Why Is Japan So Behind?

Once upon a time, Japanese games eclipsed Western ones. They looked better, were more fun and were just better. Those days have passed.

At last year's Tokyo Game Show, Mega-Man designer Keiji Inafune said that the Japanese game industry was "finished". Inafune, it seems, was speaking in hyperbole. The Japan industry is not finished — case in point, Nintendo. That's a Japanese game company that has been doing extremely well.

The rest of the Japanese industry, however, has been hit pretty hard. The Western market has exploded, and Western game development has truly come into its own.

2ch, the largest bulletin board in the world, had a thread on this exact issue on why Japan is so behind the curve on game development. The thread is of interest as it provides a look at what those in Japan think about the issue. Game translator and Yokai Attack! author Matt Alt translated the replies:

-Japanese game developers are born and raised and live in Japan. With games, with art, with otaku culture, and more, we have a distinct background and history. In the future we're going to have to make that a sales point, or find a way to "mine" it. For example, we'll never beat Asia when it comes to the cost performance of rendering realistic-looking graphics. But when it comes to "stylized" (deforume) stuff we can't be beaten.

-Abroad, university grads, grad school grads, and even PhDs make games. The vast majority of Japanese game industry people have a university degree or some game-design school diploma at best. There's no way we can win.

-Japanese game scenarios are the pits. We may be behind in graphics but that isn't a problem so long as they're fun and interesting. The problem is that teams can't focus when they have to carry through a crappy scenario to its end. I don't know whether to describe them as "childish" or "otaku-oriented" or what but a lot of games are just too ludicrous for adults to appreciate.

-A lot of foreign game companies hire pro screenwriters. Here we leave this critical part of the process to directors and programmers and other amateurs.

-The PS1 era had a lot of cool and lighthearted games, but starting with the PS2 "otaku games" became the norm.

-I find it really strange that in an era when we know foreign gamers love first-person shooters that not a single domestic company has even tried to make one.

-The problem isn't a lack of education or technical skill. Believe me there are plenty of over-educated dudes in this industry. The problem is the total lack of ability of management. But you could say that about Japanese businesses across the board.

-We may be behind the curve in some respects, but answer me this: is there any country out there that can beat Japan when it comes to ero-games?

There are certainly some valid points in these comments, but I don't think it's simply a matter of hiring pro screenwriters. The big issues with some (not all) Japanese games are things like interface, controls and save systems — among other things. Fix that stuff! And all that is totally manageable.

Besides that, Japanese developers should really do what they have always done: make games for Japan. It has served the country well in the past. No reason why it couldn't in the future.

Game Face [AltJapan][Pic]


Comments

    I know there are a bazillion bazillion comments here (yes that many) and my opinion will probably be lost, but IMO the points made in the article are slightly beside the point.

    I don't think it matters for a second whether you've got a university degree, I perceive the problem to be an almost cultural one. They're known to be extremely traditionalist, and I think it applies here... because I look at the last FF game, and it has these amazing graphics, but gameplay that could be achieved on a Gameboy. I dunno if I'm crazy, but the decision to have a turn based linear RPG is a pretty conscious one in this day and age. Look at Morrowind, the game is nearly ten years old, yet conceptually it's way ahead of most Japanese games. This is a fairly simplistic RPG, and a Japanese company could lean more towards making an Morrowind/Oblivion/Fallout-esque JRPG and be extremely successful.

    It's probably the same reason there are no Japanese FPS games, it's a calculated decision on their part because they think that to make a game more western gameplay wise, is to give up their traditions, but it isn't. Look at MGS4, the game could be played like a western shooter/stealth game, but also like a traditional Japanese style game where you rarely touch the right stick.

    It's not the skill or technology, it's a creative drought of how to bring these games out of the turn based age without spoiling what fundamentally makes them Japanese. If ONE company could make say the Japanese Fallout and show everyone it's possible, (and it is) a lot of things would change in their industry.

      That's... weird. Five minutes ago there were a tonne of comments in here? Maybe I got mixed up with the US comments? Oh well, ignore the thing about there being a brazillian comments, hahaha...

      Did you even play FFXIII?

        I'm about forty hours into FFXIII, and I agree with him. There are only two differences between the new and old ATB systems: That your actions require segments of the bar instead of the full thing, and that you can act before the entire bar is full.

        Everything else different about the battle system is simply the presentation. The way it actually plays is the same crap we got tired of years ago.

        Dale: I did. Final Fantasy XIII is essentially a series of cutscenes stringed together by sequences where you run along an linear path and fight enemies. No side quests (until near the end of the game), no decisions, no choices, no backtracking. That's even more linear than Final Fantasy X.

    Japanese games sell well in Japan and Asia. Western games sell well in western counties.
    As long as they keep to there regions there usually isn't any problems sale wise.
    I don't see why there always has to be so much competition between the two regions.

    jDesigners don't seem interested in learning from wDesigners, I believe that games from the west owe something to the jGames we played in the 90's and early 20's but the reverse isn't true. jGames did not take the time to learn from the designs of the west and their games no longer have the same fruition in the west as they use too.

    I would love to play a Japanese first person shooter, a solid single player campaign. I want to see a Japanese game integrating western styles into their video games, we need new influences because right now the variety is starting to stagnate.

    I would rather not have the Japs start making FPS games too. There's already far too many of them as it is.

    maybe they should stop making flashy games with under dressed characters. maybe eliminate the region based issues and translate the games properly? (all your base are belong to us) plus japs stick to their gameplay and make sure they excel at the actual game instead of making another sequel for the $$.

    heres an idea, make games other then RPGs and ill play them. I hate RPGS and thats all that seemes to come out of Japan.

    The comment about JApanese corporate culture is the one that I feel makes the most sense. Sure, all of the other things are reasonably valid points, but in the end it comes down to how people are allowed to perform the act of making a game.

    Japanese corporate culture champions long hours and ludicrous ceremony with no regard for productivity or individual input and responsibility (except for the most senior person, who is never questioned. Ever.)

    The result is people who have jobs that consume their lives and they have no pride in or creative control over. They go to work for 14 hours a day, do very little because their morale is horrible and simply pass the time in order to look like they work hard. If the teams were allowed to have some sort of individual responsibility, if the senior members weren't aquiesced to no matter how ludicrous or outdated the idea, if productivity and morale were considered to be important factors, things would be very different.

    I'd point the finger at management as well, you cant accidentally (like clock work) make uninspired and lousy games (with multi-millions budgets) without noticing a major lack of innervation. The fall of great JRPGs and Japanese games in general has to be a calculated and deliberately engineered decision.

    One problem I don't think Japanese gamers or game designers have tackled is endless, unskippable, long-winded cut-scenes in Japanese games. I think too many big Japanese games are essentially interactive movies or soap operas. For example, Final Fantasy XIII is just a series of cutscenes stringed together by you running in a straight line. XIII's cut scenes and the american dub are better than recent Final Fantasy games/american dubs, but I want a game, dammit :(

    There's two sides to this. While I totally agree with the depictions of Japanese sarariman culture and the idea that it's quite difficult for the Japanese game industry as a whole to innovate, when they stretch the boundaries it goes in a radically different direction.

    Let's take Demon's Souls, it's a distinctively Japanese game with the relatively high starting difficulty which doesn't let up. It also has masterful level design Western Action/RPG firms could seriously do to learn from. What it lacks is the Hollywood-powered narrative many gamers have been trained by the likes of Bioware to expect. Its characters are a relatively bland group of unidimensional characters mostly defined by their function and a little by how they feel about you, the blank protagonist. Japanese video games dealt much better in an age where a blank protagonist wasn't such a problem, or in those arenas where it still isn't. Do I want to play Mario Galaxy 2, YES!. Why? Because I trust it to have a game design which will surprise me even though I know exactly what I should expect.

    The Japanese have also done much better than their Western counterparts at fusing genres to create new ones, such as Valkyria Chronicles from Turn Based Strategy fused with RPGs and squad based shooters.

    I believe Japanese fans may also be less tolerant of compromises to a franchise and willing to be patient for a game to evolve which is what allows the hardcore movement such as Demon's Souls and Monster Hunter to exist. Many Western Gamers relish these challenges, but I doubt Western studios would not be courageous to pursue projects like these.

    FF XIII is most definitely a JRPG gone wrong, but that's because what often pulls us in about a Japanese game is the gameplay and FF XIII has a mournful lack of that. What keeps us in is the finesse and control that gameplay requires us to elevate ourselves too, particularly demonstrable in Fighting Games, which are almost exclusively Japanese. People have made the mistake here of vilifying Japanese games based on the current , most prominent example without making a detailed examination of the field.

    Innovation isn't as prominent in Japanese games as it is in Western ones, but it is often there and in a different methodology to the Western innovation necause of a different teaching process and a different modality of framing thought, since the Japanese Langauge is constructed differently to English. That doesn't mean it's not there, only that it comes through differently. However, the Hierarchy in any games company which has no one questioning the lead developer(s) is not a uniquely Japanese complaint. Duke Nukem Forever, anyone?

    The reason Japanese games are "behind" is because:
    Japan does not care about anything buy Japan. They don't give a fuck what we think of their games. Stop acting like they do, they have a big enough market that they survive off that they don't need us.

    Japan is not special. It is different.
    Get over it.

    The problem as I see it is that Japanese culture is so slow moving to the point of being almost stagnant. As others have alluded to, this is probably due to the extremely insular (almost xenophobic) nature of the Japanese people. Anybody who immerses themselves in anime/manga will very quickly find themselves coming across the same basic story structures and plot elements ad bloody nauseum. Which is why I've abandoned anime and never looked back. My search for originality in anime was akin to Diogenes' search for an honest man. That same cultural paralysis (for lack of a better term) is starting to rear its ugly head in Japanese video games. And it's also why we won't see an end to the flogging of dead horses such as Mario, Zelda, Mega Man and Final Fantasy.

    I hope that the "Is there anyone who can beat us in ero games" comment was sarcastic.

    I'm puzzled why someone would use this point about Japan's creepy (and personally, distasteful) genre of 'games' to be a positive.

Join the discussion!