As someone definitively on the fanatical side of the gaming community, I want the opportunity to play any game that comes out. I think most of us do. It burns me up when I think about some of the incredible games from the PS1 era that never made it to the USA. “All games should be released everywhere,” I think to myself. And then I nod at my own righteousness.
So it’s uncomfortable for me to be in the position I am in now. Namco Bandai has just announced that their strategy roleplaying game for the 3DS, Project X Zone, will be localized for the West, and my immediate reaction is “No no no no no no no no NO.”
Now, it’s not that I don’t want the game. On the contrary, I’m actually interested in the game personally. I don’t know if I will buy it at launch, but I certain expect to at some point. But, well… the video game business is indeed a business. And as a business move… this is really pretty stupid of Namco Bandai.
First, let’s talk about the game’s strengths… and how they won’t help it on these shores. The game is an ensemble cast of all-stars from various Japanese gaming franchises, organized in an over-the-top strategy RPG overflowing with anime style. Only… in the west, most of this “all-star cast” hasn’t ever seen our shores. The games they’re in didn’t come out here. So instead we’re faced with this guy with blue hair and a big sword who everyone is talking about like he’s as well known as Mario, and we’re just baffled as to what his name even is. And though both RPGs and anime style sell fantastically in Japan, neither is nearly as much of an asset in the West. Many Western gamers in fact look down on both of these things.
Then there are the finer details. It’s on the 3DS, and while that system hasn’t sold badly in the West, it is far more popular in Japan, so there will be a smaller install base. And since Namco Bandai has, in the past few years, dialed back its western releases, its name doesn’t have the power over here that it does over there, either. Finally, there’s the fact that they aren’t going to fully localize it- no English voicework. Fair enough, most people who are going to be into this won’t want that anyway… but some of them will, and they just lost interest.
So business wise, that makes this look like a pretty bad decision. Why do we care? Because of what this means for the future. When Japanese companies go out on a limb and bring games they wouldn’t otherwise to our shores, and they don’t sell, they tend to throw up their hands and say “WHELP. We tried. Now let’s never localize anything ever again.” Namco Bandai in particular stopped bringing its Tales games to the west for a while after some of its titles sold less than well over here. And that means we miss out on the titles that would sell- the real gems that end up never leaving the island of Japan because the Japanese devs stuck their hand in the fire once too often, and now they’re afraid to cook anything.