Japanese games at a changing E3: a conversation

Graham: Hi Jenni! As this year’s E3 wraps up, I can’t help but shake the feeling that, as a fan of Japanese games, the show’s just not what it’s used to be.

Jenni: Hi Graham! I concur. In previous years, I always felt like there were welcome surprises at each media briefing. Nintendo aside, I didn’t feel like there was that same sense of import localization anticipation.

Graham: I don’t want people to get us wrong — there are definitely things to enjoy from this year’s show, like 2018 3DS Game of the Year candidate Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido — but in years past, there was always this hope that we’d get something cool in a language we could read. Of course, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We can’t sit here and complain that we’re getting our localization announcements too early, because that’s exactly it: we know things are coming to the West way earlier than before.

Look at Nintendo! When it announces a game, it’s usually doing it in a global Direct, and it’s been a long time since those regularly diverged from one another. The localization is being built into the dev cycle for big releases, so that it hits everywhere all at once. Even small third-party teams, whose work is understandably not simultaneous, are announcing their work off-cycle. We see “E3” announcements the week before, like Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey V and Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, and the event itself is simply a venue for releasing more footage.

What was the last actual E3 localization news? Rhythm Heaven Megamix?

Jenni: The Caligula Effect and Rhythm Heaven Megamix’s unexpected debuts at last year’s show are a bit of a rarity and luxury now. Even Natsume was announcing its localizations ahead of time this year, bringing up River City: Knights of Justice and River City: Rival Showdown before the show began.

Perhaps having such announcements ahead of the actual event is not such a bad thing? After all, some of the people who appreciate such games will not be able to watch every live stream and press briefing. They have day jobs or classes to attend. This way, we know what will be there and whether it will be worth our time to pay attention to each E3?

Graham: You’re right! I totally don’t blame smaller companies from wanting to avoid the big news cycles and get their attention when they can find it. (Though yikes, we’re seeing them jump to the same one-week periods in the year a bit too often lately.) But there’s an excitement to the E3 reveal that it feels like we’re losing. I remember 2012’s, when a Vita demo unit in a neglected corner of Sony’s booth just happened to be running a version of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f with translated text. With no explanation or announcement! Word spread on the show floor among — well, among us weirdos — and the chase, the anticipation… it was truly something.

Sometimes those didn’t pan out! I played Grezzo WiiWare title Line Attack Heroes in English, and that never released. But it was still fun that it was unexpected.

Jenni: On the other hand, this means we are getting a whole other sort of secondhand excitement from E3.

Let’s use the Nintendo Treehouse Live stream as an example. For the past three days, we have seen members of the Treehouse play these games that (mostly) knew were coming to North America and Europe. Nintendo used its actual “briefing” as an opportunity to show trailers, but all these neat little details are coming up for people who care enough to keep paying attention.

The Super Mario Odyssey Treehouse segments have been a joy to watch, with each presentation packed with details. And even though I had a good idea of what Miitopia was, seeing its Treehouse segment only made me want to more.

And Atlus did a little something along those lines on Wednesday too. It finally released an English 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim trailer. I mean, we’d seen it before, but it was nice to finally get an official translation with names for two of the protagonists.

Maybe there’s a whole new takeaway we can enjoy from these more in-depth looks?

Graham: That’s a fair point: as messaging from companies gets better and more useful, maybe… maybe we’re not needed in that capacity. Not that there’s no place for us, but how we’re able to be of use to readers is changing.

Even still, it feels like a different sort of thing for those who are just following the news rather than chasing it, as well as us. Like there’s a divide between fans of the bigger-budget Western games, who are essentially getting what they always have, and those who like Japanese games, who often have had to rely upon the splash and surprise of a reveal to get their news to cut through the noise of the AAA.

Maybe it’s just that it’s easier now? I shouldn’t complain that it’s easier.

Jenni: It is definitely easier now. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like localizations are not such a luxury anymore? We are more likely to see Japanese games outside of Japan, even the ones that are exceptionally odd and quirky. Companies are taking more chances.

Look at Sega. It actually localized the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series. That is huge! It is celebrating Yakuza at E3 2017, as the booth has a Kamurocho “street” built into it. Bandai Namco has been releasing Digimon games in every region again, and we never have to worry about whether we will see a new Tales game in English.

Even Nintendo, a company that has long region-locked its systems and even had the 3DS shut up tight, has loosened up! Anyone with a Switch can access the eShops from other regions on their console and pop cartridges from other countries into the console.

We’re basically looking at a whole new world where there are not the same barriers to playing and enjoying games from other regions like there once were.

Graham: This started as a rumination on how the luster has worn away from a show that we’ve both lived, and occasionally loved, for a very long time, but here we are extolling the veritable cornucopia of riches we are lucky enough to have these days. Maybe that’s it? Things are so good that we’re not starved for scraps at this time of year like we used to be.

And we got Monster Hunter World. We got a few things around the show that, frankly, shouldn’t have been announced anywhere but the Tokyo Game Show. So let’s count our blessings, and then go back to the unending waves of great localized stuff we’re getting this year.

Jenni: Right. I mean, look at how packed this month is. In June alone, we’re getting God Wars: Future Past, Ever Oasis, Valkyria Revolution, Tokyo Xanadu and maybe even Summon Night 6, and we already have seen ARMS, Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku, Dark Rose Valkyrie and Tekken 7 released.

Graham: And RPG Maker Fes! Um, so much about that game is on the way next week.

Jenni: While E3 may not be the best place to hear about upcoming titles from Japan, it is undoubtedly a wonderful time to be a fan of imported and localized games.

Questions? Comments? Talk to us on Twitter or Facebook!