Nintendo has an annoying tendency to keep games all to themselves. Over the past few years, the Japanese company has sat on the rights to much-requested series like Mother, Fatal Frame, and Fire Emblem, stubbornly refusing to translate and ship them over to U.S. shores.
So it was a pleasant surprise when the Mario makers announced that much-anticipated Japanese role-playing game The Last Story would come to the U.S. this summer thanks to friendly publisher XSEED, the localization house that helped bring over some great Japanese games like Half Minute Hero and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky.
But how'd that happen? Why did Nintendo suddenly decide to let another publisher take its property?
While meeting with XSEED last week in Los Angeles, I pulled aside Director of Publishing Ken Berry to bug him a little bit about the story behind The Last Story. And he told me how they convinced Nintendo to give it up.
"It was actually much easier than you would expect," he said. "They were receptive to our inquiry from the very start."
The companies first started talking toward the end of last year. "We approached them once it looked pretty certain that it wasn't coming over," Berry said. "I was in Japan for Tokyo Game Show and I picked up a copy of The Last Story, cause a lot of us in the office would want to play it anyways. Once we started playing it, we just figured, 'Wow, this would be nice if this came over—let's talk to Nintendo!'"
So Berry and crew went to Nintendo's Japanese office and started up a conversation. It helped that the president of XSEED's parent company, Marvelous AQL, was close friends with Final Fantasy maestro Hironobu Sakaguchi, the man behind The Last Story. In Japan, connections are everything.
"[Nintendo was] like 'Well, no one's asked us yet, but it may be possible. Let us take a look,'" Berry said.
Hold up. Nobody asked?
Let's flash back to last summer. Right after E3, when it seemed apparent that Nintendo had no intention of bringing over three of its major Wii RPGs including The Last Story and Xenoblade, a group of fans got together and started a letter-writing campaign called Operation Rainfall. The campaign received a near-instant explosion of media coverage, even earning an official, albeit tepid response from Nintendo itself. And the RPGs started getting all sorts of buzz.
Plenty of companies have asked Nintendo about games like Mother 3. So I was shocked to hear from Berry that by the end of last year, not a single other publisher had asked Nintendo for the rights to The Last Story.
"Perhaps people just assumed that if Nintendo wasn't gonna do it, it wasn't coming over," Berry said. "But yeah, they were very receptive from the start."
So did Operation Rainfall have any impact on his decision? Did all of those Internet petitions and letter-writing campaigns help at all?
"No, I don't believe so," Berry said. "Nintendo, they have their own set of rules that they go by. And as for us, it didn't really affect us either—cause we have our own requirements that we look for on potential titles. And, you know, it just met all [our] prerequisites."
1. It has to be a great title.
2. It has to have some market potential in North America.
3. It has to be something that entire company is passionate about.
The Last Story passed the checklist, and the deal came together pretty quickly. By February, XSEED and Nintendo were ready to announce that The Last Story would be out in the U.S. this coming summer. It's looking great, too. (Even if it would look much better in high definition.)
Just don't count on XSEED to bring over any of Nintendo's other Japan-only titles. Berry told me they have no plans to pursue games like Pandora's Tower or the elusive Mother 3—although they could very wind up working with other big publishers, like Sega or Konami, in the future, if the "right opportunity" comes along. (My personal request: Suikoden PSP.)
So would The Last Story have made it here without XSEED's help? It's certainly something to ponder. When Kotaku's Stephen Totilo asked Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime about the games they've kept to themselves over the years, he said they don't "hold games back."
"Nintendo of America does not quote unquote hold games back," Fils-Aime said. "Our process, with every game, is to assess its potential and if we judge a game as having significant potential or the potential is there to warrant the the localization cost, then we will localize it and bring it to the market—that is our philosophy."
We'll never know what would have happened to The Last Story—a game that will likely be the Wii's last decent original title in the United States—if XSEED hadn't swooped in for the U.S. rights. It's a good thing they asked Nintendo for permission. Somebody had to.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.