Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Discussions with Leigh - Japanese Dominance

I love Leigh Alexander. And by that I mean I love her writing and I love her blog and I love that she's not afraid to tackle NSFW topics. And I'm proud of her being the news editor over at Gamasutra. Good job Leigh!

A few weeks ago she and I had a discussion about her post
here and I wanted to touch on that topic a bit. To summarize, we were talking about the fall of Japanese developer dominance, and here were my thoughts:

Regarding the lack of Japanese dominance, it goes back to Raph Koster's "Theory of Fun," insomuch that we have fun when we are learning. Let me explain...

Like you said, even *gasp* YOU are getting sick of JRPGs. The very fact that a reader can be pretty sure what sort of JRPG they are getting by reading a poorly written review says that there is little new ground to cover in the JRPG space (or at least, little new ground is being covered). The formula (and that's what it is) has been beaten to death so many times that we are no longer learning anything by playing JRPGs, it's the same old formula over and over again, thus, we have stopped learning and they stop being fun. Boring.**

A good example is Resident Evil 4. It's not THAT much different that the old REs, but it was given a cinematic flair and a significant facelift to change the way the core game was played, thus creating a new challenge and a new learning experience. As they say, you can't tell the same joke twice and expect the same reaction. It was the best thing that could have happened to the arguably dying franchise.

Can you tell I've lamented the death of the JRPG? ;)


**(I contend the Pokemon RPGs were such a huge hit, b/c they catered to the younger generation less exposed to JRPGs, and provided a safe, new genre for them. The youth will, and should, always have JRPGs made for them. They're a damn great way to learn.) (Additionally, if Japan produced a dark, gritty JRPG with ADULTS in it, one that is not anime-style, the west be more inclined to play it. Hell, we'd probably gobble it up. We don't associate as strongly as Japan does with anime teenage boys. All I have to say is Marcus Fenix and Master Chief.)

And here was her response:

Savid -- your (and Raph's) theory is a good one, but oddly, the games on which I get the most hooked are the most TOTALLY repetitive. My two biggest time-sinks, at over 150 hours on the most recent DS titles, are Harvest Moon and Pokemon. Perhaps that's because I'm not using them to "play" so much as I am to kill time? What do you think?

And my response in return:

Damn, you're quick! Has anyone ever told you you should write for a living? ;P

Hmmm... and I have found myself pouring equal amount of time into FFTactics A2. The DS rocks!

But is that just us?

I can't help but think that if it truly IS the case that Japan no longer dominates the videogame space, it's because most other game buyers/players aren't playing Japanese games. Maybe it's because of a lack of new ground being broken, but maybe... maybe American games just comparatively sucked back in the day so it was pretty easy to dominate.

To look at it another way, I wonder if, say, Mercenaries 2 (to use one of your recent plays) could ever sell in Japan as well as it does elsewhere. I know Gears of War didn't, but that may be due to lack of penetration. Japanese games seem to sell pretty darn well in Japan. I don't see any plans to port Monster Hunter Portable G to other regions, despite huge success at home. Is it a matter of cultural preference?

Like you touch briefly on in your article, maybe it's a disconnect between the way things are today marketed between the regions (XBOX's marketing in Japan has historically been pretty abysmal, and sadly, so has Okami's here.). Capcom has overtly stated that they try to design their top games with a global eye.

Or, maybe it's just
The Long Tail working it's way through the gaming world. If that's the case, many games will probably continue to be made regional-centric and no one region will dominate.

But I think the most important point is something you bring up at the end of your article, namely, that the cross-cultural partnerships being developed ARE happening, and that's a GOOD THING! From a sales standpoint, that's absolutely necessary. From a gamer's standpoint, that only means better games. And I, for one, am excited.

After much consideration, I've come to believe my Long Tail theory is most applicable to this topic. Japanese developers dominated in the 80s and 90s because they were (mostly) the only ones who made decent games. There's just no comparing the polish of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat or even Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore. Today, studios from all over the world make decent games and will continue to.

And JRPGs aren't boring (well, mostly), but I am certainly tired of playing yet ANOTHER anime-inspired linear game. In fact, the only JRPGs I even take a look at these days are the main Final Fantasy series, and those are only modestly anime-inspired (tho I am REALLY tired of every freaking FF having basically the same characters. Squall looks like Tidus, who looks like Vaan. And of course there's Yuna and the new FF XIII chick who might as well be clones. C'mon guys! Some variety please? There's a reason I never got through FFXII).

So, in short, US developers will continue to cater to the US consumer base, just like Japanese developers will continue to cater to the Japan consumer base, and that's OK. Hopefully the good games, the games that really push the limits, are the ones that will get localized and then we can all benefit (Katamari, I'm looking at you as a historical example.).


No comments: