including (though perhaps coincidentally) Dragon Quest IX. Although the mainline Monster Hunter Tri was released on Nintendo's Wii, the PSP version of that will be coming soon to Japan, and is sure to keep Tsujimoto and his teams sitting pretty for yet another year.

Kazutoshi Iida

Kazutoshi Iida

Grasshopper Manufacture

Kazutoshi Iida is not a man who plays by the rules. His earlier work was for the publisher Artdink, directing the PlayStation titles Aquanaut's Holiday and Tail of the Sun: both high-concept (and highly vague) games that were less about running around defeating evil than they were about simply exploring a world and becoming accustomed to your goal from there. Iida left Artdink to join Param and develop Nintendo's Japan/Europe-only Doshin the Giant, a "god sim"-like game about a yellow "love giant" who helps an island culture weather their emotional storms.

After several years of obscurity (or maybe deeper obscurity), Iida returned to the forefront of development with the WiiWare title Discipline, a cartoony prison-based adventure game which may be his crowning achievement in terms of pure unabashed wackiness. Following that, in 2010, he was brought on at No More Heroes developer Grasshopper Manufacture, joining forces with company head Goichi Suda (Suda 51). There's been no indication of what Iida is working on at Grasshopper, be it brand-new or him just providing support, but at this point in his career, you can't imagine a better home for his talent.

Tatsuya Suzuki

Tatsuya Suzuki

Sony Computer Entertainment
Producer, Echochrome II

All of the big console manufacturers have their own game studios to keep themselves relevant, but Sony's Japanese studios are the ones that seem to deliberately challenge the norm. Tatsuya Suzuki has produced titles like I.Q. Mania on PSP and the "YaruDora" visual novel series. Besides that, he also helms Sony's "PlayStation C.A.M.P." initiative, which solicits game design concepts from outsiders.

Suzuki has headed development of many games that came from that initiative, including Echochrome; Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot, a negotian-based adventure game, and the upcoming Echochrome II, which utilizes the PlayStation Move as a flashlight to manipluate shadows into platforms, much like the original game featured the rotating of MC Escher-type designs to form smooth paths to the goal. The C.A.M.P. initiative continues to go on every so often, with Suzuki and his cohorts further encouraging genuinely different ideas, even from a monolithic company like Sony.

Akari Uchida

Akari Uchida

Producer, Love Plus

You may have only heard Akari Uchida's name in association with Rumble Roses, Konami's PS2 and Xbox 360 all-female wrestling series that he produced several years ago. Rumble Roses attached no shame to its bevy of sexy grapplers, but Uchida frequently stressed that it was a wrestling game first and foremost. Taken that way, it held a lot of promise, but ultimately fell flat, especially after the extra disappointing Rumble Roses XX. Down but far from out, Uchida went on to produce Love Plus, a dating sim in its purest sense: Like Konami's own pioneering Tokimeki Memorial series, you're the new kid in school trying to win the heart of up to three attractive girls -- tomboyish Rinko, respectable Manaka, and the demure Nene. But unlike Tokimeki, Love Plus continues indefinitely even after you get one of the girls to go out with you. You enter a "real" relationship that you must maintain through numerous dates and assorted other romantic moments.

After the release of Love Plus in 2009, its three starlets almost instantly became darlings of the already girl-saturated otaku market of Japan, with tons of chatter about the game online and off, and reams of merchandise produced -- all in less than a year, and all based on just one game (the second edition, Love Plus+, isn't even a real sequel). And then there was that whole marriage thing. Regardless of what you may think of Love Plus, it's become a bonafide pop culture phenomenon amongst not only loveless slackers, but men and women of all ages, occupations, and marital statuses. And for Uchida, it's slightly more wholesome than bikini mud wrestling.

Katsura Hashino

Katsura Hashino

Director, Catherine

In 2007, right around the release of Persona 3, Atlus went from a seemingly modest publisher/developer of cult-favorite games to a force to be reckoned with in the RPG space, by virtue of the fact that they weren't going to simply reiterate the Final Fantasy series like so many of their peers. As director of Persona 3 and 4, Katsura Hashino led that charge, and captured the hearts of JRPG fans the world over.

Persona 3 and 4 took the traditional demon summoning-and-fusing of past Persona games, but completely redone its somewhat serious look with a truly 21st century panache, with bright colors, peppy music, and goofier characters. For 2011, Hashino and his team are crafting Catherine, a sultry, creepy action/adventure for the PS3 and 360. It's not Persona 5, but it's already garnered as much attention from fans, due in no small part to the developers' pedigree.

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Comments (24)

  • METAgamer468
  • Developers I should know, or developers you like?

    Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  METAgamer468

    With the arguable example of Tsujimoto, all these developers make super niche mini games.  Why should I know who they are?

  • xWhackoJacko
  • Katsura Hashino

    Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  xWhackoJacko

    well at least I know they is a big Atlus RPG in the works for the PS3. Oh and yea thanks for Persona 3 and 4 there Hashino , :).

    Nice post Ray

  • Mr.Sauce
  • I dig the list

    Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Mr.Sauce

    But as some have mentioned already, where is Fumito Ueda? It has been confirmed that he will be showing off Last Guardian at TGS. Even when you guys did your E3 wrap up this year you mentioned that, that was one of the disappointments from Sony for not showing it. Since it has been confirmed a few days ago, I have saw nothing on this site mentioning it. Either that, or I'm not looking hard enough.

  • Adrian5
  • Akari Uchida...

    Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Adrian5

    ...sounds like a creeper. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he's doing well. But if your success is based on going from Japanese Girl Wrestling to Japanese Girl Dating Simulator then I can't help but lose respect for the guy.

  • steelerzfan101
  • They are some pretty good guys there!

    Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  steelerzfan101

    My favorite out of all of them though is Ryozo.  Why?  Because he created a very good series, Monster Hunter Tri!

  • Octoboy
  • Fumito Ueda

    Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Octoboy

    How's he missing?!

    • jooey
    • Because you know him

      Posted: Sep 13, 2010 12:00AM PST by  jooey


  • IWillViolateYourPrecious
  • they are all virgins

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  IWillViolateYourPrecious

    and most likley panty sniffers.

    • sokpupet
    • uh-huh

      Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  sokpupet

      and you would know all about that.

    • Wolfe
    • Idiot.

      Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Wolfe

      They are all rich. You are on the internet trying to be cool.

      They win.

    • Kridian
    • Tis True

      Posted: Sep 11, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Kridian

      Everyone knows that the Japanese sniff panties. They love it. Their pornstars also sound like dying cats when they "orgasm", and they're not allowed to show dick. Also, they torture prisoners of war. Very bad, Japan, shame on you!

  • carpboy
  • I wonder about Nintendo

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  carpboy

    There was that story from earlier this year about Studio Ghibli, the famous japanese animation studio (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Ponyo) and how they had considered, if their latest film had not performed well, ceasing production of new films and simply operating a licensing office. The reasoning for the idea was that their main directors like Hayao Miyazaki are nearing the ends of their careers and their attempts to foster new talent had not yet been successful.

    Might there be a parallel to Nintendo? Surely, they have creative and talent staff in their studios, but the rock star of development there is absolutely Shigeru Miyamoto. Can other staff like Yoshio Sakamoto and Masahiro Sakurai be expected to carry on after Miyamoto eventually retires?

    • Wellman
    • The problem with Nintendo isn't young talent

      Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Wellman

      It's not giving young talent the push they need. Sakurai is one of the few younger guys there that gets any real love and by that I mean freedom to do different things.


      A lot of the guys that probably would be poised to follow Miyamoto are actually doing so but locked onto certain games that Nintendo 'knows' will sell or are already franchises. Eiji Aonuma has been chained to the Zelda franchise for over a decade right now, with the only variation being Link's Crossbow Training.


      Nintendo is starting to break away from that mold as most of Japan sways toward western interests but yeah, they got bright guys working for them, they just don't give them the freedom that was once in game development.

  • tristessa
  • Great Choices

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  tristessa

    I enjoyed this feature quite a bit. I knew a couple of these guys but even then it prompted me to look up more info about them after I read the article.

    Excellent job choosing a small handful who have done interesting and varied works.

  • Literboyzero
  • Monster Hunter!

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Literboyzero

    I know it's not as popular in the west as it is in Japan, but I have to say that is has become my all time favourite game, ever!  I for one, will be importing Monster Hunter Portable 3 wehn it is released, as I did with Monster Hunter 2nd G(Unite in the west).  There has never been a game or series of game that have eaten up so much of time before.

  • Jero
  • Great article and list...

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Jero

    That's why I love 1up, for this kind of niche(well now at least) coverage.

    I think Fumito Ueda could be on this list as well. I wouldn't group him in the Miyamoto, Mikami, Kojima group just yet since he only has a few titles under his belt but he's fast becoming the one to lead the charge to bring Japanese gaming back into the spotlight. Whether it be atmosphere, emotional connection to characters, environment design, simplistic interface(or lack thereof) and larger than life boss battles, Ueda's games have influenced games of today and those still to come.

    I'd probably mention Hino of Level-5 as well.

  • HighWindXIX
  • nice list

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  HighWindXIX

    Good job sticking Hashino on there. I'm very intrigued by Catherine and really hope it'll get a western release. On the other hand, why isn't Fumito Ueda on this list? I guess you could argue that he's too big of a name but he's certainly not a household name even in the gaming industry . . .

  • Wunderbarr
  • Katsura Hashino?

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Wunderbarr

    So weird. My favorite mangaka, who does "D. Gray Man", is named Katsura Hoshino (she's a lady, though). And they're both doing relatively goth-inspired anime stuff. When I first saw that name attached to Atlus, I had to take a double take (first thought: wow, that doesn't look ANYTHING like the picture of Hoshino I saw before. She looks pretty butch.)

    Interesting list.

  • catgirl147
  • Hashino...

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  catgirl147

    I'm keeping my eye on this guy... Catherine looks pretty awesome, hopefully it will live up to Persona fans expectations :D (me included)...

  • oceangrave
  • Great List

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  oceangrave

    Thank you so much for writing this man. I was so sure it was going to be another awful list full of old names like Kojima and Miyamoto rather than real, relevant talent. But you totally did the opposite.

    • crazy_jeff
    • Wait a second...

      Posted: Sep 12, 2010 12:00AM PST by  crazy_jeff

      Kojima's still relevant, and awesome. Then again, I'm an admitted Metal Gear nerd. I'd probably buy Metal Gear themed dung, so I'm probably not being objective. *tear.

  • Nikoro20
  • Great feature, Ray!

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  Nikoro20

    Very solid, informative write-up! These guys definitely deserve a little more recognition stateside. Good work!

  • San_Andreas
  • I wouldn't mind seeing...

    Posted: Sep 10, 2010 12:00AM PST by  San_Andreas

    ...Love Plus get a shot in the US. Sakura Wars was a pretty awesome game.

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