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Why Japan needs to stop sucking up to the West

Exposing the hollowness of "global appeal"

I love a weird game almost as much as I do a good one, and Lost Planet 2 was nothing if not flagrantly weird. As with many of Capcom's recent releases, it's a noisy marriage of the glorious and the grating, chopped up into wildly dissimilar, bite-sized scenarios that are often inspired of concept and, no less often, dismal of execution.

Certain of the salient ideas show the unmistakeable thumbprint of other Capcom franchises. The sandboxy, option-strewn levels and exaggerated enemy designs are pure Monster Hunter, for instance. The use of gloopy "T-ENG" as fuel for both healing and special weapons, meanwhile, is a splitting of player priorities that's straight out of the Street Fighter series.

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It's hard to know how to score the thing, even years post-release (I went with an eight in the end, but that's an eight balanced on the elbow of a tightrope walker). By contrast, my feelings about the forthcoming Lost Planet 3 are considerably firmer. Crafted by Spark Unlimited, now apparently Japan's overseas studio of choice, it's a methodical narrowing of the focus which leans most obviously on the antics of Visceral's Dead Space.

In place of an ensemble cast of warring camp-sters, you've got hard-bitten roughneck Jim Peyton. In place of the second game's excess of super-stampy robots, few designed with any real regard for practicality, there's just the one, upgradeable mech. And where Lost Planet 2 gave us a range of locales and climates, the new game appears to alternate exclusively between an icy overworld and some mystery-fogged, gothic interiors.

Lost Planet 3 seems fun - it should be Spark's most accomplished game to date, for what that's worth - but the refusal to capitalise on some of the second game's exhilarating moments is disappointing. On the strength of what we've seen so far, it shows the truth of what Capcom's former Head of Production Keiji Inafune calls a failure of nerve among Japanese developers and publishers, a tendency to consolidate brands or pay fealty to Western standards rather than striking out into the undergrowth.

This isn't, in case you're wondering, the usual article extolling the virtues of new IP and the dreary subject of "innovation" at large - not quite, anyway. It's a call for Japanese teams to spend less time rooting through our backyards for material, more time exploring their own, pushing their own cultural reference points to the fore.

First, though, a quick disclaimer. My knowledge of Japanese culture is painfully second-hand, a cobbling-together of old anime episodes and anecdotes passed on by more travelled journalists - hilarious and, I'm sure, damningly partial accounts of cat-stroking cafes, ninja waiters and seedy, mass-produced motels where they blast the walls with pressurised water every morning to wash off the vomit. When I talk about Japan I'm not really talking about Japan, in short - I'm talking about Japan reflected in a carnival mirror, glimpsed through the wide end of a telescope.

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But I don't think I'm entirely off the money when I say that Japanese operators have given ground to their North American and European counterparts in the struggle for global appeal. Look at how many Japanese heroes and heroines are westerners, for instance - the Resident Evil cast all but exclusively so. Consider how many of these titles are set in North America - Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid and Dead Rising to name a few. Think about the geography of these games, about their taste for foreign landmarks - Disney's sugar-frosted castles, or George Romero's zombie-filled malls.

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