Not too long ago, I played Ninja Gaiden II on the XBOX 360. Though I had a number of problems with it, I would never criticize it for not being “western” enough. Apparently, Team Ninja didn’t feel the same way. They tried to infuse their franchise with elements considered to be western, which proved to be a failure for Ninja Gaiden III.
In an interview with Gamasutra, Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi explained what happened.
“It seems like we made a Japanese hamburger for the west…Maybe as a Japanese developer, we need to make good Japanese food … and that’s what people are wanting from a Japanese developer.”
Since that story was released, people have chimed in with a number of different interpretations of these statements, but the following sentiment from a user on Gamasutra has been echoed around the internet and it really bothers me.
There’s something to be said for sticking with what you’re good at, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiment that people’s creativity should be bound by their culture. At its worst, that statement could be classified as racist, though I’m fairly certain that this user and most people that agree with this don’t mean it in that way. At the very least, it’s ignorant to bound human creativity based on culture, especially when game creators have proven multiple times that they can make games beyond their cultural boundaries.
One of the best “Japanese hamburgers” I’ve experienced in recent memory was Vanquish. Platinum Games took inspiration from Gears of War and Halo to create an awesome third-person shooter with a heavy dose of Japanese influence. Taking that a step further back, this lineage proves that westerners can make “American sushi”. Gears of War was inspired by Kill.Switch and Resident Evil 4. Heck, Ninja Gaiden III tried to ape God of War, which was originally inspired by the Japanese-created Devil May Cry. From Guitar Hero to Kill Bill, there’s all sorts of examples of cross-cultural creations being successful in any form of media.
Ninja Gaiden III did not fail because it was a “Japanese hamburger”. It failed because it wasn’t a good “Japanese hamburger”. Though it can be really hard to make a good cross-cultural creation, that shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying to make a “Japanese hamburger”, nor should it discourage gamers from wanting “Japanese hamburgers”, because they can be just as delicious (if not better than) the ones from their native land if done right.