Wednesday, March 7, 2012

That Thing About Japanese Games

Fez creator Phil Fish said in an event that Japanese games sucks. Many people hated him for this comment, going as far as accusing him of racism. I don't think it is a racist comment, but there is prejudice in it. Because he put under the same blanket all the Japanese game industry, not only the crap developers, but the ones who still keep launching great titles. Titles like the Persona series, Catherine, Valkyria Chronicles, Yakuza, Ninja Gaiden, Mario, Legend of Zelda (remember, Nintendo IS a Japanese company), Street Fighter, Demon's Souls and several others.

In where he have a point is that Japanese developers are not anymore the best in the world. Proof of that is that most of my games for this gen are Western developed, while in the PS1 and PS2 era, most of my games where Japanese. So, what changed? Why there was a time when the best developers come from Japan and now it seems they are losing its relevance?

This is part of the answer.
Japanese developers stopped innovating a long time ago. They got too comfortable in just updating graphics and letting gameplay on second plan. While western developers were experimenting and trying new things, many Japanese developers just were happy in recycling the old and release a different (not always improved) version of old franchises, believing name alone would carry them. The fact that the anime boom passed didn't helped them.

And as Japanese titles start not selling anymore in the international markets, the Japanese industry make the second grave mistake. They decided to not fight for the western market. Many just decided to live upon the home market and just care about developing with them on mind. With this, Japanese games become even more disconnected of the international market, because of cultural differences between West and them.

It is not like they don't know to innovate, they seem to just not want to.
So, many developers are content in the success they have in their homeland. And that opened more space to western games taking over these empty spaces they are leaving. What in the other hand make even harder to the Japanese industry to sell games over the West.

And when they try to make games thinking of the West, usually they make less than average titles. That is because they don't understand the western games, why they make success. And they don't see why certain Japanese titles make a success in a market they seem as unfriendly.

The Persona series were quite successful here, but not because was westernized. It is a very, very Japanese game. What they did right is using a story that is easy to relate, even when you aren't Japanese, innovated certain gameplay mechanics (like adding dating sim elements and fusing personas) and took a fresh turn in settings and themes.

Because very few games talk about the meaning of life and death, while you are in high school fighting monsters.
What the Japanese industry need to stay relevant in today's world, is to act like international companies. Stop looking only at their home market, not trying to plain copy westerns and starting innovating their games where it really matters.

The problem the Japanese game industry have is not lack of capacity and creativity. it is lack of will to try.

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