Friday, April 24, 2009

Planning to buy a Japanese Xbox 360.

With the recent announcement of Mushihime Futari 1.5 for the Xbox 360 in Japan I believe I have no choice but to import one.

Sure I own an Xbox 360 already but the problem lies with the fact that the games aren't region free so importing them is out of the question unless of course I own a Japanese console. What about localization efforts you ask? Well this is where it gets difficult.

Although Raiden Fighter Aces is set for a US release on May 5th of this year no matter how successful it is I am convinced that this will in no way affect the status of Cave's as well as 2D shooters by other developers. Furthermore I also believe that the chances of Cave or some other developer considering releasing their older titles on Xbox Live Arcade or a similar service are absolutely nil.

First off Raiden Fighter Aces is going to be released in the US at the ridiculous price of 19.99. Sure it's a fantastic deal as it's a compilation of three of the best 2D shooters of all time and to top it off they're absolutely amazing ports, however what does 19.99 say to Publishers? It essentially says "we know we don't have a chance in hell selling this otherwise". This is the sad truth facing the 2D shooter genre. If you want to publish a shooter in the US at a respectable price you have to account for a large number of factors. Gradius V is perhaps one of the most polished shooters around for the PS2 and a fantastic game in its own right. In Japan it went for full-price. Here? 29.99. Still for some that's too much. Same with the similarly priced Shikigami No Shiro 3 which was again full-price in Japan. At least that game could boast that it's fully voice-acted in English(yes I'm not quite sure how that's boast-worthy but effort is effort). Ultimate Shooting Collection(a compilation of three Milestone shooters: Chaos Field, Radilgy, and Karous) suffered countless delays and dropped from 29.99 to 19.99 a little over a month after finally releasing. Worst part is those have been the only examples I could come up with over the past few years. Nobody wants to support the genre in the West because basically it's only good for throwing money away. 

Even after all these years 2D shooters still can not shake the stigma that's attached to them. They're less than a half hour in length and all you have to do is rush through it with an infinite number of continues and you're done. Part of the reason Ikaruga did well at all(aside from having the Treasure name attached to it) is that the way it's designed makes it obvious to how the game should be played. If your ship is black you shoot white things and if your ship is white you shoot black things, it's basic, easy to understand, and in the context of the game it works perfectly. You try to get someone into some of the other shooters out these days and you may as well hand them a thick strategy guide because most of the shooters depth is not nearly as easy to figure out. So in the end reviewers pick up the game, play through it once, twice if it's by a well-known developer, and then give it a mediocre score. The people who do pay attention to reviews will read them and the game will instantly fall of their radar if it was ever there in the first place. Then when you consider that most shooters(due to their vertical alignment) simply won't work with widescreen HDTVs and you're stuck with a genre that simply isn't going to reach people anymore.

So how does one hope to get around that? Well that brings us back to Raiden Fighter Aces at 19.99. Put that on the shelf next to a $70 Cave release of a single game like Death Smilies or the upcoming Futari and see what happens. Heck that's not even fair, let's drop that sole Cave release down to 19.99. Is that honestly going to happen? Not hardly. For a company like Cave if you offer to publish their games in the United States but at a fraction of the price you'll be out the door on your face before you can even finish your proposal. Can you really blame Cave for that? They develop shooters that take maybe 20 minutes to less than an hour to playthrough yet it's not uncommon to see fans play the games for a longer amount of time than most RPGs. Cave is pretty much the biggest game in town and with acquisitions like the director of classics like Battle Garegga and Bakraid they're eventually going to be the only 2D shooter company worth looking out for at least when it comes to arcades. This is also a company that can thrive on releasing nothing but arcade games. A number of arcade devs are the same way and even today when we can enjoy console hardware that's as strong or stronger than what's in the arcades we're still lucky instead of expectant to hear about announcements of ports. Chances are today if an arcade game gets a console port it's either A) very unpopular or B) six months to over a year old and has already made most of the money it's going to make. If Cave isn't that interested in supporting consoles in Japan just how in the world are they going to be interested in working with the West for even less money?

So we go further down the chain to downloadable services. Now how is that even going to work? Say Cave releases the Dodonpachi on XBLA for $10. Then Xseed, UFO interactive, Valcon games, well somebody releases the sequel to Dodonpachi into retail for $20. How do you go about explaining to the average joe why this Dodonpachi should be worth $10 more than that Dodonpachi? The $20 Dodonpachi only has five stages while the $10 one has six! Sure there's a several year difference between both games but whose to say that actually means anything? Oh certainly you could throw in Ketsui and maybe even Death Smilies in with that $20 Dodonpachi but then what? You'd probably have been better off putting all three of those games on XBLA. Now I know you know where this is going but let's continue. Now gamers in Japan are wondering: "okay so while I'd have to pay 7,590 yen for a copy of Death Smilies somebody in America could buy it off XBLA for a measly ten dollars?" Then before anyone can say anything Cave is angry, gamers are angry, and the whole thing is just a massive failure.

So requiring nothing short of a miraclous alignment of the stars or somebody willing to eat a large sum of money just to make fans of a niche genre happy all I can do is start saving up for a Japanese 360 so that one day I'll be able to enjoy titles like Raiden IV, Death Smilies, Dodonpachi Black Label, Otomedius, Shooting Love 200X, Ketsui, and of course Mushihime Futari.

And if you're looking at these games and wondering what the heck they are feel free to check them out via google or check back in six months to a year when I finally put together enough money to buy them all.

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