Un­learn­ing Ja­panese

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Three-and-a-half years ago, Hideo Ko­jima gave a telling in­ter­view about the state of the Ja­panese videogame in­dus­try. He was asked if he agreed with Keiji Ina­fune, who had spent the pre­vi­ous years damn­ing Ja­panese de­vel­op­ment for fail­ing to get with the times. A few weeks ear­lier, Ina­fune had called his coun­try­men losers. Ko­jima’s view was rather more bal­anced and in­struc­tive.

“The prob­lem, re­ally, is more about where peo­ple are look­ing and who they’re tar­get­ing,” he said. “A lot of cre­ators are fo­cused just on Ja­pan and the Ja­panese mar­ket, and aren’t aware of what peo­ple around the world want.” He spec­i­fied where Ja­pan had fallen be­hind: “Tech­nol­ogy, game­play and world­view.”

Tomonobu Ita­gaki has spent the past five years mak­ing a game that blends clas­si­cally eastern and west­ern gen­res – the brawler and the shooter – us­ing west­ern tech­nol­ogy at a Ja­panese stu­dio. After changes to its en­gine, pub­lisher and plat­form, Devil’s Third (p116) is fi­nally here. It is a fail­ure in al­most every re­spect.

Can Ko­jima fol­low his own ad­vice? His past work has por­trayed a man too self-in­dul­gent to think much about oth­ers – this, after all, is a di­rec­tor who once had us sit through 71 min­utes of cutscene. The Phan­tom Pain (p104) is a tri­umph, and sat­is­fies all his cri­te­ria: su­per­spy fic­tion has long had global ap­peal, but never be­fore has MGS looked as good as it does on Fox En­gine. Never has it been so sys­tem­i­cally rich and var­ied. And never has it been set across the sort of vast open videogame world so beloved in the west.

Ina­fune, while mak­ing for good copy, tends to speak in prob­lems. Years ago, Ko­jima had the so­lu­tion, and he has just proved that it works. With any luck the wider Ja­panese in­dus­try will be­gin to heed his ad­vice. Per­haps Ita­gaki, if any­one will still have him, will learn a thing or two as well.

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