Undoubtedly the topic of the week has been Operation Rainfall, a multi-faceted online movement begun to garner support for Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower, three Japanese RPGs whose chances for a North American release were all but extinguished when Nintendo failed to acknowledge any of the games at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. The exposure brought about by the movement caused Xenoblade (under its former moniker of Monado: Beginning of the World) to skyrocket to number one on Amazon’s bestseller list, and the situation even attracted the attention of Yahoo! Japan. Nintendo of America finally issued a response to the movement on its Facebook and Twitter pages, but the news is certainly not what gamers have been hoping to hear– according to the company, there are currently “no plans” to bring any of the titles to this side of the ocean.
This all but confirms that none of these titles will see the light of day in North America. Any number or reasons can have contributed to this choice, but the simple fact of the matter is we may never know just why Nintendo refuses to bring these three titles stateside (though it is certainly easy to assume the lackluster sales of Sin & Punishment: Star Successor and Metroid: Other M had some influence on the company’s decision). It’s a disappointing reality, especially as a gamer, but it is not altogether surprising considering the limited appeal each title holds, and given the scale of Japanese RPGs, localizing any of the games would be a massive undertaking. Even if Operation Rainfall was able to convince Nintendo to release just one of the titles, then it is likely we would not see it hit store shelves until 2012. This would put the game at an even greater risk of failing commercially, and it seems this prospect is far too much of a gamble for Nintendo to take. Those who still would like to experience Xenoblade can always modify their consoles and import the title from Europe, but those holding out hope that the games may yet reach the states should probably just move on.
In other news, Bethesda Game Studios, developer of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3, recently stated it will support Nintendo’s next home console, provided it is powerful enough to meet its needs. This seems to echo the sentiments of many other developers who are also waiting to see how the system stacks up graphically before dedicating any resources to it. While this is an understandable approach, especially given the rising costs of game development, it is one that may prove to be more harmful than good in the long run. Many companies adopted a similar strategy regarding Wii, but by the time they released their titles the console’s primary demographic had already been established, resulting in most core games outright bombing in the marketplace. The greatest way to ensure an audience on a platform is to cultivate one as early as possible, and many developers are only sabotaging themselves by not having a presence in Wii U’s launch window. Using horsepower as a crutch is certainly not helping matters, either, and far too many companies would rather pass over a console entirely because of its capabilities than put in the special effort needed to support it. After all, limitation begets creativity– countless titles on NES and even Nintendo 64 were borne out of concessions made to circumvent technological issues, and those systems became the home of many of the industry’s greatest classics. Graphical prowess is certainly vital in a medium so reliant on technology, but citing a console’s power as inadequate to properly convey your vision is, I feel, simply not a justifiable excuse and smacks of an unwillingness to compromise (which most certainly would require more work on the developer’s part). I must reiterate that Wii U’s hardware has yet to be finalized, so this may very well prove to be a nonissue, but I have a niggling feeling that even if the system were to more than meet Bethesda’s standards, it and many other western developers would still find some other reason not to support it. Here’s hoping the future says otherwise.
Also of interest, Keiji Inafune, who recently parted ways with Capcom to form the companies Comcept and Intercept, expressed his concerns about the viability of the western market. In his blog, the game designer writes, “It may be too late– or too hard– to tackle the US market at this point,” likely because of the prevalence of first-person shooters and other gritty titles. With the western gaming world so fully saturated and difficult to penetrate, Inafune predicts China will be the next market to provide the greatest opportunity for success:”The next big market is China. There I see many opportunities. My sights are on Asia.” Whether or not this means he will completely abandon the western audience remains to be seen, but judging by his remarks, it certainly sounds as though this may be the case.