Are you still playing quirky Japanese hunt-em-up Tokyo Jungle? Released around a month ago in Western territories, the PSN title has proved quite the cult hit, with gamers keen to see just how long a dog, cat or deer can survive against an onslaught of tigers, crocodiles and stomping great elephants. Leigh Alexander recently wrapped up exactly what makes it so great.
While the game's concept is definitely a head-turner and gloriously different in a "shoot first, innovation later" industry, it was questionable that Western gamers would flock to it. After all, you don't often see Japanese survival games with roguelike elements hitting out shores often... or ever, for that matter.
And yet neither Crispy's and SCE Japan Studio, the dev teams behind the title, considered bringing Tokyo Jungle overseas a risk at all. Rather, they had a firm belief that they held the key to exactly what Western gamers are looking for in a Japanese-developed title.
"Although the scene is local in Tokyo, we felt that the 'animal survival concept in an abandoned world' would be a universal theme which would be accepted globally," explains Yohei Kataoka, game director at Crispy's.
Japan Studio producer Masaaki Yamagiwa adds, "We never thought that we were taking a risk in creating this game, as we believe the key in becoming successful overseas with a Japanese title is 'to develop a game embracing the Japanese uniqueness, not solely focusing on the Western market.'"
In fact, says Yamagiwa, he is often told by Tokyo Jungle's Western fans that they love the game for being so Japanese, rather than attempting to please Western culture -- and this is one of the issues that the Japanese video game industry is currently faltering with.
"It's not dying out," Kataoka says of his industry. "I think it is just it's not going well trying to mimic the Western titles.
"Users from other regions and Japanese users have different perspectives to begin with, so it's not surprising to see the gaps between what they think is fun versus what we think is fun. Japanese people should be 'Japanese' and simply create what they think is fun, and have other regions accept it as a novelty item."
Argues Kataoka, "It would be similar to acclaiming Japanese art, such as Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock paintings) and this type of relationship that Japan has had with other regions since ancient times. There is no need to keep consulting with the market overseas to create a great game."
The difference between critic reviews and how gamers have responded to the Fushigi no Dungeon (Mystery Dungeon) inspired game has been hugely polarizing. A 70+ Metacritic score would normally signal a game that is good but not great -- yet you wouldn't think that from the reaction to the title on social networks.
"Perhaps this is due to the fact that critics review the title overall considering multiple elements from system, to volume (scale), music, graphic quality, and difficulty," suggests Yamagiwa, "but gamers mainly focus on the strong attributes of the title."
He notes that his company Crispy’s "had no past experience in game development" when it took part in the PlayStation C.A.M.P! event, and subsequently started work on Tokyo Jungle -- SCEJ picked up the group simply for having new and inspiring ideas.
"As we started off knowing our game was developed under a director that did not come from a gaming background, we were not aiming to create a game that can score 100 percent in every element," he adds, "but a game that can offer a unique experience."