If there's one thing that the Mother 3 debacle should have taught the video gaming community, it's that trying to convince Nintendo of America to localize exceptionally Japanese titles for a North American release doesn't end so well. Now, five years after EarthBound fans felt the sting of disappointment, would-be fans of three Japanese Wii RPG titles — Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower — are trying to convince Nintendo's American arm into releasing those games here in the US of A. The fans organized a letter-writing and pre-ordering campaign dubbed Operation Rainfall in an attempt to show Nintendo that the company is leaving money on the table by not offering these games to the American market. Chris Kohler at Wired sums up the effort:
Nintendo continues to make grand overtures to the hard-core gaming fans in its home country. Most notably, over the past year it has released two role-playing games called Xenoblade and The Last Story, created by some of Japan’s most famous RPG designers. The games are exactly the sort of thing that Nintendo’s system lacks stateside: full-scale adventures with solid gameplay, high-quality graphics and music, interesting stories.
So it came as something of a shock when Nintendo did not take the opportunity at E3 to announce U.S. releases for these two games. Over the years, Nintendo of America has often declined to release many of its more hard-core Japanese games, but these two titles seem to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans. A group of them has started a social-media letter-writing campaign called Operation Rainfall with a stated mission “to make Nintendo localize notable games, such as Xenoblade, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower.”
While it is still possible Nintendo plans to release these games in the United States and simply has not announced them yet, given the company’s track record there is good reason to be skeptical bordering on pessimistic. Nintendo, like every other publisher on the planet, has every right and duty to decline to release certain games. What makes Nintendo unique is that it refuses to let other publishers release the games, either. What good does it do anyone to sit on content — especially when there’s barely anything else on your platform?
If you guessed that Nintendo of America bowed to the will of the fans and announced intentions to release the three titles here, then you haven't been part of this industry for very long. As my pal Pete Davison at GamePro reports, while the games are going to show up in other places around the world including Europe, America is downright out of luck.
Nintendo has confirmed that Xenoblade Chronicles will be released in the UK on September 2 but there's no such luck for American players -- yet, anyway. The language used by Nintendo of America is such that it doesn't rule out the possibility of the games coming to the States -- just that they won't be coming just yet. "We never say 'never,'" wrote the company on its Facebook page. "But we can confirm that there are no plans to bring these three games to the Americas at this time. Thanks so much for your passion, and for being such great fans!"
So why has Nintendo left these titles out of its American strategy? There's an interesting theory being floated by Sean Malstrom that wonders if the supposed target audience for the Wii in its waning days are low-income families who are not likely to buy an expansive JPRG experience and would instead prefer another hit of Wii Play. Malstrom also gives credit to Nintendo of America being an especially stubborn beast with a long memory.
NOA has decided a marketing strategy for the Wii which is ‘poor Latinos’. They intend to make the Wii a system for lower income families. (The problem with this is that game consoles, in general, have always been a ‘low income’ type of entertainment compared to the more expensive alternatives.) Xenoblade and the other games do not fit this ‘marketing strategy’.
Another theory is that the employees of NOA thinks they know gaming better than the market does. Even back during the NES days, NOA would push certain Japanese games they liked and would not push the ones they didn’t like. Both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were popular in Japan. When I played both of them, I realized that Final Fantasy was, by far, the superior game. Back then, I figured Final Fantasy would be the one to bet on for potential in the West. NOA, however, bet the farm on Dragon Quest 1. NOA went so far as to give away free copies of the game with a Nintendo Power subscription. I find it amazing that only Final Fantasy I made it to the West, while every Dragon Quest game (I, II, III, IV) did. I wanted to play Final Fantasy II and III, but the games never came. Since NOA had so much authority during that time period, and seeing how badly they bet on Dragon Quest, I believe they had to be partially responsible. Over twenty years later, not much has changed. NOA, again, bet big on Dragon Quest IX and lost. Other Japanese adventure/RPG games do not get brought over even if they are published by Nintendo.
The latter theory links back to the sad case of Mother 3. The previous game in the Mother series, EarthBound, tanked during the Super NES generation in North America compared to other Nintendo-released titles of the day, and so the franchise was effectively declared dead in the west despite the rabid cult audience that sprang up in the years that followed. EarthBound was given a major push in its time; consider the pack-in strategy guide, scratch 'n sniff advertising campaign, and other ways of spreading awareness. The market just wasn't interested at the time. I'm sure that the Dragon Quest experience taught the company quite a lesson, and they weren't about to get burned again pushing a title that seemingly few wanted to buy. Xenoblade, Pandora's Tower, and The Last Story aren't the first Japanese titles to not be welcome in North America and they certainly won't be the last.
Unless! Unless Nintendo of America is keeping these three titles in its back pocket for a later announcement. The company traditionally hosts a media summit to spotlight fall releases later in the year, and localized versions of these games could make a surprise appearance there. Dismissing Operation Rainfall could all be a way of keeping the fan fever running hot for a while longer in order to build up additional anticipation. That's an optimistic long shot, sure, but stranger things have happened and I wouldn't put it past the marketing department or management to let the fires burn for a while, then stroll in and play the role of hero by announcing a North American release when the company is good and ready. Stranger things have happened. However, as you'll recall, an official North American release of Mother 3 wasn't one of them.
Let's recall what the former executive vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo of America, Cammie Dunaway, said last year in an interview with Wired regarding Japanese Wii title Fatal Frame IV and why the company declined to bring it to North America:
The way it works is that Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe have teams who are responsible for going over to Japan three or four times a year, looking at what’s going on with the development teams, and making decisions about what makes sense to bring to the U.S. and when it makes sense to bring it here. I would argue that they are bringing a lot of great Japanese property here.
And bringing things like Fossil Fighters here, and certainly some of the lineup that we talked about today from things like Sin and Punishment, and also from a third party, bringing Dragon Quest IX, which we’re going to publish here in the U.S., Monster Hunter Tri, coming in a big partnership with Capcom to make sure that we really expose that content, which Japanese audiences love, to American audiences. So you’re right, we pick and choose, and we can’t bring everything. But I think that we’re working hard to try and bring a lot of those titles that did well in Japan to the U.S.
Working hard? Not hard enough if the fans are the judge. Just remember, Rainfallers, that if your campaign fails, there's always unofficial translation projects. That worked for Mother 3, it worked for Fatal Frame IV, and given enough time and hard work, it can work for you, too. Or you could just import the games and a regional Wii from one of the foreign markets where the titles will be released in English or the other language of your choice. Neither are the best solution, but sometimes we have to take what we can get.