Mega Man creator says “Everybody in Japan should work with foreign developers”

Japan's games industry comes under fire from one of its most senior figures.

Indie developer Phil Fish ruffled some feathers at GDC last month when he told a Japanese games developer “your games just suck” during a Q&A session. In all fairness Japanese games aren’t what they used to be so Saint Philip of Canada’s remarks weren’t entirely baseless. I just think he was a bit of a twat for being so rude about it. According to outspoken Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune however, in an interview with Wired, the Japanese games industry needs more “very severe, but very honest” criticism like Fish’s and less people like me being too touchy-feely and bleeding-heart about it.

Inafune’s break with mainstream Japanese games development came when he parted ways with Capcom in 2009 after 23 years, shortly after declaring “Man, Japan is over. We’re done. Our game industry is finished” in front of a crowd of attendees at that year’s Tokyo Game Show. As pep talks go that’s about as heartening as an airline pilot screaming “We’re all gonna die!” at 30,000 feet above the mid-atlantic. Since then Inafune has founded his own development studio, Comcept, and has been working on the upcoming Kaio: King of Pirates for the 3DS. That is when he hasn’t been pissing-off the rest of the Japanese games development community some more.

“Right now, Japan believes that other Asian games, and American games, aren’t as good as theirs” he told Wired. “But across the world, American games are the best-selling and considered the most fun. But Japan’s gamers and game creators still won’t accept this. This is why Japan can’t win.”

According to Inafune Japan’s problems stem from reflecting on the glories of the past and a reluctance to admit there’s anything worth learning from western games. His proposed solution to this is a simple dose of tough love. “You’re being too nice to Japanese games”, he continues. “You should be harsh when you feel the standards aren’t living up to what we had in the past. You should tell the truth about Japanese games not being what they used to be. Unless they get that criticism, Japanese game creators are just sitting on the glories of the past. They won’t get the message that the Western audience is turning its back on us.”

This is the sort of constructive criticism I was referring to when I had a go at Phil Fish last month. Anyone can say “Japanese games suck” but Inafune articulates why, and with the authority and experience of having worked 23 years at Capcom. Saying “all Japanese games” suck also does a disservice to acclaimed titles like Dark Souls and Cave Story. Cave Story is as archetypal an indie game as you can get and Dark Souls has a strong western RPG influence, yet both have something about them that is  distinctively Japanese. Both games also prove a certain point Inafune makes in the interview. “Japan has to admit the loss and start anew”, he says, “and they have to have the courage to ask you guys to let us learn from your success”.

“Everybody in Japan should work with foreign developers,” says Inafune. “Not just paying them money and letting them make whatever they think is good, but really working together, coming up with new ideas together and discussing how to make something brand new. That would result in a chemical reaction in a good way.”

I really hope Inafune has some supernatural talent for prophecy because that sounds like a glorious vision of the future. Japanese games are nearly as much a part of my personal gaming history as those of British “bedroom programmers” like Matthew Smith, Dave Perry and Jeff Minter. I used to buy a Japanese game knowing it’d knock my socks off in some way, whether through great gameplay, boundless imagination, or simply because it was completely stark-staring bonkers. In recent years however much of Japanese games development has fallen into a rut with fewer titles making me even raise a bored, sceptical eyebrow. Some more cross-cultural collaboration would do both east and west a world of good, and I’m glad developers like Inafune are around to champion that idea.

Matt McDermott

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