Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Deconstructing the "localize it!" argument

In niche game communities you'll find gamers who are frustrated that the Japanese games that they want to play aren't being localized in a language they understand. Unfortunately, this frustration can lead to irrational arguments as to why the game they want should be localized or why it's not being localized. They start with the conclusion that game X must be localized and build their argument entirely around that premise, regardless of logic, reason, or evidence. Here are rebuttals to a number of their arguments which are frequently found on gaming forums and sometimes even popular gaming blogs or web sites.

1. Blame "lack of marketing" or "lack of effort". If only the world at large was made more aware of the game, it would fly off the shelves! "They didn't advertise or support it" is a popular scapegoat and whipping boy for poorly selling games. On the contrary, the game they want localized isn't unpopular because nobody's heard of it, it's unpopular because it's in a genre very few people care for, using art styles and plot/characters that don't appeal to the majority of the NA market, and possibly the game itself just isn't very good or appealing. Spending money on advertising is not going to expand a game beyond that core audience. Ironically this suggestion is self-destructive as marketing is very expensive and would likely push a proposed niche game further into the red while having little effect on sales. The related argument is that "game companies expect us to do the marketing work for them!" This is called word of mouth, and businesses of all kinds rely on it.

2. Grossly exaggerate the popularity of the genre, name recognition of the developer or series, or promote random obscure and mostly meaningless trivia. This argument is rarely used to promote a game, instead it's used when someone rational points out the reality of the situation and explains why a game would likely sell poorly, or why another game would likely sell better than the one they want. If the game you like is complex, difficult, a turn based tactics game, text/voice heavy, or licensing heavy you're looking at an uphill battle convince a company to localize it. In a recent example, I had Sting fans trying to tell me how popular and recognized the Sting brand name was, how "Dept Heaven" was a known series, or how GBA Sting games being ported to PSP meant that Sting games sell well, all as proof that Gungnir would sell well or sell better than another PSP RPG, Growlanser. Unfortunately, the almost complete lack of activity in Gungnir related threads across the net tell a different story.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Super Robot Wars Complete Box (PS) Review

SRW Complete Box is a remake of three SRW titles using the Playstation F/FF engine: 2nd SRW for Famicom, 3rd SRW for SFC, and SRW EX for SFC. Many issues of 2nd and 3rd SRW were addressed or fixed, mainly being able to choose individual unit response on enemy turn, equippable items, unit upgrades, and a better UI. Animations are still unskippable, of course.

The 2nd SRW remake is very different from the FC original, owing to the evolution of the series. It's so different that you might as well consider it a completely different game, similar to the SRW 2G remake on Gameboy. Yes, this makes 2nd SRW Complete Box the second time 2nd SRW has been remade. 2nd SRW is a fairly difficult remake where you'll mostly rely on your supers, somewhat reminiscent of SRW F. Seishin pools are even smaller than F/FF and your Gundam pilots don't get much in the way of good seishins or robots. Most of the game is spent throwing Getta, Mazinger, and Grendizer at enemies while your Gundams soften up the grunts a bit with underpowered weapons. 2nd SRW Complete Box is the best of the three remakes, owing to the large improvements over the original, and the original's strong campaign.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gungnir Preview (PSP)

Gungnir is a turn based tactics games that superficially most resembles other speed based isometric games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. However, being a Sting game, Gungnir has an above average number of mechanics and systems working in the background to complicate things. Below you'll find a fairly concise overview of how Gungnir plays and what mechanics are involved.

Gungnir's turn order is speed based, similar to FFT/TO, but with one major difference. While enemies and NPCs all have their own individual speed and turn icon, you only have a single icon on the speed bar to issue orders to your entire army (it looks like a yellow P). Whenever it's your turn you can choose from any of your units to act with. This generally means that enemies have a significant turn rate advantage over you, especially in large numbers. Every action your selected unit makes (moving, attacking, waiting, etc.) causes delay which will set your next turn back by a certain amount on the speed bar. Units have a delay stat that subtracts some delay during their actions, and by choosing an Ace unit at the start of the mission some class types will benefit from a further delay reduction bonus.

Each unit has a stat called WT (wait time) which determines how fast they can act again without suffering a loss of Vitality, which temporarily reduces their max HP. Equipment has weight and equipping it increases the WT burden by a % of WT. Any WT burden over 50% causes a WT penalty. You'll see the "Ready" overhead if the unit is ready to act without Vitality loss. Also, each attack has its own recharge rate, and if you use it before it's recharged, it will deal less damage.

Performing the move action with your units will build up tactics points, 1 point per square moved. Units have a tactics stat that determines how many tactics points they can build by moving. Building up tactics points increases the damage multiplier of some attacks. Tactics points can be spent on reducing delay (overclock), group attacks (beat), support buffs (boost), reducing the weapon recharge rate, and performing certain special summoning attacks. Units can only join into beats if they are directly in line with the target enemy, while boosts have a more permissive radius. Up to 4 allied units can assist the attacker with a beat or boost. Beat and boost activation range can be increased by capturing flags scattered around the map. These flags also increase your maximum tactics point value. In almost all situations, overclock isn't worth burning your tactics points, so you almost never have to choose between "speed or damage".

At the end of a mission you earn up to 3 stars based on certain conditions. You're awarded a star each for not restarting a mission, having 0 allied units defeated, and clearing the mission under a certain time. However, if you take too long, you'll start to lose stars even if you had no allies defeated and no restarts. Earning stars will increase the rank, a multiplier viewable in the upper right corner of the battle objectives screen. On basic difficulty the rank starts at 0.75, on Advance it's 1.0, and on Nightmare it's 1.25 or 1.5. My guess is that rank only increases if you get 2+ stars. For each mission you clear with 2+ stars, rank increases by 0.01 points on basic, 0.02 on advance, and 0.03 on nightmare. The rank multiplier increases enemy damage and HP. I'm not sure what the cap is, but I think it carries over with a New Game+. On Advance and Nightmare modes, enemies have 1.5x and 2.0x HP and Speed, respectively, in addition to the rank multiplier. Nightmare mode is unlocked after clearing Advance mode. You may start a New Game+ on Basic or Advance modes, but not on Nightmare mode.

During intermission you're able to recruit new units, and buy, sell, equip, improve or disenchant equipment. As for Gungnir's plot and characters, it looks very much like a FFT/TO style medieval melodrama, with all the usual JRPG cliches. You're able to make choices during the campaign that alter which ending you'll get, similar to TO.

I'm still not sure why Atlus chose to localize Gungnir. Contractual obligation? Similarity to Tactics Ogre? It's certainly a sales gamble and not in line with their recent attempts to publish more high profile games. It should be a pretty good game for technical minded players, and probably enough plot related stuff to please the FFT/TO fans.

Gungnir Amazon.com preorder (affiliate link).
Gungnir Amazon.ca preorder (affiliate link).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 Tactics Game Preview

Let's take a look at the major tactics games announced for 2012 thus far. New: The [P] link will bring you to an affiliated Play-Asia order page.

Fall [PC] [NA] [1] X-COM: Enemy Unknown
X-Com is back! Well, it's X-Com remade and simplified, but still technically X-Com. In X-Com you're tasked with fighting off an alien invasion by engaging in randomly generated levels until you've earned enough resources and power to complete the final mission. I am fond of squad based military tactics games such as Front Mission, Jagged Alliance, or the much maligned Operation Darkness, so I hope they put together a decent game that fixes up the UI and balance issues.

06/12 [PSP] [NA] [P1] [P2] [1] [2] Gungnir
Gungnir is another 2011 release being localized for NA. It's a traditional isometric tactics game, but since it's being developed by Sting, you can expect some complicated underlying mechanics to geek out over, if you're inclined to do so. I like the added depth and difficulty settings, but Gungnir's campaign feels a bit generic.

Masou Kishin II (PSP) Review

Masou Kishin II for PSP is a direct sequel to Masou Kishin I, released on the SFC in 1996. Despite the passage of 16 years, Masou Kishin II plays nearly identical to its predecessor. The developers have added a few new mechanics to try to liven things up, but they end up not having a significant effect. Terrain effects were added, but they are rarely an issue when most of the terrain in the campaign is neutral. You'll very rarely come across patches of unavoidable water or lava with significant terrain effects. Even then terrain effects are largely ignorable as the RPS element chart, unit height, and unit facing is far more important.

Pilots can now equip and swap skills instead of learning a fixed set as they level. Skills can be leveled up as they're used and new skills are learned as you progress through the campaign. There's not much in terms of depth or strategy for skills - the choices in most cases are fairly obvious. You equip damage dealers with damage or critical rate skills, healers with support skills, and fill in the remaining slots with defensive skills like Mirror Image or Sword Cut. In a few exceedingly rare instances you might want to use some movement altering skills, but otherwise you'll just want to stack the damage or critical boost skills. On the plus side, annoying random skills such as Double Attack have been removed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jan 2012 News #1

More X-Com: Enemy Unknown for PC screenshots. From what I'm seeing, it's a simplified version of the original X-Com. What they really need to improve from the original is the AI, UI, game balance, and bugs/stability issues. I honestly don't have much hope for this game. The mechanics and difficulty are being dumbed down, and the developers are cluelessly referencing Dark Souls as a difficult game instead of anything from this list. If anything it will be a generic, easy, simple, and streamlined tactics game for mass market appeal.

With all the attention on X-Com, I learned about a commercial X-Com style tactics game called UFO Legacy Defense: Xenonauts. It will probably be closer to the original X-Com than the reimagined Enemy Unknown (with a cleaned up UI, of course). Looks pretty good.

2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen for PSP will be released on 4/5/2012. This is likely to be the PSP's last big tactics game release. It's likely going to be a relatively easy game like Hakai-hen, but I expect the production values and scenarios to be good. Here's an article in Famitsu with some screens.

In this article a computer algorithm is used to solve Sudoku puzzles efficiently and find complex patterns. Just another example of how computers could theoretically solve or play strategy games much better than humans in the future.

More Pokemon x Nobunaga's Ambition screenshots and info. I really want nothing to do with Pokemon so I won't be discussing it much if at all. Apparently it's getting its own press conference.

Friday, January 6, 2012

X-COM: Enemy Unknown announced for PC

Firaxis Games is working on X-COM: Enemy Unknown for PC, a turn based strategy game similar to the older X-COM games. Enemy Unknown has nothing to do with the X-COM shooter announced a while ago. I think much of the X-COM and Julian Gollop worship is a mixture of nostalgia goggles and lack of perspective due to limited localization. It was a good game for its time, but it hasn't aged all that gracefully, and X-COM adherents exhibit the same kind of blind zealotry that characterizes Final Fantasy Tactics/Tactics Ogre worshippers.

Apparently the strategic level is going to be real-time. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a WEGO style tactics game as well, because those player/enemy phase games are just so outdated.

Julian Gollop is apparently not involved in X-COM: Enemy Unknown. We'll see about that!