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Earlier this week Alex Hutchinson, creative director on Assassins Creed 3, caused a little bit of a controversy when he said that gaming journalists show favoritism towards Japanese games and game developers. But is there any truth to his statements?
In an interview with CVG, Hutchinson said that he felt western game critics went easy on Japanese games just because they were Japanese, saying "Just think about how many Japanese games are released each year where their stories are literally gibberish. Literally gibberish. There's no way you could write it with a straight face, and the game journalists say 'Oh, it's brilliant". Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it's the worst written narrative in a game ever. I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any day."
Now let me get this out of the way. Hutchinson seems like a bright guy, and he is 100 percent entitled to his opinion. I don't think he should catch flak, be criticized or get in trouble for speaking his mind. If nobody ever speaks up about a problem, it never gets fixed. That being said, his statement is rather bold. To claim that the majority of game journalists essentially turn a blind eye and ignore obvious flaws in Japanese games out of some kind of respect or loyalty for what Japanese developers have done for the game industry is certain to ruffle some feathers, especially among gaming journalists.
I do understand where Hutchinson is coming from. There are numerous Japanese games that I will never understand that receive generally positive reviews. Storied franchises, such as The Legend of Zelda or Metal Gear Solid, both Japanese games, seem immune to criticism. From Hutchinson's point of view, Skyward Sword, which is in no way a perfect game (though I did love it) was not treated nearly as harshly as Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Skyward Sword, incredibly similar to past Zelda games, boasts a 93 on Metacritic. Revelations on the other hand carries an 80, often criticized for being more of the same as past Assassin's Creed titles. Hutchinson's mind makes the connection that because Zelda is a Japanese game, it was reviewed less harshly and thus received a higher score than Assassin's Creed, which in his opinion sports a more complex, adult story, game systems, and graphics.
Can we really compare this......
The problem is that there isn't a universal rating scale for video games. The Legend of Zelda is a game that is for everybody, all ages and genders. Assassin's Creed: Revelations on the other hand, is rated M for mature and targets an adult audience. Family films, such as Finding Nemo, aren't criticized in the same way that films such as Citizen Kane are. Viewers, and critics, expect different things for each film to accomplish.
It's no different in game reviews. Games such as Bayonetta for instance, aren't supposed to be taken too seriously. The main character fights in a suit of her own hair for crying out loud. Are you seriously going to compare the narrative of that with something dark and serious like Grand Theft Auto? The answer is no. It would be like comparing apples to oranges.
Is there some favoritism or bias? Sure, and there always will be. Without a doubt many game journalists, and gamer's themselves, feel a deep sense of protection over Japanese game franchises such as Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda. We grew up with them, and nostalgia definitely plays a role in our appreciation of them. Final Fantasy 13 and 13-2 didn't receive great reviews, though I would argue that the games deserve less than they earned. Is it because of Japanese favoritism? Maybe. Take for example the Gameinformer review of The Last Story, an RPG from the creators of Final Fantasy. GI's own Joe Juba wasn't impressed giving the game a 6 out of 10. But many other game critics were, the game holding an 80 on Metacritic. Hell, even the GI community in the community review section gave the game numerous 9's and 10 out of 10's and called out Juba, saying he obviously missed something. It's not just game critics. It's gamer's too. Is it because of favoritism towards the Japanese creators know for their legendary RPG's? It's hard to say for certain.
So what do I think overall of Hutchinson's statement and the idea that game journalist show favoritism to Japanese games? I think it's a combination of Hutchinson being a little mad over the reception of Assassin's Creed: Revelations, a little misunderstanding as to how games are measured against one another and some serious nostalgia for the glory days of the Japanese game industry. Do I think the majority of game journalist's are bias?
We will know when a new Sonic game is incredible. Game journalists will be the first to tell us. They are fans after all.
Not really, and here's why. It's not so much Japanese developers as fan favorite franchises such as Mario, Zelda, and Metal Gear that get special attention, though it isn't bias. Look at Metroid: Other M. The game was a very mixed bag critically. Some enjoyed it, others didn't, but those who were big fans of the Metroid franchise hated it, one aspect in particular - the story. They said it destroyed the character of Samus Aran. Here's why I bring this up. Fans are often the harshest critics. I think the reason Zelda and Mario titles receive such consistently high scores is because of one thing and one thing only - they are exceptional games. If there was a terrible Mario or Zelda game, we would know. Gamer's, and game journalists, would cry foul and be outraged at the destruction of a once beloved franchise. Sonic titles are a great example of this. Once almost universally praised, now few Sonic games receive universally positive reviews. Why? Because Sonic fans remember the good old days when the blue hedgehog was king. These new titles don't live up to the lofty expectations held by the fans who are reviewing the new titles.
There will always be some bias in reviews, which are based on somebody's own personal opinion. But as long as there are fans, we will know whether or not a game is deserving of it's score. What do you guys think?
P.S. For the record, Gears of War, especially 3, does have a pretty crappy story. And I'm a huge Gears of War fan. Case and point.
If anything I would say they're biased the other direction. Seems like barely a day goes by without my hearing about the 'doom' of japanese games... Maybe that's to do with the largely western audience here and us/uk developers being a bit more open with their opinions than eastern counterparts, but still very interesting...
Good post man!
To answer your question yes, a thousand times yes.
There's always going to be bias in reviews because, as you pointed out, they're opinions. Also, people tend to put reviewers up on a pedestal and forget they're people and gamers as well as journalists, who have different backgrounds and views of the world. So while one aspect of a game might strike a personal chord with someone, others might not get it or like it at all.
For Japanese games in a general sense I think yeah, they tend to get off a little easy in the Western world. Especially as Hutchinson talks about in the story department. Japanese games can have the most convoluted and nonsensical stories and dialouge that would never fly for a Western game and there will always be Japanophiles excusing it as being lost in translation or "quirky". My view has always been if it doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense; I don't care where it came from. And Bayonetta just sucked, period.
I can remember in the height of JRPG craze there seemed to be two or three games coming out every month that looked and played identically, and they'd all get ridiculously high scores. After playing a handful of them and not really finding them to be anything special I just stopped putting stock in the reviews of those games and waited for the gaming world to move on, which thankfully it has.
Well, you do have to admit- they do assume the stories make sense to people in Japan, so they bypass at least that part and let the gameplay and graphics speak for themselves... This doesn't necessarily mean that they don't all have a story, or that they are all the same- it's just that the most convoluted ones are glazed over easily. I'd say that journalists do let them get by with a lot about three fifths of the time.
Yeah I think that some games do get reviewed biasedly. But when you have people involved in something it will always get biased.