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Do Western Developers Take Gaming Too Seriously?

Much has been made of the Japanese vs. Western debate in this industry; the gap appears to be widening from both a financial and stylistic viewpoint.

Although many Japanese developers continue to attempt to emulate Western design in order to appeal to Western tastes, some Eastern game makers seem to be maintaining something special: a tongue-in-cheek sort of humor. Now, while Insomniac does Ratchet & Clank and other developers do all sorts of games that cater to a younger demographic, I'm speaking of something different. I'm speaking of a singular attitude and style that seems unique to Japanese products.

It's an absolute focus on the fact that gaming is supposed to be fun. As amazing as so many Western-developed titles are, it's clear they take everything seriously. Even the one-liners and humor in a franchise like Uncharted is more reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster than a video game. See, there was a time when video games often poked fun at themselves; even when they were trying for an older audience, there was always this smirk; this wink; this wry little grin that cemented the experience. Take Shadows of the Damned, for instance, or Bayonetta, or Vanquish, or the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw.

They all have a little something that differentiates the games from their Western counterparts. It's obvious with Bayonetta and more subtle in Vanquish, but it's there. Of course, this isn't a sweeping generalization; when Japanese developers want to go full-on serious, they do; examples would include Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, and Resident Evil. And I'm not saying Japanese developers are doing more of this tongue-in-cheek stuff; I'm just saying we're seeing a marked decline in "poking fun at ourselves" in the all-too-serious Western trends.

It's just an observation and this doesn't involve overall quality. It's merely a design element that I sorta miss...and I often have to turn to Japanese games to find it.

Tags: gaming culture, video games, western games

8/1/2011 9:08:38 PM Ben Dutka

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Comments (64 posts)

playaplus
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 9:35:08 PM
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without rambling on about this...i'd say yes. At least in my opinion they sure do take it too seriously

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Geobaldi
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 9:42:58 PM
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And they aren't willing to experiment with new ideas as easily as out of country developers. That's one thing I love about Japanese developers. Look at some of the crazy ideas for games they've come up with over the years. And then there's the Independent developer scene.

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Highlander
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 9:52:14 PM
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Ben,

I don't think it's only game developers in the west that take gaming too seriously, it's the reviewers and to some extent gamers themselves. Too often we see games that are about being fun decried by "oh so serious" reviewers and commenters who think that the games are somehow old fashioned or unsophisticated, when in fact they point is that they are pure fun.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 9:56:44 PM

Well, that's true. Reviewers are partially to blame for slamming on Japanese designs for being "old-fashioned." Unfortunately, it's a combination of factors that are slowly killing off this "pure fun" element that used to be so common in the industry.

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Claire C
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:13:34 PM

Why so serious reviewer??? Why... soooo... serious!?

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Dancemachine55
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:38:26 PM

Do you want to know how I got these scars? Hm?

... Why so serious, son?

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maxpontiac
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 9:40:49 AM

To compliment what TheHighlander stated, look at the reviews for GT5. That was some serious detective work worthy of a court trial.

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BTNwarrior
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 9:52:51 PM
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well american devs have given us borderlands, mortal kombat, bulletstorm, brutal legend, and duke nukem. So I don't think they are all taking themselves to seriously

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 9:55:49 PM

None of those really qualify, except maybe Duke Nukem.

Even Bulletstorm's over-the-top style isn't really tongue-in-cheek; it's just crazy amounts of grit and colorful violence. I think it still takes itself plenty seriously.

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Beamboom
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 12:02:32 AM

What about Just Cause? Mercenaries? Saints Row? Burnout? Or maybe Portal 2?
They don't seem to take themselves too seriously, and is all about having fun?

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 12:07:13 AM

I don't think you understand what I'm talking about. Portal 2? It's entirely serious. I'm not talking about comedy; I'm talking about something else; a subtle jab at oneself.

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Beamboom
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 2:07:10 AM

Yeah I was a bit unsure about Portal, but they do have a lot of self irony in there, that's what I had in mind. Jokes/hints about this whole platform/puzzle thing the very game is all about. I wasn't too sure about Burnout either, but at least it's very, very very over the top. :)
But the other suggestions aren't too far fetched, are they?

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:06:53 PM
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I've found myself kind of sucked into this phenomenon as well now that Japanese games aren't as big any more. It isn't that I need seriousness, but I wind up taking it too seriously because the games just lack that subtle "Hey this is just a game, have fun" notion behind them. It can even grate my anxiety, and that sucks because I play games to relax and or escape, not be tied to talking points about why I need to defend what I like against fanboys.

Looking forward to crazy stuff in LolliChain, and I'm sure plenty of PSXE folks will be getting Twisted Metal for its old school mayhem.

And even Resident Evil can get get nutty: "That was too close, you were almost a Jill Sandwich"

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:17:48 PM

The RE series while one of my favorite series (till 5) is full of cheese, but I love it.

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Qubex
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 3:25:01 AM

"I've found myself kind of sucked into this phenomenon as well now that Japanese games aren't as big any more."

Isn't that what is sad about the situation on both sides of the pond... Japanese have moved away from their roots and trying to do Western games - which have not been that successful; and the Western world has almost removed the fun element of gaming entirely with a multitude of "serious" titles that are trying to achieve pure realism - somewhat difficult to achieve.

There is fun around, you just have to find it...

Q!

"play.experience.enjoy"

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Claire C
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:14:13 PM
Reply

I like serious. =)

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Dancemachine55
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:40:23 PM

I like fun. Screw serious, it grinds my gears. :P

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Claire C
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 1:01:12 AM

You can still have fun with serious.

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:16:02 PM
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Too seriously? I don't think so. I enjoy a good story and games with adult themes. But then again I also want to play SaintsRow3 more than Skyrim.

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Claire C
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:18:18 PM

I was with you till that bit about Skyrim. =P

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:21:38 PM

I'm hoping the 3rd person is better than what's been seen in oblivion and Fallout3/New Vegas. I don't care for 1st person RPGs.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:22:19 PM

You make an interesting point LV because as fun as SR3 will be, people will still treat GTAV as the greatest thing since sliced bread for being more serious.

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Claire C
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:24:56 PM

Learn to like em!

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:27:30 PM

I think GTAIV was a great game but a horrible sandbox game. It had an interesting story but while I put 20+hrs into GTAIV I've put over a 100hrs into the Saints Row series.

Have you seen the trailers out thus far for SR3?!

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:28:33 PM

Claire C,

That's like telling me to learn to enjoy gay sex. There are some things that are just left to personal tastes.

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Claire C
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:30:13 PM

Never say never. ;)

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:12:38 PM

But you already enjoy gay sex.

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:19:26 PM

Pff, I never told you I enjoyed the sex we have.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 1:50:17 AM

I hope by "we" you mean you and your cat.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 4:08:15 AM

Oh yeah, SR > GTA

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Fox hounder
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:18:00 PM
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Something i always found funny about the MGS series was that in every game they would find a way to break the fourth wall. For example, the psycho mantis cutscene in MGS1, and there was the codec conversation with mei ling where at the end she says to snake "you should be happy you have enough free time to play a game". LOL.

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556pineapple
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:39:10 PM
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I'll be nice and put a spoiler alert here, even though if you haven't played MGS4 by now, you don't deserve the courtesy of a warning...

One of my favorite portions of MGS4 is when you reach the Sniper Wolf boss battle portion of Shadow Moses. Otacon calls you on the codec and tells you to switch discs, just like in MGS1, before realizing that they're on a blu-ray disc this time around and disc swapping is completely unnecessary. It works so beautifully as both an homage to the first game, and a tongue-in-cheek joke that breaks the tension. There are some Western games that use humor like that in an otherwise serious game, but it's a completely different style. I wish more developers wouldn't be afraid to poke some fun at themselves

I also like the Nightmare Easter Egg in MGS3. Such a great idea, you wonder why it hadn't been done before.

Last edited by 556pineapple on 8/1/2011 10:40:09 PM

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556pineapple
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:49:08 PM

Oh, and also the toilet easter egg in Silent Hill 3. I laughed out loud when I saw that one!

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Fox hounder
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 12:22:49 AM

@556pineapple. Oh yeah, i forgot all about the blu ray disk conversation from MGS4. Another good one to note is in MGS2 when the colonel ai tell's raiden to "turn the game console off" haha. One doesn't get that kind of humor in call of duty or [insert western fps name here].

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Alienange
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 10:46:48 PM
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Funniest game this gen? Red Dead Redemption. And hey, it's made by westerners.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:24:58 PM

was it funny? I kinda forgot about it.

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Dancemachine55
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:45:01 PM

I laughed more playing Bulletstorm than Red Dead.

Red Dead is a quality game though, but one of the most serious too.

In fact, look at the top games of 2010 and 2011. Mostly Western developed (except the house of Mario) and all shooters that are very serious. Mass Effect 2, Dead Space 2, Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire, even Marvel Vs Capcom 3 is a serious fighter behind all the colourful characters!!

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Qubex
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 3:26:20 AM

I thought Red Dead was quite serious. It was fun, but it had serious overtones... especially if you decide to go on a murderous spree... but I guess to some, that would be quite funny!

Q!

"play.experience.enjoy"

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 4:04:46 AM

Oh yeah now I remember, Marsten's commentary was actually pretty hilarious.

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BIGRED15
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:30:17 PM
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So I see what some of u guys are getting at, but where exactly would we be if games didnt start to take themselves more seriously. Everyone here is right, that games used to be less about making a well oiled machine and more about just having crazy stupid fun games like Ratchet and SR I think prove that devs still know how to just let loose, but even the more serious games out there gives us some of the best moments we may ever see. And its the more serious titles that allow the industry to gain more respect and be looked at less as child's play and more like an every man's game. Those games grow the industry. People new to gaming won't buy a console just for lollipop chainsaw, but games that make them feel like they're in the movie or make them reflect. And compare what they find entertaining to entertainment they have complete control over (like if john Wayne.played red dead) then after you.discover gaming, you can branch out and seek games that carry just a little extra spice and that's where japanese games exceed expectations. That's what gaming used to be but u know what they say about the winds of change... And that change is proving more beneficial than not.

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Dancemachine55
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:34:54 PM
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I'll take No More Heroes, Bayonetta, Uncharted, Duke Nukem and Ratchet and Clank over CoD and Battlefield any day!!

I've been saying this for ages, I really cannot wait for this whole FPS bubble to burst. It seems Western games are all shooters while Japanese developers are the only ones gutsy enough to do something new and different!!

With FPS' flooding the market, it's only a matter of time before the crowd get sick of em and turn to something new. I just hope classic turn-based RPG's make a comeback, or at least sell well so as to create a demand for more RPG titles. It feels like there's no true RPG anymore, like FF VII and VIII, or Chrono Trigger, or Golden Sun, or Vagrant Story. Ahhhh, memories...

Back to the main article...

It feels like Japanese developers have the artistic talent and creativity to create incredible games, they just seem to be lacking in the technological department and game design area, such as camera control, enemy AI and physics, and even the graphics department.

It also feels like JPN developers can't grasp developing for the current gen, like they're not sure how to make games quickly and well for HD consoles, like they're stuck in the PS2 era. Simply look at quality titles from Japan, they're all mostly on Wii or handhelds where the tech is still older and familiar to them. Why do you think so many RPG's and high quality Japanese titles like Xenoblade and The Last Story and Monster Hunter Tri are all coming out on Wii? It's because many JPN developers just don't have the appropriate experience to make big wonderful games on an HD console like PS3 or 360.

As for the games from Japan that DO make HD consoles, it seems to take them forever just to make them. I feel like Japanese developers spend way too much time perfecting the little details in the artwork and background that many Western gamers do not even notice.

Not only that, but Japanese developers have hardly embraced multiplayer which is all the rage now, and probably will stay popular for a long long time from now. Most Western gamers don't want 100 + hour games in a single player setting. (Skyrim appears to be the exception) Most Western gamers prefer to play a game that lasts 10-15 hours in the single player campaign with a lot of variety and very little challenge from the game. CoD is popular cos of the short campaign which is easy to finish AND the addictive multiplayer with killstreaks and well designed gameplay that many can just pick up and play, but spend time mastering and levelling.

That brings me to my next point, levelling.

Nearly all Western games have stolen this RPG-centric device that hooks gamers into being the best of their friends. With CoD, Battlefield, Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect using a levelling system, Japanese developers can no longer rely on this gameplay mechanic to separate themselves from the competition in the West.

Also, in the past, Japanese developers were the greatest developers out there. They pushed the PS1 and PS2 to its limit, created fantastic franchises and new IP's and showed the world just how artistic video games truly are. Fast forward to now, where 360 is king of Western shooters, old-school RPG's have all but died or have combined with FPS', making standalone RPG games obsolete.

Thank God for PS3 and Wii is all I can say. At least they still have RPG's, racers, action adventure and creatively different FPS' that aren't set in modern warfare. (Bioshock, Resistance and Killzone are great examples of how brilliantly different an FPS can be)

As Blair Herter from Xplay said, "At the Microsoft E3 2011 conference, there were shooters and Kinect games. No middle ground. That's it! If you like these two genres of games, then you're in luck."
Adam Sessler pointed out, "If you wanted brilliant console exclusives and brand new IP's, the Nintendo and Microsoft conferences were NOT the places to be."

With that, I can sum up in one sentence why Japanese games fail in the US.

Japanese developers haven't supported 360 since 2008, and since the Wii, PS3 and PSP are so popular in Japan and not so much in the US, many Japanese games have gone by unnoticed in the United States simply because there are not as many US citizens in possession of PS3's and PSP's compared to 360 owners in America.

(Sigh)... rant done. Anyone agree or disagree? I feel I covered everything!!

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Highlander
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 12:05:03 AM

I don't agree that they cannot grasp the current generation of machine, or HD, look at MSG4 for example.

As for perfecting the art in the game, or other details such as the game play, to me, those are more important than the 'technology' of the game engine. It always amuses me when someone talks about game engines and technology as if it were hardware, when in fact it's not. Programming competently is an engineering discipline, programming excellently is art. I'd rather have the artist mentality that pays attention to those details because there is a greater chance of an outstanding game.

As for your last point, I am a western gamer, and I very much *do* want 100+ hours of single player experience in a game. I like multi-player OK in it's various forms, with co-op play being much more my style. But To say that Japanese developers somehow haven't experienced multi-player is ignoring the vast array of multi-player experiences that exist in Japanese gaming, but never make it here. I do agree that culturally they may be more attuned to solo gaming simply because of the pace of life and their society. However, look at countries like South Korea, positively overflowing with multi-player experiences, many from Asian development houses - including the Japanese ones.

I honestly think that despite the current fad for multi-player, the bedrock strength of gaming is the single player experience. Multi-player will never go away and will continue to evolve abd integrate more smoothly with the single player experience, but ultimately we play games for our own enjoyment. Being dependent on our friends always being online so that we can play places an obligation on players that I don't think is sustainable in the long run. You can already see this in the way that games like farmville that make that obligation a tyranny are beginning to lose their hold on players in favor of games that do not so strongly lock people into playing.

In the end, I think that the Japanese developers are correct to focus on the core strengths of games, the art, the gameplay and the single player experience. Online multi-player is an extension of that, not the other way around.

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Excelsior1
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 7:19:30 AM

dancemachine raises some great points. japanese developers have struggled getting games out on the hd machines. even when they do get a game out the drop off in quality has been pretty significant. re5, dmc4, and gt5 stick out in my mind as pretty big dissapointments for me.

i still think there is plenty of fun to be had in western releases. fallout 3 has some great humour. i recently rented shadows of the damned...it looked and played like a low budget release. not a very good game at all imo.

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Highlander
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 @ 11:24:36 AM

If you think that GT5 represents a drop off in quality, then your opinions on most anything relating to gaming are suspect - IMHO.

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BIGRED15
Monday, August 01, 2011 @ 11:44:32 PM
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Spot on dance machine. The tendencies Japanese devs have really kept them from releasing too many HD gems, and a lot of the ideas they pioneered have been filtered to fit into western games. While I agree with you, its games like cod.that gets the most unlikely people to pick up u controller so I'm not complaining at least not with what western devs are accomplishing these days

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Highlander
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 12:06:05 AM

Sure about that? Or could it be that fewer Japanese games made in HD are being released in the West because of the hostile reaction they get in the press here?

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Qubex
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 3:27:50 AM

Highlander, an interesting point right there? Surely they must feel that game acceptance in Western Europe is lacking when it comes to Japanese central material and gaming concepts... its all about the FPS today is it not? Well for the majority that is...

Q!

"play.experience.enjoy"

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BIGRED15
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 12:43:20 AM
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Be that as it may, Japanese games still have a pretty big impact on the American consumer. It's tough to really say if negative press is the only catalyst. Dance machine really hit the nail on the head. Japan struggles with the tech as well as making games more universal. They are gonna make their games to cater to Japanese culture. They could probably care less about American pop culture trends.
Japanese games really keep It old school with that certain "fun factor" and just because its a bit old fashioned doesnt mean that its negative. It just means that we as Americans care more about the more controversial and serious sides of pop culture. Shooters mean so much today because war is always the hot topic. Do u think little jimmy will care if lollipop chainsaw gets good press? Not a chance in Hell. The only games that matter are those that people can more closely relate to. Same applies to the Japanese. Do they care as much about cod as Americans. Probably not.
It's so much more than just bad press. If ur trying to sell a product, say a camaro, the odds of the Japanese choosing that as a daily driver over a Honda civic are slim to none. It has more to do with principles in marketing than anything.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 1:51:15 AM
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JRPGs are great at the self joke, "She has amnesia, because then that means we can explain everything to her in a way that the player understands"

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Highlander
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 9:41:21 AM

Neptunia!

Finally *someone* get's it! if that game had a battle mechanic that was slightly better - especially with regard to healing, and the makers had solved the pacing issues (too slow IMHO) it could really have rocked with the shattered 4th wall and all the in-jokes.

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Lawless SXE
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 2:14:34 AM
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I just like that Japanese games are a bit more lighthearted than Western ones in general. I don't care whether they poke fun at themselves, or focus on art or whatever. They're a bit more cheeky, and this makes it a genuine pleasure to play through them, rather than the endless trudging that you get from a lot of other developers.

Yes, in general, Western developers do take themselves too seriously. A serious mentality leads to a certain design ethic being maintained and humour being drained from the game. This, in my experience, leads to the entirety of the game being less fun. Double Fine, Media Molecule, Insomniac, Ubisoft Montepellier, Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, these are Western devs whose games I enjoy, and you'll find that trian of humour runs through them, and it really makes it feel as though their games are an effort made out of love, rather than love of money.
Peace.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 4:07:50 AM

yeah you explained it better than I could. It's like, some games can be really solid, quality experiences but you never once have the great smile plastered on your face that some games give you.

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Lawless SXE
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 5:04:15 AM

Better than World? Damn, I am getting good :P

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Highlander
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 9:42:41 AM

QFT

"I just like that Japanese games are a bit more lighthearted than Western ones in general. I don't care whether they poke fun at themselves, or focus on art or whatever. They're a bit more cheeky, and this makes it a genuine pleasure to play through them, rather than the endless trudging that you get from a lot of other developers. "

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Dreno
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 2:21:31 AM
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What I'm about to post may or may not be off topic. I'm a lil bit inhebritated at the moment, so I'm not too sure.

But speaking off games poking fun at the selves, who remembers the ff ( I think it was ff-uno ) where in the elven village there's a grave yard, and one of the tomb stones reads " here lies link " or what ever.

That, I thought, was epic.

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Underdog15
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 9:53:45 AM

lol, I remember that. It was, indeed, epic.

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FM23
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 3:08:28 AM
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I'll take seriousness over wackiness anyday. With that, I enjoyed the hell out of Bayonetta.

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___________
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 3:33:45 AM
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nope, ive just been saying that for oh i dunno.......... ever since this generation started!

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Lawless SXE
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 5:04:48 AM

Gotta hand it to this guy. He's right this time.

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coverton341
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 10:53:01 AM
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Cthulhu Saves the World/Breath of Death VII

If you haven't ever heard of them, they are two games on Steam developed by Zeboyd Games. They are very tongue in cheek games and poke fun at themselves and JRPGs and are a blast really. I think they are both on the 360 indie game store too but did rather poorly in sales there, actually on Steam they surpassed all 360 sales in 5 days.

Anyway, these are cheap little $3 games but for the 3 bucks you won't have more fun or get nearly as many laughs anywhere else.

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Geobaldi
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 11:58:57 AM

Agreed. Enjoyed those two games a lot when Steam got them.. They're on the short side but well worth the few bucks that are being charged. Dungeons of Dredmore is another awesome game.

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AcHiLLiA
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 @ 11:05:30 AM
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I think Saints Row 3 will be crazy over the top serious.

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79transam
Wednesday, August 03, 2011 @ 6:45:45 AM
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The only JPN developed game I can say that I have enjoyed since nintendo was the MGS series. I would rather my games be serious and have a hollywood feel to it then be too kitchy, that being said I enjoyed the old Duke games. I also would love it if the modern FPS were 30+hours of SP gameplay. As far as RPG's go the only one I could ever get into was Knights of the Old Republic

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tankei
Thursday, August 04, 2011 @ 9:24:13 PM
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