Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sony can win the next console war for me with one thing: international awareness

This doesn't address my concerns. At all.

Like anyone, I was interested to see what Sony had in store with the PlayStation 4 when they announced it last week. For me, though, there were two glaring omissions that were even more important than the whole will-it-or-won’t-it-play-used-games thing (which doesn’t matter to me in the slightest, honestly; I’m not an impulsive game shopper: I wait for sales): the console itself, which I not only hope looks cool, but won’t take up an immense amount of my precious floor space, and will-it-or-won’t-it be region free.

For example, before it came out only about a month ago in the US, I played about 15 hours of the Japanese version of Ni No Kuni (fantastic game, btw). I am good enough at Japanese that I can read the two basic alphabets at lightning speed, but my understanding of Japanese vocabulary and grammar is more than a little suspect. As is my general familiarity with the casual spoken language. The character Drippy, named Shizuku in Japan, is nearly indecipherable in the English version of the game with his wacky Cockney-like tongue and ridiculous speed of speech, but it’s a perfect adaptation of the Japanese Shizuku, who uses un-dictionary-able slang and a speaking voice that makes you wish you had digital hands that could wring his neck through the screen. It was a very slow and difficult 15 hours and it turns out, as I discovered only a few days after receiving my American Ni No Kuni, only about five hours of actual gameplay. I’d spent around ten hours just listening to the cutscenes and reading the subtitles on pause, looking up what I could in the dictionary, and, in many cases, giving it up for slang or idiom I simply had no knowledge of and moving on. Needless to say, that was not an especially fun way to spend my time.
This whole scene was a particularly frustrating hour of attempted translation.
This is by far my most pressing concern. As some of you may recall, I live and work near Nagoya, Japan, but I am not fluent in Japanese, speaking, reading, or writing. This is an issue when it comes to games that require any amount of effort outside of platforming, sports, or music games. Role-playing games are a favorite genre of mine, but playing them with a dictionary in front of me is so ridiculously slow that it kills the game experience.

Like a dummy, I impulsed the shit out of a night in January and bought myself a Wii U and a copy of New Super Mario Bros. U. At the time, I either didn’t know or didn’t care that the Wii U was region-locked, but I sure as hell care, now. New Super Mario Bros. U is a pretty simple game to play through, even when the language isn’t your own. It’s Mario, after all. The game is simple and universal. I was surprised, however, at the sheer amount of instruction there is in the game. I encountered more writing in that game than in any other Mario game I can remember that wasn’t prefixed “Paper” or suffixed “RPG.” It was a good, fun game (though I’m personally ready for Mario to learn some new tricks), but I’m glad the language didn’t actually impede my play experience. But I get the feeling that that is one of the few games that won’t. I’m very interested in trying out Monster Hunter to see what the fuss is about, but I realize that it’s going to take a fair amount of devotion to just get in the game and get started. I want to pick up the inevitable Wii U 動物の森 (Animal Crossing), and I’ll be able to, but those are going to be severe challenges.
Oh, Mario, I don't know what you're saying to me.

Worse, Nintendo has made it so that I cannot use the console for anything but these few games. Region-locking is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I should be able to buy games from anywhere in the world and use them on my hardware, much like a computer or, more relevantly, a PSP, Vita, or PS3. Even the DS is region free, and I’ve taken great advantage of that fact, indulging in the further adventures of Kyle Hyde in the Hotel Dusk sequels from Europe and in the 押忍!闘え!応援団!(Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! a.k.a. Elite Beat Agents) games from Japan. But now, I’m stuck buying only Japanese games for my Wii U and only American games for my 3DS, effectively rendering the Wii U useless for any game with a story and ensuring that I will spend no money whatsoever on 3DS games while in Japan (and after reading all of the articles recently detailing the trouble people have had with the Wii U store and losing their games and such, I don't believe I'll be putting any money into the eShop). Further to that point, one other slightly ridiculous “Fuck you” from Nintendo Japan to its foreign customers is a complete inability to change the language in the Wii U system menu.

Moving to Japan and realizing that the PS3 was compatible with all of the games I had at home in the US was a stroke of luck that made those first few months of living in a foreign country with no friends endurable (once I received my games, anyway). Sony impressed me with its international policy for this console generation and I am eagerly waiting to see whether I need to start saving my Yen for a shiny new PS4 this coming holiday season or whether I need to give up hope. Microsoft, whom I have yet to mention either in this article or even in daily conversation for months and months, can earn my business, which it has not had since quite a while even before I left the USA (even though I do own a 360), with a solid foreign policy. Make sure I can play the games I want to play, and you will get my business. Sony did last generation and has a place in my heart because of it, but will it still by next Christmas?

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