Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is Edge’s ed­i­tor. Is it a bit weird for the boss to have a col­umn? Your views, please, to edge@fu­turenet.com

Nathan Brown on the re­newed bril­liance of Ja­panese games

The child bar­rels over, as the child does, and af­ter I bark a warn­ing he stops just in time, like he some­times does. “Daddy’s work­ing,” I say, and it does the trick. The great­est ad­van­tage this pro­fes­sion has given me, apart from the enor­mous salary and the beau­ti­ful women, is the unique abil­ity to stop my kid from mess­ing with all my lovely toys. All I need is just four magic words. ‘This is Daddy’s work’. Beau­ti­ful.

A cou­ple of weeks back, how­ever, the tech­nique failed me. The kid hur­tled over while I was play­ing some­thing for re­view; I ut­tered the magic words but, rather than wan­der off, this time he stuck around to watch. “Dad­dyyyyy,” he half-whined, in the way he does. “What are those peo­ple say­ing?” They were speak­ing Ja­panese; the dis­tinct oth­er­ness of the sounds, of the peo­ple that were say­ing it, and the place in which they were say­ing it, ev­i­dently drew him in.

Yet sud­denly, Ja­panese no longer feels so strange. In­deed, over the past few months it has be­come the rule, rather than the ex­cep­tion. So far in 2017, I have played only one game de­vel­oped out­side Ja­pan, and it was rub­bish. Yet the oth­ers? Resi 7, Yakuza 0, Nioh, Breath Of The Wild, Nier Automata,

Per­sona 5 – and it’s still only March, for heaven’s sake. Ev­ery­one’s talk­ing about this be­ing the most rol­lick­ing open­ing few months of any year in videogame his­tory – and for once, they ac­tu­ally have a point. What’s been some­what over­looked in all that, I think, is the role Ja­pan has played in it.

Part of that, ad­mit­tedly, is tim­ing, a se­ries of happy coin­ci­dences com­bin­ing to give the im­pres­sion that Ja­pan is pro­duc­ing qual­ity games at a rate we haven’t seen since the ’90s. Yakuza 0 is an­cient, only brought west af­ter the suits fi­nally bowed to the wishes of the se­ries’ small, but de­vout, fan­base. Breath

Of The Wild was held back to launch along­side Switch. Per­sona 5 came out in Ja­pan in De­cem­ber, since it’s a big hit­ter over there – and clearly many of these games were de­lib­er­ately kept out of Q4, since Ja­panese mar­ket­ing bud­gets can’t com­pete with their western peers (with the oc­ca­sional, Fi­nal

Fan­tasy XV- style ex­cep­tion). Nioh, Nier, and the like would have strug­gled to stand out in the busiest three months of the year; from Jan­uary on­wards, though, we’re all a lit­tle more pre­pared to ex­per­i­ment.

Yet cir­cum­stances be damned. The re­sult of this clus­ter­ing to­gether of Ja­pan-made qual­ity is a sen­sa­tion I haven’t known in 20 years, tak­ing me back to the days when the startup idents of Cap­com and Kon­ami were ev­ery­where, and a hall­mark of real qual­ity. Now, as then, I see a re­newed sense of self- con­fi­dence among Ja­panese stu­dios. The past ten years have been rough: the loss of global mar­ket share to the west, an in­abil­ity to keep pace with spi­ralling bud­gets, and a na­tive pop­u­la­tion turn­ing away from tra­di­tional con­soles to­wards mo­bile and free-to-play.

Some stu­dios started mak­ing games they thought the west would like, sec­ondguess­ing their in­stincts in or­der to cater to a mar­ket they didn’t truly un­der­stand; oth­ers turned in­wards, mak­ing iso­la­tion­ist games that stood no chance of suc­cess over­seas. Yet the first few months of 2017 have pro­duced a raft of bril­liant, sure-footed games made in a na­tion that fi­nally seems to un­der­stand what it has to do in or­der to suc­ceed. It’s the same thing it al­ways did: what­ever the hell it felt like, pri­ori­tis­ing canny de­sign, im­mac­u­late feel, and a hearty glug of silly, glee­ful play­ful­ness. Even Nioh, with its demons, its foun­tains of claret and its end­less, bru­tal deaths, hides im­pos­si­bly cute, dancing ko­dama in its dark­est cor­ners, then has them cheer you on from check­points.

Nioh’s been com­pared to Dark Souls, ob­vi­ously, but it takes me back fur­ther, to the bonkers high camp of the sim­i­larly pun­ish­ing

God Hand, or to the litany of bru­tal sidescrollers that emerged in the ’90s. Yakuza is held up as a sort of Ja­panese GTA, but to me it is Streets Of Rage spliced with Shen­mue and the car­ni­val level in The Le­gend Of The

Mys­ti­cal Ninja. On it goes. Could there be a les­son for the in­dus­try at large here? Prob­a­bly not. I’m not sug­gest­ing the key to suc­cess is to rip up the mar­ket re­search and fol­low your gut – at least not to such ex­tremes. Not every game is go­ing to ben­e­fit from a Yakuza- style minigame loosely mod­elled on an FPS where you try to con­vince a girl in a bikini to go out with you. Af­ter all, my job de­mands that, some­times, I need to play a game when the kid’s around. I’m not sure ei­ther of us are ready for me to try to ex­plain some­thing like that.

So far in 2017, I have played only one game de­vel­oped out­side Ja­pan, and it was rub­bish

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