The Uncertain Future of Xenoblade

Xenoblade is a game I only became aware of recently. The title and cover art were vaguely familiar to me so I must have read something about it at some point, but I knew nothing about the game and certainly wasn't anticipating it. When I declared that the Wii would be dead after Skyward Sword, a friend mentioned Xenoblade as another 2011 release that could extend the useful life of my Wii a little longer and I started to look into it. The biggest discovery, although it really should have been obvious from the title, is that it's a Tetsuya Takahashi game, the man behind Xenogears and the Xenosaga series. I won't pretend to have no problems with his writing, specifically his tendency to make his plots unnecessarily labyrinthine, but there's a singularity and, at least in the case of Xenogears, brilliance to his visions that I appreciate very much. Writing aside, the game's director worked on the Xenosaga and Baten Kaitos games; I haven't played any of the latter series but it has a good reputation. The music was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda , the guy that did the Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross soundtracks; there's no one better in the business. Designers, producers, and artists that have worked on a host of well-regarded RPGs were also involved with Xenoblade. I'm saying the pedigree is impressive, and that's what got me excited.

While looking through the pre-E3 coverage on Destructoid last week, I came across an article where the author was listing things he'd like to see at E3 and one of them was an official announcement of Xenoblade coming stateside. There was also a link to an article from May where a voice actor for English version of the game claimed that it would be released in September in the US and Europe. A representative of Nintendo of Europe confirmed a September PAL release, but there was still no word about an NSTC-U version. And that didn't change at E3, unfortunately, where Reggie was asked about it directly and responded with, "We have nothing to announce at this time." Now, we know from official statements that the PAL release will have a full English dub and text translation, so it seems like most of the work that would be needed for a US localization would already be done as part of that version. With that in mind, releasing the game in America would appear to be the clear choice, yet the silence on NOA's end continues. After doing some research, the reason for the apparent hesitancy to release the game in the west is pretty obvious: it didn't sell. In the six months after its release Xenoblade sold a little over 140,000 copies in Japan. For a Nintendo-published JRPG on a massively successful console that isn't very impressive. I wouldn't call it a total bomb either, but it's definitely not the kind of title you feel obligated to bring to America, where the audience for it could conceivably be even smaller.

There’s reason for optimism, though. The poor sales figures are the kind of thing that would also prevent you from making a PAL version, yet they’re doing that for sure. I feel like it would be crazy for them to make an English language version of the game then only release it in Europe; choosing to not put Xenoblade out in a market as large as the United States when you’ve already done the heavy lifting of translating and recording voice work wouldn’t make sense. Arc Rise Fantasia sold about 58,000 copies in Japan and 110,000 copies in the US. That’s obviously more a reflection of America’s larger population than its love of JRPGs, but sales are sales. Of course, Arc Rise Fantasia may not be the best example to use because 110,000 copies is still pretty paltry, but a Nintendo-published game with even decent marketing would likely do better, especially given the dearth of good games coming out on the Wii right now. While looking for Xenoblade info online I found a forum post by someone who I’m sure has a lot more familiarity with the Nintendo Localization Experience than I do, and it said that titles Nintendo feels are niche, and Xenoblade apparently is, typically don’t get announced until very near release, presumably so they can kill them at the last minute if necessary and not have to deal with the embarrassment of canceling a game. So to the two people on this site that might be interested in the fate of this game, stay positive. I bet we see it released before the end of the year. But what do I know? I would have bet on it being announced at E3.