Arguably the most fundamental of those differences is that of the FPS genre, which dominates in the West yet barely make a dent in the Japanese sales charts.

"Perhaps the reason FPS games are not popular in Japan is down to a difference in lifestyle," says Hamamura. "Japanese people have no guns around them in their life, so it could be that FPSes don't connect with a desire to simulate reality."

There is no gun culture in Britain or Canada, one might say, but FPSes are still equally popular there; but this would be a misreading of Hamamura's words. Despite differing gun laws in Western countries, the Western media as a whole surrounds us with more guns than the NRA could ever hope to.

The latest Hollywood blockbuster, Casino Royale, is a perfect example. James Bond is the archetypal Western hero - he shoots to kill, takes no prisoners, and rarely lets moral considerations affect him. Bond himself is aging, but his replacement for the 21st century already exists, in 24's Jack Bauer.

But while both of these heroes enjoy moderate success in Japan, there is no Japanese James Bond, no Japanese Jack Bauer. As evidenced by anime like Bleach or best-selling games like Dynasty Warriors, Japan has always been a culture of swords, not guns. Protagonists on Japanese dramas are decidedly less trigger-happy than in Western ones. Japanese youngsters are more likely to want to emulate the samurai manga Vagabond, a retelling of the classic Miyamoto Musashi tale, than James Bond.

Just what games the Japanese do want - and where the 360's line-up falls down - is easily told from a reading of last year's top 30: six games based on anime franchises, two Winning Eleven soccer games, a baseball game, two Tales games, a Square RPG, Pokémon, Mario and Gran Turismo. Factor in the DS games that blew away Microsoft's hype and the 360's anemic launch line-up - heavy on the FPSes and light on RPGs - and it's easy to see Microsoft hardly had a hope.

Riding the Wave
Although Microsoft's venture into Japan has been a failure to date, the company has deep pockets. Nationalism is unlikely to be a factor if Microsoft can overcome their past failures and carve out their own niche in the market, as Nintendo has done.

The Japanese game market is now buoyant with hope for the first time since 2004, when statistics showed that the domestic games market had contracted some 40 percent since 1997.

"Thanks to the DS, the industry has successfully created a new class of game fans," says Hamamura. "This year, the so-called next-generation machines, PS3 and Wii, will be released, and 2006-2007 is expected to be the highest-selling year in a decade.

"After that, the total sales of hardware and software will decrease. Then, five years from now, when new machines come out again, there will be another swell. Looking at it from the long term, the game market will keep repeating this wave."

In the end, that "mysterious Japanese" stereotype has held true - no one could have predicted that the DS would not only spoil the 360's launch, but tap into a whole new market. Is there room in there too for Microsoft? Assuredly. But to quote John Connor, Sean Connery's character in Rising Sun, they are already playing "that most American of games - catch-up."

Gearoid Reidy comes from a land where neither root beer nor dried squid are considered consumable, and that's just how he likes it. Find him at www.gearoidreidy.com.

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