Let’s start off with a bit of anime news: last week, the producer of popular anime Kemono Friends Yoshitada Fukuhara tweeted that China could well overtake Japan in the field of animation. Here are some of his words, as translated by SoraNews24:
“Although the animation industry in China has just begun, I’m convinced they will overtake us in production in three years and in skill in five to ten years.”
That must be a scary thing to hear for fans of anime, and I myself am a bit worried. That led me to think about things on the video game front - could China actually surpass Japan in this regard within a decade?
Just a few days ago, game designer Yang Bing provided a new look at his upcoming action RPG Lost Soul Aside. The video was less than a minute long, but the quality of what was shown was as astounding as what was shown previously. The animations looked incredible, the combat smooth and stylish. It was simply beautiful to look at.
Lost Soul Aside started off as a solo project and was worked on by Yang Bing alone for about two years. It’s being developed by a company called Ultizero now and is part of the Chinese Hero Project. The project is described as “a program based on PlayStation platform, which strongly support Chinese funded game developers (mainly start-ups) to enter the whole Chinese and global market, committing to" create successful game works (=star) worldwide" and "cultivation and development of Chinese game industry". Developing content for the PlayStation is naturally also one of its aims.
The project involves ten selected games in total, including side-scrolling mecha game Code: Hardcore and space-set astronaut first-person shooter Project Boundary. There are some interesting-looking titles, including the large-scale medieval warfare Tiger Knight: Empire War that is already a well-received free-to-play Steam Early Access title. But aside from perhaps Tiger Knight, the only one that seems like household name material is Lost Soul Aside.
That’s an opinion I’d maintain even if we were to involve the whole of the Chinese video game industry in the conversation. Part of the reason is that, like Cory Arnold from Destructoid, I simply can’t think of any notable Chinese games. Perhaps that’s not entirely true, as there’s multiplayer shooter Final Combat and Heroes of Warfare. But I remember them not because they’re impressive titles (I couldn’t even remember their literal titles), but because they’re cheap-looking and shameless rip-offs of Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch respectively. The similarities are seriously far from slight.
Now there’s Europa, which can be said to be a PUBG rip-off made by Tencent, the tech giant that also happens to have publishing rights for the popular battle royale game in China. At the very least, it has interesting features like swimming and destructible environments that aren’t in PUBG, and it looks sort of alright.
A Chinese title that definitely looks alright is Monkey King: Hero Is Back, an action game that was covered in the same Destructoid article in which Arnold expressed his thoughts. There are also several visual novels on Steam of seeming Chinese origin which have positive user reviews and admittedly look rather well-made.
These are of course far from the only Chinese-made games. There’s Age of Wushu, Perfect World International and many other MMOs, as well as numerous mobile titles. But while Age of Wushu and PWI aren’t unknowns, China doesn’t have something like Guild Wars 2. It lacks something as recognizable or revered as Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda. It doesn’t have a game with the same kind of worldwide recognition as Pokémon or Mario. Its homemade mobile games are popular at home, but it doesn’t possess a growing international sensation like Fate/Grand Order.
Popularity isn’t necessarily an indication of quality, but in the gaming world quality and uniqueness are two things that help make a game known to the masses worldwide. That’s why Lost Soul Aside was recognized in the first place.
But what about Chinese animation? While their latest efforts are gaining some awareness, they’re still far from creating classics like Dragon Ball, or hits like Your Name or Kemono Friends. So why is it that I feel concerned with China animation catching up to Japan while I don’t get that worry when it comes to video games?
Part of the reason is perhaps due to Fukuhara’s words. If someone from Square Enix or Platinum Games suddenly said that Chinese video games would overtake Japanese ones in a decade, I’d sit up and take notice. I’d probably scoff at first, but I’d still pay attention to their words nevertheless.
Then there’s the collaboration between China and Japan - among other circumstances - on the animation front. According to Fukuhara, the future won’t see any merits for China to continue this collaboration. It’s perhaps akin to a student standing on his own and potentially surpassing the master after learning all there is to learn. For video games, there’s the Chinese Hero Project, yes, but it’s more about financial support and raising awareness than teaching the skill and expertise.
But more than just being about someone from the industry saying something concerning, it’s about actually seeing the situation for myself. Chinese anime may not seem like a big deal yet, but even though I’m unimpressed by the present I can see that things could very well change in the future. And as Fukuhara said, China would benefit from such a future while it’s less likely to be the case for Japan.
When it comes to video games however, China hasn’t given off the impression that it’s on course to becoming a true contender on the world stage. Truthfully, that intent doesn’t even seem to exist outside of indie exceptions like Tiger Knight and Lost Soul Aside. Until titles containing similar ambition and expertise start to become the norm for China, it’s doubtful that we’d see a video game parallel to the dire anime prediction made by Fukuhara anytime soon.