It’s old news by now, but it’s official: after much Internet backlash, Xenoblade is finally coming out in the US…about a year and a half late. Ah, well. It’s a victory all the same.
Some people have reacted to this news with ambivalence: first, Nintendo waited until after everyone who cared about the game modded their Wiis and imported the European version, and second, it’s only going to be available from Gamestop, otherwise known as “the Devil.” Interestingly, though, Gamestop apparently approached Nintendo about getting the game published here, so despite their sorry reputation among gamers, even they know a dick move when they see one.
Personally, I’m glad I waited. Yes, the US version will be the pretty much the same as the European version, British voice acting and all, but there’s one very important difference.
EU on the left, US on the right:
Look at that. Someone at Nintendo of America has taste. “Chronicles” may not be out of the picture entirely, but it’s shrunk down enough that you barely even notice it – a little Photoshopping and it’d be gone entirely.
So remember, kids: wait for the American version, or else you’ll be saddled with a copy that gives the crappy contractually-obligated cliché RPG subtitle equal billing with the actual name of the game. (They even had the gall to shrink the word “Xenoblade” to match. Bastards.)
So I’m playing Radiant Historia right now, a brilliant little DS JRPG published by Atlus. Fans of Chrono Trigger are already familiar with the possibilities of time travel in RPGs; fans of Chrono Cross (an excellent game, thank you very much) know what alternate realities can bring to the table. Now imagine the two of them brought together in one game. The very first choice in Radiant Historia sets off its major storytelling gimmick: the game progresses along two dramatically different courses, both of which much be experienced in order to bring the story to its conclusion. Events along one path affect the other, much like that fun little puzzle in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where you had to fill the moat in the Light World to make it fill in the Dark World.
Of course, time is not nearly so wibbly in the real world (at least, not until someone finally invents the Doctor). But there’s little doubt in my mind that someone at Nintendo really wishes they had the White Chronicle right around now.
The Wii really did seem like a good idea at the time. Nintendo has always been of the mindset that they make toys for small children; their attempts to do otherwise have traditionally met with disaster. In this respect, taking the casual market by storm and letting the hardcore crowd play with its PS3s and XBox 360s was the logical choice. Now the casual market has slipped from their grasp, the 3DS has been met with apathy by the public and disappointment by developers, and the Wii U’s E3 showing left the crowds perplexed instead of awed. Their ironclad belief that the 6-12 crowd is their primary audience has left them crippled with ridiculous Friend Codes and parental control-mandated region locking. Were they wrong to aim for the casual crowd? Not at the time, no. But it’s clear that ignoring – or rather, actively alienating – the hardcore audience has reaped a bitter harvest for them.
Now they stand at the gates of Historia, the mysterious time travelers Lippti and Teo gently chiding them that doing what seemed like the obvious “right” course of action has wrought despair and destruction. And they have a choice of two paths. Nintendo wants to have its cake and eat it, and they must decide which is more important.
The “Have Cake” Route: Follow in Sega’s footsteps and pull out of hardware entirely. This is not a bad ending for them. Nintendo’s consoles have long been entrenched about five years behind the curve: they eschewed optical media on the Nintendo 64, marginalized online play on Gamecube, and refused to implement a real online infrastructure for Wii. The Operation Rainfall fiasco proves they simply cannot be trusted as a first-party publisher. Their strength has always been in their own games, and even if the Wii U is the final Nintendo-branded console, there is little doubt in my mind that Mario and Zelda will still have a home on some platform. In many ways, the game industry will be a better place with them removed from a position of power and authority.
The “Eat Cake” Route: Go beyond mere apologies and price cuts and actually address the issues that are holding them back. Killing Friend Codes once and for all will earn them plenty of friends. Developing a proper online infrastructure with usernames, messaging, and the ability to tie purchases to a shop account will go even further. Now that the casual market is no longer their exclusive domain, they need to focus their efforts on winning back the hardcore crowd by casting aside their pretense of making games for little kids and their grandmothers and bringing both the games and the functionality that will allow the 3DS and Wii U to actually compete against the Vita, PS3, and XBox 360. Nintendo can emerge triumphant yet again if they’re willing to fight for it.
As far as I’m concerned, both these paths lead to happy endings. Nintendo triumphs, either as a purveyor of casual
shovelware games, or as the rethroned king of the game industry. Of course, in Radiant Historia, there are many branching paths which lead to ruin and destruction, so we can’t ignore the possibility of…
The “Cake Gets Smashed On The Ground” Route: Nintendo continues on just as it is right now, trying to peddle $250 game systems and $40 games to little kids who can play those exact same games for five bucks a pop on their PCs or their parents’ cellphones, incapable of reconciling their ironclad belief in their own infallibility with the brutal reality of their increasing irrelevance. After a string of drastic price cuts and megaton announcements of minor hardware updates refuses to stop the bleeding, Nintendo loses all hope and sanity and finally outsources all of its major franchises to Ninja Theory, at which point both the company and said franchises are effectively dead.
Nintendo, this is Jacob Marley calling. Change your ways or become a sad historical footnote. You have until your next console release. Choose your path wisely.
Less than half a year after the (failed) launch of the 3DS, there are rumblings from Nintendo about a rather drastic hardware redesign: the much-ballyhooed but ultimately pointless 3D screen is going to be either nerfed or nixed altogether, and the system will pick up a much-needed second analog stick.
Rumors? I wouldn’t have put any stock in them three months ago. But now that Nintendo has slashed the 3DS’s price in response to its dismal sales figures, it’s safe to say that the company has gone into damage control mode. Regardless of the enthusiastic response it received at E3 2010, the 3DS has crashed and burned spectacularly: its $250 price point scared away consumers, almost all of its big-name titles are ports of games available on other platforms, and its online functionality is hampered by Nintendo’s wag-the-dog attitude towards parental controls. It’s even region locked. The whole system seems like Murphy’s Law personified.
At any rate, the source of these rumors is reputable: they actually found out about the Wii U’s tablet controller before Nintendo unveiled it themselves at E3 2011. Which puts me in an odd place. I’d been planning to get a 3DS after the price cut, but now, I’m finding myself siding with all the other people who said “nah, I’m gonna wait for them to release the next hardware revision.” Used to be, my reaction was “but that could be two or three years down the road!” Oh, how naive I was. In all likelihood, it’s happening next year.
Though if Nintendo thinks it can solve all its 3DS woes with just a new hardware version, they’re more delusional than I give them credit for. If they try to use this as an excuse to go back to the $250 price tag, they’re shooting themselves in the foot unless they can give us something we’re really willing to pay extra for. Getting rid of Friend Codes and the region lock would be a good place to start…
What do Breath of Fire 2, Megami Ibunroku Persona and Final Fantasy Tactics all have in common?
They’re all Japanese RPGs? Right, but not what I’m thinking of.
They all have battle systems that play out in isometric perspective? Also true, but also not what I’m getting at here.
They all involve malevolent organizations masquerading behind a benevolent public front? Clever, but still not quite what I had in mind.
The answer I’m dancing around is this: they all had famously horrible translations.
Today, we’re going to talk about a little thing called “DD”.
“Digital Distribution”, “Direct Download”, “Digital Download”…whatever you think the letters stand for, the concept as a whole stands for a massive, market-altering change, the kind of thing the more pretentious would label a “paradigm shift”.
For the unenlightened, DD refers to the growing trend towards distributing software (primarily games in this context) in downloadable format instead of (or in addition to) physical media. In practical terms, this means you can buy the latest game titles without going to the store, or play classic games without paying obscene prices on eBay. The same revolution that gave us iTunes and the RIAA headaches is now changing the face of mainstream gaming: Nintendo’s Wii and DSi, Microsoft’s XBox 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3 and PSP all have download services carrying new, classic and exclusive titles, and PC gamers have a variety of download services to choose from as well, including Steam, Direct2Drive and, for retrogaming goodness on the cheap, GOG.com.
However, there are those who view this digital gaming revolution as some kind of encroaching alien menace. To them, the switch from physical media to digital format is apparently some kind of harbinger of the gaming apocalypse. “These greedy corporate suits are trying to steal our money,” they say, “making us pay for something we don’t really own! If it doesn’t come on a disc, then I don’t want it!”
Unfortunately for them, there’s three things wrong with this argument.
Do you believe in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?
According to that theory, every outcome that could happen does happen, but in a parallel universe. Decided to turn left at that fateful intersection? There’s a parallel world where you turned right, and the world got invaded by aliens. There’s a world where you were born the other gender, one where you weren’t born at all, one where a charismatic figure with a magical eye made Ben Franklin turn traitor and helped establish the Britannian Empire…the possibilities, and therefore the multiverses, are endless. If you’ve ever watched Sliders, you’re familiar with the general idea: it’s also a prominent plot element in Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, which you really should give a read if your brain is pliable enough to avoid snapping violently at the clever temporal loop the book also presents. (And DeceasedCrab would have you think that Choose Your Own Adventure books are only good for a MSTing.)
There’s also a parallel world where every captain of industry isn’t fundamentally a Luddite, where new technological advances are embraced instead of ruthlessly quashed by those who see them as a threat, and my parallel-world doppelganger looks forward to getting a PSP Go.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know precisely what I think of lame attempts to use sex to sell a product.
I think the perpetrators ought to be castrated with a chainsaw.
Which is to say, it was curiosity alone that led me to research Civony – I mean, Evony, purely because the ads were freakin’ everywhere and I was curious just what kind of game was apparently buried under all that cheesecake. Unsurprisingly, it appears that the gameplay is just as vapid and uninspired as the methods used to market the game. (And anyone who plays the game expecting it to have scantily-clad women like in the ads is going to be sorely disappointed. To be honest, I call that karmic retribution.)
Which is not to say that there aren’t any good free browser-based MMOs. A few years back, I had some fun with Urban Dead, a zombie apocalypse-themed game set in a ruined city. More recently, one of my favorite webcomics ran an ad for Spy Battle 2165, a text-based browser game where you play as a freelance covert operative in a sci-fi future.
The ad in question is only tangentially related to the game (not to mention the comic), but take a look. Heck, why stop at just the ad? Girl Genius is an epic (and hilarious) tale of mad science in an alternate universe where borderline supernatural geniuses called Sparks changed the course of history; it’s well worth spending a few hours on an archive binge.
So let this be a lesson to all you developers out there. If you want people to play your browser-based games, don’t slap some tired buzzwords onto some stock photo and call it a day. Instead, hijack yourself a webcomic artist!
Oh, and if you decide you want to check out Spy Battle 2165 yourself, make sure you tell them Ryusui referred you. Or better yet, just click one of the links I’ve helpfully provided in this blog post!
I’ll admit, I’m not exactly a follower of Spice and Wolf, or anything at all that I can’t get at my local bookstore or on television, for that matter. But then, when you frequent TV Tropes as much as I do, you learn a lot about series you’d otherwise never hear about, purely through osmosis. Add that to the fact that light novels virtually never come Stateside (except when the franchises they spawned become pretty famous in the U.S., such as the inescapable Haruhi Suzumiya), and you can imagine my surprise to hear that the original light novels for Spice and Wolf have been announced for the U.S..
But don’t break out the confetti just yet, ladies and gentlemen. See, someone at publisher Yen Press thinks the original cover art featuring ex-harvest goddess and eponymous lupine Holo (and it is Holo) in cute anime girl form will have red-blooded American readers marching against them in armed rebellion. No, instead they’ve gone for a cover design that’s intended to appeal to a different audience…the American male crotch.
Dare to compare.
I mean, seriously. Which would you prefer to display on your bookshelf? Sure, the one on the right can mean anything from “I’m a fan of anime and manga” up to “I have a thing for kemonomimi (and possibly a full-blown furry fetish)”, but the one on the left unambiguously says “I let my zipper choose all of my reading material”. I understand that Holo does spend a fair amount of time naked (her natural form is a full-fledged wolf, after all), but seriously: the cover on the left makes it look like a trashy romance novel. Or, less charitably, porn. Which is sad, because I hear that Spice and Wolf is a fairly intellectual story: the spice the title alludes to is not the stuff you see in the U.S. cover, but the fact that its other protagonist is a trader. Who, in addition to adventure, has to deal with (and explain to Holo) the concerns relevant to his profession. That’s right…plenty of fantasy novels are steeped in political intrigue, but this is one steeped in economics. And such a crazy-sounding concept is enough in and of itself to sell me on it.
None of this is to say that I have an issue with them changing the cover. With the above in mind, it’s possible this book might have a much wider audience than the anime/manga fans that the original cover would rope in. But trying to sell Spice and Wolf purely on naked Holo is only going to drive this potential audience away. If you’re going to pander to an audience, pander to the people who might appreciate an intellectual fantasy story, a tale with a distinctly non-standard protagonist with non-standard goals and motivations. If Yen Press is so afraid that anime-styled Holo is going to scare away readers, then maybe they should try selling the story on the spice instead of the wolf.
(And if you don’t have one, then please, stay the hell away! The last thing Yen Press needs to think is that the only people complaing about the cover are nutjobs saying they’re the devil incarnate for not calling her “Horo”!)