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Nintendo of America, Its Biggest Fans and the Growing Disconnect Between Them.

Written by Linwood Earl Knight on Sunday, July 10 2011 and posted in Features

While Nintendo of America would love for everyone to focus on the Wii U, another situation has come to dominate the news cycle. What's going on, exactly? The answer (and more) is just a click away.


For the dedicated "old school" and "hardcore" American Nintendo fans, the Wii/DS years have been quite an exposition in "Beauty and Sadness." On one hand, the company that they love has arguably never soared higher. Over the past six years, Nintendo has not only moved massive amounts of hardware and software, but has created a new breed of gamers by aiming at markets that were untapped until Nintendo took the risk. However, in pursuit of those fortunes, Nintendo refocused its resources to serve the growing "non-traditional" gaming market (understandably so, at least in the beginning, anyway), which has resulted in the creation of fewer games aimed at these once all-important markets. Without third parties to serve the gap (most decided to aim their core-based efforts on the 360/PS3 platforms), the Wii has suffered from periods where minimal software aimed at core gamers in general have been released. Unfortunately, those gamers will seemingly be subjected to yet another one of those periods. Unlike the most infamous drought of 2008, however, this one could prove to be quite a bitter pill to swallow.

The Situation

E3 2011 will be remembered for many different reasons, with arguably the main reason being the unveiling of the Wii U. Along with a new controller that has great potential to engineer some uniquely new gaming experiences, Nintendo officially declared that one the Wii U's big goals was to win back the core/hardcore gamer that the Wii wasn't able to reach, promising everything that goes along with serving that market, including massive third party support and an Online Ecosystem designed to connect gamers in ways that were only imagined in the older days. At the same time, Nintendo also made waves for the fact that it didn't announce plans to bring three highly anticipated "core" games in Xenoblade (an RPG) (which contradicts a 2009 announcement of this game),  Pandora's Tower (an Action RPG) and The Last Story (another Action RPG) to North America during E3 week last month. Every question asked about those three games was shrugged off by Nintendo's big wigs.

After the event, whether being motivated by want, or fear of loss, Gamers did not wait long to spring into action. Thus "Operation Rainfall" was born, along with a massive campaign to raise awareness that included a massive pre-ordering campaign for Monado: Beginning of the World (Xenoblade's working title) on Amazon, propelling it to #1 on Amazon's Top 100 bestselling games on June 25th and keeping it there for the better part of two days. Seeing the demand for this game, Nintendo responded on their Facebook with this exact quote:

"Thank you for your enthusiasm. We promised an update, so here it is. We never say "never," 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!"

At that point, Operation Rainfall had two choices: accept Nintendo of America's current decision and let the issue die, or continue to campaign for these three games. Surprisingly to some, but not to those who know the history of campaigns like these, those fans decided to redouble their efforts. However, with all the hoopla surrounding these events, someone that is disconnected from all of this might ask the question "Why are these games so important, that these fans are willing to go through all of this trouble?" Since this question is quite important to understanding (and possibly caring about) this movement at large, I present three reasons why "Operation Rainfall" exists.

Why are "Xenoblade", "Pandora" and "The Last Story" so important to certain gamers?

1) Anticipation: If there was ever one word that could encapsulate the feelings of these gamers, it would have to be this one. In one way or another, all three of these games are highly anticipated by the fans that are willing to go to bat for them. This is especially the case with Xenoblade, which was announced for American release in 2009 under its working title. Of course, the other two titles didn't have those promises, but they're just as anticipated for different reasons, with one of those reasons being...

2) Critical and fan acclaim: When it comes to issues like these, the "forbidden fruit" syndrome could easily come into play, but this is most certainly not the case here. Along with being developed by proven (if not known) development house, these games have also released in Japan to varying degrees of praise. Xenoblade, developed by Monolith Soft, and The Last Story, developed by Mistwalker Studios, scored very well with critics: 36 points and 38 points on a scale of 40, respectively. Xenoblade is being called the best JRPG made this generation by some, and both received Platinum Awards in the process. Even the "runt of the litter," Pandora's Tower earned a Silver Award by scoring 31 out of 40. With such stamps of approval, it becomes easier to see why the fuss is being made for these games.

3) They help to strengthen the catalogue: While the Wii isn't the wasteland for Japanese RPG's that some may make it out to be, it has definitely been a while since the last one released. Also, there is always room for more good games in any genre, especially when the catalogue of upcoming games isn't the strongest. A curious and game starved Wii Fan base (2012 looks to be extremely barren) might end up checking out these titles for something to play, especially after the free press these games have gotten with all of the media attention laid on this situation.

Now that we have both the situation and why the fans are going through what they're going through, we can now get to the true analysis of the matter at hand. If you're still not too convinced as to whether the gripe is legitmate, then you'll hopefully at least understand where the fans are coming from.

In the pursuit of fairness, I'm going to take Nintendo of America for their word in this article and believe that "never say never" means that these games do have a chance to coming out (Even though, I personally believe that NoA would love for this to go away.). Therefore, everything said from here on out will keep that key part of their announcement in mind.


Is this another case of history repeating itself?

Beyond the obvious feelings of disappointment (which I've come to expect from Nintendo of America as a whole), the one thing that stuck out to me was the fact that stuff like this is very familiar territory for Nintendo fans in this part of the world. Having been around gaming since the NES days, these three things have sadly become par for the course.

1) Nintendo has made a number of games that never make it beyond their native Japanese shores: While Nintendo has become almost synonymous with its big franchises (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Pokémon, etc.), Nintendo's actual full catalog of games is a range from the adventurous (The Advanced Wars series started out as Famicon Wars back in the NES days), to games that are aimed almost exclusively at the Japanese market. Taking that into consideration, there are many justified and understandable reasons why certain games would never leave those shores, and to lament over those games accomplishes next to nothing. However, not every game that doesn't make it to America can fall under such a rational explanation, which is what the other two categories will explore, the first one being...

2) Nintendo of America has a history of never releasing high profile games that its parent company (Nintendo Co. Ltd/Nintendo of Japan/NCL) develops (or publishes, for that matter), or their sister regional companies (Nintendo of Europe/NoE in particular) end up publishing late in a hardware's life cycle: That's right, if the three games that I mentioned before never get released on these shores, it'll just be continuing a trend that has become quite dubious over the years. A trend first entered the consciousness of North American gamers in 1996 when Terranigma (which was created by Quintet) was published by NoE and not NoA, headlining a number of high profile RPGs that weren't released in SNES's late years. In 2001, Sin and Punishment for the Nintendo 64 would be published by NCL (created by Treasure) and would never see official release outside of Japan. However, the non-release of those games will never be as remembered as bitterly as the non-release of Mother 3 for the Gameboy Advance in other countries. The non-action by Nintendo of America spurred a massive campaign (and had a willing publisher in Atlus, until it was blocked by Nintendo of America) that'll be remembered for all time. Even with those three bitter pills to swallow (among others) nothing could have prepared anyone for what has happened this generation, which has been...

3) If this ends up breaking bad for the fans, these three games will join an increasingly dubious list of core games that didn't make it to America during the Wii/DS generation: As this generation progresses, people have started to take notice of what Nintendo of America isn't releasing. Over the past five years, Nintendo of America has built up quite a reputation of passing over games that NCL's development houses had created, or that NCL itself had published for both the Wii and Nintendo DS. A list that includes...

Nintendo Wii
- Disaster: Day of Crisis*
- Captain Rainbow
- Another Code: R*
- Fatal Frame 4*
- New Play Control: Pikmin 2*
- Zangeki no Reginleiv (The Slashing of Reginleiv)

Nintendo DS
- Densetsu no Starfly 4 (Legend of Starfly)
- Soma Bringer
- Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem
- Last Window*

*Games that have been released in Europe

Of course, there are more games besides the ones listed, but if Pandora, Xenoblade and The Last Story join this list, it'll just be three more black marks in the eyes of hardcore gamers and old school Nintendo devotees on these shores. With that being said, there are still semi-justifiable reasons (no matter how shaky they are) for Nintendo to not bring these games over.

The case for Nintendo of America to not release these games on these shores

There are very few things that are black and white in this world, and this situation is one of them. Even as a gamer, I feel that it's important to make sure we understand as many angles as possible. Even if I feel that there is no rational reason for these games to be released, NoA (and Nintendo as a whole) could feel differently than I do. Here are the two main reasons why.

1) Japanese RPGs (Action included) for consoles are not as big as they used to be: Let's face it, there is arguably no genre that has fallen as far as the Japanese RPG has. What started with Sony's big push with games like Beyond the Beyond, Wild Arms and Final Fantasy 7 has declined for multiple reasons, with the main culprits being changing tastes and a Japanese developers circle that hasn't been able to deal with this generation as well as others from a creative and business aspect. This has not only translated into Japanese RPGs being released in fewer numbers for consoles (most of them are now released on the portables), but to the ones that are released not doing blockbuster numbers (Final Fantasy XIII may be the only Japanese RPG that broke 1 million sales worldwide). With such results, I could see where NoA might think twice about releasing these types of games, which leads into my second point, which is...

2) Weaker economy = fewer risks taken by companies: Even though a number of economists say that the road to recovery has begun, the lingering effects of the great recession still have impact to this day. The result has been consumer's decreased willingness to spend money (part of the reason why summer blockbusters haven't busted the block as much as in years past) and businesses becoming more risk adverse (especially those that are already as risk adverse as Nintendo, period). While some may question their thought process (myself included), one could see where NoA might think these three games are far too niche to come out here.

Simply put, NoA is well within their rights to not support something that they feel doesn't make money, and those two points support that impression. With that being said, there's a lot more to this than just dollars and cents (especially when it hasn't been determined whether these titles will make or lose money) on a spreadsheet. With the case being made for NoA not to release these games, here is the case against their current stance.


The case against Nintendo of America not bringing these games over

1) The games are coming to Europe: This one is pretty self-explanatory here, ladies and gentlemen. With English being one of the languages the games are getting translated into, along with four others, Nintendo of America could've easily collaborated with its European sister to make sure every major Western market gets a chance to play them. Instead, the situation has devolved to where we are now.

2) It's not 2008 anymore: For core gamers (and traditional Nintendo fans as a whole), E3 2008 will be remembered for how obvious it became that NoA (and NCL) had shifted its focus to further serve the new casual gaming market opened by non-traditional software. The anguish felt by those gamers mattered little, as Nintendo could sell up to four times the hardware pieces (console and portable) than any of their competitors in a given month. However, Microsoft's soft re-launch of the X-Box 360 brand helped to erode the Wii's appeal, causing it to lose the American console sales 11 out of the last 12 months, bringing Nintendo's period of American dominance to an end. However, NoA's current "misfortunes" can't be contributed to Microsoft alone. Another factor that comes into play is...

3) Lack of upcoming software: If core gamers (namely Wii-only owners) justifiably complained about the lack of software aimed at them from 2008 – 2010, then 2011 should have a large number of casual gamers joining the chorus. As of July 8th, 2011, there are only 14 titles that have a release date for the Wii in any capacity. Of course, that list do not comprise the entirety of the Wii's release schedule for the rest of the year, as Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has not received a release date yet. Even then, these three titles could easily give more meat to the Wii's upcoming software catalogue.

4) Not every "niche" game can be judged the same: In the midst of all of this, there is some conjecture that not buying the more "niche" titles that Nintendo brings out has contributed to the situation gamers are facing right now. However, that line discounts that some "niche" games naturally sell better due to tastes alone, and even though I said Japanese RPG's have not seen their best days, it doesn't mean that they die immediate deaths at retail. Just by themselves, Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon (both for the X-Box 360) made at least 30 million dollars at retail off of sales of 600,000 combined. With the right push, along with the right factors coming into play, these three titles could do good business themselves

5) A game doesn't have to be a blockbuster to be worth it: One of the more unfortunate messages that NoA is sending is that unless they feel a game can sell massive numbers, they're not going to bother localizing it for release. If this is going to be their policy from now on, then they put themselves in a position where they rely far too much on their big franchises and potentially expose themselves to gaps where gamers are underserved. NCL realized this and combats it by releasing a game a month (even if the game was developed by a third party). NoA could easily do the same thing on a smaller scale, with these three games as the focus. Even if these games sold at a loss, the goodwill that games would generate with the fans (especially the dedicated ones) is possibly worth more than the quarterly balance sheets.

There are other reasons why they should release these games, but if I went into them I would start repeating myself (and I may have already done this to an extent). However, there is one last reason that shouldn't be ignored, because quite frankly it may be the most important reason of them all.

Isn't Nintendo supposed to be attempting to win the core gamer back?

With the full understanding that one of the the biggest goals set for the Wii U is winning back the core gamer. The current situation has made gamers ask many questions. Three of these questions are...

1) Which core gamers did Reggie mean?

2) Does Nintendo of America think that core gamers can be painted with a broad brush?

3) Where does this leave traditional Nintendo fans? The ones that stayed loyal when everyone else headed for the PlayStation back in the late 90's?

From everything that has happened from that E3 Media Expo (by word and deed) until now, insists on these things. Firstly, Nintendo of America mainly wants the aspect of the core market that mostly plays shooting and sports games, and games that are rated M (for Mature) for one reason or another. Secondly and most importantly, not only does Nintendo seemingly want to pack core gamers in a box, but these non-moves make their dedicated fan base put throw their arms up in frustration. Frustration that has been building since 2008 and has grown into the movements we're seeing now. With 2012 and the release of the Wii U on the horizon, I wonder (taking into account that the causal market is seen as quite fickle and that Nintendo's initiative to market itself towards the type of gamer that I mentioned before works) if Nintendo of America shouldn't also focus on winning back the ailing trust of its dedicated fans, a campaign that it needed to start last month.


What can you, I, or anyone else can do about it?

When all is said and done, this is most important question of them all. Understanding that there are more important causes to fight all over the world shouldn't stop anyone from playing these games, or getting involved in the cause to bring these games over. Here are your options if you're so inclined to get involved in all of this.

1) Join Operation Rainfall:
As I write this, the first wave of the second part of their campaign has begun. To get all of the details follow the link that the bold text holds. The further away you are from NoA's Seattle Offices, the sooner you should write your letter and send it out.

2) Import the games:
Should you not have any faith that Nintendo of America is going to change their minds, you could always import the games. Of course, with the Wii being Region Locked, it's not as simple as buying the game and inserting the disc into your console. However, should you be inclined to explore this option, a little bit of Google-Fu goes a long way.

3) Boycott Nintendo Products: Remember, if you chose to do this, you do it on your own volition. As sad as it is, this occurrence (if it continues to break bad for the fans asking for it) will not be enough to put too much of a dent into NoA's balance sheet.

4) If these games never come out here, think twice about your future with Nintendo products: Of course, some might think that 3 and 4 could be bunched together, but this option doesn't call for a simple boycott. This option calls upon the hardcore Nintendo fans to take a look at how they've been treated during the Wii/DS years. It also calls upon these fans to ask themselves, "Is this how Nintendo of America plans to treat me, as long as I stay loyal?" Finally, it also calls upon the fans to make the decision to possibly not support Nintendo as vehemently as they have.

My Final 22 Cents

When I reflect on the events that are happening right now, it reminds me of the events that happened 15/16 years ago. If you told me in 1995 that Sony with its first PlayStation was going to become the market leader, I would've laughed right in your face. Like a bunch of Nintendo diehards, I thought that Nintendo would crush the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn the minute it launched in 1996. As launch day loomed closer and closer however, my collection of gaming magazines would not only consist of numerous games that caught my eye that would be on those two systems exclusively (I broke down and got a Saturn in February 1996), but how NoA wasn't bringing over games that would've made for an amazing last year for the SNES. It was those two things, along with the flaccid Nintendo 64 launch (The System launched with 2 games that September; Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings) that made passing up on that system that much easier. In the end I never got the Nintendo 64, because the PlayStation had far too many games for my 16 year old self to pass up 1997. It was a decision that I never truly regretted and was repeated by enough people to change gaming as we knew it at the time.

As I sit here, finishing up this article, I have to wonder if similar stories will be told in the future of gamers that "left" Nintendo over stuff like this. No matter what the final result is, the history that comes from these events will be quite the story to tell.

Written or Contributed by: Linwood Earl Knight

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