Being a person based on the east side of the Atlantic (UK), I couldn't help but chuckle when I read the bloggers wanted topic this time around. Afterall, Europe is still widely regarded as the toilet of the games industry when it comes to releases. We've missed out on so many classic games, that we would probably make this c-blog post a list of games which were never released over on our shores and shout "any you guys complained about not getting Xenoblade?"
And the more things change, the more things stay the same. We don't even get Catherine until a year after the Japanese release!
But we're meant to be blogging about games which we loved but had to import to enjoy. And in my case, trying to choose just one would be difficult. Of course, I could talk about Final Fantasy tactics on the PS1 or Valkyrie Profile. Two of my favourite games which never reached our little island until many years later when they were re-released on the PSP. But at least they got here in the end, right? But eventually, I chose to try and work around a theme. A very loose one, to be fair but one which allows me to endulge not only my love of games but also of a certain type of anime show which I have loved since childhood. To this end, I will be talking about 2 video game series which I hold close so I apologise about this post being rather long in advance. First up, we have the the Xeno- series
It seems fitting to start with the series of games which inspired this particular Bloggers Wanted topic. While Europe got Xenoblade before the US (for once), it's easy to forget that aside from Xenoblade, the series which spans a total of 5 games had only one other game in the series released in Europe. And it was the weakest one! I suspect that quite a few european readers will share the same reverence to the one which started it all as I do. Xenogears was, and is, one of my favourite games of all time. as an impressionable teenager, fresh off Final fantasy 8, Xenogears showed me something different. Even though I did not get the intricacies of the plot until much later (especially the Religious stuff), the game captivated me with its battle system which felt so familiar yet so alien. The way it forces you to pay attention and diversify your attacks was a stark contrast to the "mash X button" from the final fantasy games and it was a hook which worked brilliantly. It has been said that for an RPG to work, it needs either a strong plot or a great battle system. And this one was leagues ahead of anything else I had played at the time, and that includes FFVII (Hush, FFVI wasn't available to us Brits yet!)
The mecha designs were also something to behold and Xenogears remains one of the few games I went out and got the OST for. Second disk aside, the game is phenomenal and still stands the tests of time. I bought a physical copy several years ago and bought a digital copy on the US PSN but the game seems unlikely to ever be released in Europe, seeing as it's stuck in a licensing limbo.
But lets not forget the Xenosaga games, the pseudo-sequel developed by Monolithsoft. I picked up Xenosaga Episode 1 on a whim off ebay after acquiring a modded PS2 to play it on. While it was really showing its age by the time I got it (the game was over a year old by the time it was released in the US!), there was a firm sense of familiarity in the game battle mechanics and other elements which made me feel at home. It also introduced me to KOS-MOS, One of my favourite character designs from any video game. I love her so much, I paid over �600 to import a japanese resin kit...
which needed to be assembled...
Totally worth it too!
The series in general never touched the heights of Xenogears but they were enjoyable in their own way. Except for episode 2. And it was episode 2 whch was also released in Europe for whatever baffling reason. The game came with a DVD which contained the cutscenes from episode 1 and was meant to fill in the plot from the first game for those who jumped straight into episode 2, since the plots were linked. Except the DVD was useless. It was also a pre-order bonus for the US copy and I had it. It was a complete mess which was impossible to follow since scenes jumped over the place and made no sense since there was no gameplay elements to explain how the characters got to where they were. No wonder episode 3 was never released in Europe as Episode 2, understandably, flopped. Who the heck wants to start a story in the middle? It's a shame that the series got cut short and episode 2 was pretty lame but episodes 1 and 3 gave me a fun time and gave KOS-MOS to the world so I thank it and Monolith soft for that! The mecha connection is a little weak for the Xenosaga series but lets not forget about the (admittedly useless AWGS from episode 1 and the ES units from the other games! ES Dinah was a beautiful unit to look at. I think that puts the games under the mecha unbrella!
But now, lets go onto the second series I'm planning to discuss. It's a series which has been around for years but only in its native Japan. It's the Super Robot Taisen series!
For those who don't know, the games are a Strategy RPG (think Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics) which incorporates mecha shows from the 1970s and beyond into a twisted mass of awesome which takes elements from the series to make a story which combines them all.
And it was 8 years ago when I played my first one. Super Robot Wars R.
I owe a great debt to my Korean friend who introduced the game to me by way of an emulator. He gave me the game to play on my PC and explained the basic controls which were all in Japanese and a few tips to help me on my way. So, armed with a rather limited knowledge of the mechanics and the 2 of the ability enhancing "pilot spells" I ventured into a brave new world. And what a world it was!
I still remember the first time I watched the battle animation
for the Aestavales units from Martian successor Nadesico with a massive grin as I recognised the attacks and the midi music being played on the screen. Same for when I used the Gundam W units. My knowledge of anime shows in general was much smaller than it is now but I knew Nadesico and Gundam W. (I have to thank the Super Robot Taisen series for introducing me to shows which I would have otherwise missed. )
But it wasn't until my first SRW game on the PS2 when I really took a liking to the series. It was the second SRW game released on the PS2, dai-2-ji Super Robot Taisen Alpha (lit: the second super robot wars alpha)!
It was the game which introduced the squad system to the series so I ended up having to learn the whole game system all over again but it was worth it. Compared to SRWR, Alpha 2 had a much larger selection of mecha anime series and beautifully animated battle sequences and fantastic music. I remember singing along to a few of them as well as I played! And I couldn't contain my glee when I unleashed Shin getter robo
for the first time! The plot in these games can be a little hard to follow but usually, it takes a few series as the core plot so if you know how the story goes for those, you know what happens in the game. For example, Alpha 2 introduced King of Braves GaoGaiGar to the series and covered the first half of the show, so you fought all the way up to the battle with EI-01 and defeat him near the end of the game. The penultimate stage was one where Char tries to crash an asteroid into the Earth, mimicking the end of the movie Char's counterattack, which also neatly ties with the ending for Crossbone Gundam where something similar happens with a different antagonist. And so, you get the idea!
From then on, I never missed a beat when it came to the main console Super robot taisen games. There were a few spinoff games but the core titles were released on the PS2 at the time and I got them all. I also played the ones on the GBA and DS. All in all, I have played the entire SRW alpha series (2 games on PS1 and 2 on PS2), all the DS games (3 of them), most of the GBA games, SRW MX and Z on the PS2 and Z2 on the PSP as well as all the super robot wars Original Generation games!!
Ah yes, Super robot wars original Generation. I guess a little explanation is in order here. In each Super robot taisen game since the second game, there have been original units designed by Banpresto (the developers) which do not belong to any anime series. Then, in 2001, they decided to release a game which contained just those units. This was significant because the first 2 games are the only official super robot taisen games to be released outside of Japan! And by that, I mean the US. Again, Europe got shafted!!
The reason why the super robot taisen games have never been released until then was because of licensing issues. A game which contains so many different anime shows would require permission from all the license holders in the region which it was trying to be released to. It's not so much of a problem in Japan where license holders are more flexible and having a series in a super robot taisen game is good publicity, especially for older shows. But in the west, it's not so easy. Heck, half the series aren;t even licensed, so who do they go to ask?
Legend has it that there was an attempt to release the first super robot taisen alpha game in the US but it fell through as ADV films, the license owners for Evangelion, supposedly asked for so much money to use the license that it made the venture unprofitable...
But the original generation games neatly sidestep those issues, which is why the first 2 games on the GBA managed to get a release late into the handhelds twilight years. Those 2 GBA games were later combined and remade for the PS2 and one more game was released, called SRW OG gaiden. And now, fans of the series are waiting for the first PS3 release in the series called, confusingly, SRW OGs 2. Sadly, only the GBA games were ever released in the US.
But I have a lot to thank the Super robot Taisen games for. As well as introducing a few of the older mecha series for me to watch, it also improved my understanding of Kanji, as I needed to know what all the buff pilot spells did! And, while completely following the plot is still beyond my meagre language skills, I have more than enough knowledge to understand the options for upgrading my units, pilots and also all the pilot catchphrases they say in the battle animations. Still, it's not like you need to know all this stuff to understand how the game plays. All you need is a desire to watch your favourite mecha kick some serious ass!!! The rest just falls into place.
At this point, I think this post has gone long enough. There's still the matter of the spinoff series like the Super robot taisen saga games and the ACE (another century episode) games, but lets take a break, shall we? Perhaps I will be able to talk about those games another time if readers are interested (the ACE games are particularly good!)
If you want to jump on the bandwagon without the intimidating language barrier, there are a few fan translations for some of the games (specifically, SRW A for the GBA and Alpha gaiden for the PS1) and you might stumble across the GBA releases of the Original Generation games if you look hard enough.
Years on, and us Europeans are still getting hurt by delays and non-release of games, far more than the US. But if you tread off the beaten path, you may just find some games which stick with you for life, and the entry barrier is getting lower all the time!