Innovation from the East

Before I dive into the Japanese videogaming industry, allow me first to provide you with some facts about Japan itself. Tokyo is home to the largest fish market in the world, handling 2000 tonnes of marine product per day. For that matter, Tokyo also has a vending machine on every street corner with which customers can choose from a selection of food, condoms, and beer. In case you thought that beer being so easily available was bad for your health, the population of Japan have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, with the average Japanese person biting the dust at the ripe age of 82. You may wonder why all of this is relevant, but it’s this unique and lovable culture that Eastern developers pour into their videogames.

[drop]An exemplary example of this devotion and dedication comes in the form of recently released Catherine, where you play as Vincent, a man who falls for a mysterious blonde (Catherine) whilst contemplating marriage to his long-term girlfriend (Katherine). As he foolishly attempts to balance two relationships, Vincent begins to have nightmares with which he finds himself traversing collapsing towers whilst attempting to escape from a selection of horrifically grotesque creatures. It soon becomes clear that if Vincent dies in the dream he dies in reality, and will lose both his girlfriend and his newly found seductress.

It’s an interesting and unique plot for what is essentially a story driven game, but it’s the little details that stamp “straight from Japan” on the cover. The other men that appear in Vincent’s dream look uncannily like sheep, and between ventures into his conscious Vincent is set free to explore the Stray Sheep Bar, where he can send text messages, talk to customers, and select playlists from the jukebox. It’s a fun concept that is based around an immensely sinister plot, which developers Atlus have reinforced by pitching every cut-scene in an exclusive art style that serves to only add to the deepening sense of doom as the game progresses into its later stages.

Although Catherine can be imported (if you are proficient in Japanese) it is not currently scheduled for a release over here and it’s plain to see why. It’s certainly a respectable game (receiving a score of 80 from PSM3) but the human race has a natural aversion to anything that breaks the trend, and unfortunately for Atlus, Catherine not only breaks that trend, but smashes it into oblivion. It will no doubt sell well in Japan (and possibly in North America in the summer) but in a Britain that is saturated with tedious first person shooters and an obsession for ranking up, it is likely that a Catherine release over here would see it gradually lost on the shelves amidst the debatably more popular and conventional titles.

It’s a sad state of affairs when finance takes control over innovation, but ultimately, consumers vote with their wallets and if a developer doesn’t make a large enough profit to make a venture worthwhile, they are inevitably going to stick to the tried and tested formulas which we have all become somewhat tired of.

We should welcome innovation, especially from across the shores. It allows us to access cultural differences through the medium of videogame, and as such, learn from our fellow humans about how life could be lived. A quintessential Japanese videogame such as Catherine would not only serve as a title on the shelves, but also as a bridge between two drastically varying countries. That’s the opportunity that no one should be able to pass up, but first we have to support innovation with our purchase, because that’s the only way to show foreign developers such as Atlus that we are completely open to new, and potentially amazing, ideas.

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29 Comments

  1. Can’t beat a good blonde bombshell ;)

  2. I just keep thinking Valkyria Chronicles , amazing game . Many game shops didnt even bother stocking it and the ones that did only had 1-2 copies at the bottom of their shelves .
    Perhaps it was too early into the PS3’s life and possibly if it was released again today with all the 9/10’s it received it would perhaps fare better .
    Im not even into RPGs ( never like Final Fantasy etc ) but this is more like a kind of Advance Wars hybrid on steroids with one of the best stories on PS3. For those yet to play it and if your lucky enough to see a used copy buy it immediately .

    • Valkyria Chronicles is really brilliant, it’s a shame it didn’t get the attention it deserves. It was released around the same time as PS3 trophies were introduced, and probably would’ve greatly benefited from a trophy patch. It’s a pity they moved the series to the PSP then. I hope there’ll also be another VC game for the PS3 again sometime.

    • that game is still haunting me. i really want to see how it ends but i have to replay most of the game that was lost when my ps3 died

      • You could try downloading a saved game (e.g. from here: (http://www.gamefaqs.com/ps3/942165-valkyria-chronicles/saves ) Then just play the missions and watch the cutscenes you haven’t seen (although you’ll have to select each cutscene and part of cutscene individually, they don’t just play on in later playthroughs, which is what the save would be on). It’s a great game and the ending is well worth seeing, with a good “what the characters did next” type of thing.

      • Thanks Billsmugs , i got halfway through and recently had YLOD and lost my saves and its been putting me off having to go through all those battles again. Im going to check that out .

  3. Didn’t have a clue what this game was about but that article has completely sold it to me! I’ll have to pick it up stateside me thinks

    • yeah i have to say i wasn’t sure of it but this has made it sound pretty dam interesting. i’ll have to see more reviews though and see what the price is first

      • I read about this in GAMES tm mag last month.
        Tempted to import it meself too!! :)

    • I’ve already preordered the Mega Collectors Edtion from Videogamesplus.ca , you’ve just got to love Atlus.

  4. It’s not something I’m not used to, about 80% of anime isn’t available to buy and of the 20% that has hit the shelves, 99% has been butchered.

    • To be fair, the markets in western countries wouldn’t support all of the anime coming from Japan, nor would I want to see most of it (fanservicey-harem based crap is getting rife these days).

      Here in Australia at least our two anime distributors are doing a really good job of picking up the things that are actually worth watching. And I’m pretty sure most shows here only really get edited when there’s naked minors on show. The quality of the dubs is a different matter though ;)

  5. Spot on Toby, aren’t we all tired of conventional here at TSA? Finance over innovation is exactly what is happening, by necessity of course, breaking the mould is exactly what we want but the end result has to be just right – although I would personally argue that the marketing is by far the most important factor for selling any game once it’s reached an acceptable quality.

    • Definitely! You make a good point about marketing, and although pre-release trailers can make the consumer aware of a title, I question whether it can make a purchase with something as unique as Catherine. For example, the trailers for inFamous 2 give you a relatively good idea as to what you can expect, but for Catherine? You still don’t have much of a clue, other than it contains an attractive blonde and a man who has extremely large eyes ;)

      • Is there any chance of an Australian release? As someone who is into anime I think this game is a must buy. Oh and nice article by the way :)

  6. Great article Toby, I agree that we’re getting too crowded with FPS games and need innovation. Heavy Rain sold well, didn’t it?
    PS. Welcome to the team :D

    • Heh, thanks for the kind words and welcome. I’m waiting on that elusive red bar though!

      As for Heavy Rain, it certainly did sell well but consumers still had a good idea in regards to the plot and the gameplay before it’s release. With Catherine, the plot and gameplay is so drastically different from what we have seen before, it’s genuinely difficult to explain. I must have rewritten the second paragraph above about three times to make sure that I explained the plot effectively and concisely, but didn’t give too much away.

      In a sense it’s structured like Portal; you enjoy the gameplay but it’s the plot that ultimately makes you return and want to continue.

  7. Cool, great read.

  8. It’s a crying shame that our domestic videogame choices are becoming increasingly limited to updates and sequels of the same old genres. Carry on suppressing innovation and creativity in the videogame industry will die out completely. Thank goodness for psn (remember that) and xbla where there are still opportunities for developers to provide new and interesting content.
    I still want Catherine though…

  9. Atlus made Demon’s Souls, didn’t they?
    It’s a shame we won’t be seeing it, I’m intrigued.

    • They published Demon’s Souls in the US, it was developed by FromSoftware (same for 3D Dot Game Heroes)

  10. tis game looks rhubarb i hate japanese and hinese games they just look too crazy

    • Yeah, the “hinese” games sure do look crazy.

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