East vs West – Why Japanese Box Art Reigned Supreme

Differences in language and culture mean that games often have unique marketing strategies in various parts of the world. Most modern games are marketed globally and as such their box art shares a certain standard of quality and consistency across all regions. This certainly wasn’t always the case however. In the ’80s and ’90s in particular, many games featured box art that was almost unrecognizable from one market to another. For whatever reason, numerous publishers seemed to believe that American and European markets wouldn’t like or understand Japanese box art. As a result many wonderful designs were scrapped and their replacements often failed to capture the context and character of the game. We have gathered ten great examples of Japanese games whose Western box art became lost in translation.


Megaman 2

The Megaman series—known as Rockman in Japan—was notorious for serving up some horrendous box art to Western audiences. Though the original Megaman is the most famous example, we’d like to bring attention to Megaman 2. While the Japanese box art features cute characters in the style of the game, the American box art features a more ‘realistic’ vision of Megaman. By which we mean a chubby, middle-aged man wearing spandex and a motorbike helmet.

East vs West - Japanese Box Art - Megaman 2


Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior

Next up we have Square-Enix’s massively popular (in Japan at least) fantasy RPG franchise Dragon Quest. The series’ 1986 debut featured some wonderful Japanese box art by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, while the American release was changed to a more traditional fantasy painting style which, while competent, lacked the character of Toriyama’s work.

East vs West - Japanese Box Art - Dragon Quest


F Zero X

There is certainly nothing wrong with the American box art of the fast and futuristic N64 racer F Zero X per se. It’s just that the Japanese box art is a bit more appealing courtesy of the addition of Captain Falcon and his quirky gang of rivals.

East vs West - Japanese Box Art - F Zero X


Pocky & Rocky

Just look at that stylish box art for the Japanese version of scrolling SNES shooter Pocky & Rocky. The two protagonists look so adorable and charming! The villain looks so scary and menacing! Now look at the US version. The font and art style makes it look like a bad Nickelodeon game.

East vs West - Japanese Box Art - Pocky & Rocky


Tenchu

Fast forward to the PlayStation era. Even by the late ’90s, 3D graphics were still a relatively novel concept. Once-loved genres like 2D fighting games, platformers, and shoot ’em ups were becoming out of fashion and were replaced with 3D equivalents. Publishers clearly wanted to take advantage of this trend, so they’d often show off these ‘cutting-edge’ graphics on their game covers in place of more traditional illustrations. Here is one example where Japanese and American marketers clearly didn’t see eye to eye. While the Western box art must have been eye-catching in its day, it hasn’t aged as well as it’s Japanese counterpart.

East vs West - Japanese Box Art - Tenchu


> Continue to Part 2


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