“Western games don’t sell in Japan.” “Japanese people hate first person shooters.” These are sentiments you hear a lot from people within the gaming industry and press, and for the last few years, all the data suggested these statements were true. It’s no secret that Western developed games aren’t very popular in Japan; the Xbox 360 has only barely sold a million systems in the country, which remains firmly devoted to Sony and Nintendo, and games like Halo, Fallout, and GTA, which manage to break records everywhere else in the world, only have a niche following in the Far East. While Western games have never caught on in Japan, first person shooters in particular have traditionally been despised by Japanese gamers, but that appears to be changing.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released this past week in Japan (by Square-Enix of all companies, who licensed the game because Activision has no Japanese branch,) and, to the surprise of everyone, became the best selling game of the week, with 210,000 copies sold across both PS3 and 360. Surprisingly, the game sold much better than the game that most people expected to be one of Japan’s biggest hits this year, Level 5’s Ni No Kuni, the highly anticipated RPG collaboration with famous animation group Studio Ghibli (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo) which only managed to sell 60,000 copies. Level 5 is regarded as one of Japan’s biggest up and coming publishers, and they’ve managed to grow and expand in a period when most other Japanese developers, sans Nintendo, have been forced to lay off workers or simply close down all together. Having a high profile game like Ni No Kuni, a PS3 exclusive J-RPG, seemingly tailored for the Japanese market by one of Japan’s leading developers and the country’s premiere animation studio, flop so badly is shocking, and while CoD’s success and Ni No Kuni’s failure could simply be a fluke, it could also be taken as a sign that Japanese gamers’ tastes are shifting away from the genres and styles of games that have traditionally dominated the Japanese gaming industry, much as gamers in the West did several years ago when this current generation of hardware began.
Whether due to pride or xenophobia, the country that was responsible for reviving the then-dead console industry in the 80’s and then went on to dominate game development for the better part of two decades has never really embraced Western games, but with the gaming industry shifting more and more toward Western tastes, it appears that things are changing, for better or worse. Personally, I think that it’s a plus that Japanese developers and gamers are becoming more open to ideas and games from the West, but I hope that game developers over there don’t compromise the qualities that make Japanese games unique in an attempt to keep parity with or shamelessly copy the big-budget, Hollywood action movie style projects from the West like Call of Duty.