The Famitsu 40/40 List: A Review

Updated for 2011.Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker Cover

Over the last 24 years, popular Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu has awarded 14 perfect scores.  For Famitsu magazine, a game review's final score is actually two to four total scores assigned by a collection of reviewers.  Technically, there's no such thing as a 40/40 score, but four 10/10's.  But gamers love numbers, and we love comparing one game's numbers to another game's numbers, so the 40/40 perfect score list is a great way for fanboys to scoff or gyrate in anticipation.

Outside of the country, Famitsu is the ultimate barometer of what Japan thinks of a particular game.  Famitsu scores are thrown about in headlines and rattled around in forum discussions, but you almost never hear why a score was awarded one number instead of the next.  This is undoubtedly because of the language barrier between Japan and the rest of the world, but also because numbers are easy for everyone to understand and the fact that Famitsu editors give their reviewers about 100 characters to explain what they thought about a game.

While I'm not personally a big fan of a game review's score (I'd much rather read the why and how), the Famitsu perfect score list is an intriguing specimen.  The eighth game in two years just garnered the spotlight: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, but let's start at the beginning.

Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time CoverThe Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Famitsu's first 40 out of 40 was the Nintendo 64 classic and what is generally known as the "greatest video game of all time" to those who haven't played Chrono Trigger.  Ocarina of Time is well-deserved of its perfect score and is an excellent selection for its first 40/40 ever.  Back when I assigned the first hour of a game a score I gave it a 10, and heck, I'll admit it: I'd give the full game a 10 out of 10 too.  While it's not my favorite game, let alone my favorite Legend of Zelda game, it's easy to see how Ocarina is well worth the numbers behind it.

Amazing to note how long Famitsu waited to award its first perfect score.  The magazine started in 1986, and while I'm not sure if they were assigning scores that entire time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past at least received a 39/40 in 1991 (the magazine's first 39).  It took at least seven more years for all four reviewers to agree on a 10, skipping past greats such as Chrono Trigger (self-zing), Final Fantasy VI, Super Mario 64, and Final Fantasy VII.

So far, receiving a 40/40 actually appears to be quite the accomplishment.

Soul Calibur CoverSoulcalibur (1999)

The Dreamcast launch title from Namco was the next to receive the perfect treatment.  Honestly, Soulcalibur was such an amazing technical achievement and is my favorite arcade fighter of all time.  I own like five Dreamcast games and this is one of them, and it's still the best in the series.  I was so excited for Soulcalibur 2 I don't think I could describe it in words, but it's hard for me to say I was let down... I could just never get into the sequel.

I totally agree with this 40/40, Soulcalibur is an awesome game and probably the second best launch title of all time after Super Mario 64.  Also, whomever decided to make "Soul Calibur" one word (and spell it wrong for that matter) needs to die at the hands of Xianghua.

Vagrant Story CoverVagrant Story (2000)

Things get a little fishier here in my opinion.  I've tried to play Vagrant Story a few times but was just never able to get into it.  Actually, a few years ago I tried to first hour the game but was having some technical issues so I just dropped it.  Vagrant Story was the only PlayStation 1 game to receive a perfect score which just kind of boggles my mind.  This was a great system with some really, really high quality RPGs and the only one Famitsu gave a 40/40 was Square's black sheep.  A ton of Final Fantasy games went by along with Suikoden II. Weird.  Heck, the only 39/40 games on the PS1 were Ridge Racer Revolution and Tekken 3.  Not exactly a stellar selection here.

I'll defer to Famitsu's judgment here on their score, for now.  Though this has been on my list of games to play for a long time... How long can it take to beat? 25 hours?  Seems like something I should do.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)

Having skipped giving the superior Majora's Mask a perfect score, Famitsu decides to award the also-very-good Wind Waker one instead.  If anything, this probably validated Nintendo and Miyamoto's decision to go with the cel-shaded style of graphics for the GameCube Zelda iteration.  I really enjoyed Wind Waker though, so I can't really knock the magazine for giving it a 40.

If you're noticing a trend so far, it's that Famitsu likes Japan-made games, especially coming from their developer elite.  And before you scroll down to see, no, there are no non-Japanese made games on the 40/40 list.

Nintendogs CoverNintendogs (2005)

All right, what the heck?  I played this "game" for about an hour once and was bored to death.  Nintendogs is the ultra-casual, ultra popular pet-raising simulation on the Nintendo DS.  Maybe Famitsu was just impressed with being able to play with puppies on the small screen, I really have no idea here.  This is kind of the point in time where anyone not in Japan was asking the same question, "what are they thinking?"  At least with Vagrant Story people could point out how Square was trying new things and being artsy, but Nintendogs is just a bunch of mini-games slapped together with cute animals as glue.

Nintendogs is probably the biggest black mark on the perfect score list and made everyone rethink what getting a 40 out of 40 really meant.

Final Fantasy 12 CoverFinal Fantasy XII (2006)

I've got to disagree with this one too.  While I enjoyed Final Fantasy XII's battle system, its characterization and story was just awful.  I cared less about the actors in this game than I did just about anyone in a Michael Bay film.  Everyone was either an obnoxious, whiny brat or a pretentious drama queen that just made me want to kick my own teeth in every cutscene.  More gambits please, though.

Of course, this was a Final Fantasy game five years in the making though so it's unsurprising Famitsu lavished it with praise.  Maybe they should have picked a more deserving one though, like one of those Chocobo Dungeon games.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

For having played Super Smash Bros. Melee more than any other game ever (including World of Warcraft), you'd think I would have been excited to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but for a number of reasons, I just haven't bothered.  I did play it once for a few hours, it looked and played and smelled like Melee, but something felt off, so when I bought a Wii again last year, it wasn't on my immediate list to play.  I still have friends who play online, but it just sounds like the online portion is broken too (Nintendo friend codes and fighter lag), so why should I care?

Since I never really gave the game its due, I can't really argue with this one much.  I would personally give Melee a 10 in the blink of an eye, so why wouldn't I like Brawl, right?  Famitsu is undoubtedly on the right end of the scale with this one, but it may have gone a little far.

Metal Gear Solid 4 CoverMetal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008)

Kojima's long-awaited conclusion(?) to the Metal Gear Solid series finally lands on the PlayStation 3 to much celebration and praise.  The game garnered awesome reviews everywhere, so Famitsu is pretty much right on target with Metal Gear Solid 4.  Man, I really wish I could play this game, whatever happened to that Xbox 360 rumor that was floating around forever?  No?

Paul Eastwood is neck deep in this game right now so hopefully we'll get a review out of him within the next few weeks, I'd love to hear what a fellow First Hour writer has to say about it.

428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya de (2008)

What, you never heard of this one?  428: In a Blockaded Shibuya (literal translation) is a visual novel "game" on the Wii.  Having never been released outside of Japan, it's virtually unknown around here besides being "that game that got another perfect score in Famitsu."  Developed by Chunsoft, this game is already so popular in Japan that there is an anime and four novels based on the story.  Based on a freaking visual novel.  Hey, at least it does better than its prequel, Machi, which was just a sound novel (I don't even know how that works but I will admit I'm intrigued).

This is the third game in 2008 to reveive the supposedly rare 40 out of 40 and the second Wii game.  This is still the same magazine that went 12 years without handing out a perfect score, right?

Dragon Quest 9 CoverDragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (2009)

Being the most popular series of all time in Japan, it's surprising that the ninth iteration in the main series was the first to grab a perfect score.  Since Dragon Quest IX was announced almost three and a half years ago, the hype train was really behind this game as it was not only a Dragon Quest game (colloquially known as Dragon Warrior 20 years ago) but also just on the Nintendo DS.  This was big and shocking(!) news considering there are more Nintendo DS's in Japan than there are grains of rice (sarcasm).

Since the freaking game isn't even out until June here, we can just speculate that it's a really good game and Square Enix's depriving it to us could be interepreted as an act of war.

Monster Hunter Tri (2009)

The Monster Hunter series is huge in Japan, but it never seems like it really caught on in North America or Europe.  We love our monsters here too, I guess we just prefer to collect them instead.  Anyways, Monster Hunter Tri is another Wii game getting a perfect score (wait, there's more) but the first Capcom game to nail it, thus completing Famitsu's dues to all major Japanese developers.

I honestly know nothing about this game, I guess it must be good?  Reviews outside of Japan were also generally good, and I'm guessing the Japanese's obsessive nature over things such as Dragon Quest and Monster Hunter probably just pushed this over the edge of perfection.

Bayonetta CoverBayonetta* (2009)

See that asterisk?  That means I have something of special of note to say:

*Only the Xbox 360 version of Bayonetta was awarded a 40/40, the PlayStation 3 version received a 38.

Yes, you read that right.  Two Famitsu reviewers gave the PS3 version a 9 and called it a "shame."  Well, it really is a shame when a port has framerate problems, and it's a BIG shame when it's on a Sony system.

My only experience with Bayonetta is the demo on the Xbox 360, which was insane.  I didn't have a clue what was going on most of the time but I appeared to be winning, so I went on.  Unless I can play the game for free some day, I pretty much feel like I got the gist of it all.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)

Well, that's four 40/40 games in one year now, whatever happened to once in a blue moon's blue moon?  Either way, I greatly enjoyed my time with New Super Mario Bros. Wii and while I don't think it's that good, I will respect their decision on this one.

I'll just state the obvious now: it seems like Famitsu is just doling out the big numbers to the big hyped games, like any other major reviewer does including IGN and Gamespot.    What is most surprising is how they didn't start out like that.  To me, this is a loss of integrity and I simply can not trust a Famitsu score anymore.  Of course, there's one more game to go.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010)

2010 wouldn't be complete without a perfect score from Famitsu, so they get it out of the way early with Kojima's latest entry in the Metal Gear Solid series.  Peace Walker is a PSP-exclusive, much to the annoyance of non-PSP owners and fans of the series like me (hey, kind of like Dragon Quest IX on the DS).  Questionably, Famitsu is actually featured as product placement in the game, but I like to think that people are honest and have good ethics so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.  Wait, didn't I just say in the last section they lost integrity?


I'm not going to go as far to say that Famitsu simply can't be trusted anymore like some publications are doing, but the perfect score has definitely been watered down beyond repair.  No more should gamers be in awe when a game receives a 40 out of 40, which is unfortunate.  Famitsu's perfect scores used to stand for something, especially when they were awarded so rarely, but now it has all been muddled.  Keeping your review style consistent can be exceptionally difficult over the course of many years, but it should have been their focus all along.

Famitsu Perfect Scores