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Japanese PS4s can now use the X button to select, but why couldn’t they do that already?

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Japanese PS4s can now use the X button to select, but why couldn’t they do that already?

The small difference that separates Japan from the West


IMG_5042.0.0.jpg PlayStation 4 1024px


The standout feature of the PS4’s latest firmware update was Remote Play for iOS devices, but buried within the changelog was another seemingly minor addition: as of version 6.50 of the PS4 console’s firmware, you can remap the console’s “enter” button from the “O” to the “X” on Japanese consoles. 


If you’re a PS4 owner living outside of Japan, then you’ve probably never considered which button is the default confirm button on the console. In the West, we use the X button to confirm, and the O button handles exit and cancellation duties. But Japan has the opposite convention, creating a minor yet surprisingly annoying inconvenience for any non-Japanese owners of Japanese PS4s. 


Version 6.50 of the console’s firmware update finally fixes this annoyance, allowing owners of Japanese PS4s to manually set how they want the two buttons to work within the system’s menus. But the more interesting part of this story is why Japan and the rest of the world ended up settling on opposite control schemes for one of the most basic pieces of a console’s functionality in the first place. 


I first encountered this phenomenon when I tried to play Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on the PS2. The game was the second one I ever owned for my PS2, which was my first console. I loaded the console up, popped the disc into the drive, pressed the “Start” button to move from the title screen to the main menu, and then tried to start a new game. 


To my intense surprise, the game instantly kicked me back to the title screen. I blinked, confused at what had happened, and tried to do the same thing again. I got kicked out once more. And again. And again. Eventually — and I promise I’m not making this up — I actually went back to the shop where I bought the game and exchanged it for a new copy. I literally thought my disc was defective.


Of course, all that had happened was that I was pressing the button we commonly think of in the West as being the confirm button (X) in a Japanese game that used the opposite (O). I was being kicked back out to the game’s title screen because I was continuously pressing the cancel button.


It’s not just the Metal Gear Solid series that used the Japanese control scheme in their Western releases. Numerous Japanese games over the years have used O instead of X for their confirm button, including entries in the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Zone of the Endersseries. However, over the years, many have since switched to using X in their Western releases (sometimes controversially, as with Metal Gear Solid’s fourth entry).


Version 6.50 of the PS4’s software doesn’t fix this problem entirely. Many games have their controls hard-coded in, so whether you use X or O to confirm will come down to the region your games were produced in rather than your console. 


What the new software does do, however, is let you change which button is used to select in the console’s system menus, meaning that if you’re playing a Western game on a Japanese PS4, you won’t have to switch between two different control schemes.


Until all developers start using the same control scheme for all PlayStation games, the issue isn’t going to go away. But what’s less clear is how exactly this difference came about in the first place. There’s very little conclusive evidence out there, but there are a few different theories. 




The NES controller was the first of Nintendo’s consoles to put the primary button on the right.  Image: Nintendo

The first is that they’re derived from the differences that cropped up between Sega and Nintendo’s consoles back in the 1980s and ‘90s. Nintendo’s first console, the NES, had its confirm button on the right (A), and its cancel button on the left (B) when it released in 1983. But when Sega released the Master System in 1985, it adopted the opposite layout, with its primary “1” button on the left and “2” button on the right.


This doesn’t explain how Sony’s PlayStation managed to somehow use both, despite having the same controller design across the world. Why would PlayStation developers follow Sega’s lead in some parts of the world and Nintendo’s in others?


The original PlayStation controller was very different from the Sega and Nintendo controllers that had come before it. Rather than using letters or numbers that had a clearly defined order, Sony instead used its four now-iconic shapes, meaning developers, in theory, had more choice over how they arranged their controls.

Then, it may have simply been a case of cultural differences between Japan and the West that determined which symbol made sense to be used as the confirm button and which made sense as the cancel button. 


In Japan, the O button made the most sense as a confirm button. The “X” cross shape is known as “batsu” in Japanese, and it carries similar connotations as it does in the West — no one wants a bunch of Xs on their exam results — but the “maru” circle shape has a similar meaning to the check mark in Western culture. For example, game shows will display a circle whenever a contestant gets an answer right.


sega_master_system_controller.jpg Sega’s Master System established the company’s convention of ordering its buttons from left to right.  Image: Evan Amos / Wikimedia Commons

O doesn’t have those same positive connotations in the West. So, when it came to picking a controller’s confirm button, there wasn’t any culturally obvious choice. In its absence, one theory is that developers settled on X because it looks like a target (for example “X marks the spot”), while the culturally neutral O could be used as cancel. Alternatively, they could have just used the X button because of its placement, which is central and easier to hover over while you’re pressing other buttons. 


Whatever the reason, the practice seemed to stick with Western developers, and it was further enforced when Microsoft released the original Xbox with its A select button placed in the same place as the X button on Sony’s console. 


Sony has been happy with each passing console generation to allow its Japanese software to function one way and for its Western software to function another. Even if we’re no closer to working out exactly where these differences came from, at least the PS4’s system software can now accommodate both styles — for Japanese hardware at least.






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Interesting article.
I am a user of ps4 and I have never come across such a situation. 😎

But I find intersecting the existence of such difference in the same console.

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