I'm a 30 year old nerd who started playing video games in 1987 when my dad got us the Nintendo Entertainment system Power Pad bundle. I quickly got hooked after playing RC Pro AM, Zelda, Mario, Baseball Stars and Duck Hunt.
But what really sealed my Nerdom for life was when I played a game called Final Fantasy, it was all over after that. Ever since i've been a geek, a terrible one. I apparently refuse to grow up even though i'm pushing 30... I still game and more now than ever... Favorite series include Halo, Suikoden, Demon's Souls, Mass Effect, Deadly Premonition, Final Fantasy (fuck 11, 12, & 13), Assassins Creed, Mirrors Edge, Half Life, Gears Of War, Uncharted, Dragon Age, Resident Evil, Dead Space, Dead Rising, Grand Theft Auto, Battlefield, Fall Out, Tales Series (Vesperia etc.), Elder Scrolls, and The Old School Shadowrun, Shining Force's & Phantasy Stars.
On the flip side i've always been sort of a nerd / meat head hybrid. Being 1 of 3 computer science majors on the football team. It's a nice balance, this path also led me into Natural Bodybuilding which keeps me occupied when i'm not gaming.
For this C-Blog segment I'm going to focus on RPG's since I think it's unfair to compare todays markets major pull (military shooters) because the East just doesn't produce them outside the average showing of Vanquish and also because RPG's are considered the Easts bread & butter... So I'll concentrate on this genre on the Console platforms to outline how the West has surpassed the East in almost every way.
I believe the Wests dominance in this Genre started last generation on the PC. Western RPG's on PC tend to give the gamer absolute freedom from a design and customization stand point. They don't restrict when you can save, they don't put time limits on exploration (*Looks at Monster Hunter*), and almost all of them allow you to customize your character to fit your style of play and appearance. This then translated into an evolution in Console RPGs this generation on the western front. Leading this charge on the Western end has been Bioware with it's Mass Effect & Dragon Age series along with Bethesda bringing The Elder Scrolls & Fall Out titles out year after year. On the Eastern end you've really got a handful of mediocre titles in comparison with Star Ocean 4, Jim's favorite Final Fantasy XIII, White Knight Chronicles, and the rare but excellent Demon's Souls to name a few.
Now the East seems to believe these freedom's named above the West gives players will lessen the challenge. Obviously I disagree though that may not be 100% accurate. But whenever I've discussed these design choices with friends or Tak Fujii on Twitter (Yes Really) that's the answer I've been given. Which I think is utter bullshit, the East seems to find challenge in seeing whom has enough OCD to complete mundane tasks over & over and call it challenging (aka grinding). FFXIII did this for its Platinum trophy, it was utterly painful to attain, not hard. Star Ocean 4 also did a mix of the hard difficulty and grinding in its post end game hidden dungeons, it was also way too tedious.
Personally I think it's the JRPG formula or Modus Operandi the East clings to when it comes to game development is what's killing them. If FFXIII did anything I think it shows this to be true from a narrative stand point as well. They refuse to think outside the box, they only attempt to emulate (poorly I might add) standard formula's for success like Tecmo's attempt at Gears of War with Quantum Theory. Otherwise they flat out just out source to western developers which also hasn't really panned out.
So we've either seen poor western emulation or not straying from established 20 year old gaming formulas that were proven successes in the East which isn't limited to JRPGs. I'd like to see more Eastern Devs take chances like Grasshopper Manufacture as that is what core gamers want. Those guys Friggin rock and continue to throw curve balls, eventually I think they'll knock it out of the park...
Until then the Easts last great hope this fall? Dark souls from... errr FROM Software.
Over time Western gaming has grown in its designs and evolved which I think is where the East falters. And it's a damn shame to because those guys are super quirky & creative but likely being restricted by executives up top. But when Demon's Souls hit the scene and defied all odds I think some in the East actually started paying attention as you see Capcom releasing a suspiciously similar title in Dragon's Dogma. Demon's Souls had the perfect storm of challenge Eastern gamers love + the freedom and customization Western gamers love mixed with a hidden aspect of convenience. You wouldn't know it right away but if you really analyze it Demon's Souls caters to the player in the right ways by allowing them to quit anytime on the server and keep their place along with tackling any obstacle at any time when they're ready.
I think this reflects FROM Software's advance in design of today's RPGs. We want less restriction and more convenience. That's not to say we want things done easy, but we don't want to sharpen our weapons every 15 minutes (Monster Hunter) and we don't want to lose an hour of progress if we die. Western RPGs do a good job of avoiding this stuff by allowing you to save at anytime and also auto saving at intervals. One new positive design choice FFXIII added is the "Try Again" if you lose a certain fight. I mean why punish the player by making him lose 45 minutes of progress since the last save point if he dies? There is nothing fun about that and as gamers like myself get older we just don't have the time for this. It happened to me in Persona 3 when I took the wrong crew to a boss fight resulting in me having no chance... Trust me it sucked. I could go on and on about this for games like Dead Rising. (Which I loved) But its flaws? They stem from being radically inconvenient.
I believe the West in their own way has mastered challenging the gamer on competitive levels but also giving them the tools of customization that might break barriers the East liked to constrict. And at the same time making certain challenging tasks "Convenient" for gamers in turn streamlining "the fun". In short you have more control. Sure Demon's Souls might have a hard boss fight, but if you die you have a short cut already opened to easily try again.... you did lose your souls but you get a chance to win them back along with keeping progress and gear attained during your last attempt. It's Convenient!!! So in Dark Souls I trust FROM Software to give the East direction and show them their games can sell in the West. They just have to stop being afraid of change and embrace modern day designs while still putting up a challenge for gamers.
So when I see that Game Over screen I shouldn't want to throw my controller through my TV. I should just shrug my shoulders and say okay let's try this again / change tactics. Demon's Souls perfected this as have Western RPGs by making "trying again" convenient. I believe this is the Easts fast route to regaining it's former glory and by that I mean overhauling their basic design philosophy. Until then the West will rule.
Your move East, stop remaking games and throwing out handheld RPGs and bring the Next Gen noise!