American developed games had their own style, especially computer/console specific games compared to arcade games. The Japanese computer/arcade/console market expanded in its own direction, the US computer/console/arcade in its own, and Europe computer (and eventually console) games in their own directions as well.
All with different trends to art and music.
The cutsy/cartoonie Japanese art style obviously became dominant in the 3rd generation of consoles, no surprise given it was a Japanese dominated market with US console developers not pushing things like they previously had. (the best developers tended to push more on computers, both in the US and Europe, with a few exceptions -US computer gaming had taken a shift in genres as well, diverging from what was popular on consoles -one of the few examples of crossover was Maniac Mansion on the NES)
The new art and sound style obviously ended up being popular, but I also hear a lot of criticism of the Japanese style at the time and especially anything on the NES (especially from old console/computer fans who really liked the early/mid 80s western style).
There was a rather long-winded discussion on atariage on how the majority of NES games (especially 1st party games) were extremely unappealing form certain individuals.
It would be interesting to know actually how many people that included or how many just didn't care either way (either liked both or were indifferent), and how many simply bought into hype and peer pressure and let themselves be led by what was popular rather than using their own judgment.
Yes, for a time, there was a lot of western influence in a lot of areas (still is in some), but very quickly you saw a shift towards Japanese-specific styles of western inspired media. (again, that also led to a culture clash for some -perhaps many, but it's hard to tell- per my above comments)But even if you think about what we consider the most Japanese type of games, those with a heavy Manga and Anime influence, you could still track this back to the beginning of the Japanese pop culture during the post WW2 era. There were no comics in fascist Japan.
I for one don't agree with any of it as I'm happy with a wide range of styles. Though I must admit that there's more low-quality games (sometimes only lower quality in certain categories like music, art, or actual game design), but it's also interesting to note that many of those games were outsourced, sometimes overseas. (the infamously low quality Acclaim proxy publisher LJN had a lot of outsourced work including some games developed by RARE )
Actually the most consistent issue was music (at least IMO), but that wasn't so much a problem on pre-4th gen systems (a lot of decent to good chiptunes from US developers).
It seems to have been more of an issue with the Genesis and PC . . . or FM synth being poorly used in general, including the arcade (I don't think I've heard any YM2151 tune that was really good coming from a US arcade developer). Odd, I wonder what it was with FM synth in the US, you had some awesome examples in Japan and Europe, but lots of mediocre stuff in the US (be it the sound engine used, composition/arrangement used with that engine, or both).
Maybe it has something to do with MIDI based drivers (and similar trackers) becoming popular at the time that resulted in sound engines that were relatively limited in flexibility. (and a lack of developers/programmers pushing lower-level sound engines or tweaking/customizing the MIDI/tracker programs)
You did eventually see some pretty good use of the YM3812 (OPL2) in better PC games and a few games that made moderate use of the YM262 (OPL3), but even the best cases were only pretty good and not outstanding or amazing. (X-Wing -CD-ROM- and Tie Fighter had some of the better MIDI drivers and arrangements I've heard)
What's also interesting is that you saw some pretty heavy, quality use of the MT-32 in PC games in the late 80s and early 90s. (including a lot of custom patches, not just the default instrument set)
Ironic given it was a very specific synth mechanism that was not common at all in the mass market. (a hybrid of sample bassed synthesis, additive synthesis, subtractive synthesis, and I think granular synthesis -in as far as using attack samples followed by a looping waveform for a composite instrument/note; plus hardware reverb/echo effects)
FM synthesis, sample based synthesis (fully sampled sounds looped and pitch-bent without much synthesis of any kind, the Amiga being one of the first to introduce that on a large scale) were the most common digital music/sound mechanisms in the late 80s and early 90s (sample based synth eventually became totally dominant) along with older analog synth and simple wave generating sound chips which were also still commonplace into the early 90s.
Maybe the MT-32 just had really good tools that made it easy to program in spite of the unique synth mechanism. (it shared some similarities with older analog synth and simple waveform generation chips, but added some elements of sample synth and still more unique elements not really seen before in any combination)
There's also the Ensoniq wavetable synth chips that saw some occasional use in various keyboards, some home computers (apple IIgs), and a few arcade boards (capable of plain sample synth as well as true wavetable synth -a more complex composite of small samples using additive synthesis and some other techniques -I think some Ensoniq chips allowed sampled waveforms to be used as FM oscillators, like the Saturn does, or use really simple waveforms for more typical FM synth with the same mechanism).
Actually the Atari Panther was slated for an Ensoniq chip. (the higher-end OTIS chip was noted as a possibility, but apparently the developer units released in 1990 all used the older/simpler DOCII chip and more tuned towards supporting it for FM synth than wavetable or sample synth -presumably due to cost concerns severely limited RAM in the system . . . especially due to the PANTHER chip's need for very fast and expensive 32-bit SRAM -which was to be 32k and the entire system's shared RAM . . . the main reason it wasn't really a workable design, at least for the price point they wanted -odd they even bothered given they had the great Lynx chipset to work with already)