Once upon a time, before all the prestige titles, Sony took more chances with the games it made. While no one studio could take credit as the heart of creativity and innovation at PlayStation, Japan Studio came quite close. Responsible for games with out-of-the-box ideas and the lost AA vibe, Japan Studio was something of an unappreciated gem amid Sony’s hoard of studios.
The studio was shuttered in 2021. But at Sony’s CES 2024 presentation, Japan Studio had a big presence, making it clearer than ever that the closure of Japan Studio was the biggest mistake Sony ever made.
My point could easily be made by simply reviewing all the games Japan Studio was responsible for, but that could take a while. Instead, let’s run through the highlights of the studio’s lifetime and how it quietly directed the path of modern gaming.
During Sony’s CES presentation, the first footage for a Gravity Rush movie was shown. Another quick look was given at a new Patapon project. Both properties originated from the now-defunct Japan Studio.
The games that most people will associate with Japan Studio come from the internal Team Ico. Led by Fumito Ueda, Team Ico was responsible for Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian (the secret best game of the past decade). All of these titles are critically acclaimed masterpieces, but it doesn’t take more than a cursory Google search to see how much of an impact just this one team inside Japan Studio had. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are some of the most name-dropped games when it comes to other developers discussing their influences. The Last of Us, God of Wår (2018), BioShock, and more all owe thanks to Ico — meaning that, without it, gaming in the 21st century would not be the same.
Another series inspired by Ico was Dark Souls, especially the original Demon Souls. This highlights another way Japan Studio always set trends rather than follow them. Japan Studio didn’t just develop games internally but also offered third-party support for other titles. One of those was Demon Souls, which led to the entire Soulslike genre.
Other third-party titles Japan Studio helped usher to release include Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII. Some pretty important games, if you ask me.
These may seem all obviously brilliant and medium-defining now, but they were each, at one point, risks Japan Studio took. They were projects that sought to do something innovative in the medium.
While PlayStation began to pivot toward prestige titles in the 2010s — as seen with 2013’s The Last of Us — Japan Studio continued to take interesting chances. The internal Team Gravity developed the Gravity Rush series, Team Ico made The Last Guardian, FromSoftware partnered with the studio on Bloodborne, and Knack also happened (they can’t all be winners).
Gravity Rush is a series I am particularly fond of as its gravity-bending mechanics and the original's stunning use of the PS Vita’s features make it an incredibly unique game. It’s also just a fantastic superhero story, hence Sony’s upcoming film adaptation. Sony has mostly missed the mark with Superhero movies thanks to its Spider-Man-less Spider-Man Universe. Remember Morbius? Gravity Rush is the perfect alternative with a charismatic protagonist in the form of Kat.
Likewise, the mostly forgotten Patapon series got a surprise shout-out during the presentation, complete with footage of a new project that was briefly shown. Patapon was a series of rhythm/strategy games produced by Japan Studio that, like most of the developer, was quietly packed away by Sony. But like all the studio’s projects, the series has its devoted fans, and the announcement of a new project has already gotten attention. Patapon’s creator, Hiroyuki Kotani, is making a spiritual successor called Ratatan as well.
While the Gravity Rush and Patapon clips were brief, it shows that Japan Studio’s penchant for producing one-of-a-kind projects that innovated in unique ways is still a treasure trove for Sony. Despite Japan Studio’s closure, Sony is still able to go back to its catalog of incredible titles to make new games and even films. It was undeniable the developer had a major role in defining the landscape of the modern video game. But even after its shuttering, it seems Japan Studio will continue to pave the way forward.