How gritty western obsessions are murdering Japanese games

You might have heard that Square-Enix has set up a new publishing label in Japan, one going by the hilariously ‘90s-style moniker of Square-Enix Extreme Edge. As trite as a David Cage-scripted episode of Dawson’s Creek, that darker, grittier naming is no coincidence, as the sub-label is intended to handle more violent, mature western fare in the east.

While right now its duties will be limited to bringing the likes of Kane & Lynch 2 to Japanese players, the label’s existence does raise a larger issue. With Japanese companies increasingly pandering to perceived western tastes of action, violence and general grimness, should we be worried that a publisher so synonymous with delicate, affecting, character-driven works such as Squenix is embracing that side of things so wholeheartedly, and now officially?

In pure financical and branding terms, Square-Enix Extreme Edge makes sense (even though its crap name now sees us obliged to refer to it as SQUEEE). Western games have very much overthrown the previously traditional Japanese dominance this generation. Largely thanks to the rise of the Xbox 360, bulky marines with not-at-all-penile-compensating rifles have become more than a match for sulky ladyboys with not-at-all-penile-compensating swords. And it’s understandable that Japanese devs and publishers would want to get a tasty, money-flavoured slice of that action.

Thus Capcom has put Resident Evil 5 and Lost Planet 2 firmly on the co-op shooter train (Super Review of the latter coming on the 6th of May, by the way), and farmed out Bionic Commando and Dead Rising 2 to western devs, the former, unsurprisingly, becoming instantly darker and grittier. Squenix has aquired Eidos, and so now has Kane & Lynch, Tomb Raider, Arkham Asylum, and eventually, hopefully, a new Hitman under its belt. And Konami has been handing off Silent Hill to western teams as a matter of course for quite a while.

Above: If Mario and Luigi had been created in the west, now

Diversification is obviously a healthy thing in the big global theme park that is games, but as a long-time fan of Japanese gaming I can’t help but worry about the overall effect this trend is going to have on things.

Like many Resident Evil fans (and fans of atmospheric horror in general), I’m massively ambivalent about the introduction of co-op and cover-shooting in Resi 5. Was it an improvement? Debatable. Was it needed? Probably not. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cross-pollination of ideas, but when it threatens to dilute an original creative voice, particularly in a way that whiffs of focus-group thinking, I start to get uneasy.


  • RedOutlive10 - May 3, 2010 9:43 p.m.

    Can I be honest in here? Final Fantasy lost its soul after VII was released. They sure need to change things but copying western aspects will not help if they don't improve the franchise at all.
  • kaaos - May 3, 2010 9:17 p.m.

    Square Enix needs to put their style with western least the violence should go up like crazy urban-acrobatic moves with brutal capcom combos and blazing guns.they can still keep the crazy hair and giant swords but the interactivity is just so dull.ok,say if FF-12 or 13 had the interactivity like GOW3 or super smash brothers,doing the action yourself and not waiting on luck to let you live.
  • ScruffyTheJanitor - May 3, 2010 5:14 p.m.

    The only games worth playing from our sushi eating friends in last couple of years have been coming from Capcom. Nintendo used to be up there but sense all they can do is regurgitate the same games over and over they no longer count as somebody worth caring about.
  • FinderKeeper - May 3, 2010 9:55 a.m.

    What? Not *one* mention of Okami? ;-) Or is that an example of a truly original Japanese game not catching on in the west due to the aforementioned space marines? Oh and plz can haz update of GodHand for current-gen consolez. Kthxbai.
  • BurntToShreds - May 3, 2010 3:41 a.m.

    What Square Enix needs to do is get back to basics. Use their classic swords-and-sorcery-and-steampunk ideas again. Make an FF where the characters are diverse yet not too odd as to shy away mainstream gamers. Where the women don't look like uber-kawaii Japanese pop-singer idols and the men aren't pre-pubescent boys. Make the plot "A group of daring rebels find one special person who could be their last hope in defeating the Empire."
  • Jennacide - May 3, 2010 1:30 a.m.

    This is one of the more ignorant things I've read in a while. And using Nier as a defense is amusing, as you have the story backwards. Nier as we have in the west is the ORIGINAL GAME. When Japan first saw all the previews they had a collective hissy fit and bitched up a storm about it at places like 2chan. SE reacted by branding it Nier Gestalt in Japan and making Nier Replicant for the PS3 as the new Japan satisfying version. The differences? Nier becomes a 'bishounen', Kaine's hermaphroditism is mentioned more promonently, as well as Kaine is now Nier's brother and there is implied freaky incest. The violence level is unchanged. But there is much weird stuff going on and making Nier a shade over being a little boy to appease Japan.
  • EnragedTortoise1 - May 2, 2010 6:57 p.m.

    A little of both. Japanese trends aren't modernizing very well, and I think that they are making a good FINANCIAL decision to "grittify" things. HOWEVER. That doesn't mean that the games they churn out are good. Basically, it comes down to emo pretty-boys with giant swords versus bald space marines with MGs and a fouler mouth than Christian Bale.
  • AnonymouZ - May 2, 2010 4:38 p.m.

    i just finished playing Modern Warfare 1... and jesus christ, talk about games changing for the hell of it... if i want to interact with the world, (besides bullets and knives) then give me the "E" key!, i fucking HATE your "F" key for silly shit like destroying tanks! fuck! i mean... counter strike and (valve pretty much) made it standard for E to work, but in come these assholes, and change it for F... well, i say, FUCK THAT. oh wait... this is arguments for Japanese companies changing to "please" or accomodate western audiences? i completely agree that it's unnecessary. and i lul now at my randomness.
  • Stabby_Joe - May 2, 2010 12:41 p.m.

    I think Resident Evil was already more western than most other Japanese games, heck it was even influenced by western media on zombies. And while you may complain about Nier, I for one am glad the protagonist for once isn't a sheboy.
  • TheGodEmperor - May 1, 2010 10:23 p.m.

    Also, I have to say, Drakengard was actually fairly fun. Coulda been better maybe, but it wasn't bad at all either. The story was creepy weird and was interesting too lol.
  • TheGodEmperor - May 1, 2010 10:17 p.m.

    You forgot Deus Ex in that SE/Eidos deal!
  • Spybreak8 - May 1, 2010 5:59 p.m.

    This is just the Japanese lost on ideas. They've been "falling behind" for a while now due to the fact that the Japanese culture doesn't mind stagnant video game markets. A western audience however demand a constant of innovation and quality. I don't think the Western audience is all about shooters though, that's extremely narrow minded. Shooters might be the most popular genre in the West but we also enjoy stories with depth and thought like Mass Effect or Half Life.
  • AntiGimp - May 1, 2010 5:45 p.m.

    Japanese games have been garbage for a VERY long time. I really hope they are, truly, dying.
  • TheSugarRay - May 1, 2010 4:57 p.m.

    I really want a new hitman game
  • philipshaw - May 1, 2010 11:22 a.m.

    I agree with this article 100%, I would rather have more games like SOTC than more Gears of War
  • Octoboy - May 1, 2010 9:06 a.m.

    Bayonetta of all games? Seriously? This kind of game loses much of its appeal once you grow older than 14. I like how western developers try to address a more mature audience. As much as I wanted to like FF XIII, for instance, the characters made it a royal pain in the arse. I guess it's just not my cup o' tea anymore. So I'm very glad for any Fallout game, Dragon Age or Mass Effect. And yes, by all means, I hope that western developers continue to have an even larger impact on the way video games are headed.
  • Cwf2008 - May 1, 2010 7:16 a.m.

    Good. Damn Japanese games have been following the same cookie cutter formula for years...then again why do we need the japanese westernizing their games when we already have plenty of good developers here in the west?
  • Cyberninja - May 1, 2010 1:28 a.m.

    well i hope japanese games come back in full swing with things more creative that they dont give to us now no h games tho
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - May 1, 2010 1:14 a.m.

    Whole-heartedly agree with David. Its too late for me for me to bother typing my whole take on things however. Great article.
  • FNG - May 1, 2010 12:53 a.m.

    I can't stand Japanese games and nothing will ever make me like them. They are so weird.

Showing 1-20 of 47 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000