My Love for Niche Games
As has been made evident by the articles and reviews that I have written thus far, my taste in games runs towards those that several followers and other staff writers would say “push the boundaries” of what should be classified as an RPG. Heck, a lot of people would even say they push the boundaries of being classified as a game (or an enjoyable game, at least). Visual novels, interactive adventures, dating sims, simulations, farming, building, cooking – you name it. I have enjoyed games that fall under at least one of those categories.
My interests run towards the niche, so you can imagine my excitement when a new (or old) game is revealed for the Switch. I love when a company is willing to take a chance with creating, let alone localizing, these niche titles because unless those games can hit the jackpot with luck, timing, and marketing, sales for these games are nowhere near those for much bigger franchises.
Niche Series With Cult Followings
We are all aware of those series that keep receiving sequel after sequel, year after year. The quality of the games may range from pretty good to very bad, yet the momentum of the series continues on as though nothing can stop it. Atelier, Hyperdimension Neptunia, Senran Kagura, Ace Attorney, Disgaea, and so many more have varying levels of success. To people without much knowledge of games such as these, it may appear strange that these games keep receiving releases when people in their friend circle don’t mention them at all. After all, a game is only successful if everyone you know is talking about it, right?
But as we’ve all seen, the power of cult followings is not one to be underestimated. Well that, and a lot of the series mentioned above tend to have more popularity over in Japan, which may explain why sequels continue to be made for those specific games (although localization is a different conversation). But that’s not to say that there aren’t some western niche games, too. Look at games like Night Trap or ToeJam & Earl, both of which are currently represented on the Switch in some way (as well as other consoles).
Now more than ever, we are seeing more games and series being brought back from the dead. Who in their right mind would have predicted that Stubbs the Zombie would have been rereleased to modern consoles, or that Nintendo would take a more active role in publishing visual novels this year with Buddy Mission Bond in Japan, and Famicon Detective Club worldwide? Even games like Legend of Mana and Saga Frontier, while not out of the realm of possibility given that both series have had a bit of spotlight on them the past few years, are showing up again. And truly, it’s exciting.
Popular Franchises Dipping into Niche Genres
Another thing that tickles my fancy is when a series that I love receives a spinoff in a genre that has nothing to do with the original game. I’m sure that there are many people who hate this sort of thing, especially if the spinoff is non-canon, because it can wander into the new game without taking the subject matter of the original “seriously”. I’m sure if Chrono Trigger announced a sudden golf spinoff, a good portion of the Internet would throw a fit (probably more because a strange spinoff showed up before a rerelease).
But for me, I love it! Do I want to see the gym leaders of Pokemon living their best lives on the beach playing games ala Dead or Alive style? Yes please! The Dragon Quest heroes battling against each other in toe-clenching tactic battles to the death even though they theoretically can’t all exist at the same time? Sign me up! Have the ability to romance my favorite Fire Emblem lord and have bright, shiny eyed children that I’ll later send into battle? You bet! Wait, that already exists…
The point is, while I have a love for a lot of franchises and what companies already give to us, I also love thinking about the outrageous and unthinkable. If it means a good game (or at the very least, a fun game), I don’t mind suspending my belief. I appreciate the mediums that we have, but I also am wholeheartedly supportive of developers trying out new things. We have all seen franchises fall into their safe bubble without doing much of anything to break out of it. And even if dipping their toes into spinoff games doesn’t result in any new future games or gameplay features, it does leave players with a unique experience that they may not have been able to try otherwise.
The original Hyrule Warriors was my first Musou game, and it was probably many others first, as well. I didn’t have any knowledge about the games prior, outside of hearing the name Dynasty Warriors mentioned here and there. Now, I am a lot more willing to try out these games (granted, if the art style appeals to me, which is why Samurai Warriors 5 will probably be my first proper Musou game that I play). And that’s why I think that mixing franchises and genres with interesting spinoffs can have many benefits. It exposes an audience, unwilling or unknowing, to a new type of gameplay they normally wouldn’t have gone out of their way to try.
In a time where it seems like indie developers are more willing to try things outside of the box, seeing the occasional bigger release try to do the same is appreciated.
Should There Be More Niche Games?
Yes. Obviously yes! A lot of these niche games bring in a new audience to gaming that wasn’t as big back in the day. And with the mainstream nature that gaming has taken the past decade or so, that audience has only grown bigger. In a time where there is truly a game out there for everyone, having more games that appeal to a different, yet just as active audience, is a great thing.
It’s obvious that companies are still willing to venture into selling these niche titles. A cooking game involving the Fate/Stay Night cast is currently being made (Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family). Pokemon Snap is seeing a remake releasing this year (not a niche game by any means, but let’s be honest, if it was taking pictures of regular animals instead of Pokemon, it wouldn’t be as popular). The Famitsu Detective Club games were both remade for the Switch, and released for the first time in the West.
All of this may sound like the ramblings of a chaotic individual who just likes strange things. And sure, you may be correct, but I would also like to think that there are others who think along the same lines as me (I know there are Chrono Trigger golf spinoff hopefuls out there!).