Level-5 Inc. (レベルファイブ) is an independent video game developer and publisher based out of Fukuoka, Japan. The company, which currently employs about 150 individuals, was founded in October 1998 by Akihiro Hino after he departed from the now defunct Japanese developer Riverhillsoft. Hino designs, plans and produces all of Level-5’s games, as well as serving as both President and CEO of the company.
Since its inception, Level-5 has enjoyed a very close relationship with Sony Computer Entertainment, with many of its titles funded by and produced in conjunction with the publisher. Since the release of Professor Layton and the Curious Village for the Nintendo DS in early 2007, however, the company has begun diversifying its product portfolio and focusing more on self-funding and self-publishing its titles in Japan with Nintendo's overseas subsidiaries distributing Level-5's games on the Nintendo DS.
Level-5's first full scale production was the action RPG Dark Cloud, developed under contract by Sony Computer Entertainment originally for the Japanese launch of the PlayStation 2 in March 2000. However, it was delayed before the PS2 launch to allow further development, and eventually released in Japan on December 14, 2000, and elsewhere in 2001. The game was an immediate success for the company, selling just under a million units worldwide. Work immediately began on a pseudo-sequel titled Dark Chronicle (Dark Cloud 2 in North America), that, while not as successful as the first, still gained critical acclaim and sold over half a million units worldwide.
Midway through 2002 the company had a substantial boost in recognition as it began development on three high profile titles:
- True Fantasy Live Online for Microsoft, an MMORPG which was to become one of the premier titles for the Xbox and Xbox Live service in Japan before it was abruptly canceled in 2004.
- Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for Enix (later Square Enix), who had handpicked Level-5 to develop the title under the supervision of famed designer Yuji Horii and his team at Armor Project.
- Rogue Galaxy, the studio’s third RPG for Sony Computer Entertainment, with a larger budget and more creative freedom than its previous productions with the publisher.
In just four short years, Level-5 went from small startup studio to one of the premier RPG developers in Japan, and have since enjoyed immense critical and commercial success. In early 2007, the company released its first fully self-funded and self-published title in Japan, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which has since enjoyed incredible commercial success, shipping more than 840,000 copies to retail, and has officially transitioned Level-5 into both a developer and publisher of interactive video game entertainment in Japan.
Level-5 currently have at least eleven titles in development, seven for the Nintendo DS, two for the PlayStation Portable and two for an unannounced console. Recently it has announced a new Professor Layton trilogy taking place before the events of Professor Layton and the Curious Village of which the first game Professor Layton and the Devil's Flute will be released later this year. Level-5 was also the producer of a movie based on the Professor Layton series called Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. It also continues to collaborate with Square Enix on Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky, the first mainline entry the series has seen exclusively on a handheld and it will be released in July 2009. Inazuma Eleven 2 is the peculiar soccer RPG which combines unique stylus driven soccer action with the RPG pedigree Level-5 is known for and will be similar to its predecessor. As for the PlayStation Portable it is releasing Ushiro a horror-RPG where you take the role of a spirit and Cardboard War Machine a more kids oriented game where you build your own in-game robot. In May 2008, Akihiro Hino also announced Level 5's first self-published console game, Inazuma Eleven Break!, currently in development for a TBD console.
Dragon Quest Games
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