Something About Japan: Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite head east

TombRaiderJapan

Image credit: Rururu Kondoh

The Japanese versions of Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite were both released on April 25, and Japanese games players certainly seemed split between which to get. Tomb Raider had the most chatter on Twitter and is the better known of the two franchises here, though the near-unanimous praise for Bioshock Infinite in the west seems to have piqued Japan’s interest.

Both games have picked up plenty of local press, despite competing with the release of a homegrown Dragon’s Dogma expansion pack, Dark Arisen, on the same day.

Writing on his blog for Famitsu, critic Giant Kuroda inadvertently made a comment similar to that of Tomb Raider’s executive producer Ron Rosenberg last year, about Lara being “so cute that you feel you want to protect her.” In the west this was a feminist faux pas, but Japan being Japan Kuroda’s comment went unchecked.

Still, characters play a big part of a game’s appeal in Japan, and the plight of the reinvented adventuress as she matures from frightened explorer to superheroine has clearly struck a chord. Kuroda also praised the combat as well as the stealth elements, and the freedom to be found in combining the two. “You can sneak around offing enemies with your bow, and then unleash the rage of Rambo and attack!”

Square Enix and online artist community Pixiv held a Tomb Raider fan art contest from 18 March till 15 April, with a top prize of 100,000 yen, a PS3 console, a copy of Tomb Raider to play on it and a Lara Croft figurine. There were also cash and game prizes for 11 runners up. The brief called for “illustrations of a strong, female survivor braving the elements of Mother Nature.” The Lara Croft category invited pictures of the Tomb Raider heroine in any style, though “a situational or adventurous theme” was recommended. The Survival Heroine category was a bit more open.

During the campaign, pictures by Square Enix staff and guest illustrators including Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle character designer Toshiyuki Itahana, manga artist Ai Kozaki and Famitsu illustrators Ryusuke Hamamoto and Rururu Kondoh were uploaded to the competition website as encouragement for artists around Japan to give it their all.

And so they did. The contest attracted over 500 entries, ranging from graphic guns-blazing depictions to cutesy anime-style renderings; the winners have yet to be announced, but you can see some of the standout images on the official Facebook page.

Bioshock Infinite drew its own supporters. News site 4gamer.net was saturated with ads for the game in the weeks running up to its release, while Famitsu blog Diary Of A Mad Gamer ran a comprehensive two-part series heavily praising the game and explaining the origins of the series, which is new to many Japanese gamers.

“It’s a masterpiece that will touch anyone who loves videogames. No, I’m serious,” gushed the Mad Gamer, aka Mask De Uh (or Takeshi Uechi to his mum).

In describing the series history he drew comparisons with epic 1915 movie The Birth Of A Nation as well as Django Unchained and Lincoln, all of which tackle the thorny issue of slavery in American history – as does Bioshock, in whose haven of Columbia slavery is still alive and well. “Bioshock Infinite may be the first game to tackle these issues,” he wrote. “It’s a historical landmark.”

In keeping with Irrational Games’ high quality standards, Infinite features a full Japanese voice track. “Although the game’s setting will be unfamiliar to many Japanese, the thoughtful localisation lowers the hurdle somewhat,” remarked Uechi. “The visuals are somewhere between the real world and an anime. You could compare it with a Pixar film.”

His unabashed praise for the game concluded, “It is more beautiful than any videogame I have ever played, and yet also more frightful.”

Although Bioshock has remained niche in Japan until now, Uechi is far from the series’ only fan. Makoto Shibata, a director at Tecmo Koei, believes Irrational Games’ hit series has more in common with Japanese games than people might think. “I like the way the games manipulate the player’s emotions,” he told us some time ago. “I’d always thought that approach was unique to Japanese horror games, but they did a good job.”

Famitsu is also running a Bioshock giveaway, with prizes including the Ultimate Songbird and Premium editions of the game, a signed Elizabeth figure and a signed tote bag – plenty of booty for Japan’s merchandise-happy otaku to get their teeth into.

With the 10-day Golden Week holiday starting today (Saturday April 27), some gamers will have gone ahead and bought both Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite – and Dark Arisen to boot. While the rest of Japan is taking holidays to hot-spring resorts, Japan’s hardcore gamers will be exploring the island of Yamatai and the floating city of Columbia like the rest of us.