I�m no JRPG fiend. Many, many times over the years I�ve dabbled: a Legend of Mana here, a Wild Arms there, they�ve all been fairly distant and inconsistent forrays into a decidedly enthusiast style of game. Oddly enough, it was 11-year old Lou Chou who struck much more of an affinity with leveling up and the almighty grind than his 24-year old counterpart. Way back then Suikoden�s was a World with near limitless possibility, committing to lengthy battles that juggled finite control of potions with hit and magic point conservation. I was overwhelmed by the potential these games offered, but all too suddenly things changed. A bright, bitingly chilly January morning in 1999 saw me tearing through a gift-wrapped rectangle, and behind that vivid paper was an orange box sporting text that read Half-Life. The rest, as tired cliches note, was history.
What Valve accessed with the creation of Half-Life, among a thousand other visionary things, was a way to tell a story so artfully, and with such engagement, that it became roleplay. It was by extension an RPG, only without experience points or jarringly translated text. The Japanese RPG had long remained the bar for those looking for a little sophistication or depth from their narrative experience, but with one game a standard was redefined.
In a post-Half-Life World western development had become increasingly more relevant, and when a game like Deus Ex was hitting the criteria for an RPG experience, whilst also escaping the standard trappings of party systems and gender-ambiguous protagonists with eyes like dinner plates, it became all too clear that there existed a lot of imagination in the West.
The current generation arrived, and thanks in no small part to Microsoft the West had become a crucial place for development. Microsoft was, very obviously, close to the PC platform. It recognized the talent behind some of the more seminal games studios, and put a lot of faith in those guys to bring interesting new ideas to its console. You have to wonder, in a World where a Microsoft console didn�t exist, would we still have Mass Effect or Bioshock? As notable beneficiaries of Microsoft support, it�s arguable that the budget just wouldn�t exist for Bioware or Irrational Games to be creating such staggering, triple-A titles.
Gravity is a motherfucker, and just as sure as things will soar, it�s only a matter of time before the consequent fall. The popularity of COD spawned an army of me too titles looking to cash in on the popularity of the first-person shooter, the effect of which has left us with a culture where even those within the industry are surprised if a period of time passes without the release of another shooter. The irony is that now Western gaming has a face, and it�s Call of Duty. The same way an uninformed, surface interpretation of Japanese gaming is that it�s all JRPGs with sickeningly cutesy Anime characters, Western gaming is now just army men awash in machismo.
So what does this mean for Japanese gaming? Well, now�s as good a time as any for Eastern development to force its way back into mainstream consciousness. While people are suffering shooter fatigue, it�s the perfect opportunity to come in with some different ideas and methods. All it takes is one game, one success story, to change the way people think about the games they want to play. Who knows, maybe somewhere in Japan a studio is working on exactly that game.
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