This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.
It's always around July or so that I'm most nervous about an RPG's potential for release in the U.S. With the overwhelming majority of Japanese-developed RPGs getting spring releases, official announcements usually don't happen until late in the fall. Until then, I'm left to stew, fingers crossed that everything will work out.
Some franchises I don't worry about. Short of some kind of catastrophic technical problem, Shin Megami Tensei is pretty much a shoe-in for release. Same goes for Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy (Type-0 being an unfortunate exception). Even Ys seems like a good bet these days thanks to the ongoing support of XSEED.
If it's new, obscure, or otherwise untested in the market though, I find myself getting nervous. Even certain major franchises aren't a sure bet anymore, especially when they are PSP releases. So I watch, wait and hope for good news. Here are four RPGs I've been watching closely over the past year, and what I think the odds are they will see a release stateside.
Pandora's Tower (Wii): The concept behind Pandora's Tower is intriguing. A young girl is slowly turning into a slug monster (or something), and the only way to reverse the process is to eat beast flesh. It's a race against time though, and the required meat is in the deviously designed Pandora's Tower. Relatively light on RPG elements, Pandora's Tower's biggest strength is its puzzles, as well as the sense of desperation that comes with racing the clock.
Sadly, intriguing as Pandora's Tower sounds, it's looking more and more likely that it won't be released in the U.S. It lacks the production values and the pedigree of fellow Operation Rainfall RPGs Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, and its grisly subject matter makes it a poor choice for the Wii. XSEED may yet throw it a life preserver – and hey, XSEED is a sucker for hard-luck cases – but the odds in favor of that happening are pretty low. The good news is that Pandora's Tower has already been localized, so if you're really intent on trying it out for yourself, you can do so without brushing up on your Japanese (or waiting for a fan translation).
Odds: Time to mod your Wii
Super Robot Taisen Original Generations 2 (PlayStation 3): I've learned to harden my heart against the possibility of a domestic Super Robot Taisen release. It's an obscure series to begin with in the west, and the licensing issues that come with putting a dozen or so anime franchises in the same game just aren't worth the hassle for a Nintendo DS or PSP game. Original Generations 2 is different though. Featuring a cast composed entirely of Namco Bandai characters, it has no licensing issues to speak of. It's also on the PS3, and as usual, it's beautiful.
This wouldn't be the first time that an Original Generations game sees an American release either. Back in 2006, Atlus localized two of the games for the Game Boy Advance, with some success. The series hasn't been back since – unless you count the flashy but ultimately mediocre spinoff Endless Frontier – but the door for a PS3 OG release is certainly open. Even if Atlus isn't interested – they currently have no plans for a western release – I've heard rumblings that Record of Agarest War publisher Aksys Games is more than willing to pick up the slack.
We're still several months out from the Japanese release of Original Generations 2, so it'll be a while before we hear anything. The prospects of a western release are looking pretty strong though – strong enough that I won't be importing a copy at launch. Like I said, fingers crossed, right?
Odds: It's okay to get your hopes up
Bravely Default Flying Fairy (Nintendo 3DS):Bravely Default has three primary things going for it: It's a Square Enix game, and Square is pretty good about international releases (usually); it's for the Nintendo 3DS, which has had quite a bit of momentum lately; and it's a very nice-looking game, enjoying good word of mouth among RPG fans.
As recently as six months ago, I was much more worried about Bravely Default's prospects. The cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 was the nadir of a difficult launch for the 3DS, which left developers feeling understandably nervous about the system's long-term health. Given those early troubles, I feel there was every reason to be concerned about a U.S. release with a name like "Bravely Default."
Fast-forward to July, and the Nintendo 3DS is looking much healthier, as are Bravely Default's prospects for a U.S. release. That's good news for not just RPG fans, but all Nintendo 3DS owners. Bravely Default is not only beautiful – it borrows heavily from Final Fanatsy V. This is a game that I need to own.
Odds: Looking pretty good
Monster Hunter 4 (Nintendo 3DS): You may have heard of Monster Hunter. I even wrote about it last week. At this point, it's Capcom's most important franchise. Yet, I think there's reason to be at least a little doubtful about a domestic release for Monster Hunter 4. Though, like Bravely Default, its prospects have improved considerably of late.
It's been a while though. Monster Hunter's last appearance in the U.S. was the 2010 Wii release (unless you count the iOS release). Since then, the series has been missing in action, with even the high-definition update of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd for PlayStation failing to appear to this point (though that may be more Sony's doing than anything else).
I wouldn't fret too much though. Sure, it's been two years since its last release, but Monster Hunter has managed to retain a dedicated, if somewhat niche, following in the U.S. The fact that Monster Hunter 4 is a true sequel, combined with its appearance on a new platform that's experiencing healthy growth, ought to push it over the top.
Odds: Still probably going to happen ... I think
Even if none of the four titles listed above end up making it out, it's been a good year for RPG fans. Tales of Graces, Xenoblade Chronicles and Theatrhythm Final Fantasy are on store shelves, with Persona 4: The Golden and The Last Story still to come. Ni No Kuni, Fire Emblem, and Tales of Xillia, meanwhile, are all confirmed for 2013 – a pretty good crop by any measure. As usual, as much as I worry about the future, there's plenty of reason to be grateful for the present.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.