Why is the Metroid series not more popular in Japan?

#1
So I have started to get back into the Metroid series and it occurred to me that we haven't had a classic style Metroid game since 2004. 12 years ago in fact!
Also the last two Metroid games of other styles have been of very dubious quality.
It seems that there isn't much drive on Nintendo's side to really put much into the franchise, compared to say Mario, Kirby or even Donkey Kong.

Now presumably this is largely down to the middling sales of the series in Japan. Even for titles in the series which achieved critical and commercial acclaim in the west.

But why?
What is it about the series that just doesn't appeal to the Japanese audience the way other Nintendo franchises do?
The sci-fi setting? The side scrolling or later 1st person shooting game play? The female protagonist?

Any thoughts?
 
#3
But why?
What is it about the series that just doesn't appeal to the Japanese audience the way other Nintendo franchises do?
The sci-fi setting? The side scrolling or later 1st person shooting game play? The female protagonist?

Any thoughts?
All of the above, to varying degrees.

It's a western-inspired series in the first place (Aliens) and until Other M was devoid of a lot of the overtly Japanese anime-style melodrama.

Other M was actually one of the better-selling installments of the franchise in Japan... but it was the expense of everywhere else on earth.

I could go into more detailed breakdowns of it, but I'll simply say that Japan just sort of "didn't get it" and by the time Prime came out, they really had little interest in that style of game at the time.
 
#8
I don't see it as the female protagonist since Japan probably has more of those than the West has at least as far as ratio is concerned.

As far as the FPS titles are concerned, FPS has never been a popular genre over there though. It also doesn't have the cartoony appeal that Mario, Splatoon, and more have.
 
#11
I have heard it said that the Japanese market tends to prefer linear games; and the metroid games (especially the first 3) were a lot more open ended and less hand-holding than your typical 8/16 bit game; whereas in the West, the market enjoyed the 'open' style of gameplay.

I don't know if there is any truth to that at all, and it's clearly a generalization, but it's what I've heard.


As for the female protag thing, I don't think that has ever held the series back in Japan. I also don't think it's the scifi setting as there are plenty of scifi games that blossomed in Japan.


As for the Prime series, the generalization is that the market tends away from FPS's as compared to the West.
 
#12
Metroid-style games aren't popular in Japan. They tend to prefer more straightforward level design.

Other M was actually one of the better-selling installments of the franchise in Japan... but it was the expense of everywhere else on earth.
It wasn't. Go look at the Famitsu threads. Other M tanked there compared to Fusion.
 
#13
The first 3 Metroid games did well in Japan.
The original was a home run yeah.

But they've doubled down on western comic book styled aesthetic since the second one, which might've alienated people. Check out the M2 ad

https://youtu.be/wTEn14TsK0s

They're also hard and if you can't progress far enough you're not going to return for the sequel, and since Japan is a much smaller market the sales will reflect that scale as well.
 
#15
The idea that metroid games don't sell well in Japan came because Metroid Prime sold poorly in Japan but really well everywhere else. This is because at the time Japanese did not like First Person Shooters because they hurt most people's eyes.
 
#16
Other M was actually one of the better-selling installments of the franchise in Japan... but it was the expense of everywhere else on earth.
[GBA] Metroid Fusion <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.14} (¥4 800) - 49 680 / 155 528
[GCN] Metroid Prime <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.28} (¥6 800) - 39 829 / 78 384
[GBA] Metroid: Zero Mission <ACT> (Nintendo) {2004.05.27} (¥4 800) - 39 112 / 85 045
[GCN] Metroid Prime 2: Echoes <ACT> (Nintendo) {2005.05.26} (¥6 800) - 17 680 / 40 355
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Pinball <TBL> (Nintendo) {2006.01.19} (¥4 800) - 0 / 15 541
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Hunters <ACT> (Nintendo) {2006.06.01} (¥4 800) - 32 613 / 90 028
[WII] Metroid Prime 3: Corruption <ACT> (Nintendo) {2008.03.06} (¥6 800) - 34 151 / 74 647
[WII] Metroid: Other M <ACT> (Nintendo) {2010.09.02} (¥6 800) - 44 103 / 75 578
 
#17
It's because Metroid isn't an easy and simple game to play as it requires backtracking and memorizing location that requires an upgrade or where the missiles/E-tank upgrade are hidden.

Now presumably this is largely down to the middling sales of the series in Japan. Even for titles in the series which achieved critical and commercial acclaim in the west.
That isn't true as the series sales got lower and lower with Other M bombing.
 
#18
Oddly enough it doesn't seem to be the FPS aspects of Prime specifically, since Zero Mission sold comparatively little in Japan as well - it even came out after the game had come our in Europe. Hell according to wiki even Super Metroid didn't do too well on home soil.

What I might suggest then is that the whole revelation of Samus being a woman - one of the driving factors behind the franchise's notoriety in the west - maybe wasn't as big of a deal to Japanese gamers as it was to western ones. So the franchise was less notable in general, and thus not as big of a deal when it came to being a must-have in any fan's collection.
 
#19
[GBA] Metroid Fusion <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.14} (¥4 800) - 49 680 / 155 528
[GCN] Metroid Prime <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.28} (¥6 800) - 39 829 / 78 384
[GBA] Metroid: Zero Mission <ACT> (Nintendo) {2004.05.27} (¥4 800) - 39 112 / 85 045
[GCN] Metroid Prime 2: Echoes <ACT> (Nintendo) {2005.05.26} (¥6 800) - 17 680 / 40 355
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Pinball <TBL> (Nintendo) {2006.01.19} (¥4 800) - 0 / 15 541
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Hunters <ACT> (Nintendo) {2006.06.01} (¥4 800) - 32 613 / 90 028
[WII] Metroid Prime 3: Corruption <ACT> (Nintendo) {2008.03.06} (¥6 800) - 34 151 / 74 647
[WII] Metroid: Other M <ACT> (Nintendo) {2010.09.02} (¥6 800) - 44 103 / 75 578
Actually quite surprised Prime 1 outsold it. I had heard the opposite for a time.
 
#21
You're assuming the Metroid franchise is popular everywhere but in Japan but my understanding is that it only really does well in NA.
 
#22
It's already been answered pretty well already, but yeah Metroid is western inspired, though that might not have come off so much Metroid 1, it certainly did by Super Metroid. Then the Prime games happened which went much further in that direction, mainly with First-Person viewpoint and slightly more realistic aesthetics. So that probably didn't appeal much to Japanese gamers. Then Other M happened, which jarringly veered the other direction but by the time that was made Metroid already had a pretty established history as a western focused franchise.

It probably also didn't help that the controls and story were trash.
 
#23
It feels like a terrible time to be a Metroid fan at the moment.

Hell the best thing fans have had in 10 years is a fan remake of Metroid 2!
Which Nintendo immediately cease and disistified.

I don't quite buy the western asthetic being a turn off for Japan. It's my understanding that western comic book and sci-fi stuff is actually quite popular there.
 
#24
It's because Metroid isn't an easy and simple game to play as it requires backtracking and memorizing location that requires an upgrade or where the missiles/E-tank upgrade are hidden.
I'm not sure about this- you could make an argument for both easy/simple and relatively complex games being top sellers in both Japan and the West. Different examples for both considering preferred genres though.
 
#25
[GBA] Metroid Fusion <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.14} (¥4 800) - 49 680 / 155 528
[GCN] Metroid Prime <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.28} (¥6 800) - 39 829 / 78 384
[GBA] Metroid: Zero Mission <ACT> (Nintendo) {2004.05.27} (¥4 800) - 39 112 / 85 045
[GCN] Metroid Prime 2: Echoes <ACT> (Nintendo) {2005.05.26} (¥6 800) - 17 680 / 40 355
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Pinball <TBL> (Nintendo) {2006.01.19} (¥4 800) - 0 / 15 541
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Hunters <ACT> (Nintendo) {2006.06.01} (¥4 800) - 32 613 / 90 028
[WII] Metroid Prime 3: Corruption <ACT> (Nintendo) {2008.03.06} (¥6 800) - 34 151 / 74 647
[WII] Metroid: Other M <ACT> (Nintendo) {2010.09.02} (¥6 800) - 44 103 / 75 578
 
#26
Since I figure this will be the Metroid thread of the day, I'm sharing an abstract from a 2003 interview with Sakamoto regarding expanding the player base.

http://shmuplations.com/metroidgba/

My goal, of course, was to impress upon them how important it is that the team that makes Metroid really understand what Metroid is all about.

Of course, individually they all had a slightly different understanding of what kind of game Super Metroid was. Some of them told me they thought it was one of those masochistic, hardcore Nintendo games of old. Naturally, with a game that’s 9 years old, keeping the same difficulty balance was going to be a tough sell to players today. And of course once I had the team play Metroid, they all said “yeah, this is definitely for the hardcore.”

So one thing we had in the forefront of our minds during this development was: how can we make Metroid easier to play? Super Metroid divided the game into clearly defined sections to make things less stressful. On the other hand, you can’t just verbally tell players what to do, so Super Metroid had parts where the narrative unfolded for you just by playing. You would explore all these different places without any guidance, and finally realize through the process of elimination where you’re supposed to go. That was a problem for us as developers, and I think it was for players, too.

I think we’ve retained that “Metroid-ness” despite our pursuit of a Metroid that is easier to play. That was paramount. With the crisis that befalls Samus from the outset, and the introduction of the SA-X, I think we’ve managed to preserve that Metroid-ness even though there’s an actual guided narrative.

You see, modern game balance and older game balance are two different things. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I can’t fully say, but naturally we want many people to play our game. We absolutely don’t want to abandon our pride as game designers, but our stance is that, above all, we want modern audiences to understand our games and actually play them. That was a goal we pursued all the way through the Metroid Fusion development. And compared with older games in the series, I think this is much easier to casually enjoy.

As for how we made it easier, one thing we did was to greatly simplify the controls. We spent a lot of time on that. Take firing a missile: in Super Metroid you had to choose items with the select button, but that’s not going to work for modern gamers. We were worried that players might think we were dumbing down the game, but ultimately we decided that making it easier to play was more important. Personally, I’m part of the old guard who prefers that older control style, but the staff convinced me that the simplified controls were better. In the end I agreed, and felt “this is great!” Other developers at Nintendo gave the Metroid Fusion staff some good ideas too; it was a fun development. Compared with Super Metroid, my role was a little more removed this time, but it was a good experience for me
 
#27
It feels like a terrible time to be a Metroid fan at the moment.
With the fans Nintendo have for Metroid, they don't need enemies.

I mean, we can ask about how Yoshi or Kirby still regularly stay prominent, but Yoshi and Kirby fans don't throw a huge tantrum if an obvious spin off where you're snowboarding or drawing rainbows to roll eggs along or whatever gets made, so the IP stays fresh and has regular main entries along side the experimental spin offs.
 
#28
It feels like a terrible time to be a Metroid fan at the moment.

Hell the best thing fans have had in 10 years is a fan remake of Metroid 2!
Which Nintendo immediately cease and disistified.
As a disgruntled Metroid fan, nah. This is the best time. Tons of games easily available, passionate fan games and fan mods, and Metroid-inspired indie games everywhere.
 
#29
The sci-fi setting?
Mmmh, cannot think of any japanese space science fiction games that were huge success in Japan outside the first few Metroid games.
In the mid '80s there was the boom of the shmups genre so Xevious, Gradius, Star Soldier all were million seller in Japan but they cannot really be considered sci-fi games in the same vein as Metroid.
Star Ocean series have sci-fi elements but in reality the various planets have a more fantasy settings.

EDIT:
Mmmh maybe Xenogears and to a much lesser extent (sales wise) Xenosaga series and Xenoblade series.
 
#30
Mmmh, cannot think of any japanese sci-fi games that were huge success in Japan outside the first few Metroid games.
In the mid '80s there was the boom of the shmups genre so Xevious, Gradius, Star Soldier all were million seller in Japan but they cannot really be considered sci-fi games.
Star Ocean series have sci-fi elements but in reality the various planets have a more fantasy settings.
Gundam games?
 
#33
[GBA] Metroid Fusion <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.14} (¥4 800) - 49 680 / 155 528
[GCN] Metroid Prime <ACT> (Nintendo) {2003.02.28} (¥6 800) - 39 829 / 78 384
[GBA] Metroid: Zero Mission <ACT> (Nintendo) {2004.05.27} (¥4 800) - 39 112 / 85 045
[GCN] Metroid Prime 2: Echoes <ACT> (Nintendo) {2005.05.26} (¥6 800) - 17 680 / 40 355
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Pinball <TBL> (Nintendo) {2006.01.19} (¥4 800) - 0 / 15 541
[NDS] Metroid Prime: Hunters <ACT> (Nintendo) {2006.06.01} (¥4 800) - 32 613 / 90 028
[WII] Metroid Prime 3: Corruption <ACT> (Nintendo) {2008.03.06} (¥6 800) - 34 151 / 74 647
[WII] Metroid: Other M <ACT> (Nintendo) {2010.09.02} (¥6 800) - 44 103 / 75 578
Not like this Prime 2.

Not like this.
 
#34
No waifus.

No high school.

No swords.

And it's a minimalistic series, which may clash with the image people have of Nintendo games.

Plus they aren't really churning these games out now
 

Shig

Strap on your hooker ...
#35
With the fans Nintendo have for Metroid, they don't need enemies.

I mean, we can ask about how Yoshi or Kirby still regularly stay prominent, but Yoshi and Kirby fans don't throw a huge tantrum if an obvious spin off where you're snowboarding or drawing rainbows to roll eggs along or whatever gets made, so the IP stays fresh and has regular main entries along side the experimental spin offs.
Well, the last bit of your post rather diagnoses the problem. Those series get pretty consistent mainline entries alongside the experimental stuff, and even when there's a lull, Nintendo fans haven't been hurting for 2D platformers that would have a natural crossover appeal.

Nintendo hasn't published a mainline Metroid in a while, a good mainline Metroid in even longer, and doesn't have any other properties that attempt to scratch the same itch. To give us an ugly co-op Monster Hunter thing under those circumstances, yes, the salt was going to flow.
 
#36
Since I figure this will be the Metroid thread of the day, I'm sharing an abstract from a 2003 interview with Sakamoto regarding expanding the player base.

Sakamoto Stuff
While I definitely get the desire to make Metroid games a little more accessible, especially back at that time when the whole industry was trending that direction, I think there is room in Nintendo's catalogue for a series that specifically caters to the hardcore crowd that want great challenge in their games. I expect a game like Metroid Prime 2: Echoes would actually do much better in today's market than it did in 2004 for example, if Nintendo were to market it as such.
 
#40
During the late 80's and early 90's Nintendo had almost complete control over the industry, they were by far the largest game company and their hardware sold by far the most, there were all kinds of people purchasing Nintendo hardware, fans of all sorts of genres, demographics, ages and such, essentially everyone who was playing videogames was playing on Nintendo.

Nintendo was such a big deal in 1986 that essentially everything the put out was a major success only because of their branding, with Metroid being happily affected by it, the game sold over a million units in Japan being one of the best selling games on the Famicom Disk System.

The series was popular enough that its sequel, released 5 years later, sold a few hundred thousand units as well, despite being released over 5 months after it's NA release, Metroid didn't became as popular as another Disk System franchise, The Legend of Zelda, but wasn't doing poorly either.

8 years after the release of the original title, Super Metroid saw release on the Super Famicom, by 1994 it was a different industry, most of the people who played the original Metroid were kids at the time and likely got it as a gift from their parents, and well the ones who brought it out of their own money probably weren't playing anymore, whatever the case was, this older audience was looking for more mature experiences and a dark moody game like Super Metroid was perfect for that, the title sold over half a million units, more than Metroid 2 and was Nintendo's 2nd best selling game of that year, behind Donkey Kong Country.

Then the PlayStation and Saturn came out and the people who were interested Metroid like titles jumped ship, the Nintendo 64 was the worst selling console of it's generation and it's unlike Metroid would've helped on that.

More importantly, the people who had grown up playing Super Famicom were now old enough to buy their games themselves, as they were now investing their own money they were picky as to what games to buy, so mostly long single player games were the most popular back then, this is why Final Fantasy hit it's popularity peak during these days and why Resident Evil became so big in the first place.

At this time too, the idea of selling games after you were done with them became more and more popular, good idea right? If I buy a game for 9.000 yen, it's over in 6 hours and has no replay value I could just resell it and get back some of the money I put up first. This is why shorter games starting to sell poorly in Japan and ultimate killed Castlevania and Mega Man's popularity in the region if I can beat the game in a day I just sell it and get some money back for other games, then other people instead of buying an expensive new copy buy a cheap used one and the game stops selling.

Metroid would've died in popularity at this time, unless it became a huge hit like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, or a moderate like Ocarina of Time, the people who played that kind of games had moved on to other consolas and changed the way they bought games. SOTN was essentially a Super Metroid 2 but being a short game with not much replayability it sold less than half of Super Metroid, and other Castlevania or Metroid like games didn't sell much better.

By the time Metroid finally returned it was too little to late, the little fanbase that survived was on GBA and now could've just resell the game, Fusion is over in 5 hours, it never had a chance. For Prime things were even worse, it released at a flop of a console that at the time had only family friendly games, more importantly the game was seen as part of a genre that was unpopular at the time and this time the quality of the game couldn't save it.

Unless you're Pokémon and Dragon Quest remakes don't sell well in Japan and so Zero Mission was ignored (it's 2 hour lenght didn't helped either), NGC was dead by the time Prime 2 came out so it sold worse than it's poorly selling predecesor.

Prime 3 had the same problems the first one had, except the install base, demographics weren't there and the game sold poorly, same problem with Hunters. However Nintendo did gave Prime and Prime 2 a shot in Japan again by releasing them under the New Play Control! label, and guess what, they both sold poorly.

There's nothing to say about Other M, it sold as poorly in Japan as it did everywhere else, it wasn't well recieved either.

The series had a string of bad luck regarding releases and market changes, if Metroid was popular today in Japan it'd be a very different series.
 
#43
How popular was the Famicom Disk System back in the day? I don't think they ever made a cartridge version of Metroid in Japan unlike how they did outside Japan, and maybe that hurt accessibility for the start of the series.
 
#47
It's because Metroid isn't an easy and simple game to play as it requires backtracking and memorizing location that requires an upgrade or where the missiles/E-tank upgrade are hidden.
I've never thought of the Metroid games as being challenging, nor do I understand why someone would stereotype the Japanese as only liking easy games.

Can't get over the fact that Other M outsold Prime 2.

What the hell, Japan?
If you really need a John keep in mind how much more the Wii sold than the GC. It had the advantage with the much larger install base.

As far as the thread topic goes there's a lot of things that could be factors but I think ultimately the series is an older type of game they aren't super into. Even though the earlier games were popular they aren't the type of games a lot of newer gamers get into and what qualifies as popular in the more recent generations is a higher bar than what it used to be.

I think a similar comparison is Castlevania as both seemed to be more popular in the West than Japan but it looked like this gap got larger after the 16 bit days. The later games played similarly to Metroid too.

Also the Prime spin offs were FPS games which aren't that hot in Japan (Although they aren't "normal FPS games")
 
#48
Nintendo should really take a hard look at the Souls series and figure out why a series that is known for unguided nonlinear exploration, isolation, high difficulty, etc., has been able to sell so well. I mean they probably don't have the audience for these types of games anymore, or the ability to attract them, but there's no reason that their more "hardcore" franchises can't be at least moderately successful.
 
#49
Can't get over the fact that Other M outsold Prime 2.

What the hell, Japan?
I'm sure the install bases have a lot to do with it as well. Even Prime 3 outsold Prime 2 when logic would make you think that series sales were going down. Hunters also sold more and you can guarantee that was because the DS was huge in Japan.
 
#50
Japanese people are very traditional and often stick to what they're familiar with, more so than other cultures.

Most of us have memories of the original NES Metroid, but most Japanese gamers do not because the original Metroid NEVER CAME OUT FOR THE POPULAR FAMICOM, instead it came out for the Famicom Disc System, an add-on that wasn't in as many homes as the Famicom.

So, even though Super Metroid was awesome, and I'm sure it was loved and sold well over there, it was kind of a first for most gamers over there and there really was no sequel for it until 2002. That's a 9 year gap and people don't necessarily become a fan of a "saga" when you've only played one or two games.
Add that to how the console Metroid turned into FPS games (which the Japanese typically don't like), and then Other M, Metroid Pinball, Federation Force came out.

It's really hard to have momentum for a saga that varies so much and that has several questionable entries.

There are several other games that were more popular outside Japan, such as Contra, Double Dragon, Castlevania, Metroid. Notice how all of those had a more western look (at the time).