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Video Game Book Reviews

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Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life

review by Kurt Kalata - October 30, 2011

Written by Wired's Game|Life editor Chris Kohler and published by BradyGames in 2004, the only thing wrong with this book is the title. "How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life" implies a history of how Nintendo saved the US console industry back in the 80s and dominated consoles up until the early 2000s. Rather, it's a series of largely disparate articles about various facets of Japanese gaming, tied together loosely about them all being about (obviously) Japan. There are chapters on MMOs (Final Fantasy XI in particular), rhythm games, game shopping in Tokyo, the video game soundtrack scene, localization, the development of Starfox (mostly interesting due to how it was largely developed by foreigners in conjunction with Nintendo of Japan, a rarity at the time), the roots of Japanese gaming in manga, the attempts to marry narrative with gameplay, and many others. Some sections historical in nature, others are analytical, and yet others are simply interesting collections of trivia.

While indeed there is a substantial amount of topics that are glossed over or simply never addressed - a huge chunk of the book concentrates on Nintendo at the exclusion of Sega, NEC, Sony or other notable companies - when you accept the scope of the book is more limited than the title suggests, it's all quite excellent. Most of the stuff in the invididual chapters could easily be expanded to full books themselves, so some topics may come up short, but as broad level analysis it's all very well done. The writing is lively and although the book is black and white, there are numerous pictures and illustrations to support Kohler's points. There are numerous bits from interviews with Shigeru Miyamoto as well. I've heard other reviews complain about the sections where he lists various Final Fantasy soundtrack albums, but it's just done to illustrate the various styles that its music has been arranged in, and the culture that supports it. Similarly, the section outlining shopping in Akihabara may not be of immediate use to anyone outside of travelers, the description of how pristine Japanese game stores keep their products is sure to rankle the nerves of those familiar with Gamestop's terrible policies.

Of course certain sections are slightly dated - the book was written before the Japanese industry started contracting in the recent HD era, and the chapter on rhythm games predates Guitar Hero and the success of these Western games. Still, a great read, mostly because books that focus on the Japanese side of things, as opposed to the American side, are relatively rare. And it's always great to find a video game book that talks about the games themselves, rather than solely concentrating on their history. Unfortunately, since the book was published by Bradygames, the same group that churns out crappy overpriced strategy guides only to be literally torn up and discarded a few weeks later, the book went in and out of print fairly quickly. Coupled with the high quality of the book, it fetches a higher price on the used book marketplace than most game history books, despite it not being that old.

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Quick Info:


  • Chris Kohler


  • Brady Games


  • September 2004


  • 312


  • 0-668-05518-9

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