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Unlocalized: The Nintendo games we didn’t see (Part 1)

Posted on July 19, 2011 by (@NE_Brian) in Features, General Nintendo

There has been a lot of fuss lately about Nintendo —specifically Nintendo of America— slacking off when it comes to localizing Japanese games like Xenoblade and The Last Story. This made a lot of game-centric websites, including IGN, compare Nintendo-published titles that were exclusive to either Europe and America in an attempt to pin the blame on Nintendo of America “dropping the ball.”

That’s all well and good, but what about the games we never got to play in English? What about all the games that neither international branch attempted to translate? That’s why I thought it was worth taking a look at all the weird and wonderful games that never left Japan at all. Obviously there was a ton of stuff that was never translated, but I’ll be limiting it to Nintendo-published games released over the last ten years and leaving out a few unremarkable games (unless you really want to read about virtual Japanese dictionaries). As well as a brief overview of each game, I’ll speculate as to why they were never officially translated and then weigh up how much of a loss it really was that the game was never localized. This will be measured in the only unit that can accurately portray an amount of distaste towards Nintendo of America: Reggies.

Note: Distaste towards Nintendo of Australia and all European divisions are measured in Metric Reggies.

Magical Vacation

Released: December 2001

If you’re still reading after that awful attempt at humour, congratulations! Now you get to read about Magical Vacation. This handheld RPG was the first game developed by Brownie Brown, a Nintendo subsidiary that went on to make Sword of Mana and Blue Dragon Plus, among other games that’ll show up later. The battles are all turn based and visually very similar to those found in Capcom’s Breath of Fire games. Summoning different elemental spirits like fire, wind, and heart (probably not a nod to Captain Planet, unfortunately) to multiply damage is an interesting addition, but it’s a fairly standard RPG. Probably the most notable thing about the actual gameplay is how much it relies on using the Game Boy Advance’s link cable. You can exchange characters to learn new spells, visit other players’ hot springs to boost your stats and partake in multiplayer battles that grant special titles. In fact, linking up with other players was so vital that Nintendo organised events for owners of Magical Vacation to meet up and actually play the game properly.

Why wasn’t it localized?

The game’s sequel, Magical Starsign, was released internationally, but Magical Vacation never made it out of Japan. Apparently it was previewed in Nintendo Power, but it was never actually released. The overreliance on the link cable might have been a reason why it was never brought over, especially since there were already two Nintendo-published RPGs coming out within a year that made heavy use of the device and had much more mainstream appeal: Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire.

Loss:

Tomato Adventure

Released: January 2002

Developed by AlphaDream, Tomato Adventure is an incredibly weird RPG where you play as an odd rabbit-guy called DeMille who hates tomatoes. Since he’s in a game called Tomato Adventure that takes place in the “Ketchup Kingdom,” DeMille is kind of an unpopular guy. That said, there are plenty of partners that fight alongside DeMille in his quest to defeat the King of the Ketchup Kingdom. Yep, Tomato Adventure is definitely a game for kids, but it does do a few interesting things. DeMille fights using “Gimmicks” — tools that start minigames when you use them. Instead of just pressing “Fight”, you’ll have to mash buttons or carefully time a button press. Adding all these gimmicky (ugh) additions to the game’s battles is a neat idea, but it’s something AlphaDream did better with Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga.

Why wasn’t it localized?

There are three main reasons why Tomato Adventure was never released in English. Firstly, it’s far too weird; the plot is nonsensical and the character designs are almost offensively “Japanese.” Secondly, it’s a kids game but there isn’t any license or familiar characters that could actually sell any copies of the game. And lastly, it’s just not that much fun to play. Gimmicks make the battles kind of interesting, but they get old really quickly.

Loss:

Fire Emblem: Fuiin no Tsurugi

Released: March 2002

Though it was the first Fire Emblem game to appear on the Game Boy Advance, Fuuin no Tsurugi is actually a sequel to Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken (which was localized as just plain “Fire Emblem”). Fresh from appearing in Super Smash Bros. Melee, the protagonist in this tactical RPG is Roy, the son of Eliwood and whoever he ended up with at the end of his own game. Being part of the royal family in the Fire Emblem universe, it’s Roy’s job to lead a delicate army of knights, mages and archers who’ll all kick the bucket after a few hits if you let them. Fuuin no Tsurugi shares the same occasionally unforgiving gameplay as other Fire Emblem games on the console, as well as the same sprites and classes. The only things that are really exclusive to Fuiin no Tsurugi are a different (well, slightly older) cast and plot.

Why wasn’t it localized?

That’s a good question. For many English-speaking gamers, the appearance of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee was their first introduction to the Fire Emblem series. If Nintendo was going to finally bring the series out of Japan, it would make sense to release a game that actually had a character Western audiences would recognise like Roy. The only reason for localizing the seventh Fire Emblem game instead is because it has a much gentler difficulty curve and would be easier for new players to get into.

Loss:

Custom Robo GX

Released: July 2002

As with all the other Custom Robo games I didn’t play, Custom Robo GX has you commanding a tiny customisable robot that fights other kids’ robots for more power and parts. Because that’s what all Japanese children do for fun, apparently. What differentiates GX from other games in the series is that battles take place on a 2D plane where your robotic buddy can fly around, shoot missiles and drop bombs.

Why wasn’t it localized?

Nintendo Power release lists suggest that Custom Robo GX was initially planned to be released outside of Japan, but —like Magical Vacation— it looks like that never worked out. The Gamecube title, Custom Robo Battle Revolution was released internationally in 2002, but by the time the series was brought to America, it was a bit too late to bring GX over as well. Not that Custom Robo was exactly a hit, anyway, as the Gamecube game was largely ignored (as any game released during E3 would be).

Loss:

Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival

Released: July 2002

Unlike every other game I’ve written about so far, Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival isn’t an RPG. In fact, I’m not really sure what genre it falls into. As part of the “carnival committee”, your character must wander around town and give out invites to the increasingly bizarre residents of Colortown. All I can really compare it to is Animal Crossing, but the game refers to itself as an “internet simulation” game. At any point in the game, you can bring up the [email protected], a sort of PDA system that allows you to receive mail, display maps and browse the game’s simulated Internet, which is needed to find information and solve puzzles. The titular “Sakura Momoko” was the game’s graphic designer; a manga artist whose charming character design is probably the best thing about the game. It’s definitely aimed at a younger, casual audience, but Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival is still an interesting open-ended experience.

Why wasn’t it localized?

It’s not hard to see why Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival was never localized. It’s a “game” without a defined genre that was sold based on the name of an illustrator whose name means next to nothing outside of Japan. There may not be much actual gameplay, but there’s certainly a lot of text to translate, and Nintendo probably thought it wasn’t worth the effort.

Loss:

Kuruin Paradise

Released: December 2002

Kururin Paradise is the sequel to Kuru Kuru Kuruin, which was a Game Boy Advance launch title in Europe and Australia (though it was never released in the US). As in the first game, you need to guide a constantly-spinning propeller through a maze. Touch the sides and you’ll take damage. It’s very similar to the original, but it moves at a slightly faster pace and contains a few minigames to mix things up a bit. A Japan-only Gamecube game, Kururin Squash!, was also released in 2004. It’s pretty much the same thing only in 3D and with boss battles that fit as well as you’d expect in a game where you play as a giant propeller. It was also the last Kururin title developer 8ing made before they went back to making fighting games (including the excellent Tatsunoko vs. Capcom).

Why wasn’t it localized?

Despite the fact that it was shown at E3 2002, Kururin Paradise was never released in Europe or the United States. Maybe the first game didn’t sell too well, but I remember it being one of the better launch titles for the Game Boy Advance. It’s fun to play in short bursts and the kind of game I’d like to see make a reappearance on WiiWare or DSiWare. Since Kururin Paradise was never released outside of Japan, it makes sense that Kururin Squash! didn’t either, so the series still hasn’t shown up in America aside from in the Super Smash Bros. games.

Loss:

Giftpia

Released: March 2003

This oddity was developed by Skip and directed by Kenichi Nishi, who also helped design cult classics like Moon: Remix RPG Adventure and Incredible Crisis. If you’re familiar with the work of Skip and Nishi, it should be no surprise that Giftpia is also a pretty weird game. After sleeping in and missing his coming of age ceremony, the purple-haired Pockle is imprisoned and forced to perform menial tasks as a form of community service. And so Pockle goes down the path to manhood by travelling around his island home, taking jobs and eventually granting wishes; all while listening to the fantastic music on Giftpia’s in-game radio station. It’s certainly an unorthodox concept for a game, but what it lacks in action it makes up for in charm. Also, every character seems to do the robot whenever they talk. It’s kind of creepy.

Why wasn’t it localized?

Let’s be honest, a game revolving around performing charity work doesn’t exactly sound like something with a lot of mainstream appeal, and Giftpia didn’t even sell that well in its home country. Though an English version of the game was shown at E3 2003, Giftpia was never localized, probably because it’s so damn weird. Or maybe it’s because it had too many similarities to Animal Crossing, which was also being released in the US and Europe around the same time as Giftpia was revealed. Whatever the reason, Giftpia certainly wasn’t the only one of Skip’s games that was never localized, but that’s a story for another feature.

Loss:

In the next part, we’ll jump to the Nintendo DS and take a look at weird casual games, Mario playing Mahjong, and some “Mother” game you’ve probably never heard of.

Another note: I have absolutely nothing against Reggie Fils-Aime. I just wanted to abuse that picture even more than Austin.

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