A key reason that the video game industry has blossomed in the past couple decades has to do with the sheer potential that the medium itself holds. The appeal of video games is found not only in the depth of sheer satisfaction that they can provide, but from the wide range of varying experiences that are available as well.
If you were to ask anyone who plays video games, they’ll tell you that tastes differ from person to person. There are games that are good and enjoyable for many different reasons, and so a game that one person considers to be fantastic may not even register on another person’s radar. In this respect, video games strongly resemble just about every medium that’s come before them, ranging from books to music.
It’s important to keep this thought in mind—that all video games don’t necessarily fit underneath the same umbrella—when considering this next point. Some types of games are very simplistic in their approach toward being enjoyable and fulfilling experiences. These are your fighting games, your shooters, your bullet hells—games that revel in delivering that purest feeling of satisfaction through action. These games typically don’t rely much on communication or comprehension through language in order to provide the player with an enjoyable experience, rather, the extent of what the player needs to understand is simply the controls, and the rest of the pieces will fall into place on their own. As a result, these kinds of games can be played by people of foreign audiences, as they are not required to understand the language in order to enjoy themselves.
But there are many other games that can’t sustain themselves on that sort of model. While a bullet hell style of game can afford to throw any sort of communicative efforts to the wind and still have a good chance at providing an enjoyable experience to the player, that is by no means the case with every game.
In the case of role-playing games, there is the issue that they become completely incomprehensible—and in some cases, practically impossible to finish—when the player is not able to understand the language. Even if the game in question can be beaten without having to read a single word, there is the problem that many games rely on language in order to provide the player with that sense of satisfaction that they are looking for. After all, what’s the point of playing a game if it isn’t an enjoyable experience?
Let’s take for example the game Drakengard 3, published by Square Enix. The biggest mark against this game is that it’s gameplay is all right at its best, and irritating and repetitive at its worst. But where it picked up the slack was in the writing. Drakengard 3 is a case where the quality of the game is very clearly focused in the creative side of the title—the writing is where this game shines, and it is easily what makes the game in any real way worth playing, as the story and the characters are what make it both unique and fascinating.
You could play Drakengard 3 without understanding the language, and you could potentially beat it without having the slightest idea at all of what on earth is even going on in the spectacularly strange game. But the odds that you would enjoy the experience and remember it fondly are slim at best.
And this is by no means the only example of a game that relies heavily on the aspect of story in order to be a worthwhile experience; there are countless other titles that would quite honestly be pointless to play if the person in question could not understand what was happening. As a result of this, the language barrier places a significant limitation on what people are able to enjoy, emphasizing just how important localization and translation efforts are to making the medium as strong as it can possibly be.