I debated whether to weigh in on it because my feelings on the matter are complex, but it's bugging me, so what the hell. There's been a lot of chatter about how Nier Replicant's reception is indicative we're fully past the, let's say, Phil Fish phase of Japanese games criticism.
Trust me, as a localizer, I get where that excitement comes from. It's the rare instance of a game widely misunderstood in its time not only getting a second chance to make a case for itself, but to do so in an environment where its director has since gained much acclaim.
More people "get" the original Nier now and that's great. It has a lot of important things to say about games, their stories, and how they're told. But I think it's premature to say it suggests foreign discourse has become fully or even much more comfortable with Japanese games.
Daunting as it may appear, I think Nier's reputational rehabilitation, in a lot of ways, was the easy part in righting that ship. And I say that because for all it does differently and opaquely, at the end of the day, its mechanical design language is one that's largely familiar.
Yes, Nier games are known for shifting perspective, mechanics, and even storytelling style at times with their occasional textual interludes. Their execution is unique, but they take place within an action RPG framework, a style of game that's sold well globally since the 1980s.
Which is to say, Nier, even in its roughest form, always benefited from being a familiar-feeling game in terms of its core interactions. That in itself already goes a long way to making the experience feel approachable and it only becomes more so with additional refinements.
It's easy to probe people's ideas of games when it's done in a language they know and said language is articulated well. That's the difference Automata made, offering experiential polish that made it so people didn't feel like they had to compromise to see the point being made.
So when I see a second take on the original game not only plays better, but is better received, I'm glad, but I'm not surprised. Automata successfully argued Nier games have things to say in their mechanics and structure, leaving the door open for Replicant to be reevaluated.
Does it in indicate a greater willingness in foreign circles to critically engage with Japanese games than was the case in 2010? Maybe. But has that generosity truly extended to games in less familiar genres, perhaps with fewer localization sales successes? That I'm not so sure.
I've been thinking a lot about the foreign reception of games like 13 Sentinels and Gnosia. Games that, like Nier, have unique goals and structural executions, but speak very familiar design languages to Japanese players. Emphasis on that last part: familiar to Japanese players.
Instead of action RPGs, these are games that are in a similarly intimate conversation with Japanese adventure games, albeit arguably different schools of them. They sold, at least in the case of the former, well enough and certainly attracted passionate foreign followings.
But I think it's fair to say their overall impact overseas has been comparatively muted and I think a large part of that is because the conversation those games are having and the way players engage in it is largely less familiar. Genre arguments online certainly indicate that.
What of the games in genres with even smaller western footholds? If Uma Musume was released in English, would its gameplay strengths come across enough to explain its Japanese success despite most western players and critics lacking the vocabulary and context for raising games?
If a genuine localized version of Amagami came out, would it be appreciated for its own intricate dialogue with dating sim history? Or would it be understood only through the lens of its writing, its intentions possibly even misinterpreted given the lack of localized dating sims?
I don't have the answers to these questions. I'd like to be optimistic, but the well-intended reception I often get to my own posts and essays exploring such genres tells me that, at the very least, there are remain profound gaps left to bridged moving forward.
None of this, of course, is intended to dismiss Replicant's own accomplishments or imply that making games like it is by any means literally easy. Far from it. But it's always had enough going for it that, in a different environment, it doesn't surprise me it lands better now.
The real challenge continues to be in allowing critical space to be given to games in those less globally familiar genres that, often due to market dynamics and genre history, are rarely afforded the same benefit of the doubt in justifying their systems and underlying messages.

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More from @iiotenki

25 Apr
@dark1x For sure. I'm not trying to dismiss that there were genuine struggles or misfires made by Japanese publishers during that era, too. I think some of these things were compounded by slowness on western tool makers to localize their products, but that's another topic for another day
@dark1x And I do see a slow sea change happening within my own sphere of influence as well. That I can even talk about the games that I do and not immediately get laughed out of the room is real progress in western discourse that I'm grateful for and I don't want to overlook it.
@dark1x For me, it just feels like, there are some conversations among Japanese games that have been going on for a very long time and I think people sometimes mistake that reduced accessibility or insight into it as a given game lacking intention as a work.
Read 5 tweets
22 Apr
retrorgb.com/mechapwn-explo… Genuinely surprised I missed this somehow until now, but it sounds like there's a great softmod that works on a decent swath of PS2s that, among other things, allows you to permanently remove the region lock for both PS1 and PS2 games.
Not a universally necessary solution, but for someone like me who doesn't run games off a hard disk (AFAIK, those programs aren't 100% compatible and I suspect many of my Japanese games would run into issues), it's great now that replacement Swap Magics are long out of print.
Still requires that you have a way to run homebrew such as Freemcboot, but if you're one to even casually toy around with a physical PS2 in this day and age, you probably already have that. The rest of the process sounds simple and it's even reversible, which is always nice.
Read 4 tweets
19 Apr
If I have one life lesson to impart when it comes to Japanese games, it's "never get into collecting Japanese Windows games" because I've got my eye on an auction whose price is quickly entering worst case scenario territory and it's fueled by a bubble that hella bums me out.
I'm probably gonna enter the fray anyway because: 1. I don't think prices on it will go down THAT much even when the bubble bursts and 2. it's my birthday soon enough god damn it, but it definitely has me regretting not jumping on it sooner before the bubble happened.
My second life lesson is "if you get into Japanese Windows PC games anyway, do it in Japan" because bar none, the best deals I've had are in shops that know what they have, but are still below average because most of their foot traffic isn't PC folks and they have to clear stock.
Read 4 tweets
19 Apr
@johntv @RyougaSaotome @Aeana @revenantkioku You two might have seen my reply elsewhere to Eric and Elliot's exchange, so I won't belabor the point too much, but I would argue there were historically presentational differences between the two, even if the line did get significantly blurred over time.
@johntv @RyougaSaotome @Aeana @revenantkioku The differentiator for me is, what is the driver of the storytelling? Does the text do so much heavy lifting players are asked to imagine everything happening on screen, possibly even the characters like in SNs? Or do the devs more explicitly define certain elements like in VNs? ImageImage
@johntv @RyougaSaotome @Aeana @revenantkioku I can understand how many look at the example pics in the OP and don't see any differences and those ambiguities have pretty much always existed. It IS worth pointing out that sound novels tended to limit their visuals to just background imagery so as to not diminish the text.
Read 5 tweets
19 Apr
As an addendum, some might (quite fairly) ask where traditional dating sims (ie: the overtly mechanical ones that I cover) fall in this spectrum. The lineage can be opaque depending on how you define the starting point of dating sims, but let's drill it down to the essentials.
If you define the genesis for traditional dating sims as they're primarily understood and played as Tokimeki Memorial, then they're most broadly descended from a mixture of Japanese adventure games, as well as PC RPG, simulation/strategy, and raising games.
Tokimemo absolutely takes inspiration from PC games that came before it, but I consider a lot of them to be evolutionary dead ends that ultimately weren't aspiring to create quite such an experience, whereas Tokimemo absolutely laid out templates more games expanded upon.
Read 7 tweets
19 Apr
@revenantkioku @RyougaSaotome I hope you two don't mind me butting in. One thing to bear in mind with this ambiguity is that "visual novel" as a term itself originated as a brand name for what was essentially another company's sound novels, as Chunsoft owns the trademark for "sound novel" specifically.
@revenantkioku @RyougaSaotome To me, they're genres that absolutely have similar goals, but do have different philosophical approaches. Sound novels take the "novel" part rather seriously. The text is the real star of the show and any visuals or sounds present are there to augment it, but not supplant it.
@revenantkioku @RyougaSaotome It's why a lot of Japanese fans got quite uppity about 5pb's remake of Kamaitachi no Yoru into a genuine visual novel where each character has proper portraits and voice acting; they felt that it deviated from the entire point of the original game's presentation. ImageImage
Read 7 tweets

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