Nier Automata's Yoko Taro thinks Japanese devs have struggled to embrace Western tech, but Stellar Blade's director says "Japanese content is completely back on top"

Nier Automata
(Image credit: Square Enix)

Nier Automata's director believes Japanese game developers have had difficulty implementing "Western systems" because it was hard for them to move away from Japanese-made game engines.

In a new interview with IGN, Nier Automata director Yoko Taro and Stellar Blade director Hyung-Tae Kim are asked why "very few" Japanese developers make games that look as good as Stellar Blade. That's an entirely subjective opinion, but Taro nonetheless reflects on Japan's history of success with games, anime, and manga over the past few decades. 

"After being exported to the West and other Asian countries, games, manga and anime have evolved in their own ways in each region respectively. As for games, it has proven difficult for Japanese companies to implement Western systems," Taro comments. "Japan has a long history with companies developing their own engines, and it was hard to move away from that. We were very late with incorporating rendering tools and middleware from the West," the director continues. 

"Even to this day, many schools don’t teach this to new developers. I think that Japanese people are not good at adapting technology from overseas. Chinese and South Korean games were much faster to use engines like Unreal for games with a Japanese aesthetic," Taro concludes. 

Japan's English proficiency might be related to its difficulty adopting English-made game engines. A 2023 survey by the Swiss international education company EF Education First found that Japan's English language proficiency is continuing to drop among non-English-speaking countries (thanks, Nippon). Japan now ranks just 87 out of 113 non-English-speaking countries, while South Korea ranks 49.

Stellar Blade director Kim, meanwhile, says that although Taro believes this to be true, "it has to be said that Japanese games have a huge presence in 2024." Kim believes "Japanese content is completely back on top," and thinks things look "very positive" for Japanese-made games releasing this year. Kim stops short of naming which Japanese games he's referring to, however.

"China has great momentum as well. They have a lot of hits, especially when it comes to mobile games. I think their momentum is so great that they might have more hits on their hands then anywhere else right now for mobile games," Kim adds. "South Korean developers have a tendency to follow trends. If there's some new popular thing, everyone tends to go in that direction. 

"I have the impression that most developers here have tended to lean on mobile MMO games even more recently, but I think it's important to release games for other platforms too. We have been making mobile games here at Shift Up too, but I'm happy that we can release Stellar Blade as a PS5 exclusive. I hope it can trigger more South Korean studios to develop for other platforms," Kim says. 

Over the last few weeks, it's actually been revealed that Stellar Blade studio Shift Up's next game will release on multiple platforms, so it won't be sticking to the console exclusivity mindset taken up by Stellar Blade. Elsewhere in the interview, Yoko Taro said Stellar Blade is "much better" than his game, although his politeness undoubtedly plays a part in that statement.

As it goes gold, Stellar Blade dev says "many people felt we were out of our mind" for trying to make a full-fat action RPG in Korea's mobile-dominated market.

Hirun Cryer

Hirun Cryer is a freelance reporter and writer with Gamesradar+ based out of U.K. After earning a degree in American History specializing in journalism, cinema, literature, and history, he stepped into the games writing world, with a focus on shooters, indie games, and RPGs, and has since been the recipient of the MCV 30 Under 30 award for 2021. In his spare time he freelances with other outlets around the industry, practices Japanese, and enjoys contemporary manga and anime.