Why Don't Foreigners Like Japanese Role-Playing Games?

For decades, Japanese role-playing games ruled gaming. These days, they don't. Now, Western role-playing games get all the attention and praise. What gives?

Noting the low popularity of Japanese role-playing games outside their native country, Sakaguchi believes that role-playing games need to break the stereotype they've created. Sakaguchi tells Nintendo president Satoru Iwata and Xenoblade designer Tetsuya Takahashi that a change is necessary in a roundtable on Nintendo's website.

Takahashi agrees, but sees the issue as being able to tap themes or stories everyone can relate to, touching on how foreign movies appeal worldwide due to their universal qualities. That isn't to say role-playing games should be turned into movies.

"Movies are obviously movies," Sakaguchi replies, laughing. Sakaguchi famously helmed a feature film version of Final Fantasy called Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a box office box.

Nintendo found worldwide wide success with Mario and Zelda, Takahashi adds, but adds, "It's somewhat harder for role-playing games." Iwata wonders if this is because common patterns continue to appear in Japanese role-playing games. "I think so," Sakaguchi replies.

It's common for role-playing games to feature young characters as they are entering adulthood. Stylistic choices, such as hairstyles or even settings, are shared among many Japanese role-playing games. The shame, however, could be said about Western shooters, but that's another conversation for another time.

Sakaguchi concedes that Japanese gaming has fallen behind Western gaming, which continues to innovate, but that doesn't mean he or Takahashi count Japan out.

However, the worrying bit is just how self-aware Japanese game creators are becoming. For year, Japanese game designers made games for Japan — Japan only. If those games were hits outside Japan, great. But with the domestic market shrinking, it's getting harder and harder for Japanese game designers to think only of their domestic players. Catering to foreigners is now a fact of life — but one that doesn't necessarily mean better games.

This week, Hironobu Sakaguchi's last role-playing game The Last Story will be released in Japan. No word on if and when it'll get a Western release.

社長が訊く 坂口博信×高橋哲哉 [Nintendo]