Recently, I found myself retreading old ground. YouTube is great for that. One suggested video after another will take you on a journey through the past. But one subject that continuously caught my eye, was the Phil Fish scandals of recent years. Certainly old news. But the man had a lot to say on the state of Japanese game development.
Now with Bloodborne on the way, and myself making it a candidate for Game of the Year already, I thought I could take a look at some of his statements and the industry's in general. They're put into an interesting light with Bloodborne's exclusive release date for the PS4 less than a month away.
Bloodborne, Japanese Games & Game of the Year
For those that aren't familiar with the scandals that abound around the creator of FEZ, Phil Fish, let's take a very short look at them. The man is renowned for being wildly outspoken, and also for taking his lip onto Twitter and attacking a lot of his fans. But back in 2012, at the Q&A following the premier of the 'Indie Game: The Movie' documentary (a great watch), the panel of gamers were asked (in poor English) by a Japanese reporter about what they thought of Japanese Game design.
Fish quickly stepped in and said, "Your games just suck!" The man was certainly taken aback and Fish responded on Twitter later that day, "I'm sorry Japanese guy! I was a bit rough, but your country's games are f****** terrible nowadays." Nice.
He also went on to say, "Japanese games are just two western games duct-taped together." And, just in case there was any doubt on Fish's position: "I stand by what I said. Most modern Japanese games are terrible. You can quote me on that."
Japan Has Resentments Too
So, the man doesn't like Japanese games. But his opinion has been shared by a lot of game developers and not only in the West. In 2010 Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, then of Capcom, said the Japanese game industry was lagging five years behind the West. "I look around Tokyo Games Show, and everyone's making awful games," Inafune said. "Japan is at least five years behind." He worked at Capcom? No wonder he had this impression on game design!
But a year earlier, again at TGS, Inafune said: "Japan is dead." Strong words to be sure. But what exactly is it about Japan's game development that these developers are so at odds with?
Problems With Japanese Design
Well, these Indie designers were strongly against the rampant "hand-holding" in Japanese design. The mountains upon mountains of text, the requirement to explicitly describe every new aspect of gameplay, the absence of discovery and lack of innovation. Now, while I don't agree with every aspect of what these developers were saying, I can totally understand their grievances.
Let's look at Ni No Kuni for example. This has to be one of the best RPGs I've played in recent years. But the main aspects of the title that held it back from extreme greatness was its desire to explicitly explain every new game mechanic through mountains of dialogue. I was still being taught something new in the final hours of my long journey, it became very distracting and irritating. Everything was explained to me twice and it takes a long time to skip all of that dialogue.
But that being said, once the game let's you off its leash and allowed me to explore its dense and beautiful locations, I was beyond captivated. And that's not mentioning how ridiculously charming the whole plot was and the stellar voice acting therein. However, I am at odds with Nintendo. A lot. I mean, Mario Maker is the penultimate case for Nintendo's downfall and staleness. They have sucked the life out of Mario at this stage and I'm dying to see them move on to new ground.
I've never really understood how they get away with it. If any other developer put out the amount of games under the same title that they're doing they'd be destroyed. I mean look what's happening to Assassin's Creed! But Zelda still has some life in it, thought it's going to have to follow Majora's Mask in my opinion if it's going to succeed in the future.
So What About Bloodborne & From Software?
But this being said, when I look at the games I've enjoyed over the past few years, a large amount of them have been Japanese, with Dark Souls remaining my favourite game of the last six years. I understand that in terms of Indie games, Japan is lacking. This is where true innovation takes place in the industry, and the West does it well. I mean, these developers were hardly praising the Western industry's apparent love of Americans shooting foreign nationals in FP.
But then I can't help looking at From Software's upcoming Bloodborne and think, that's the best Triple A title coming out this year. And I'm a massive [Metal Gear Solid](movie:593264) fan and cannot wait to see Big Boss go open-world in [Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain](tag:2683985) (more Japan, though). It's the atmosphere. There's no other big developer in the world that can give a game such a consistent atmosphere. One that impacts upon every facet of the game's design.
We can already see how well Bloodborne's areas blend in with its music, ambience, combat, exploration and narrative. It looks like we've descended into a form of hell and I can't wait to fall into it on March 24th on PS4.
No, I don't think Japan's game design sucks. We get a reduced amount of their game's in the West, we only see their major titles, and if we look at ours for 2014, we have nothing to celebrate. Japan is a break from the norms. It's an escape to a land of difference and intrigue. Their titles can be moving, challenging, hilarious, insane, delirious, hard as nails, rewarding and beautiful. And that's something to celebrate.
Bloodborne will release for the PS4 on March 24th.