Lost Odyssey
Image: Microsoft

There was an infamous moment a decade ago when FEZ creator Phil Fish said that Japanese-made video games "suck". Fish has since retreated from social media and has made multiple efforts to apologise for the flippant remark, saying it doesn't reflect what he actually feels (indeed, on a recent episode of Simon Parkin's My Perfect Console, the majority of the games selected by Fish were Japanese in origin).

Even so, the viewpoint wasn't entirely without merit, according to Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.

Sakaguchi has been speaking alongside former Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi at Monaco Anime Game International Conferences 2023 (MAGIC 2023) recently (thanks, IGN) and touched upon the shift which occurred around the 2000s when consoles began to more closely resemble PCs in their internal architecture.

This change was a tricky one for Japanese developers, who Sakaguchi feels were making better games in the '80s and '90s:

“I think that one of the main reasons for that is the fact that consoles like the NES and PlayStation were very specific hardware. This made it easier for Japanese developers to master the hardware, as we could ask Nintendo or Sony directly in Japanese. This is why – I realize it might be impolite to say this – Japanese games were of a higher quality at the time. As a result, Japanese games were regarded as more fun, but when hardware became easier to develop for, things quickly changed.”

Igarashi adds:

"Japanese developers had been developing skills specifically for console games, but in North America and Europe, there was a long history of PC culture. By the time there was no longer a big difference between developing for console and for PC, Japanese developers could no longer rely on their specialty as console developers, and had to master PC development."

The dip in Japanese game development happened at the same time that western games began to blossom, which is why it was so noticeable, according to Sakaguchi:

"Many Western gamers grew up playing Japanese games. When games by Western studios started to improve, they felt new and fresh when compared with the Japanese games those players were more familiar with. I believe that in entertainment, freshness is extremely important."

Despite this, Sakaguchi – who left Square in 2004 to form his own studio, Mistwalker – admits that he was never tempted to change tact when it came to the creation of his games:

"In the West, children often get their own room from a very young age, whilst in Japan the whole family sleeps together in the same room. I think that such small cultural differences can be felt through the games we make today. Even when Western games became mainstream, I didn’t feel the need to be inspired by them. I believe that cherishing my Japanese cultural background is what attracts people towards my games in the first place."