OPINION: Nintendo and the Cost of Creativity

Friday, June 17th, 2016

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Note: This is solely the author’s opinion, and does not represent the opinions of oprainfall as a whole.

First I feel compelled to assert something – I am an artist. That may seem like a total non-sequitur, but bear with me for a moment. Artists, in my estimation, are creative individuals who are passionate about their creations and stick with them, regardless of their popularity. These are people who are steadfast with their creative pursuits; who feel joy and pride at seeing their creation rendered into something tangible. Now, I’m not using this definition for myself to sound arrogant. In my own view, I’m a piss poor artist, but I still enjoy creating. I doodle, write stories and generally spend a large portion of my days with my head firmly in the clouds. The reason I am starting with this is because I find that Nintendo is essentially an artistic entity, and as such, their is a definite cost to their creativity. For Nintendo, that cost is their public opinion.

Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games™ 4

Now with that definition in mind, let me direct you to this IGN article: in it, Reggie discusses how the NX isn’t about graphical horsepower, but about content. I saw various reactions to this assertion that basically equated to people shaking their heads in shame. These people feel that Nintendo is incapable of learning from their mistakes. After all, it’s easy to look at the Wii and Wii U and only see a company obsessed with gimmicky technology. But I don’t see it that way. I also want to shoot down the implicit allegation here that Nintendo’s commitment to doing things their way has resulted in failure.

Wii U

Granted, the Wii U was not as successful as the Wii. There are many reasons for that but I don’t think it’s because people hated the ideas the Wii U represented. Nor do I blame it on horsepower. I put most of the blame on the lack of third party support for the console and on the turmoil caused by the tragic loss of Satoru Iwata. He was such a leading figure who defined Nintendo for so long and they couldn’t help but be dramatically affected by his abrupt passing. I don’t pretend to know much about his replacement but I do feel he lacks that creative spark, personally, which smoldered in Iwata. Having said that, I hardly think this means the creativity of the company as a whole has been lost, but merely dimmed somewhat. Nintendo is still very much the odd man out in the publisher world, sticking to its own beliefs and structure. They do this even when Sony and Microsoft do all they can to outdo the other in the upgrade wars. Frankly, it’s easy to look at Nintendo next to both other companies and see it as if it’s doing something wrong. After all, it’s stubbornly adhering to principles that have given it both success and failure in equal measure. It digs its heels in and only shows one game on the E3 convention floor. Yet despite of or perhaps because of Nintendo’s quirks, they manage to pull wins out of nowhere.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

First, let’s look at the outpouring of support and interest Nintendo got from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. They spent a lot of time showing it off during their Treehouse coverage, and fans were glued to their computer screens. It even got one of the top spots on Twitter, as people just couldn’t stop tweeting about how exciting, different and even crazy the new Zelda game was. The point being, this one game seemingly made as much or more of a splash than all the games combined at any of the other conferences. If that’s what failure looks like, I want to see success. Now, some may say that Nintendo only fails as a publisher, but not as a developer. I grant you, Nintendo has done many questionable things with regard to localization in recent history. There was the Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water fiasco which I still haven’t forgiven them for. Then there was the alteration of features in both Fire Emblem: Fates as well as Bravely Second. Some fans saw this as a grave insult, and refused to support either game. As for myself, I did some research, gave both games a chance and absolutely loved them, changes and all. And I was hardly the only one, as Fire Emblem: Fates was one of the best selling Fire Emblem games of all time. And for those who see Nintendo unwilling to publish games that don’t adhere to their personal code, I ask you – how is it that The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth exists on Nintendo consoles? This is a game full of violence, religious symbols and madness, yet Nintendo still agreed to publish it, albeit with some minor changes. Which raises the question – is it wrong for Nintendo to force changes on games if those games amount to financial success? Furthermore, is it our place as gamers to serve as the compass to gauge the rightness or wrongness of any publisher’s decisions?

Binding of Isaac Afterbirth

I know that last point is going to make many people sore, but consider something for a moment: having access to a flood of information before games even come to our shores also has a bad tendency to make gamers feel entitled. I’m not picking on anybody here as this applies to me as well. I feel publishers and developers owe me for my investment in their projects when the sad truth is, that’s not really the case. Granted, when it comes to crowdfunded projects, it most certainly is, but not for the other 99% of games that get released. I remember when I was a kid and just counted myself lucky a cool game left Japan at all. Which brings us back to the question of whether we should be so quick to judge Nintendo guilty for doing what all publishers do. No publisher is inherently good or bad. Microsoft and Sony both make mistakes, and the simple reason for that is because every company is run by humans. We are all imperfect, flawed and make stupid decisions. All I am saying is perhaps we shouldn’t allow a disproportionate amount of blame to be leveled at one company and not do the same for the others. It’s become all too popular of late to point the finger at Nintendo for every little thing they do, which is probably where this editorial stemmed from. I got tired seeing all the Nintendo hate.

E3 2015 Sony - The Last Guardian 10

Now, this isn’t because I’m a Nintendo apologist, but rather a fan who still enjoys the company while not loving everything they do. And let me be clear – Nintendo fans aren’t just fans because they are stupid or ignorant. They are fans because they recognize that Nintendo often takes gambles, and succeeds more often than not. After all, I’m not at all happy with the direction that the Metroid series is heading, and have absolutely no desire to play Metroid Prime: Federation Force, but that doesn’t stop me from loving other things coming down the pipe. Despite the current controversy regarding Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, I find myself lured by the siren song of the game. After seeing actual gameplay during the Treehouse, I couldn’t help but grudgingly admit the game looks absolutely gorgeous. While it’s true I haven’t preordered it, and may not buy it the month it comes out, I still have a feeling it will quickly end up in my collection. And that’s because of the unique aesthetic and presentation in the game, something which Nintendo brings to every product they have a direct hand in.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE | oprainfall

Which brings me to another point – art is meant to be appreciated. It’s very easy to get caught up in the political morass of opinions and hate about games and game companies. There is legitimate concern about changes to Age Ratings in France and possibly other regions. But ultimately, I play a game because I want to enjoy the experience, and despite the questionable aspect of whether Nintendo is making smart decisions by editing games they publish, the truth for me is that they still make incredibly fun games. Perhaps that is because Nintendo is committed to their art, despite the negative reaction to decisions which inevitably lead from them staying true to their vision. We may not like everything Nintendo does, but those decisions are made in accordance with their vision of what games mean to them. I’ll be damned if I blame them or anyone else for being true to themselves, regardless of the consequences.


About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.