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)

8 replies on “Importing remains a fact of life”

Another well written post!

I must say that the only time that I have ever had a problem with the release dates of games in the USA vs the UK is when the game was WRITTEN in the UK. I found it incredible how Perfect Dark the “sequel” to Goldeneye on the good old N64 took 3 months to get from Rare studios in Tamworth (about 70 miles from where I live) to my nearest EB Store. But somehow made it to the USA in a matter of days.

This is by no means an isolated incident and im sure there are many huge games that are written here in the UK but not played here for many weeks or months (Turok springs to mind for some reason there) and I cant help but feel for the guys writing the software. They dont get to hear about how awesome their game is from snatches of overhead conversation walking down the street or browsing the selection of titles in their local video game store, until they are already neck deep in the next game to be made.

In these days of super high tech gaming platforms and code that is easier to write than ever before to create stunning visuals and immersive gameplay you would really think that there should be very little effort in converting one set of code to a different region and get things released all at once. I know that when Starcraft 2 was released – a game that I am extremley passionate about – it was released simultaneously all over the world. Why should a console game be any different.

As an American gamer, I certainly don’t envy the release schedule you’ve had to grow up with. I was shocked to learn that Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the series released over there. Compared to you folks, we’ve had it easy with localizations.

Thankfully, I’m no strange to importing games. I’ve imported a decent amount of things (usually shmups) for various systems before, but always from Japan. Xenoblade is the first time I’ve ever had to import anything from Europe which goes to show how rare this situation really is.

I really hope North America gets Xenoblade even though I already imported it. From what I’ve played so far, it seems pretty amazing. I would rebuy it if it came to North America and probably give it away on my site just so I could still support the game overseas.

In an ideal world people wouldn’t need to mod their consoles. It’s clear nothing has been learned down the years. You’d think they wanted our money too. And we’ve never had a decent explanation, because aside from some minor technical bits, it’s almost all about managing markets. Pathetic.

BTW it was Xenosaga ep III that was NTSC-only. From what I can gather it failed to meet the hype so Namco basically gave up on it. Rubbish.

With the fan demand for these releases on both sides of the pond, I am shocked they don’t release games in more regions. I know, localization is pricey, but if you are already translating it to English for one area, why is it so hard to put it out in the other one? Do they require a variety of other language options for European releases?

I think I have a proper response to this coming in my neck of the woods, so I won’t jump the gun here with those thoughts.

What I will say, though, is that the PAL regions are (generally) at an advantage when it comes to global releases, as time differences obviously play to our favour (particularly New Zealand and Australia). I can remember some of the (well meaning) furore when Halo 2 and any GTA released because our regions got it first and Americans (and etc.) were slightly jealous and, more pertinently, concerned over things like spoilers and so on, so on that alone the situation ebbs and flows.

But there’s no denying, either, that generally speaking the PAL regions get shafted so while the Xenoblade Chronicles situation is merely a blight for America, it’s still horrible and highlights how far we still have to go before this medium becomes a true global force.

Also, interesting side note: PAL got some Mario Kart and Animal Crossing games before America, but when you remember how long Metroid Prime took to come out for us, it means absolutely nothing at all. Quite sad, really.

I’ll admit that when I read the first paragraph, I immediately thought this would be a “Now YOU have to import. Suck it, Americans!” post. Really, I should have known better.

The fact that I can think of many more games to add to your list (like nearly every Atlus game on DS in the last two years) makes me realize that many of us in America don’t realize how good we’ve had it for so long. This is game is a big opportunity for our European brethren to show us what it’s been like for you guys. Much more than games like Another Code: R and Last Window.

There’s a morsel of optimism within me that thinks Xenoblade will hit America sometime next year, if only because Nintendo has nothing else for Wii in 2012. Nintendo of America is moving in a peculiar direction.

I knew the importing situation was bad, but I had no idea. It is hard to imagine waiting until 2007 to play Valkyrie Profile, which was/still is a game that has shaped my life profoundly. It saddens me to think of having to grow up not even being able to play it.

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