It must have been within the first 5 seconds of Astral Chain’s debut trailer that I suddenly thought “PlatinumGames!”. There’s a comfort and responsiveness to PlatinumGames gameplay that seems to be evident even from just watching the footage. The action game developers have been highly sought after by publishers from Nintendo to Square Enix and Activision, entrusted with some of the most valuable properties in games. So with Astral Chain making its way to Nintendo Switch later this year, I thought it was worth revisiting the history of PlatinumGames and where they stand in the industry today.
The PlatinumGames team that we know today originally existed as developers working for Capcom on series like Mega Man and Resident Evil. This included games directors like Hideki Kamiya, who had risen the ranks to direct Resident Evil 2 and eventually Devil May Cry (which started out as Resident Evil 4) and Shinji Mikami, the original director of Resident Evil but also software engineers and designers who worked to create some of Capcom’s lead titles.
Many of these team members ended up in Clover Studio, a team of Viewtiful Joe developers who aimed to create new IP for Capcom. They created instant classics like Okami and God Hand before the corporate pressure started to get to them. Many of the team at Clover Studio already had a tense relationship with their head company Capcom and after it got harder and harder to produce original new IP, there was a mass exodus from the company.
In hindsight, it’s likely that Capcom regretted letting so many of their developers leave, but from a business standpoint, their games weren’t performing financially, whilst sequels were reliable and safe. In 2006, Mega Man producer Tatsuya Minami left to create his own company, ODDS Inc., whilst Clover Studios staff assembled into SEEDS Inc. not long after. In 2007, the two groups came together to form their new studio, PlatinumGames.
Whilst Capcom wasn’t willing to risk more money on PlatinumGames, SEGA was the first publisher to give the team a shot, greenlighting their new titles, Bayonetta, Madworld, and Infinite Space. Whilst these games were praised for their creative direction, they suffered the same fate as many of their titles at Clover Studio, even failing to meet expectations with the relatively successful Bayonetta.
When the PlatinumGames and SEGA partnership was first announced, they teased but didn’t yet name the fourth title, only stating that it was directed by Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami. This was to become Vanquish, a creative take on the cover-shooter genre with an emphasis on sliding around to take out enemies and move between cover. The less you went into cover, the more the game rewarded you. However, yet again, despite the praise for its new innovations, then-PlatinumGames president Tatsuya Minami reflected on this period by rating his studio at a “C or a D” in regards to sales.
SEGA collaborated with PlatinumGames on one more title, Anarchy Reigns, before closing out their partnership. However, even though they hadn’t managed to find commercial success, they’d found the attention of those who valued their skills and individual creativity. Hideo Kojima had been trying to find a developer who could create an exciting sword-fighting game where the player takes on the role of Raiden, but until seeing the work of PlatinumGames, was stuck for answers. When Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was released in 2013, Kojima had endless praise for the team at PlatinumGames and stated that the title was selling well worldwide.
This was the first time PlatinumGames would work with someone else’s intellectual property, but it proved that not only could they do it justice, but that they could also elevate it into something that can even surprise and impress the original developers. They wouldn’t necessarily manage to sell more copies, but they had a reputation for quality. PlatinumGames meant platinum games and as it says on their wall “Platinum maintains its luster forever”.
This meant that whilst publishers would be taking a financial risk, console publishers like Nintendo and Microsoft can use these titles as a way of saying “You can play quality games on our platform”. This was the thought process that led Nintendo to pick up where SEGA had started off, greenlighting Bayonetta 2 exclusively for the Wii U.
In the end, Capcom wasn’t necessarily wrong about original IP being difficult to publish, but they weren’t necessarily right either. PlatinumGames struggled to develop their original properties, which led them to work on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance with Konami and later, The Legend of Korra and Transformers: Devastation with Activision. But thanks to the critical success of their titles, the studio has built a reputation that has allowed them to maintain their creative freedom, even when working with other companies’ IP. Meanwhile, they can develop their own original IP for companies that want to show the strengths of their console.
It hasn’t all been roses, however. Famously, Hideki Kamiya’s highly anticipated project with Microsoft, Scalebound, ended up being canceled by the publisher. The game had produced several gameplay trailers already, with many of the features and concepts already fleshed out. There are rumors that the game will be revived on Nintendo Switch, but no announcements have been made as of yet.
For a long time, PlatinumGames has been the studio that could make incredible games, but they wouldn’t necessarily sell. This meant that whilst they would be asked to work on smaller licensed titles, it would be rare for a larger publisher outside of Nintendo to greenlight their project. This all changed when Square Enix reluctantly greenlit Yoko Taro’s NieR: Automata.
What resulted was an alliance between two creative teams who had both received critical success, but rarely succeeded financially. Whilst Taro was initially skeptical about working with an outside team, PlatinumGames’ passion for the original property won him over. As of November 2018, NieR: Automata has sold 3.5 million copies.
NieR: Automata proves that Platinum can develop financially successful titles, and it’s likely that several other publishers are currently working on their own proposals for the studio. However, they’ll have to wait in line, as Square Enix recently greenlit a new project, Babylon’s Fall, and Nintendo is currently publishing their original properties, Astral Chain and Bayonetta 3.
PlatinumGames have struggled to become a company that can rely solely on original IP, but they’ve found success in taking publisher’s properties and twisting them in a way that creates a brand new appeal. They’ve likely already been approached with offers from publishers to buy the studio, but they’ve remained confident in their original goal of creating their own original ideas and retaining their creative freedom.
Right now, every single project PlatinumGames is working on is an original property that they’ve helped to shape in some way.