Why do Western Indie Developers constantly take the wrong lessons from Japanese games?

Yesterday, I took the time to watch this Youtube video, and it reminded me of a problem I kept noticing among Western Indie Developers. Also, I want to be clear that I am not trying to suggest Japanese indie development is any better, we all know of notorious Kickstarter campaigns like Mighty Number 9, but this specific issue seems specific to Western Indie Developers and the only Japanese company I can think of that suffers from a similar issue is Square Enix whenever they let Tetsuya Nomura have any decision ever on anything. The particular issue is . . . why are so many Indie developers who get “inspired” by Japanese video game products, so . . . terrible at understanding what made them beloved by audiences? How can so many ambitious creative people be so bad at understanding themes, morals, and character growth? Or, in some cases, be so awful at making a coherent plot to hook people into their game? I’d like to remind people I’m specifically talking about Western Indie developers here and not companies that have been in the business for years like Bioware, who usually hit homeruns with their stories more often than they cause letdowns. The letdowns are only so memorable because everything was mostly phenomenal up until that point that people have criticisms about.

The Youtube video in question that made me think about it more than usual:

I noticed this issue myself when looking up recommended indie games on Niche Gamer. This one in particular, Dark Deity by Sword & Axe LLC, caught my eye on Steam beforehand and I read-up more on it on Niche Gamer in order to see if it could be something that would interest me, but ultimately concluded it was too similar to Fire Emblem and took all the wrong lessons. The plot explanation for this game has serious issues. Here’s the synopsis from Steam:

Here is the litany of criticisms I had written on why I found it so problematic:

This looks like a bunch of Westerners trying to make a Fire Emblem knock-off and calling it “unique” to their ideas. Hollywood already rips off Anime, now Western game developers are copying Japan too? Like wow, lack of ideas all around with Western-made gaming nowadays. Hope they shape-up. Sorry if it sounds like I’m trashing this but… Like, the story synopsis doesn’t really make any sense:

So, the King undemocratically graduated students into the armed forces of the country of Eltan, right? So, uh… How can there be a democracy, if there’s a King that can supersede judicial procedure, any form of Checks and Balances, and established law by the common folk? “Constitutional Monarchy” only works because the Monarchy’s powers are extremely limited and usually ceremonial. If the King can influence the armed forces to such a degree, how was there any sort of democracy?

A User commented there could be something similar to an upper-nobility and suggested the King may not have a military, to which I responded with:

If the King has no military, then they’re just a figurehead and he shouldn’t have feasibly been able to influence much of anything. A Nation-State is enforced by the level of violence a system of government can inflict on its people. Military force is what keeps a country intact and especially what keeps a powerful King intact.

If democratic governance is in any way the norm for these Upper Nobles, then why is there even a King? Even in historic context with the Industrial revolution, this is how the powers of Feudalism and Kings got tossed out, because the Nobles wanted greater power and freedom and the merchant class wanted better economic freedom. Even if we assume the Nobles are the only ones with a democratic form of governance, then the King loses legitimacy. If they’re swearing an oath to democratic forms of governance and the civic institutions of democracy run the military, why would they even need a King or follow anything he says when the setting established itself as these military-trained students following democracy, thus implying the greater military infrastructure follows democracy?

It just boggles my mind why whoever wrote this thought “undemocratically derailed” was a good idea to put in for the worldbuilding, because it implies the structure these students lived and served under was a democracy of some form and if the military swears allegiance and oaths to the civic institutions of democracy, then how on earth can a King influence the military?

I can see some commentators now suggesting that I’m nitpicking, but I gotta be real here: Fire Emblem 4 for the SNES had better worldbuilding than this right in the beginning of that game. They establish two countries hold a peace treaty in the Western territories of the main country the story takes place in so that this Southern Country that serves as the main setting of the game can continue its wars with a country bordering on its Eastern front. And there were specific peculiarities with feudal oaths of fealty and lineage. Like, it amazes me that so many Western Indie Devs think they can just pilfer ideas and call them unique, when they can’t even create coherent worldbuilding whereas Japanese game devs – even as far back as the SNES era – have mindbogglingly detailed and intellectually sophisticated levels of worldbuilding that are beyond anything modern-day Western Indie Developers seem intellectually capable of.

Anyway, I hope things change. I certainly feel bored by the excessive amount of side-scroller games in the market right now. Most Western Indie Dev games just seem too boring and thoughtless. I hope some of them in the future at least put more thought into stories, eventually. Just about the only Western indie title I’m interested in right now is Keylocker and that doesn’t have any set release date as of yet.

Leave a Reply