Game Literature: East vs West
Today I want to talk about games literature, especially the difference between Japanese and American storytelling methods. This greatly affects the games each respective culture is likely to favor.
So let’s get this show on the road by looking into Japanese Games literatur. I’m going to quote from classics like Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X. I believe this topic also applies with one of the most prevalent form of media that has taken the globe by storm. Manga. Alright so let’s get this started. Taking Final Fantasy VII as a basis, we realize that Japanese games have a tendency to be more character centric as compared to American games. When I say this I do not mean that American games lacks character but rather the focus of Japanese game itself is solely on the characters.
Cloud, a mercenary and a ‘rejected’ SOLDIER, starts out fighting for Barret and Tifa , he battles his former employers but that is pretty much all you learn about Cloud at the start. Then things start getting out of hand. Soon Cloud realizes his memories and dreams are not really his own, but that of his savior and friend Zack. As things progress, you are constantly chasing Sephiroth, the only true link to Cloud‘s past. They chase Sephiroth throughout the world before they realize that Sephiroth intends to end the world with a giant meteor. The thing is Cloud is so intricately tied to Sephiroth that you kinda feel that defeating Sephiroth is to find out the truth and saving the world is just a by-product.
That is the essence of Japanese storytelling. The Protagonist is pitted against the world but the world is in general a nice place. There will always be an omnipresent threat but it is never visible till later in the story, said omnipresent evil/threat is always somehow tied to the Protagonist and the final battle is as climatic as it is emotional. Take Final Fantasy X for example. *SPOILER ALERT* the father of Tidus is deeply involved in the final boss, Sin to say the least.
This pattern can also be seen in many mangas. To summarize, Japanese storytelling are heavily character based. The story follows the protagonist as he/she grow. The real threat would always be omnipresent but never visible till the end. When the real threat is revealed, it is always of significance to the protagonist. (Search for father, becomes stronger, evil appears, evil was father, defeat father after moral dilemma)
For American games however, it is the opposite that is true. The thing about American games is that they tend to more objective base then they are in their Japanese counterparts. By objective I mean the threat to the world is clearly portrayed as an overwhelming evil force. Take Lord of the Rings for example,Sauron is shown early and the whole premise is defeating him by tossing his One Ring into the heart of Mount Doom, another example, one of the latest games, Dragon Age. The Blight is coming! It is always about the Blight.
That is not to say the characters in American literature lacks personality or character for lack of a better word. Characters like Alistair and Leliana are extremely endearing, depending on which way you swing. I personally like them both. That is the key difference in the way the two cultures tell their stories, American culture has a tendency to wrap the world in an almost oppressive sense of the evil that is to come. That of course does not stop character development, but rather give it a more dynamic feel to it. How a character reacts and talks in such an atmosphere really allows their personalities to shine through. Of course as they journey, the characters will no doubt learn more about themselves and grow as a fictional persona.
Of course, this is just a general sensing of how these two different cultures produce powerful narratives. This does not mean there are no exceptions to the rule, there are always exceptions to the rule. Take Mass Effect 1 for example, you Commander Shepard was just minding your own business when blam! Saren screws you over. You find out later it was all a puppet act by The Reapers but hey you honestly had no idea. Of course you do mention The Reapers from your visions but Saren was really more of your target then The Reapers. Honestly.
In summary American storytelling is usually objective based. (Protagonist is entrusted with a mission to save the world) The threat is clearly stated and the story revolves around the trial and tribulation of the protagonist.
I’m a fan of both storytelling methods as well as the culture that inhabits them. Hope you enjoyed this read.