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Friday, April 6, 2018

Obscusion B-List: Video Game Localizations We Almost Got... But Didn't

Nothing major can happen without a plan being made, first & foremost. At the same time, though, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, sometimes to the point of never coming to fruition in the first place. When it comes to video games, I'd say that any region of the world will receive more or less an equal amount of localized games from another region as it would get those made domestically. Like anything, though, there are a lot of steps to making a localization happen, & those steps have to be laid out in a grand plan. Unfortunately, while most localization plans do indeed come to fruition, there are some that were planned for release, and maybe even officially announced, but wound up being exclusive to the region they were originally released in.

So let's take a look at these transposed translations, these retracted reveals, & these candid cancellations that all had hopes for English localization, only to be stopped for a variety of reasons, with at least one even threatening legal action! But... Yes, I'm totally aping Guru Larry, so I'll stop right here & go straight to the first entry.

Sony Computer Entertainment of America has always been a bit of an infamous division of Sony, especially in regards to the lives of the first two PlayStation consoles. For example, there have been complaints that SCEA was "anti-2D", i.e. being downright dismissive to certain video games & publishers that wanted to release games based around 2D sprite work, simply because SCEA wanted to focus on 3D polygons. Working Designs' Vic Ireland admitted that such a policy existed during the PS1 era back in 2012 during an interview with ANNCast, & even Mega Man 8 was initially rejected for release, until SCEA found out that the Sega Saturn was also getting it, so the decision was reversed with the request for some sort of exclusive content (which wound up being a mini-booklet with artwork). Obviously, there were some games & even companies that were exceptions to this, & the policy did relax over time, but SCEA still maintained some variation of it into the PS2 era, but now this even applied to polygonal graphics. In other words, if SCEA simply felt that a video game that a publisher wanted to release in North America didn't look good enough, 2D or 3D, then that would be enough reason to deny release. While proof of this is scarce, Agetec did submit evidence of this back in 2004 with the game Shadow Tower Abyss.

From Software's Souls series, while definitely its own overall creation, was still heavily influenced by some of the company's earliest fare, namely the King's Field series & a game called Shadow Tower. Originally released in Japan in June 1998, followed by a North American release via Agetec in November 1999, Shadow Tower was a gothic, first-person dungeon crawler that played similarly to the King's Field games that predated it, but with some differences, like a shield that required physical use to guard with & a different progression system. In 2001, From Software decided to bring back both King's Field & Shadow Tower, with the former seeing a fourth entry on the PS2 that year, while Shadow Tower Abyss, a direct sequel to the original, would finally come out in late 2003 for the PS2. True to its dedication to From Software's early days, Agetec released King's Field IV in North America, & work got started on also bringing over the new Shadow Tower. Unfortunately, in February 2004, Agetec producer Mark Johnson publicly announced on the publisher's forums that Shadow Tower Abyss would not be coming out in North America, even though "for the most part the localization was completed, aside from package and manual." The reason given was simply due to SCEA feeling that, aside from it being part of a very small niche, the game had "poor visuals compared to other first person games", and no matter how much fans would try to prove SCEA otherwise, the game would never see release. It's depressing that Agetec had put all that money into localization, only for Sony to put the kibosh on everything at the last possible second, but Johnson did allegedly offer to distribute the official translation to any interested parties, and in 2011 the game finally saw a fan translation.

The most amusing thing of all, however? In 2015, the original Shadow Tower saw a digital re-release on the North American PS Store, roughly eight years after it appeared on the Japanese store, & over a decade following its sequel being denied for not looking pretty enough.

Japanese developer Flight-Plan started up back in 1989, focusing mostly on porting other companies' games, like Chiki Chiki Boys & the Dokyusei series, to systems like the PC Engine CD & Saturn, but in 1998 the studio truly started making a name for itself with a game called Black/Matrix. Originally released on the Saturn, Black/Matrix would get ported over to the Dreamcast & PS1, followed by two spin-offs in 2002: Black/Matrix 2 on the PS2 & Black/Matrix Zero on the Game Boy Advance. In 2004, Flight-Plan made small history by enhancing the GBA game for the PS1 as Black/Matrix OO, with the developer even comparing the two games as "the theatrical version & the later TV series adaptation", becoming the final game ever released on the PS1 in the entire world; there were some re-releases afterwards, but this was the final "original" release. Combined with the introduction of the Summon Night series in 2000, Flight-Plan would be considered by some as one of the best-kept secrets in the Japanese RPG industry. Unfortunately, that secret was apparently too tightly kept, because the company would go defunct in mid-2010, with only a paltry three games ever seeing international release (both Summon Night: Swordcraft Story games & Eternal Poison). What's all the more sad is that number could have been "four", as there was a point in time where North America almost received Black/Matrix A/D.

Sadly, there isn't much info out there regarding this situation, but there is a news article from IGN back on August 26, 1999. It reports on how game distributor Tommo was hoping to work with then-new publisher UFO Interactive to release some "lesser known Dreamcast games". Listed were NEC Interchannel's Seventh Cross, Espion-AGE-nts, Monster Breed, & Black/Matrix A/D, as well as possible plans for Taito's Psychic Force 2012. In the end, UFO would publish the first two, under the names Seventh Cross Evolution & Industrial Spy: Operation Espionage, while Acclaim would wind up with Psychic Force 2012. As for Monster Breed, it would never see release anywhere, hence why it's not on this list. The "Advanced" Dreamcast port of Flight-Plan's RPG would see release in Japan a month following this article, though, so why was this game left behind from the rapture? Well, as I just hinted, it's likely due to the fact that Black/Matrix is heavily reliant on Judeo-Christian mythology & symbolism, with the story of the original being about how the forces of Hell won the war against Heaven, declaring angel-derived descandants as nothing more than sub-human slaves, due to their white wings. You play as Abel, a white-wing slave who gains the ability to turn black-wings into white-wings, with some deeming him a "messiah". That alone already would have made releasing the game potentially controversial, but then you also add in the fact that you could input a code at the beginning in order to let the player add a sixth, male "master" for Abel to select at the start, in place of the five women normally selectable. Yes, Black/Matrix featured a "gay option", and while such a thing would be more welcomed today, this was definitely not as widely accepted back in 1999.

More than likely, UFO Interactive & Tommo were offered Black/Matrix A/D by NEC Interchannel for localization, as part of a package deal with the other previously listed games, but after finding out just what Flight-Plan's game was like, they decided to pass on it. That's a shame, too, because all of the Black/Matrix games are generally beloved for their excellent gameplay & intriguing storylines, even if B/M 2 is considered a little too easy.

While computer RPGs had been around the world ever since the 70s with mainframe & UNIX-based games like Dungeon, dnd, & Rogue, they didn't really start becoming big in Japan until the early 80s. Very quickly, though, the "Japanese RPG" started making its mark, and one of the early trailblazers was a 1982 game by Nihon Falcom named Dragon Slayer. For the sequel, designer Yoshio Kiya decided to flip the angle of visual perspective, moving from an overhead perspective to a side-scrolling one. In turn, this sequel from 1985 wound up becoming one of the best-selling computer games ever in Japan for its time, and was even one of the earliest games to ever receive an expansion pack (which itself marked the debut of gaming maestro Yuzo Koshiro); it even received a wild & bizarre OVA adaptation in 1987. This was such a smash hit that it caught the interest of Richard Garriott, the creator of Ultima, & his company Origin Systems, with the ultimate hopes being to bring this game over to the other side of the Pacific. Unfortunately, Falcom's fandom towards Garriott's work effectively killed any chances for Xanadu: Dragon Slayer II seeing international release... And they almost got sued over it in the process!

As revealed in The Official Book of Ultima chapter "Going International" (Page 77, Paragraph 2), Falcom contacted Origin about publishing Xanadu in the U.S., in return for Falcom helping port Ultima IV over to Japanese for release on the growing variety of Japanese computers. While showing the game off to the Garriotts, Richard felt that there were some similarities between Xanadu & Ultima, but nothing to claim copyright infringement over; so far, so good. Halfway through Falcom's presentation, however, the Garriotts noticed that the image for a shop interface looked uncomfortably similar to a drawing by Denis Loubet that was in Ultima III's instruction manual. Falcom's president tried covering up the monitor upon realizing what was on screen, and if this was the only incident, then maybe the Garriotts would have let it slide, if just asking for the image to be altered. Unfortunately, the presentation wound up coming across yet another Ultima III-sourced image, and this stopped the presentation cold; there were at least seven images in Xanadu that were very obviously copied wholesale from Loubet's drawings. In the end, Origin & Falcom settled out of court, with Falcom having to pay a large settlement, & all future versions of Xanadu would completely alter the Loubet-traced artwork.

Eventually, Falcom would see its games released in North America, starting with the Master System port of Ys I in 1988, & the Dragon Slayer series would finally see its North American debut when Sierra published an MS-DOS port of Sorcerian (the fifth entry) in 1990. Today, Origin Systems has been defunct ever since 2004, while Nihon Falcom has never been more prolific internationally, with companies like XSEED, NIS America, & Aksys Games releasing various titles. In fact, Xanadu had a recent release, in the form of the complete reinterpretation Tokyo Xanadu eX+, which came out this past December.

People who grew up playing PC games in the 90s might think that I "got it wrong" with this entry, and that's because this game did appear in North America back in the day... But only technically. The fact of the matter is that Chinese developer Panda Entertainment's 1993 2D fighting game Sango Fighter, which was a Street Fighter II clone based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, was made available outside of China by way of Taiwanese publisher Ascend (or maybe it was Accend). Unfortunately, this was never an officially licensed release by Panda, and that almost feels like a bit of a slap in the face of the original developer, because there were some plans for a proper & official release before then, and it would have come from one of the biggest names in PC gaming at the time: Apogee Software. Back around the time it originally released in China, Apogee got into talks with Panda about bringing Sango Fighter to North American DOS users, where it would be renamed "Violent Vengeance"... Because it was the 90s, I guess. Unfortunately, the deal fell through for reasons that have never been revealed, but what's even zanier is that the rabbit hole goes much deeper than you think...

You see, there was a shareware release of the game by Micro Star, where it was named Sango Street Fighter & only featured Guan Yu & Zhang Fei as playable characters; whether this was official is unknown to me. Then Ascend, who unofficially released the complete game here, would release a 1994 PC fighting game titled... Violent Vengeance: The Universe Hero. While this was a completely different game than Sango Fighter, it really does give the feeling that there was a mole or someone in Panda Entertainment who managed to not only get Ascend/Accend the ability to illegally release Sango Fighter in North America, but also found out about Apogee's plans for the game, & helped make an actual game using the same exact title. As for Sango Fighter itself, it would get ported over to Japan's PC-98 under the name Sangoku Bushou Souha/Battle of the Three Kingdoms' Commanders, a single Panda employee would port it over (poorly) to Funtech's Super A'Can console in 1995, and that same year saw the release of Sango Fighter 2, a vastly expanded sequel.

At the very least, this is the only entry in this list to eventually see some sort of official release outside of Asia, as Super Fighter Team would get the full rights to both games in 2009, and by 2013 both games would become available legally in English as freeware. Still, just imagine how this game would have turned out if Apogee actually got its hands on it back in the 90s...

Back in the 80s & 90s, video game publishing was filled with some curious & strange bedfellows. Whether it was publishing companies like ASCII Corporation, television companies like CBS or Fuji TV (or at least its owner, Fujisankei Communications), toy companies like Mattel, telecommunication companies like Vic Tokai, or the Connecticut Leather Company, seemingly everyone wanted a share of the pie. This also included film productions companies, like 20th Century Fox, Asmik Ace, & the subject of this entry, Toho. From 1985 to 1998, the Japanese movie giant published roughly a couple dozen video games in its home country, and eight of them saw release in North America by Toho's US division. Surprisingly enough, Toho's US game catalog was actually split exactly between two categories: Four Godzilla games & Four "Not Godzilla" games. The King of Monsters could have taken a slight majority, though, had Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters actually come out in North America.

Godzilla has always had a bit of a bizarre insistence on not always taking the "obvious" route, when it comes to video game adaptations. Let's face it, when people think of this movie franchise, they always think of seeing two (or more) kaiju battle each other in mortal combat, destroying the environment around them, while the army either fruitlessly tries to stop at least one of them, or just stands with the rest of humankind of awe. Therefore, a fighting game sounds like the most likely path to take, but such a concept didn't actually come to pass until 1993, when the Alfa System-developed Godzilla (subtitled Bakutou Retsuden/Battle Legends in Japan) came out on the Turbo-Grafx/PC-Engine CD in both North America & Japan; over here, Hudson published the game, not Toho. The following year, Alfa System developed a sequel, Godzilla: Kaiju Daikessen/Great War, for the Super Famicom, which followed more of a "tournament fighter" style than the first game's simplified control scheme. This sequel came out in Japan in December, but in the May 1995 issue of Nintendo Power, there was a quick blurb of a preview for Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters for the SNES, a localized version of Kaiju Daikessen, with a release date of "April 1995"; in other words, it was either already released, or about to come out. In fact, people found Toys"R"Us cards for the game, complete with box art & an ESRB rating of K-A (now known as E), which both acted as advertisement & were meant to be used to request a copy of the game to buy in person.

Unfortunately, Toho never actually released Destroy All Monsters in North America, and in fact Toho never released another video game outside of Japan following 1993's Super Godzilla on the SNES. If anything, Toho likely felt that game publishing just wasn't making money anymore in the States, so they just cut their losses & left, even if there was one last game that may have been ready to go.

Finally, to end things off, here's a quick lightning round featuring three games that were advertised for North American release to some extent, only to never come to pass. First up, we have Curse, an early horizontal shooter by Micronet for the Sega Mega Drive that came out in Japan at the very end of 1989. According to the 1990 trade show flyer shown above, there were plans by INTV Corp. (the company that took over the Intellivision from Mattel) to bring the game over to the North American Sega Genesis under the name Curse: Quest for the Solar Grail, only for the release to never happen. It's not even like INTV pulled a Toho & left the industry before releasing Curse, either, as the company would live on for another year, before going bankrupt in 1991; it's final game would be Monster Truck Rally for the NES that same year. Considering the middling reception Curse received in Japan, though, it's likely that INTV simply decided to cancel the release before the plans became more public. Still, that promotional art IS pretty wild...

Then there were a pair of games that North America managed to get a sneak peak at, but only as Easter Eggs in demo discs offered by Sony & Microsoft, respectively. First up was Issue 79 of Official PlayStation Magazine, released April 2004, the included disc of which featured playable demos for games like LifeLine, Firefighter F.D. 18, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence... & ChainDive as a "Special Japanese Import" in the Extras section. Developed by Alvion, which is now best known for the PS3/Vita/PS4 game Malicious, the game came out back in late 2003, and the end of the demo indicated that it was coming soon to North America sometime in 2004, but in the end SCEA seemingly decided to not go ahead with the release. Shame, too, because the game is generally considered to be a very fun title. In fact, I held on to that very demo disc for the longest time, simply because of that demo, until I finally got a copy of the full entire game imported for my collection.

Later that year, in the Holiday 2004 issue (#39) of Official Xbox Magazine, the included demo disc featured playable demos of Forza Motorsport, Star Wars Battlefront, Rocky Legends, plus "an explosive hidden demo!" that required a code to be entered on the main menu, all while hold the Left Trigger: Left, X, Y, Up, A, Y, B, Up, Down, Down, Y, Right, Right, Right, Back. As you input the code, the Xbox controller vibrated more & more violently, as if it were a harbinger of what you'd be releasing upon your television any moment now. After finishing, the screen would fade to black, only to boot up a stage of From Software's Metal Wolf Chaos, a late 2004 game so intensely "AMERICAN!" that it's a wonder why it never actually saw an official release over here. Generally considered one of the biggest reasons, though, is the fact that the game unofficially utilizes the actual Seal of the President of the United States, which is technically a crime punishable by law in this country. Of course, one can argue that the Seal could have simply been removed or changed, but what's done (or not done, in this case) is done. Today, Metal Wolf Chaos commands high prices & is considered a bit of a holy grail for any original Xbox collection. Who knows if it will ever be given a chance here in North America, but at least we did get Ninja Blade, a 2009 Xbox 360 game by From Software that did for ninja what Metal Wolf Chaos did for mecha, and the main character in that ninja game takes orders from a man with the same name & face as the main character of that mecha game.
Like I said, plans can always go wrong, and overall fail. Like any business, video game publishing is not simple in the very least, and sometimes things just don't go the way that they weren't meant to. These aren't the only examples of video games being planned for release outside of their home countries, only to never happen at all, but these are some of the most infamous, and I wanted to compile them together for this list. In fact, who knows how many games were simply just considered, only to never happen, & the news of such never coming to light?

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