Japanese vs US box art

I was looking around for screenshots of some Game Boy games, and I came across this:

This is one and the same game. The original Japanese box is on the left. The US version is on the right. The difference between the two covers is fantastic! Also, totally ridiculous.

It seems to underline some key differences between Japan and the West regarding playfulness and aesthetics. I think that in the West, and especially in the US, there is a fear of being silly, playful, and cute. The overwhelming majority of American games are about making the player feel badass in one way or another. Frankly, it gets very boring, very quickly. Japanese games, on the other hand, are cool with being not badass. There are games that do that, of course, but there are so many games that explore other aesthetics (just like there are manga about simply everything).

Back to the covers. The Japanese one is silly and cute, and even suggests some of the actual game mechanics: possessing people with different abilities in order to progress through the game. It shows great diversity in the characters present in the game, from ninjas to fakirs to baseball players to… dragon-men? Holy poo, this game is something I want to actually play!

The US version shows a gangster pleasuring himself by shooting a Tommy gun. The name of the game, as well as its font, suggests a superhero similar to the Shadow, which is totally not what the game is about. There seems little relation between the game itself and the US cover. My guess is that the gangster is one of the possible characters you can possess: at the top right of the Japanese version, the fellow in green seems to be a gangster. The US marketing team probably thought that was what American boys would go for, and made that the focus for the cover.

I find this a little frustrating, as a game designer, that the only thing that would appeal to a demographic is this base power fantasy sort of thing. It’s more of a marketing issue, yes, but I also believe that an audience, however young, should be a bit more discriminating when choosing what media they will consume. Hm, but that’s going into a whole other subject which I know little about.

Anyway, I thought this was a fantastic example of differences between the two cultures, broadly speaking. I had watched part of this video, Gamers ❤ Japan, so this topic in relation to games has been on my mind.

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