Do Japanese Games Suck?

Oh boy. The man behind upcoming platformer Fez, Phil Fish, certainly put his foot in it today.

At a GDC conference unveiling the documentary Indie Game: The Movie, he was asked about the state of Japanese development by an inquisitive guy from the country. And, apparantly, he blurted out this response.

“Your games just suck.”

Now, I’m not one for being picky but let’s be clear here – not only was that an unnecessarily harsh response, but it is an opinion that has been proven categorically untrue many, many times.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Japanese games are for every taste. If you like fighting games like Street Fighter, Soul Calibur and Tekken, they’re as Japanese as they come. A lot of racing games, like Ridge Racer and Gran Turismo – they come from the Land of the Rising Sun. Beat ’em ups like Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry – yup, all Japanese. You have multiplayer games like Pokemon and Monster Hunter. Then you have games from Nintendo – Mario and Zelda. Capcom – Resident Evil is Japanese, as is Dragon’s Dogma. Oh, and Dark Souls.

The simple truth is this – yes, there are games out there that suck. But the Japanese are comparatively light on it.

However, it is when you take a Japanese game and hand it to the States that things are documented well as going horribly wrong. The recent Silent Hill games since #3 have been shadows of their former glory. Large parts of Final Fantasy XIII were outsourced to the States – and it kind of showed, didn’t it?

We in the West don’t exactly have the best track record either – especially with sequels. Dragon Age 2 was savaged, as was the last Call of Duty. Some of the worst games I’ve played in recent years have been Western creations, rather than Japanese.

Likewise, some of the finest and most innovative titles I’ve played in the last couple of years have been Japanese. Vanquish was slick, stylish and deserved to do better. Bayonetta is sublime. Catherine is adventurous and a marvel of storytelling.

It’s probably telling that Phil Fish has regretted his comment. But as an indie developer, he should educate himself more on the games people buy and play and less about an old, archaic and even perhaps outdated opinion that stemmed from the slow decay of the JRPG, which has in recent years itself seen a resurgence in popularity.

Japanese developers are like anyone else – in an industry at odds between creativity and profitability. They do often have a distinctive style and sense of humour, but that is to be expected – UbiSoft are often very different, their titles strange and quirky. But we don’t say, “Oh, their games are very French!”. It would be obscene, and daft, and quite wrong.

Bad games, bad sequels, bad business practices are universal. They transcend boundaries, borders and racial/social notions. A bad game is a bad game, and whether it is the US, the UK, Canada, France, India or Japan, they are just bad games which suck.

It is grossly unfair and possibly just a little bit racist to assume that all recent Japanese games suck. Yes, some have been bad, but most of them have been good. Just like some games from the west have sucked and others have been good.

It’s about time we stopped being afraid of Japanese games. They’re not Japanese games. They are just games, games to be enjoyed and consumed and played into the small hours.

Play them, enjoy them, love them. And kick the rubbish to the curb, whichever country it originates from.

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