Last week a group on the IGN forums decided to start a letter writing campaign to Nintendo of America with the goal of bringing localized versions of three first party titles for the Wii to North America: Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower.
This kind of grass roots drive isn’t new, especially when it’s directed at Nintendo, who has been reluctant to bring certain games overseas, Mother 3 being the poster child for this. While the forum’s thread remains relatively small, word of the idea spread across gaming blogs and news sites to an extent where it seemed like an actual movement could come from this. The question is, what chance do any of these titles have when Mother 3, which wasn’t even a new IP, couldn’t make it overseas?
Both situations are similar regarding the life cycle of the console they appear on. Mother 3 was a late Game Boy Advance title, in fact its special edition actually came with the last of the GBA models, the Game Boy Micro. The “forbidden three” are all late Wii titles, with Wii U announced for release next year.
They also share another thing in common: each console these games came out on is backwards compatible with their predecessor, with the original DS able to play GBA carts, and the Wii U supporting Wii discs. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean much, as it always seems that Nintendo wants to draw attention away from the older console to make the newer more appealing. The GameCube is a prime example of this with hardly anything coming out during its last year, the highlight being Twilight Princess, which ended up getting a Wii port that was released simultaneously. Even third party titles that were announced, like Radirgy, disappeared. It looks like we’re going to run into the same situation with Wii, as only Rhythm Heaven, Kirby, and Skyward Sword have been confirmed for release. Needless to say, the fact that the Wii is on its last legs, with possibly less than a year until the Wii U’s release, is not a good sign for any of these titles.
Despite the fact that The Last Story is from Mistwalker, led by Hironobu Sakaguchi (famous for both his moustache and creating Final Fantasy), the one title among these three that has the best chance at succeeding is Xenoblade. Announced at E3 2009 as Monado: Beginning of the World, and released in Japan last year, Xenoblade is the creation of Monolith Soft, best known for the Xenosaga series, as well as the Baten Kaitos titles for GameCube. Of course, a number of the team, most notably Tetsuya Takahashi, were responsible for Xenogears, the classic PlayStation RPG from Square. While the Xeno name has less clout than Final Fantasy, it has already overcome one major hurdle: it’s coming out in Europe with full English localization.
The Japanese boxart for Xenoblade.
While this is certainly a positive, the same scenario has come up before with Disaster: Day of Crisis, another Monolith Soft title for the Wii that received English localization but was only released in Europe and Australia. Many years ago this also happened with the original Mother. Nintendo of America had full intention of releasing Mother in North America, in fact its translation and requisite NES-era censorship were already taken care of. An early cartridge ended up in a collector’s hands and subsequently on the internet as a ROM with an altered title screen dubbing it Earthbound Zero. Ultimately it was determined that marketing the game, along with producing the cartridge and other related materials which included a book (remember, these were the days when RPGs had to come with a hand-holding walkthrough) were just too costly. The risk of the game being a flop was greater since it too would have been released during the last days of the NES and the early days of the Super Nintendo.
Once again we have a situation where a game is localized but finished so near the end of its console’s life cycle. So is there any hope?
Well, as folks tend to forget in their blind rage against Nintendo, myself included, it is a business, and as such, it does need to make money. When a game is given the green light, it’s not because the powers that be think it will be a masterpiece, it’s because they think it will make money. Using Mother as an example, Nintendo of Japan felt it a good financial decision to go ahead with the game. The combination of a Nintendo-developed RPG plus the name of Shigesato Itoi attached to the project seemed like a guaranteed success, and it turned out it was. All three games in the series sold well in Japan. Although it was too late to release the original title, Mother 2 was given a chance in North America as Earthbound, sold in a giant box that came with a strategy guide and scratch-and-sniff stickers.
The marketing campaign, which revolved around the slogan “this game stinks,” did not bode well for Earthbound and sales were bad. Although it’s been 16 years and four consoles ago, Nintendo still won’t let go of Earthbound’s failure and assumes any additional attempts with the franchise in North America will still result in poor sales.
Point being, the current “forbidden three” are the types of games that Nintendo knew would be successful in Japan, but fears will be a bomb overseas. This is a company used to selling millions of copies of its titles worldwide. Mario and Zelda are universal, but RPGs are still a niche market outside of Japan. Previous letter writing and call-in campaigns have failed, even when those voices were heard. In an interview with MTV, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime acknowledged that he was being “bombarded by Mother fans” but said despite this, he looked at all potential releases as a “business decision.” No matter how loud the people yelled, it just didn’t seem to matter.
Intended result: like this, except not in Japanese.
This is why when I saw the call to arms for another letter writing and call-in campaign, I laughed. This is Nintendo we’re talking about here. Ultimately though, one of the IGN forum members noticed something: Xenoblade was available for pre-order on Amazon.com, still listed under Monado. Soon the rally cry wasn’t just for letters and Facebook posts, it was for pre-orders.
Now this was a much better idea, but to what extent would it work? I decided to participate and clicked pre-order without issue. It doesn’t cost me anything now, and if the game comes out, I’d order it from Amazon anyway, so what harm would it do? I pre-order things months, sometimes a year in advance on Amazon. Why would this be any different?
It seems like others felt the same way. Soon it was number one in Wii Action games, then number one in Wii games overall. Just two days after the idea was sparked, unbelievably, Monado became the top selling video game on Amazon.com. These aren’t just letters flooding Reggie’s office, these are customers giving their intent to purchase this game.
Being the pessimist I am it’s easy to blow this off and think that Nintendo will say “eh, how long will it stay at number one?” or “people just had to click a link, they can still cancel their order.” Another concern is that they could wonder if folks are cheating and ordering more than one copy of the game. All those scenarios are possible, however as I said, unlike PK Call’n, this is showing an actual intent to buy the game.
Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower are in an incredibly similar situation to Mother and Mother 3. If any of these games has a chance to come to North America, it’s Xenoblade, given that the game has already been localized and the most attention is being focused on that title right now. Nintendo is very set in its ways and no amount of convincing can change their minds of that. I think if one thing will get it to take notice it’s the Amazon pre-orders, but even those can be shrugged off as a small movement that has no legs in the long run.
While this campaign may not end in victory, three positive endings can come from it. First, the more pre-orders the game gets on Amazon, the more questions Amazon will be asking Nintendo regarding the release date and price. Amazon will need to know if these pre-orders will be potential sales or amount to nothing. Second, Nintendo’s shareholders will question it as to why Amazon’s top game, a Nintendo published title, doesn’t have a solid release date yet. Finally, and maybe most important of all, it shows that Nintendo fans want to do the right thing and buy a copy for their territory, however if it comes down to it, a lot of us will just choose to mod our consoles and import, if we haven’t already.
The way Nintendo is, just hearing an official recognition of the movement would be a tiny victory. Starmen.net was happy to hear Reggie even say the word “Mother” on MTV. Something besides a customer support rep’s email needs to come out of Nintendo so that we know what’s going on.
Personally I’m starting to think the best solution is learning Japanese.