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 Nierisn’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 onFacebookandTwitter.