As my time writing these posts daily draws to a close, I find myself contemplating my other site MoeGamer and the progress I’ve made with it this year.
For those unfamiliar, MoeGamer (moegamer.net) was originally conceived as a means of continuing the work I did during my time at USgamer with my JPgamer column. JPgamer itself originally came about as the result of a USgamer contributor’s frankly atrocious review of Hatsune Miku Project Diva F in which he, among other things, described people who were into the game as “degenerates”. Fellow regular staffer Cass Khaw and I were both pretty upset and annoyed at the language used in the article, so I used my inaugural JPgamer column to talk about the review, the language that had been used and why such unpleasant prejudices were apparently prevalent in the business. (I got into trouble for “throwing the contributor under the bus” for that piece, but frankly he deserved it. Insulting your audience is never cool.)
From there, I continued to post JPgamer on a weekly basis, reporting on newly announced Japanese games and their localisation as well as Japanese-inspired games by Western developers such as HuniePop. The fact it was a regular opinion column rather than a specific format such as a review afforded me the opportunity to talk about things it might otherwise have been difficult to incorporate into USgamer’s regular content schedule, and for all the bitter taste that my time working under editor Jeremy Parish left me with — particularly once I was forcibly ousted in favour of his friends Kat Bailey and Bob Mackey on the pretense that “the site wanted an all-American staff” — I was, at least, for the most part, allowed to cover what I want. (The only title I was specifically forbidden from writing about at all was Monster Monpiece, which is a silly game to lay down the law over, but the only one nonetheless.)
My work on JPgamer revealed that there was an untapped audience out there who were hungry for coverage of Japanese games that wasn’t simply of the “lol, Japan” variety or indeed, since 2013-2014 marked an explosion in the obnoxious “social justice” craze, overly obsessed with declaring everything “problematic” or “misogynist”. My audience were grateful for bringing their attention to a variety of games that either didn’t get any column inches on mainstream websites under the best circumstances, and which were treated with a considerable amount of unfairness and ill-informed disdain in the worst instances. I even made a number of close friends via the columns’ comment sections, whom some of you will recognise from the regular comments on this site and MoeGamer.
When I launched MoeGamer, my initial intention was to treat it somewhat like my JPgamer column, which is to say, simply covering topics and games of interest as and when they cropped up. I didn’t have the time to devote to the site on a full-time basis so I couldn’t turn it into a full-scale news site or anything — but nor did I want to, either. There are far too many of them out there already, with far too many, even among the mainstream commercial sites, simply parroting press releases for the most part rather than doing actual journalism. Rather, I wanted to take MoeGamer in a direction similar to how I had treated my previous writing about Japanese games: I wanted to explore games through long-form writing in which I could use my knowledge of literary, film and media theory to talk about their narrative, themes and characterisation as much as their aesthetics and mechanics. I didn’t treat my articles about games as “reviews” — I instead simply approached them as one might tackle an essay: begin with a starting point and focus to explore, investigate it thoroughly before reaching a conclusion where appropriate.
I’m pleased with some of the articles I produced during this initial period at MoeGamer, though I grant it was a period of experimentation with some pieces more successful than others. Of this initial batch, I’m most pleased with We Need to Talk About Your Sister, on D.O.’s legendary visual novel Kana Little Sister; Guidebook to Another Culture, on how Steins;Gate explores Japanese culture and the concept of otakudom without prejudice; There’s Not Always a Happy Ending, on how horrific visual novel Saya no Uta has no endings that can truly be called “good” but is still an intensely satisfying, enriching experience regardless; An Unavoidable Tragedy, on how Nippon Ichi’s surprisingly good The Witch and the Hundred Knight turned out to be a rare example of video games exploring an honest-to-goodness classically tragic narrative; and Atelier Rorona Plus: The Nicest Game You’ll Play This Summer, whose title is pretty self-explanatory.
Earlier this year, after a bit of a hiatus, I decided to reboot MoeGamer somewhat with a mind to providing a more regular stream of content. This partly came from a simple desire to do more with the site, as I’d left it dormant for a number of months by this point, but I was also interested in trying to make something a little more out of it. Specifically, I was interested in the crowdfunding platform Patreon, and whether or not it would provide a means for me to try and earn a bit of extra pocket money from MoeGamer, allowing me to continue providing coverage in the way I wanted to without resorting to clickbait headlines and/or provocative moral crusading, both of which I’d seen the mainstream media sadly decline into over the course of the last couple of years.
My intention was to handle MoeGamer somewhat more like a magazine. Each month would have a clear focus — a single game or series, in this case — and over the course of four weekly articles, I’d explore this focus from a variety of different perspectives. It took a couple of months to get the format nailed down, and it still varies a little according to the specific title I’m covering, but I’m pretty happy with the approach I’m taking now: first, introduce the game or series, including its historical context in relation to its peers, similar titles or inspirations; then, look at its mechanics and anything interesting it does in this regard; then, explore its narrative, themes and characterisation in detail; finally, look at its audio-visual aesthetics or any other aspects of the game which are worthy of discussion, such as alternative versions of a game, different platforms, expansions or remakes.
Notably, an overriding philosophy that I’ve always had with MoeGamer is to accentuate the positive, interesting aspects of these games. Acknowledge their flaws where appropriate, sure, but don’t dwell on them in the cynical, world-weary way that all too many writers do these days. I’ve always found it much more interesting and fun to seek out the good in even the shonkiest of games than to take the easy, low-road approach of tearing it a new one. Pointing out things that someone or something does badly is easy and often destructive; exploring the positive aspects is simply a better experience for everyone involved, at least in my book.
So far I’m happy that I’ve covered a variety of different game types in this format, as well as posting some shorter, one-off articles on games that I found interesting for one reason or another — even if that reason was nothing more complex than “I liked the artwork” or “a lot of people bought this in the Steam sale this week”. Since April of this year, I’ve covered all of the following games:
- Senran Kagura Estival Versus (Marvelous/Xseed) — The fourth installment in Kenichiro Takaki’s series of beat ’em ups about ninja girls, featuring an intoxicating blend of exaggerated sexiness and thought-provoking narrative.
- MegaDimension Neptunia V-II (Idea Factory/Compile Heart) — The fourth mainline Neptunia game, and one of Idea Factory and Compile Heart’s best RPGs to date.
- Dungeon Travelers 2 (Aquaplus/Sting/Atlus) — A dungeon-crawling RPG that initially shot to notoriety through mainstream outlet Polygon’s puritanical hand-wringing over its provocative artwork, but subsequently proved itself to be among the very best in the subgenre ever created.
- Ys (Falcom/Xseed) — A legendary series of action RPGs that I’d been meaning to check out for the longest time and finally got around to. They’re now among my favourite games of all time.
- RPG Maker MV (Enterbrain/Kadokawa) — The latest installment in the long-running series of easy to learn but extremely powerful RPG construction kits.
- One Way Heroics (SmokingWOLF/Spike Chunsoft) — Barely known (but brilliant) Japanese indie roguelike makes good with a complete revamp and reimagining from Danganronpa creators Spike Chunsoft.
- Gal*Gun Double Peace (Inti Creates/PQube) — A light gun shooter-cum-dating sim that manages to be considerably more than the sum of its parts.
- Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force (Idea Factory/Compile Heart) — A huge revamp and expansion on Idea Factory and Compile Heart’s earlier title Fairy Fencer F, itself an attempt to tell a more serious tale than the light-hearted Neptunia series the company is most well-known for.
- Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix) — While a much more mainstream game than what I’d typically cover on MoeGamer, there’s a lot to write about with Final Fantasy XV that I felt was well worth exploring.
- Root Letter (Kadokawa/PQube) — A visual novel for the over-30s. Absolutely beautiful.
- Negligee (Dharker Studio) — A short visual novel from a British (but Japanese-inspired) studio that explores both the experience of working retail and what it’s like to slowly realise you’re a gay girl.
- Supipara (minori/MangaGamer) — A beautiful visual novel that tells a charming, dream-like tale that masterfully blends the magical and the mundane.
- Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire (Zoo Corporation) — Exactly what it sounds like.
- VA-11 HALL-A (Sukeban Games) — A wonderful visual novel-cum-bartending sim by two guys from Venezuela who really love the old-school Japanese PC-98 aesthetic.
I’m pretty happy with that for nine months’ work, and I like to think that I’ve brought some much-needed attention and love to some games that simply don’t get noticed by many outlets these days. Perhaps I’ve even made you aware of games that you didn’t even know existed, dear reader, and if that’s the case I hope you’ve found something to enjoy among all the titles I’ve covered.
I’ve got a number of titles I’d like to cover on MoeGamer in the new year, including the Trails series by Falcom, Nights of Azure and a variety of Atelier games by Gust, Omega Quintet from Idea Factory and Compile Heart, and numerous others besides. While I’m under no illusions that MoeGamer is ever going to be a competitor for big mainstream sites that pump out a variety of provocative clickbait each day, I am happy with what I’ve created with it so far, and over time I intend to continue expanding it into a comprehensive resource full of long-form articles about a wide variety of surprising and fascinating Japanese (and Japanese-inspired) games. To put it another way, I want MoeGamer to reflect my love for the medium, and I hope others enjoy it too.
If you enjoy what I’ve done with the site or simply want to support creators producing long-form, non-clickbait content, any donations to my Patreon are most gratefully received right here. I thank you kindly in advance for your generosity and readership, and hope you enjoy what I produce in the new year.