Thursday, August 29, 2013

Guest Opinion: What's a Famitsu 40 really worth?

For many many years, before MetaCritic was ever a thing, Famitsu scores were the gold standard of game ratings. The Japanese magazine, which started print in 1986, had a stringent review system, which was notoriously picky in handing out perfect scores. It took five years of weekly publication before they even handed out a near-perfect, and it would be another seven before a game finally got the coveted title. 

But things have changed. Perfect scores are now doled out at a rate which makes Famitsu seem like cheap punchline, a group of fanboys who are easily bought by huge corporations willing to dump piles of cash on decidedly imperfect games. Still, I grew up with mythos of the perfect score, and I wanted to learn more about how and when that all changed. To that end, I've taken a look at the list of perfect scores over at Wikipedia, and crunched some numbers. While I can't say I can make any conclusions, the data was interesting, and I thought I'd share it.

(Note that contrary to many people's belief, Famitsu scores are not actually a cumulative value. The scores are actually given by a group of four reviewers, like old GameFan magazines. So when a "perfect score" is given, what it actually means is their four reviewers agreed the game was a 10. That means a 39 is nothing to scoff at, three reviewers gave it a 10 and the other thought it was near perfect)

No perfect scores were awarded in the first decade of publication. Five were given out in their second decade. Fourteen have been awarded in the past seven and half years. Perfect inflation really took off in 2008, when they awared three perfect scores (to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Chunsoft's Japan-only Wii visual novel 428). The following year they awarded another four. To put that in perspective: in those two years, they awarded more perfects than their 22 year history up to this point. Inflation of near-perfect 39's also began around this time.

Of the 19 perfects awarded, 2 are for third gen (PS1, N64), 3 are for fourth gen (PS2, GC, DC), and 10 are for fifth gen (PS3, 360, Wii). Portable games (NDS, PSP, 3DS) took 6 of the awards. The most perfects go to Nintendo systems, scoring 11 perfects over 5 different systems. Sony systems is a runner up with 8 perfects, and Microsoft has 3 (two of the games are multiplatform and were counted both under Sony and Microsoft. The remaining perfect went to 1999's Soulcalibur on Dreamcast. The Wii and PS3 are currently tied with 5 perfects each.

The first perfect went to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's predecessor, A Link to the Past, had received the magazine's first 39. Every core Zelda game since  Ocarina (Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword) has received a perfect score.

While a big deal has been made about Skyrim being the first western developed perfect in 2011, there are a lot of western 39's as well, starting with 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV. Eight western games have been given a 39 so far, including two Call of Duties and a Gears of War.

No Final Fantasy game received a 39 or 40 until FFX received a 39 in 2001. Since then, FFXII, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and FFType-0 have all received some distinction.

Leo Tao was raised in the wild by video games. He can be found spouting about games, art, Toronto politics, and good times on twitter at @chaicube

Harold's comments:  Fascinating facts.  I actually don't have much to add, outside of pointing out at the scoring system: Leo is right in that the Famitsu score is done by a combination of 4 reviewers, each with a 10 point scale, but one thing to note is that the mix of reviewers are meant to be random and not guaranteed to be unbiased for or against the game/genre.  You may also take note that this scoring system is the exact one used Game Dev Stories, which took quite a bit of inspiration from how Famitsu operates.

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