I have no idea if most of IGN’s review of SaGa Frontier 2 is fair or accurate. I never played it or any other games in the series due to the drubbing they got in the American press upon release. I’m starting to wonder if they’re worthwhile: what’s clear is that the games are different from what people expected from Square, and that intrigues me. But for all I know, they’re just not very good.
But I do know this: the second paragraph of Kelly Bradley’s review contains a disturbing inference. Bradley writes:
“While it was popular in Japan, the original SaGa Frontier didn’t manage to garner the same success in North America. In many cases, American gamers pass on great Japanese RPG’s released here because they aren’t marketed well or the graphics just aren’t good enough. However, in this case, the main reason that it failed in the U.S. was that the game was a big pile of shite.”
While the second claim (that Americans didn’t buy it because it sucked) is flawed, its the relation to the first (that it was popular in Japan) that’s the real problem. The only conclusion we can draw is that Japanese gamers LIKE shit games, i.e. they have horrible taste compared to us enlightened Americans.
I’m sure Bradley didn’t intend to make such a sweeping claim, but there it is. One of the problems with rating games “objectively” is that it ignores cultural relativity. A Japanese game that seems pretty crappy to me could actually be enjoyable if I had the full cultural knowledge and expectations of a typical Japanese citizen. Obviously, the American reviewer cannot be expected to possess this, and should not hold back their opinion on a game just because they don’t, particularly if the game is localized: if it’s released to an American market, it must be reviewed for American players. But the reviewer needs to be aware of their own areas of ignorance and not overreach: by comparing the sales between countries and introducing reasons for those sales, Bradley overreaches.
On a second note, drawing a 1 to 1 correlation between a game’s sales and its quality is a fool’s game: Bradley herself admits that many “great Japanese RPGs” fail to sell. Sales are sales, and are meaningful for business, and as a predictor of the kinds of games that are likely to be funded in the future. But they have nothing to do with art.