Why Don't Foreigners Like Japanese Role-Playing Games?

For decades, Japanese role-playing games ruled gaming. These days, they don't. Now, Western role-playing games get all the attention and praise. What gives?

Noting the low popularity of Japanese role-playing games outside their native country, Sakaguchi believes that role-playing games need to break the stereotype they've created. Sakaguchi tells Nintendo president Satoru Iwata and Xenoblade designer Tetsuya Takahashi that a change is necessary in a roundtable on Nintendo's website.

Takahashi agrees, but sees the issue as being able to tap themes or stories everyone can relate to, touching on how foreign movies appeal worldwide due to their universal qualities. That isn't to say role-playing games should be turned into movies.

"Movies are obviously movies," Sakaguchi replies, laughing. Sakaguchi famously helmed a feature film version of Final Fantasy called Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a box office flop.

Nintendo found worldwide wide success with Mario and Zelda, Takahashi adds, but adds, "It's somewhat harder for role-playing games." Iwata wonders if this is because common patterns continue to appear in Japanese role-playing games. "I think so," Sakaguchi replies.

It's common for role-playing games to feature young characters as they are entering adulthood. Stylistic choices, such as hairstyles or even settings, are shared among many Japanese role-playing games. The shame, however, could be said about Western shooters, but that's another conversation for another time.

Sakaguchi concedes that Japanese gaming has fallen behind Western gaming, which continues to innovate, but that doesn't mean he or Takahashi count Japan out.

However, the worrying bit is just how self-aware Japanese game creators are becoming. For year, Japanese game designers made games for Japan — Japan only. If those games were hits outside Japan, great. But with the domestic market shrinking, it's getting harder and harder for Japanese game designers to think only of their domestic players. Catering to foreigners is now a fact of life — but one that doesn't necessarily mean better games.

This week, Hironobu Sakaguchi's last role-playing game The Last Story will be released in Japan. No word on if and when it'll get a Western release.

社長が訊く 坂口博信×高橋哲哉 [Nintendo]


    I hope it does. That is J-RPG that I desperately want to play (the Last Story).

    Lost Odyssey was a good game...still is.

    I will commit anal suicide if The Last Story doesn't get a western release...

    "Iwata wonders if this is because common patterns continue to appear in Japanese role-playing games."

    Yeah... 'common patterns' is a nice way of saying 'creative bankruptcy.' The problem here isn't that the developers are untalented, it's just that the Japanese consumer is so tasteless. Famitsu gives any halfway polished JRPG 40/40, it'll sell a million copies in Japan.. yet will have 99% parts commonality with its predecessor.

    If the Japanese consumer isn't discerning, and buys everything thoughtlessly, there's no incentive to innovate if every game you make is a guaranteed success. This stagnation is the only reason I can think of where franchises like Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Monster Hunter etc still thrive.

    Compare it to a Western market where games that don't measure up, are often harshly shunned and bomb. It also rewards innovation and originality, forcing devs to stay on their toes.

      I can't believe that there are still people walking this earth that think the word tasteless has any meaning.

      Ever hear "Each to there own"?

      It's a fairly racist comment to say about an entire race...

        "Racist" is a bit strong, It seems much more culturist which is fully acceptable to me.

          Haha, I dunno, that's a pretty big generalisation - 'If the Japanese consumer isn’t discerning, and buys everything thoughtlessly'. Just because a large percentage of gamers in Japan don't play the same games you do, doesn't make them thoughtless.

        It's not racist at all to say a particular demographic has shit taste.

        If I were to say that the people who bought Japanese dating sims were all creepy weirdos, don't misinterpret it as something malicious.

          I think you need to widen your vocabulary if you don't want people interpreting your "facts" as racism.

            Or you need a thicker skin, if you think 'tasteless' is a term so unacceptably insulting that it must be deemed the R-word.

      What part of FF13 was the same as FF7? Completely different style of characters, writing, gameplay, story... what makes shooters, as an example of a more popular Western genre, so much more innovative?

        I would add to that too that the vast majority of developers REALLY intent on bringing innovative gameplay are independent developers, which is a different argument entirely. That's not west vs. east, thats big vs. small budget.

          FF apologist spotted. The only differences between a modern FF game an an older one are skin-deep. If you boil away the fluff, all you'll find are the same cookie cutter characters from past FF games (hell, even the AUSTRALIAN girl has become some annoying little Lolita character).

          The awful writing has remained, with its cheesy dialogue and fatalistic leanings. Hhmmmm A hero destined to fight against some evil with a funny mark on their skin. These tropes are so re-used in JRPGs, the very fibre is falling apart. How they've continued to push out this material without it steering into self-referential satire is beyond me.

          The point about shooters is a valid one. But shooters as a genre have no pretenses about having ostensibly 'engaging' story. They're pure action and are thus, judged on the merits of their set pieces. RPGs are supposed to be immersive, with the characters, writing and plot supposed to keep you going.

          I'm not saying that 100% of JRPGs are bad and 100% of western ones are good. But there's a reason why stuff like Mass Effect, Fallout, etc are so warmly received. They're more than willing to experiment. Something I haven't seen any JRPG studio attempt in a long time.

            You raise some fair enough points there, I suppose though I wasn't very accurate in my point. I don't like where they have headed with the gameplay mechanics of the last 3 FF's for example. But that's not to say that the old mechanics were tired and repetitive. They worked well in my opinion, and I'm making the point that they've actually broken away from what was once better by trying to be innovative.

            As for the writing, it's also gotten worse recently, but that's not to say they were'nt original and extremely engaging from ff9 and earlier.

            Keeping those things in mind, taking the stance of being innovative and taking a step towards change is one possibility. Stepping back though and looking at what was good about their writing and gameplay in those earlier titles and going back to those roots are what will help them more in my opinion. Isn't that pretty much what they did with Fallout - looked at what was good about the original titles and adapted it?

              While I might seem dismissive of JRPGs, they actually have a special place for me, due to Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana etc. I'm just disappointed in the direction the genre's heading in (which isn't going to change for the foreseeable future), while American (and European) houses are producing increasingly compelling titles.

              Despite it apparently being after the golden age of FF, my favourite JRPG is probably FFXII. Why? Because it never took itself seriously. The creators essentially ripped-off the entire plot of Star Wars, gave it one of the most bearable characters of the franchise (Basch), and an interesting setting. And you know what? It worked. It was flippant, fun... but JRPG to the bone.

              Compare this to the colossal turd that was FFXIII. Where you're tossed in the deep-end with the most annoying characters in franchise history yammering on about Sanctum, Fal'cie, L'cie, Cocoon, etc for 3 hours before there's an actual explanation. Oh joy.

                It's at this point I would kindly like to remind everyone that Star Wars plot is very reminiscent of a certain Kurosawa film.

                  'Very reminiscent' is one thing. But completely ripping off Star Wars to within a hair of a lawsuit is another.

                  Heroic princess on the run from evil empire lead by a faceless enforcer with a tragic past. Falls in with young upstart who wants to be a pilot/sky pirate.

                  Meets Dashing rogue with a hairy non-human first mate and his heavily-modified ship. A band of outnumbered rebels who in the finale, mass their ships, attacking said evil empire's gigantic superweapon.

                  Yeah. I'd say this is more than a passing resemblance.

      "Yeah… ‘common patterns’ is a nice way of saying ‘creative bankruptcy.’ The problem here isn’t that the developers are untalented, it’s just that the Japanese consumer is so tasteless. Famitsu gives any halfway polished JRPG 40/40, it’ll sell a million copies in Japan.. yet will have 99% parts commonality with its predecessor.

      If the Japanese consumer isn’t discerning, and buys everything thoughtlessly, there’s no incentive to innovate if every game you make is a guaranteed success. This stagnation is the only reason I can think of where franchises like Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Monster Hunter etc still thrive.

      Compare it to a Western market where games that don’t measure up, are often harshly shunned and bomb. It also rewards innovation and originality, forcing devs to stay on their toes."

      No offense, but that's the biggest load of nonsense I've seen in a while. Only someone delusional would think Western developers and Western gamers are anymore 'talented' or any less 'tasteless' than Japanese ones.

      Western gamers are still eating up the same old FPS games that they've been playing for the last two decades. The genre has hardly evolved at all in all that time, but if anything, FPS games have regressed into little more than rail shooters, and yet FPS rail shooters like COD continue to sell bucketloards in the West.

      And for that matter, the same goes for WRPGs, which haven't improved at all on the RPG gameplay of their 90s predecessors, but have instead become FPS-wannabes with dialog trees. As for the storylines, they haven't changed since the 90s... just go look up the Bioware chart and you'll see how almost all their games recycle the same old formulas and cliches. Using the same old story in a sci-fi setting is not original.

      That's not to say Japanese developers or gamers are anymore 'talented' or 'less tasteless' than Western ones, but I just find it incredibly hypocritical of you to accuse Japan of something that the West is equally guilty of, if not more so.

    Im not a fan of JRPG because of 2 things, one is the art style and the second is biggest thing for me. they are too damn philosopical and alot of the time its 15mins worth of cutscenes with 2mins of actual gameplay. Then again number 2 is also why ive been turned off alot of new games that have come from japan recently ( im looking at you bayonetta)

    Even now though im not really being woo'ed by the current american RPGs which are mostly more hype than anything. Ive fallen inlove with the European RPGs like Two Worlds and Divinity 2.

    Those 2 games that i mentioned are given bad reviews because they apprently lack polish and chock full of bugs, yet fallout 3 is always given a free pass dispite the large amounts of bugs or Mass effect is apprently the best damn rpg made in the last 5 years dispite it being nothing but an average 3rd person shooter with dialog option.

      European RPG's are my favourite. I'll take The Witcher anyday over Fallout/Elder Scrolls.

    For me it's more the amount of time they require that puts me off them. I used to love my JRPGs in earlier generations, in particular the Final Fantasies, Chrono Cross, Xenosaga, etc. But these days I don't always have 40-60 hours to sink into a game in one shot, and the stories tend to be too convoluted to be able to come back after a month and remember what the hell is going on.

    So these days I prefer RPGs like Oblivion and Fallout 3. Partly because it's just fun exploring them and finding interesting things hidden away in obscure corners of the map. But mainly because although they're huge games, the stories are very simple and you have a quest log to keep track of them all, so I can leave it for a month or two while I play something else and come back and pick up right where I left off.

    I do still like JRPGs, though, and I'd probably still play some if they took out the meaningless grinding and trimmed them down to 20-30 hours rather than 40-60.

    The only thing that would bring me back to JRPG is if they made a Vagrant Story sequel. So it's never likely to happen.

    It's the turn based nature of them that bothers me.

    Don't get me wrong, a lot of western RPG's have been turn based... KOTOR comes to mind, but the developers have gotten good at hiding that.
    JRPGs seem to revel in it.

      This is half of the problem for me (the other half is horribly written dialogue and unsympathetic characters).

      I've had it up to here with turn-based battles and random encounters. Some have tried changing this with avoidable battles, but it's too slow. And others are completely brazen about it.

    I'm a foreigner. I love JRPG's.

    Even if a certain JRPG is not your thing, there will always be something to admire.

    Unlike western games if a JRPG is turns out average or lame, you can guarantee the music will still be kickass.

    The JRPG "genre" has been creative, to an extent, but with all of the elements that didn't need changing. The menu systems don't need updating, the stories do.

    The character relationships, their goals, the ideas that the game posits, those are a perfect place for a designer to play. It isn't just about "person goes on trip, brings swords, fights endless train of identical baddies until he finds out that he's been LIVING A LIE (OH NO), embarks on modified, longer adventure" - not to say that story model has been fully tapped, as everything in the past 10 years to follow it has been generally shlock.

    Just about every plot and theme in the world is suitable for an RPG, so long as we're not talking about abstract stuff (no bejeweled-based stories, thanks).

      Exactly! Well said. They have simply not innovated in the area of characters and story, and have grossly misjudged the very reason why people loved earlier JRPGS. Its a cliche now, but the 'no towns' of FXIII epitomes this misjudgment. You cant simply tell people 'this character is cool, like him!' or 'save this world, you love it'.

    Its easy to think that jRPGs are bad, but thats mostly because they make more of them. There's what, 2 major companies that make wRPGs?

    If we ignore the chaff and look at the best jRPGs, we see they express their creativity in different ways. You'll probably never see something like Persona 4 from a western studio, for example. wRPGs tend to be great at fleshing out the details, but their settings and concepts are terribly cliched.

    Dragon Age is Tolkien, Mass Effect is pretty standard space opera, Fallout is typical postapocalyptic, Oblivion is tired medieval fantasy, etc.

    Even the FFs at least have colourful variations on science/fantasy in their settings.

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