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Gaming The Japanese Myth


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This is by no means a fairly recent trend, but I see it just about everywhere and have decided to comment on it now.

Many companies that make great games are of Japanese descent. However, listening to many gaming fans on the internet, you'd think that any game that comes out of Japan is pure gold.

There are two companies in particular, in which I have noticed this trend with - one company that i feel has earned this distinction and one that I feel that definitely has not: Nintendo and Squaresoft/Square-EA/Square-Enix.

There are literally millions of people who see Square as a sort of gaming god, as it were. They snatch up each and every Square game in sight and treat each new Final Fantasy as if it were the second coming of Jesus Christ himself. However, in my opinion, this is simply not the case. Really, if you go and play a lot of Square's games, you'll find just as many, if not more, mediocre games (as is the case with plenty of other companies out there). However, many Square fans with their blind and undying love for their favorite company, simply can not see this.

Now, let's go to the other side of the spectrum with Nintendo. Die-hard Nintendo fans are sometimes cut from the same fanatical mold as hardcore Square fans, unfortunately, and act like each new Nintendo game is the greatest thing ever (and I will fully admit to being like this a few years ago). Now, don't take this as me saying I hate Nintendo - Nintendo, is in fact, my favorite gaming company. However, I hope that you can see the pattern developing here - many gaming fans think only the Japanese can make great games.

There are several American developers, but only a few have gained recognition (the most prominent including EA, Activision, and (bleh) Acclaim). Why is this? Is there a bias apparent towards Japanese companies? I think so. Is there a bias against American companies? I think so, as well. It's not that strong, but it's definitely there - and in more people than you would think.

What does everyone else think about this?
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[color=#707875]Well, by and large...American console game developers aren't nearly as good as either Japanese or European developers. That's simply been a fact over the years, for a variety of reasons.

Having said that, I think there are a select few American developers who are really pushing the barriers in various ways. In the PC field, the majority of the world's truly amazing developers are American.

In the console field, the same is true with Japan. But as I mentioned, in recent times, we've seen some truly amazing stuff coming from certain American studios. I'll give you some of my favourite American developers:

1) Retro Studios. Yes, they've only made one game -- Metroid Prime. And yes, Nintendo was very heavily involved with it. But what's the result? A truly superb masterpiece. Retro was primarily involved with the game and they were truly the driving force behind it. Metroid Prime is an example of a truly amazing video game...far better than many other releases this generation.

2) Silicon Knights. They're not "American" as such (they're Canadian), but what a stunning development house they are. Eternal Darkess is, like Metroid Prime, a game that experiments and breaks rules. It's also one of the deepest, most plot-driven games I've ever encountered. ED is far, far more plot-driven than most Final Fantasy games I've ever played.

3) EA Studios Canada. Yeah, another Canadian developer. SSX is their forte. I've never really liked snowboarding games at all...but the SSX games are really superb titles. Nothing realistic about them, but they display amazing track design, gorgeous visuals and great attention to detail.

4) Naughty Dog. I always felt that the Crash Bandicoot games were very dry, boring things. Very uninventive. But Jak & Daxter proved that while Naughty Dog isn't really an "innovator" like Nintendo, it nonetheless knows what it's doing...and does it very, very well. Jak & Daxter is singlehandedly better than most Rare platformers I've seen in recent years.

Right now, that's all I can think of. My brain is fried...no sleep in ages. ~_^

In terms of Square-Enix, you are right. Square-Enix often produces good games with excellent art. Gameplay wise, Square-Enix is no better than the vast majority of developers (well, [i]Square[/i] isn't, in general). How anyone can adore Final Fantasy and ignore Zelda or Mario is beyond me. While Final Fantasy is generally very good...and plays quite well, Mario and Zelda are really the epitome of sublime gameplay and game control, in many ways.

I mean, if you play something like Kingdom Hearts for ten minutes...then you go and play Super Mario Sunshine or The Wind Waker, you [i]immediately[/i] see the enormous difference in quality there. Kingdom Hearts is quite pretty and all...but compared to the latter two games, it's just...flat. It doesn't move like silk. Its camera is pointless. It just lacks refinement. And it shows.

In terms of gaming "in general", and if you include PC gaming...American developers are still very much up there with most Japanese developers. I think the main difference is just that the Japanese really created video games (or at least, made them what they are). And Japanese companies like Nintendo have consistently brought about innovations that have become standard in the industry.

Although, in terms of game companies not being recognized...I could then start talking about Australian developers. Some of the most innovative and revolutionary games were developed here, but published by American labels. As a result, American labels get the credit. A game like Super Smash TV is one of those games -- it was developed right here in Melbourne, by Beam Software. But it's always called "Midway's Super Smash TV" or whatever. *shrug*[/color]
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[QUOTE][i]Originally posted by James [/i]
[B][color=#707875]Gameplay wise, Square-Enix is no better than the vast majority of developers (well, [i]Square[/i] isn't, in general). [/color] [/B][/QUOTE]

Thank you for making that distinction. Now I don't have to heh. I'm not going to get into that again, but let's just say that I think Square is disgustingly overrated. That's personal opinon.

There are plenty of great Western companies. Unforunately they are held back by the vast amounts of shovelware that is easier to release. Midway, Acclaim and so on are big culprits of this.

For the most part, Western companies always seemed to regulate themselves to the PC sector. However, with videogames getting more and more popular, many are doing both. The Xbox enticed a lot of PC developers to jump ship because of the similiar hardware.

You just have to know where to look I guess. Consoles generally come from Japan, which I'm sure perpetuates this train of thought. The US-minded Xbox seems to be helping shift this idea a lot more.
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Well, I never was a big PC Gamer (though, I'm a known Grim Fandango fanatic - that game rules), so I wasn't really including the PC Market in all this. But, in all fairness, I guess you can put them in this, too. It's all games in the end.

Oh yeah, thanks for mentioning Silicon Knights, James - that made my day. Eternal Darkness was an awesome, awesome game and one of the few that I've actually looked forward to playing over and over and over again and enjoyed it even more than the first time (most games I play, I don't enjoy nearly as much when I play them a second time - a lot I don't even play a third time through).

That was an interesting tidbit about Smash TV, too. I always enjoyed that game. I never really did think that Midway was responsible for it lol.

[quote][i]Originally posted by Semjaza Azazel[/i]Consoles generally come from Japan, which I'm sure perpetuates this train of thought. The US-minded Xbox seems to be helping shift this idea a lot more.[/quote]

Yeah, that probably helped create the bias somewhat. People always think the source is the only one responsible for great work, huh? And, as you pointed out, companies like Acclaim, Midway, etc. certainly aren't helping the reputations of countries outside of Japan (because a lot of people, unfairly, base their foreign gaming opinions only on U.S. developers).

Looking back, I probably shouldn't have only mentioned the U.S. in this discussion. Silly me.
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Also, some people only tend to accept the Japanese style rpg, whereas you play through a set story, which is normally good, yes, but you have very little freedom; American RPG's seem to be more open-ended, like Morrowind and KOTOR, yet some 'avid' RPG'ers dont understand that the japanese style RPG didnt define the genre, (infact, RPG's originated over here in the states with games like D&D!), they are just one style...
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