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Why Are Japanese Games the Best?

athenian200

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I've been going over the games I enjoy most recently, and found that nearly all of them are Japanese in origin. It's not that there are no Western video game publishers, but that I just don't find myself playing their games.

Here are my favorite publishers:

Square-Enix - Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Trigger, Lufia, SaGa, Secret of Mana

Namco - Pac-Man, Tales of Symphonia

Nintendo - Legend of Zelda, Mario

Sega - Phantasy Star, Sonic Adventure

I mean, I have managed to find Western video games, even RPGs, like the Elder Scrolls series, Dungeon Siege, and The Sims that are pretty good... but somehow, they're never quite as good as Japanese games. The best American publishers seem to be Electronic Arts and Betheseda, but even they don't measure up.

This has actually become more concentrated recently, because my favorite games for the Wii are Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and Okami, which actually have a Japanese cultural influence. Granted, the Wii is somewhat lacking in good titles (without accounting for GCN compatibility and VC titles) and I really do most of my gaming on the DSi, but still...

So, this leads me to an interesting question... why is it that the Japanese should be so much better at making video games? Is there something about their culture that causes them to take them more seriously? Is it just that the type of games I tend to like (RPGs, Action-Adventure) happen to be their specialty? Am I just not finding the right Western publishers because I'm looking in the wrong places?

My impression thus far seems to be that American publishers are good with Simulation, Strategy, and FPS games, while Japanese publishers are good with RPG, Action-Adventure, and Platform games.

What is it?
 
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C

Caleb, Of Asui

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I don't think there's necessarily anything inherently better about Japanese games vs. Western games or vice-versa. They're simply different styles of games that appeal to different people. I personally find that I really like a lot of Japanese RPGs and Adventure/Action-Adventure games, but few Western games have really managed to appeal to me to a considerable degree. Likewise, I have a friend who's the exact other way around - he can't find a whole lot of appeal in Japanese games, but is really interested in some Western games like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

I think you pretty much nailed it with the genre thing. Although there are some pretty good American RPGs and some pretty good Japanese Strategy games, those are the big genres from each region, and with the example of me and my friend, those line up with the genres that me and my friend are generally more interested in.
 

Hanyou

didn't build that
Western games seem to lack a heart. I know that sounds corny and intangible, but it's true. Japanese games really feel like a labor of love for the developers, whereas Western games just tend to emulate film or somesuch. Also, Japanese games just feel more imaginative overall, while Western games often aim for "realism."

There's just something special about a well-made Japanese game that a well-made Western game can't touch (with rare exceptions, like Myst).
 

athenian200

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I don't think there's necessarily anything inherently better about Japanese games vs. Western games or vice-versa. They're simply different styles of games that appeal to different people. I personally find that I really like a lot of Japanese RPGs and Adventure/Action-Adventure games, but few Western games have really managed to appeal to me to a considerable degree. Likewise, I have a friend who's the exact other way around - he can't find a whole lot of appeal in Japanese games, but is really interested in some Western games like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

I think you pretty much nailed it with the genre thing. Although there are some pretty good American RPGs and some pretty good Japanese Strategy games, those are the big genres from each region, and with the example of me and my friend, those line up with the genres that me and my friend are generally more interested in.
Yeah, I think that might be it. The best American games I've played are SimCity, Civilization, and The Elder Scrolls series... but they don't measure up to Japanese games. It just doesn't feel the same.

I do think that's the case, that those genres are the biggest in each region, but still... one has to wonder WHY that's the case.

Western games seem to lack a heart. I know that sounds corny and intangible, but it's true. Japanese games really feel like a labor of love for the developers, whereas Western games just tend to emulate film or somesuch. Also, Japanese games just feel more imaginative overall, while Western games often aim for "realism."

There's just something special about a well-made Japanese game that a well-made Western game can't touch (with rare exceptions, like Myst).
Yes, this is exactly how it feels to me. There seems to be a lack of heart... for instance, I played WoW once, and it really felt like a grind quest. I could practically visualize people getting paid to create quests that kept the players busy. The whole game felt like busywork. It reminded me of working in an office, doing random tasks for people. And the most depressing part was how nothing you did had any lasting impact on the world. Western RPGs just tend to feel too detached and monotonous, and extremely complicated. You always find things like hunger levels, limitations on how much you can carry, too many options for character creation and development that really don't make a big difference in how the story unfolds, etc. The creators definitely have strong minds, but they lack heart. That's the word for it. Western games seem to express nihilism, limitation, emphasis on superficial forms of individuality, and paradoxically the meaninglessness of an individual in any greater sense. It makes me think of the saying "Everyone is special. Which is just another way of saying that nobody is."

Oh, and the realism... that's the nail in the coffin for me. I love fantasy and imaginative creations, and realism tends to depress me. I would almost say that realism bothers me, showcasing a lack of creativity and wonder... a dreariness worse than death. No, I get enough of that attitude in real life... don't subject me to it in video games.

Perhaps I just have a personality conflict with a lot of Western video game developers, at least the ones who manage to make money.

It just seems strange, though, that Japanese games are fairly popular in the US, yet no American developers have been inspired to make something quite as good. Something seems to get in the way.

EDIT: Actually, there WAS one British company that managed to make a good Action-Adventure game... Rare. It was called Star Fox Adventures. They also did a pretty good job with Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. They're still not Americans, though. :(
 
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Kybyrian

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Didn't I already answer this one?
Western games seem to lack a heart. I know that sounds corny and intangible, but it's true. Japanese games really feel like a labor of love for the developers, whereas Western games just tend to emulate film or somesuch. Also, Japanese games just feel more imaginative overall, while Western games often aim for "realism."

There's just something special about a well-made Japanese game that a well-made Western game can't touch (with rare exceptions, like Myst).
This post sums up my thoughts... but what Caleb says also applies. Some people like that western style, whereas some don't.

It depends on the attitude of the gamer as well. There are a lot of people who despise Nintendo just as much as we may not like Call of Duty or Mortal Kombat or something. There are just as many gamers, if not more, that appreciate western games more than those of Japanese origin. I've always liked games like Final Fantasy, Zelda, Mario, Chrono Trigger, etc. because the fantasy always appealed to me. The games also seemed to actually have some sort of feeling in it. When I play a game like Gears of War, Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat, etc. I don't get that feeling that games from Japan give me. It just so happens that the Japanese style appeals to me more than the western style. That being said, though, I tend to love some of the western games. Crysis, Mortal Kombat, even Call of Duty are all amazing games in my opinion, but they just don't get you involved or present that feeling that some other games of Japanese origin do. It just depends on the player.
 
C

Caleb, Of Asui

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Part of the difference I'm seeing here is that a lot of Japanese games are Fantasy while more Western games are war-themed. With Japanese you get things like Zelda, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Fire Emblem that are very fantasy-y. A lot of the big American games though are things like Call of Duty, God of War, Gears of War, and Battlefield. My friends who are into Western games are also really into war themes - modern war themes in particular. I like stories about war just as much as they do, perhaps, but I can never get into the whole thing with the different types of guns. I prefer things with swords and magic, both more fantastical things.
 

athenian200

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Part of the difference I'm seeing here is that a lot of Japanese games are Fantasy while more Western games are war-themed. With Japanese you get things like Zelda, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Fire Emblem that are very fantasy-y. A lot of the big American games though are things like Call of Duty, God of War, Gears of War, and Battlefield. My friends who are into Western games are also really into war themes - modern war themes in particular. I like stories about war just as much as they do, perhaps, but I can never get into the whole thing with the different types of guns. I prefer things with swords and magic, both more fantastical things.
Hmm... yeah, I can see that as well. That doesn't apply to all the games, but it does apply to a lot of them.

What I'm curious about is... well, why? I mean, I can see that this is how Western games tend to be, and this is how Japanese games tend to be, but I really have no idea why this is the case. There are plenty of Americans who clearly enjoy the Japanese style of game, yet none ever get produced here.

That's what puzzles me, and it really seems like a shame... especially since our economy is getting so bad that the Japanese aren't bringing us as many games as they used to. In fact, Europe is now getting games earlier, AND getting games that we don't get on a regular basis, despite having to translate it into English anyway. It means we might be stuck with pretty much only the Western-style games soon.
 

ChargewithSword

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Many J-RPGs as of recent times have become stale in my eye, they mostly boggle down to a lot of grinding and cliche stories. The greatest ones were from the PSX era, when the titles were in such demand that the endless grinding wasn't bad, and there were no cliches. Now, Bioware stands as the better RPG creator than many Japanese developers, Dragon Age 1, the Mass Effect series, Star Wars, Sonic Brotherhood, etc.

Even the once mighty and proud SE has fallen from my eyes. The best they've churned out recently have mostly been remakes of their older titles. FF 14 and 13 were both disasters, and Dragon Quest has almost become an enigma ever since 8.

Capcom has pretty much given up on their Blue Bomber, and his recent titles have been hit or miss. Resident Evil has also departed into the action game territory, and lost a lot of its spirit. Phoenix Wright still holds true thankfully.

Sega; they're trying to redeem themselves at least.

Nintendo has everything! Everything!

I'd say video games as a whole are on the decline, but many western developers are to be found in the indie category, and are very good for that matter.
 

athenian200

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Many J-RPGs as of recent times have become stale in my eye, they mostly boggle down to a lot of grinding and cliche stories. The greatest ones were from the PSX era, when the titles were in such demand that the endless grinding wasn't bad, and there were no cliches. Now, Bioware stands as the better RPG creator than many Japanese developers, Dragon Age 1, the Mass Effect series, Star Wars, Sonic Brotherhood, etc.
Hmm... I don't think I agree about Bioware. But, it does seem like there are fewer good RPGs. There are still some pretty good action-adventure games, though.
I'd say video games as a whole are on the decline, but many western developers are to be found in the indie category, and are very good for that matter.
I find that idea somewhat depressing. I really like having video games, and not just those cheap little games people play on the iPhone... I mean REAL games, like the kind on consoles. I will consider humanity to be an incredibly sorry lot of people if they allow video gaming to die.
 
I think video games are declining to, but I always assumed it was because I had a classic case of "back in my the day..." syndrome and shrugged it off. It may or may not be, but if it is I wouldn't worry these things go in phases, every era can't be great, there are bound to be some down times. There are some great games though all around still from both ends of the Earth.
 

ChargewithSword

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I find that idea somewhat depressing. I really like having video games, and not just those cheap little games people play on the iPhone... I mean REAL games, like the kind on consoles. I will consider humanity to be an incredibly sorry lot of people if they allow video gaming to die.
I'm afraid so Athenian, the world is changing to meet the new age of virtual technology, and video games are slowly passing into that age. Soon, the idea of physical games will become a niche for only collectors to pick up, as the rise of indie games brings up the birth of new development and new ideas, old franchises die and fade away.
 
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Don't worry guys. Comparing cheap little iphone games to the console games is like comparing a youtube video to a feature length film. Just because people watch more youtube doesn't mean that movie's are in decline.

Also, on the subject of japanese vs western games, well, I enjoy both. I love zelda and final fantasy, but I also love halo, cod, the elder scrolls (anyone else getting skyrim?), portal, and too many other's to list. Really, both have a lot to learn from each other. American game developer's are only starting to figure out that the grizzled space marine protagonist is overdone, but I have yet to come across a jRPG with a storyline that is not completely cliche.
R
 

athenian200

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I'm afraid so Athenian, the world is changing to meet the new age of virtual technology, and video games are slowly passing into that age. Soon, the idea of physical games will become a niche for only collectors to pick up, as the rise of indie games brings up the birth of new development and new ideas, old franchises die and fade away.
Well, I don't want to live in your world, then... I guess I'll be a collector, and spend the rest of my life collecting and playing old video games. I would prefer to have new video games, but if that's not how it's going to be... sigh.
 

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