The Last Story and the return of Japan only

Anyone whose followed video games in the past few weeks knows about the Last Story. It’s being developed by Mistwalker, the company founded by Hironobu Sakaguchi once he jumped ship from Square Enix in the early/mid 2000’s, and has released some relatively passable JRPGs, most notably Lost Odyssey (oh, and Blue Dragon, which Fern didn’t like very much). They’re good guys, and The Last Story looks to be a game following through on a lot of good ideas about how to fix the JRPG. Hell, I think it’s so cool, I covered it before it was cool.

The question, of course, is American release. Which is no longer a given. It became that way because of a related, but different, title, Xenoblade.

Xenoblade was the second pillar of Wii JRPG strength (the third, Arc Rise Fantasia, well…I don’t want to say it was bad because I didn’t play it, but all reviews pointed to it being bad), a game developed nearly first party by Monolith Soft, who made obtuse PS2 RPG series Xenosaga (and Xenogears, though under different auspices) and equally obtuse Gamecube RPG series Baten Kaitos. It was a game from a notable developer, on a major platform, with a name as part of a series which still has a lot of North American street cred. I mean, Xenogears. People love Xenogears (I am not one of those people, though those people would insist I’ve not given it a chance). It took place on the back of two floating dead gods, a setting which is pretty much the best one ever conceived.

Don’t get too excited for it. It was released last June in Japan. No word on localization. The problem is twofold, really. One, Nintendo owns part of the rights. I doubt they’d object to another company coming in and offering a sizeable chunk of change for the North American publishing rights, but that’s money publishers don’t want to spend. Two, we have been conditioned, by the market, to not buy any non-first party games at launch, because there will be a major discount within a couple weeks. Every third party Nintendo game I’ve bought, I bought a couple weeks after launch for $30-$40 dollars, which isn’t a price game publishers want us to be paying. These two factors doomed Xenoblade which, for the record, looked pretty outstanding.

This becomes terrifying when you look at The Last Story, a game that looks primed for American sensibilities. It doesn’t quite have the name recognition, but it has the developer and the Gears of War meets JRPG gameplay that would probably latch onto the American sensibility. The problems are the same as with Xenoblade: it was developed almost as first party with Nintendo, which means the stingy folks at NoA control its release destiny.

Admittedly, its release in the U.S. is about 80% likely now; the evidence that’s been uncovered (mostly by Jim Sterling over at Destructoid; let it not be said he’s not a force for good or at least video games in the world) has revealed that yes, this is probably in the cards. Heck, maybe Xenoblade is, too. The difference is, we’re returning to that world of the mid-90’s, where games would be sketchily previewed in games magazines, and it would only be months later when we’d figure out whether they were actually coming to America. We figured it out because the games would be on sale.

Frankly, I’d say just release the damn thing! If costs are so prohibitive, then don’t dub it. We who watch anime have lived for years on subtitles (sketchy subtitles, even!), and those of us who’ve played games for decades remember Square Enix games best for the awkward Ted Woolsey based translations. The only change we really need is for someone, most likely a disembodied, terrifying white text, to tell us what people are saying. That’s it.

Fact of the matter is, my favorite game of the last decade was not released in North America. It’s a difficult topic, because companies want to make money and they, largely, can’t do that on the Wii, thanks to retailers discounting their games quickly and a supposed lack of interest in “serious” product (of course, the only serious products we’ve seen have been first party or mediocre versions of other console fare, but that’s another show). The fact that two of the most promising JRPGs in the East could fail to make it West while garbage like FFXIII can have a multi-million dollar marketing campaign confuses and infuriates me.

I mean, how could The Last Story not come West? It has Ganondorf in it!