I Wish I Knew Japanese

For those who have known me for a few years, the title of this article is probably one part amusing and one part annoying, because I’ve been talking about learning Japanese for a long time without ever really manning up and following through with it. Originally, the reason I wanted to learn Japanese was Manga, which has been a love of mine for a long time. Over the last few years, however, I’ve discovered a few amazing games (that were mostly Manga adaptations) that will likely never see an English translation, and that has only made my desire to learn Japanese even fiercer. As I continued searching out some of the more mental Manga titles, I also started finding other games that will likely never come out in these here parts, but were still incredibly cool experiences, and it was fun seeing how games that were never expected to be big in Japan, let alone the rest of the world, completely ignored formulas and created experiences that were genuinely interesting and far more fun to play than I ever expected them to be.

Perhaps the best example of this is E.X Troopers, which (brace yourself) is actually a Lost Planet game. Already I can hear the snorts of derision, and I can’t say I blame those who are sceptical when I look at it objectively. I have never liked the Lost Planet series, and I was genuinely surprised at the news it would be getting a third instalment, let alone a stand-alone spin-off title. It was the sheer ridiculousness of the idea that got me interested, and when I heard that it was exclusive to Japan (and would likely stay that way because of the, frankly, bizarre decision to make all the text in the game art assets rather than, well, text) I was a little disappointed.

Not to be deterred, however, I set up a Japanese PSN account and downloaded the demo. Despite the fact I barely understood how to play, let alone what the hell was going on, it was the most fun I’ve ever had with a Lost Planet game. I loved the visuals, which were distinctly anime-ish, (and thus completely up my street), I quite enjoyed actually playing the thing, once I’d figured out how to, and by the end of the relatively short demo (made longer by me wandering around, wondering what I was meant to do when I just needed to press a button) I was pretty staggered that we would never see E.X Troopers in English.

Of course, that’s not the only thing that we’ll never see in English. I mentioned that E.X Troopers’ anime-ish look was right up my street because I’m a big fan of that visual style, but also because I love Manga and anime, and much the same as a Hollywood blockbuster would get a tie-in game here, a game tied into this anime or that Manga eventually appears, and when they do I am there to snap them up. Unlike those invariably slapdash Hollywood tie-in games, however, some of these are actually good. Take Eyeshield 21: Max Devil Power, for example. It may be a bit of a mouthful, and is the game version of an American football Manga, but it is, without a doubt, amazing. This is partially because it is a sports game on the DS, and those are often mental, but it is also in part due to the fact that it’s just a damn good game. In the game mode that isn’t full of incomprehensible text, you take charge of an American football team and play against a different one. I know it’s not sounding particularly earth shattering at the moment, but it gets much better.

Unlike most traditional American football games (I’m looking at you, Madden), where you just sort of push buttons and hope for the best because the words on the screen are like they are in a different language, you actually get to play some football in Eyeshield 21, and if there is the occasional blip where the wrong thing happens, you can blame it on the fact that it is literally in another language. The coolest thing about it is that, once you select a play (which is generally the ‘push buttons and hope for the best’ bit), you get put in control of the player who is in possession of the ball, to the exclusion of almost everything else. You’re forced to find gaps in the teamwork of the opposition rushing at you, hopefully enabling you to nail a long run and get a ton of points. At least, that’s how it works in theory. In reality it is a mad scramble, with the DS almost flung to the other end of the room when something goes wrong, and the only audible sound is the frantic tapping of stylus on bottom screen.

Silly though these examples may be, they are some of my favourite bits of proof that games don’t have to be dull, brown and lifeless. They are the proof that, if you care to look, there are unique experiences on any console. Here’s the thing, though… if Nintendo of yesteryear were taking cues from the Nintendo of now, I would never have had the opportunity to enjoy the frantic blend of weird American sport and Japanese Manga joy. If Sony had done the same, E.X Troopers would always have been that really cool looking spin-off game that I never had the chance to try out for myself.

Why? Because Nintendo’s current champion of the handheld market, the 3DS, has returned to the old days of region locked games which, all too briefly, had been relinquished. The Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS were both gloriously free of region locking, and the latter provided me with a bunch of experiences that blew me away. It’s a shame that the 3DS doesn’t allow for the same sort of random joy, and some signs are beginning to suggest that it might not be the only console to do so. Persona 4 Arena is a fighting game for both the Xbox 360 and PS3, and holds the rather dubious honour of being the very few games on the PlayStation 3 to be region locked (although it later saw a European release). Sony have since explained that region locking was totally optional, and that Atlus was simply the first company to take the option. It’s difficult to believe that they will be the last.

There is also the realisation that, if a company makes up its mind to keep something hidden away from those of us in the west who are desperate to play it, no amount of outcry or temper tantrums are going to change that. Case in point? Digimon World Re:Digitize Decode. A remake of the first ever Digimon game for the 3DS, there are (for the moment, at least) no plans to localise the game anywhere but Japan. For those of us who would love to get our hands on it, this is nothing less than a tragedy. I’m not the only one to think that way, as the rather large petition known as oprainfall proves. With well over 16,000 signatures, it proves there is an enormous demand for the game, and though the publishers, Namco Bandai, are “extremely impressed” by that demand, there are still no plans for those of us not in possession of a Japanese 3DS to get our hands on it.

Region locking is an ugly truth in gaming, simply because it makes sense for business, no matter how horrible it is for those of us who are unable to play a game, simply because a company will probably get a little more money from making supply scarce. Unfortunately, that probably means we will have to continue dealing with it, because there is not much chance of it going away any time soon. Thankfully, as much as that thought sucks, I will always have Eyeshield 21: Max Devil Power. It may be a mouthful, but it will certainly be the coolest American football game I’ll ever play.

Last five articles by Keegan


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