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.