Arc Rise Fantasia, developed by Marvelous Entertainment, released this past month onto an RPG-starved Wii console. The game, while not perfect, is pretty good and will be explored more in-depth in a forthcoming review. Arc Rise Fantasia is a “classic” Japanese RPG, with all the trappings of the genre: turn-based combat, a varied party, experience points and leveling up, and a plucky young male protagonist with an oversized blade.
Arc Rise Fantasia was supposed to be part of a mass movement of high-quality classical role playing games that would bring Wii closer to the level Nintendo enjoyed during the idyllic SNES days. Far from a movement, though, Arc Rise Fantasia seems poised to be conspicuously alone. Several high-profile titles that were supposed to join it have gone awry in one way or another, and as a result my own personal hopes for an SNES renaissance have been shattered. Worse still, those failures have left me wondering if JRPG developers are abandoning Wii altogether.
Prior to the release of Arc Rise Fantasia, there were only three classical Japanese role-playing games on Wii, and all three came with significant qualifications. Opoona is a clever turn-based RPG from Koei a few years back, but it suffers from shoddy localization and contains some other job simulation elements that set it apart from other JRPGs. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World certainly has a lot of the fundamentals but it also jettisons the classic Tales party in favor of two main characters who can level up, several supporting characters who cannot not level up, and a horde of “gotta catch ’em all” monsters. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is a traditional turn-based RPG… but was is also a WiiWare title that grows rather pricey to experience the whole ordeal.
What makes this more irritating is that the Wii library, to date, doesn’t even compare with the slim GameCube pickings. Sure, GameCube only had four decent classic JRPGs — Skies of Arcadia Legends, Tales of Symphonia, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, and Baten Kaitos Origins — but I would argue that any of those four games is better than any of the Wii RPGs currently available. As it stands right now, Nintendo’s innovative console seems like a step back from GameCube in terms of role playing, which is a pitiful thought indeed.
The promise of Wii has rested in the hope a whole new run of good RPGs. Tales of Graces was to be a “mothership” tales title that righted the spinoff wrongs of Dawn of the New World. Xenoblade, created by Baten Kaitos developer Monolith Soft, was to be Nintendo’s take on Final Fantasy XII. Dragon Quest X was supposed to be the return of a mainstream Square-Enix title to a Nintendo console, righting to wrongs of the misleading Dragon Quest Swords. Arc Rise Fantasia, finally, was to be a solid RPG to plug the gap between the larger triple-A titles.
So far, only Arc Rise Fantasia has delivered the goods.
Namco Bandai’s Tales of Graces released to rave reviews in Japan last year, not withstanding a serious game bug that prompted a costly disc recall. While Tales titles often don’t make it stateside (case in point: the two DS Tales titles), Nintendo consoles seemed to have a good track record with them, getting a Symphonia title on both GameCube and Wii. Just as importantly, Nintendo fans have been supportive, even managing over 150,000 copies sold with Wii’s Dawn of the New World despite it being a spinoff sequel rather than a true “mothership” title. Unfortunately, Namc0-Bandai has recently said they have no current plans to localize any Tales titles for North America, which has caused a pretty significant fan stir on the interwebs. Adding to the situation is the fact that there is now a Japanese PS3 port in the works, complete with a major post-credits quest, leaving open the possibility of a some sort of multiplatform “director’s cut” coming Stateside. That all said, given the apparent financial troubles the company is having — combined with Namco-Bandai’s apparent recalcitrance to let someone else localize it — it’s hard to say when, or even if, Tales of Graces will ever be localized for American Wiis.
Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade is the property of Nintendo. The game made its debut at E3 2009 in trailer form, without fanfare or explanation. Next to nothing has been said about it, although it has since released across the ocean and received outstanding press for its trouble. Nintendo of America still has the game (listed by its initial working title, Monado: The Beginning of the World) on its most recent release date lists. The fact that the release date is merely “TBA” — combined with the fact that it’s gotten no press and Nintendo doesn’t always publish everything it lists — makes me nervous. This is a game that should, without a doubt, be brought overseas, but Nintendo hasn’t given us any reason to believe that it is serious about doing so, at least not anytime soon.
What about Dragon Quest X? It’s still supposed to come to Wii at some indeterminate point, and certainly its prospects are better than other games I’ve mentioned; Dragon Quest titles of late seem to be shoe-ins for stateside release. The problem is that the title is strictly TBA even in Japan, with no screenshots or anything to show yet, which means that it could be two or three years before it even hits the land of the rising sun, much less additional delay the United States routinely receives. It’s also a bit ominous that Square-Enix declined to publish Dragon Quest IX in the states, instead leaving those duties to Nintendo. Will Big N be saddled with Dragon Quest X as well?
And The Last Story? Well, Mistwalker’s game certainly looks promising, and it’s got a trailer at least, something Dragon Quest X does not. Moreover, Nintendo has the publishing rights for the project, so the same hopes and fears I have attached to Xenoblade also apply here. Unfortunately, it’s also a long ways off — I don’t believe that 2010 Japan release window just yet — so if it does hit North America it could be some time before we see it here.
The future of Wii RPGs seems precarious right now, with most of the burden seemingly on Nintendo of America. Reggie and Co. hold the rights to Xenoblade and The Last Story. Moreover, they have previously localized titles stateside by Namco-Bandai (Baten Kaitos Origins) and Square-Enix (Dragon Quest IX), so the notion of them taking on Namco’s Tales of Graces or Squeenix’s Dragon Quest X is not completely out of the question. It’s also worth noting that Nintendo has shown itself capable of handling such large localization projects: Baten Kaitos Origins was well-translated and the quality of its voicework was surprisingly high for such a niche game. What is less clear is if Square-Enix and Namco-Bandai are interested in localizing their projects, or if Nintendo is willing to pick up so many titles if they don’t.
The next six months or so will be a critical time for Wii. Whether or not publishers make any announcements, especially with respect to Tales of Graces and Xenoblade, will go a long way toward determining Wii’s legacy as an RPG console. My fear is that we won’t hear any new news on those fronts and that these titles will be held back from the States.
I’d be absolutely thrilled to be wrong.