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The Hidden Depths of Otaku Games

Are titles like the upcoming Senran Kagura Burst nothing but fanservicey pandering, or do they offer something more? Pete chats at length with Xseed and NIS America about the more misunderstood end of Japanese video game culture.

Article by Pete Davison, .

I make no secret of the fact that I'm generally drawn to Japanese games in preference to Western titles -- as, I know from reading many of your comments, are many of you reading this.

My own reasons for feeling this way are manyfold: the games I particularly enjoy tend to have an immediately appealing, colorful aesthetic; they tend to have very strong, well-defined (if often tropetastic) characters; and, in many cases, they're willing to delve into subject matter that more conservative Western publishers won't touch -- not just the more obvious taboo subjects like sexuality and violence, but also topics like depression, self-esteem, finding out your place in the world and all manner of other thought-provoking material. This isn't to say that Western games aren't also capable of this, of course -- many Western titles are, in fact, starting to explore more challenging subject matter, particularly in the independent sector -- but we still have a long way to go.

There's a bit of a problem, though, and it's to do with negative perception from those who aren't already immersed and invested in the culture of Japanese media -- not just games, but also anime and manga, too. To a certain degree it could be argued that Japanese media brings this problem on itself by being unapologetically insular and focused on catering to specific niches -- but at the same time, there's a lot of people out there who don't look at the whole picture and instead settle for a kneejerk reaction based on limited evidence.

From a game perspective, I'm referring specifically to the phenomenon some refer to as "otaku games" -- those experiences that can often look to an outsider like the very worst kind of fanservicey pandering. Generally filled to the brim with big-eyed moe girls, gratuitous panty shots, a strong dose of obvious male gaze and physically improbable breast physics, it's extremely easy to dismiss these experiences as being nothing more than shallow titillation for horny teenage boys. If you're someone who habitually derides Japanese games out of hand for this reason, you are, of course, perfectly entitled to your opinion, but I would at least urge you to look a little deeper into the nature of these experiences before making a decision as to how you feel about them, one way or another.

Unsurprisingly, that's what we're here to talk about today.

I don't quite have it in me to hate a game where one of the special attacks involves a character having a hissy fit and stomping on her plushie.

I'd like to talk frankly about my own opinions and tastes first of all, then I'm going to share some thoughts that representatives from Xseed and NIS America -- two publishers who specialize in this kind of laser-focused, niche-interest content -- have been kind enough to share with me. Whether or not you've changed your opinion by the end of this piece will, of course, be entirely up to the individual, but if nothing else I hope you'll at least feel a little more well-informed and perhaps justified in your opinions, whatever they might be, by the end.

I've been a fan of Japanese games since Final Fantasy VII -- yes, I know, I know -- but I've only really become strongly invested in Japanese popular entertainment as a whole (i.e. including anime and manga) in the last couple of years. I primarily attribute my interest in this sort of experience to the fan-developed visual novel Katawa Shoujo, which was released onto an unsuspecting world in January of last year.

This is Finnel, from Ar Tonelico Qoga. Probably the least interesting thing you can say about her character is that she takes her clothes off during battle.

For those unfamiliar, Katawa Shoujo isn't actually a Japanese game at all; its origins may lie in a Japanese doujinshi artist's sketches depicting girls with various physical disabilities, but the project as a whole was actually developed largely by English speakers. It is, however, very Japanese in its sensibilities: it's set in Japan, stars Japanese characters and makes use of a lot of Japanese cultural norms. It's also fairly representative of the (largely Japanese-developed) visual novel genre in that it's a very character-driven story that doesn't shy away from difficult subject matter, whether that's the nature of the girls' disabilities themselves -- which actually end up being the least important parts of the game's various narrative paths -- or the more deep-seated issues each of them are dealing with. And yes, it includes explicit sex scenes -- though it is worth noting that as in many other visual novels that put story before sex, these aren't designed to be titillating, and in at least one case are genuinely uncomfortable to witness.

After spending more than 40 hours devouring Katawa Shoujo and seeing everything it had to offer, I wanted more, so I started delving into the world of Japanese-developed visual novels that had been translated to English. Along the way, I discovered a variety of different experiences that are now among my favorite games of all time: the myriad branching pathways of School Days; the emotional punch in the face that is the coming of age story Kira Kira; the genuinely amusing ridiculousness of My Girlfriend is the President; the wonderfully crafted fantasy world of Aselia the Eternal. I absolutely adored all of these experiences, but at the same time I was also conscious of the fact that there were only a few people I knew who would appreciate these games for what they actually were rather than what they thought they were.

I have a few friends who err towards the "otaku" side of things -- both male and female, it's perhaps worth adding -- who recommended a few other experiences that they thought I might want to try, having seen the sort of experiences I was enjoying. One of these was Gust's Ar Tonelico series, which I looked back on in great detail here so won't repeat myself on that note, and another of which was Idea Factory and Compile Heart's Hyperdimension Neptunia series. Both of these were published by NIS America in the West; both are regarded less than favorably by the mainstream; both are, conversely, beloved by their respective groups of fans.

Hyperdimension Neptunia in particular is a series that endures a lot of criticism from outside the niche it occupies. Each of the three games has improved significantly on its predecessor, though each is still technically inferior to the vast majority of other games on PS3, suffering low framerates, chunky visuals and somewhat repetitive gameplay -- enough to put some people off. Others, meanwhile, find the games' "jiggly boob" event pictures and distinctly Japanese sense of self-referential, cheeky, occasionally perverted sense of humor distasteful or gratuitous, and are discouraged from playing the game for these reasons instead.

Personally speaking, though, ever since I fell in love with that curious cast of personified game consoles and developers in the first game, all the flaws ceased to matter to me, and I'm clearly not alone in that -- we wouldn't have had three games brought to the West otherwise. I have found all of the Neptunia games enormously enjoyable primarily for the entertaining interactions between the characters, not necessarily their gameplay -- though it's worth noting that Neptunia mk2 and Neptunia Victory are both also considerably better games on the whole than their extremely clunky but oddly endearing predecessor.

Neptunia continues to appeal to me almost entirely because I like the characters and the way they behave towards one another.

"Cultural norms between Japan and the West vary greatly at times in terms of sexuality, so what could seem fairly tame in one region, may be construed as completely inappropriate in others."

Ryan Phillips, NIS America

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover as I progressed that the Neptunia series is, despite its obvious fanservice, actually a lot more positive towards women than you might think on first impression. The entire cast is made up of very capable women who never need a man to fix their problems -- men are, in fact, usually relegated to subservient and/or incompetent roles when they do appear in the series, which isn't that often -- and in all three games it's quite strongly implied that all the main cast is if not outright gay then certainly bisexual. This latter point doesn't tend to be played for titillation, either; it's simply something taken for granted, much as it is in yuri [lesbian-themed] anime and manga. The idea of non-heterosexual lifestyles being depicted as so normal they're barely worth mentioning or drawing attention to is actually quite a powerful, positive message to send, and I find myself wondering how many people even knew that about this series.

In other words, there's a lot going on beneath the surface of a game like Hyperdimension Neptunia and it's certainly not an isolated case, either: we saw something similar with Time and Eternity a while back, too. This was another NIS America-published title widely derided for superficially appearing to be riddled with sexist fanservice and featuring an obnoxious main character, when in fact the truth of the matter was that it was merely a title firmly in keeping with the sort of characters and situations found in your average anime -- and one which, upon further investigation, revealed itself to have plenty of enjoyable hidden depths and interesting characters.

In all these cases, there's a certain amount of cultural context to consider that the most vocal critics don't seem to be bearing in mind; this is, to a degree, a valid viewpoint given that we tend to judge media we consume via our own cultural standards rather than those of the country of origin, but at the same time this also raises questions about whether or not it's fair to do so. These games, after all, weren't originally developed for "us," though there is, of course, a clear, passionate market in the West for these types of experiences.

So let's hear from the people behind the Western releases of these provocative titles.

Xseed's decision to localize Senran Kagura Burst has proven to be one of its more controversial announcements.

About a month ago, Xseed Games announced that it would be bringing the 3DS title Senran Kagura Burst to the West. For those unfamiliar, Senran Kagura Burst is a game whose notoriety -- justified or not -- primarily comes from its all-female cast of ninjas who engage in fights and who, in the process, tend to find their clothing getting destroyed. As you've probably figured out by now if you've read what I've written above, things aren't quite that simple, as Brittany Avery, production assistant for the company, explains to me.

"Sexualization involving women and how women should be presented in games is a hot topic that has given birth to a lot of intense and interesting debates."

Brittany Avery, Xseed Games

"Despite the first impression it gives, SKB is a complete story with fully developed characters," she says. "Their outer appearance is just, ah, a little bustier than usual."

Senran Kagura Burst is actually a combination of side-scrolling beat 'em up combat and visual novel storytelling sequences, and it's through the latter in particular that the game shows that it's more than just juvenile titillation.

"It's about accepting those who appear to be different from you based on the surface," says Avery. She acknowledges that the Senran Kagura series as a whole is primarily targeted at a heterosexual male audience, but believes strongly that Burst in particular, being the lightest on fanservice content, can appeal to both men and women due to the fact there's a lot more going on than a quick glance might suggest.

"Some of the girls are relatable with their problems," she explains. "I identified with certain personality quirks Katsuragi had, but other girls might identify with Mirai's self-esteem issues, Asuka's interest in self-improvement as an independent person over romance, or Yagyū's unrequited feelings. Each girl is quite different."

Avery believes the controversy Senran Kagura has attracted has been blown out of proportion to a certain degree -- as has the related controversy surrounding Xseed's decision to bring it, uncut, to Western gamers.

"Sexualization involving women and how women should be presented in games is a hot topic," she notes. "[It] has given birth to a lot of intense and interesting debates, so any game that indulges in any form of sexualization, regardless of intensity, context, or whether people have played the game or not, becomes part of that."

Out of curiosity, I asked Avery at this point if she had any opinions on Dragon's Crown, which attracted similar controversy to Senran Kagura for its depiction of women -- arguably even more so, due to Atlus' relatively high profile compared to Xseed. In this world of tightly PR-controlled statements from developers and publishers, I was pleasantly surprised to actually get a response -- though she took great pains to note that her opinions were her own and not representative of Xseed as a whole.

The sorceress' busty appearance -- along with other artwork in the game -- attracted a fair amount of controversy for Dragon's Crown.

"I do think a lot of the people who disagree with how [Senran Kagura's] girls are presented aren't aware of the game in its entirety."

Brittany Avery, Xseed Games

"I thought, like how I feel about Senran Kagura, the whole thing was really blown out of proportion," she says. "Much worse games haven't caused that much of a fuss! I pre-ordered and played Dragon's Crown myself, choosing the Sorceress as my playable, and it's interesting since it's this Dungeons & Dragons-style game where my appearance -- so far, anyway -- has had positively no effect on the story at hand. You're always referred to by the narrator as 'you' regardless of whether you chose to be the Fighter, Hunter or Amazon. It's sexual and many will agree disproportionately silly-looking, but I don't think it's in any way demeaning since you're not perceived as a lesser character by in-game design depending on who you choose. I think the only complaint I have is not having a shirtless Fighter, perhaps -- c'mon, DLC!"

Returning to the topic at hand before she got too distracted, I asked Avery what she would say to those who would point the finger at Senran Kagura's content and visual style and bust out that overused adjective "problematic."

"I don't necessarily think anyone's opinion is wrong," she says. "It's a matter of whether they like or dislike the features. But I do think a lot of the people who disagree with how the girls are presented aren't aware of the game in its entirety, so I feel it's a personal mission to educate [them] about every part of the game. If you feel it's important to discuss the 10 per cent of the time there's girl talk involving boobs, I feel it's important to also discuss alongside it the 70 per cent of the time when they're struggling with the concept of what it means to be a shinobi and how they should really be perceiving their enemies, or the 20 per cent of the time when they're just being normal girls doing normal things.

"These are characters with the same amount of heart as the characters in JRPGs Xseed Games is normally known for putting out," she adds, emphatically. "Another misconception worth noting is that the game is thought by some to be about in-game male characters all being perverts participating in fights where girls have their clothes ripped, or that they're overpowering these girls. This is all completely, completely incorect. There's only one major male character in Burst; he's a 40 year old teacher from Hanzo Academy who would never even dream of looking at the girls he teaches as anything less than his students; he sees them as a parent sees his children. If you've played Corpse Party, think of how Ms. Yui thinks of her students."

Corpse Party is another of Xseed's titles that pushes the boundaries, though more with regard to its intense violence than sexualized content.

I was glad Avery brought up Corpse Party; not only is it one of my favorite games of the last few years, it's also one that successfully pushes the boundaries of what is regarded as "acceptable" or "mature" content on consoles and handhelds -- markets that are typically rather more prudish than the completely open PC marketplace. I asked her whether Xseed had ever had any difficulties bringing "mature" titles like this to the West.

"Not at all," she says. "Any game can have what is considered mature content -- but that doesn't automatically mean it's being revolutionary in pushing barriers or that people have to accept it. It might just be a badly written or designed game that's using shock value for numbers.

Neptune, from Hyperdimension Neptunia, is an interesting, inherently loveable protagonist: she's flawed and borderline incompetent at what she does, but her youthful energy brings people together, often despite their better judgement.

"I think the most important thing about mature content is how it's used, or its presentation," she continues. "In the case of the first Corpse Party, its extreme violence with no way for any of the characters to defend themselves was meant to show just how powerless they were as people; it was meant to show raw fear and distress, not some sort of magical 'overcoming hope' scenario. Whenever things looked hopeful, it ripped it out of the hands of the characters in an instant and left the player fearing for the slow, audibly excruciating torture that awaited them. It presented itself beautifully and because we loved it as a game overall, we knew that others would as well." I certainly did; that feeling of total helplessness the game engenders on numerous occasions is something not many other games dare to touch on, and it makes Corpse Party's uncompromising nature all the more memorable. I'm grateful to have been able to experience it.

It's abundantly clear that both Avery and Xseed as a whole strongly believe in -- and genuinely love -- their products, and by doing this they're able to cater to a sharply focused demographic who believes in and loves the same things. It may be smaller than the broad audiences big-name publishers typically court with a new release, but these niche groups tend to be significantly more passionate and vocal -- and word of mouth plays a key part both in making these games successful and in addressing misconceptions from the broader public.

"A game can have extreme violence and suggestive or sexual situations that you object to," continues Avery, "but it might also be a damn good game. If you refuse to play it outright, you might be missing out on something that weaves that content into its structure well or overall has a lot more beneath the surface than that mature content. Only way to find out is to play it. I'm not sure how the media could help, but I do think publishers are doing a great job in recent years in becoming more opinionated about their products. Thanks to social media and forums, it's a lot easier to turn off the PR speak sometimes and just say how you really feel about something; that's been very important in helping people become more accepting of content that might not have stood a chance otherwise. Discussion and communication is key."

Avery knows what she's talking about here; when she's not working hard on Xseed's latest titles -- her current project is an upcoming new Rune Factory game -- you'll often find her on Twitter passionately explaining why you should care about the company's new releases and announcements, or why people shouldn't make kneejerk judgements on titles like Senran Kagura based on often inaccurate preconceptions. It's something we can all help with, too; while it's important to bring up and discuss content that might make people feel uncomfortable or excluded, it's also important to give a fair and balanced picture of what these games are actually all about -- because more often than not, T&A isn't intended to be the focal point of these experiences.

Ryan Phillips, NIS America's PR and marketing manager, concurred when I asked him about public perception of NISA-published series such as the aforementioned Hyperdimension Neptunia and Ar Tonelico, as well as other controversial releases from the company such as Mugen Souls.

"One major theme that is often overlooked in all three of these series that you mentioned is that they all contain a strong female cast," he notes, echoing my own thoughts, unprompted. "In the end, [this] offers a slightly different experience compared to the standard hero/female counterpart RPG formula. On top of that, the characters aren’t two-dimensional at all. The Neptunia series has become a very popular franchise for us because the characters have completely different personalities and the way they interact with each other provides for a really great story and situations."

Phillips is under no illusions; he freely admits that these games have a clearly defined target demographic, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, it means that NISA's titles -- and those from other, similar publishers like Xseed -- feel much more personally tailored to those who enjoy them, rather than providing an experience that is watered down in an attempt to appeal to a broader, perhaps more profitable audience. Phillips notes that there is also, as previously noted, a cultural component to consider.

"We cannot deny demographics with certain series, as they were made for a particular audience before they even made it overseas to North America and Europe," he admits. "In Japan, on the whole, these types of games are sold to heterosexual men.

"We know that these types of RPGs aren’t for everyone," Phillips continues. "However, one really important thing that we have to remind those who view the strange mechanics in our games as 'problematic' is that cultural norms between Japan and the West vary greatly at times in terms of sexuality, so what could seem fairly tame in one region, may be construed as completely inappropriate in others. There is a niche RPG market out there that is pretty in tune with Japan and its culture, so we ultimately market these titles towards them. As game consumers, it’s our ultimate decision whether to purchase the game or not, but on the whole, if people can see past some elements, our games do have some really great stories, memorable characters, and lastly offer a lot of content for the price."

The reason to play Ar Tonelico -- as with many other games of its type -- is not the sexy girls, but rather the interesting exploration of the characters involved.

A recurring theme in both Avery and Phillips' answers is that of "seeing past" the content that some find objectionable, and it's an important point to consider. As Jeremy wrote a while back, there are a number of great works in all forms of media that contain their own troubling content -- content that people can usually overlook in favor of seeing the big picture, or come to understand in context of the complete work. There's no real reason why we can't do the same for games -- by all means acknowledge there's content in these titles that some find distasteful for various reasons, but at the same time, don't let it define the experience as a whole, because that's usually not the intention. As Avery says, if you feel it important to discuss the 10 per cent of the time that there's boob talk, also acknowledge the other 90 per cent of the game.

"One really important thing that a lot of people may not know about us is that we first have to make sure that the entire company is comfortable with working with a particular title before we decide to license it."

Ryan Phillips, NIS America

"I think that when it comes to viewing certain Japanese developed RPG games, you have to have an open mind and understand that they were made intentionally for a certain fanbase and adult sub-culture over there first and foremost," continues Phillips. "We do our best to interpret and localize the language to help others understand what the characters are saying, but the culture permeates farther than just text and voices, and that is where Westerners have to try to understand and realize that they are actually experiencing culture visually as well. I had mentioned it before, but trying to understand the cultural difference between norms is a huge part in being able to beginning to understand some of the niche Japanese games out there."

Could we do better? Of course, but there's nothing inherently wrong in catering to a specific market if it's a proven one. The thing that the industry as a whole would do well to explore is catering to a larger number of these specific markets rather than just the heterosexual male demographic. This is something we're finally starting to see with the more widespread Western release of otome games -- games specifically aimed at women -- such as the recent Sweet Fuse on PSP and Vita, though there's still a way to go.

"Perhaps if they introduced a male playable character with fanservice on the same level as the girls in a later game, that would draw in more females?" muses Avery, contemplating the potential future of the Senran Kagura series. "It might also draw in more problems in North America as well, having a male with the capabilities of causing battle damage towards females, but I'd be all for it if it was equal opportunity.

"I can't speak for the company as a whole when it comes to the games we target," she adds, referring to Xseed's overall strategy, "but I know that we usually choose games people within the company are interested in that won't kill us financially. If not a single person likes a game we're looking at and we aren't enthusiastic about the idea of working on it, we pass on it. I'm definitely the biggest fan of Senran Kagura in the office, and I've pestered my boss on a number of occasions for super-niche titles that most wouldn't even dare look at, but he's gone out of his way to try and pursue a few after crunching some numbers and seeing if it could open up a new audience for us. I'm personally very interested in otome games but it doesn't really matter what the genre is; if it's a good game and we can justify the costs, we're going to try it out."

Phillips is a little more conservative on the subject.

"We've found over in the West that women do play our games, and do enjoy the all-female cast of characters," he notes. "Game-wise, we haven't delved too far into the otome/yuri/yaoi [aka "boys' love"] markets; however, this fall on our anime side we will be releasing Yuru Yuri and also Brave 10, both of which touch on the yuri/yaoi genres.

"One really important thing that a lot of people may not know about us is that we first have to make sure that the entire company is comfortable with working with a particular title before we decide to license it," he continues, echoing Avery's description of how Xseed chooses what titles to bring to the West. "There have been a few that have been proposed, but in the end if we weren't comfortable working on them internally, we didn't end up working on it. If it passes the test with us internally, there hasn't been a problem with it being accepted by distribution partners or the platform companies."

We're already at a stage where it is literally impossible for one person to play and appreciate every single new release out there, so it makes a lot of sense for publishers like NISA and Xseed to cater to specific niches rather than trying to appeal to everyone. The important thing to remember if you're outside those niches, however, is that all isn't necessarily as it initially appears with these games -- the boobs and butts might be front and center if you give them nothing more than a quick glance, but take the time to delve a little deeper and you'll find there's often far more interesting things going on in these titles than in parts of the industry that choose to play things a little safer.

And that's something I'm all for. How about you?

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Comments 35

  • Avatar for Stealth20k #1 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    Agarest is one of the best trilogies
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #2 pjedavison 3 years ago
    @Stealth20k It's on my shelf waiting to be played. :)
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  • Avatar for ***** #3 ***** 3 years ago
    What do you feel about Dead or Alive than?

    I actually think what they did was very smart, use boobs to get the gamers to try it, but use the smart fighting to get the gamers to keep playing. Its a good way to stand out in an extremely crowded marketplace.
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  • Avatar for limbeckd #4 limbeckd 3 years ago
    I love "slice of life" movies, and I am interested in these types of games because they seem to be just about the only "slice of life" gaming experiences. The Persona games were fantastic (although the "gameplay" portions are definitely too grindy for me) because I got to see ordinary people going through their lives dealing with their everyday problems. Also, the women complained if you made them wear their "sexy" armor, which was a nice touch.

    However, I am not at all a fan of fanservice. It generally strikes me as tacky, tasteless, and immature (when it doesn't cross over into offensive), and, well, I'm not 14 anymore. But if I want to play something that focuses more on personal issues than a quest to save the earth from some boring generic baddy, it seems like I'm stuck with it. Sometimes I can tolerate fanservice, sometimes it crosses some line (or perhaps the story isn't compelling enough) and I give up, but it is always embarrassing when I am playing next to my wife. Ok, I thought of one example I didn't mind. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (not a game, but whatever) had fanservice that didn't bother me. As a send-up of anime tropes, I found it perfectly executed.
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  • Avatar for docexe #5 docexe 3 years ago
    I grew up watching and reading anime and manga, and I have to admit that I like looking at the female form, it would be hypocritical on my part to deny that. But I understand why, for some people, the focus on moe, fanservice, T&A, and the like can be very off-putting, and I also have my limits on these regards. Honestly, some of the media aimed at Japan’s otaku crowd can be so excessive when it comes to the fanservice, that the entire thing stops being an enjoyable yet innocuous extra (which was the point of fanservice in the first place), and becomes at best distracting and at worse downright disgusting if not creepy.

    But it’s true that some games, anime and manga that have excessive levels of moe and fanservice can go beyond the mere otaku pandering. Some of this series can actually be really good, or at the very least have some noteworthy elements (strong and well defined characters, good world building, compelling plot or gameplay mechanics, complex themes related to the human condition or relationships, etc). Of course, on the other hand not every game, anime or manga with excessive levels of fanservice is good, some of them are genuinely mediocre.

    That’s why, for me, this topic is a case by case basis. Ultimately, for me to enjoy a game, anime or manga with excessive levels of fanservice, said game, anime or manga also needs to offer something else beyond the mere T&A. I have experienced many series of excellent quality no matter the fanservice, but unfortunately, I have also encountered a lot of trash.
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  • Avatar for InfiniteCurry #6 InfiniteCurry 3 years ago
    I certainly agree that Neptunia is a lot less offensive towards women as people believe (and this is coming from a female). The girls are all capable at what they do, while also having flaws and quirks and becoming the butt of some jokes. They argue, make up, and crack jokes as genuinely likable characters rather than sex objects. There is also a good variety of personality types and physical body types, unlike most sexist media which generalize women and group them together.

    In terms of cultural differences, I think the problem is that non-otaku in general, are unable to accept the fact that fanservice and good characters/interesting plot points are able to co-exist in the same work. That extends to the assumption that one cannot enjoy both the fanservice and story together as one package: if you enjoy the fanservice then you must not give two shits about the story, and if you enjoy the story/character development then you must be doing so DESPITE the fanservice.

    In contrary to the assumption that otaku would eat anything up as long as it has cute girls or fanservice, even those who buy for the art or fanservice will judge a game for its story, characters, and gameplay. Looking at the eroge rankings on eroge rating sites would show that simply having cute character designs and good porn doesn't mean it is good, and these elements do not compare to good gameplay or story. Even those who enjoy the fanservice (or ero in eroge) will review the game with a critical eye and touch upon the story, characters, gameplay, and music. If a developer uses eros as means to cover up lazy writing or badly designed battle system, otaku will notice and complain.

    Generally speaking, erotic fanservice is just another device to sell a product towards a certain crowd, and not all games with fanservice can be lumped together. Jesus Christ my comment was long.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #7 Shinta 3 years ago
    Yes, the games have more going on than just fan service. But more than that, it's important for people to realize that there is nothing wrong with people getting a game specifically to look at boobs and butts. There's no shame in that. Sexuality, and erotic artwork isn't something to be ashamed of.

    People criticizing these games on those grounds need to tackle the entirety of sexual expression in our culture then. America consumes and produces more pornography than anywhere else in the world. It's virtually ubiquitous, accounting for 25% of all internet searches globally. Virtually all critics of these games probably view some type of pornography at some point, and those all involve real people that are at real risk for STDs, and in some cases, physical and emotional harm.

    The most anticipated new album in music is Lady Gaga's Artpop, set to come out soon. Almost every single promo photo shoot you find of it is Lady Gaga literally 100% nude, with full frontal nudity showing. Her performance at the VMAs on public television had her prancing around in little more than a g-string. People can even find a way to spin this into feminism if they want to.

    The witch hunt against these games is absurd, and it does come from hypocrites, since I'm sure they view some kind of media that is vastly more sexually explicit than anything XSEED or Atlus puts out. There's no way they can't know this.

    I think part of it is racism against Japanese culture, and developers. With so much overt sexuality all around us in American culture, whether its Gaga, or Game of Thrones, or pornography; it takes a special brand of hypocrite to proclaim that Japan is uniquely sexually deviant compared to the US. People externalize their own perversion onto "the other" and use it to elevate themselves and put down others.

    Everyone participating in these witch hunts should be embarrassed. Nothing in these games is more revealing than Baywatch, which was daytime TV on basic cable like 15 years ago.
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  • Avatar for pauld'elia77 #8 pauld'elia77 3 years ago
    Games with shit gameplay are shit games, no matter how you look at it. If they have good gameplay, then who cares, I'm all for it. If they have a good plot and characters and shit gameplay... well then they need to stick to the VN genre and stop wasting time with boring crap to deal with.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #9 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    This was a very nice article. I admire the attempt to shed light on some misrepresented games.

    I was one of those people who thought Katawa Shoujo was nothing more than anime porn. Never did I think that the game was actually a well-written coming of age drama involving some genuinely colorful characters. It was enlightening to say the least.

    It's too bad no website is willing to talk about the game (except you guys, which makes you awesome). I have a feeling it might alleviate some of the concerns people have about the medium never maturing. It already has. There are more kinds of games out there than there have ever been but a lot of people, especially in the media, just aren't looking in the right places. It's also a problem that western gamers have completely stigmatized Japanese games over the past generation.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #10 pjedavison 3 years ago
    Thank you all for the interesting, thought-provoking and positive comments! I'll respond in a bit more detail a little later, but I just wanted to say a quick "thank you" while I had a sec -- this sort of mature, well-considered discussion is why the USgamer community is rapidly becoming one of the best on the Web, and a pleasure to be part of.
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  • Avatar for YangusKhan #11 YangusKhan 3 years ago
    @Shinta To me the difference between Lady Gaga's sexual representation and some of these JRPGs is the level of self-awareness. Most of these games really strike me a being kind of "tone-deaf" because they'll have character designs like Neptunia or Senran Kagura, yet the actual content of the game's writing is relatively normal/inoffensive character interaction stuff. Whereas Lady Gaga's albums all build off of and feed into the image she wants to portray and the meaning she wants to give to her music; her lyrics can be just as provocative as her presentation. Speaking as someone who likes JRPGs but generally can't stand "otaku" games, it's this sense of tone-deafness that really puts me off even trying to play them.Edited September 2013 by YangusKhan
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  • Avatar for Shinta #12 Shinta 3 years ago
    @9inchsamurai That's a nuanced opinion that I don't really have any problem with. You feel Gaga is more nuanced, and that's why you personally aren't into some of these games. No problem. You're not saying they're sexist, immoral and harmful to society.

    I can buy the argument that Gaga has some things that are more nuanced. But at the same time, it's still pop music designed to get attention by any means necessary. I mean, she wore a meat dress, and made her hair into bows. She kind of maxed out the ability to shock people with her clothing, so now just wears none to get attention. On some level it's just selling her product just the same as Senran Kagura.

    One has more female fans, and one has more male fans. But there's crossover on both, and both are perfectly fine. That's how I see it anyway. And if you ever read any interviews with the creator of Senran Kagura, he's extremely aware of the kind of product he's making, and has a ton of hilarious quotes.
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  • Avatar for Rory-Taylor #13 Rory-Taylor 3 years ago
    @Shinta As a whole I don't think people care enough about these games to construe it as a witch hunt, and there certainly isn't enough mindshare to invoke racism against Japanese culture and society. So, lets dial back the hyperbole just a tad. People's problems with these games are just that, and nothing more.
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  • Avatar for alexb #14 alexb 3 years ago
    Sorry, I'm just unconvinced. It still looks extremely skeevy.
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #15 Y7748837 3 years ago
    Of course the point of Ar Tornelco isn't to gawk at the "sexy girls." The girl in the picture looks 12 years old in spite of her incredibly stupid, creepy, awful nipple-tasseled shirt. We should expect more from Japan and from USGamer.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #16 Stealth20k 3 years ago
    @pjedavison Your in for a total srpg treat.
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  • Avatar for andyrichardson43 #17 andyrichardson43 3 years ago
    Out of curiosity, have you tried the Atelier series? They tend to feature female protagonists that sometimes appear to be pandering but I felt that in practice, the games rarely marginalize characters due to gender. There are certainly tropes that get filled and plenty of fanservice sprinkled throughout, but overall I felt like the games do a fair job of making sure that characters have good motivations and aspirations.
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  • Avatar for eye_robot #18 eye_robot 3 years ago
    The premise of this article is completely backwards. It's not a matter of looking past the jiggling, underaged girls to appreciate the game underneath. The games are being saddled with these elements in order to satisfy a niche audience. The tragedy isn't that our culture can't accept the sexual elements, it's that this niche audience is the last segment of fans who are still willing to pay a fair cost for their video games.

    Fanservice used to be a wink; a flash so quick you could miss it if you weren't looking. What we have today is akin to repetitive stress syndrome. That the publishers of these games think we should give them a try is unsurprising; call up a women's studies professor and see what they think.
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  • Avatar for Shingro #19 Shingro 3 years ago
    TK Flash: So to recap, a complete and wholesale dismissal of Japan, the developers, the game, and the site having seen a single picture of one character's design. On an article that repeatedly references the differences in cultural norms? ;)
    @eye_robot Your premise is also somewhat skewed though, unless you were interested in calling up a women's studies professor in japan (and I'd put money on you not having thought of that.) I'd put more then even chances that you're looking at this from the perspective of the west. I'd say that it's a completely fair tragedy of our culture that we see sexual interest (particularly in games) and attraction as shameful and something to be rejected or decried. Other media has gotten past the 'it's okay for sexual appeal to be in this' yet games lag behind. The massive furor over Dragon's Crown, a T rated game... well... it seems somewhat out of synch with the wholesale cultural embrace of something like Game of Thrones.

    This isn't a question of content, it's a question of media and it's broader cultural acceptance. It's interesting as another commentator mentioned that all of the games that get beaten about the head are eastern games with foreign sensibilities, yet stuff like Mass Effect/Witcher/Etc. don't.

    fundamentally it comes down to taste. I will cheer ANY game that knows it's audience and caters to it directly instead of chase some broader brown and grey mass of 'inoffensive' and 'broad appeal'

    Frankly, XSEED's dedication to no censorship, strongest possible cultural flavors atypical of what I usually get has me thinking of going 'lifelong customer' with them. After all, good or bad, like it or not, I am guaranteed it'll be unique.
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  • Avatar for eye_robot #20 eye_robot 3 years ago
    @Shingro Yes, I am looking at this from the perspective of the West. The website is called USgamer not JAPANgamer. I understand that these things are more culturally acceptable in Japan. I also understand that equality for women is a few decades behind compared to the West. It's not an ideal to aspire to, much less promote.

    As for speaking to a professor of women's studies, I imagine it would be the same if they were in Japan or any other part of the world. My point is that the author should look for a counter-point to his views instead of a cheerleader.Edited September 2013 by eye_robot
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  • Avatar for YangusKhan #21 YangusKhan 3 years ago
    @Shingro There's a difference between having sexual appeal in a piece of media, and having appropriate sexual appeal in a piece of media. Let's say you made Game of Thrones into an anime series and changed all the characters into loli/shounen style character designs. I don't know about you, but for me that would have some extreme dissonance going on between content and presentation. It would completely change the way I'd interpret it, despite the dialogue, story, and character relationships being exactly the same. Now if you were to instead make it an anime and give it character designs that adhered more to realism (something like Monster, Big O, or Cowboy Bebop), then it wouldn't have this problem.Edited September 2013 by YangusKhan
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  • Avatar for adamscottprenger78 #22 adamscottprenger78 3 years ago
    This article is fantastic.
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #23 Y7748837 3 years ago
    @Shingro The reason I said "We should expect more out of Japan" is because the people that made the game in question and other recent otaku titles obviously have talent - be it in programming, creating visual art or music, keeping their team organized and motivated, etc. The fact that they have to shoehorn in the anime tropes, the exploitative costumes, and the rampaging adolescent sexuality to sell is just sad. If Japan could get in on the indie movement currently sweeping the west, perhaps they would be able to break the cycle of pandering and move away from their creative bankruptcy. As for "expecting more from USGamer," well, they allowed Pete to run a perfect review of Tales of Xillia that didn't talk about the game and another article recommending an incest simulator for fans of the Walking Dead. The Japanese indie roundups were cool but we could do without the blog-style "reporting" on how the guy rationalizes his fetishes.Edited September 2013 by Y7748837
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  • Avatar for orient #24 orient 3 years ago
    If the main appeal of these games isn't the "sexy girls" then get rid of them. Simple. If the characters are deep and the mechanics are fun, they shouldn't have to rely on doe-eyed schoolgirls. Give me a visual novel with characters that aren't hyper-sexualised teens, with a balanced male/female cast, that doesn't have weird pervy conversations, and I will gladly play it. Until then, the "hidden depths" of Otaku games can stay hidden.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #25 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 years ago
    @lonecow I really wish Bob Mackey would leave Retronauts.
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  • Avatar for adamscottprenger78 #26 adamscottprenger78 3 years ago
    @orient It's a shame you are so scared of sexy women, and also kind of sexist.
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  • Avatar for InfiniteCurry #27 InfiniteCurry 3 years ago
    @orient Ever played the Zero Escape series? They've got a good balance of both genders and the focus is on the mystery. A good deal of the characters are also adult-aged.

    Things like Ace Attorney, and otome (female-targeted) games are also within the visual novel medium, so that is a terrible generalization of visual novels. If you truly wanted to try and find visual novels outside of eroge and galge, it really isn't very hard. In fact, a lot of the most talked-about VNs on the internet are exactly the type you're looking for.
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  • Avatar for InfiniteCurry #28 InfiniteCurry 3 years ago
    @orient Ever played the Zero Escape series? They've got a good balance of both genders and the focus is on the mystery. A good deal of the characters are also adult-aged.

    Things like Ace Attorney, and otome (female-targeted) games are also within the visual novel medium, so that is a terrible generalization of visual novels. If you truly wanted to try and find visual novels outside of eroge and galge, it really isn't very hard. In fact, a lot of the most talked-about VNs on the internet are exactly the type you're looking for.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #29 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 years ago
    @lonecow Ya, I can understand Retronauts wouldn't be where it is today without Bob Mackey but his involvement with the show is usually very counter intutive.

    Like, he tends to look at certain things from the past in a negative light without context and outright dismisses particular game design choices without giving an elaborate reason, when the whole purpose of Retronauts - the moments when Retronauts is at it's best - is when they reinvestigate the past and question why.

    Like, okay fine. Bob Mackey doesn't like "X" game, but that doesn't make it any less significant to talk about, can we hear from someone who does like said game? If nothing else, what is it that said game did well and why was it so well regarded or why wasn't it so well regarded?...I don't know! Anything is better than outright dismissing the past as Bob Mackey has so often done on the show.
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  • Avatar for orient #30 orient 3 years ago
    @adamscottprenger78 So I'm "kind of sexist" for wanting games to sell based on their merits, not on how sexy the teenage girls are? Good one. You're right, though, I am scared of sexy women. Get them away from me! :-/
    @InfiniteCurry I wasn't making generalisations; I know there are excellent visual novels out there. Hotel Dusk is one of my favourite games, and I love Snatcher and Phoenix Wright. What I meant was I'm happy to play the VNs that don't rely on the kind of crap we're talking about.
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  • Avatar for adamscottprenger78 #31 adamscottprenger78 3 years ago
    @orient I just think it's highly unfair to females to say that women can't be both sexy and have depth of character.
    And since no one is using misogynistic correctly, you're being misogynistic.
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  • Avatar for orient #32 orient 3 years ago
    @adamscottprenger78 That's funny, because that isn't something I said. In fact, it's something I agree with, but nice attempt to deflect from the real issues here. Women can be smart and sexy, WITHOUT looking like kids, and WITHOUT flashing their knickers. Not sure if you're aware of that or not, but I assure you it's true.
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  • Avatar for Shingro #33 Shingro 3 years ago
    @9inchsamurai Ironically, you don't actually have to imagine what that would be like, Remember, Daenerys is 13 in the books and has lesbian sex scenes and the like. So there's your loli and sexuality all in one to say nothing of the consumation of her 'marriage.'

    Yet no outrage of dismissal of the medium of books because we've got hundreds of years of art criticism for that medium that says "Yo man, authors can do whatever they want even if it's shocking, even if it's counter to society's rules and that's okay" I've yet to see anyone say 'God, angalina joe lee is just TOO sexy in these movies, they should really get someone more normally proportioned to play her roles' (or if someone is saying it they're not getting any serious traction

    Games will get there it's just a question of how long it's going to take. It's a younger, weaker medium. As more years of art criticism and these issues pile up it will build it's shield of 'authorial licence' Just going to take time, and I'll take any opportunity to help it on it's way.Edited September 2013 by Shingro
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  • Avatar for Shingro #34 Shingro 3 years ago
    TK Flash: Oh hey I remember that 'incest simulator' played it maybe... 10 years ago? maybe a bit less. One of the 5 games that brought me to tears at the end. I picked it up for the porn originally, (they're fictional characters so who cares) but was deeply moved by the story. Twists, drama... hell even the sex scene was used for plot more then titillation. Excellent game. Hell I'd probably have read it as a book. I'll actually back his recommendation of it wholeheartedly if you're into story over gameplay.

    I think it actually speaks extremely well of this site that it's willing to recommend stuff that the west would not traditionally try to play. Can't think of a single other game writer who would have the stones to even admit they played it much less give it a recommendation. Furthers the medium.

    Anyway, sexual appeals in media is like nintendo, do not bet against sexual appeal. Humans are sexual creatures and it seems like every single younger generation will shock the older generation with how much more free they are with it. By the time we're old men no one's going to give a fig what cup size someone's DRAWING had or how many times they flashed their bear print panties. Hell even now it seems a little silly to get caught up on with people making porn for the Oculus Rift.
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  • Avatar for analogos #35 analogos 3 years ago
    Deleted September 2013 by analogos
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  • Avatar for EndymionArc #36 EndymionArc 3 years ago
    I like how this article went to painstaking lengths to never actually extrapolate upon its subject matter. At all.

    "Well, you see, maybe on the surface it seems like these games are male gaze oriented dime a dozen anime trope fodder, but actually if you look deeper you'll see that they're interesting with interesting characters who interact interestingly all the interesting time." *proceeds to never once qualify what constitutes any of these things being "interesting"*. "Look it's about the characters! Some of them are sad and some of them are ninjas!!! Sometimes the sad one talks to the ninja one and this dynamic is explored in the form of what one might describe as a 'conversation'!" Quite the compelling argument.

    How about instead of 1,000 words dedicated to saying "everyone's entitled to their own opinion but maybe like, you just don't get it, man, and also japan's different so it's O.K.", you could've actually explored the games themselves and why, specifically, you care about them.

    The supposed depths of otaku games indeed remain hidden.
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