Our Man in Japan -- Console Patches
DeanRaker - Columns - Comments - 09/20/04

You've probably read somewhere before in a PC vs. console discussion about the woes of patches and how refreshing it is not to have to deal with technical problems on a console. That's probably more true if you live in Europe or the US. But its certainly not the case in Japan. Here, the console market is definitely not safe from copious bugs and the need for a certain kind of patch. Just a quite different patch than you usually find in PC gaming.

Ever since the translation market opened for Japanese games, I've noticed how improved they are over their Japanese counterparts. The first two Dragon Quest games? In the Japanese version, you had passwords instead of a save system, NPCs were less detailed and didn't have profile sprites, and you had to indicate a specific direction you wanted to do things in like Ultima. All of these niggles got improved for the North American release. Years later, it came full circle with those same improvements in the form of a remake for the SFC. This is basically the form that patches take over here: an entirely improved version of the game that goes on sale sometime afterward the original, sometimes up to 2 or 3 years.

Enix is the exception to the rule, in that they are extremely nice and upfront about it. Yuji Horii has always maintained that the remakes contain improvements that should have been in the original versions and has never hidden his intentions. Additionally, he goes through each game like he analyzed every byte of data with the fine sweeps of an archaeologist's brush: improves everything that makes sense without losing the original game's virtues. It is small wonder the Dragon Quest remakes have been huge million sellers. They are basically well-disguised patches for the fact that early Japanese console gaming produced games that were similarly rushed to market like their PC counterparts. These days, the popular designers sometimes put up with delays in order to avoid this reputation and so you've seen Dragon Quest go from a once-a-year/every-other-year series to an every-five-year series.

Dragon Quest, is however, a really tame example. Shin Megami Tensei, that one I referenced a few columns ago on the Super Famicom? That one is legendary for its bugs, which once triggered would begin to unravel the fabric of the game until you had some truly out of this world experiences with the programming. It was so obvious that when reviews of the sequel came out, many reviewers praised one particular positive: there's so much less bugs! It is a testament to how used to this Japanese gamers have become that there wasn't more complaining, how if it isn't entirely broken, we're inclined to overlook it for high quality games. Sound familiar?

Then there's Blaze & Blade, a game that got justifiably crucified when brought over to the States, because its developers just didn't bother. Close to four or five versions later, the latest console release still fetches high used prices, because the cleaning up of all the game's short-comings, through successive patch-versions of the game resulted in the last version being an actual interesting game.

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