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It's easy to criticize a big-name company for researching what the audience likes, and releasing a product that caters to the majority.
But if you look at it, there's really nothing to criticize.
Obviously (and don't say you didn't see this coming...), I'm going to use Squaresoft as an example.
Square, as the creator of what is arguably the most popular and best-selling console-based role-playing game series of all time, Final Fantasy, really needs to be careful.
First, keep in mind that their intended audience is (gasp!) not Americans! It's the Japanese! Square is based in Japan, cosists largely of Japanese employees, make games that have stories by Japanese writers, and their concern, first and foremost, is what the Japanese gaming public wants.
Mr. *ahem* Macaroni, in his editorial ‘Squaresoft Isn't Fooling Me', stated that the game Final Fantasy VII was, essentially, custom-made to American specifications. However, I'm feeling rather obliged to state that this technically isn't true, and though FF VII does indeed have characters that appeal to many different kinds of American gamers, this is actually nothing more than pleasant coincidence.
There are plenty of cultural differences between America and Japan. Going by most Japanese games, as well as Japanese animation, the character roles in FF VII, for example, Cloud as ‘the lonely, hard-boiled, introverted mental case', Tifa as ‘the obvious poster-girl (but god forbid that she has no character behind all that bounce, so to speak)', Barret as ‘the big-muscled, tough-talking, yet good-natured dude', Aeris as ‘the messiah/angel/sphinx-girl-next-door', Sephiroth as ‘the good-looking, mentally/emotionally disturbed badass-with-a-cause'...the list goes on...anyway, before I started the horrible run-on sentence, I was saying that these character archetypes almost always turn up in Japanese games (Especially Aeris-types and Sephiroth-types), as well as most anime and manga titles.
The reason it sells so well, in America as well as Japan, is that the action was well mixed-in with all of the deeper stuff. And for that, Square is not to be criticized for pandering to a mass audience, but applauded, in my most humble opinion. The same was done with Xenogears...but again, in my opinion, in an even more masterful manner. (And that is also another story...I could go on for about 37 more paragraphs about just that game, but I'll spare you.)
Final Fantasy VIII is a whole different story. There was plenty of action, granted, but the characters and the relationships were obviously the central focus of the game. The reason it wasn't so popular in America is because most of us Americans--let's face it--like lots of action in our games (that's why stuff like Duke Nukem and Quake sell so much better here). However, the Japanese--again, going by anime and manga--really, really like stuff about romance, relationships, emotions, and what have you. This game...was truly a bestseller in Japan. In America, the general impression was so-so, not bad, not as spectacular as FF VII, but not bad. Square really can't be blamed for catering to the masses (certainly not in America, at least...), for that instance. But then again, they were, after all, looking at what the Japanese wanted...and what they wanted is what they got.
Final Fantasy IX is still yet in the works, though nearly completed. Square has already announced, as you all know by now, that it's going to be going back to it's sword-and-sorcery roots. They did this because they checked out what the gamers were saying, that they wanted to see more stuff like that in the FF series, and, like any smart company, they made their product to fit the desires of the target audience.
On a personal note, if it had been another sci-fi game, I'd still probably end up buying it and loving it when it came out...if they had turned it all into a big Samurai drama (For those not learn'ed, think the Japanese equivalent of Old-West action movies), I'd still probably buy it! I'm like that, though.
At any rate, I will buy it, whether it gets good reviews or not. And if you, the reader, decide to buy it as well, I hope you enjoy it for what it is.
See you in line at the local EB
[Editor's Notes: This editorial is very well written. You've heard that a lot today I'm sure, and this is one of the last editorials you're probably reading. So, well, yeah. It's good for all the reasons the previous ones were. I have a quote for you guys (totally unrelated): Hail to the Sun God, He sure is a Fun God! Ra! Ra! Ra! I wish I made that up. I'd be a funny guy.]
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