Based in Fukuoka, Japan, Level-5 has been developing games for more than a decade. The company's first title was Dark Cloud for the PlayStation 2, published in 2000.
Since then, it has made games including Rogue Galaxy and Japan's best-selling PS2 game, Dragon Quest VIII (for which the studio was hand-picked by Square Enix).
Company president and CEO Akihiro Hino got his start at Riverhillsoft, working on the Overblood series of PlayStation games. In 1998, he left Riverhillsoft and started Level-5; he oversees design and production for all of the company's titles.
Level-5 might have actually been on a list like this a few years earlier for True Fantasy Live Online, an MMORPG that the company was developing for release on Xbox; however, the title was canceled by Microsoft just a few months before its scheduled 2004 release.
While the company has since released several well-received RPGs -- including last year's PSP title Jeanne D'Arc -- the game that finally broke through in North America was the puzzle-based DS title Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which was released here a year after it hit stores in Japan and topped DS sales charts for several weeks after its February 2008 release.
In addition to being a new genre for Level-5, Professor Layton was also the company's first self-funded and self-published title in Japan.
The second game in the series was released in Japan at the end of 2007; while no date has been announced yet for North American markets, it is presumed that the title will eventually make its way to the west.
The third installment of the Professor Layton trilogy of games is due out in Japan this fall; also close to release is Inazuma Eleven, a unique combination of soccer and RPG that will be coming out in Japan on DS in August.
The company's first release for this generation of consoles is White Knight Chronicles for PS3, which will be released before March 31, 2009, according to a recent Sony press conference, although there are no details yet on whether that date applies to a worldwide release.
In addition, the company is also working on Dragon Quest IX for DS, which does not currently have an announced release date.
"Level-5 has quietly become one of the most important development studios in Japan. In the near future, the company will ship its second title in Japan's most popular role-playing series, Dragon Quest IX.
The game, to be released on the Nintendo DS, brings multiplayer to the series for the first time. It will cement Level 5's position as shepherd of the franchise for the forseeable future.
But the company, just as importantly for its survival and growth, has several other games: the Professor Layton series has won plaudits and global sales. Inazuma Eleven, the company's second original DS series - mixes the company's signature RPG style with soccer, which sounds weird but could very well appeal to kids raised on gym class and Pokémon, and though it's yet under the radar, White Knight Chronicles is a flagship first-party PS3 title.
The company clearly
understands the importance of maintaining a balanced portfolio -- even while
sticking principally to one genre."
- Christian Nutt