Monthly Archives: August 2011

Shadows of the Damned – Garcia Hotspur is a Mexican Psycho

[penned by Sir Gaulian]

I am not an avid reader  but Bret Easton Ellis is one of my favourite authors.  His writing is unique, interesting and often confronting in a way that books, let alone television or film, often aren’t.  He gets me reading when its the last thing I feel like doing when I get home from work at the end of a day spent, well, mostly reading.  But its not the violence or swearing, the mature themes or modern settings, or an overwhelming macabre atmosphere or characters that draw me into his writings.  All of that is good and makes for an interesting read, even if slightly altering your frame of mind for a duration after reading his books.  But it is the sense that anything could happen in his stories that, for all intents and purposes, seem to be a relatively accurate look at parts of modern society.  That is what really grabs me.

The way in which he writes should resonate with the way most people think.  Scattered images and words that often share no commonality between one another.  A dream for example, is the sub-conscious version of one’s thought process and can often be about anything and anyone.  But often, although a dream can be made up of disparate parts, it can also have a relatively pointed and direct narrative.  In both dreams and Ellis’ writings, the details serve only to provide vivid visual images to accompany a well structured story, even though the author often seems spend more time on tangents than actually progressing the plot.  These details and seemingly erroneous details however play some important role in the overall progression of the story, whether it be providing support to developing the characters further, or setting the scene.

At the beginning of Lunar Park, his ‘autobiography’ of sorts, Ellis compares and contrasts the beginning of each book preceding it. As the it points out, by his third full length novel, American Psycho, the author has almost started to document his thought process when writing.  His punctuation seemingly can be identified directly with the momentary pause between thoughts as the words form a setting and situation.  Rather than subconciously editing out details that most authors (or people, perhaps) may consider insignificant, Ellis captures them in full detail.  Everything from clothes to body language and the character’s (Patrick Bateman) feelings on the latest Genesis album are vividly spelled out – sometimes in such an incoherent manner that it begins to sound like a child making up a story on the fly.  Strangely though, every seemingly meaningless details provides the impetus to keep moving through the story, where any other author’s attempts at benality would simply end with the reader putting the book down and perhaps never reaching its conclusion.  While perhaps the benality isn’t fitting, the rest can largely be applied to the work of Suda 51, CEO of Grasshopper Manufacture and producer and director of more than 18 games dating back to the Super Famicom.

Suda 51’s gameography reads something like a nightmare, a description that certainly is not indicative of the quality of the titled developed under his watchful eye.  Rather it is an apt description for the tone and feel of his games, which often feel disjointed and confusing, but always feel like they have something larger happening within the subtext of the narrative, shown through disturbing imagery, bizarre dialogue and incredible artistic direction.  His games, both when directing and producing, range from the political intrique of Killer 7, to the larger than life comical storylines found within No More Heroes. But always the narrative and visual style of the game combined with a real sense of expectation of what may happen around any given corner because in Suda 51’s world, anything can happen.

And often it does.  Shadows of the Damned, Suda 51’s latest game,  is perhaps Suda 51’s most traditional ‘game’ since the inception of Grasshopper manufacture.  But on top of the mechanics of an incredibly sound and well controlling third person shooter, he manages to pack the game with enough eccentricity, humour and flat out bizarre game mechanics that it doesn’t feel like its ‘just’ a third person shooter.  Shooting a goat’s head to dispel the darkness from a room doesn’t make a lot of sense outside of the context of the game, but inside the demon world featured in Shadows of the Damned, it feels strangely familiar.  Drawing a comparison to Killer 7, its the details that transformed Killer 7 from more than just an ‘on-rails shooter’ to perhaps one of the most interesting and mature video games available for the last generation of consoles.  The same can be said for Shadows of the Damned.

Variety is another facet of Suda 51’s games that, again, Shadows of the Damned has in spades.  Aside from the wonderful breaks from the standard action provided for by the stylish, but brief, horizontal shooter sequences in the game, the environments that the game has Garcia Hotspur running through are nothing short of amazing (if not slight celebrations of death, decay and darkness).  The absurdity of the demon world’s ‘red light district’ is a particular highlight, which despite its brevity, manages to almost single-handedly define the entire game experience – an experience where anything goes and you could be anywhere doing anything at any point throughout the game.  Shooting a goat’s head on a wall is nothing compared to stuffing a strawberry into an infant demon’s mouth to open a door.  This is absurdity that haven’t seen in a game since Platinum Games’ Bayonetta over one and half years ago.  And I couldn’t have been smiling more.

But what would be the point of all of all of these deliciously depicted and vividly imagined environments if the characters were dull and lifeless?  Luckily the characters in Shadows of the Damned are likeable to the point of almost stealing the show away from other aspects of the game. The exploits of the duo of Garcia Hotspur and his ‘sidekick sidearm’ Johnson are fun to watch, sure, but its the conversations between the two that lends the most insight into the motivations behind them.  It is the lack of force behind developing these characters that makes them come to life in an incredibly natural way in spite of the incredibly fantastical scenario.  Of course characterisation is something that Suda 51 specialises in, with most of his games having an incredibly strong narrative as a result of the characters and their own vendettas and personal histories driving the experiences forward.  There is no better example of this than his depiction of Harman Smith and his multiple personas in Killer 7Needless to say if you haven’t played that game, his role alone is worth more than the price of admission.  A similar sentiment applies to Shadows of the Damned, whereby while the shooting, the guns, the violence and the environments are all fantastic – it is the relationship between the main protagonists that makes the game something incredibly special.

Suda 51 has a way of capturing my imagination that no other director/producer can.  That really is the key point to all of this.  Shadows of the Damned put a smile on my face and gave me something to look forward to at the end of the day.  It is the type of game that comes along in the midst of the repetition and soullessness of a majority of other releases and makes you remember why you spend money on playing games when there are so many alternatives competing for your dollar.  And while perhaps its not a work of literary genius the journey of Garcia Hotspur was entirely justified by an ending that blew my mind.  Not because it was poignant, life changing or terribly deep – but because it reminded you how awesome Garcia Hotspur, Johnson and the world Grasshopper Manufacture have created actually are.

While I often refrain from comparing literature or film to video games, it honestly is the only point of comparison I have for Suda 51’s works Shadows of the Damned at its core its a third person shooter, but like Ellis’ writings, Suda 51 packs the game with enough detail and strange imagery to keep the player running through until the fitting conclusion to a story about love and sacrifice with characters that are some of the best in the medium.  But the best part is that as soon as the credits rolled, I jumped right back in.  It is a video game after all.

3 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay, Reviews

Good Old-Fashioned Demon-Slaying Entertainment

Sir Gaulian’s recent article on ‘crowd combat’ games immediately made me think of Chaos Legion, a long-forgotten PS2 game from Capcom and the first gaming gem to be uncovered in The Cellar. Chaos Legion isn’t a perfect game by any means, but it is a lot of fun, and it’ll be right up your street if you’re a fan of the Dynasty Warriors series.

I first discovered this game a few years ago, when I was teaching in Japan. I’d bought a Japanese PS2 not long after I arrived in the country, but my less-than-perfect Japanese language skills somewhat hampered my ability to play most of the games available. It felt like every other game in my local game shop was an RPG, and although I love RPGs, there’s really not much point in playing them if you don’t know what’s going on. Likewise, text-heavy games like Metal Gear Solid 3 were right out, and there were surprisingly few ‘action’ games available – in particular, hardly any first person shooters were being released in Japan at the time (although I do remember buying Medal of Honor: Rising Sun and feeling distinctly guilty about gunning down hundreds of Japanese soldiers). There were plenty of sports games available – as long as you like baseball – but seeing as I’m neither a big fan of sports games nor of baseball, that didn’t help. And I certainly wasn’t going to start buying dating sims, which seemed to be surprisingly popular.

That didn’t leave me with many options, and my trips to the game shop would often be dispiriting affairs as I gazed at shelf upon shelf of games I either couldn’t or didn’t want to play. On the plus side though, secondhand games were amazingly cheap, and my limited choices also forced me into trying some different genres that I might have normally ignored, and this in turn led me to some absolute classics such as Katamari Damacy and Ring of Red.

Likewise, I doubt I would have normally played Chaos Legion, but I’m very glad I did.

The game basically involves kicking seven shades of crap out of various very stylish-looking demons. And that’s pretty much it frankly: as long as you’re not looking for any great depth, you won’t be disappointed, and seeing as all I was looking for was a game I could play without a Grade 1 qualification in Japanese, it fitted the bill perfectly. Somewhere underneath all the button bushing there’s a plot of sorts, but for the most part it’s utterly impenetrable and, to be honest, completely dispensable. The cut scenes are all very dark and moody, and the main character is so earnestly emo you want to punch him, but none of it makes any sense, and all I could gather on my first playthrough was that Mr Red Hair’s girlfriend had died and he was a bit angry about it. If you want to know what it’s all about, you can read a plot summary here, but all you really need to know is that button is ‘jump’, that button is ‘attack’ and that button summons your demon minions: now go hit stuff.

Speaking of minions, these are definitely one of the things that makes the game stand apart from its crowd combat brethren – i.e. the ability to summon a gang of bruiser demons to do your dirty work for you. Your ‘legion’ certainly adds an extra layer of strategy, as you can only use them for limited amounts of time, plus there are various different paths to upgrade them to suit your playing style and seven different types of minion to choose from. There are definitely no Final Fantasy levels of complexity on show here, but the upgrade system gives you a good sense of progress, and it’s very satisfying when you finally max out one of your legions.

Perhaps the best thing about the game is the graphics. I’m not quite sure how to describe the art style of this game – perhaps Francis Bacon meets Devil May Cry – but it certainly looks wonderful, and despite coming out in 2003, it still looks great today: take a gander at the trailer below to see what I mean. (Thinking about it, some of the enemies vaguely reminded me of the baddies from Phantasy Star Online, but only vaguely.) The environments don’t quite match up to the imagination of the enemy design, but it’s nonetheless a very interesting game to look at.

The big downside of Chaos Legion is the sheer repetitiveness, which is something that marrs the crowd combat genre as a whole. There’s really very little variation in the gameplay from start to finish, and it’s not even a particularly long game. There’s little reason to return to it after the end credits have rolled, which might be irritating if you’d purchased it at full price, but it’s perfectly fine if you’ve just picked it up for a pittance on eBay. Still, what it does, it does well, and as long as you approach it with no expectations other than for a pretty, mildly diverting button basher, it should raise a smile.

[As dictated by Lucius Merriweather.]

4 Comments

Filed under The Cellar (a place for old games)

Warioware, inc; Mega Microgame$!: defining portable games since 2003

The original Warioware, Inc: Mega Microgame$! is unequivocally one of my favourite games of all time.  Everything about it was new, unique and awesome when it was released back in 2003 for the Game boy Advance, and it was the foundation on which the amazing sequels that followed were built.  At the time I was gripped by games on that pushed the portable system seemingly to its limits, with the system becoming the home for the Castlevania series  almost by accident, as well as also straining my eyes with games like Metroid Fusion and Tales of Phantasia.  So it really came as a surprise to me that a game so simple is the one game that would come to define the Game Boy Advance for me in the years to come.

Originally drawn to the game by the fact that it was a game featuring the anti-hero of  the Warioland series, I vividly recall the morning I strolled down to the local electronics store to pick up the game on the day of its release.  Not really knowing what to expect, I happily parted with my AU$59.95 – the standard new release price for game boy games for as long as I could remember  – and went along my merry way.  Looking back it was perhaps the best video game purchase I’ve ever made .

From there on in the game filled me with surprise and wonderment every step of the way.  From the amazing diversity and creativity of the mini games, to the ‘toys’ that were earnt through dedication – Warioware was like that box of chocolates that shall not be mentioned.  The first surprise came when I opened up the instruction booklet, which was more like a sticker book than any instructional literature that I’d ever seen accompanying a game.  Call me old fashioned, but I’m a big fan of a good quality instruction booklet and this one was among the best.   Rather than just giving you a bunch of mundane ‘press A for X’ instructions on how to play the game, the booklet introduced the world, game and characters with incredibly witty writing that really set the tone for the game.  Although these were all new characters it instantly brought them right to the forefront of Nintendo characters, second perhaps to only to the Koopalings from Super Mario Bros 3.  It was funny and creative and certainly earned the Nintendo seal of approval placed firmly on the first page of the booklet.  Not that it stands for much these days – but I digress….

The minute I ‘booted’ the game up, I knew that I had backed a winner.  It was as addictive as it was creative, and it just screamed revolutionary.  Needless to say following the release of the game developers cottoned onto the fact that mini games could be the next big thing and incorporated them into almost every game for the next five years.  None, however, came anywhere near having the variety and polish of the mini games contained within the original Warioware, which would see the player do anything from picking a nose to catching a glass of water being slid across a bar.  On paper, these sound absolutely mundane and ridiculous, but being able to combine them into a fun and simple arcade style  game is what underpins the brilliance of the series.

WariowareSS

The quirkiness and fun of the game was made even more exciting with the second game in the series which is arguably not only the best game in the series to date, but also the best game on the Game Boy Advance full-stop. Warioware: Twisted was almost a sign of things to come for Nintendo and looking back it is hard to see how we all didn’t see the Wii coming.  The game utilised motion controls to create a game that was just as innovative as its predecessor, managing to keep the appeal and simplicity of the first game despite adding a second layer of complexity and precision through the gyro sensor.    The concept of the game hadn’t changed since the first game, but the motion controls ( which were restricted to tilting on the x-axis) added just enough to avoid feeling too much like the first game.  The motion control, achieved through a gyro sensor in the cartridge, made playing the game slightly more nuanced.  Rather than just having a series of mini games based largely on timing, the introduction of a surprisingly sensitive sensor meant that the games could be slightly more involved with a lot more margin for error – which certainly increased the chances that the rapid pace of the game would be compromised.  Luckily however, the developer was able to design the mini games so that they took advantage of the analogue motion controls without having to make compromises on the rapid fire game play.

Twisted wasn’t only the last game of the series to be released for the Game boy Advance – but it was arguably also the last big ticket game to be released for the system full stop.  Luckily however, the end of the GBA as Nintendo’s flagship handheld system didn’t signal the end of the series, which continued its reign as the only mini game collection worth really caring about on Nintendo’s next generation of handheld consoles, while also managing to have an original entry in the series released on a home console.

1 Comment

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Bikini Warriors: The Sorry State Of Female Representation in Video Games

Despite the huge amount of progress that has been made in terms of women’s rights over the last century, they still get a bum deal in contemporary media. A quick look at the 2011 list of the top 40 highest paid stars in Hollywood reveals that only six are women, illustrating an inequality that’s so ingrained we hardly notice it anymore.

Likewise, the depiction of women in TV, films and games still leaves a lot to be desired. In particular, the action genre has an embarrassing lack of female protagonists: just try to name ten action fims with a female in the lead role. I guarantee that the first female lead you’ll think of is Ripley in Alien, but that  film is over thirty years old now, and it didn’t exactly lead to a tumultuous wave of female action heroes.

Samus Aran at the end of Metroid.

If anything, the situation in video games is worse. For most of the eighties and early nineties, female characters seemed to appear in games solely so they could be rescued by the male hero. One notable exception is Samus Aran, the tough bounty hunter from the Metroid series, who is revealed to be a woman during the end credits of the first game. “At last! A game with a strong female lead character!” I hear you cry. But alas, when she is revealed in all her womanness, she’s pictured in a bikini, which sort of tarnishes the message somewhat: it’s less “equality for women” and more “hey lads, get a load of this!” (If you’re into pixellated 8-bit women, that is.)

And so we uncover a worrying undercurrent that seems to be utterly persistent throughout video gaming: the unwritten game designers’ rule that says “It’s OK To Portray A Strong Woman In Your Game, Just As Long As She’s Semi-Nude”.

In the nineties, the one on one beat ’em up became the unlikely chief source of female portrayals in games, with Chun Li from Street Fighter II leading the pack. As ever though, the above rule was rigidly stuck to – Chun Li is as likely to be remembered for flashing her knickers as for pioneering the portrayal of strong women in video games. She opened the floodgates for a slew of impractically but alluringly attired female beat ’em up characters, from Cammy in her unitard to Anna Williams in her thigh-split evening dress to Ivy Valentine in her full-on S&M costume. Yep, you can have your female role models, as long as they flash a bit of leg.

The major breakthrough for the portrayal of women in games came with Tomb Raider in the mid-90s, when we were finally presented with a female lead who was ambitious and intelligent, as well as more than capable of showing the boys a thing or two when it came to gun fights and general ass-kickery. Sadly, Lara Croft is more often remembered for another one of her assets… well, two of them actually. Her ginormous bosom is reportedly the result of an ‘accident’ during her design, but it sent out the message that it was OK to have intelligent female characters in games, just as long as they looked like plastic porn stars. And of course, over the many years of the Tomb Raider franchise, the designers have been quick to find any excuse to pour Lara’s ample frame into a wetsuit or similarly clinging attire. Again, the ‘semi-nude’ rule refuses to be broken – and the less said about the frankly embarrassing ‘shower’ ending of Tomb Raider II, the better.

Having said that, Lara has never been portrayed as an airheaded bimbo, and her central role in Tomb Raider proved that gamers were ready to accept the idea of a lead female character. Even though the audience for video games is (still) predominantly male, Tomb Raider showed that men can happily accept the idea of ‘being’ a female character in a game, and this in turn led to the appearance of more and more female leads over the years to follow, even if not all of these games were successful (anyone remember Urban Chaos?).

Jill Valentine was another pioneer actionwoman who appeared in Resident Evil at about the same time as Tomb Raider burst onto the scene, although she was a bit more sensibly proportioned and modestly attired attired than Lara. Almost inevitably though, the designers succumbed to tempatation by stripping her down to a miniskirt and boobtube for her next appearance in Resident Evil 3: perhaps it’s just me, but the more clothes you remove from a character, the harder it is to take them seriously. And call me boring, but I doubt miniskirts are very practical for zombie warfare.

Hana from Fear Effect provided an engaging and intelligent female lead in 2000, and by the early 21st century it certainly seemed like female characters were becoming more common, if not exactly commonplace. But sometimes it feels like “two steps forward, one step back”: although I never played 2001’s Fear Effect 2,  I cringed when I heard that Hana had been given a dodgy subplot that involving a lesbian relationship with one of the other main characters. I’d love to imagine that this amounted to a genuine step forward for the representation of gay relationships in video games, but the whole thing smacked of tawdry male wish-fulfillment. However, at least both of the above games attempted to deliver relatively complex and well-thought-out female characters, which is in marked contrast to the one-dimensional portrayal of women as scantily-clad lust objects in most other games (I’m looking at you, Dead Or Alive).

I’m not the kind of prude who thinks that all female characters should cover up, but at the same time game designers have an awful habit of shoving their well-rounded (no pun intended) female avatars in a bikini, seemingly just because they can.

Take Sheva in Resident Evil 5 for example. I was really impressed by this character while playing the game: not only did she have some excellent dialogue, she had an interesting backstory and was an excellent example of a strong female portrayal in a video game. But then you find out that one of her unlockable costumes is a leopard-skin bikini. Which kind of makes you wonder whether the designers actually meant any of the things they thought up for Sheva to say, or whether they just spent the entire development period drooling over her in some adolescent fantasy world.

Likewise, Trip in Enslaved was an absolutely fantastic female character with some genuinely moving dialogue (which I’ve written about before), so I was incredibly disappointed to discover she has a ‘sexy robot‘ costume available as DLC. ‘Disappointed’ is exactly the right word here – for once I thought the developers had created a truly three-dimensional, well-respected female character, but it turns out they’re quite happy to exploit her as an object just for the sake of titillating teenage boys. What is it with these unlockable costumes? Why do games designers think it’s OK to dress up their so-called ‘sophisticated’ female leads like glamour models as long as they include  it as unlockable content?

Perhaps things are changing for the better, and we’re certainly past the crass exploitation used by games like Barbarian, but it feels like the industry is moving at a glacial pace compared to the rest of society when it comes to the representation of women. Sometimes it still feels like most games are designed by teenage boys, or at least by men who think like teenage boys – so just when is the games industry going to grow up?

I’m sure there must be many more sympathetic portrayals of women in video games than those I’ve listed here (I’ve heard Jade in Beyond Good & Evil is an excellent character for example, although I’ve yet to play the game), so please do let me know if there are any I’ve missed. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as I’ve made out… or are they worse? I’d love to hear your opinion.

[As dictated by Lucius P. Merriweather in The Library.]

6 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Crowd combat – the exploration of an ‘epic’ genre

Nobunaga Oda as portrayed in the Samurai Warriors series (Omega Force, Tecmo KOEI)

I can see the fun in almost any game.  Sure, I am not the biggest fan of many sports games, real time strategy games or anything requiring me to get online and duke it out with faceless men*, but I usually at least give any game or its respective genre the look it deserves before coming to the conclusion that its not for me.  But one genre that has almost flown straight past me since its inception in the early years of the Playstation 2 is the ‘crowd-combat’ genre.

Crowd-combat, or musou, generally describes games where the odds are stacked against the player with regards to the sheer number of opponents faced at any one time.  More specifically, it refers to Dynasty Warriors.  I write that in somewhat of a facetious tone because while Dynasty Warriors is perhaps the most prominent example they are not the only games in the genre.  I also convey an apparent disrespectful tone because KOEI’s hit series, despite having an army of obviously loyal fans, is the butt of an industry-wide joke.  Needless to say the games industry is just waiting for an entry in the series to be called Dynasty Warriors: Again.

Simply put, developer Omega Force is not known for making sweeping changes between series iterations.  But in recent time I have found that my sweeping generalisation on KOEI’s franchise, which if I’m honest are not really based on any real experience, were perhaps unjustified.

I am a pretty open kind of guy when it comes to accepting and enjoying a wide range of genres.  Which is why its surprising that I never gave the Dynasty Warriors games the time they deserved back when they were big news on the Playstation 2.  Before we go any further lets straighten out what are the Dynasty Warriors games, exactly?  On the surface they are incredibly simple hack and slash games where your primary objective is to crudely kill a whole lot of opposing soldiers.  I just didn’t get the appeal despite having friends who were enamoured by the large scale combat and historical content of the games.  When I asked a good friend of mine why he played the games he said:

‘Its the epic feel of the combat…’

From his perspective the appeal was simple, and as it happens my relative inexperience with the Dynasty Warriors series means nothing when it comes to being able to critically assess why these games are popular in the context of that ‘epic feel’.  The overarching formula of repetition and a supreme feeling of strength over masses of opponents is one I absolutely understand outside of the context of crowd fighting based video games.  My adoration for Cave developed ‘bullet hell’ shooters (and Ikaruga of course), and games like Sin and Punishment 2 gives away the fact that I really like games that put me up against the odds.

So while not a terribly prescriptive reason, the ‘epic feel’ may be a contributing factor to the series’ initial success.  Back in 2001 when the Playstation 2 release there was nothing quite like Dynasty Warriors 2 – a sequel to a PS1 one-on-one fighting game that was the very definition of taking advantage of the hardware.  Unlike the perception of the series today, at the time Dynasty Warriors 2 was a technical marvel, frequently displaying seemingly hundreds of on screen enemies at once. While this doesn’t seem like much now, at the time the number of on-screen characters was somewhat of a selling point ten years ago- with other developers following suit with ‘crowd-combat’ games such as State of Emergency and later on in the console’s life-cycle the Capcom developed Devil Kings (known as Sengoku Basara in Japan).  Combine that with large battlefields and a degree of strategic freedom and you’ve got something that was a reason to own a PS2 in 2002.  In fact the crowd factor was even a selling point for publishers at the launch of the Xbox 360, with both Capcom and Microsoft Game studios publishing Dead Rising and Ninety-Nine Nights respectively, which pushed the number of on screen enemies to ridiculous levels with arguably varying success.  Although I personally think both games had merit – Dead Rising so much so that it would probably be one of my ten favourite games of all time if I ever gave it consideration.

This screenshot from Warriors Orochi is a good indication of what you can expect from any of Omega Force’s games.

That ‘epic’ feel of the battles however has not been enough to sustain mass market interest in the Dynasty Warriors series, so while the success of the franchise was initially high, it has slowly but surely decreased in all regions – including Japan. Using the United States (or the Americas to be accurate) as an indicative example, the below figures show the difference across regions in sales between the newest entry in the series, and the 3rd game in the series released for the PS2 which is the point from which the data is available for both regions.  These figures are a total of sales across all platforms (sourced from vgchartz.com):

  • Dynasty Warriors 3 (the Americas)- 0.49 million
  • Dynasty Warriors 3 (Japan) – 1.17 million
  • Dynasty Warriors 7 (the Americas) – 0.12 million
  • Dynasty Warriors 7 (Japan) – 0.45 million

Although on average (with the available data) it is evident that there is a downward trend in the sale of numbered Dynasty Warrior games since the third game in all regions, there is still a high degree of disparity in the popularity of the series between Japan and the rest of the world.

The question is why has the series fallen so far in popularity in western markets?  Personally the genre has never really appealed to me despite my extremely open approach to games of all persuasions, so I can’t comment from personal experience.   What I can do however is attempt to discern what about these games makes them ‘rock hard’ in Japan but fizzle and die here in Australia and similar countries.  While it is acknowledged that western gamers have a distinctly different taste from their eastern counterparts, the severe difference between the two regions here highlights a difference in tastes and preferences in the United States and Japan.  This is no surprise, but it does raise as an interesting question is, why do these differences exist and are they simply a difference in culture or lifestyle?

To answer this question I will first take an atypical long running ‘western’ style franchise and try and discern what makes it so popular.  Call of Duty is fast becoming the most successful video game franchise of all time, a success that is primarily built on its success in western markets. While it posts modest sales in Japan, its success in western markets is literally unprecedented (all platforms sales to date in Japan are currently 0.37 million as compared to the Americas sales of 14.6 million).  But what makes it so successful?  Is it the ultra violence?  Is it the set pieces? Is it the admittedly great graphics and well established?  Having only played the series until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare at which point I decided I had experienced all the series had to offer, I am not informed enough to make a judgement call.  But in reading the coverage of the subsequent games, and if the trajectory the Medal of Honor series took throughout its life span is anything to go by, the innovation between games has been few and far between.  In an attempt to clarify this I took a look at the crude aggregation tool of Metacritic to try and get a better understanding of the critical reaction to the latest game, which to date is the most successful video game of all time in the United States and the United Kingdom. While most were certainly enamored by the game, below are two excerpts I found to resonate with my feelings on the Call of Duty series more broadly (sourced from metacritic):

Edge – It feels more like a yearly update than a sequel, a new campaign with old multiplayer. The game isn’t distinct from its predecessors in any important way, and fatigue sets in quicker than before. [Jan 2011, p.94]

Giant Bomb – Do you want to play more Call of Duty? I’m guessing the answer is yes, and by all means, Black Ops is worth playing.

While I think it would be difficult to argue that there is an appeal of the Call of Duty games, and at its heart a lot of the appeal is the multiplayer which certainly isn’t the focus of the Dynasty Warriors series, it seems that that the same thing that stopped me from playing the games past Modern Warfare are starting to be recognised more broadly in the gaming press.  Of course the sales numbers are not reflecting this and the repetition and lack of innovation or change between iterations is almost celebrated rather than lauded as is the case with the reception to Dynasty Warriors.  Let’s face it, and this certainly isn’t meant as a criticism, but Call of Duty is just shooting a whole lot of people in a different environment from the last game.

Not dissimilar to Dynasty Warriors really, which prides itself on reliving the epic battles of the three kingdoms era of Chinese History to kill a lot of people.  And the difference between games, aside from the greater emphasis on RPG elements as the games have evolved, is the scenarios in which you are killing said enemies. Repetition seems to be the order of the day for the Dynasty Warriors series and its various spin-offs, not only in terms of only minor iterations between sequels but also in terms of the overall game mechanic. This seems to be its most polarising feature.  Where some people love the simplicity of the combat, others are put off by it.  It really is just an issue of taste.

The point of bringing Call of Duty into the discussion was this – despite the critics leaning on the repetition and lack of change between games when it reacts negatively to a new Dynasty Warriors or related spin-off, it really is more of an issue of cultural differences and the variance in taste between the average person within the western and japanese gaming populous.  The mass appeal of Call of Duty despite its formula seemingly being set in stone is testament to this.  But whether it a disinterest in asian history in the West, or a more acquired taste for highly stylised games in the Japan there is obviously a core difference between a consumer in Japan and one in the United States or Australia.  One thing that does remain the same however is that killing enormous amounts of virtual people in rapid succession is incredibly popular in both markets – and that’s one thing that western and japanese developers alike are incredibly adept at creating experiences around.

I bet you never expected anyone to compare Dynasty Warriors and Call of Duty.

3 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay