26 years of muscle memory training are going to need to be undone once the PS5 launches.

Pretty much every time a next-generation of video game console launches, its makers promise that it’s going to change the way people play games. A lot of times that’s a bit of marketing hyperbole, but in the case of Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 5, it’s totally true, for gamers in Japan at least.

With the PS5 coming out on November 12, videos of test models and early builds of launch-window games are showing up, and people in Japan were quick to notice that they’re all showing the controller’s X button (the bottom of the four face buttons) being used to confirm choices, and the Circle button (the right face button) being used to cancel out of menus. While that’s a familiar input protocol for PlayStation users in the U.S. and Europe, it’s the exact opposite of how things have been in Japan, where Circle has been the standard confirm button and X the cancel one since all the way back to the days of the original PlayStation in the mid-‘90s.

▼ In this screenshot from the PS5 Go! Go! 5 Jigen Game Neptune: reverse, the girl with purple hair who decided to wear a bikini to go fishing is par for the course, but X being shown as confirm (決定) and Circle as cancel (戻る) at the bottom of the screen is a shocking sight.

And to clarify, this switch isn’t just for the PS5’s system menus, as Sony is asking Japanese game developers to make X the in-game confirm button as well.

So why the change? One reason is to cut down on confusion, Sony says. The “Circle is confirm in Japan but X is confirm in the West” pattern isn’t just for in-game choices, but for PlayStation home screen and system setting menus as well. Sony says this can cause problems if a Japanese user is playing a foreign-made game where X is confirm, then goes back to the system home screen where that button’s function suddenly switches to cancel. The company also feels that a worldwide standard will make things easier for game developers who’re releasing their games in multiple markets.

That explanation sort of makes sense…except that theoretically Western gamers should have the same problem, simply from the other end. If they’re playing a Japanese-made game where Circle is confirm, when they go back to their home screen, they’ll have to make a switch too, using X to confirm.

▼ The DualSense, Sony’s PlayStation 5 controller

So while standardizing would cut down on confusion, why switch Japanese PlayStation 5 games/systems to X-is-confirm, instead of making Circle the worldwide standard? Sony hasn’t said, but it’s possible that it feels that Japanese developers are more willing to adapt. Most major Japanese video game publishers also have large-scale operations overseas, and are used to extensive localization of their games for foreign release. Perhaps in Sony’s mind, switching confirm to X to cater to foreign markets is just one minor addition to something they’ve already been doing, and something they expect better results from than asking non-Japanese publishers to adapt to the established Japanese style.

That doesn’t mean Japanese gamers are particularly happy about the change, though, with several, though not all, Twitter reactions in Japan being unhappy ones:

“Don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”
“I think this is going to hurt the PlayStation 5’s image.”
“It feels like we lost a war.”
“Since the PlayStation originated in Japan, I’d want them to keep Circle as confirm.”
“Sony = shit. What country do they think they’re from?”
“Come on North America and Europe! Can’t you please see Circle as confirm?”
“I just can’t bring myself to buy a PS5 with X as confirm.”
“This is gonna be as annoying as playing [an NES game] where they made the B button jump for some weird reason.”

The last comment is what’s at the core of the complaints. Yes, there’s a bit of a cultural difference at play, since in Japan a circle on signs or documents indicates “yes/OK” and an X means “no/denied.” And sure, to some Westerners an X feels pretty close to a check mark, showing agreement. It’s not like gamers look down at their controller every time they have to make a selection though, and the real issue is muscle memory.

The first PlayStation came out in Japan in 1994, which means 26 years of conditioning that particular Circle-button thumb movement to mean “yes” in Japanese gamers’ minds. That mental connection goes back even further if you consider the Circle button’s position at the right end of the pad to be analogous to the A button on the controller for the Famicom/NES, which was also the standard “confirm” button in Japanese games.

There are two dim rays of hope for Circle-is-confirm loyalists, though. Ultimately, in-game menu design is up to individual developers, so it’s possible that some will resist Sony’s X-to-confirm push. As for home/system menus, the PlayStation 4 actually gives users the ability to choose between Circle and X as confirm, with the default setting matching local conventions but easy to adjust. But should neither of those possibilities pan out, Japanese PS5 users may just have to get used to doing things like their Western counterparts have been.

Sources: Famitsu, AV Watch, Jin
Top image: YouTube/PlayStation Japan
Insert images: YouTube/コンパイルハート
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s firmly in the “Circle is confirm” camp.