Thoughts On: Vanillaware

For this Thoughts On, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite developers. They have gotten a very positive reputation for their work and game design style. At first, I didn’t really think much of them, but after playing almost every single game they have made, I have a newfound respect for them. Here are my thoughts on the Japanese game developer, Vanillaware. I decided to do a Thoughts On about this company and give my two cents about them because they are a very unique company for multiple reasons. Plus, they have been on the news recently in gaming, and I want to join in on the hype and conversations being had about them.

So then, for the ones that don’t know, Vanillaware was started by a group of people who worked at the well-respected company, Atlus, and made a game called Princess Crown. It was well-received when it was released for the Saturn in Japan, but since the Saturn bombed over here in the states, we never got it. After that game was released, they formed their own company in 2002 named Vanillaware. In 2007, they released two games. The first one was Grim Grimoire, a real-time strategy game that was generally well-received despite some clunky mechanics and some minor issues, but I hear it’s pretty good. Where they really got noticed was their next game released that same year known as Odin Sphere, an action RPG that was also liked all around despite some long loading times and it sometimes getting repetitious. It is one of my personal favorite games, and you can either get a copy for the PS2 OR get it off the PSN store. I highly recommend it. In 2009, they released a Wii game known as Murumasa: The Demon Blade, which was also a fan and critic favorite, and is yet again, one of my personal favorite games. You can easily get it on the Wii or even get the updated version for your Playstation Vita that is coming out this year. They also released a PSP game known as Grand Knight History that came out in 2011, and it WAS going to come out over here, but XSEED, the publisher that was going to bring it over here, basically ran out of money and cancelled it. That is a shame because it should come over here! I mean, with the PS Vita flopping harder than a fish on a cutting board trying to escape the butcher knife, the Vita needs games like this. Heck, just digitally distribute as a PSN game for PS Vita and PS3 and I’d buy it! Anyway, their current project that is coming out over here in August is known as Dragon’s Crown, an arcade-style action beat ‘em up with dungeon crawling elements in the same vein as Capcom’s awesome Dungeon and Dragon arcade games. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the director of Dragon’s Crown worked on the D&D arcade games and the gameplay is very similar to those arcade games. That is all that I know about them. Oh wait, they did do a collaboration with another company, and released a DS in 2008 called Kumatachi, but that was only in Japan.

So, why do I respect this company so much? I mean, why should this company get all of your money and respect? Well, I love them because of their ambitious view on game design. While every company right now besides some indie developers are trying to make the most cutting edge photo realistic humans on earth, Vanillaware strictly stays 2-dimensional, and they haven’t made a full-on 3D game. They also use a downright gosh darn beautiful and creative art style. It gives their games a unique identity and makes most 2D games that use a hand-drawn or painted art style look downright cheap. I’m looking at you, Facebook games. I know some controversy has recently sprouted up in the garden that we know as the gaming press about the Sorceress’s Over-the-top figure, but in all seriousness, everyone, stop overreacting to it. I understand why some people might be offended by that, but to offset how curvy and sexy the girls can be in Dragon’s Crown, Vanillaware DID make Dwarf character basically the ultimate example of a steroid user, and the Fighter and Wizard characters downright handsome. I mean, yeah, game characters should be at the point right now where we shouldn’t rely on guys being devilishly handsome or girls being made to look like Playboy bunny models, but like I said, the game’s art style gives it a unique look. If you look at usual fantasy-looking games today, they all look a bit generic like Dragon Age, Dragon’s Dogma, and you get the idea. At least the over-the-top character designs used in Dragon’s Crown or the company’s other games give them an identity since they look like no other game, artistically speaking. I just think the recent controversy is a tad overrated, and should have never happened because the topic was and is secondary to the positive aspects of the game. Anyway, I like how they stand out in an industry that really wants everything to be 3D, but a few developers like Vanillware decide to take the road less traveled. While everyone is making a white guy with a gun in a modern warfare aesthetic, Vanillware is making a very beautiful, unique, and well-animated-looking game. So, what would I like to see from them in the future? While I do love this company for what they do and how their games are designed, I do wish they focused more on storytelling. Sure, there are stories to their games, like in Odin Sphere and Murumasa, but they were either flawed. Odin Sphere had a slightly confusing story and Murumasa lacked a climax to the end of its two stories. It would be really cool to see a more story-driven game out of them. Heck, seeing a different genre than the action RPG would be kind of cool. Think about it, they could do something like an adventure game with their art style or maybe an action platformer. Even though I know this will probably not happen, I would like to see what they would do if they were given the chance. I also wish they would push more for advertising. While their games are very well-received, they don’t really sell well, or at least not in the triple A category. It’s a bummer because I know gamers are pretty sick of seeing shooters every month, or half-baked sequels like Dead Island Riptide. I feel like Atlus or whoever publishes the games from Vanillaware really need to better market the games.

Overall, with the minor things I would like to see them do in the future, I love this company and will support them. I think they deserve a little more respect than they are given. If you have a PS2, a Wii, PS3, or a PSP, you should get their games. I’m really looking forward to Dragon’s Crown, and I hope to see more creative things in their future!