Like most hardcore gamers who own a Wii and like JRPGs, I was beyond incensed when Nintendo shot down Operation Rainfall, stating they had no plans to bring Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, or Pandora’s Tower stateside. I hadn’t really looked into any of the games beyond Xenoblade, but I had been starved for good JRPGs for a long time, and for some bizarre reason I had just assumed these titles would be summarily localized. But no, it took almost two long years (compounded by the agony of watching Europe get all three games much earlier than us) for Nintendo to finally cave in and squeeze out a few copies of Xenoblade. Xseed Games stepped up to the plate and published The Last Story, and they did right by their fans by printing a second run and dropping the price a few months after launch (Nintendo did no such thing with Xenoblade, which currently goes for like $100 on Ebay). Finally, I had the two games I wanted; I was never much interested in the strange action-RPG gameplay of Pandora’s Tower.
And yet, today Xseed announced it picked up Pandora’s Tower for a North American release. And I’m scratching my head as to why.
Pandora’s Tower was always the black sheep of Operation Rainfall, the one that most people (including myself) could live without as long as they got the other two games. While Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story constantly make appearances in conversation about the Wii’s best RPG (with the former even being considered by some to be the best JRPG of the generation), no one’s talking about Pandora’s Tower, which IGN has admitted is “no classic.” It’s possible the game is too repetitive, too strange, too shallow for its own good. Pandora’s Tower will be forever linked to Xenoblade and The Last Story because of Operation Rainfall, and sadly, they cast a large shadow of critical acclaim that the slightly-above-average Pandora’s Tower may never be able to escape from.
Even if we’re going to ignore the quality of the game itself, I feel it’s going to be an enormously tough sell in today’s market. Unlike the well-pedigreed Xenoblade and Last Story, Pandora’s Tower was made by Ganbarion, a studio I had never heard of before, and certainly not a trusted name in the JRPG world. It’s easy to generate buzz by marketing a game as “from the creators of Xenosaga” or “from the creator of Final Fucking Fantasy“; “from the creators of One Piece: Unlimited Adventure” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The timing is also of concern. The industry is currently in flux as everyone waits for the next gen PlayStation and Xbox to drop. Meanwhile, new consoles like the Vita and Wii U struggle to break new ground and attract customers, while the 3DS seems to be finally settling in and establishing itself as the new dominant handheld, while outdated consoles like the DSi continue to chew up additional market share. So where’s the Wii in all of this? Well, it outsold its own successor last holiday season, but it’s definitely on its way out. Xseed admitted that the odds were stacked against The Last Story, and many in the company didn’t want to spend money localizing a $50 Wii game in an unpopular genre (for the American market, anyway) for release at the end of the console’s life cycle. Its August 2012 release gave it a few months of leeway before the Wii U bit into Wii sales, and against all odds, it became Xseed’s bestselling title to date. But can they pull the same thing twice with Pandora’s Tower, which lacks the critical acclaim, developer pedigree, community buzz, and advantageous timing of The Last Story? If the Wii had one foot in the grave in August 2012, I shudder to think of what console sales will be like by the time Pandora’s Tower gets released in Spring 2013. The Last Story also suffered numerous delays before finally being released in August, so it remains to be seen whether Xseed can actually get the thing out the door by March-April. Sooner would be better than later.
I think this thing’s gonna tank, personally. It’s too late in the Wii’s life cycle, there’s no buzz, most Operation Rainfall protestors have already been mollified by the releases of Xenoblade and The Last Story (for Americans, both in the last year), and Xseed’s own Last Story localization is currently filling the Wii JRPG market through its second print run. I’m hoping Xseed found some way to release this cheaply, because since the company has like six employees, one expensive bomb could mean the end of this tiny localization studio