Disclaimer: The views and opinions held in this piece are of those of the author. By no means are they representative of BagoGames as a whole.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a topic that has been getting on my nerves. On August 17th Alex Hutchinson (creative director for Assassin’s Creed III) had an interview with CVG. I’m not going to repeat the whole interview, but it can be found here (it is a great read by the way). What caught my attention is that on the second page, Hutchinson said:
“I think there’s a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists’ side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do. Japanese games are released where their stories are literally gibberish. Literally gibberish. There’s no way you could write it with a straight face, and the journalists say ‘oh it is brilliant'”.
Adding fuel to the fire, on August 23 Chris “The Bearded Gamer” made a video backing up Hutchinson’s claim the journalist are giving Japanese games a ‘free pass’. In the video Chris says:
“A game that actually tries to build a great cohesive stories off just a little bite, we tear them apart if they are built in the West and really that’s not fair..Can you really tell me that you can cohesively explain to me the narratives behind Resident Evil or Metal Gear? Seriously no one understands what’s happening in those games.”
Look, I respect Alex Hutchinson, Chris “The Bearded Gamer” Arnone, and their opinions. Please, don’t think that I am attacking them or calling them out, they are entitled to their opinions. I am just responding to them, and providing my opinion on this topic. OK, now that were are done with that, it’s on with the article.
Both Hutchinson and Chris said that Japanese games are forgiven for having poorly written, and nonsensical plot lines based solely on the fact that they are Japanese. I completely disagree with this, don’t they know that there are plenty of Western games that have ‘gibberish’ stories. Let’s look at Mortal Kombat. It was released last year to much acclaim and went on to win many fighting game of the year awards. Much praise was given to it’s brutal combat, great graphics, and a fun and unique story mode. However, can anyone say that Mortal Kombat‘s story was…you know, good? The story was nonsensical, convoluted, and down right confusing at times. But you know what, it was also good fun. Ed Boon and the team at Netherrealm probably had a lot of fun writing Mortal Kombat, and many of us had fun playing it.
Chris said that journalists will gladly tear Western games apart if their stories are off just a little bit, especially if they are trying to tell a cohesive one. I will gladly point him to take a look at the Call of Duty franchise. The Call of Duty games have been trying to tell cohesive stories since Modern Warfare, and challenge everyone to tell me what goes on in those stories. It’s pretty difficult, the Call of Duty stories are very convoluted and filled with plot holes that could house several campers. If you take a look at many of the reviews for that franchise, and not many reviewers take time to tear the stories apart. In fact, many reviewers just say, “you don’t play COD for story, you play for multiplayer.”
Now let’s change gears and look at a Japanese game. Tales of Graces f was released earlier this year to some good reviews. It was criticized for being linear, having poor graphics (I guess people forgot it was a port of a Wii game), and having general ‘archaic’ game designs. However, you know what reviewers criticized the most though? The story. Tales of Graces f tells a very cliched story about the power of friendship and using that power to stop a great evil. The characters were also criticized for being nothing more than cliches, and even borderline annoying. Was the story bad, or gibberish? No, I thought the story was entertaining for what it was. Sure it tells a tale that has been told a thousand times over, but does that make the story bad? Does telling a coherent, yet cliched story warrant being lambasted by almost every Western reviewer?
Which brings to why did reviewers not criticize Call of Duty for having a muddle mess of a story, but criticized Tales of Graces f for having a cliched one? Honestly, I think that Tales of Graces f story is leagues better than Call of Duty. Sure, it may be cliched, but at least Tales‘ story made sense. At least Tales‘ writing is what would be classified as good. Call of Duty‘s story is just there to move you from set piece to set piece. The story is a convoluted mess, and don’t get me started on the characters. When people have to say, “The character with the crappy fuax-hawk is cool,” or “the one with the epic ‘stauch,” in order to differentiate one from the other, you know the writing is bad.
But does that make Call of Duty any less of a game than Tales of Graces f? No, and gamers see that. It is about gameplay first and story second. I don’t have a problem with that, but what I do have a problem with one game getting criticized for something that another game gets away with. If you are going to tear apart Tales for being an overly-long My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode, then you better tear Call of Duty apart for being a stoner’s rant.
Alex Hutchinson said that there should be a universal standard when reviewing stories in gaming. I somewhat agree with this opinion. Some genres, like Fighting, Sports, and Platformers don’t have stories, or if they do it is very simple. What happens when it is time to review those? Are we expected to give them bad reviews? I think that if a game is trying to tell a story, then it should be criticized with the rest of the game. Street Fighter doesn’t try to tell a story, so don’t penalize it too much for not having one. Call of Duty does try to tell a story, so the story should be criticized with the rest of the game.
In the end, I think that no game should be given a free pass. It should not matter what region it came from, what franchise it is apart of, or what genre it is housed in, no free passes should be handed out. The same can be said for the opposite, don’t bring out your hate knife and nitpick every little thing just so you have a convenient excuse to give a bad review.