Posts Tagged ‘japan’

West-washing the world’s games

October 21, 2016

mariousa

“I can’t remember the last time I played a Japanese game,” my friend Mike said to me.

Our tastes are largely different. He plays primarily open-world games, racers, and first person shooters, pillar genres of “western” game design. It’s true that I tend more toward Japanese games, and occasionally games that are garishly and loudly Japanese. So his statement should have been unsurprising. We just have different tastes. But it was when he said it that surprised me.

I asked him what game we’d been playing.

“Mario Kart. Ah, yeah. Yeah. I didn’t really think about it, huh? I meant really Japanese games, you know?”

In Mike’s defense, Mario is difficult to pin down as Japanese. He’s an Italian plumber, after all, and basically the Mickey Mouse of videogames. He’s so famous that he can’t be said to belong to one culture at all–he’s globally recognized, and every tuned-in culture likely has “their” version of Mario, the same as they have “their” Mickey Mouse or McDonalds.

But it’s been weird, seeing this trend from Japan’s complete dominance of console gaming to a sort of coup by western game developers. In large part I suppose that’s due to the Xbox brand: gamers can play a largely western catalogue of games on an American-made console. It’s also due to the lopsided categorization: Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Forza; these are all considered “our” games, despite being from three different countries. Meanwhile, Japan is just Japan.

Many gamers seem content to let Japan just be dead. After all, where are all the Japanese role-playing games? We have The Witcher (Poland), Elder Scrolls (US), and Dragon Age (Canada). This despite the massive number of Japanese role-playing games that get released on 3DS and Vita to critical acclaim. Well, those are handhelds, they don’t really count. Small in size, they’re assumed to be small in scope.

I suspect that much of the American gaming public is holding their breath for Final Fantasy 15. SquareEnix have been in and out of gamers’ graces for a while. Can the Japanese prove they’ve still got it? The massive success of Dark Souls and Bloodborne should prove that they have, in fact, got it. Nevermind that both series are wrapped in the bleak cloak of western fantasy; us westerners wouldn’t accept anything less.

If Final Fantasy 15 flops, will American gamers write off Japanese role-playing games entirely? That’d be a very sad thing, with Persona 5 just over the horizon.

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Dragon Quest 7: Fragments of an Epic Adventure

October 17, 2016

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Dragon Quest 7’s 3DS remake trades adventure for accents and accessibility

To read reviews of the 3DS remake, you’d think Dragon Quest 7 on Playstation was a plodding bore. It ain’t so. Dragon Quest 7 was and is a succession of beautiful, melancholy fables.

I don’t think I ever fully understood the purpose of Dragon Quest’s town stories before playing it. Each town acts as its own bite-sized JRPG so that you can come home after a busy day at the office and make real progress. And each story is so damned compelling, in large part, because of the Playstation game’s translation.

Many JRPGs are stripped of ‘offensive’ content or altered so that they make sense to a western audience. Dragon Quest 7 instead provides a very literal translation, but one that’s clear and concise. It feels in many ways like a modern translation of a literary or religious text. Since that’s what we’re dealing with here–fables where rain turns men to stone, a town is turned into animals, or a young boy is raised by wolves–the original translation is vital for establishing the tone of the game.

The 3DS remake, in contrast, injects such a heavy dose of colloquialism and accent into the dialogue as to be insufferable. For example, when multiple characters say they need to “put their skates on.” Maybe the translations were this excessive in the other DS remakes; I don’t know. What I do know is that here it feels especially egregious. No dialogue box can go without multiple injections of old-timey slang.

Instead of feeling like holy fables, passed down over generations, these stories are chopped up bedtime stories, stripped of their original meaning. By cutesying themselves up, they lose their pathos.

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But there’s more about this remake that grates. The opening hours of the game have lost a very great deal. Originally, Dragon Quest 7 required 4-6 hours(!) of exposition before letting players fight even one measly slime, time spent exploring the first island and its ancient ruin. The ruin acts as the game’s first dungeon–it has no enemies, but it is large and there are numerous puzzles to solve. Exploration is a meaningful part of the adventure, and it establishes the pace of the game. If that opener sounds boring, well, it’s not. It’s just slow, contemplative even.

The remake’s stripping down of this dungeon, on the other hand, is incredibly lame. There is no opening dungeon within the ruins, and there are no puzzles. Your characters go back and forth, fetching items and having them translated. In all it takes about two tedious hours to get through this opening segment. You get all the worst parts and very little of what’s interesting.

Much is lost. The sense of exploration and anticipation over hours of gametime, that slow burn of an opening as the player works their way deeper and deeper into the torchlit ruins. And then finally, once they’ve solved the trials, assembled tablet shards together on a pedestal and proved their heroism, they’re whisked away.

To where? Somewhere far away, somewhere strange, another land. They’re off their quaint fishing island and walking through a dark forest, when there’s a screech from the trees and–suddenly, finally, after all. this. time.

A SLIME ATTACKS.

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Let’s talk about Japan

December 20, 2013

japanpikmin

Why the decline of Japanese games development is an overstated myth

To hear people talk, you’d think that the Japanese don’t make games anymore. There’s a growing cynicism and sense of schadenfreude concerning Japan’s development scene as the medium diversifies into new markets and developers spring up all over the world. Japan has lost their stranglehold over the international market, and they seem to be losing the market entirely.

Tell me if you’ve heard these: Japanese games suck, they’re behind the times, irrelevant, stagnant. Players and journalists lament that Japan can’t return to its former glory, settling instead for endless rehashes and pathetic imitations of their Western peers. Japanese developers humbly admit their games are lacking, promising to mimic Western design so they might save themselves from obsolescence.

Western games are just better. They’re larger in scope, more cinematic, more relevant, more real. Western publishers are willing to invest more money, allowing developers to create expansive worlds rich in player agency and choice. On the other spectrum, a growing indie scene is crafting more creative games than even Japan’s most original teams, and doing so on a far smaller budget. There’s nothing left for Japan to do except stop making games entirely.

There’s only one problem: That’s all a bunch of garbage.

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