High Weirdness

Was talking with a friend here at work, and the conversation drifted onto the topic of how difficult it is to create a game that hits big in all three markets (Japan, Europe and the US). The cultural differences can really make a game resonate well with one market, while another goes “Meh.”

Which reminds me of the first time I played Final Fantasy VII. The only Final Fantasy I’d played previously had been Final Fantasy Legend II for the GameBoy, which I’d enjoyed, but which hadn’t really given me the full force of the FF milieu.

So I’m at an overnight LAN party with a bunch of friends. We’re taking a break from blowing each other up, and I notice that the host has a PSX and FF7. I ask if I can play it for a bit, and he agrees.

So I begin to play. I watch the intro movie, which is very good. The game starts in media res, which I always enjoy. The combat system is kind of simplistic, but that’s okay. Cool stuff happens, the reactor blows up, Cloud gets separated from his companions and meets Aeris. Aeris asks Cloud to escort her home, and she does. So far, so good.

On the way home, they’re attacked by a house. Literally. A house stands up, grows arms and legs, and fights our heroes. And I think to myself, “Uh…I’m fighting a house. That’s really, really weird.”

If you’ve been reading the site long, you’ll know that I’m heavily into coherent experiences – worlds that are simulated, rational and internally consistent. Fighting houses isn’t really included in there anywhere.

And at that moment, I realized that if I wanted to play this game and enjoy it, I was going to have to consciously shelve my preconcieved notions about what an RPG was and was not, and just accept the game for what it was. If I didn’t, then little things like fighting houses were just going to rankle me until I finally gave up on it.

And so I did. And, of course, I ended up being thoroughly rewarded by the game for doing so. And apparently a lot of other people got past the house thing as well (probably much easier than I did).

But I can’t help but wonder…what kind of US cultural vestiges in games don’t go over well in Japan? What would be their equivalent to fighting a house? A study on this subject would doubtless make fascinating reading, and could lead to better games for both sides.