Is Japan Really 5 Years Behind In Game Making?
By Kei Beneza (dividelife), OnRPG Journalist
Not so long ago, Capcom’s development lead Keiji Inafune shocked the world after mocking the Japanese gaming industry, as well as his current employer at the Tokyo Game Show (TGS). According to him, none of the games featured in that event impressed him, and that their gaming industry was 5 YEARS BEHIND (Ouch). For him, Western games are currently tiered to perfection, catering to a wide variety of gamers with a diverse set of games. I have been a fan of Japanese games ever since I could remember. From fighting games, to RPGs, Japanese games definitely screamed QUALITY. As an avid gamer, I would attest to these claims, especially after playing the recent games.
So is the Japanese gaming industry really 5 years behind? After seeing games like Final Fantasy XIII and Record of Agarest War, I couldn’t help but agree with Inafune’s rant. The main fact that western RPGs like Dragon Age and Mass Effect were able to provide us with a living and breathing world somehow acted as the nail that drove these JRPGs (or Japanese Games in general) down to the ground. With tons of new features presenting itself via western games, being able to appreciate the classic feeling of Japanese games became somewhat a chore. While we were offered new First-Person-Shooters, the freedom of choice, and a higher scale of roleplaying, the only games the Japanese gaming industry came up with were more tactic-based RPGs, linear storylines, and an array of sequels to games that didn’t even deserve them. Truth be told, their adult visual novels offered more diversity than their current RPGs. At least you’re given a choice if you were going to pursue a girl or not.
Graphics, especially in this era, should also have its benchmarks. Other than the linear Final Fantasy XIII, I have yet to see another game that made use of today’s graphic engines. I’m not saying that the 2D sprites are passe, but it could definitely use a huge makeover. Surely they could create high definition sprites that matches today’s resolution, rather than just upscale it to a BEARABLE degree like running a PS1 game on an HD TV.
For Specific Audiences ONLY
To be honest, I am not quite sure if those games are really 5 years behind or if they were just made for a target audience. In an attempt to shed some light on the spectrum, I browsed around the web, hoping to see their current line up. To my surprise, I saw a bunch of Visual Novels, a few shooters, and a collection of anime games that are mostly made for hardcore fans (not that I mind, of course).
Although I think that these things rely greatly on the player’s preferences, Japanese MMOs have not exactly been a treat for MMO fans everywhere. Sure, Final Fantasy XI was pretty decent, but here comes Final Fantasy XIV. There’s no doubt that games like Final Fantasy hold a dear place in our hearts, but as far as evolution goes, it’s still the same Japanese game we used to love (and that right there is the problem). As much as we enjoyed old RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Actraiser, it never really evolved in any other aspect except for the graphics and platform.
5 Years Behind, Or 5 Years Advanced?
While some deem Inafune’s words as the absolute truth, I can’t help but seek the other side of this argument. Sure, their games are hard to understand and will constantly lack tutorials for the years to come, but at some point, it can also be considered as the main point of Japanese games (yes, not being able to understand it). Japan is full of hardcore games, and you can probably attest to this theory after playing some danmakus (bullet hell games) or by trying out their unrivaled combo systems. According to some, Final Fantasy XIV’s interface was pretty bad, due to the fact that you had to click a couple of times just to execute the simplest actions. Menus would often lead to sub-menus that are normally just a click away when playing other Western MMOs like Warhammer Online and World of Warcraft. Maybe it was meant to be that way. Some people want more depth and difficulty in their gameplay, and being able to be a complete interface master by scrolling through menus that are practically impossible to understand could count as a remedy.
Old School Forever
Admit it, even though we’re living in a whole new generation of gaming, you’re still craving for some old school action. Claims like “Nothing beats old-school games” will always be there; sadly, that is also where the contradiction stems from. Japanese games have been keeping it old school ever since, and even though people rave about the classics as being the best, they still criticize the game for not being able to give them new or nextgen content. Maybe it’s really time for the Japanese industry to take it to the next level.
Is Westernizing Really The Option?
Inafune also stated that their games were too “Japanese” to appeal to the majority of gamers. This is perhaps one of the most drastic methods the Japanese gaming industry is about to take. They have started the process already, to be honest. Castlevania has been given its western revamp, and soon, Devil May Cry will follow. Is this really the best option? I’ve heard various rants about the westernizing projects already. Japanese Games have always been another genre for me, which is why Japanese RPGs are called “JRPGs”and not just “RPGs”. For me, Inafune is both right and wrong regarding the Japanese gaming industry. Western games DO have the edge right now, as their games provide a lot of new features that we’ve yet to see… but completely stemming their projects from that thought would only make everything the same. Japanese games are NOT 5 years behind, for they are their own genre. Why else would people want to play Ragnarok Online with all the new MMO out there if they didn’t enjoy it? That, right there is the answer. Blending in would only make the entire gaming spectrum one-genre-short.