Editorial: Why Do I Still Care?

A country wherein the full potential of Kinect may be realised

Japan you break my heart.

I am deeply disappoint. You provided me succour throughout my childhood and adolescence, only to vacate the field of play when I needed you the most, and have most cruelly dashed my hopes and dreams for the current console generation. But enough of that, It is not the purpose of this editorial to once again sink the boot into the floundering Japanese software industry (well, not just that anyway), rather it is to express my bewilderment as to why Japanese industry going-ons are still able to catch my attention in the way they always have, despite the fact that I’ve largely given up on the possibility of a qualitative turnaround.

There's something not quite right ...

Force of habit is a funny thing. Were I a child or adolescent currently enjoying my formative years amidst the seas of dross floating out of Japan, then the Japanese gaming industry should hold very little interest for me beyond their knack for making consoles that don’t explode. In short there would be no formative attachment, no unwarranted association of quality game design. Were I a child of this century I would view Western development as the bright new frontier of the modern era and have been weaned on a diet of space marine FPS and calling people fags online, and NOT on Japan’s adorably absurd giant robots and calling Oliver Motok a fag online …

I was not a child of this century however, I was a child of last, wherein I was showered with the bounty of an INDUSTRY in bloom. I came to associate Japanese development houses with quality, refinement and expansive game design, and I also grew rather accustomed to their aesthetics. The aesthetics that I love are perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed about Japanese gaming, when perhaps they should have. Japanese games continue to try and visually compete with the West when they are, by and large, utterly incapable of sustaining this current trajectory, a trajectory which has had a demonstrably negative impact on virtually every other facet of game design.

A brief demonstration of TUNNEL RUN!!!

The games coming out of Japan are literally all facade and no fucking potatoes, and yet I am frequently engaged by their advertising, because let’s face it, the one thing that Japanese developers/publishers still know how to do is put together an advert which looks like the type of game that I imagined five years ago that they would be capable of producing by 2010-2011. Resident Evil 5 looked to be terrifying and amazing, Devil May Cry 4 looked exhilarating, Final Fantasy XIII looked to all the world to be a Final Fantasy game, and so too did the Last Remnant. What they were in fact was cut down shadows of what they initially appeared to be. I understand this, and still like Pavlov’s dog I drool at the mere mention of forthcoming details of Square Enix’s make believe epics. Because I am an idiot.

How many of you were bitterly disappointed by FFXIII and yet still lap up details of Versus and Agito XIII? How many of you thought that Resident Evil 5 was a joke made in very bad taste, and yet still think that Resident Evil Revelations looks quite promising?


Like a junkie I want this monkey off my back, but after years of abuse it just isn’t happening. Contrary to what you would think, the more Japanese games disappoint me, the hungrier I get for more Japanese games. Because there is one solitary remaining spark of optimism left in my being that I have not yet managed to snuff out. Why?

All façade, no FUCKING potato!

I honestly wish that I was a massive fan of rape sims, because then Japan could never disappoint me.


  1. OMG how can u say that? Western games are all about vilenss and killing people! I would rather play a game where I hav to trick cute gurlz into liking me!!11

    BTW I’m totes going to cosplay Vanille-chan at Derpocon this year, gomenasai!!

  2. @Lane: You have fun with that!

    I generally agree that the state of Japanese game development is piss-poor at the moment. At least they are still producing Pokemon games with rock-solid dependability. Pity that nothing else seems to have survived the jump from the 20th to the 21st century.

  3. Here’s what’s wrong:

    1. Substandard graphics. Seriously. Prerendered video is fine, but in game graphics are a mess.

    2. Text based menus for essential game functions like combat. It’s like using the passive voice in a novel, an action killer.

    3. Trope fetishism. Spiky haired emo teens saving the world was never a good story.

    4. Grind mechanics introduced to artificially extend playtime.

    5. In game actions (like equipping armor) not affecting character models.

    6. Dating sims dating sims dating sims

    That’s why handheld Japanese games are typically better. I expect less from them than console games.

  4. @Lane:

    1) What? FFVI? FFIX? FFXII? FFXIII? FFXIV? The in-game graphics were absolutely astonishing for each of these, to such a degree that they are still some of the best looking things around for their respective systems.

    2) No. Just wrong. I’d rather have text menus any day. What is an action killer for me is a bunch of “Press X to Cut” mechanics that turn RPGs into Action games. If I wanted to play something like that, I’d pop my Soul Calibur II disc in. HURF HURF GUYS, I’M A BRO NOW CUZ I’M PLAYIN’ ME A MAN’S FIGHTIN’ GAME.

    3) Wrong again. It’s overdone, but so is the “Let’s pretend we are Tolkien” fetish that the West has been gleefully sucking cock with for decades–only recently complemented by the “Aliens” fascination (cf. Space Marines!) that must either delight or confound the director of those movies.

    4) Agreed, but this is absent from most modern JRPGs. I haven’t needed to grind to be the correct level in an FF game since FF III (original)–and then only at the end.

    5) Extremely trivial, and also increasingly not an issue (see FFXII and XIII. And XIV does this better than *any* game currently in existence, where every single thing shows up, down to individual rings, earrings, and necklaces.)

    6) Agreed. But Dating Sims are Dating Sims and RPGs are RPGs. I don’t complain that Western RPGs suck because of NASCAR GAMES NASCAR GAMES NASCAR GAMES.

  5. 1. Last Remnant. Resonance of Fate. QED.

    2. So adopt a non-menu control system that doesn’t adopt an action game’s scheme! Turn based combat is fine as long as turns are hidden and choice is more organic. Dragon Age had a good system.

    3. Western games suck here too, no lie, but the NO U! argument doesn’t excuse Japanese overreliance on a single story architecture for 20 years.

    4. Any sort of minigame/crafting system counts here too. Western games have this problem too, notably Bethesda games.

    5. Not trivial; visibility of reward to player happiness is important. Fuck stats; I want to see my awesome sword of uberness.

    6. Except when people put dating sims in RPGs. Like Persona 3 Portable.

  6. 1) Lane has clearly never played Resonance of Fate, it’s sub 720p, but still manages to be Tri-Ace’s best looking game of this generation, with a lot of meticulous modeling put into environments. That said, there are a lot of truly horrendous graphics coming out of Japan.

    2) I’m with Lusipurr, menu-based battle systems are much more engaging than button mashers.

    3) Japan’s trope fetishism is a bane to all thinking people, and their output is suffering hugely because of this in the West. The problem isn’t that you have spiky haired teens saving the world in some games, the problem is that you have spiky haired teens saving the world in all games, and they are rarely developed beyond their trope characteristics anymore.

    4) I don’t see mini-games as a problem here, the one thing I’m losing my tolerance for however is all the late game fetch-quests thrown in to bolster the playtimes of games which are already long enough (ie find four kinds of huge Materia and then find the Key of the Ancients on the strength of Bugenhagen’s vague hints).

    5) This is a point that could only ever be made by an MMO addicted loot whore.

    6) I’m generally not a fan of cross-polinating JRPGs with dating sims, but it worked well in the Persona games.

  7. 5) @Lane: Sword changes are generally visible in JRPGs.

  8. 1. I returned it to Gamestop after three hours.

    2. Dragon Age wasn’t a button mashed. It was tactical. There’s a happy medium.

    4. That’s sort of my point. Every action in a game should advance the story. Side quests are generally filler. If they must be in there, no more than 10-15 minutes.

    5. MMOs are successful because this principle works. Getting new stuff in games is fun; having it have an inmediate impact is gratifying. Even in single player games (Zelda, God of War, etc.) getting new stuff is part and parcel of the game. A reward is a defining feature.

    6. I gave Persona most of a cruise. It detracted from a good game to have dialogue trees like that. I’d rather have a game with more limited dialogue choices and tighter pacing than wondering if I needed to bring the insecure girl a Coke.

  9. 4) It really depends how it’s implemented. If a half way decent mini-game is integrated well into a game, and is justified by it’s narrative (a la FFVII and its motorbike, snowboard and RTS sequences). On the other hand you have mini-games which are integrated terribly, such as having to perform a near-perfect run of a musical rhythm mini-game in order to advance the plot of Birth by Sleep, fuck you Nomura!

    5) So in essence what you are saying is that what ruins JRPGs is the sheer fact that they are not Western MMOs?

    My reward for getting new stuff is that it works better than the old stuff.

    6) That was the game lane, and dialogue tends tend to consist of more than just binary responses.

  10. 5. No, as Lusi said, FFXIV does this. And there are plenty of Western games that don’t update sprites. It’s a matter of games making use of a graphical engine and my character model. Simply working better is hidden from me.

    6. I enjoyed the extra hour portions of the game. The rest was damn dull, and this is sort of the same problem I have with western sandbox type games like Oblivion or the upcoming Skyrim. Too much “oh look at how many mundane and boring things we can cram in!” and not enough fantastic escapism.

  11. 5) OK, MMOs in general then. I don’t really notice whether or not my characters are updated to reflect their equipment, I couldn’t imagine anything more dull.

    6) I found the persona games rather addictive, all the little side stories were rather interesting.

  12. Lane… You use to be my hero till you bad mouthed Resonance of Fate.