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Monday Musings: How the rise of digital distribution has affected Japanese game localisation

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Welcome to the latest Monday Musings, a regular meander through the random thoughts of members of El33tonline. It doesn’t always makes a lot of sense, but it does make us feel a little better sending whatever’s at the top of our minds out into the Internet ether.

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The rise of digital distribution with relation to videogames has affected most of us in both profound and subtle ways. From not having to worry about games being sold out to being able to pick up digital releases at a faction of their original price during sales – it goes without saying that digital distribution has been of enormous benefit to game players and game creators alike.

I’ve enjoyed playing games developed in Japan for over twenty years now and titles such as Final Fantasy VII, Persona 4 and Demon’s Souls are among my favourite games of all time. Over the past couple of years I’ve been thrilled to observe how the rise of digital distribution has led to more and more Japanese games being localised for the West including sequels to titles that were never released outside of Japan during a period when physical releases were the only option.

Less Risk and the Potential for Greater Reward

Digital distribution allows publishers to take a far smaller risk when they greenlight a Japanese game for localisation than they would have if they were to manufacture physical copies. A perfect example of this is the 3DS exclusive Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies which was released as a digital-only title last October. The previous game in the series to be localised for the West was Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth which sadly didn’t sell well enough to warrant its sequel being given the same treatment. Capcom therefore decided to stick to a digital-only release for the fifth main entry in the Ace Attorney series (i.e. Dual Destinies) and has almost certainly made its money back and then some in terms of covering the cost of localisation and promotion in the West.

Another fascinating example of how digital distribution has affected Japanese game localisation for the better is Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA f for PS Vita. Unlike its PS3 counterpart, the game’s PS Vita version was released exclusively on the PlayStation Network and sold so well that Sega didn’t take long to announce that a sequel, Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd, will be getting a physical release on PS Vita in both North America and Europe later this year.

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North America generally represents a larger market than Europe so another option open to publishers is to release a physical product in the former territory and stick to digital distribution in the latter region. This is the route Atlus has chosen for its quirky dating sim RPG Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars which lands on the European PlayStation Store and Nintendo eShop on May 14th. Conception II is a great example of the kind of game that just wouldn’t have been localised for the West a decade ago but has been greenlit for sale outside of Japan thanks to factors like the ease with which it can be distributed digitally in European territories.

The Need for a Bigger Market

The rise of digital distribution may just be the antidote that helps to offset Japan’s shrinking console market. Console sales in the region recently sank to a five-year low and this can only have a detrimental effect on software sales in the months and years to come. This gloomy situation will no doubt inspire more Japanese publishers and developers to bring their games West via various digital distribution channels and tap into a massive new market – not to mention potentially create an appetite for future releases from Japanese studios such as Dark Souls developer From Software.

The Threat of Piracy

For the Japanese game localisation business to thrive platform holders such as Sony and Nintendo have to do their utmost to keep piracy at bay. Two of the most popular localisation requests are for the PSP titles Valkyria Chronicles III and Final Fantasy Type-0. Unfortunately by the time these games were released in Japan piracy was rampant on the handheld and this may have convinced Sega and Square Enix that it wasn’t worth their time and money to localise these games for the West. If we as gamers want to see more Japanese titles appearing on our preferred digital distribution platform then we need to support the ones that do come along and voice our enthusiasm for a particular title or series directly to publishers via Twitter, petitions and the like.

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Final Thought

There’s no doubt in my mind that digital distribution is good for everyone involved in the development and consumption of Japanese games localised for the West. Publishers can get review codes out to members of the press such as ourselves at very little to zero expense and we in turn help to put their games in the public eye. The only potential problems I can identify that may hinder the increase of Japanese game localisation via digital distribution in the years to come is either rampant piracy like we saw on the PSP or there being so many Japanese titles to choose from that only a few can really flourish (as is the case with any entertainment medium).


Have you noticed an increase in the number of Japanese games that are available for download on various digital distribution channels in the West? Let us know your thoughts on this week’s Monday Musings topic in the comments.


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