Losing that Japanese Touch

Leigh Alexander recently published an interesting article in Gamasutra about sequelization and the rebooting of franchises in the current console generation. She compares and contrasts Bioshock Infinite with Ninja Theory's Devil May Cry remake/prequel DmC and the way that fan reaction to the two has been very different: despite many differences to Bioshock, fans have largely embraced Bioshock Infinite, while despite having a number of similarities with Devil May Cry, fans haven't reacted well to DmC. Alexander concludes, and I agree with her, that the difference has to do with a shift in aesthetics and a feeling that while Bioshock Infinite is true to its series' tone and texture, DmC does not.

What's interesting about the article, though, is her exploration of the Westernization of Japanese franchises and whether or not this has come at the expense of a unique Japanese design aesthetic:

Despite its hyper-stylized absurdity, Devil May Cry continued to hold on to its undertone of subtle grace; Devil May Cry 4 was indisputably beautiful, with luminous, lacy stained glass, glittering bronze patinas and degenerating stone monoliths. Although Dante's base of demon-hunting operations, with which the franchise shares its title, has always been housed in the same sort of sulfur-tinged neo-urban wasteland depicted in Ninja Theory's trailer, the game was about looking elegant, not looking "gritty," a term frequently used as a defining descriptor of what's considered the Western aesthetic.

Look what's happened to the Resident Evil franchise. It continues to delight fans, but it no longer scares them the way it once did. Obscure puzzles in a haunted mansion once made players fear the unseen; now, in Resident Evil 5, Chris Redfield and his newly-upsized biceps are mowing down fast-moving herds of zombies in an action shooter that clings to its third-person perspective as if to a last bastion of its old definition.

Fans love the new Resident Evil and the fourth installment's stellar numbers attest to a new audience for the much more accessible game (that the fifth installment's numbers are less impressive is likely attributable to poor co-op AI and not to a tonal change). But just as many old-school fans feel a loss as that series' tone has shifted. Eastern horror prizes the slow build, the unknown and the unaddressed, which for many holds more intriguing narrative prospects than the Western format, which prefers to exhilarate with in-your-face adrenaline challenges.

Of course, neither Resident Evil nor Devil May Cry are reputed for their spectacular storytelling, to say the least. So while Ninja Theory's trailer does lack Devil May Cry's eerie grace, what it's most notably missing is that intangible, hard-to-pin Japanese tone, which companies like Capcom appear eager to divest themselves of their hurry to attain global audiences.

[...]

The more interesting question is this: For Japanese developers, does Western appeal mean sacrificing their unique and long-standing creative identity?

This is a trend I've noticed myself, and it makes me sad. One thing I've always treasured about gaming is its international feeling; in particular, I've enjoyed the weirdness of the Japanese approach to gaming and have actively sought out games that had that aesthetic. Very Western franchises like Halo, StarCraft, Gears of War, and Call of Duty don't hold the same appeal for me as Japanese franchises like Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Metal Gear Solid (and my beloved Mario games, but I don't think they're in any danger of yielding their aesthetics to the global taste as they're far too busy defining it).

While there are exceptions, I'm less interested in game franchises as they lose that Japanese je ne sais quoi I love so much. What American game company would have an enemy whose most fearsome weapon is a finger gun, as with Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid 4? A final boss who wears a dead peacock around his shoulders, as the Lumen Sage does in Bayonetta? Or this example, from the aforementioned Gamasutra article:

In Devil May Cry 4, a lothario Dante destroys a large gate structure by reciting a suggestive poem and assaulting it with weaponized roses flung into a heart shape.

I have no doubt that a Western designer would have created more badass bosses and a hero who kicked that gate down while muttering a witty quip through clenched teeth.

So, it's a question worth asking: "For Japanese developers, does Western appeal mean sacrificing their unique and long-standing creative identity?" Are we in danger of losing the thing that makes Japanese games so special? And are Japanese game companies making that bid to Westernize engaged in a futile attempt to break into ground already well-covered by Western companies?

I think that Japanese aesthetics have become mainstream American. Look at Lady Gaga. Alot of the things she wears seems to me to come straight out of an anime.

The drive to a broader audience has been a part of most genres in the past few years. As the average cost of game development has increased, the developers must find a way to appeal beyond their traditional niche. As this fanbase grows, we will also hear opinions from new angles. When Devil May Cry was first released, the "drunken frat-boy halo x-box owner" wasn't a market force. Now they are not only numerous, but they are an established part of the audience.

Also, we're looking at one side of the story. DMC will be a hit in Japan while Bioshock will be a blip, if that. Irrational games is sacrificing any international appeal by making a wholly American game. They are playing to a larger audience however and one that traditionally has deeper pockets so they can recoup their expenses easily.

Dirt wrote:

I think that Japanese aesthetics have become mainstream American. Look at Lady Gaga. Alot of the things she wears seems to me to come straight out of an anime.

IMAGE(http://www.thefablife.com/files//2010/09/gaga-meat-bikini.jpg)

Meat bikinis are anime? Kids these days

On topic, sounds like the usual pains of trying to cross over markets. IIRC, when western companies tried to adopt more oriental-like imagery, something was lost in translation. I think it's a matter of time until Japanese devs realize it's a futile exercise, and instead try to bring their better stuff back. Cycles and all that jazz.

I think there is a major perception difference among western gamers between games like Resident Evil or Bayonetta which have great japanese design but aren't necessarily in your face about it, and games like Persona or Trauma Center which are very heavily based on anime or where the protagonists are inevitably a group of high school students. I think that western audiences can very much appreciate and enjoy the former and have a very hard time relating to the later. Unfortunately, both get lumped in together as part of the Japanese aesthetic that western audiences don't enjoy, and I think Japanese developers get too caught up in trying to eliminate anything remotely Japanese from their games.

You know, as I play through S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat (hats off to the GWJ enabler squad) I also see this phenomenon, but obviously not with "Japaneseness," but rather "Eastern European/Russianess." The game is a million times more stable and polished than the first two games of the series, but I would argue that Pripyat has lost a part of what made the original games sh*t-in-your-pants scary. Admittedly, this may be due to the fact that I am now used to snorks (creepy little f*ckers), and I've only put about two hours into the game, but there is definitely a certain je ne sais quoi that's been lost in order to appeal American audiences. I'll post more as I progress, (and assuming you fellows don't feel like it's too far off topic)

I hope not. Like you I love how video games have been very international since I was a snot nosed kid playing NES. One thing I think is interesting when people bring up these arguments is similar to when people bring up PC gaming. They decide to ignore a giant faction as if they don't count to inflate an argument or fear.

Example:
"PC Gaming is dead!"
"Uh Valve and Blizzard?"
"They don't count!"

In this case it's Nintendo. I've heard this argument before and it's popping up all over again and yet they all decide to ignore the fact that Nintendo exists. They are absolutely DOMINATING this generation with games filled with Japanese design and creative identity. The problem is the perception in the media (and a lot of "gamers") is that the 360/PS3 are "real" gaming while iOS/DS/PSP/Wii are not. So in that idiotic perspective of the industry then yeah, it looks like Japanese games may be losing their creative identity. However, aside from the 360/PS3 that creative identity is alive and kicking (and still alive on those platforms as well i.e. Bayonetta) A lot of this recent discussion stems from TGS, where surprise surprise, Nintendo wasn't attending.

So while I do think bologna like DmC shows companies trying to "westernize" their franchises and perhaps lose that Japanese feel, I think a lot of the time people are ignoring the fact that it is alive and thriving but simply not on the so called "real" gaming systems.

To really hammer it home. People are always bringing up Halo and CoD and all these other blockbuster games as behemoths in the gaming industry to be lauded and examples of western dominance. LOOK AT THESE SALES FIGURES. You can't rationally convince me that western aesthetics are "dominating" the industry when you actually look at what's actually going on.

360
Halo 3 - 8.81 million
CoD: MW2 - ~10 million

Wii
Wii Fit - 22.61 million
Mario Kart Wii - 22.55 million
Wii Sports Resort - 19.16 million
NSMB Wii - 15.81 million
Smash Bros. Brawl - 9.48 million
Super Mario Galaxy 8.84 million

DS
Nintendogs 23.26 milion
NSMB 22.49 million
Brain Age 18.7 million
Mario Kart DS 17.9 million
Pokemon Diamond/Pearl 17.3 million
Animal Crossing 10.79 million

etc. etc. etc.

All of these games are FILLED with "Japanese creative identity" and it's not like Nintendo is going to let that go any time soon.

Dirt wrote:

I think that Japanese aesthetics have become mainstream American. Look at Lady Gaga. Alot of the things she wears seems to me to come straight out of an anime.

She's completely 80's UK/US remix with a slice of Milanese catwalk.... nothing Japanese about her influences really. At least not as far as i've seen...

OT - This has been going on for years. As Grubber notes, the loss of Japanese aesthetic is just the next in a long list of cultural "devoidness" in entertainment. For instance, the 'Western' aesthetic that Leigh is referencing is actually American/US centric. It's not western in the typical sense of the word meaning western europe and america/canada and whoever else.

What we're seeing here is the result of cultural domination in the same way that US cinema dominates most of the western view of film making. In the gaming arena the UK scene has all but given in to US precedence with really only Lionhead and Peter Molyneux having their own style.... even once-great bastions of Brit-style like Colin McRae are US-centric in their design philosophy now. The French are holding on with a tenuous grasp of their culture because they have a strong desire to do so and a lot of governmental funding..... What's interesting is that, if the film industry is anything to go by, then we'll end up with all major game releases in the west being US-centric with anything else like Eastern Europe, Asian (with subsets of Chinese/ Korean and Indian) being essentially closed markets without much cross-over or appeal within each other's areas.

Though, who knows? Maybe it'll take a different path....

BNice, you're right that Nintendo is the elephant in the room. The Wii and, especially, the DS completely dominate the current gaming scene. In ten years, when VH-1 is doing its We Love the 2000's countdown shows, it's the Wii, not the 360 or the PS3, that's going to get the most screen time. And you'll certainly not find me bashing the Nintendo or the Wii: I'm a huge fan of Nintendo's work, and I consider the Wii to be my primary gaming platform by a long shot.

However, I think people are right to ignore Nintendo's contributions (to an extent) when talking about gaming for adults because, in general, Nintendo doesn't make adult games. They make games that can be enjoyed by adults, certainly, but they don't really make games that are targeted at adult audiences. (Wii Fit is the exception, as it's targeted squarely at the middle-aged, but it's so outside the realm of traditional gaming that I hope we can agree to conveniently overlook it.) When I worry about Japanese aesthetics being on the decline, I'm worried about the disappearance of the Japanese expression of things like sex and relationships, violence, religion, disease, and social structure through video games. There's a world of difference between Super Mario Galaxy and Persona 4. While I'm not worried at all about Mario Galaxy getting watered down, I am worried about Persona and even the more accessible franchises like Silent Hill and Resident Evil.

BNice wrote:

I hope not. Like you I love how video games have been very international since I was a snot nosed kid playing NES. One thing I think is interesting when people bring up these arguments is similar to when people bring up PC gaming. They decide to ignore a giant faction as if they don't count to inflate an argument or fear.

Example:
"PC Gaming is dead!"
"Uh Valve and Blizzard?"
"They don't count!"

In this case it's Nintendo. I've heard this argument before and it's popping up all over again and yet they all decide to ignore the fact that Nintendo exists. They are absolutely DOMINATING this generation with games filled with Japanese design and creative identity. The problem is the perception in the media (and a lot of "gamers") is that the 360/PS3 are "real" gaming while iOS/DS/PSP/Wii are not. So in that idiotic perspective of the industry then yeah, it looks like Japanese games may be losing their creative identity. However, aside from the 360/PS3 that creative identity is alive and kicking (and still alive on those platforms as well i.e. Bayonetta) A lot of this recent discussion stems from TGS, where surprise surprise, Nintendo wasn't attending.

So while I do think bologna like DmC shows companies trying to "westernize" their franchises and perhaps lose that Japanese feel, I think a lot of the time people are ignoring the fact that it is alive and thriving but simply not on the so called "real" gaming systems.

To really hammer it home. People are always bringing up Halo and CoD and all these other blockbuster games as behemoths in the gaming industry to be lauded and examples of western dominance. LOOK AT THESE SALES FIGURES. You can't rationally convince me that western aesthetics are "dominating" the industry when you actually look at what's actually going on.

360
Halo 3 - 8.81 million
CoD: MW2 - ~10 million

Wii
Wii Fit - 22.61 million
Mario Kart Wii - 22.55 million
Wii Sports Resort - 19.16 million
NSMB Wii - 15.81 million
Smash Bros. Brawl - 9.48 million
Super Mario Galaxy 8.84 million

DS
Nintendogs 23.26 milion
NSMB 22.49 million
Brain Age 18.7 million
Mario Kart DS 17.9 million
Pokemon Diamond/Pearl 17.3 million
Animal Crossing 10.79 million

etc. etc. etc.

All of these games are FILLED with "Japanese creative identity" and it's not like Nintendo is going to let that go any time soon.

To me, the brilliant design of games such as Galaxy more resemble Portal than anything coming out of the east. I my opinion, Nintendo has westernized itself more than any other japanese developer.

Is Japanese gaming losing its special flavor, or is that flavor changing as all do? Have a look here:

IMAGE(http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_qC54jayKgko/SF4SIeZXtrI/AAAAAAAABO4/s5RBk8On21Q/s400/800px-The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa.jpg)

Kanagawa Oki Nami Ura, by Hokusai. A classic of Japanese art, immediately recognizable, one of the first things people think of when told to imagine Japanese art.

At the time, his work was considered unconventional for its strong European influence.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

When I worry about Japanese aesthetics being on the decline, I'm worried about the disappearance of the Japanese expression of things like sex and relationships, violence, religion, disease, and social structure through video games. There's a world of difference between Super Mario Galaxy and Persona 4. While I'm not worried at all about Mario Galaxy getting watered down, I am worried about Persona and even the more accessible franchises like Silent Hill and Resident Evil.

Yeah I feel you. Bayonetta is one of my favorite games this generation because of that Japanese aesthetic. When I saw that horrifying DmC trailer I had similar fears. I guess I agree with you that I'm worried and do not want the Japanese aesthetic to leave but I don't see enough evidence that it's actually happening to the entire industry. I think it's happening slightly to the 360/PS3 but that's about it.

theditor wrote:

To me, the brilliant design of games such as Galaxy more resemble Portal than anything coming out of the east. I my opinion, Nintendo has westernized itself more than any other japanese developer.

I do hope this is sarcasm. While I won't argue with you what constitutes "western" game design I don't think eating giant mushrooms, riding dinosaurs and jumping on a plant that is alive embody the so called "western aesthetic" The day Mario is shooting people in a world consisting of 2 colors is the day I'll say Nintendo has become "westernized" And before anyone jumps on me saying I don't like western games, I love them too. I don't care where a game is made as long as it's fun, interesting and enjoyable.

BNice wrote:

I do hope this is sarcasm. While I won't argue with you what constitutes "western" game design I don't think eating giant mushrooms, riding dinosaurs and jumping on a plant that is alive embody the so called "western aesthetic" The day Mario is shooting people in a world consisting of 2 colors is the day I'll say Nintendo has become "westernized" And before anyone jumps on me saying I don't like western games, I love them too. I don't care where a game is made as long as it's fun, interesting and enjoyable.

When I think western design, I think intuitive, easy to control and understand, and well-designed interfaces. Think Valve, Blizzard, Epic, Infinity Ward, Bioware, PopCap, and Turn 10. Art style is ancillary, and usually doesn't have a definable impact on gameplay. Maybe I'm ignorant, but to me, common japanese design basically boils down to obscure, often text dense, counterintuitive games made for extremely specific niche fanbases. Even it has some sort of je ne sais quoi "japanese touch", it doesn't excuse poor gameplay. Unfortunately, this is exactly how games like MGS4 get a free pass, even while attempting to ape the games about "shooting people in a world consisting of 2 colors" that you're complaining about.

Generally speaking, Western games are more open-ended and are about characters and the choices they make. Eastern games are more linear and story-driven, with characters acting as elements of that story.

Generally speaking, of course.

I think that saying, "Japanese games are impenetrable" doesn't give Japanese designers enough credit. They may be impenetrable to Westerners who have not learned to understand the cultural cues, but that's closer to a language barrier than an objective design flaw.

For instance, in America we tend to think of art as something that moves us and causes us to have genuine emotion. However, Fumito Ueda has stated that while he is flattered that Westerners think of Shadow of the Colossus as art, he isn't sure why. He defines art as something that is complex and obscure, something you need to meditate on to fully understand.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, our words may be in a different language than theirs.

Well... Capcom is certainly trying to Westernize itself in game design, by admittance of Keiji Inafune. The problem is they seem to be going about it wrong in the sense that aesthetics don't make a game. There's plenty of ways to take some western design elements without making everything shades of brown and red. We'll see how this turns out in the long run.

theditor wrote:

When I think western design, I think intuitive, easy to control and understand, and well-designed interfaces. Think Valve, Blizzard, Epic, Infinity Ward, Bioware, PopCap, and Turn 10. Art style is ancillary, and usually doesn't have a definable impact on gameplay. Maybe I'm ignorant, but to me, common japanese design basically boils down to obscure, often text dense, counterintuitive games made for extremely specific niche fanbases. Even it has some sort of je ne sais quoi "japanese touch", it doesn't excuse poor gameplay. Unfortunately, this is exactly how games like MGS4 get a free pass, even while attempting to ape the games about "shooting people in a world consisting of 2 colors" that you're complaining about.

The reason I replied to your post was your comment that Nintendo all of a sudden has become a westernized game company with Super Mario Galaxy as an example.

theditor wrote:

To me, the brilliant design of games such as Galaxy more resemble Portal than anything coming out of the east. I my opinion, Nintendo has westernized itself more than any other japanese developer.

Nintendo has always had intuitive and stellar game design. Nintendo saved the entire console video game industry in the 80's by having intuitive and stellar game design before any of the companies you mentioned were even formed. Nintendo is the shining example of intuitive and stellar game design. If you asked Valve, Blizzard, Infinity Ward, Bioware, PopCap and Turn 10 who influenced them the most in terms of intuitive game design they would all probably answer "Nintendo" I agree that a lot of Japanese games are obtuse but so are games made in the west. But saying that Nintendo is aping on Valve? What? Nintendo hasn't changed 30+ years. Nintendo has always had phenomenal and intuitive game design. That's like saying Zelda is aping on God of War or iD as a company is copying Infinity Ward; it makes absolutely no sense.

But I'd agree that in general, western games are much more intuitive than the majority of games coming from the east. But to say that Nintendo is being westernized? They are doing what they always do.

I'm not sure that Mario's aesthetic is linked to any culture any more than Q*bert is western. Design aesthetic is different from game design. What you guys are talking about with regards to Mario is it's design.... jumping on plants and riding/fighting dinosaurs? Hello Commodore and Atari games......

The actual aesthetic of Mario is pretty thin. Compared with the aesthetic of H.R. Giger..... the above Japanese style of painting and illustration or the representation and exploration of the world through the 'mundane' lower classes of the English.

You're missing the point; Nintendo is the exception, not the example.
Ok, I misspoke when I said that Nintendo westernized itself. But the way they design games still has more in common with western design than most japanese development. I never said that Nintendo was aping Valve. I said that designers like Kojima are attempting to copy western design in an appeal to foreign markets.

One of the main differences in the two is Bioshock was a much more isolated game, where Rapture was as much a character as the cast. As seen in its sequel there was something lost in going back and trying to lose it again. Bioshock: Infinite isn't saying "Ok, this time, let's make Rapture like this!" It is its own entity as every Final Fantasy is, retaining the things that are essential to the franchise experience.

We are getting another creative universe that will make us question different ideas and philosophies than Rapture had, but without making Rapture obsolete. Just as Final Fantasy VI didn't make IV obsolete, and the existence of VII doesn't make the two former obsolete either.

Dante wasn't a character that needed a re-imagining. I was never a huge Devil May Cry fan, but I think if developers want to look at isolation they're going to have to look at the fact that the DMC games are f*cking hard. Usually I say to blame a lack of marketing, but DMC games are hard as f*cking balls, man. I think people keep forgetting that one of the reasons Halo was such a splash is because it managed to have an accessible difficulty listed as "normal" while providing something that was a total bitch for more regular gamers.

In the end, though, I don't think Capcom will sell Devil May Cry to the same crowd as other Western games. If it doesn't have a competitive multiplayer scene then of course you won't sell to the same folks that fall all over Call of Duty and Halo. When it comes to people that prefer single player gaming, however, I think they tend to be much more open to different kinds of experiences.

So Capcom's attempts to sell to both Western and Eastern markets just...it does seem like a real sacrifice.

One thing I noticed, though: every time I play a game from a Japanese developer the voice actors sound like they're from anime, whereas Western games have a variety of talents (from sh*tty to big names). Something tells me if you ditch the anime voice actors you'd probably be taken a little bit more seriously (I used to love anime, but now that I'm older I can hardly stand shows that I used to think were well-dubbed anymore).

Posting in this thread for track. I'm sure I'll have something to say at some point, but for now I'm still flummoxed by what exactly this mysterious je ne sais quoi refers to. I know it's somewhat ironic trying to pin it down, but unless you mean "Japanese games tend to have a giant wall of crazy stuff that makes no sense going on" (hi, DMC and Bayonetta!), I don't have a clue what you're talking about.

ccesarano wrote:

One thing I noticed, though: every time I play a game from a Japanese developer the voice actors sound like they're from anime, whereas Western games have a variety of talents (from sh*tty to big names). Something tells me if you ditch the anime voice actors you'd probably be taken a little bit more seriously (I used to love anime, but now that I'm older I can hardly stand shows that I used to think were well-dubbed anymore).

I'd disagree here. The problem is that there are very few good English voice language actors, period. The culture isn't encouraged the way it is in Japan, where voice actors are considered stars, more or less on a par with physical actors. The problem with using "big name" actors is that voice acting requires a different skillset from regular acting. Some actors can make the transition, but many can't. What needs to happen is a general improvement in the quality of American voice acting, and a willingness for studios to hire based on ability to perform, not star-hood, or cheapness.

Grubber788 wrote:

You know, as I play through S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat (hats off to the GWJ enabler squad) I also see this phenomenon, but obviously not with "Japaneseness," but rather "Eastern European/Russianess."

Hm. I think I know what you're talking about -- the Zone of CoP is a more forgiving place than that of SoC -- but hadn't thought about it in those terms.

If this seems too off-topic for this thread, I'd love to hear your thoughts over in the CoP thread.

While I agree there has been an undeniable trend towards the "westernization" of a variety of Japanese games, I wanted to throw in a bit of a devil's advocate position as to how bad a thing that is.

At least in the case of DmC - I think many would agree (not all but many) that the series had grown somewhat stale. DMC4 was a thoroughly enjoyable game but it really didn't serve to progress the franchise in any truly meaningful way. The most blatant example of this is that even in introducing a new character (Nero) they managed to create one who looks (and plays) shockingly similar to Dante in design. Handing development to a new developer seems an obvious way to inject some novelty and creativity into the franchise. Given that the developer in question is based out of the UK - it isn't surprising that the result is a more western-influenced aesthetic. Is it so terrible an idea to approach a long running series from a new cultural perspective. If those decisions are made from a creativity point of view I think that it absolutely is an idea with merit. If on the other hand it is made from an entirely financial perspective - not so great.

In contrast look at a game like Dead Rising, which was ostensibly created with the thought of being a more "western" type game for Capcom. DR actually retained a great deal of Japanese sensibility (which from most accounts has been retained in the sequel, even in the hands of a Canadian developer.) The result was, at the least, a novel and interesting meshing of two cultural design philosophies (everyone has their own opinion as to how much of the design was actually functional.)

I guess I'm also not overly fearful that we will actually lose the Japanese design sensibility in gaming. While the gaming market in Japan has undeniably shifted in recent years the market still exists and as such Japanese developers will continue to flex their creative muscle in developing for it. Additionally, there are still a number of developers firmly entrenched and actively making games in that style, many of which now see US release while in the past they would have been import only. Platinum Games, Ueda, pretty much everything Atlas publishes, Team Ninja (say what you will of the recent quality of their games they are undeniably Japanese games), much of what Level 5 Produces, even Square's primary franchises are firmly Japanese in design. For that matter the Japanese influence has made it way into many western developers toolkits as well. Little Big Planet, to name one, contains a great deal of Japanese aesthetic. Then you have a company like Q-games, based out of Japan but founded and run by the London-born Dylan Cuthbert. Q manages to celebrate their mixed heritage in nearly every piece of software they put out.

Homogeneity in gaming is clearly not a desirable thing but I think a melding of influences can be. It all comes down to how much respect the people writing the checks have for the creative integrity of the people making the games. That however is another debate entirely.

LobsterMobster wrote:

Is Japanese gaming losing its special flavor, or is that flavor changing as all do? Have a look here:

IMAGE(http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_qC54jayKgko/SF4SIeZXtrI/AAAAAAAABO4/s5RBk8On21Q/s400/800px-The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa.jpg)

Kanagawa Oki Nami Ura, by Hokusai. A classic of Japanese art, immediately recognizable, one of the first things people think of when told to imagine Japanese art.

At the time, his work was considered unconventional for its strong European influence.

I think it can be argued that the Japanese have invented very little of their own aesthetic. They have always borrowed ideas from others and then taken those ideas to a level well beyond the original and very much in their own way.

Garnett Lee made a really good point on the last Weekend Confirmed when he said if Japanese developers weren't so obsessed/distracted with making games that have "Western appeal" and concentrated more on just making the kinds of games they want to make, they probably wouldn't be in the kind of situation they're in. Good games appeal no matter who makes them. (Eg - Katamari Damacy - incredibly Japanese, but everyone enjoyed it because it was fun.)

And Leigh Alexander? Ugh.

Floomi wrote:

Posting in this thread for track. I'm sure I'll have something to say at some point, but for now I'm still flummoxed by what exactly this mysterious je ne sais quoi refers to. I know it's somewhat ironic trying to pin it down, but unless you mean "Japanese games tend to have a giant wall of crazy stuff that makes no sense going on" (hi, DMC and Bayonetta!), I don't have a clue what you're talking about.

I second this.

I'm 4th generation Japanese American, and I honestly have no clue what the difference is now, besides the fact that Japanese games are Just Weird(tm), and that all games have terrible voice acting.

I think a more significant element to fan reaction than this East/West business is that there's a world of difference between "reboot" and...whatever Bioshock: Infinite is ("spiritual sequel"?).

Tanglebones wrote:

I'd disagree here. The problem is that there are very few good English voice language actors, period. The culture isn't encouraged the way it is in Japan, where voice actors are considered stars, more or less on a par with physical actors. The problem with using "big name" actors is that voice acting requires a different skillset from regular acting. Some actors can make the transition, but many can't. What needs to happen is a general improvement in the quality of American voice acting, and a willingness for studios to hire based on ability to perform, not star-hood, or cheapness.

It varies with American games I think. I mean, even if voice actors are treated like crap in America (remember when kids films didn't always use big name celebrities?), you have a number of people working in modern animation that are just incredible at what they do. Some of that talent leaks on over to American video games. Sometimes you wind up with Nolan North. Other times you end up with House of the Dead 2 (which is a Japanese game, I know, but the quality of voice acting is what I'm going for).

Yet when I think of a big budget Western game like Call of Duty, I think "man, that's got some good voice actors in it". Sometimes we get celebrities (just look at Halo 2), but most of the time we get some competent people at the very least.

Yet most Japanese games just...they always seem like a bunch of kids playing with their toys to me.

Dirt wrote:

I think it can be argued that the Japanese have invented very little of their own aesthetic. They have always borrowed ideas from others and then taken those ideas to a level well beyond the original and very much in their own way.

I wouldn't dispute that, and am not making a value judgment on it. If anything it only reinforces my point that Japanese culture changes over time.

cube wrote:
Floomi wrote:

Posting in this thread for track. I'm sure I'll have something to say at some point, but for now I'm still flummoxed by what exactly this mysterious je ne sais quoi refers to. I know it's somewhat ironic trying to pin it down, but unless you mean "Japanese games tend to have a giant wall of crazy stuff that makes no sense going on" (hi, DMC and Bayonetta!), I don't have a clue what you're talking about.

I second this.

I'm 4th generation Japanese American, and I honestly have no clue what the difference is now, besides the fact that Japanese games are Just Weird(tm), and that all games have terrible voice acting.

Fine you unimaginative people... how about these cultural differences?

1. Interest, wonder and exploration of deities and organised religion
2. Exploration of and less strict gender and sexual roles in society (expecially wrt men/males)

Both of which are pretty much taboo/not ever touched by anyone in the western gaming industry but feature prominently in many Japanese games.

3. Questioning of authority structures and leading cultural and social rebellions

Let's face it... while there are many games about 'sticking it to the man' in the western world they're never really about 'sticking it to the man', they're always about 'sticking it to this corrupt man who has managed to weasel himself into a position of power but that the overall ruling structure is okay!' or they're about 'sticking it to the man who just double crossed you' or 'sticking it to this obviously broken system that is going to be shown as broken throughout the game' - but generally both have the same caveat as the first in that the overall system is perceived as good but somehow taken advantage of.

4. The use of characterisation (specifically self doubt) to show that protagonists don't necessarily believe that what they're doing is right but that they must do it anyway to achieve change.

In a large portion of western games there is never any questioning at all. No real 'moral' agonising over your actions or the actions of your group. If it does come then it is usually right after you switch sides and start fighting your former comrades. I'm struggling to think of any games that do it the Japanese way. Yes, sometimes they create 'whiney emo' kids but that's just a result of poor characterisation and perhaps translation.

There's some just for starters and discussion! Have at it!

Duoae wrote:

2. Exploration of and less strict gender and sexual roles in society (expecially wrt men/males)

Both of which are pretty much taboo/not ever touched by anyone in the western gaming industry but feature prominently in many Japanese games.

3. Questioning of authority structures and leading cultural and social rebellions

Let's face it... while there are many games about 'sticking it to the man' in the western world they're never really about 'sticking it to the man', they're always about 'sticking it to this corrupt man who has managed to weasel himself into a position of power but that the overall ruling structure is okay!' or they're about 'sticking it to the man who just double crossed you' or 'sticking it to this obviously broken system that is going to be shown as broken throughout the game' - but generally both have the same caveat as the first in that the overall system is perceived as good but somehow taken advantage of.

4. The use of characterisation (specifically self doubt) to show that protagonists don't necessarily believe that what they're doing is right but that they must do it anyway to achieve change.

Wait, you're telling me there's a japanese game with a whiny self-doubting androgynous/metrosexual protagonist who topples the regime and becomes the savior of the earth? How original/unique/compelling/visceral!

(I don't mean to troll, but I guess I'm kinda trolling).