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What's the deal with Compile Heart?

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Promoted from our community blogs

[It's ok not to like things. I can't get into King of Fighters, for example. But Overlordzetta's interest in Compile Heart's games has led him to believe that a perfectly normal game development company seems to get an inordinate amount of hatred for the content it creates. Do you think Compile Hearts deserves the kind of disdain it gets? Start a blog today of what you think! ~Strider]

I'm not going to beat around the bush with a fun intro today. Something's been on my mind, and many blog entries have been written and tossed to the wayside on the subject, so I think it's high time I put everything else on hold and make a real stab at it. Today, I'm talking Compile Heart. I'm not really going to be defending them, not properly anyway, and I probably will do a poor job of making whatever point I'm trying to make, if I'm even doing that in the first place. This whole subject has gotten to be really tiring for me now, so... this happened. It's happened many times, actually, I just never posted anything before, but 'tis the season, right?

I actually had a much more fun, much more topical blog in mind that I wanted to write before I got down to finishing up the second Soul Sacrifice blog I've been working on, but I guess you could say this is something I want to get off my chest. Knowing things, it'll probably be something I want to get off my chest again at some point, but... you live and learn. I'll post the fun thing tomorrow.


Hopefully this will be... let's aim for half as positive as the last time I wrote about them.

So, Compile Heart. Their games aren't the most popular by any means. Not in the west, but not in Japan either. Their games, all things considered, are among the niche of the niche. Realistically speaking, it's strange that they get as much attention as they do in the first place. Save for a few things, most in the Neptunia series and most others not really things westerners could appreciate in the first place, from an average gamer's perspective, they're probably just another company releasing average JRPGs with cute girls on the cover.

Which begs the question... why is there always such an intense reaction?

Is it because they're more outside of the norm in a foreign country? Is it because they actually care about their presence in foreign countries, unlike so many other Japanese developers right now, regardless of what the mainstream might think of them there? Is it because they go on caring about that presence to keep bringing their games to foreign audiences, even porting them to PC and holding private beta tests and giving their games away for free to make sure everything works? Is it because of how so many of the games suffer from some really, really questionable localization decisions?

I'm not sure really. I can understand not liking their games just like I can understand not liking anything. People will not like everything, that's just how we're hardwired. We're all different. That's one of the best things about the human race. We all have different likes, dislikes, desires, and so on. I can understand that very well.

What I can't understand is the vehemence some choose to dislike them with, like they're committing some kind of crime by developing games that these people don't like.


Then again, judging by recent events...

In an era where more and more developers are closing up shop or going straight to mobile, the fact that so many people point to a developer that is constantly improving themselves, working with other developers, creating new titles and IPs, and experimenting with new ideas for their existing ones is the one that people consider as everything wrong with the industry? It's crazy to me. I know they don't always necessarily succeed at meeting the potential of their ideas, but nothing they've done, not even the likes of Neptunia PP or the mismanaged, tried-to-do-too-much mess that was Hyperdevotion Noire, seems like it deserves such constant mockery and disrespect. Especially when they keep trying, improving, experimenting, and so on and so forth and etcetera.

Is it because the developers these people do want games from have called it quits, so they need to take out their frustrations on those who are remaining in the game? Is it because of how they portray their characters? Is it because of their target demographic and the games said target demographic tends to prefer? And perhaps the way things that target demographic tends to prefer things?

Sadly, having experienced conversations with all kinds of people on the matter, even with some hardcore fans, I... can't entirely fault that mindset. I'm sure all of these questions have their answers, and I'm sure as some of you read this, you're rolling your eyes and getting ready to type what you consider to be the obvious question.

"Maybe it's because their games just aren't very good?"

Well, if that's the question, then I wonder just what the context or criteria being used to judge how good their games are. What are these Compile Heart games being compared to? What standards for good are being used here? If they're the threes, fours, and fives, what is the 10? Did they ever have a chance to compare to that 10, or was the game rigged from the start?

Obviously, if it's simply a matter of liking it or not, then that's where the story ends, isn't it? You don't like the game, you move on... but the thing is, people aren't moving on. If anything, Compile Heart has become something of a running joke in some circles, including many circles here at Destructoid, and that just doesn't make sense to me.

I've said this many times before, but with many Compile Heart titles, I feel like it often comes down to not completely being a part of the target audience. One can say they like RPGs or anime, but some of Compile Heart's games can be incredibly niche or just not be like a standard JRPG. In fact, a common criticism I see in some circles is exactly that, which just seems weird to me. This probably just comes off as looking like excuses to most, especially their detractors, but... isn't it common sense?

Does every fan of fighting games like Street Fighter or Guilty Gear appreciate the gore of Mortal Kombat or the more cute girls-oriented direction Arcana Heart goes in? Do those people appreciate that Mortal Kombat's gore is meant to be over the top, something ludicrous that it isn't meant to inspire real violence or anything truly heinous? If so, then do those people all enjoy that gore? Some may, but I can't imagine they all do. On a personal note, while I enjoy fighting game romps from time to time, I have trouble looking at some of the newest Mortal Kombat's fatalities. Sue me!

You know what, though? These are all different games, and their visuals and themes won't appeal to everyone. It's okay that they do that, because it's okay that people like different things. That's the beauty of having options. Just because this one thing doesn't appeal to you or that it may never have been able to appeal to you, that doesn't mean it doesn't appeal to others or that there's something inherently wrong with it.

It's okay.


It's all gonna be okay.

Not everything is going to appeal to everyone. That doesn't make it inherently bad, as many suggest.  It's not like they release games that are broken or don't work. Usually their games work fairly well, outside of issues rising up through localization anyway. They just aren't what many people want out of a game. I think that's a fair thing to feel, sure, but is it fair to criticize a game for not being something it was never actually trying to be? Is it fair to compare two developers who have completely different means and capabilities, and then criticize one for not delivering the same level as the other despite the obvious difference in resources?

When it comes to Compile Heart games, it does seem like it's fair game, but I don't agree with that myself. Do people compare indie developers with AAA ones? Do you criticize the graphics of Shovel Knight for not matching up to those of Uncharted or Bloodborne? It's the same idea here.

It's not like I'm saying that this mystical target audience would adore everything they do every single time either. Hell, I think most of their fans miss things just as much as their detractors do. I know I do, and I actually try to look for it. What about the people who don't bother? Whatever the case, I can say I'm not the biggest fan of a few of the Neptunia spinoffs, and I think that there are a few things they could do better in some of their other, bigger games as well, but I'm not going to judge something or someone that works in one world for not daring to compete with a completely different world. That doesn't make sense.


Speaking of things that don't make sense... oh, look at me and my topical self!

Let's take Fairy Fencer F. It got a mixed review from the lovely Brittany Vincent here on the site some time ago, and before I get into the meat of things, I'd like to briefly mention it here for now. This game was the first of Compile Heart's Galapagos RPGs, and Fairy Fencer F in particular was an attempt to make a more mainstream title.

For all intents and purposes, they actually pulled it off. The game sold great in Japan, by their standards at least, and it actually was to the point that didn't ship enough copies and had to rush more out if I'm remembering correctly. It's getting an enhanced version with tons of new content on the PS4 developed by them instead of getting a port handed off to another developer like tie Neptunia remakes were, so they were clearly happy with it. All in all, that's fantastic for them. Offhand, I can only remember that being the case with MonsterMonpiece, which was, well... Monster Monpiece.

So what happened?

For starters, I think the outlook some had on our side of the pond was somewhat off, which I think is the case with a lot of Compile Heart titles, Neptunia in particular. Some people went into it expecting whatever they considered a standard Compile Heart game to be, others maybe expected a budget Tales game, which it kind of is, and others might not have had much in the realm of expectations at all...

What so many people didn't realize is that they were actually playing a Kamen Rider game.

This is mostly a theory of mine, but I think one reason this game resonated with Japanese audiences (and me) more is because it's written exactly like a typical modern Kamen Rider series would be. Not even just a little bit, but exactly like one. From the huge focus on eating to the way the villains were portrayed even to how the main character developed over the course of the game.


The main character, and every character as well, can transform while a hotblooded song plays once their tension gets high enough. In every single battle. No exceptions. It's actually not that hard to believe when you start thinking in that direction! It's not all that surprising considering it was written by someone who's written a ton of stuff like this for Toei, some of it considered revolutionary for its time (probably before some of you reading this were even born), but the fact that it plays out like one is really spectacular.

So when Compile Heart's mainstream title is written by someone who had written many of the things their audience grew up with, and it turns out to be written very much like those things, is it that strange that people ended up liking it? It wasn't some epic thousands upon thousands of sales seller there, but it did pretty darn well for a Compile Heart game, and I think this is one reason why.


Even how Fang talked about his, um, movements in the early part of the game hearkens back to Kamen Rider. In hindsight, I don't actually think that that was meant to be potty humor.

The fact that the game was overall just much better than their last game, Neptunia Victory, probably helped, featuring an evolved battle system, better dungeon design, less asset reuse than with Neptunia games prior (something that, from what I understand, continued into Omega Quintet and even more into Neptunia V-II), and so on, but in the writing department, that certainly couldn't have hurt it any... except when you introduce it to an audience that isn't as familiar with those things. Then things might start to get a little less familiar and a little more mixed.

That sense of familiarity is something that I believe Compile Heart pulls of very well. Their use of the fourth wall and meta-humor is something that no one else really uses much of right now either, especially with Nippon Ichi Software's ever diminishing presence. It's also something that not everyone likes or appreciates, and admittedly, it's not something that applies to all of their products, but in particular, the Neptunia series is where I think it's strongest.


"Oh goody, it's my turn again!"

At a glance, many just see the series as nothing more than its fanservice. To me, this has always been strange, since, despite the fact that, yes, it does have fanservice, overall, it's... really a pretty tame series. Typical, if nothing else. There have been fanservice CGs in games since before I was even playing JRPGs, and character designs can get much flashier than Neptunia. Perhaps if one can't distinguish the difference between an SD model and hypersexualized infants, then okay, maybe it might seem like some incredibly perverse series, but I must wonder just how perverse someone has to be to make that mistake in the first place.

Kidding aside, on the other hand, considering not one game in the series has ever gotten an M rating save the one time a localization made some dialogue worse than it actually was, and then adding in the fact that plenty of Japanese games with fanservice are coming out now with M ratings for that reason, I can't help but think something is off with that perception that the series has somehow gotten for itself.

And I just can't figure it out. Is it because the characters do act like anime or visual novel characters sometimes rather than standard game characters? Is it because people don't want stories in their games as much anymore? They need to be involved now? I won't get into another series of rhetorical questions, but I really just don't see what everyone has got their undies in a bunch over.


Yeah, I do admit that this being the first CG of the first game didn't do it any favors, but just because it's there doesn't mean its the focus, as is often implied.

This is probably a topic better left for another blog, but I feel like the west's view of sexuality, particularly in Japanese games and particularly when it comes to fanservice, has taken a... really poor turn, especially in recent years, though maybe with the internet and increased presence of these sorts of games, something that's always been there has just become more prominent?

To me, while people probably believe they're coming off as mature and adult and sophisticated or whatever for turning it away and trying to get rid of it, it really really doesn't come off that way. When I see that attitude, at best I see some wide cultural differences at work, and at worst it just comes off like a bunch of kids in the schoolyard saying girls are icky and running away in fear of cooties, and all the moreso if nothing is being said about violence or gore in games at the same time.

And before anyone starts rallying to hit that like button, you lot getting all giddy about these games solely for how much skin you can see or acting like the fanservice is the only thing that matters or that a couple of images getting censored is enough reason to damn a game and company to hell, well, I can't say I think you guys are too much better. If the first group are kids running away in fear of cooties, you guys are the kids just hitting puberty practically humping your pillows. Y'all aren't winning here either, sorry.

Yeah, now I'm judging people too, making me a massive hypocrite, but I'm getting tired, damn it.

Can't we just accept that some people like some things and others like others and, more importantly, it's all just pretend? Can't we all just... well... get the fuck along? It blows my mind that we're living in a world where ripping heads off or splitting something in half with a chainsaw gets cheers and applause from an audience, as was the case with the Doom trailer the other night, but you have to be ashamed of playing a game that has female stomachs exposed lest you be a creepy perv. It is such a disturbing thing to see death and senseless violence celebrated, yet natural human instincts, the things that lead to life and procreation, are treated like they're wrong and need to be hidden away.

I'm not saying go be that kid that humps pillows and I'm not saying be an inappropriate jackass to real people, but when we're talking about what is very clearly not real, good lord people, these priorities seem completely backwards to me.


Where do you think the pretend babies that pretend grow up into the pretend people that you want to pretend kill come from? More importantly, how do you think they get there?

I get not liking certain aesthetics of things, don't get me wrong on that, I absolutely get it, but the level people take it to over drawings and character models, just plain pictures, pictures where nothing is even happening, it all just seems so unwarranted to me. Be it Neptunia, Compile Heart games, or just niche things from Japan in general, it's so over the top and unnecessary.

What's the point of it all? Are we really still in high school? That's the only setting where I can think that it's so socially accepted for people who like less popular things to get shoved around this way, and if that's the case, then isn't it time we, as gamers, really grow up and start being more accepting of some of this crap? Pretending to be grown up and bringing down people for their interests, or worse, the things they create and sell and have passions for enjoying and creating, because you personally dislike them, is just that. Pretend maturity. No more real than when Nathran Drake guns someone down in Uncharted and makes a quip about it like he didn't just rob someone of their father or their son and is going to go on his merry way to take someone's husband away right after he shoots someone's boyfriend in the head in cold blood and just makes a snarky remark about the locals or something.


What is even happening to this blog right now.

Ooookay, so enough about that and back to the, uh, I think it was the main point, since I'm starting to get into that topic that I just said was better off in another blog. Or not in a blog at all. Also because perv is such a stupid, stupid looking and sounding word that I think I'll become physically ill if I have to write it again.

Now let's get back to more familiar ground!


In this case, really awesome familiar ground! This guy does good work.

Neptunia is submerged in the world of familiarity. Past, present, and future, the series is chock full of references and shoutouts to fiction and real life events. There's jabs at actual people in the industry in some of the dialogue just as much as there are references to shows and games through characters and other aspects. To some people, this kind of writing is lazy, but to others, this is the kind of thing that might make you smile when you catch the reference. Like mini-nostalgia or something, yeah?

Sometimes they can be blatant about it, but sometimes, and really a lot of time, the games will be littered with things that just might look like wacky anime stereotypes when a bunch of them all tie into one inside joke or another that most of us, me included, totally miss. Not all of them, but more than you might think. There's plenty of wacky anime shenanigans too, but when the characters themselves are designed with the consoles or companies they were based on in mind, even that's suspect sometimes.

To some people, like I said, this is a style that is cheap and easy to them, or it just doesn't appeal. Humor is really hard like that. While that's fine, I don't think it's fair to say something is inherently less based on something as subjective as fourth wall-based content, especially when we're already in a realm of things like bouncing boobs and anime logic. It puts some people off already. And so some people are going to be put off before they even have a chance to notice things.

Like how the characters representing the DS each fights with a staff, or how a staff looks like a stylus. Like how the character based on the Wii (and eventually general Nintendo-consoles) uses a hammer, like good old Mario, and eventually picked up a hat very reminiscent of the good plumber's. Like how they get voice actresses and other companies in on jokes and running gags that most people in the west will never get, especially if they only listen to the dub, or how they reference things that have been off the air for years, sometimes even decades.


Or like how the ever polarizing Mega-Drive-inspired character combines elements from both the console's design and even the marketing campaign it had to create this gem of a character from the classic console wars-inspired tale that was Neptunia Victory and the upcoming Neptunia Rebirth 3.

From color schemes to controllers being worked into designs to name and dialogue choices, even to stage designs and just deciding who interacts with who and how it happens, it's that kind of thing, among many others, all within Compile Heart's crazy chest of creativity that keeps many people coming back to them. Yeah, some people only are interested in them for the tatas and bazongas (or the lack of them in some cases), but if it was just cute girls and anime tropes that they offer, as many are so quick to suggest, Compile Heart would be out of a niche.

Because other companies do that. A lot of other companies do that these days in Japan.

And yeah, to a lot of people, these choices are a bunch of nothings. Anime tropes or things that just went completely over their heads or that don't amuse them in any way. The series, and many of Compile Heart's other games in general, do tend to feature things that seem straight out of an anime. Why that is a problem for a series with an intended main demographic consisting largely of anime fans, I'm not sure, but maybe someday I'll figure it out.


After all of this, I really don't think I've really accomplished or figured out much of anything in hindsight.

What I really just want to put emphasis on is what while it may not seem like it, just like I said the first time I wrote about them, if there is one thing Compile Heart has, even if it seems like an absurd idea to suggest, it's heart. Their games may not be the best, and they may not be the greatest developers in the world, but their games, and their company, has got heart written all over it.

... Literally, actually!

Their games have continued to improve from when I started following them a few years back, always with new and fresh ideas every time, and they've branched out into other genres and even other brands and franchises throughout every step of the way. Some have been abandoned with they didn't pan out, like Mugen Souls, while others were reworked, like Monster Monpiece into Moero Chronicle. The company isn't successful every time, but no one is. In a period where so many companies are just playing it safe and sticking to their guns or what they're sure will sell, that's commendable.

Maybe that still doesn't matter. Maybe a lot of people just can't get past the fact that something they dislike exists and gets attention from the few people who like it. Don't get it wrong, the people who like their games are a minority, and that will probably never change. In the end, I'm not really asking all the questions I asked in this blog, so no need to keep track of them all and give me every answer one at a time. I've heard it all before and I know the answers most will give. Like I've said quite a number of times before, I'm not trying to convert anyone to anything either. I just want to offer a different perspective in this increasingly deafening echo chamber of negativity, that's all.

On a more personal note, I think the sad thing is that I don't think I could write that blog I wrote last Thanksgiving anymore. Between having seen the attitude people take towards the series for the past few months up close and personal and Idea Factory International's recent hackjob localizations, it's getting harder to keep giving a fuck like I have today.

So I'll say it as bluntly and clearly as I can and leave it there: If you can appreciate them, Compile Heart (and Idea Factory by extension I suppose) is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the most creative developers in the industry right now. Not exactly saying much given some of their competition, but still, I mean it. At the same time, they're not for everyone and they probably never will be. If you can't, you can't, but that doesn't mean it's not there. It's not always there either, and not always to the same extent when it is, but it is what it is when it is what it is.

As for me, considering how much time I wasted on this pointless, practically stream-of-consciousness blog? During E3 of all times?


I'm really only posting this at this point because I don't want to have wasted the past couple of hours writing this only to let it just sit in a word document forever.

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Hey there! You seem to have taken a wrong turn, friend. Front page is thattaway, Zetta is currently on vacation, in a manner of speaking. But hey! If you actually do mean to be here for some re... more + disclosures


 


 



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