At the start of January we predicted 2024 would be a strong year for Japanese games, but we weren't quite ready for the very first month of the year to knock our socks off.
There's never been a Japanese indie game like Palworld—in just two weeks in January the early access survival game sold 12 million copies, smashing records near-daily. According to Steamspy's estimated data, it's already the second best-selling Japanese game in Steam history, behind only Elden Ring. The next most successful Japanese indie I could find, meanwhile, is 2013 digital board game 100% Orange Juice, with an estimated 1-2 million owners. It's also a style of game I simply haven't seen a Japanese developer tackle before—no surprise the indie studio struggled to find a developer who had experience making shooters.
Palworld alone made January a historic month for Japanese PC games, but then the hits kept on coming.
We loved Tekken 8, awarding it an 89% score and calling it "truly the next generation of fighters, a bombastic showdown that you should absolutely witness." While its launch didn't attract quite as many players as Street Fighter 6, it outperformed Mortal Kombat 1 and has been hailed as an improvement on Tekken 7, which has remained popular since 2017.
Sega's Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth came out on the same day as Tekken 8, January 25, and sold more than a million copies in a week, which Sega says is the best ever for the series. That's particularly impressive given how many Like a Dragon games the publisher pumps out: including spin-offs and remakes, this is the fifth since 2020. Players clearly aren't sick of them, and Infinite Wealth seems like it might represent a true breakthrough to a wider audience. Sega reported in December 2023 that the last "main" game had sold 1.8 million copies after nearly three full years, and Infinite Wealth seems primed to beat that figure in a few months, if not weeks.
Aside from the sales figures, though, Infinite Wealth is a rare beast of a game. As we highlighted in our review it's absolutely huge, and includes two minigames that could be games in their own right. There's Dondoko Island, a management/building sim that lets you run an island resort, decorate it, and hang with the NPCs who come to visit. There's also Sujimon, a creature taming layer to combat that lets you recruit the freaks and weirdos you fight on the streets of Hawaii and then evolve them into stronger fighters. Yes, there were actually two Pokémon-alikes on PC in January!
The calendar has barely tipped over into February, and look at the top sellers in the US right now:
That's five Japanese games in the top 15 bestsellers. Has that happened before, ever? Probably! I could see some timely sales vaulting a bunch of Capcom or FromSoftware games to the top of the list. But this disparate selection of games is something else. I didn't even know a Jujutsu Kaisen fighting game was coming out yesterday, and the user reviews are mixed, but the anime series is so red-hot I could see this one selling on wish fulfillment alone.
On February 1, Persona 3 Reload launched on Steam, the same day it launched on consoles—worldwide. For comparison's sake, back in 2017 Persona 5 took 201 days to launch worldwide after its Japanese debut. It took another 2,026 days—five and a half years!—for it to finally arrive on PC, which we weren't convinced would ever happen. A day-one Persona release is yet more proof that the console wars are over, and PC won.
Even mobile gacha spin-off Granblue Fantasy: Relink seems to be a hit on PC. Maybe thanks to its online-co-op, it launched to a peak player count of 85,334 so far, according to Steamdb, double Persona 3 Reload's 42,112. To some degree it's a big deal the game came out at all—it was first announced back in 2016 and was supposed to be out in 2018 with PlatinumGames making it, but that apparently didn't pan out, and it took the mobile game studio another four years to finish development itself.
It's hard to imagine the rest of the year keeping up this just-over-four-weeks-streak of bangers for Japanese developers. But looking ahead to just the next few months, there are certainly big hits to come. Capcom's Dragon's Dogma 2, due March 22, is one of the most-wishlisted games on Steam (#60, specifically). Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater is expected this year.
Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes finally arrives in April, promising a spiritual successor to the Suikoden JRPG series that apparently a whole lot of people wanted (it was Kickstarted in 2020, and remains the third-biggest videogame Kickstarter ever). The same people may be even more excited to see HD remasters of Suikoden I & II arriving sometime this year, ticking off yet another back catalog classic for PC.
Bandai Namco's going to have a hell of a year all by itself. On top of Tekken 8 and Jujutsu Kaisen Cursed Clash, it has a stacked lineup:
Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree
Blue Protocol, an action MMO published by Amazon
Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero, a fighting game returning to the style of the beloved Budokai Tenkaichi games from the mid-2000s
Sand Land, a cartoony open world adventure
I'm not going to get my hopes up for an Armored Core 6 expansion, but I will immediately inhale it if it arrives. And while I'm not a Final Fantasy 14 player, I know at least three of my colleagues will disappear for several months as soon as Dawntrail arrives this summer. I'll do my best to convince them to put their time where it really belongs—into blasting hundreds of thousands of bugs in Earth Defense Force 6.
I don't think there's really been a bad year for Japanese games since they made a roaring comeback in 2017, led by Nier Automata and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But 2024 is already a great one, and we're only 33 days in. Let's see how much better it can get.