Once there was this game developing company called Riverhillsoft, who began with the Adventure Game J.B. Harold Murder Club and went on to produce such timeless classics like... uh... Over Blood...? Anyway, in 1998, two years before Riverhillsoft disbanded, one of its members, Akihiro Hino, left to produce his own game developing company, being particularly supported by Sony Computer Entertainment, and went to produce some respectably good sellers for the then-newborn PlayStation 2, especially the Dark Cloud series. That company's name is Level-5 Inc. 『株式会社レベルファイブ』 , and they only got bigger.
A few years later the company would get its two next big-titles, the first being unexpectedly ordered by Square Enix: Dragon Quest VIII, which also sold like crazy, and solidified their relationship (Level 5 would be later hired to produce Dragon Quest IX). The other title was an action-RPG ordered by Sony again, Rogue Galaxy. In just four short years, Level-5 went from small startup studio to one of the premier RPG developers in Japan, and have enjoyed immense critical and commercial success. Soon it started publishing its own titles in Japan (like Inazuma Eleven series), while still being chums with Sony (Jeanne d'Arc, White Knight Chronicles), and working with Nintendo too (Professor Layton). In Mid-2017 Level-5 acquired Comcept, the developer formed by Keiji Inafune for the purpose of creating Mighty No. 9. Inafune had previously worked with Level-5 on the Guild 02 installment Bugs vs. Tanks.
The company seems to have a working relationship with OLM Incorporated, as they're responsible for the cutscenes and anime adaptations of their recent works (Professor Layton, Inazuma Eleven, Danball Senki, Yo-Kai Watch).
Level-5: making something for everybody.
Level-5 produced the following games and franchises:
- Dark Cloud
- Dragon Quest VIII
- Rogue Galaxy
- Jeanne d'Arc
- The Professor Layton series
- The Inazuma Eleven series
- White Knight Chronicles
- White Knight Chronicles II
- Ni no Kuni
- The Danball Senki series (LBX: Little Battlers eXperience internationally)
- Girls RPG: Cinderelife
- Time Travelers
- Fantasy Life
- The Yo-Kai Watch series
- The Snack World
- Megaton Musashi
Tropes associated with Level-5:
- Breakthrough Hit: Dark Cloud was where the company started making a name for themselves, but the Professor Layton series was what really put them on the map.
- Cel Shading: Dark Chronicle is considered one of the pioneers in the use of cel-shading in video games, and Dragon Quest VIII was widely praised for being one of the most gorgeous cel-shaded titles on the PlayStation 2. The trailer for the PS3 version of Ni no Kuni shows that they haven't lost their touch when it comes to this.
- Crossover: Level-5 seems to be getting rather fond of this these days. First there was Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, then Inazuma Eleven GO vs Danball Senki and the many TV commercials featuring the protagonists from those two series. Professor Layton, Danball Senki, and Yo-Kai Watch characters have featured as secret characters in the Inazuma Eleven series, and a puzzle from Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy features the characters of Inazuma Eleven GO.
- Late Export for You: Their recent games are getting pretty bad about this, in regards to Western releasing. White Knight Chronicles took 14 months to be released in the US, while Fantasy Life took 21 and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future took 22. Inazuma Eleven takes the cake, though - it was released in Europe in January 2011, two and a half years after its Japanese release, and the US three more years after that.
- There's also Danball Senki, which wouldn't be released in America or Europe for four years, after which the game had already gotten an Updated Re-release and a port to another console.
- Generally speaking, their European department has now become more prolific than their North American department; Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney had a six month gap between Europe and North America, with the latter receiving nothing but a barely modified version of the European build complete with its alternate voice actors — thus making the schedule slip look almost entirely unnecessary. The Inazuma Eleven series, despite having five games released (with the sixth and last seemingly in the works) in Europe, had its first game released in America when Europe was on its fourth, and the North American branch has been giving infamously mixed signals about whether the others are on a very long schedule slip or if it has no chance because its Twitter and Facebook keeps reporting on its release...in Europe only.
- Despite being Level-5's most successful franchise to date and having been constantly promoted by the company with the intent to expand internationally, the first Yo-Kai Watch game wouldn't leave its home country for over two years, by which time in Japan the game had already gotten a sequel, the sequel's Updated Re-release, the announcement for a third game, and a spinoff game.
- No Export for You: They have made a bunch of cellphone games that never saw the light of day outside of Japan. To give an idea of what the rest of the world is missing, they have a Pokémon GO clone called Yo Kai Watch World and a Yo-Kai Watch themed Elite Beat Agents clone called GeroPo Rhythm that offers music from all their game franchises, two Ni No Kuni spinoffs (one being a prequel to the first game). Meanwhile, the only games available to the rest of the world are several Professor Layton spinoffs, with all but two have been retired from sale, HD Remakes of the Professor Layton Nintendo 3DS games note , as well as Liberation Maiden which is still on sale but cannot be purchased on iOS11 devices because it has not been updated with a 64-bit build, though it's still available on the 3DS.
- The Nintendo DS release of Ni no Kuni (Dominion of the Dark Djinn) is this, largely because one of the gameplay elements requires the player to thumb through a physical copy of the Wizard's Companion that is included with the gamenote , which Bandai Namco, the publishing partner for the worldwide release of the game, thinks it would be loss-running and were unwilling to risk it. This ended up being moot since Wrath of the White Witch contained the entirety of Dominion of the Dark Djinn's plot, drastically simplified the spellcasting elementnote and the Wizard's Companion now exists as a digital e-book accessible in-game.
- Now there are also Yo-Kai Watch arcade machines, but yeah, given how arcades are viewed in the US, theyre not going to appear stateside anytime soon.
- It was announced back in October 2020 that Level-5 has practically halted operations in North America, leaving the fate of a number of their recent and upcoming titles outside of Japan (including Yo-Kai Watch 4) uncertain.
- Refuge in Audacity: This seems to be their modus operandi for their more recent games to the point where it seems the company is constantly trying to one-up itself on how ridiculous it can make the plot. A town that looks like a normal town with normal people but is actually nothing but robots? Aliens (both real and fake) determining the fate of a planet via soccer? A presidential assassination carried out with a kids' toy robot? A komainu, completely undisguised, getting a number of job promotions through a company and almost becoming company president entirely through a series of lucky coincidences? Why not?
- Serious Business: Puzzles, soccer/football, and model kit are taken to new levels in their games.
- What Could Have Been: Back in 2008 they announced a game for the PSP called Ushiro, it was going to be a Horror RPG of all things which had quite a creepy atmosphere and an interesting Premise (Trailer for it here). And it was, like Ni no Kuni, a collaboration with Studio Ghibli, a game very different than what either company has worked on. Sadly it was canceled though. Three Light Novels and a Manga for it has been released, and ten years later it was announced that it will be brought back for the Switch due to fan demand