Rick at Surreal Game Design has posted a two-part essay that explores his own predilection for Japanese games. It's an interesting take on the pivotal differences, not so much in terms of design issues (though these matter, of course), but in terms of how these games make us feel when we play them. Among the reasons most western games have lost their appeal:
Western Storytelling is Stale. Some of you may hate the writing that comes out of the East, and that’s fine… it’s a mater of taste...The big deal, to me, is that it seems like we’re only writing modern war and horror stories in the West any more… Well, God of War and Oblivion at least do fantasy, and GTA has its niche, so all hope is not lost… but for every one of those there are four CoDs, Halos, Metal of Honors, and Half-Lives. It feels like they’re all war stories! Sometimes people shoot each other with an M1 Garand, and sometimes they use lasers. Sometimes they shoot aliens rather than Nazi’s. But in the end, it all feels the same to me. (Caveat: This is FAR more endemic to the top Western titles than all Western titles.)
I must say that I agree with Rick, especially in the last few years. I think he may overlook the unvarying grind mechanic of many Japanese RPGs, but titles like Persona 3 and Odin Sphere always seem to emerge, breaking or significantly stretching the genre limits.
I'm sure Halo 3 will be lots of fun (haven't played it yet myself), but is anyone else hoping for a top-tier western title that isn't about guns and war?