Video games

Importing remains a fact of life

February 6th 2009 was a bittersweet day for European gamers. For this was the day that we finally got an PAL version of the seminal SNES game Chrono Trigger. This may come as a shock to many readers, but Europe, Australia and New Zealand had to wait 14 years for a localised version of the game that many regard as one of the finest RPGs of all time.

This is part of the reason Final Fantasy 7 is such an important RPG here – we simply did not, and still haven’t got many of the great RPGs that the rest of the world considers their staples.

A sad reversal of fortune

So for the first time in a very long time I find myself in a position where I do not have to import an RPG I desire. I will not be importing Xenoblade Chronicles because I have bought it easily from my country of origin.

It’s hard to know how to feel about campaigns like Operation Rainfall. On the one hand I feel empowered by fellow gamers taking a stand against a lack of release dates, on the other hand, I feel disappointed at Nintendo and many many other developers and publishers for consistently dropping the ball like this.

Primarily though I am frustrated by the poor status quo of release dates in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the other places in the world where a lack of releases are the norm, how we have to sit by and make do, without the great mass of population that America has in one continent. We simply aren’t able to campaign in a similar way, due to language barriers, distances, timezones and different technical setups.

This won’t be easy for anyone in America to hear but, we’ve been subject to this sort of scorn for decades now, and I don’t envy the position American gamers find themselves in this week partly because I have been there numerous times before.

How importing games became the norm

Importing is pretty much the norm outside of America and Japan, and unfortunately not just for the rare titles from Japan that are only released there and never translated, it becomes standard behaviour by ardent non-American gamers in order to get the bare minimum that the rest of the world expects.

It’s also about getting games in a timely fashion. The UK normally has to wait two months to a year (on top of the American wait of a year or more from Japan). Poor Austraila and New Zealand often have to wait even longer.

This wouldn’t be so bad but for the slight stigma created around importing games (usually by game developers or publishers) who often discourage this course of action on the whole, particularly as some of the routes used to play imported games are usually against manufacturers terms of service.

The usual response is this; to not put your intended audience in a position where they need to import games in order to enjoy the same levels of service as the rest of the world. It’s something most gamers do begrudgingly as they don’t have much choice.

There is the option of emulation in many cases, but that has even more legal pitfalls, (and I sense that this is a feeling that American gamers can understand now) it’s the principle of the matter more than than anything else, as most gamers would like a proper version of the game to support.

The decision to region lock the 3DS for example penalises gamers outside the US who have to wait many months (or many years) after everyone else, often when the buzz about a particular game has passed, and that’s before considering the issue of spoilers.

Therefore gamers in other regions are getting increasingly more familiar with the dark arts needed to import games, it is part of our quiet vernacular. Widely practiced, but rarely talked about.

Where Xenoblade comes in

Something that is perhaps dawning on the rest of the world this week with the release of Xenoblade Chronicles. This complicates a difficult situation, with many American gamers facing practicalities they have rarely had to think about before, whether or not to import and how to, after all the need to import from Europe does not arise often.

So in a strange reversal of fortunes the getting an European release date for Xenoblade Chronicles before America seems like a gift. Not something to be smug about, but something to be grateful for. Moments where we are put first like this are extremely rare. I can personally only think of only two other occasions (Vib Ribbon and Terranigma), while I don’t envy American gamers at all right now for having to follow our footsteps for a change, I do have a sense of quiet relief for the gaming community here in the UK and elsewhere.

I do believe (and hope) the American audience will get a release date for Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower, my only hope is that it this experience will help increase empathy for our collective gaming experience of the past few decades. Things are getting better in the PAL regions and elsewhere, but there is a lot more to do and great deal of progress to be made.

A plea

To conclude, as well as releasing the three Wii games above, the relevant publishers and developers could start by releasing the (by no means exhaustive list of) RPGs in Europe, Austraila and New Zealand (and anywhere else that hasn’t got them yet).

Chrono Cross
Parasite Eve
Xenosaga Episode III
Threads of Fate
Wild Arms 2
Suikoden III
Legend of Mana
Arc the Lad Collection
Dragon Warrior VII
SaGa Frontier
Tales of Destiny
Lunar 1
Lunar 2

And here’s a list of RPGs we got late.

Chrono Trigger (2009)
Valkyrie Profile (2007)
Tactics Ogre (2011)
Tales of Destiny II (2006)
Final Fantasy I (2003)
Final Fantasy II (2003)
Final Fantasy III (2006)
Final Fantasy IV (2002)
Final Fantasy V (2002)
Final Fantasy VI (2002)
Final Fantasy Tactics (2007)

Retro gaming

Still captivated by Final Fantasy VII

Replaying Final Fantasy VII is in many ways like returning to an old flame. Upon reflection it was my first gaming love, the experience which didn’t just set me on the gaming path, but set the tone of all other games I would come to enjoy.

I was no longer a child who enjoyed playing games, but a young adult who identified as a gamer. It was for me (and many others) my gaming coming of age story.

Cloud, Barrett and Red XIII stand at the end of a Midgar highway at sunset.

The moment

I can sum up why Final Fantasy VII remains dear to me in one scene – this view just before leaving Midgar. This scene so perfectly summarises the experience of playing FF7 back near its launch (and perhaps even now). It was an almost overwhelming feeling of being of the cusp of a great wave, one which in turn captivated and motivated hundreds of other gamers.

In this scene the characters stand at the end of an enormous highway, about to venture out into the world. It’s a perfect moment where the ambitions and direction of the narrative turns on its heel. Each individual character’s personal focus is superseded by one larger and more necessary journey.

That one scene summed up how the entire experience felt to play. Total pleasure mixed with pure discovery; with the whole discorse of the game ahead of you on a vast horizon. It also helps explain part of Final Fantasy VIIs legacy. This scene is one of the moments where I had my epiphany about video games in general. I could sense the complete potential of the medium in one moment, knowing I had similarly profound moments ahead of me to look forward to. This almost insignificant scene was just one of many to come. My heart was fit to burst.

Final Fantasy VII collected hundreds of moments like these – all utterly captivating. Playing it for the first time was the first occasion that I was distinctly proud of my hobby. It became less of something I did to pass the time and more something of my identity. The game that makes you realise this is different for everyone, but I suspect I share Final Fantasy VII with many, many thousands of others. All of us appreciating not just the the games content but the promise of those future blissful moments.


As children stories were always so black and white. The heros are concerned only with good, the evil of the world is obvious and in many cases without genuine malice.

Final Fantasy VII is a story about shades of grey, it was one of the first gaming stories that I had access to that was brave enough to aim at young gamers and completely muddy the waters.

The lead characters are members of a terrorist group that kills hundreds of people in order to strike the smallest of blows to a greater evil. The main antagonist is a relatively normal individual that is instantly unhinged by his disturbing origin. The true villain of the piece is an alien creature which falls to Earth, taking the forms of trusted elders and the faces of dead loved ones, rendering all it touches insane, or riddled with fatal disease.

So ultimately I think Final Fantasy VII was partly about captivation. It’s a running theme throughout it’s narrative. The allure of Mako, and how it changed Shinra’s fortunes (from electricity company to all-consuming dictators of the world). The legend of the ancients and how their legacy went on to both redeem the world through Aeris’ effort, but also undermine it through the misguided ambition of Sephiroth and the bleak survival instinct of Jenova.

Cloud looks up at the Shinra headquarters.Rufus believe he's found the promised land.

A little context

These characterisation points aside, Final Fantasy VII was always about it’s core audience. And here in Europe it was our very first Final Fantasy, and that fact had a profound and unique effect on its importance for many young people here.

This was because of an equally captivating reason: the arrival of the internet. The late 1990s was when the internet was really first widely available for gamers in the UK. As a result an entire generation of gamers flocked online to discuss gaming experiences for the first time. Final Fantasy VII was one of the first things I searched for, I am certain it was one of the first games I was able to research and discuss online.

Replaying Final Fantasy VII again takes me back to that view. It reminds me of the best aspects of our community. It takes me back to a time when everything was still new and inspirational; back to those youthful first days on the internet, when having discussions online were still magical. Many of the conversations I had online back then are some of my happiest memories. The friendships I made from discussing those moments still last today.

The experience of playing Final Fantasy VII was one of my happiest to date, but the best part is although those sorts of experiences don’t happen often, but they almost always happen again.