Why I Still Love Japanese Games
Not so very long ago, Japan was easily the centre of the gaming world. The US ran it a close second it's true, but if you wanted to see what was coming on the gaming horizon, you had to look to the land of the rising sun. It was the birthplace of all the hottest gaming hardware and the majority of the games. It was like some kind of gaming Nirvana, and us westerners could only look on jealously and dream. Somewhere along the line however, things began to change. Think of the biggest franchises today- Call Of Duty, Halo, Assassin's Creed- and you'll notice most of them hail from the west. Sure people still eagerly await the new instalments of Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Mario, but these are all well established franchises. Even Resident Evil is more than fifteen years old at this point. ( Feel old now?) So what happened? Why is Japan no longer so dominant in the industry? Some argue that the Japanese industry is stagnant, and a fraction of it's future self. No longer is it at the cutting edge, leading where others follow.
However, for gamers like me Japan is still, and will always be where my gaming heart belongs. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of western game series- Uncharted, Wipeout and Tomb Raider are all classics for me. Maybe it's my love for Japanese culture in general. Perhaps it's my childhood Nintendo love stimulating my nostalgia glands, but I just as a rule prefer the Japanese aesthetic. My choice of console is generally motivated by which gives me best access to quirky Japanese games, and that is one of the key reasons I've never owned an Xbox. Microsoft's consoles have struggled to grab a foothold in Japan, and as a result fewer of my beloved crazy Japanese games are released on the platform. Whereas the huge success that Microsoft have had pretty much every where else has lead to a proliferation of the kind of games that appeal more to western sensibilities. Apparently those western sensibilities mean a billion first person shooters. The average lead character in a western game for the past decade has been either gruff space marine, or a modern day mercenary. The colour palette a veritable rainbow of grey, more grey and various shades of brown. Ugh. Give me the fantasy world of Mario Galaxy over Gears Of War any day. I don't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of these kind of games, it's just they're not really for me.
If it means I'm out of step with the general gaming populace then so be it. I don't want gritty realism in my gaming world, I want escapism, and Japan seems much more likely to agree with me. The western and eastern gaming markets seem to have diverged and gone in different directions, and of the two, the Japanese one appeals more to me. To be honest I know having any sort of competition between the two is pointless, and I'm nor arguing that one is better than the other. It's just over recent years there have been a lot of articles saying that the Japanese games industry is dying, or becoming irrelevant, and I just don't find that to be the case. Maybe it's not the giant it once was but it's not going anywhere any time soon.
In the US and UK people queue up at midnight openings to get that hands on Call Of Duty, while in Japan they do the same for a new Dragon Quest or Monster Hunter. I'm not even an RPG guy, and I've never played Monster Hunter, but I know which side I'm on. My body may reside somewhere in the South East of England, but my gaming soul, will be forever in Japan.