How gritty western obsessions are murdering Japanese games

Above: The most genuinely horrific thing in Resi 5 was Sheva's co-op AI

It’s the by-the-numbers thinking that I have the biggest problem with; the idea that to appeal to a global audience you just need to be as violent and shooty as possible. That way, what starts as diversification becomes the opposite, painting everyone’s output with the same shade of generic viscera.

Although SQUEEE currently exists only to publish pre-existing western games in Japan, Squenix’s upcoming action-RPG Nier (developed by Japanese team Cavia) has a separate version designed deliberately for the west. What does that mean? An older, gruffer protagonist in our version, and a hell of a lot of swearing.

Apparently Nier isn’t too bad (but not too good either), and the expletive-tastic script is actually pretty funny, but do you see why this “one for us, one for them” approach worries me?  It essentially amounts to cultural self-censorship on the part of Japan.

And let’s not forget Square-Enix’s last great attempt at dark and gritty, the unremittingly bleak Drakengard on the PS2. Incest, child-murder, paedophilia, it had the lot, and it ended (possibly, depending on how you played) with a bunch of apocalyptic demon babies eating the crap out of the heroes. Also, it was a bit crap. Also, it was also developed by Cavia. I’m a worried man. I’m a worried man indeed.

Of course, many will argue that Japanese development has been stagnating, lagging behind the rest of the world with set-in-its-ways design choices and awkward, obtuse weirdness. But that argument can be countered with just one word. Bayonetta.

If you haven’t played through Platinum Games’ batshit-glorious action game yet, please do so. Forget any preconceptions you may have of it being just another stale Devil May Cry-alike. It’s so much more than that. It’s everything that’s ever been good about traditional Japanese design; the flair, the imagination, the madness and the intricacy, all blended together with perfect balance, and taken to a level you’ve genuinely never experienced before. As an example of everything that’s beautiful about eastern game development, you won’t find any better.

Of course, a global mega-publisher like Square-Enix is unlikely to take the same kind of risks as a bunch of supremely talented renegade indie madmen like Platinum, but the fact still remains, it doesn’t have to bury its identity underneath a pile of bullets and generic rage in order to be loved. And I really hope it won’t. Because if it does, I'm afraid it won’t be any more.

But what do you think? Am I completely wrong? Do Japanese games need a great big western kick up the arse? Or do you agree that if we westernise everything, we lose a hell of a lot? Let us know in the comments, or via our portals on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • 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.

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