Culture Clash

When East meets West… sometimes we get confused.

By Aaron Roberts. Posted 08/16/2011 10:00 3 Comments     ShareThis

So, think about this: how many cliches do we see in the same Japanese RPGs again and again and again?  A lot, I’d say.  Thing is, it never seems to occur to developers how often these tried and true — yet hackneyed — ideas keep getting rehashed in game after game after game.  The truth is a lot of these are rooted in Japanese culture, tracing back to age old narrative traditions of the Eastern World whereas they just seem downright bizarre to us. We look at some of these patterns of gaming and outline why the Japanese seem to have an affinity for mute adolescents with massive hairstyles below.

A Hero With No Vocal Cords

Offending games:  Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, Paper Mario

The silent protagonist is not only seen in Japanese games, but it does dominate there. This didn’t matter so much with stuff like Pac-Man but it gets more obvious as technology advances.  The concept comes from wanting the player to feel as if he or she is the main character, a mostly Japanese concept, where Western gamers often prefer to see themselves as an outside force directing the player character’s actions.  The door swings both ways now, with Western games like Halo: Reach fielding silent protagonists, too.

Technology is Evil

Offending games:  Xenogears, Final Fantasy VI

Only the bad guys will have cool stuff like robots, lasers, indoor plumbing, cars, TV, and other such modern new-fangled conveniences.  Those kinds of doohickeys aren’t fit for moral, upright, honest citizens, who live in small farming villages and have nothing more technologically advanced than a water wheel.  This likely stems from Japan’s rapid cultural development, which went from the Middle Ages to the early 20th Century in a period of about fifteen years.  Higher-tech stuff, at least higher tech than swords and horse-drawn plows, was seen as an outside influence.

When It Comes To Hair, Bigger is Better:

Offending games:  A lot of them.  A whole lot.

Yeah, I don’t really know what’s up with this one.  Maybe it has something to do with the traditional samurai hairstyle?  And how it looks big and weird?  I got nothing.

The Sword Is The Most Powerful Weapon Ever Created:

Offending games:  Chrono Trigger, Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier

This one’s easy.  It stems, much like number two on this list, from the introduction of guns to Japan.  A gun was seen as a weapon that took no skill to use, while a sword was something that required much practice and training.  This way of thinking may be somewhat accurate, but it kind of overlooks the fact that since a gun is so easy to use, it is super easy to kill things with it.


Search Your Feelings, You Know It To Be True

Offending games:  Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy X

There is a strong chance that the bad guy may in fact be the main hero’s father, brother, mother, sister, childhood friend, or possibly something equally tragic.  It could, in theory, be blamed on the entire country watching Star Wars far too much, but since the Star Wars movies were originally based on samurai flicks, this may be an example of life imitating art imitating life imitating…no, I’m lost.

Empires are Bad, Kingdoms are Good

Offending Games:  Final Fantasy VI, Valkyria Chronicles, Radiant Historia


Pictured: what happens when you live in an empire.

This one doesn’t make a lot of sense as Japan itself was an empire.  Plus, the word “empire” may just be more ominous-sounding in English than in Japanese.  Regardless, you’ll note that empires are always evil when they appear in Japanese games, RPGs or not.  This one’s really kind of a head-scratcher.  Man, is there another Star Wars connection here?

Only Teenagers Can Have Adventures

Offending Games:  Practically all of them


Old, therefore dead.

The median legal adventuring age in most RPG kingdoms is about twelve, and anyone over the age of 22 is seen as an old fogey who should retire since clearly he/she is going to suffer complete knee collapse at any second.  This likely comes from the fact that, in Japan, once you finish high school, it’s time for you to either start studying twenty-one hours a day for college or start working six days a week at your job which you will be doing for the next sixty-seven years, unless you are lucky and die first.


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3 Responses to “Culture Clash”

  • 1329 points
    Andrew Hsieh says...

    Indoor plumbing is evil! We should all just poop in our backyards all day long. That’s how Cecil and Kain would do it.

    Thumb up 0
  • 261 points
    JasonMaivia says...

    Don’t be surprised if the main male hero ends up in a harem situatation.

    Thumb up 1
  • 132 points
    gekslupis says...

    The use of swords taking skill as mentioned is why it makes sense to have them in a game where the character levels up frequently. Though you could gain certain skills with a gun, such as aim and reloading, the way you improve with a sword opens the possiblity of learning skills to go along with basic stat boosts.

    Thumb up 0

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