Is there market research somewhere that says Americans like sparse cover art? I mean, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books had fairly intricate covers in the United Kingdom, but the States tended to reduce them to representational objects.
Or look at the Japanese and American box art for the Dragon Quest/Warrior games on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The first two keep the general idea of people battling monsters, but go with a much more Western drawing style. The other two don’t include characters at all, but only weapons and other items. It’s much the same with the original Final Fantasy.
Showing the Sky Castle IS pretty cool, but I get the impression that they mostly just wanted them to look less Japanese. It’s not like there’s much inherently Japanese about the content of the games; they reference some Japanese mythology, but also a lot of Western mythology.
The early DQ translations rendered the dialogue in what was supposed to be an Elizabethan dialect; and the name of Ladatorme Castle was changed to Tantegel, a reference to the castle where King Arthur was said to have been conceived. The first FF brings in martial artists and robots, but a lot of it is still more or less medieval European in style. Of course, the DQ games still had anime-style artwork within them, but that apparently wasn’t the first impression they wanted American gamers to have. From my American perspective, our covers DO look a little less silly. Well, at least those for DQ3 and 4 do; and the dragon on the first appears more threatening, but has less personality.
If you really want to get into bad American box art from the NES era, however, the obvious example is Mega Man.
That doesn’t even look like a robot, just a guy in weird armor holding a pistol. Did someone not tell the artists that Mega Man’s gun was built into his arm? And is that Dr. Wily behind Crash Man on the MM2 cover? He looks more like Dr. Light, although not that much like either one. Bad Box Art Mega Man has become an inside joke, sometimes appearing as a separate character in various later games.
Moving on, here’s Mega Man 3:
Mega Man actually looks like himself here, although I think his face is a little overly babyish. Were they trying to go too far in the cute direction after the ugly guy on the first two covers? And yes, pretty much everybody has pointed out that he looks like he’s shooting Spark Man in the crotch.
Okay, 4 and 6 artists, when does Mega Man ever fight on cliffs or grassy hills? Pretty much everything in his world looks mechanical, even if it does simulate natural environments. I guess 3 and 5 got this part correct, anyway. And why the random planets in the sky? Actually, the story for MM3 does say that much of it takes place on worlds used for mining, and there’s a science fiction theme to the series in general, but when are you going to see other planets in the daytime? Overall, as bad as some of the covers are, one other point of contrast is that he and the Robot Masters are mostly just posing in the Japanese ones, while the American ones tend to display some sort of action, even if it’s action that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess Americans wouldn’t want to buy an action game unless someone is shooting something on the cover. Anyway, this page and this one both have some funny takes on the American box art. I’m not sure why Mega Man was apparently so hard to draw when he’s basically a robotic Mario with no mustache, but he doesn’t look very accurate on Captain N either.