Cerebral Gamer: Adventures in Wii Modding

Nintendo seems content to leave U.S. Wii owners out in the cold with respect to a few deserving titles. I’ve decided to do something about it.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 06/04/2011 14:00 3 Comments     ShareThis

Cerebral Gamer

Two weeks ago, I hacked my Wii.  I used an exploit in my copy of LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga to run the HackMii Installer, which in turn installed the Homebrew Channel on my console.  I then downloaded the Homebrew Browser, which can in turn be used to access a variety of utilities and games, including a few cool ports of old PC titles and a few utilities that allow DVD playback and online media streaming on the system.

Now, Nintendo frowns upon this sort of Wii modding; we know because Nintendo has actively sought to prevent modding or remove it when it happens.  Wiis released after 2008, for example, patch an exploit that installed a utility called BootMii nto the boot sector.  Nintendo’s last Wii System Update– version 4.3, released last summer– was dedicated almost exclusively to seeking out and deleting specific high-profile Wii mods.  (Those attempts were, perhaps predictably, quickly circumvented.)

For a long time I had little reason to disagree with Nintendo’s position, as I was generally satisfied with what Big N was doing for the system.  Besides, there is always an inherent level of danger with modding, as a mistake can potentially leave a system bricked and unusable.  (BootMii, to its credit, largely alleviates this threat, as it can save an image of a Wii and recover it from a bricked state.)  Moreover, I’m not really disposed to the piracy bit; I played a few SNES ROMs in the pre-Virtual Console era but I don’t mind paying for legitimate copies of games, since it supports developers I like and gives them resources to make more games.

Nintendo of America, through their inaction, has changed the situation for me.

Background

Last summer, I lamented the sorry state of JRPGs on Wii.  Inexplicably, Wii has managed to sell exponentially more consoles than GameCube yet boasts an undeniably weaker role-playing library.  GameCube had several classics like Skies of Arcadia Legends, Tales of Symphonia, Baten Kaitos, and Baten Kaitos Origins. Wii has Arc Rise Fantasia, Opoona, and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, none of which are as good as the four Cube titles I mentioned.

Truly aggravating is the fact that there are Wii games that are as good or better than those four Cube titles… although none of them have been released in America.  Tales of Graces, Xenoblade, and The Last Story are all out for Wii in Japan and have been very well-regarded there.  Nintendo of America has given no indication that any of them are stateside-bound and all the available evidence points to none of them getting the U.S. Wii treatment.  (E3 could change that situation, but I’m not holding my breath.)

It’s not like the English localization isn’t already happening.  Tales of Graces is coming to North American PS3s later this year.  Xenoblade has been confirmed for European release as Xenoblade Chronicles and is getting an English translation across the pond.  The Last Story is also strongly rumored to be Europe-bound as well and as such would get an English localization.

A huge fan of the genre, I’ve anguished over Nintendo’s silence on these games.  It’s got some great titles in its hands and I believe they could sell some copies, but Nintendo seems unfazed by the Wii’s 2011 title drought.  Nintendo is no stranger to releasing games in Europe that do not make it here.  In 2008, for example, Nintendo of America passed on the action/adventure title Disaster: Day of Crisis, instead letting the mature disaster thriller get translated into English with American voice talent and released in Europe.  Even with Tales of Graces, which is the property of Namco-Bandai, it seems that Nintendo could do something to encourage the game’s release here alongside the PS3 version.

Modding my Wii

Last month, after seemingly years of waiting on Reggie and company, I finally decided I was done waiting.  If Nintendo wouldn’t bring those games to my Wii, I was going to bring my Wii to those games.

European (PAL) games cannot be played on unmodified North American (NTSC) Wiis, so modding my Wii to play PAL games seemed the straightest, surest option.  Modding comes in several flavors, but the most general types are software modding (softmod) and hardware modding (hardmod).  Hardmod work is more expensive and requires more physical surgery than I was interested in, so I investigated softmodding.

Of course, I had to contemplate the risk of damaging the Wii.  While voices online were reassuring, I had to consider the possibility that my attempts to modify my Wii could kill it.  I decided at length that the reward was worth the risk; my Wii was a launch model, I’d gotten four and a half good years out of it, and if it did die there wasn’t that much of note on the release horizon anyway.

That, of course, brings us back briefly to where I began: I applied a hacked save file called “Return of the Jodi” to LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, which in turn modified my Wii to enable the use of the Homebrew Channel, a hub from which I can launch various programs.  Significant among the Homebrew Browser’s many offerings is a small and simple program called Gecko OS, which allows for the playing of games from Japan and Europe.

Next up, I figured I ought to put my newfound handiwork to the test.  There are two games I know of offhand that got PAL release but not a North American one: the aforementioned Disaster: Day of Crisis and Another Code: R, a traditional point-and-click adventure.  I went the route of Disaster, which was developed by Baten Kaitos and Xenoblade developer Monolith Soft.  I suppose I might have pirated a copy easily enough online, but I didn’t, instead willingly forking about $20 over to an eBay seller (who wisely asked if my Wii could play PAL games) to get the complete package from across the pond.  I popped it in, navigated to Gecko OS, and, viola, instant import gaming.

Conclusions

I respect Nintendo, and I appreciate what they have done with Wii and DS over the last several years.  I also appreciate the many games they have produced, and I am more than happy to recompense them with my hard-earned dollars.  I don’t pirate and I do support good work with the money it deserves.  But when Nintendo refuses to bring those games to America, actively tries to block the very programs which would make it happen, and leaves Wii’s 2011 lineup looking as lackluster— Skyward Sword notwithstanding– as it is, I am inclined to do something about it.

Now, I’m mindful that I could be eating crow, and shortly.  E3 is coming up soon, with Nintendo set to pitch its vision in just a few days.  NOA could trot out and announce that Xenoblade et al. are coming stateside this year.  I hope they do.

But if they don’t, I still intend to be feeding my Wii the games it deserves, beginning with Xenoblade Chronicles in September.

3 Responses to “Cerebral Gamer: Adventures in Wii Modding”

  • 150 points
    Lewis Hampson says...

    I loved the Homebrew channel. Managed to get Tatsunoko vs Capcom before it released here in UK.
    It’s an interesting point about ports not coming to US. I remember back in the SNES days we had the same problem here. Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger never got released on these shores, I do wonder about Nintendo sometimes.

    Thumb up 0
    • 1329 points
      Andrew Hsieh says...

      Yeah, living in America instead of Taiwan, I had an American Wii and, of course, thought that TvC would never release in the States. Imagine my annoyance when it finally got released not two weeks after I bought the import, and with extra characters to boot.

      Thumb up 0
  • 162 points
    LadyMushroom says...

    I use the Homebrew Channel for playing video and some European-released games. It really makes the Wii a much more valuable device for me (we have no DVD player and the Wii is a perfectly good one). Region locking is ridiculous. I don’t see any reason I shouldn’t buy import games.

    Thumb up 2

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