In the olden days of gaming, everything worthwhile came out of Japan, as did all of the console manufacturers. Now, with the game market being much more globalized, American developers have as strong of a foothold in our culture as ever. That is, everywhere but in Japan. There are a lot of facets of our gaming culture that the U.S. holds dear that the Japanese have never even given a second thought to. Here’s a list of some of the most surprising (and maybe least surprising, in some cases).
10. Lara Croft
If you imagine a Japanese video game, you’re probably going to imagine something with a female protagonist (or an androgynous male protagonist), which makes it all the more odd that the former first lady of gaming never really meant anything to Japan. The developers of the game have said that one of the biggest hurdles for Japanese gamers to cross was that they didn’t want to control a character who would keep dying grisly deaths due to “dishonorable” violence. Perhaps if Lara Croft had been a CEO who caused her business to fail, thereby disgracing her family, gamers would have been more comfortable with her demise.
Truthfully, this isn’t that surprising, as the Japanese probably aren’t very big football fans, but the real surprise is that sports games in general, except for the occasional soccer game (not counting horse racing) don’t have a market in Japan, especially compared to how exceptionally popular they are here. It’s a shame, too, because the Japanese will never know the beautiful yet familiar sting of having to pay EA for all the DLC that should very clearly be free.
8. World of Warcraft
This is probably one that people would be most surprised by, since it’s one of the most obsessively played games out there. And if there’s one thing they have in the land of the rising sun, it’s a slavish obsession with games. Other than Final Fantasy XI and a few others, MMORPG’s haven’t caught on as much in Japan. The easiest explanation for this is that Japanese gamers don’t actually use PC’s for gaming that much, so there really isn’t much of a market for those games.
7. Indie Games
This is in the same vein as World of Warcraft. Most indie development happens on PC’s, so there isn’t as much of a market. In addition, Japanese gaming has historically been a much bigger production than Western gaming. The original Mortal Kombat had 4 people making the whole game, whereas there was a separate artist for each character in Street Fighter 2. Still, it’s hard to imagine the gamers of Japan not being able to enjoy a game like Braid. On second thought, given the subject matter, maybe it’s best if they never play Braid. Ever.
Up until the release of the Xbox, almost every successful console in modern times had been made by a Japanese company. Microsoft became the exception with their Xbox series of consoles, which was a hit everywhere except… you guessed it: Japan. The Xbox 360 has been doing slightly better, due to games like Final Fantasy XIII, but the original Xbox would routinely sell only hundreds of units a month. In a country where gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment, those are N-Gage numbers.
5. FPS Games
First person shooter games are extremely popular in the U.S. and they’re almost all made by American developers. Perhaps it’s our cowboy roots, but Americans just enjoy shootin’ things more than the Japanese do. According to a poll by Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu, the prevailing opinions on First Person Shooters include “I don’t think I’d be good at it,” and “I don’t see what the point is.”
I always just assume every Nintendo franchise is a success everywhere, but it seems this isn’t so. This could also explain why it took so long to get a proper sequel after Super Metroid, and why that sequel happened to be by a studio in Texas. It’s weird to me that this franchise didn’t really take off in Japan, because the movie Alien was fairly popular there, and Metroid is the exact same thing. It should be noted that the franchise has done much better lately, with the release of Metroid: Other M. Yeah, you know the one that’s nothing like the series, for the worse? That’s the one that does well.
3. Next Generation Graphics
People tend to associate the Japanese with an ever-increasing quality in technology, so it’s a shock to notice that of Famitsu’s list of the top selling games of 2009, only a handful, maybe 5-10 of the top 50 are PS3 games. The rest are handheld and Wii games, which, let’s be honest, aren’t known for their graphics. Apparently vague attempts at realism aren’t popular in Japanese games, they’re only popular in Japanese robots.
2. Grand Theft Auto
Yet again, one of the biggest fads in American pop culture barely makes a dent in Japanese gaming sales. This probably goes back to the idea of “dishonorable violence,” but what’s more honorable than violence in the name of the American Dream? Then again, the Japanese probably aren’t that familiar with the American Dream.
Being that it’s probably the most popular thing in South Korea, I find it surprising that Starcraft II hasn’t even gotten a release in Japan. I think the reason for that is that I tend to lump all the Asian countries together, so it’s really my fault more than anything. Again, it goes back to the fact that the Japanese don’t play many games on PC’s. If only we could find a way to port Starcraft to DDR machines…