Thanks to the efforts of fan movements such as Operation Rainfall, Japan has started to get the hint: we want your games. So it was with great jubilation that western gamers received the news this week that Mistwalker Studos’ acclaimed RPG from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, The Last Story, would actually see a release in North America.
And while it’s wonderful to know that at least some games are making their way over to the states, the truth is that a number of high-quality titles just never see an international localization. So for this week’s Sunday Sound-Off, we asked our writers what games they wanted to get their hands on that never saw the light of day in their home country. The result was a list of crushed dreams and missed opportunities, able to be healed only by “Plan B” options such as imports and fan translations.
Ryan Larrabee – Monster Hunter Frontier
With the release of Monster Hunter Tri, America has proven that it’s caught Monster Hunter Fever. Also, with games like Call of Duty selling better than caffeinated hotcakes, we’re very clearly crazy for multiplayer. So how the hell is it that Monster Hunter Frontier, an MMO currently only available in Japan, hasn’t made it stateside yet?
Sure, just about every MMO has bosses you can tackle with your friends, but Monster Hunter has bumped up that mechanic to include a bigger reliance on skill and reflexes, and then made an entire game out of it. Imagine yelling at your friend for diving a split second too late, and getting hit by a Rathalos’ swooping attack, or an Espinas’ fireball. Think of finally defeating that stubborn monster that’s been beating the crap out of you for weeks, then skinning it and wearing its skull as a helmet.
As American as that sounds, the game’s been out for almost five years in Japan, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a Western localization at this point, and this makes me a sad hunter.
Ben Chapman – Pokémon + Nobunaga’s Ambition
Let’s be honest: Pokémon has become stagnant. We’ve defeated the Elite Four, caught each new set of creatures, and defeated Team Rocket. Then we beat Team Magma, Team Galactic, and – well, you get the idea. Love for the series runs deep, but we need something other than the existing formula, and Pokémon + Nobunaga’s Ambition may be just that.
Not only is it a completely new gamestyle, moving form open-ended turn-based battle system to a strategy RPG, but the series is drawing inspiration from popular the series Nobunaga’s Ambition. Think about it. Final Fantasy Tactics-esque gameplay, trainers in Samurai armor, and a new Pokemon experience with selections of creatures from every game. We won’t know if it’s worthy until it lands in Japan next month, but I would be ready to put money down day one if by some miracle we could see it state-side.
Lucas Smith – Seiken Densetsu 3
Do you know the feeling when you’re hyped for a game’s release, only to find out that it’s canned? (editor’s note: Yes I do.) Not a very good feeling is it? However, that pales in comparison to not being to play a game because of developers not releasing it in your country. Such was the case with me and Seiken Densetsu 3 (otherwise known as Secret of Mana 2).
What makes this ordeal even worse is that Square had stated that a NA localization was in development, but no news was heard after that. Although the game is available on SNES emulators thanks to a fan translation, it would be amazing if Square would do an official release. Not only did it feature a diverse case of characters, and innovative gameplay, but it also had, in my opinion, one of the greatest themes ever composed for a video game.
While Secret of Mana told a single story focused on three characters, Seiken Densetsu 3 allowed you to choose a leader and two supporters from a list of six characters. The list included Duran, Angela, Hawk, Riesz, Kevin, and Charlotte. Each of these characters featured a different story, villain and playstyle. The game also featured a class system that let you evolve your character into either a “light” or “dark” class, and characters would evolve differently based on what items they had. To my knowledge, it was also one of the first games to feature a day/night cycle that affected your abilities. For example, each day in the game is represented by a different element so your healing magic would be weaker on one day and stronger on the next.
With the market saturated with mediocre JRPGS and a few great ones on the horizon, there has never been a better time for Seiken Densetsu 3.
Emma Atlas – Mother 3
Mother, EarthBound, and Mother 3, together weirdly amalgamated into the Mother series, have in recent years lavished in a standoff between Nintendo’s conservatism and the demand of the series’ cult following. EarthBound sold poorly on release in 1995, and Mother 3 was released in Japan in 2006 but never reached the US. Despite its rocky initial success, the series still continues to gather new fans today through downloadable ROM emulators.
There is one obstacle which blocks Mother 3 directly, and it’s one that is common for any media which carries the pointy crown of “cult following.” Essentially, despite the vocal nature of the small group that would be willing to buy Mother 3, it’s not certain that the title would be able to bring in a profitable amount of people. It’s understandable – the game uses some battle mechanics that are a little unusual, featuring turn-based fighting mixed with a rhythm game and sped up by the series staple of characters taking damage over time and allowing the player to use last-minute healing items. The appearance of the game is somewhat childish, and yet the plot carries enormous weight and is fraught with emotion.
In addition, with the creation of such a high quality fan translation available for free, Nintendo has good reason to feel Mother 3 is a risky investment. So yes, compared to other titles on this list Mother 3 is probably the least likely to come stateside. The re-release of its sketchy sibling Earthbound is practically mandatory as an introduction for the game, and it’s not a re-release Nintendo is likely to make. Mother 3 is also a high-risk investment for Nintendo to produce.
That means the only way to get access to these titles is probably to find them somewhere on the internet. But all 0.37 of our Pikimal Lawyers agree, if you play the games without paying the only way to save yourself from the Special Hell for people who talk at the movie theater is to go buy some official merchandise.
Matt Wells – Fatal Frame 4
I had a difficult time deciding which game I would like to see brought over when there are a myriad of JRPGs that the West never got to see. Considering how the other three entries in the series have been well-received (as well as “pants-shitting” levels of scary), it really is a wonder why this was never released outside of Japan. While the series does borrow heavily from Japanese culture and supernatural mythology, it certainly didn’t make the game unintelligible to an American player.
The Fatal Frame series always had a masochistic level of horror, as it made you take pictures and that were only considered great if something freaky is showing up in the frame. It added a rather large psychological element to the game that has yet to be replicated in any other series.
It’s especially perplexing because Fatal Frame’s fourth installment is the best selling game in the series (in Japan). While a patch is available (via SD slot) for those who go out and purchase the Japanese version of the game, it certainly isn’t the same. I’d love to see Fatal Frame IV be released in the West, but I know that sitting around and waiting will be akin to Linus and the Great Pumpkin.
The main reason that I look at Fatal Frame IV and believe it deserves to get released in the States is that it was released in July of 2008, meaning it isn’t even four years old. During development, Nintendo stated that no localizations would be made outside of Europe, a petition or fan-movement should have started. The fact that FFIV was released well within the “Era of the Internet” and nothing really got rolling to bring it over leaves an incredibly bitter taste in my mouth. It’s just a shame that there was never an Operation No-Sleep started in order to get Fatal Frame IV (or any other horror entry) over to the West so it could turn our dreams to nightmares and make us sleep with the lights on.
There’s one game buried in the land of Japan that needs to be excavated, translated, and brought to America to be celebrated by the English speaking population. The game in question is Kiki KaiKai (“Mystery Ghost World”), the precursor to the Pocky and Rocky. Kiki KaiKai was created by Taito for the Japanese arcades back in 1986, and while it was unofficially brought over to America in the form of a game called Knight Boy, it needs an official translation so I know how the Pocky & Rocky saga began.
I know that when I’m doing my weekly play through of Pocky & Rocky, I often wonder what in the world inspired such an adventure. Since Kiki Kaikai never saw an official North American release, I’m stuck weaving my own origin tale. This is a shame because the world needs a dose of the beautiful seed that would blossom into the classic Pocky and Rocky.
Arriving on the scene six years before Pocky and Rocky, Kiki KaiKai employs many of the same hooks and techniques; you play as a shrine keeper that can shoot scrolls in eight directions in an attempt to rid the shrine of dastardly ghosts. A fairly simple concept these days, but at the time was so novel.
My new life goal is to reintroduce Pocky & Rocky to the youth in the gaming industry. Thank the heavens that I’m just about done with my Pocky & Rocky 4 EX Go Go Go design document. Someone get me Taito on the phone.
Chris Ullery – Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu
What do you get from your typical romance system these days? A few lines of canned dialogue, maybe a sex scene if the game is particularly risqué? Cute. Back in 1996, in the twilight years of the Super Famicom, Fire Emblem had a romance system that allowed you to breed an entire army.
The fourth entry in the Fire Emblem tactical RPG series, Seisen no Keifu (roughly translated as “Genealogy of the Holy War”) contained an incredibly robust romance system, allowing characters to develop bonds and eventually (answering Otacon’s eternal question) allow love to bloom on the battlefield. Not only did this give the player a way to customize their characters’ story development, but it also played a strong hand in one of the game’s most innovative gameplay mechanics.
Seisen no Keifu was broken up into two halves, focusing on two generations of characters. What made the game so intriguing was that the characters you had access to in the second generation – as well as their statistics, traits and weapons – were determined by the relationships you forged in the first half. You were playing as the children of your characters from earlier in the game, leading to an unbelievable sense of connection between you and your troops.
Of course, Nintendo was never convinced that Fire Emblem would perform well enough outside of Japan to justify a costly localization, and it took the incredible popularity of a pair of characters in the mega-hit Super Smash Bros. Melee to convince them otherwise (two characters, I might add, that almost got axed from the North American version). Since then, almost every Fire Emblem game has seen a stateside release, but most of the older titles remain woefully neglected. I’d love to see a Virtual Console or eShop release of Seisen no Keifu… but I’m not about to hold my breath. Oh well, at least there’ll always be fan translations…