Lost Planet 2 and Japanese design philosophy

3 06 2010

I never really understood what people meant when they said a game was “very Japanese” I suppose in contrast to “American” or “Western” but I think I had a mini-epiphany when I was trying to wrap my head around Lost Planet 2. After playing things like Modern Warfare 2 and Red Dead Redemption recently, there was a stark contrast in the presentation and player experience that stood out. I imagine that Lost Planet 2 indeed falls into the “Japanese” design category because of it’s similarity to Monster Hunter, which is an incredible success in Japan but has a somewhat weaker fanbase over here in N. America.

There were three major things that stood out to me as distinct from Western-style games when looking at Lost Planet 2:
-Explanation of controls and player education
More accurately, the lack of this. Western games over the past decade or so have embraced a strict policy of communicating the breadth and depth of play mechanics to their players such that consultation of the manual is rarely necessary. This is usually delivered through tutorial segments or thorough in-game explanation. Lost Planet 2 seems to go the entirely opposite route, instead reveling in the mystery and untold intricacies of its mechanics. There are various techniques and maneuvers which are rarely if ever referenced in game that many players could go completely unaware of. For example, did you know that the shield can be transformed into a destructive laser weapon with an obscure button combination? Lost Planet 2 seems to leave a lot of the controls to the players to discover and experiment with, instead of making them fully aware of all of them.
-Unlock system
Western games which feature unlockables and level-up incentives usually go about it in one or two ways: they give the player a choice between a selection of upgrades, or they have the upgrades automatically given at set intervals. The player is mostly in control of the way that their character evolves and progresses. Lost Planet 2 gives the finger to this idea and has a completely random “slot machine” that the players can pour their hard earned cash into and get a random award ranging from new weaponry to simple titles for the character to use in online play. This random reward mechanic is probably the furthest from “Western design” and in to my tastes, the most irritating. Nothing like dropping credits from 6 hours of play and getting 5 different pants to wear.
-Character customization
Another thing that Western games don’t seem to accomodate as much as games like this, outside of the MMO realm, are the cosmetic changes that you can apply to your character. Not only are there various base character models included, but a bevy of customizable parts for each one that allow you to create a unique look for your character, and even the ability to customize a “loadout” of up to 8 different emotes that the character can display.


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