Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Turning Japanese?

NOTE: This is my long reaction piece over something I've read over the Internet that Filipinos are more inclined to Japanese games compared to Western ones.

One of the banner cries of several console gaming advocates in the Philippines are Japanese games. Some biases in favor of Nintendo and Sony stem from the concept that as Japanese consoles, they are most likely to have MORE Japanese games. Some people here in the Philippines, seem to think that console gaming revolves around Japanese games. And I simply beg to differ. Now before anything else, this same bias for Japanese made games also has its western game counterpart but for the purpose of my 'rant' on how Filipino's are Japanese game centric, I will focus more on the Japanese game bias.

Like most of the gamers from my generation (80's – 90's), Japanese games served as our introduction to the wonderful world of gaming. It started with the 'Game And Watch' which lead all the way to the Super Family Computer and the prerequisite Super Mario Bros game. I will not deny that I enjoy playing Japanese games but at the same time I recognize that it was not the end off all gaming.

As I outgrew the eternal plumber, one of my mom's officemates introduced me to PC gaming. The very first PC game that I played seriously was Kings Quest. That game held a lot of memories for me because it was the game that taught me how to type on a keyboard, it was also the game that got me interested in computers in general. By the time the later editions of the Quest Series (Kings Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest and Quest for Glory) rolled in, I had become quite familiar with MS DOS and Windows which was a feat that would never have happened had not I bothered to play those games.

Kings Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory....some of the greatest games made! Who said good 'ol adventure games don't work anymore?!?

I was around 9 years old when I stopped playing Nintendo and Japanese games in general to focus more on PC gaming...or should I say...western gaming. But my interest with Japanese games was renewed as when I discovered anime and the Japanese pop culture. I assume that most people who are Japanese game zealots can find that the roots of their passion came from manga and anime.

By then, I was so fascinated when I realized that Ranma ½ had a more intricate plot compared to Care Bears. The characters were also those that I can relate with despite having unimaginable hair color. In my teenage years, Japanese Anime was influential in shaping the kind of media that I liked. And back then, I was unable to look past the rose colored anime glasses to realize that the amazing thing that I saw in anime was far simpler than worshiping everything that came out of Japan.

For me, nothing beats the anime 'classics'...

And one of the easiest ways to satisfy my craving for all things Japanese (other than eating Sushi all day), was to play Japanese games, particularly Japanese RPGS (JRPGs) and their glorious CG movies that keep me playing so I get to see the next 'anime' cutscene. Japanese gaming was an extension of my passion for anime.

As my obsession with anime grew and as my knowledge regarding the subject increased, I begun to see certain things that made me rethink my opinion of anime and Japanese games. Through the years the original anime series which I once thought out to be unique and creative, were rehashed several times or are rehashes in themselves. I've seen it all... Shonen Anime, Shojou Anime, Harem Anime...

The stardard issue dark haired pilot who will save the world...
The innocent anime girl love interest with her hands clasped in prayer all the time...
The bishonen I'm-too-sexy-for-my-shirt aloof character with long hair (preferably silver)...
The bad ass guy with family issues and a huge chip on his shoulder who wants to destroy the world...
The little characters who seem like they are about to break into song any minute now...
The cute cuddly creatures that defy any realistic imagination...

As I saw these templates, my vision regarding anime and the Japanese pop culture cracked. Many Japanese fans accuse western media of using template characters and rehashing the plot. Well...I can definitively say that Japanese media also do the same thing! The only difference is, western media aren't keen on having a hundred foot lizard destroying the whole town but opted for a hundred foot ape instead!

I found similar patterns and rehashes in Japanese games as well. I also grew tired of the 'fan service' that most games dish out. (Oh look...this character is getting a new series because he is so uber cool! SQUEEEEEEEEEE!!!!~~~ XD) I enjoy fan service but sometimes its simply too much. It also helped that I took some form of Japanese studies in college which made me realize that what I see in anime isn't exactly what Japan is.

Now that I am much older, everytime I hear this Japanese games are bettter argument, I laugh. Been there...done that...said that... And I was wrong.

I was wrong because I was unable to identify what made a game 'click' with me. I was unable to look past the glitter, sugary sweetness and wide eyed Japanese characters to realize that what I was looking for in media (and in gaming) was far simpler than having something made in Japan.
I was looking for good presentation and a reasonable plot.

I wish Blizzard can stop milking World of Warcraft and make more RTS games again!

The Japanese are masters of presentation Everything about Japan is presentation...from the texture of the paper you use in your calling card up to decorating your lunch box with star shaped cucumbers. It's no surprise that this flair in presentation will make its way to anime and videogames. But who is to say that the west cannot offer the same quality, even in gaming? Take a look at popular western games like War Craft and Star Craft...which amazingly also has a following in Japan. Even the much laughed at, FPS Box (aka XBOX) mascot, Master Chief has a home with Japanese gamers living in Japan.

People who say that only Japanese games have good presentation and a semblance of plot either have not played any other games other than Japanese ones or simply cannot live with the truth that it is nothing more but a matter of preference rather than fact.

For example, check out Call of Duty 4. That game SCREAMS western! And its even the much hated FPS for the extreme Japanese lovin crowd! But as I watched my husband play through that game, I was amazed at how well the game was presented and the plot that was woven in to make the game better.

So in the end what am I trying to say?

Good media (or games) are not identified by the nationality of the group that made them. What makes something good, at least from my perspective, has something to do with the actual presentation and plot. With this mindset, I am able to enjoy games without characters that need to wear a sailor school-girl uniform. I think Filipino gamers can equally enjoy both eastern and western styled games but in the end its all matter of preference and not necessarily a cultural fact.


  1. the beginning of your lifestory is so good, just reminds me of my childhood days as well lol, first time I saw Space Quest, I was completely hooked, I completely ditched nintendo to play wolfenstein, doom, doom 2. PC gaming had a few good years, with Half Life 1 reaching the next evolution in presentation and plot. Japanese gaming did reach a slump once, if people bothered to do some research, Japanese developers are so attracted to Western market right now. In fact, people don't even realise when playing a Western themed game that half the experience comes from Japanese talents. Silent Hill 1-5 music composer Akira Yamaoka moving to US is one big example. All in all, this generation of console gaming have been much more exciting, with hybrid developers combining talents to create interesting ideas (LO is the FIRST JRPG I've seen where you can purchase patches to expand the gaming experience!!). 2008 is indeed, another great year for the gamers =D

  2. World of warcraft is good in its own ways, I wouldn't come here but i am a WOW player for 2 years now, I mean yes Blizzard can make good rts, but why would they bother if WOW, has over 2 million players, that pay 15 dollars per month.