5 things that Japan still does best
There are still areas in which Japan remains a world leader. Here’s five of them…
We all know that Japan, once mighty and seemingly impenetrable bastion of the global games industry, has floundered somewhat in recent years, with many Western developers, particularly in the US, leaving their Japanese counterparts looking very old-fashioned by comparison. But it’s not like the Japanese games industry is dead and buried. There are still areas in which Japan remains a world leader. Here’s five of them…
By far the most important area that Japan still leads is gaming hardware. This is most evident in the extraordinary success of Nintendo’s Wii and DS. Many will be quick to point out that neither Nintendo machine is much good for proper games, you can’t really fault the hardware design when it comes to meeting the requirements of who and what it is for.
Then there’s the PS3, which in pure hardware terms is clearly a better machine than the 360. Yes, it’s had its problems, but these have been to do with pricing, software development, marketing and service provision. The hardware itself has generally been difficult to fault. It doesn’t break down every six months, for a start.
While most other genres traditionally associated with Japan have started to look dated and redundant lately, the beat-‘em-up has seen something of a resurgence. This is mostly thanks to the incredible job Capcom did with Street Fighter IV, but Soul Calibur, Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Blazblue have all also put in good showings during this generation. And it’s not just one-on-one fighters. Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry might be looking a little dated now, but at Bayonetta showed that Japan can still do something fresh and exciting with a classic template.
You can keep the real-world players, courses, equipment and tournaments of the Tiger Woods franchise. Fact is, none of this stuff makes it a better game than Everybody’s Golf (a.k.a. Hot Shots Golf). Sony’s first-party golf series might have cartoon visuals and wacky game mechanics, but at its core there’s a golf sim that’s at least as realistic as Tiger Woods, if not more so. And it’s basically just loads more fun and has the absolute nicest, friendliest online community you could ever hope for. Bless.
Gaming, being traditionally the pursuit of adolescent males, has a strong tradition of representing women in a shallow, sexualised light, but a quick glance across this generation’s top Western titles reveals that this tradition is in crisis in Europe and America. The demise of sexism in Western game development can best be charted using the size of Lara Croft’s breasts. It peaked in 1999, but has been in decline ever since. Now all we seem to get is strong, independent, powerful female characters who sometimes don’t even need rescuing from peril. They’rre usually still pretty fit though.
No, if you want a woman who has to get naked in order to perform special moves, or a schoolgirl with knicker-revealing high kicks, or breasts of perpetual motion, or a special operations unit consisting exclusively of glamour models who might as well be starkers then there’s only one place to look these days – Japan.
Okay, so this last point maybe shouldn’t count because it’s a kind of a by-product of the problems Japanese game development has had keeping up with the times, but the fact is that the old-fashioned ways are the best ways sometimes, and Japanese devs are still the best at creating traditional games. We’ve already covered beat-‘em-ups of course, but then there are more self-consciously retro titles like Mega Man 9 & 10 and 3D Dot Game Heroes. When it comes to making new things the old way, Japan simply cannot be beaten.s