Japanese Videogames: Part 1  
An Introduction: Culture Clashes

MerylSilverburg Ask the average Western video gamer what they think about Japanese videogames and they might say "too cutesy" or "bright and loud", referring to those games such as "Parappa the Rapper", "Gitaroo-Man", "Sonic", "Hello Kitty" and so on. Not surprising considering Japan is known for its, almost religious, obsession with all things "kawaii". Ask the same question with a fairly knowledgeable gamer and they might reply "very cool" or "pretty awesome". Again, considering the vast amount of terrific influential games that come from the small country - "Metal Gear Solid", "Final Fantasy", "Mario", and "Tekken", just to name a few - this sort of answer is also expected. If both parties were to travel to Japan and see the games themselves, they would probably be right. However, the one thing that might be a surprise (even shocking) to them is how absurd and bizarre they really are. Nearly 80% of the games might be considered as "nonsense" or "crap" to the American audience. And yet, to some, they may be "cool" or "interesting". This sort of reaction is understandable since many of the games, console or arcade, can seem quite disturbing. But, if you really get down to playing some of these, you'll find out that some aren't so bad or strange and are actually quite fun.

Culture Clash
The differences between Japanese and US videogames are the culture and the people. Through the way the Japanese were brought up to the way they think and view their surroundings reflects their interests and dislikes. The same goes for Westerners.

Hello Kitty, pure Japanese cutenessSo what exactly interests the Japanese? They really enjoy your average games, but they have their distinctive tastes which are complete opposite of the West. Many US games translated into Japanese were very unappealing or not popular at all, one of them being "Grand Theft Auto III". Sale figures for the game in Japan were very low and this game appealed only to a certain group of people. Apparently, it had to do something with the mindless violence since the Japanese are not attracted to very violent games (pretty ironic when you think about certain very violent, bloody Japanese films such as "Battle Royale"). Other games such as the famous Crash Bandicoot series were "fixed" up by Naughty Dog to appeal to the Japanese. Crash was cute enough for the West but they had to make him cuter for the Japanese audience along with redesigning parts of the game. It was only then when this series became one of the best-selling US game in Japan.

It might be stereotypical to say the Japanese are very strategic people, who loves intellectual and visual stimulating games that requires brains and reflexes. But, this is actually true; the Japanese favors strategy and simulation especially when it involves romance, like those popular dating simulations.

Yet, while being a very intellectual group, they are also a very "feeling" type of people which allows them to love dramas and emotion-wrought situations. Through this, they focus on storytelling combined with real emotions, relationships, hardships - and so, RPGs were born. As the we know, RPGs such as Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross, and Xenosaga would fail to be as popular as they are without the moving, intense storyline and empathetic feelings for the characters.

They also have a fetish for the, again stereotypical but true, bright and cute, puzzle or seemingly nonsense side of gaming. Music games are the rage in Japan, less popular now than back in 1998/1999 but still insanely huge. Considering how popular karaoke is, it's not a surprise. These sort of games seem to be for people of all age-range, from teens to adults. Japanese businessmen have been seen dancing and hopping about on the popular "Dance Dance Revolution" machines (now considered a stone-age game over there). Some of the console-orientated games are very silly and upbeat to give pleasure and fun, while some games are still cute and bright, but more relaxing, which could be boring to some regardless of the flashy visuals.

As for the US, Westerners love action and violence and prefer darker, tougher games over bubbly, loud genres. Like the Japanese, this could be a stereotypical statement, but again, it's true. The huge, best-selling action games such as "Tomb Raider", "Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City", "Metal Gear Solid", with the exception of the last being created by a Japanese, were filled with action and were created by Westerners for Westerners. With the MGS series, Kojima stated that he "grew up to Western action films, so the MGS series was created with an American audience in mind". The majority of these games feature more action than puzzle (though "Tomb Raider" had it's share, but if it were called "Puzzle Raider" it probably wouldn't do so well - and ironically enough, the more "puzzles" they tried to feature in the later games, the worse they turned out to be).

HaloFirst-Person shooters are also enormous in the US. "Halo", "TimeSplitters", and "Medal of Honor", FPS shooters have been a great success for many years. These games allow the player to be very involved since there is no other "body" you have to control. And Westerners tend to enjoy games where you are responsible for your actions, you are seeing everything through your own eyes, where you are your own person. Some might argue there are more involvement in FPS than RPGs since RPGs are about controlling another character and seeing that character's story play out.

Strategy/Simulation games are something Westerners enjoy but it's an average group who enjoys these games the most. The most popular strategy game to hit consoles is "The Sims" series but others, such as "Kessen" or "Ace Combat" or "YuGiOh" were ones that were unsuccessful due to lack of appeal.

With the cutesy and bright games, there isn't much. Closest thing you'll find to anything being called "cute" in a Western-developed game are probably platforms like the "Crash Bandicoot" series or the "Spyro the Dragon" series. And it turns out the "Spyro" series weren't appealing to those who hated the bright colorful atmosphere. "Kingdom Hearts" was ignored by those who disliked the adorableness despite it being an excellent and challenging game. Westerners enjoys puzzle games that are addicting and leave you thinking about them when you leave. The best example would be "Tetris": when you finish the game, you still see the tiles/blocks falling. Or they prefer the games that require you to get better and better at the game but that overall aren't silly, the best example being "Dance Dance Revolution".

With each country having their own values and beliefs, there is enough reason why certain Japanese games might appear strange to Westerners and vice-versa and why many of the interesting Japanese games will never make it overseas. I will talk and explain about Japanese videogames, covering them in genres (Action/Adventure/Platforms, Anime Games, Strategy/Simulation, RPGs, Sports/Driving, and Puzzle/Miscellaneous) and explain a bit why these sort of games won't get translated or brought over to the US (though it may already be pretty obvious).


- MerylSilverburg (29 Jun, 2004)