Do Japanese devs take inspiration from Western culture anymore?

For whatever reason, I can think of at least a few examples of Japanese video game series that started in the 1980s that were heavily influenced by American pop culture of the time. Donkey Kong had some pretty obvious similarities to King Kong. Metal Gear borrowed character designs from The Terminator, Escape from New York, and featured a story similar to Cold War action movies of the day. Yoshio Sakamoto has gone on record as saying that Alien was a huge influence on Metroid, and he famously named Ridley after director Ridley Scott.

But when I think of the games coming out of Japan recently, they seem to be getting more insular, and drawing more inspiration from the visual styles, tropes, and characterizations of Japanese manga and anime, and doing less of a reinterpretation/pastiche of Western pop culture. I think this is part of the reason that American gamers (and to an extent, the editors of Giant Bomb) have less interest in Japanese games of the last decade, as there is even less common ground to start from. I'm not saying that Japanese developers should be forced to include things that are familiar to Western gamers, but as a general observation, there seem to be less situations like the one where Sakamoto genuinely thought Alien was pretty cool and wanted to make a game with a similar atmosphere. I'm not sure why that is.

One of the only recent counterexamples that comes to mind is Suda 51, who takes it so far that he seems to almost have a fetish for American pop culture. His recent games have equal parts satirized and embraced the ridiculous violence and bloodshed that is popular in American video games, and if you go a little further back, Killer7 is surprisingly focused on political/cultural relations between the U.S. and Japan. Kingdom Hearts is another example, though it's less an interpretation of American pop culture as it is an awkward branding mashup of the naïve optimism of anime/manga protagonists with the naïve optimism of Disney protagonists. Binary Domain is probably a better example, in that it borrows a lot of ideas from famous Western sci-fi novels and film, but isn't a direct adaptation of any of them.

Are there any other examples of recent Japanese games that have drawn considerable inspiration from Western sources?

44 Comments
45 Comments
Posted by BisonHero

For whatever reason, I can think of at least a few examples of Japanese video game series that started in the 1980s that were heavily influenced by American pop culture of the time. Donkey Kong had some pretty obvious similarities to King Kong. Metal Gear borrowed character designs from The Terminator, Escape from New York, and featured a story similar to Cold War action movies of the day. Yoshio Sakamoto has gone on record as saying that Alien was a huge influence on Metroid, and he famously named Ridley after director Ridley Scott.

But when I think of the games coming out of Japan recently, they seem to be getting more insular, and drawing more inspiration from the visual styles, tropes, and characterizations of Japanese manga and anime, and doing less of a reinterpretation/pastiche of Western pop culture. I think this is part of the reason that American gamers (and to an extent, the editors of Giant Bomb) have less interest in Japanese games of the last decade, as there is even less common ground to start from. I'm not saying that Japanese developers should be forced to include things that are familiar to Western gamers, but as a general observation, there seem to be less situations like the one where Sakamoto genuinely thought Alien was pretty cool and wanted to make a game with a similar atmosphere. I'm not sure why that is.

One of the only recent counterexamples that comes to mind is Suda 51, who takes it so far that he seems to almost have a fetish for American pop culture. His recent games have equal parts satirized and embraced the ridiculous violence and bloodshed that is popular in American video games, and if you go a little further back, Killer7 is surprisingly focused on political/cultural relations between the U.S. and Japan. Kingdom Hearts is another example, though it's less an interpretation of American pop culture as it is an awkward branding mashup of the naïve optimism of anime/manga protagonists with the naïve optimism of Disney protagonists. Binary Domain is probably a better example, in that it borrows a lot of ideas from famous Western sci-fi novels and film, but isn't a direct adaptation of any of them.

Are there any other examples of recent Japanese games that have drawn considerable inspiration from Western sources?

Posted by Simplexity

Deadly Premonition.

Posted by Ujio

Maybe the Japanese don't see anything worth borrowing from.

Posted by Demoskinos

Dragons Dogma? Dark Souls? Both games that borrow heavily from western dark fantasy. I'm sure there are others if I'd actually sit down and think about it.

Posted by DonutFever

@Ujio Yeah, there's NOTHING worth borrowing from Western culture.

Posted by Dagbiker

I like to think that FFXIII-2 was themed off of Doctor Who.

Posted by Totori

isn't that all they do now a days?

Posted by Humanity

@DonutFever said:

@Ujio Yeah, there's NOTHING worth borrowing from Western culture.

A desolate wasteland of hamburgers and first person shooters. Not nearly as creative as the desolate wasteland of sprite based RPGs.

Posted by ImmortalSaiyan

@Simplexity said:

Deadly Premonition.

Precisely.

Posted by binhoker

you had best ask them.

Posted by AlexW00d

Isn't that what most games do? Like, the enemy types seem to be named after Norse or Greek mythology quite often. It all seems to pull more from European history and mythology than Japanese or Asian in general, I think.

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Posted by BisonHero

@AlexW00d said:

Isn't that what most games do? Like, the enemy types seem to be named after Norse or Greek mythology quite often. It all seems to pull more from European history and mythology than Japanese or Asian in general, I think.

True, they do really like borrowing from European mythology, but as my main post says, I was talking mostly about inspiration coming from pop culture, not history and mythology. Unfortunately, the character limit for the thread title forced me to say "Western culture" instead of "Western pop culture".

Posted by Spoonman671

Frankly, I don't think it's just the western world that has become disenchanted with Japanese games.  I wouldn't be so sure the Japanese are that into them either.

Posted by AlexW00d

@BisonHero said:

@AlexW00d said:

Isn't that what most games do? Like, the enemy types seem to be named after Norse or Greek mythology quite often. It all seems to pull more from European history and mythology than Japanese or Asian in general, I think.

True, they do really like borrowing from European mythology, but as my main post says, I was talking mostly about inspiration coming from pop culture, not history and mythology. Unfortunately, the character limit for the thread title forced me to say "Western culture" instead of "Western pop culture".

Oh ok, in that case, I have no idea. I have no real grasp on Western pop culture as it is :/

Online
Posted by BestUsernameEver

Vanquish.

Edited by believer258

@Simplexity said:

Deadly Premonition.

@Demoskinos said:

Dragons Dogma? Dark Souls? Both games that borrow heavily from western dark fantasy. I'm sure there are others if I'd actually sit down and think about it.

@BestUsernameEver said:

Vanquish.

And then the aforementioned Binary Domain.

Both sides probably take more inspiration from each other than can be seen while looking in from "the outside". We're talking about two very different cultures here; that either side can have any significance on the other is quite astonishing in and of itself, and that both sides are slowing down on the influences they take from each other doesn't sound that surprising to me. A bit unfortunate, maybe, but not really something entirely out of character.

Posted by BestUsernameEver

@believer258 said:

@Simplexity said:

Deadly Premonition.

@Demoskinos said:

Dragons Dogma? Dark Souls? Both games that borrow heavily from western dark fantasy. I'm sure there are others if I'd actually sit down and think about it.

@BestUsernameEver said:

Vanquish.

And then the aforementioned Binary Domain.

Both sides probably take more inspiration from each other than can be seen while looking in from "the outside". We're talking about two very different cultures here; that either side can have any significance on the other is quite astonishing in and of itself, and that both sides are slowing down on the influences they take from each other doesn't sound that surprising to me. A bit unfortunate, maybe, but not really something entirely out of character.

I hate people that think Japanese game and western games are pure and distinctly their own, no, they all, (western Europe, eastern europe, canada, japan, USA) all influence eachother. Let's stop trying to be on camps of one or the other, and just buy good games, mmkay OP?

Posted by believer258

@BestUsernameEver said:

@believer258 said:

@Simplexity said:

Deadly Premonition.

@Demoskinos said:

Dragons Dogma? Dark Souls? Both games that borrow heavily from western dark fantasy. I'm sure there are others if I'd actually sit down and think about it.

@BestUsernameEver said:

Vanquish.

And then the aforementioned Binary Domain.

Both sides probably take more inspiration from each other than can be seen while looking in from "the outside". We're talking about two very different cultures here; that either side can have any significance on the other is quite astonishing in and of itself, and that both sides are slowing down on the influences they take from each other doesn't sound that surprising to me. A bit unfortunate, maybe, but not really something entirely out of character.

I hate people that think Japanese game and western games are pure and distinctly their own, no, they all, (western Europe, eastern europe, canada, japan, USA) all influence eachother. Let's stop trying to be on camps of one or the other, and just buy good games, mmkay OP?

They are quite distinct. You probably wouldn't see Metro 2033 get made here in America, and I strongly doubt that something like Xenosaga would ever be made here either. That's just because our cultures are quite different.

Posted by BisonHero

@BestUsernameEver: I'm all for buying and playing good games. But I'm also in support of as much cross-pollination between cultures, because that's the kind of merging of ideas that led to cool stuff like Metroid and Metal Gear.

Unfortunately, it seems that not very many American/Canadian/European devs are very likely to pay attention to Asian cinema and literature (though at least manga and anime are more widely translated and available than they used to be), but the converse at least seems to happen slightly more often. Either way, I think it always leads to interesting games when you have somebody look at another culture's story or idea and put their own spin on it.

Posted by MikeGosot

Does anybody knows of an example of the contrary? When an American developer takes inspiration from Japanese culture?
Also, i think that Western-inspired-Japanese-games are more interesting because they're playing with an foreign culture, so it's more likely that they'll come up with something different, therefore, it has more chances to caught our attention.

Posted by Jimbo

I don't think they're very good at getting the balance right yet, and it is tough.  If they don't take enough then western audiences aren't comfortable with it and reject it, and if they take too much then they typically end up with something which is just an inferior version of an existing product and the audience still rejects it (plenty of western devs are guilty of the latter too).
 
It's not really the cultural side of things they need to worry about imo - they aren't going to out-Western a western dev team in that regard (but they should be able to turn that different culture into a strength). What they do need to worry about is adhering to how control schemes and UIs etc. have become standardised.  Not necessarily the game mechanics themselves, but the busy work which western audiences have become used to working a particular way.  Also how western audiences like a game to flow and have some kind of respect for internal consistency.  
 
Basically what I'm saying is you can make your enemies giant bird robots or something hella Japanese like that, but don't bring the game to a screeching halt to load into the battle screen and have your allies appear out of thin air.  Don't have a control scheme which has the same functionality as the western standard, but works just differently enough to be annoying to anybody used to the standard.

Posted by Demoskinos

@believer258 said:

@BestUsernameEver said:

@believer258 said:

@Simplexity said:

Deadly Premonition.

@Demoskinos said:

Dragons Dogma? Dark Souls? Both games that borrow heavily from western dark fantasy. I'm sure there are others if I'd actually sit down and think about it.

@BestUsernameEver said:

Vanquish.

And then the aforementioned Binary Domain.

Both sides probably take more inspiration from each other than can be seen while looking in from "the outside". We're talking about two very different cultures here; that either side can have any significance on the other is quite astonishing in and of itself, and that both sides are slowing down on the influences they take from each other doesn't sound that surprising to me. A bit unfortunate, maybe, but not really something entirely out of character.

I hate people that think Japanese game and western games are pure and distinctly their own, no, they all, (western Europe, eastern europe, canada, japan, USA) all influence eachother. Let's stop trying to be on camps of one or the other, and just buy good games, mmkay OP?

They are quite distinct. You probably wouldn't see Metro 2033 get made here in America, and I strongly doubt that something like Xenosaga would ever be made here either. That's just because our cultures are quite different.

Exactly this. There is a big distinction between Japanese and Western games. Visual Novels and dating sims are huge in japan as are mobile gaming but you don't see any of that in the west simply because the culture is different. Similarly FPS games are still not really popular in japan.

Posted by AlexanderSheen
Posted by thatpinguino

Persona 4's TV world draws from all sorts of pop-cultures, for example the hulk hogan monsters. Vanquish is a rehash of old action movie tropes.

Posted by Cloudenvy

@AlexanderSheen said:

Dead Rising

Is terrible.

*runs away*

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

@Ujio said:

Maybe the Japanese don't see anything worth borrowing from.

Yeah, I mean Japanese developers are the only ones making good things, and those games are all perfect!

To answer the original question, they do, but not as much as I'd like. I talk a lot of shit about things like Anime and Eastern game development, but they do some cool ass shit. It's just that the cool ass shit is buried beneath so much other crap. Vanquish is an awesome example of merging some of the Western ideals with Eastern ideas. Enslaved was a cool thing that blended parts of different cultures as well. I forget if that was an Eastern or Western dev, but either way it's a good example of how taking ques from each other can be a good thing.

A good example of how NOT to do it is Lost Planet 2.

Posted by AlexanderSheen

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

Dead Rising

Is terrible.

*runs away*

I never played it so I don't know how it is, but it took inspiration from the west... *cough* Frank West

Posted by Cloudenvy

@AlexanderSheen said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

Dead Rising

Is terrible.

*runs away*

I never played it so I don't know how it is, but it took inspiration from the west... *cough* Frank West

Awwwwwwwwww, well. He's covered wars, you know.

Posted by AlexanderSheen

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

Dead Rising

Is terrible.

*runs away*

I never played it so I don't know how it is, but it took inspiration from the west... *cough* Frank West

Awwwwwwwwww, well. He's covered wars, you know.

No mention of my horrible awesome pun at the end? I was really happy about it for like 5 seconds.

Posted by Cloudenvy

@AlexanderSheen said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

Dead Rising

Is terrible.

*runs away*

I never played it so I don't know how it is, but it took inspiration from the west... *cough* Frank West

Awwwwwwwwww, well. He's covered wars, you know.

No mention of my horrible awesome pun at the end? I was really happy about it for like 5 seconds.

I tend to ignore puns as much as possible. You did make me groan out loud though, if that makes you feel any better.

Posted by AlexanderSheen

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@AlexanderSheen said:

Dead Rising

Is terrible.

*runs away*

I never played it so I don't know how it is, but it took inspiration from the west... *cough* Frank West

Awwwwwwwwww, well. He's covered wars, you know.

No mention of my horrible awesome pun at the end? I was really happy about it for like 5 seconds.

I tend to ignore puns as much as possible. You did make me groan out loud though, if that makes you feel any better.

After that 5 seconds it made me groan too and shaking my head with disgust. Sorry about that.

Posted by Yummylee

I definitely agree with the Suda thing. He's kinda like the Quentin Tarantino of video games, just, y'know, also the complete opposite.

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Posted by BestUsernameEver

@believer258 said:

@BestUsernameEver said:

@believer258 said:

@Simplexity said:

Deadly Premonition.

@Demoskinos said:

Dragons Dogma? Dark Souls? Both games that borrow heavily from western dark fantasy. I'm sure there are others if I'd actually sit down and think about it.

@BestUsernameEver said:

Vanquish.

And then the aforementioned Binary Domain.

Both sides probably take more inspiration from each other than can be seen while looking in from "the outside". We're talking about two very different cultures here; that either side can have any significance on the other is quite astonishing in and of itself, and that both sides are slowing down on the influences they take from each other doesn't sound that surprising to me. A bit unfortunate, maybe, but not really something entirely out of character.

I hate people that think Japanese game and western games are pure and distinctly their own, no, they all, (western Europe, eastern europe, canada, japan, USA) all influence eachother. Let's stop trying to be on camps of one or the other, and just buy good games, mmkay OP?

They are quite distinct. You probably wouldn't see Metro 2033 get made here in America, and I strongly doubt that something like Xenosaga would ever be made here either. That's just because our cultures are quite different.

Not my point at all, I am saying they all share ideas and concepts more than people realize.

Posted by tithin

@MikeGosot said:

Does anybody knows of an example of the contrary? When an American developer takes inspiration from Japanese culture? Also, i think that Western-inspired-Japanese-games are more interesting because they're playing with an foreign culture, so it's more likely that they'll come up with something different, therefore, it has more chances to caught our attention.

The most striking example would probably be the DmC reboot. A western developed take on an ostensibly japanese series.

Posted by believer258

@BestUsernameEver said:

@believer258 said:

@BestUsernameEver said:

@believer258 said:

@Simplexity said:

Deadly Premonition.

@Demoskinos said:

Dragons Dogma? Dark Souls? Both games that borrow heavily from western dark fantasy. I'm sure there are others if I'd actually sit down and think about it.

@BestUsernameEver said:

Vanquish.

And then the aforementioned Binary Domain.

Both sides probably take more inspiration from each other than can be seen while looking in from "the outside". We're talking about two very different cultures here; that either side can have any significance on the other is quite astonishing in and of itself, and that both sides are slowing down on the influences they take from each other doesn't sound that surprising to me. A bit unfortunate, maybe, but not really something entirely out of character.

I hate people that think Japanese game and western games are pure and distinctly their own, no, they all, (western Europe, eastern europe, canada, japan, USA) all influence eachother. Let's stop trying to be on camps of one or the other, and just buy good games, mmkay OP?

They are quite distinct. You probably wouldn't see Metro 2033 get made here in America, and I strongly doubt that something like Xenosaga would ever be made here either. That's just because our cultures are quite different.

Not my point at all, I am saying they all share ideas and concepts more than people realize.

Ah. Well, the first sentence ("I hate people that think...") made me understand otherwise, but it appears that I interpreted that wrongly and we're just describing different sides of the same coin. Both are distinct yet still influenced by each other.

Posted by Ujio

@MordeaniisChaos said:

@Ujio said:

Maybe the Japanese don't see anything worth borrowing from.

Yeah, I mean Japanese developers are the only ones making good things, and those games are all perfect!

What?

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

@Ujio: I'm saying that would be an incredibly ignorant point of view for them to have, especially as many of their companies continue to struggle to perform the way they used to. And it's pretty clear that they do see things worth borrowing, because the Eastern part of the industry is constantly learning from the Western side. Maybe not as much as I'd like, but there is no denying that it's happening and that it's good.

Edited by Ujio

@MordeaniisChaos said:

@Ujio: I'm saying that would be an incredibly ignorant point of view for them to have, especially as many of their companies continue to struggle to perform the way they used to. And it's pretty clear that they do see things worth borrowing, because the Eastern part of the industry is constantly learning from the Western side. Maybe not as much as I'd like, but there is no denying that it's happening and that it's good.

Yo...chill. Just because I wrote that doesn't mean it's true and for YOU to interpret that and get all bent out of shape is stupid. So chill out. Nobody is picking on Japan or picking on America. It's a fucking harmless comment. Don't get all defensive over it, OK? Thanks.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

@Ujio: I'm perfectly calm, and not bent out of shape or defensive of anyone. If you were just saying it for the sake of saying it and not to get some sort of response to it that might happen to be contrary, why on earth did you post it in the first place? You're the one making a big deal out of this. If you were just posting for the sake of saying some vague mayhaps that you didn't have any allegiance too, then I'm sorry to have contradicted your non-statement, but ya shouldn't have posted it if it didn't mean anything.

Posted by Ujio

@MordeaniisChaos said:

@Ujio: why on earth did you post it in the first place?

Duh...because I was offering a reason to the person who asked the question. That's pretty much it; no ulterior motive.

I'm not making a big deal. You're the one that replied to my comment and took it the wrong way and now you're trying to turn it around and say I'm the bad guy for posting in the first place.

Whatever. Have a good night.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

@Ujio: Duder, I'm not making you out to be the bad guy, just offering a contrary position. It's a forum, a place for discussion, if you can't handle someone discussing something in the context of what you said about it, maybe you should either A) ignore it or B) not post in a forum.

You're the one making a big deal, I was just trying to point out the ignorance of s position like that. Not even your position, but someone who thought in the way you were suggesting. This thread is to discuss the nature of cultural influence and learning from the successes and mistakes of folks in other hemispheres and other cultures. That's what I was responding to.

Posted by chrissedoff

@MordeaniisChaos: @Ujio: "I'm totally calm!" "Well I'm calmer than you are dude!" "No way! It's obvious I am being the most calm here!"

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

@chrissedoff: Bazinga!

Edited by Ujio

@MordeaniisChaos said:

@Ujio: Duder, I'm not making you out to be the bad guy, just offering a contrary position. It's a forum, a place for discussion, if you can't handle someone discussing something in the context of what you said about it, maybe you should either A) ignore it or B) not post in a forum.

You're the one making a big deal, I was just trying to point out the ignorance of s position like that. Not even your position, but someone who thought in the way you were suggesting. This thread is to discuss the nature of cultural influence and learning from the successes and mistakes of folks in other hemispheres and other cultures. That's what I was responding to.

There is NO position by me. I simply said maybe they don't find anything worth borrowing. Then you come barging in with your smart ass "Yeah, because the Japanese are the only ones making good things and those games are all perfect?"

That's why I replied with "What" because I have no idea what the hell you were talking about or where the hell you get off inferring anything like that.

Sounds like you need to practice what you preach and learn to "ignore it" especially if your first tactic is to launch a smartass comment because you misinterpret someone else's post. Don't try and bullshit a bullshitter, OK? Thanks.

Posted by President_Barackbar
@Jimbo said:
I don't think they're very good at getting the balance right yet, and it is tough.  If they don't take enough then western audiences aren't comfortable with it and reject it, and if they take too much then they typically end up with something which is just an inferior version of an existing product and the audience still rejects it (plenty of western devs are guilty of the latter too).  It's not really the cultural side of things they need to worry about imo - they aren't going to out-Western a western dev team in that regard (but they should be able to turn that different culture into a strength). What they do need to worry about is adhering to how control schemes and UIs etc. have become standardised.  Not necessarily the game mechanics themselves, but the busy work which western audiences have become used to working a particular way.  Also how western audiences like a game to flow and have some kind of respect for internal consistency.    Basically what I'm saying is you can make your enemies giant bird robots or something hella Japanese like that, but don't bring the game to a screeching halt to load into the battle screen and have your allies appear out of thin air.  Don't have a control scheme which has the same functionality as the western standard, but works just differently enough to be annoying to anybody used to the standard.
I think this is the most salient point. The reason I tend to react against most Japanese games isn't really their content, but more the fact that to someone used to playing a lot of Western games, Japanese games feel broken and janky. Japanese devs DO borrow from Western devs, but they seem to be borrowing the wrong things.