Is this a case of console games becoming increasingly less popular in Japan? Have Japanese developers identified that the western market is so important that games need to cater specifically to our wants? Between FFXV’s fetch questing, MGSV’s paradigm shift in game design, that certainly seems to be the case. Heck, even The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild looks like an adorable version of Skyrim; a charming open world complete with Ubisoft-style watchtowers (Shrines), and even the ever popular cooking feature to add stat bonuses. I didn’t realize Miyamoto was speaking literally in culinary terms when he said Zelda would be more of a western soup!
I’ll reiterate that, so far, none of this is necessarily a travesty – there’s no harm in including design popular design aspects, but I want to see innovation and a point of difference, too. So far, I’m not convinced 6 dozen fetch quests per sector of FFXV’s map is an example of that, nor is it adding anything to my gameplay experience beyond adding filler content. MGSV got away with its repetitive level design because the gameplay was so damn good, but even then its monotony sometimes bordered on obnoxious (you can’t tell me that Hideo Kojima couldn’t have come up with a few other ideas for those side quests).
What we certainly don’t want, is for games to become overly same-y. There’s far too much rinse and repeat going on already among AAA development without traditionally innovative franchises feeling the need to shoehorn in popular gameplay mechanics. Because eventually, it will reach a saturation point – we’re going to eventually burn out. And, more importantly, if you’re passionate about gaming, you’re generally passionate about the possibilities moving forward. Gamers don’t want to see copy pasting in the name of profit, even if that is what keeps this industry going.
FFXV is a good game, maybe even a great one. It’s certainly the most fun I’ve had with a Final Fantasy title since I was 12, but nevertheless, it doesn’t feel seminal in the way that I’d dreamt it might be. I can’t help but feel part of the reason for that is because it often feels too much like a sub-standard western RPG, rather than being brave enough to forge its own individuality. Sure, there’s JRPG elements in there, and there’s plenty of nods to the past in its ambiance and themes, but too much of what is “great” Final Fantasy XV is derived from tweaking mechanics and design we’ve seen in other games, not from innovating its own legend.
And notably, while Square Enix is busy trying to cater to the widest spread of potential customers, Atlus continues to hold the beacon for classic JRPGs with the Persona series, and it seems they’re much more likely to become the new standard for Japanese developers.