Japanese video games have a flavor so distinct that even a person with no tongue could taste it. Different people than the bland–honestly, bland–American masses hungry for more standardized, convenient, mind-numbing entertainment and then complaining they are not getting anything new.
The reasons why Japanese video games boast the originality they do are many. But since today things pretty much always end up in bed with economics, I’m going to say the number one reason why Japanese games are so distinct is that developers and publishers in Japan prioritize the Japanese market over the American.
To prioritize any but the vast North American consumer market would be crazy for anyone else in the video game industry, but since the Japanese market is itself big and absorbent, the move generally works for those who understand it well, i.e., the Japanese themselves.
And so NA and Europe can sometimes gobble up a neat title like Nier: Automata, an existentialist action RPG with an android named 2B sporting the best butt in the history of video gaming. The game, directed by a guy in a mask (see pic), who justifies the presence of the glorious butt by his simple liking of girls , could probably never have been created in NA or Europe as a triple-A title without getting artistically castrated in the process.
Thank Japan for Yoko Taro and the other faceless (pun!) people toiling away at these things, I guess. They not only make dough on these things and cultivate a wacky image, but also make things of value unseen in the vast majority of Western titles. To be honest, Nier isn’t even my thing. I tried it a few times and it just didn’t work for me. But, well, Dark Souls is also Japanese, and that’s one little gem. Three, actually. A game to change all… well, a few other games. To respect the gamer and create a (sub)genre.
To be fair, we know most of the games coming from Japan are crap too–just like outside of Japan–but at least there is some space among the Japanese consumer base for something that conventional market logic would say is suicidal. And market suicide, even as an unsuccessful attempt, is to be appreciated. Corporations like Square Enix or Konami are still evil, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nice when they crap out something valuable sometimes.