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Thread: The Problem of Japanese Games

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    Alex (Level 15)
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    Default The Problem of Japanese Games

    Contray to the opinion of many of the people here, it seems, I think the video game industry is in great shape. Maybe I feel that way because I'm more of a PC gamer then a video game, but still, I love my PS2 and GC.

    If I have one gripe aganist the industry in general, though, it's how many freakin games are unavailble or unplayable to those of us outside of Japan and the lack of development for video games outside that country.

    There are so many games released each year that I get all excited about, because they apeal to me and my 'odd' intrests, and then shake my head as I realize that they will never see a US release or it's not worth trying to import them.

    Not all games are unplayable. For many games that have none or little text, such as shooters or the like, it's no problem importing them. However, if we have a game such as a RPG or dating sim, and we REALLY want to play them, it leaves us with three options:

    1) Learn to read Japanese
    2) Hope that some group decides to 'hack' the text into English
    3) Use a walkthrough or some other file to understand the game

    Let's examine each of these:

    Number one is fine for some people, but how many of us can take the time to study a language and keep up on it? Japanese is NOT a easy language for Western people to learn to speak. I know -- from personal experience. I took Japanese for two years in high school. Speaking it comes about the same as other lanuages, but learning to read it takes a LOT of work. It's totally different to anything we've learned growing up. And after ten years, I can still speak a little of it but reading all the of the kana and Konji well enough just ain't going to happen.

    Number two is actually a good choice if you have a older game, like something from the SNES and Genesis or NES days. A lot of these games have either been translated or are being translated, thanks to the ROM's being dumped and groups working them. But it's not as easy to do with a CD based game, and there are other difficulties as well.

    Number three can be done in some cases -- if someone has taken the time to actually explain everything in a file. But try playing a Japanese RPG with one of these in your hands. It totally spoils what is going on in the game and what else is going to happen, and you're not going to get the same 'fine touches' that you would from playing the game.

    How long do we have to suffer from this situation? There used to be a time when all video games were American or European made. But back in those days, it would'nt have mattered as much, since games had so little text. I have nothing but the highest praise for Nintendo for single handly bringing video games back from the dead, but since then all games have been in the complete domain of the Japanese, and we have been under their thumb since.

    Perhaps things are getting better. There are signs that the video game companies execs in Japan are finally starting to realize how important that the American and European markets are. Take the US alone. There's 260 million people here in the US, and conservative estimates by the IDSA are that at least 30 million of them have access to a game console. The installed base in North America is bigger in Japan. There's more games being sold, more money being spent, more profits to be made. Kojima has said in a interview about MGS3 that he thinks the game will do better in the United States then in Japan. Indications are finally the Japanese are realzing that there's more money to be made by realizing more games in the US. Europe may not be as big as the US, but it's still a big market.

    What I can't understand is why some company has'nt created a simple device that would do the same thing that Babelfish or any other simple translation program does -- run the game text from the system through the device and onto the TV, taking Japanese and translating it into simple English. Yes, it may not work for all games -- it would have to be able to access the language files in the game. And yes, the translation would probaly be as bad as Babel. But at least it would be something -- and a way to enjoy any Japanese game. If the game has Japanese voice, perhaps the device could even have a microphone, and translate the voice. The technology exists to make such a device, it could be sold for no more then a couple hundred, and the import demand here is big enough that I'm sure such a project would be profitable.

    Of course, it would also help if more American video game companies existed. Not counting WD, as they only translate games, Rockstar Games is the only company I can think off that actually makes games from start to finish outside of Japan.

    Yes, a lot of Japanese games are unique to Japanese tastes. But so many of these games, such as RPG's and dating sims, would do so well outside Japan if the means to really ENJOY these games existed. The whole industry runs off money, as does any other industry. Has no one else realized the money trail that could be followed here? I find that hard to believe.

    In the meantime, nothing left to do but continue to suffer. >
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    ServBot (Level 11) davidbrit2's Avatar
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    If you know enough Hiragana and Katakana, that's usually enough to get by, assuming you have a dictionary. That way you can get used to reading game menus. RPGs would be beastly, but I don't even play the English ones, so I'm okay. As long as I can read song and genre names in Pop'n Music, I'll get by.

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    Default

    It's the perennial Catch-22. Software publishers would jump on the import games if there was a profit to be made, but nobody can point to any sales figures, so nothing gets imported to the West, etc.

    You would think that if the videogame industry continues to grow as it does, there would be enough of a customer base to support a niche market. If there was more demand for old-skool games that don't cost $10 million to make, things would change quickly.

    I really don't know how to take advantage of that. I'm sure there's a real opportunity somewhere.
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    Default

    It is a problem. However, I have a true desire to master Japanese, so I can use untranslated games as motivation. Hasn't really worked yet, but every bit helps. However, I can see the position of not wanting to master a language just to play a fun language-intensive game.

    I don't know how well a 'babelfish' would work, as the words in games are coded in and most translators translate everything. Some code might sneak in and debugging would be hell. Not even counting the fact that the translation might be awful if it's computer done.


    A quandry, to be sure.

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    Holy crap. It's been a while.

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    Default Re: The Problem of Japanese Games

    Quote Originally Posted by SoulBlazer
    How long do we have to suffer from this situation? There used to be a time when all video games were American or European made. But back in those days, it would'nt have mattered as much, since games had so little text. I have nothing but the highest praise for Nintendo for single handly bringing video games back from the dead, but since then all games have been in the complete domain of the Japanese, and we have been under their thumb since.
    You make it sound like the Japanese are doing this deliberately to spite those who don't speak their language. They're just creating games that will sell in their market. If they know a game has a market, then they'll work on a Western edition of the game or someone else will pick up the game for conversion.

    Take the Winning Eleven series. WE7 is due out in August and it will come on a CD for the PS2. The PAL edition however has to come on a DVD to hold all the extra commentary due to the extra languages required by the European gamers. If they knew they would only have small number of sales, they wouldn't bother at all with the extra cost of developing a Euro version in the first place.

    Personally, I would love to be able to read japanese but I know it would take a long time and dedication. Maybe one day.

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    The problem with the Japanese is that they won't accept Canadian beef, so it leaves me with many thousands of dollars in debt.


    blah


    /end drunk rant
    <Evan_G> i keep my games in an inaccessable crate where i can't play them

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    The problem is that Japan is currently suffering through its 3rd recession in 10 years. The government has tried just about every trick available to kick start the economy short of devaluing the Yen which the US doesn't want. And for good reason.

    Video game companies are not going to invest money on translating, producing, marketing, and distributing a quirky game that may or may not sell well in North America. Introducing a new concept to a different culture can be risky from a business point of view. I was surprised to see Mr. Mosquito come here but I have to wonder how well it sold and what message that sent to Japanese developers.

    Once things improve in Japan you will see some more unusual games make it over here. They will probably just be a test to see how receptive we are to their games. If they sell than I think the flood gates will open. Otherwise it will be a slow trickle.

    Thats just my thoughts on the subject. It's not like I have a crystal ball.

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    Alex (Level 15)
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    Default

    Still, I have to wonder -- and that brings me to another question I asked in my thread -- why are'nt there more non-Japanese companies making video games?

    The only ones I can think off that don't make computer games as well are Rockstar Games and WD (and since Rockstar has ported the GTA games to PC, that's borderline as well).
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    Default Re: The Problem of Japanese Games

    Quote Originally Posted by SoulBlazer
    I have nothing but the highest praise for Nintendo for single handly bringing video games back from the dead, but since then all games have been in the complete domain of the Japanese, and we have been under their thumb since.
    Nope, not anymore. It's been a LONG time since the U.S. videogame sales charts were dominated by Japanese-developed stuff. GTA3/VC, Pro Skater, Madden, Halo -- all made outside Japan, all enormous hits. And while I'm too lazy to go back and recheck all the NPD/TRSTS sales figures, I'm confident that American-developed videogames have been at least as successful as Japanese-developed videogames since the debut of the PlayStation, and even back into the 16-bit era. (DKC was developed by Rare; Genesis sports games were developed by EA.)

    Now, if you're talking strictly hardware, the Japanese dominate, although Microsoft is trying its best to overcome that.

    What I can't understand is why some company has'nt created a simple device that would do the same thing that Babelfish or any other simple translation program does -- run the game text from the system through the device and onto the TV, taking Japanese and translating it into simple English. Yes, it may not work for all games -- it would have to be able to access the language files in the game.
    A voice-translation device would be on the edge of feasible -- a text-translation device, no chance in hell. File formats are wildly different from game to game, and usually unique to each one. During my WD stint, every game I worked on stored its text in a different format. Alundra used Excel spreadsheets, which was ingenious (one column of the original Japanese, one column of the translated English). Lunars 1 & 2 used textfiles labeled with tons of embedded codes to trigger various animations and text files. It would take obscene amounts of work to create a program able to decipher all these various types of data files, much less to translate them on the fly.

    Of course, it would also help if more American video game companies existed. Not counting WD, as they only translate games, Rockstar Games is the only company I can think off that actually makes games from start to finish outside of Japan.
    Are you kiddin'?! There are dozens of American and European videogame developers and publishers. Neversoft (Pro Skater, Spider-Man), Harmonix (FreQuency), Traveller's Tales, and on and on.

    Yes, a lot of Japanese games are unique to Japanese tastes. But so many of these games, such as RPG's and dating sims, would do so well outside Japan if the means to really ENJOY these games existed. The whole industry runs off money, as does any other industry. Has no one else realized the money trail that could be followed here?
    All the best RPGs are already localized for the U.S., and dating sims wouldn't sell in the States at all -- they're kind of creepy and they're much too Japanese. (On the rare occasions I see them mentioned in American videogame publications, it's always in a negative context.)

    I absolutely agree that there are good/great Japanese games which never get a North American release, but they're very much the exception, not the rule. For every Guitar Freaks or Tobal No. 2, there are a dozen strip-mahjong and train-spotting titles. And a significant number of those good/great titles are so Japanese-flavored that no amount of localization would make them sell in the States.

    The only problem of Japanese games right now, as mentioned earlier in this thread, is that the Japanese economy has been in the shitter for years. Japan is the last refuge of original and creative videogame design, and I'd hate to see that creativity stifled by concerns over the bottom line.

    -- Z.

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    Default uh...

    I don't know man, I just don't look at Japan as some sort of haven for great game design. Besides, why are we talking only console games? PC game developers create stuff that's just as good as on a console, and oftentimes it's better. Sure, some of the big-name console developers are in Japan, but what else do we have:

    Ion Storm - Austin, Texas game developer responsible for games that would kill anything the Japanese have ever made: Deus Ex, Thief, etc. Sure these debuted on the PC but we have a PS2 version of Deus Ex and DX2 + Thief3 will both be coming to the Xbox.

    Retro Studios - Also based in Austin, Texas. Metroid Prime, anyone?

    Bioware Corp - I forget where they're based, but it's certainly not Japan. They're the brains behind all the Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment...all those games r0><0r anything Square's ever put out, IMO, even though some of them didn't make it to the consoles. That's largely a matter of personal taste, though...I prefer the open-ended-ness of Bioware's free-form adventures to the strict linearity of most Japanese RPGs. If KOTOR turns out to be good (haven't played it yet), then they're only continuing the ongoing tradition of making better RPGs than the Japanese. PC + Xbox devs, Bioware is. Was there a Baldur's Gate for PS2?

    EA is also no Japanese developer. I personally hate EA with a passion because of what they've done to Origin and Westwood (and their respective franchises like Ultima, Wing Commander, etc.), but I hear their sports games are really good, and those are big on consoles.

    This doesn't even touch some of the other great studios already mentioned like Bungie, Rockstar, etc. If you go into PC-only devs then you have Lionhead Studios and Blizzard and a bunch of others that make quality products.

    I don't really want imported games that have crap for dialogue (anything not in the original language is going to lose a lot of its flavor, I'm sorry, and although games like FF7 were decent it's a far cry from a work of textual art like Planescape: Torment) and a bunch of tentacle sex dating game crap or whatever it is that they like to do over there. I have no desire to learn Japanese at all for the purpose of playing games. Not that there aren't some good Japanese games, I mean I'm as fond as the next guy about the Castlevania series and whatnot...I just don't think the text-heavy ones that it sounds like we're talking about are anything all that great that I feel like I'm missing out.
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    I did'nt know there were so many companies, Zach -- thanks for the list. I only know of Rockstar that is exclusive to the console market. I guess I don't just do a good enough job of tracking the small companies and who actually MAKES the games as opposed to PUBLISHING them.

    But it's a major coup for Rockstar Games to get Capcom to pick up the GTA rights for Japan, is'nt it? Although I can't see the GTA 3 games, as much as I love them, doing as well in Japan......Metroid did'nt even do all that well over there, for the love of God!

    Maybe I'm just letting some of my personal anger at games I really wanted to play not getting released in the States, like the remake of Dragon Warrior 4 for the PSX, Front Mission 1 and 2, the Princess Maker series, and the rest of Shining Force III.

    Oh, and I know computers are a TOALLY different story. I'm more of a PC gamer then a console gamer anyway. And I know that most computer games are still made in the US, with Canada and Europe picking up most of the remaining slack. I was just limiting this discussion/rant/tirade, what ever you want to call it, to console games.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SoulBlazer
    Still, I have to wonder -- and that brings me to another question I asked in my thread -- why are'nt there more non-Japanese companies making video games?

    The only ones I can think off that don't make computer games as well are Rockstar Games and WD (and since Rockstar has ported the GTA games to PC, that's borderline as well).
    In addition to what zmeston added, there's Silicon Knights, Factor 5, Rare, Microsoft and Naughty Dog to name a few others. Oh yeah, non-Japanese game developers are in full effect.

    The Japanese are a different crowd and many of their likes are just way too out there for other audiences. As for Metroid not doing well in the land of the rising sun- FPS style games are not overly popular over there and it's not made by a Japanese company. Sad, but true for the latter part.

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    Default Re: uh...

    Quote Originally Posted by calthaer
    Retro Studios - Also based in Austin, Texas. Metroid Prime, anyone?
    Retro got a considerable assist from Miyamoto and Nintendo of Japan, which is why I didn't include them on my list. How much of one, we'll never know, but in interviews, Miyamoto has complimented Retro's graphic engine -- a cleverly backhanded compliment which implies that many of Prime's gameplay concepts were conceived by NoJ and merely implemented by Retro.

    Bioware Corp - I forget where they're based, but it's certainly not Japan.
    They're in Canada, eh?

    I don't really want imported games that have crap for dialogue (anything not in the original language is going to lose a lot of its flavor, I'm sorry, and although games like FF7 were decent it's a far cry from a work of textual art like Planescape: Torment)
    Console RPG localizations on current-gen consoles are much, MUCH better than they used to be; I haven't encountered a truly terrible one since Okage: Shadow King. These days, all you really have to fear from Japanese-to-English translations is the voice dubbing. I can't argue that some flavor is lost in the localization process, however; we'll never see the RPG equivalent of Seamus Heaney's fantastic translation of Beowulf.

    -- Z.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SoulBlazer
    I did'nt know there were so many companies, Zach -- thanks for the list. I only know of Rockstar that is exclusive to the console market. I guess I don't just do a good enough job of tracking the small companies and who actually MAKES the games as opposed to PUBLISHING them.
    Nah, you shouldn't be expected to keep track of development studios, especially since game publishers don't exactly promote them. The current environment is a little better than the days when VCS programmers had to sneak their names and initials into their games -- but just a little. All you need to do is look at Rockstar Games purchasing DMA Design and renaming them "Rockstar North" to understand that publishers desperately want developers to remain anonymous.

    But it's a major coup for Rockstar Games to get Capcom to pick up the GTA rights for Japan, is'nt it? Although I can't see the GTA 3 games, as much as I love them, doing as well in Japan......Metroid did'nt even do all that well over there, for the love of God!
    Naughty Dog always hypes the fact that Crash Bandicoot is literally the only American-developed game to achieve reasonable sales success in Japan -- and GTA is MUCH less adaptable to the Japanese market. It would be stunning if it sold there, but it won't.

    Maybe I'm just letting some of my personal anger at games I really wanted to play not getting released in the States, like the remake of Dragon Warrior 4 for the PSX, Front Mission 1 and 2, the Princess Maker series, and the rest of Shining Force III.
    I feel your pain, yo. I wanted American versions of Guitar Freaks, Remote Control Dandy, vib-ribbon, Radiant Silvergun, et al. Of course, there are factors involved with the localization process that gamers don't know about, such as exorbitant licensing fees. Ape Escape 2 almost didn't make it here because SCEJ wanted a boatload of cash -- more than bam! and Activision felt was reasonable. Who knows how many other imports have priced themselves out of U.S. releases?

    -- Z.

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    There's a lot of posts here. I'll try to sum up some opinions of mine here. Being that I've lived in Japan for 5 years, and had a small side business of selling games to westerners, I think I can make some sense out of this.

    Text-heavy RPGs don't sell near as well in the west as they do in Japan. While the US has gone through a gamin revolution, Japan's gaming industry has always been above ground so to speak. Therefore, the clientel hasn't changed that much. There's still a huge population that will spend dough on RPGs and even dating sims. I doubt you'll see a dating sim in English in the next decade. Then again, when I watched my first subtitled anime, there were only about 10 titles produced in the states --- now almost everything makes it out in the states, and even on TV, so there's hope.

    Someone mentioned that there's more money spent in the US on games than in Japan. I'd like to see some statics. I'd also like to ask 1) Are they taking into account the deflated Yen? 2) do they count game-related merchandise? I don't see how the US could draw in more money if they were taking into account toys and whatnot.

    Back to the main point, the Japanese recession has little to no impact on what gets translated and what doesn't. If they game will sell, it will sell. The bigname games will always get translated. It's only the off-beat RPGs that you won't see make it over there, and probably wouldn't even in a healthy economy. Your best bet to find these is for an American publisher to pick it up, translate it, and spit it back out.

    US games in Japan: Have traditionally not sold well, and still really don't. Some games do get on the charts, but I don't think there's ever been a US game to make it to number one. While the US can make some good games, I hardly think Theif and Deus Ex are examples to say "blow anything out of the Japanese waters". No matter how beatiful an FPS is... it's still an FPS. While the Japanese are known to regurgitate an idea to death, I must say the western developers do it as well. Again - this really comes down to taste. Most PC gamers are going to go for US/UK-flavored stuff, and the console gamers a tendency to go the other way. While I think Halo was a fantastic achievement for Bungie, and I still replay it, despite being able to literally get any game I've ever wanted, it wasn't the best game ever (if such a thing exists).

    If you'r a Japanese game fan, the only thing you can do right now is to play the Japanese versions, and do your best to make it through. There's plenty of gamers that are diehard enough that they've learned Japanese, and are all over forums. They could easily help you make your way through an RPG. Other than that, I suggest a community college. While it is not an easy language to pick up, it's possible, and the more you study (practice) the more you'll learn.

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    wow that's a lot of opinon, I just wish I could play Dragon Knight, or Fire Emblem,.Although they are porting fire emblem to to GBA, so I guess I will get a chance to play it. anyway, I just wish I could play more of the import games besides shooters....The wizardy games from the old days that never got a domestic release...although they are simple enough you probably could play them , but you wouldn't get the same effect.

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    Default Re: uh...

    Quote Originally Posted by calthaer
    Bioware Corp - I forget where they're based, but it's certainly not Japan. They're the brains behind all the Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment...all those games r0><0r anything Square's ever put out, IMO, even though some of them didn't make it to the consoles. That's largely a matter of personal taste, though...I prefer the open-ended-ness of Bioware's free-form adventures to the strict linearity of most Japanese RPGs. If KOTOR turns out to be good (haven't played it yet), then they're only continuing the ongoing tradition of making better RPGs than the Japanese. PC + Xbox devs, Bioware is. Was there a Baldur's Gate for PS2?
    They're the pride of Edmonton, Alberta.

    They didn't develop Icewind Dale and Torment, though. It was just their "Infinity" engine that was used for both of those.

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    Then you could say that they never made the original Baldur's Gate, since Black Isle was involved with that one, too, just like it was Icewind Dale. Bioware must have been involved enough to get their name on the title.

    Torment was an Interplay / Black Isle production, though, you're right. Man I loved that game. IGNUS BUUUUUURNS!

    PS: Oh yeah...and that Seamus Haney translation of Beowulf was excellent! Didn't know there were too many other literati around here. Digerati, maybe, but...
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    Quote Originally Posted by calthaer
    Then you could say that they never made the original Baldur's Gate, since Black Isle was involved with that one, too, just like it was Icewind Dale. Bioware must have been involved enough to get their name on the title.
    Hmm, you may be right about Icewind Dale. Bioware doesn't list it on their site, but they're named as the developer on allgame.com. I'll have to check my copy when I get home from work tonight.

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