While we're waiting for my voice to recover, I guess we can spend a little time discussing something touched on in the upcoming Chrontendo 26. Namely, the vast disparity in the tastes of Japanese and Western gamers. No one would be surprised that folks in Japan, with their undying love for talky RPGs, Visual Novels, Dating Sims, and straight-up porn games, don't always see eye to eye with gamers in the US (who love First Person Shooters, PC Strategy games, and sports games). But there must be some points on which gamers on both sides of the Pacific agree; everyone loves Mario and Zelda, right?
And while, yes, that is true, Japanese gamers do tend to view the canon of "Great Video Games" a little differently than we do. The jumping off point for this discussion is a reader's poll undertaken by the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu in 2006. Famitsu is the most widely read, prestigious gaming magazine in Japan; there's nothing quite equivalent to it in the US. So I'm going to assume Famitsu's readership is pretty representative of the Japanese geek population: mainstream enough to be interested in the big, popular games Famitsu promotes, but hardcore enough to actually bother reading a video game magazine.
Famitsu's readers voted on the all-time best video games, and the magazine compiled the results into a list of 100 titles. Looking at the top ten is quite revealing.
1. Final Fantasy X (PS2)
2. Final Fantasy VII (PS)
3. Dragon Quest III (Famicom)
4. Dragon Quest VIII (PS2)
5. Machi (PS/Saturn)
6. Final Fantasy IV (Super Famicom)
7. Tactics Ogre (Super Famicom)
8. Final Fantasy III (Famicom)
9. Dragon Quest VII (PS)
10. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Damn! We know they love Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest in Japan - but SEVEN out of the top ten? Apparently the best Playstation, PS2 and Super Famicom games are all Final Fantasy titles? And for those who are wondering, Machi is a visual novel from Chunsoft, and Tactics Ogre is a tactical RPG from Quest.
We are the champions.
And the next ten games on the list? Six more Square/Enix RPGs, two games in Sega's dating sim/RPG series, Sakura Taisen, one Hudson RPG... and Street Fighter II. Entries 21-30 contain another seven Square/Enix RPGs.
One of the striking things about the list is just how monolithic it is. RPGs completely dominate. Aside from the Square/Enix games, we'll find such series as Ogre, Megami Tensei, Tales, Mother, Mystery Dungeon, Grandia, and Fire Emblem.... Yet certain series are completely and inexplicable locked out: Capcom's Breath of Fire, Sega's Phantasy Star and Shining games, Konami's Suikoden, and Game Art's Lunar. Most baffling of all is the exclusion of series from the otherwise over-represented publishers, namely Enix's Star Ocean games and Nintendo's Mario RPGs.
For comparison, I picked out a couple random top ten lists from English language sources. First up is a very recent list from GameSpite's readership. The site has somewhat of a retro/Japanese bias, so one would think there would be some points of intersections with Famitu's list.
1. Super Metroid (SNES)
2. Chrono Trigger (SNES)
3. Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
6. Mega Man 2 (NES)
7. Final Fantasy Tactics (PS)
8. EarthBound (SNES)
9. Super Mario World (SNES)
10. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS)
And from a somewhat more mainstream source, here's IGN's list from 2005.
1. Resident Evil 4 (GC/PS2)
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
3. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (PS2/XBox)
4. Chrono Trigger (SNES)
5. Half-Life 2 (PC/XBox)
6. God of War (PS2)
7. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)
8. Soul Calibur (DC)
9. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)
10. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
These two lists have more in common that is immediately obvious. Super Metroid, Final Fantasy IV and Symphony of the Night all place very high in IGN's list, just below the top ten. And Ocarina of Time and MGS 3 made the top 20 of GameSpite's list. Both lists share numerous titles, including, interestingly enough, Suikoden II.
Suikoden: Weirdly popular in the West
After scanning enough of such lists, a cannon of classic Japanese video games emerges: Zelda and Super Mario 3 for the NES. Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and Link to the Past for the SNES. Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation. Super Mario 64, Goldeneye 007 and Ocarina of Time for the N64.
Oddly, with few exceptions, these games aren't topping Japan's list. Chrono Trigger checks in at #28, Link to the Past at #31, Metal Gear Solid at #50, and Super Mario Bros. 3 at... #99! Super Metroid, Symphony of the Night, Goldeneye 007, and Super Mario 64 do not make the Famitsu list at all. Crazy, huh?
Mario is Missing
When the chips are down, it seems the one game both East and West can agree upon without reservation is Ocarina of Time. I guess it has just the right amount of action, exploration, RPG elements, cuteness and ease of use for everyone.
A few stray observations. Out of the top 40 games on the Famitsu list, 29 are either Square, Enix or Nintendo.
US gamers like Sega RPGs more than Japanese gamers. If its not Sakura Taisen, it's not on the Famitsu list.
Sega consoles are under represented on the Famitsu list. Only three Genesis games make the top 100.
US lists tend to give equal space to both Western and Japanese games. The Famitsu top 100 contains only three Western games.
Square's Saga series rates much better than Seiken Densetsu/Mana on the Famitsu list with only Secret of Mana at #97.
Loved the world over.
A few other Western top 10s.
1. Super Metroid
3. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
4. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
5. Super Mario 64
6. Soul Calibur
7. Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
8. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
9. Final Fantasy VI
10. Super Mario World
1. Final Fantasy VII
2. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
3. Chrono Trigger
4. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
5. Super Mario Bros. 3
6. Super Smash Bros. Melee
7. GoldenEye 007
8. Metal Gear Solid
10 Final Fantasy VI
1. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Resident Evil 4
3. Super Mario 64
4. Half Life 2
5. Super Mario World
6. Zelda: A Link to the Past
8. Final Fantasy XII
10. Super Metroid
What does every Western top 10 have in common? A Link to the Past.
Some pics ripped from GameFaqs.