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  • The Way Cross Reviews Work

    Posted on April 21st, 2010 keving 8 comments

    The question of how susceptible to corruption Weekly Famitsu magazine is has come up in the news again after the publication gave Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (which publisher and ex-EIC Hirokazu Hamamura himself shows up in the advertising for) a perfect 40/40 score. There’s little doubt that the mag’s a bit freer with the 10 scores than it used to be, but is it any more or less corrupt than it’s ever been during its 24-year-old history?

    To explore this, it’s time to go back to an interesting little 1999 interview, one of the few where Hamamura ever spoke very frankly about how his magazine evaluated and applied scores to games. This interview, conducted alongside indie developer Kenji Eno, was conducted by a manga artist named Miso Suzuki, who published a game-industry comic in Famitsu called Otona no Shikumi (おとなのしくみ, which I’ll loosely translate as ‘The Way Grown-Ups Work’) throughout the 1990s.

    The context of this interview is as follows: In 1997, Famitsu reviewed Real Sound: Kaze no Regret, a Saturn adventure game that shows absolutely nothing onscreen and is instead controlled (and enjoyed) entirely through sound. The game garnered fairly average scores — 8/6/5/8 for a total of 27 points. Eno, annoyed at this, railed on Hamamura in an interview published in a 1997 edition of Otona no Shikumi, criticizing Famitsu’s capsule reviews and the extreme weight placed upon them by gamers. Hamamura didn’t really respond to Eno’s statements, and the two industry figures had an unsteady relationship until 1999, when Suzuki reunited them in the same room for an in-depth discussion into game ratings.

    I’ve taken the liberty of translating the manga chapter that ensued from it, because it represents Hamamura’s official opinion on the “fairness” of Famitsu’s reviews back before the magazine had acquired a reputation for kowtowing to publishers with their scores. It’s also interesting to see how the magazine has shifted from the stance Hamamura laid out here — Eno would undoubtedly be happy with how lenient the modern Famitsu is with their 10’s nowadays, but chances are he’d have some more serious complaints about fairness.

    Footnotes are below the images. I’m in a rush, so forgive any formatting ugliness.

    This interview was published in April 1999, when Shenmue was in full development and facing a rapidly-slipping release date. Famitsu published a regular column devoted exclusively to Shenmue around this time.

    Yuichi Mizuma (aka Mizupin) joined the Famitsu staff in the early 1990s and became famous partly because he used that exact same Cross-Review portrait of himself — in racing outfit, carrying a helmet — for years and years, even though most other editors updated their portraits at least once a year. Suzuki frequently made fun of this in his manga. Mizuma is now the editor-in-chief of Famitsu DS+Wii, Enterbrain’s Nintendo publication, and he still uses that portrait as his Twitter icon.

    Famitsu (like Electronic Gaming Monthly) used to have the same four editors reviewing every game in the Cross-Reviews, although in practice these reviews would often be ghostwritten by other people. When the magazine went weekly in 1991, editors began rotating in and out of the review crew on a cyclical basis. The PlayStation boom of the late ’90s led to dozens of games coming out on certain weeks, requiring multiple groups of four people in order to handle everything on a timely basis. Nowadays, with the quantity of game releases back down to reasonable levels, Famitsu usually has one group of four editors review console games and another group handle portable releases.

    Famitsu didn’t make the reader graphs a regular feature in the end, but as of late 2007, each review includes a box-out with the game’s potential audience and approximate time to get to the end. This information is requested from the publisher and not written by the editors themselves.

    Eno stated that Real Sound will “get scored again pretty soon” because it was re-released in updated form on the Dreamcast in March 1999. It actually scored worse than the Saturn version — 7/6/6/6 for 25 points in total.


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