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.
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).
Xenosaga Episode III
Threads of Fate
Wild Arms 2
Legend of Mana
Arc the Lad Collection
Dragon Warrior VII
Tales of Destiny
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)