A Level 5 Success

By Setho10, Posted 18 Oct 2011

I've shared this opinion before but I'll share it again. Level 5 is the success story of this generation. Once a small Japanese RPG developer, Level 5 thrived this generation when all other Japanese companies floundered. Their games have been published by Nintendo, Sony, Square Enix, and more. In a mere five years they've gone from developing a game every couple of years, to developing a dozen games at once. In 2007 they began publishing many of their own games in Japan, and this year they opened offices in Europe and the US. This past weekend was the annual Level 5 Vision event where Level 5 showed off all of its wares to the public. But few sites have done a fair roundup of all the games on display, so I wanted to do a quick history of Level 5 starting with their first release and going all the way into the future. So if you've never heard of Level 5, or have heard of them but aren't an expert on their releases enjoy this list!





Dark Cloud (PS2)

Level 5 began its illustrious gaming journey with this PS2 RPG that launched with the system in Japan and was released in the US six months later. The game was a mix of a dungeon crawler and a city builder. In the dungeon portions players had to defeat enemies using upgradable weapons. Since the player does not level up, improving weapons is the only way to become more powerful. Weapons can break, though, and when broken they cannot be repaired. This lead to many frustrating moments where players would break their weapons by mistake. Because it took many hours to upgrade a weapon, breaking a weapon was a major loss, especially if it was a unique weapon that would be hard or impossible to replace. Players collected items in the dungeon that could be used to build up a town. The mix of city building and dungeon crawling was unique to 3D games, as it hadn't been seen since the SNES game ActRaiser. While acclaimed at the time, the frustrating weapon system means that Dark Cloud feels incredibly dated today.






Dark Cloud 2 (PS2)

Known as Dark Chronicle outside of the US, Dark Cloud 2 improved on the Dark Cloud formula in several ways. Most importantly, broken weapons could now be repaired. Graphics were vastly improved, and the city building portion was expanded. Dark Cloud 2 cemented Level 5 as a premier developer, with Gamespot giving the game its PS2 GOTY award.






Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)

For it's first game not published by Sony, Level 5 had the honor of taking on development duties for Square Enix's best-selling franchise. Unlike Dark Cloud, DQ8 was a very standard turn based RPG. There are random encounters, a lot of menus, and experience points to dole out. Regardless the game received excellent reviews, with GS giving the game a 9.0. Among the praise was comments on the great localization and the cel shaded graphics.


Rogue Galaxy (PS2)

One of the least known Level 5 games released in the US, Rogue Galaxy was released late 2005 to little fanfare. GS gave the game an 8.0. Like Dark Cloud, battles in Rogue Galaxy took place in real time. The graphics were once more praised for their cel shaded nature, and there was a ton of great content in the game. While the game didn't sell as well as other Level 5 games, it was still a success.






Jeanne d'Arc (PSP)

The first game from Level 5 not released on PS2, Jeanne d'Arc was a strategy RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics. Players played a fantastical version of the legendary Jeanne D'Arc story. In this version a demon took control of the English king causing him to invade France and monsters make up the English army in addition to normal soldiers. This was a fun early game for the PSP and Level 5's first attempt at branching out from their standard RPG fare.






Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS)

In 2007 Level 5 began their breakout success when they released Professor Layton in Japan. In 2008 Nintendo brought the game to the rest of the world. Layton was a puzzle game where players controlled the titular professor who worked to solve mysteries by solving puzzles. The game received international acclaim getting a 9.0 from GS and winning numerous DS GOTY awards. Critcs praised the European styIe art work, the great story, and clever puzzles. The game was a huge financial success and catapulted Level 5 to the forefront of Handheld game development.


Inazuma Eleven (DS)

Never released in the US, and not released in Europe until this year, Inazuma Eleven is a mix of RPG, social sim, and Soccer/Football sim. If soccer and RPG don't seem to meld well in your head, well you'd be forgiven. The game has been a massive success in Japan, and upon its release in Europe it sold well, although Gamespot only gave it a 6.0.



From 2008 to 2011, Level 5 has developed a dozen cell phone games in Japan. Included are several Professor Layton games, some Inazuma Eleven games, a few Atamania entries, and even a version of Ni No Kuni. I won't be covering these games individually, but know that they exist and have received wide amounts of acclaim in Japan.





2009 began Level 5's massive expansion. They released nearly 10 games in either Japan or the rest of the world that year, including several Cell Phone games, and the games listed below.


Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (DS)

While it's popular to hate on Call of Duty for its yearly release schedule, you won't find the same hate driven towards the yearly releases in the Professor Layton series. Diabolical Box improves on the Layton formula in a few ways, but is mostly just a new set of puzzles and a new story. The game received an 8.5 from GS.


Inazuma Eleven 2 (DS)

Released in two flavors in Japan, this was the equally successful followup to the successful first Inazuma game. Never released outside of Japan, it continues the story and fixes some of the problems of the first game.


Atamania Series (DS)

These games are basically puzzle books in game form. They are based on popular puzzle books in Japan. There are a total of 6 games released thus far, all in 2009. Being that they are entirely based on Japanese puzzle books the games have never been released outside of Japan and it is highly doubtful they ever will.





Level 5 didn't slow down in 2010. Here is the list of games released last year.


Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (DS)

The third game in the Layton series offered new puzzles and a new story, while improving the gameplay of previous entries. Again this is the Call of Duty of puzzle games. Once you've played one you've pretty much played them all.


Inazuma Eleven 3 (DS)

Level 5 also continued their yearly Inazuma Eleven series, this time with three different versions, again only released in Japan.


Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)

Dragon Quest IX is the second DQ game made by Level 5 and the first numbered entry for a handheld system. Like all previous Dragon Quest games, this one is a very standard JRPG with turn based battles, a couple ****s, and some basic leveling. But there were several new innovations this time around as well. Random battles were almost entirely removed, replaced with enemies that could be seen on screen, and multiplayer support was added. The game sold over 5 million copies worldwide, becoming Level 5's biggest hit since their last Dragon Quest game. Gamespot gave the game an 8.5 and named it the DS GOTY.


Ni No Kuni DS (DS)

Yep, the gravy train keeps rolling. Sadly unannounced for release outside of Japan, Ni No Kuni is a collaboration between Level 5 and the legendary animation house Studio Ghibli. Luckily we will see the PS3 version in the US and Europe, but the DS game is stuck in Japan. Ni No Kuni is a turn based RPG about a boy whose book transports him to a magical world where he must battle evil and save the day. The game's beautiful cutscenes are marvelous to behold and the gameplay was considered deep and rewarding.


White Knight Chronicles (PS3)

The first console game from Level 5 in half a decade, White Knight Chonicles was the studio's first major disappointment. Earning only a 6.0 from GS, the lame story and boring battle system brought this game down. The graphics were also poor, considering the game was released in 2008 in Japan. Announced along with the PS3, this is one of the few blemishes on Level 5's otherwise stellar record.





After releasing close to 20 games (if you count the various versions of different games) between 2009 and 2010 you might be forgiven for thinking Level 5 might need some time to build up its next wave of titles. Such was not the case though. There were several Level 5 games released in 2011, although less than in previous years.


Little Battlers eXperience (PSP)

Yes, the X is the capital letter in Experience. Don't ask me why, that's how it is spelled. This PSP Mech RPG has only been released in Japan thus far, but there is a good chance it could come to the US or Europe eventually. Basically the game is about mech toys that come to life. It looks pretty snazzy if you watch the Japanese gameplay.


Professor Layton and the Last Spector (DS)

Yup, you guessed it, a year couldn't go by without another Layton game. This one has an interesting addition for its US version. Included with the game is the massive Cell Phone Layton RPG Layton's London Life. With over 100 hours of gameplay, it's a huge bonus. There are also a ton of included mini-games making this the most fully featured Layton game thus far. GS should have their review up sometime today.


White Knight Chronicles 2 (PS3)

Yup, they made a sequel to their worst game. No it wasn't any better than the first.


Inazuma Eleven GO (3DS)

And the Inazuma Eleven series continues, this time on 3DS. 2 versions this time around.


Inazuma Eleven Strikers (Wii)

And they even made a Wii version of the series. Hooray?





Next year Level 5 plans to blow the door open with a ton of new games for a variety of platforms. These are the games announced or shown at the Vision conference I talked about at the beginning of this massive blog. Most of these games sound pretty cool and I'm glad they aren't just more of the same.


Gundam Age (PSP)

A PSP game based on the Gundam series, little more is known other than that.


Tme Travelers (PSP, PSV, 3DS)

This is Level 5's first multi-platform game. It's an adventure game about a girl who can see the future. Set in 2031, Tokyo is about to be destroyed and only the girl can save it. Should be interesting. No release date announced outside of Japan. Hopefully we will see it here if it is good.


Ni No Kuni PS3 (PS3)

YES! This game was announced to be coming to the West this weekend! Namco Bandai will be publishing. The game will be released in Japan in November, so we will see how good it is then. Right now all I can say is that the graphics are stunning and the music is brilliant.


Inazuma Eleven Strikers 2012 Extreme (Wii)

Another year, another Inazuma Eleven right?


Professor Layton and the Mask of the Miracle (3DS)

Layton moves into 3D both in the traditional sense and in the spacial sense. This was a launch game for the 3DS in Japan and you can be certain that this time next year it will be released by Nintendo to the rest of the world.


Professor Layton Vs Ace Attorney (3DS)

Probably the most anticipated Level 5 game on the horizon, this game combines the crime solving of Ace Attorney with the puzzle solving of Professor Layton.


Girl's RPG Cinderelife (3DS)

If the trailer is to be believed, this is a mix of a dating sim and an RPG. Because the characters are dressed in sparkly pink and there are hunky guys in the trailer you know this is for girls. Cause, you know, girls can't enjoy normal RPG's obviously.


Fantasy Life (3DS)

This 3DS game is a mulitplayer RPG in which help out a city. There are dozens of classes to play as and the graphics look pretty great. If you are into an MMO style handheld RPG then you might want to give this a look. It will almost certainly come to the US and Europe eventually.


Guild01 (3DS)

Talk about value! Guild01 is actually a set of four games from the likes of Suda 51 and Yasumi Matsuno, creator of Final Fantasy Tactics. With two RPG's included, as well as a shoot-em-up and a flight sim, there is plenty of variety and value here. And honestly anything with Matsuno involved is bound to be good.


Layron Brothers: Mystery Room (3DS)

This iOS game is another mystery book style game in the vein of the Atamania series. Probably will hit US and European soil eventually.






Youkai Watch (TBA)

This is a game about a boy who can control spirits through his watch. Don't know much else about it yet.


And that does it. Did you stick with me the whole way? This took me two hours to write so thanks if you read it all!

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  • Level 5's best strength is their ability to push the sequels year after year. Not only one but several sequels at the same period of time. I personally haven't played many of their games except for one or two games from the Professor Layton series and Dragon Quest VIII: JoCK. Just making a small correction that JoCK was first released in Japan in 2004 actually and later on released in NA during 2005.

    Posted Oct 20, 2011

  • @Amaya - All release dates were NA release dates unless there was no release for NA at which point I used the JP release date.

    Posted Oct 20, 2011

  • Nevermind. Realized that after posting my comment. 

    Posted Oct 21, 2011

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