Culture Clash is an ongoing set of features where we investigate the culture and tastes of video game players around the world.
It seems you hear nothing but doom and gloom about how the Japanese games industry is performing in the West.
Luminaries such as Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid, Snatcher) and Keiji Inafune (Mega Man, Resident Evil) have gone on record for their desire to appeal more to a Western audience.
There's often the assumption made that most of their games simply wouldn't appeal to us - that they're intrinsically too off-the-wall and (for want of a better word) "wacky" for our tastes.
But if you take a look at the figures of sales coming out of Japan, you'll see that the nation's buying habits are actually pretty conservative. Perhaps even more so than our own.
Let's get a few caveats out of the way first though. All of the stats we've listed here are from Media Create, the leading authority for Japan's sales numbers, and are for purchases from the 3rd to the 9th September. So it's a small sample to draw from.
They're also by no means a totally accurate portrayal of the games industry. For one thing, these numbers only cover retail, so digital downloads aren't accounted for.
In addition, we'll be focusing on the handheld side of sales, though we've included home console stuff for comparison too. Plus the names of titles are directly translated (via Google Translate) from their original Japanese, so their names may not be 100% spot on.
And finally, these are sales across a wide spectrum of audiences, from hardcore to casual.
The more you know
Of the top fifteen games across all platforms this week, twelve of them were for handheld consoles. That's a shockingly large number, especially considering that in the West, portable titles rarely find themselves selling in quantities as vast as those on home systems.
Looking at the types of games played, it's a real mixture, but is mainly focused on action and RPG titles. Here's the top 15 in full;
1. New Super Mario Bros. 2 - 39,708 units - 3DS
2. Lost Heroes – 32,504 units - 3DS
3. Max Payne 3 – 24,264 units - PS3
4. Pokemon Black and White Version 2 - 21,592 units - DS
5. Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F - 18,428 units - Vita
6. Lost Heroes - 15,650 units - PSP
7. Gekiatsu!! Pachigame Soul MAX Evangelion 7 X Pulse of Life - 14,094 units - PS3
8. Run For Money – 13,060 units - 3DS
9. Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers – 12,589 units - 3DS
10. Dragon Quest X: Rise of the Five Tribes – 11,812 units – Wii
11. Senran Kagura Burst: Guren no Shoujotachi – 9,513 units - 3DS
12. Taiko no Tatsujin Chibi Dragon & the Mysterious Orb – 8,800 units - 3DS
13. Demon Training – 7,973 units - 3DS
14. MS Gundam AGE Universe Accel/Cosmic Drive – 7,309 units - PSP
15. Kobito Dukan - 6,659 units – 3DS
Though the PSP and Vita are doing okay in sales, Nintendo absolutely dominates, with three of the five top spots taken up by games on the DS and 3DS. Two of those titles should be familiar brands to any self-respecting gamer – Pokémon and New Super Mario Bros.
The other is Lost Heroes, a Namco Bandai RPG on 3DS (and PSP, appearing in the number six spot) which features characters from the Gundam, Kamen Rider and Ultraman TV shows. In fact licenses and additional franchise entries feature heavily throughout the list.
Dispelling the myth
Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a spin-off in the Megami Tensei series (the same that spawned Persona 3), and Taiko no Tatsujin Chibi Dragon and the Mysterious Orb is another rhythm action game from the popular Taiko Drum Master franchise.
Likewise Kobito Dukan is based on a book of ugly but cute little monsters which is currently a massive hit amongst the Japanese population. Run For Money is a Fuji TV property, Demon Training is another Dr. Kawashima Brain Age game.
Mobile Suit Gundam AGE Universe Accel/Cosmic Drive again has ties with Gundam, and Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F is the fifth entry in its series. Even the (almost expected) sexy girl fighting game - Senran Kagura Burst: Guren no Shoujotachi - is not only a sequel, it's even got its own line of manga.
The wacky, off the wall stereotype many hold of the Japanese games industry is therefore rather shattered by last week's sales. There's assuredly titles that wouldn't ever see the light of day in the West, but they're based on popular franchises in Japan. They are, if anything, far more "safe" releases for companies than many would assume.
And that's really the point I'm making. We have an assumption about Japanese games culture, rather wrongly, that it's full of Cho Anikis and Bishi Bashi Specials. But as the figures above demonstrate, in reality the nation simply loves a good tie-in, and a solid sequel.
A bit like us, really.