Marking the end of an era for Sony’s 1st party studio, it has been announced that Japan Studio will be restructured into a new studio centered on the Astro’s Playroom development team, Team Asobi.
That Japan Studio’s role within Sony’s 1st party output has greatly diminished since the years of the PS2 and PS3 is difficult to argue against. While it was never the team responsible for Sony’s biggest hits, the studio was known to work on a number of smaller projects, creating an eclectic range of new IPs and experiences that were, importantly, exclusive to Sony’s gaming systems.
Whether developing for home consoles or the PSP and PS Vita, games like Patapon, Ape Escape, and Gravity Rush were titles and experiences which had no equivalent on other platforms. Even experiences like Tokyo Jungle were more outlandish and unique within gaming, giving an eclectic edge to the company’s 1st party lineup!
At their peak, alongside internally developed titles, they helped push Japanese AA titles onto a larger stage by working with other studios, including iconic titles like their work with Team Ico for Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The PlayStation 4 marked a shift in direction for the studio, who struggled to put out new titles and mostly worked on remasters as much of their team left. Fumito Ueda and Team Ico left to form genDesign, while more from the team left to join Bokeh Game Design last year.
The shift in direction saw the role of the AA game taken over by the indie title, and it can be seen as a transition throughout the PS3’s lifespan as indie games became a larger part of the Sony ecosystem. I can’t help but think of this as a major disappointment, with indie games lacking the exclusivity to give the PlayStation platform an edge while making the company ever-reliant on major AAA exclusives that can’t offer the shorter, experimental experiences that defined the studio’s best titles.
Of course, the team isn’t gone. Team Asobi are a part of Japan Studio, and the studio is being restructured around them, ‘allowing the team to focus on a single vision and build on the popularity of Astro’s Playroom’. But the scale and quantity of output seen when the studio would release multiple smaller titles will likely never return, as the studio focuses on producing single, larger titles under a singular vision expanding on the success of Astro. While undoubtably a fun game deserving of further expansion, hearing this news makes it difficult not to wistfully think about what we have lost.
Still, the Japan Studio we know and love is gone. Maybe it’s been gone for a few years now… and that’s a major loss for the industry.