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.