I don’t like my attitude towards Japanese games. I feel it’s aggressively negative, bordering on prejudiced. That said, I try to create opportunities for myself to lose this attitude. Most of the time that doesn’t work out.
There are of course exceptions – the Katamari series is wonderfully odd.
Sadly most of the rest of the time I’m woefully underwhelmed.
The issue generally stems from different approaches to gaming. If I’m playing an RPG I want to roleplay a character of my own choosing, to some extent. By that I mean that there should be a suitable vessel for me to use within the game world. Not a blank avatar but someone with sufficiently malleable characteristics for me to take the reins of. This is pretty much the polar opposite of what I’ve experienced in most Japanese RPGS. Here’s a character, care about him and his stupid problems. While we’re being dramatic we’ll probably shift tone in a few minutes to that of a Tracy Ullman era Simpsons episode.
So, strictly defined story with very little player agency. What else?
It seems to be true of both their magazines and games – more is better. Doesn’t matter if it’s great, lots of variety is what we’re going to give ‘em!
As much as I like convergent devices I don’t want the extra features if they’re badly implemented. A game where there’s mini-games, collectables, and superfluous game mechanics can work but it’s very hard to do right. In the vast majority of cases I feel it ends up diluting a strong experience drastically diminishing my enjoyment of the core game.
Lastly there’s attitude. Having grown up in Britain perhaps this affects me more than those stateside. Here people are cheerful and chipper but in a wry and reserved manner. Excessive exuberance comes across as hollow and inspires cynicism. In most Japanese games I’ve played it’s common for NPCs to be enthusiastic and excessively friendly – that is to say (from my perspective) they might as well be cardboard cutouts. Real people in my cultures rarely act like that under any circumstances.
Result? I subconsciously reject the setting and find myself feeling alone in a crowd of plastic smiles.
Hopefully in time their design philosophy will shift towards something I find more agreeable. I’m not suggesting it needs to be the same as Western design, it’s simply the only thing I have to compare it to for the moment.