The Acclaim, Shame And Fame of Japanese Games



  • Japanese videogames are quite an indulgence. I think people would hear about a Japanese game and automatically think it's stylish, indie and will be packed with characters whose haircuts resemble one too many attempts to make a toaster friends with a bathtub. Their prominence in recent years has seen them go from unknown entities that only hardcore fanbases will care about, to some of the most revered, respected and popular games around.

    However the crux of this post is an argument that Japanese games, particularly the more successful ones like Yakuza and Persona-are starting to run together, relying on the same kinds of quests and thrills we've been witnessing since their respective series' started. In Yakuza we know of its over-the-top weirdness and its unashamed craziness, combining excitable and zany characters with hilarious situations and producing absurdly stonking WTF-just-happened results. Whilst over in Persona-land we're growing more accustomed to JRPG adventures that feature social aspects and school settings.

    None of this is speaking ill of either franchise, but there's only so much of these tropes you can take before these series' start jumping the shark. Already it would appear that Judgment isn't as successful as Yakuza despite featuring a compelling crime-tackling slant to the usual bish-bash-bosh we associate with the Yakuza franchise.

    Then there are certain games that can fall into the trap of being too much like another franchise. Neo: The World Ends With You has unfairly fallen into the trap of being painfully reminiscent of Persona 5 even though the original 2007 The World Ends With You came first. I will admit I am one of those who thought that Neo ripped off Persona 5 because I had not played TWEWY on the Nintendo DS, so hadn't the correct frame of reference to draw on. It's evident that the success of Persona 5 has been such that it has caused games with similarities to be criticized because they are smaller entities and don't make the significant impact that larger franchises have done.

    Another point to raise here is that it has taken years for western audiences to truly notice the brilliance of Japanese titles, so they are the underdogs who have been given the golden ticket to eat at the big-boys table. At once obscure, they've gradually forged a huge following-and it's not just Yakuza and Persona, but also Monster Hunter as well.

    Now I don't personally get the huge appeal of Monster Hunter outside of its co-op intrigue. Games where you have to whack enemies over and over and over again seem tedious and grindy to me, if I wanted this kind of gameplay I'll go fetch Metal Gear: Survive whilst flicking peanuts at my TV and then falling asleep whilst drool escapes from my mouth. I know I'm being facetious, Monster Hunter is far more interesting and awesome than Metal Gear: Survive will ever be, but I want compelling gameplay that feels more exacting and that's you're doing significant damage, rather than chipping away at a goliath with various weaponry.

    This droning about Monster Hunter leans me onto what many Japanese titles tend to do-create safe, factory-produced games that of course are far bolder and whimsical than many mainstream western releases, but they seem to run together in the sense that you've seen this before and done that in another Japanese game.

    Although this might be an example of a game with the similarities I've been criticizing, Danganronpa has impressed me continuously because it's so stupidly absurd, but the characters are always so damn deranged that I can't help but sink into all its truly bizarre foibles. I love that Monokuma is a two-tone bear who finds the perfect moments to interfere and inject his despair-often in a truly chuckle-inducing and chortling way. I find myself laughing constantly at how outrageously funny and strange the game is, and that's what I really embrace-the power to make players feel totally entranced into a videogame experience like nothing else.

    Japanese games do generally steer the ship of innovation and whimsy but I think they can go even further out than most of them already do. Yes there is a concern about alienating your mainstream fanbase that you've built up, but I think right now the ballsier the better, show us that you want to be taken notice of instead of being another me-too. As the triple A industry shrinks with greed, show us that you know how to be the direct antithesis of that-Japanese games are best equipped for accelerating this direction tenfold and making games that reach further out than ever before.