Gone are the days where legions of Japanese video games never leave the region. Between specialty publishers like XSEED and Atlus, most of the good stuff makes it over. That's not always the case, with some genres having such a niche audience it's tough to justify localization costs.
There may be another option, though.
Why spend money localizing the game at all? Sony started allowing companies to release games without a trace of English on the PlayStation Store, and Microsoft has followed suit, with the release of Cave's Deathsmiles 2X via Games on Demand earlier this week.
The off-the-wall bullet hell shooter, whose insanity is best understood through Jeff and Vinny's Quick Look, was priced at $29.99 and features barely any English, even on the menu screen. And while I have zero interest in Deathsmiles 2X, the concept of strange, niche games arriving onto download services without the hurdle of localization sounds like a pretty terrific idea.
After talking to both Microsoft and Cave, it's unclear whether we're about to see an avalanche of Japanese (or otherwise) games on the service, but it's possible we'll see more in that direction.
Microsoft contacted Cave back in February about the possibility of a native language release. Microsoft wasn't very forthcoming about the details of the relationship ("we don't discuss the details about the terms of our partnerships"), but Cave was willing to talk a little more openly.== TEASER ==
"We’re going to have to see how this release goes," said producer Makoto Asada over email. "Not just Cave, but many other Japanese developers could use this format to release their games, and in turn expand the market. In that sense I want it to be a success."
Asada said Cave picked Deathsmiles 2X because the original had been released here on a disc.
When you purchase the game, there's a note in the description that it's only in Japanese. Just because it's not in English, however, doesn't mean the game can avoid obtaining an ESRB rating.
"Games submitted to ESRB that feature dialogue in a language other than in English are required to provide a supplemental translation and/or description of any language that could be deemed pertinent, including profanity," explained an ESRB spokesperson. "In many cases this document is provided to the raters to consider along with the rest of the submission, so that they can deliberate and decide on the most appropriate rating and/or content descriptors to assign. Besides this requirement, the rating process for these games is the same as that for all others."
Microsoft would not confirm there would be additional native language games coming ("we’re always looking at ways to expand the catalog of titles available to the community"), but Microsoft did make pretty clear we shouldn't expect this to extend to Xbox Live Arcade.
"We're thrilled to deliver a diverse catalog of quality downloadable games on Xbox Live Arcade," said a company spokesperson. "but don’t have any current plans to release non-localized titles."
Even though other Games on Demand releases are well above Xbox Live Arcade territory--Call of Duty: Black Ops is available for download at its standard retail price of $59.99, for example--$29.99 is up there. We're accustomed to seeing these made available as cheaper downloadables.
"Since this is the first case of a Japanese game being made available in another territory," said Asada, "we took into account the price range of other games already released on Games on Demand to choose the price point. [...] Since this is a test case for us and Microsoft, we don’t have a measure for sales expectations. We’re just hoping that the numbers are solid enough to make this format available for both us and other developers."
Outside of price, Cave fans have complained about the lack of a box. Many still want something physical, which is obviously impossible to deliver through a digital purchase. While Deathsmiles 2X didn't get that treatment, Cave pointed out this did not rule out the release of other Cave games on a disc in the future. Deathsmiles 2X and Games on Demand was an experiment.
More games, especially crazy ones? Not a bad thing at all.