When I was growing up, everything good about video games seemed to come from Japan. It wasn’t just videogames either; technology wise, Japan, or more specifically, Tokyo, always felt like another planet. The bright lights, the tech stores, the arcades; it was the stuff of dreams. As I grew up, I imagined Tokyo as a centre of all things new – the videogame capital of the world if you will.
Times have changed though; Japan is lagging dangerously behind the West in regards to video game development. Innovation, new ideas, and perhaps more worryingly, quality, are all terms more closely associated with Western development nowadays as the East struggles to find the right balance in today’s more global, connected world.
With spiralling costs, Japan has become seemingly obsessed with appealing to the global market, and in doing so, has lost much of the charm and idiosyncrasies that historically made Japan developed video games so popular in the first place. Honestly, they should stick to pleasing themselves and then assume that there is enough interest in Japanese culture and Japanese gaming habits to sustain their financial framework. That may sound like a hit and hope approach, but c’mon, it worked for years on the NES, Mega Drive and PS2 etc. Final Fantasy VII wasn’t made with Western tastes in mind – it was simply a Japanese video game created by Japanese developers that just so happened to appeal to the entire world.
I’m not saying that Japanese video game development isn’t need of an overhaul, it is – I’m just saying that, looking into the future, Japan should put an end to its ill-advised attempts to mimic Western game design, and instead, embrace the country’s unique ethos and design sensibilities. Western style video games will, after all, continue to be made by Western developers – there’s plenty of them – we don’t need any more. What we do need though is a return to the more stylistically unique game development that Japan has always been famous for.
As great as Western game development may have become, I’d argue that it can still be a tad stylistically sterile in comparison to Japan’s output. I for one love the Japanese aesthetic of videogame design and unashamedly weep at the sight of previously Japan-centric titles being unnecessarily Westernised in a doomed attempt to capture a more diverse market – I’m looking at you Lost Planet 3, and you know what, I don’t care what anyone says – Pro Evolution Soccer looks much better than FIFA……it really does.
That doesn’t mean that Japan can’t share ideas with the West, it just means that, like any cultural exchange, it should be just that – a two way process. Don’t attempt to copy the West, simply take what is positive and apply it to your already established framework. If you’re looking for an example of it done correctly, look no further than Platinum’s truly outstanding, Vanquish; a game clearly influenced by Western cover based shooters but still unquestionably Japanese. The same could be said for Yakuza Studio’s, Binary Domain, which, although not quite in the same league as, Vanquish, was still an extremely solid third person shooter that never lost sight of its Japanese origins.
So, please Japan, give up on this folly – go back to doing what you’re best at – namely, being Japanese. We like Japanese games because they are, by definition, Japanese. The world doesn’t want a bizarre, ill-informed take on what Japanese developers think that Western gamers want. Sure, Western gamers like Western games, but you know what, a lot of us like Japanese games too, and with Western triple A development playing it safer and safer every year, it’s never been a better time to wow the world with something a little less, y’know, American.