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Is Japan falling behind 'successful' gaming trends or is it just finding its way in the current gaming market?


Not the first article on the matter but never the less an interesting one to cover, the games industry in the last seven to eight years has increasingly seen a shift in focus from a prominent Eastern dominance in the era of the Dreamcast, Playstation 2 and Gamecube to the West with the emergence of the X-Box, its successor the Xbox 360 and even Apple's i-devices.

We frequently hear that Japanese games have lost their way, that they do not care to cater for the Western market the way that developers such as EA, Ubisoft, Rockstar and Activision have with recent releases such as Dead Space, Assassin's Creed, Red Dead Redemption and the Call of Duty series.

Is this truly the case or do we need to have a more rounded look at the Japanese games market to understand if its developers are purposefully catering towards a larger Western audience or just sticking to their guns regarding the titles and genres that are being turned out from its most prominent studios?

Individuals such as Square Enix's Yoichi Wada and Capcom's Keiji Inafune have gone on record to suggest that the Japanese games industry is five years behind, that it needs to be more Western-facing in its development goals. Why would these two executives of the industry be so outspoken on the matter, the Japanese notoriously reserved and formal when delivering official press conferences and interviews?

One should also consider the rise of the FPS genre with the introduction of Microsoft's Xbox and Xbox 360. Popular titles such as the Halo and Call of Duty series have led the way, catering to the needs of PC FPS fans and bringing some of those over to the console medium, an area of interest for those who normally go to the lengths of building a specific rig to play their favourite titles on. 

It would also be worthwhile to consider the number of titles Japanese studios have developed in recent times that either are Western-themed or have been co-developed with Western studios. Vanquish, Lost Planet 2, Quantum Theory, Dead Rising 2, Bionic Commando and Dark Void to name a few examples are representative of titles that are influenced by those from the West such as Gears of War or are solely or jointly developed by studios such as GRIN or Blue Castle (now know as Capcom Montreal).

It could be said that this is done so the Japanese studios can stay competitive in the industry, or that they want to explore the options that are presented with a title that is co-developed with Western and Eastern ideas fused into one title. The exhilarating feel of the adrenaline-fuelled Vanquish is a fine example of a 3rd-person shooting title with Western influences but retaining its Japanese flavour. In comparison, Quantum Theory has tried to emulate the same success of Epic's renowned series but is more debatable in its execution.

Japan's gaming industry still has a multitude of quality titles to offer avid gamers the world over. Titles such as Bayonetta, Super Street Fighter IV, Tekken, Final Fantasy, Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Pokemon, Professor Layton, Resident Evil and many more franchises have come from Japanese shores and experienced impressive sales figures since their inception. They each carry those distinct Japanese gaming qualities that are often replicated but rarely bettered.

Loved by gaming audiences the world over, they show that Japanese-developed titles have and still do cater for a world audience to the same degree as successful titles such as Call of Duty, Uncharted, GTA4 and their ilk. There are also several examples of titles that hold their Japanese identity after localisation has taken place such as Persona 3 & 4, Star Ocean: The Last Hope and the Ryu ga Gotoku series of titles.

It will be interesting to observe 2011 and the next few years ahead to see whether the Japanese games market will persevere with offering more Western-themed titles or whether stalwarts of the industry for years to date such as Mario, Sonic and Zelda will continue to be appreciated by audiences worldwide from the land of the rising sun.

What do you think of Japanese developers crafting and releasing Western-themed titles? And do you still think the Japanese market holds its own when it comes to releasing fresh titles that hold that distinct Japanese flavour? Any thoughts, feel free to post them in the Comments section below.

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