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.