Tuesday, July 29, 2014

East Defeats West: Why Japanese Games Appeal to Me Most

For quite some time, I have been a fan of playing Eastern, primarily Japanese software. Sure, I could have simply titled this piece "I Like Japanese Games Best. Here's Why", but that lacked proper punch, so to speak. We writing types have to say creative... or something. Anyway, there's a plethora of reasons as to why Western gaming has all but lost me, but at the same time I think it's important to define what I mean by the terms "Western gaming/games" and "Japanese gaming/games."

With regard to Western gaming, I mean the so-called AAA publishers and developers, folks like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, Epic Games, and so forth. I don't throw in indies in there, as the name suggests, they're independent and all over the world. Japanese gaming is your companies like Nintendo, Square Enix, Capcom, Bandai Namco, Koei Tecmo, among many others.

For a fun gaming experience, I enjoy both console as well as handheld gaming. I'm not talking about mobile gaming, which I don't have much experience with, nor do I have much ire for either. I'm referring to dedicated handheld gaming like what is found on the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. For big Western publishers and developers, it seems their focus is either go big (AAA console gaming) or go mobile. They don't generally bother with handheld devices, and they haven't for a good while. The PSP was an abnormality of sorts, and even then, it promised a console-like experience on the go. It doesn't take too much thought to understand why AAA Western publishers jumped to that system.

Upcoming PS4 game The Order: 1886
This is in contrast with Japanese studios who still develop on three tiers essentially-- high, middle, and low. High being AAA games, and low being mobile games. What's the middle? Those are the projects from the pre-seventh generation era where middle-of-the-road-budgeted games were much more common on consoles. Now we see them mostly on portable devices. It's important to note that indies are an entirely different beast, and technically the title of this editorial could very well be "East Defeats Most of the West: Why Japanese Games and Indies Appeal to Me Most." Indies are pretty much picking up the slack that big Western third-parties used to take on, those middle-of-the-road budget games.

Furthermore, one of my biggest pet peeves with gaming from the major studios and developers in the West is how the term "video game" is almost like a bad pair of words. Many seem downright ashamed to be making games at all, so they call them something else, like "interactive experiences" or some other pretentious term.

Call of Duty: Ghosts (Multi)
A large issue is that many Western studios don't really come off as folks who want to make games in the first place. They seem to prefer to make movies. However, we already have a medium that focuses on film experiences. It's called Hollywood.

A point of contention I have here is that a lot of Western studios want to compete with Hollywood. They simply want to turn gaming into as big a monster as Hollywood. However, I think it's a mistake to do so. If you really want to make Hollywood-like experiences, then go make movies. Of course, you'll probably become laughed out of the business, as most video game stories make stuff like Showgirls look like The Prince of Tides in comparison.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Regardless, I'm of the opinion that stories very much have a place in gaming. However, it's important to tell those stories in a way that only our medium can do. It's so easy to just follow the formula Hollywood has created, throw an hour of cinematics into your game, break it up with "gameplay", and then call it a game. It takes much more skill to take the same story and implement it into the gaming experience in a way that Hollywood would never be able to imagine.

There's plenty to like with Japanese games over the West, but that isn't to say that the West is behind or doing poorly. The West is simply, by and large, heading in a direction with gaming that does not appeal to me. That's all. Is it a bad direction? That's without a doubt subjective. Once in a while I do enjoy playing an open-world game, a shooter, a racing game, or whatnot, but I tend to like the what Japanese developers and publishers are putting out much more often. Whether they possess more charm, more polish, less masculine white males as protagonists, and less Hollywood-wannabes, the games from Japan are what I tend to lean towards more in my modern gaming.

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