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Feel the hatred: PAL conversions

7:26 PM on 09.11.2008 // Perry Simm

[Editor's note: I never truly understood how bad PAL gamers had it until reading Perry Simm's Monthly Musing piece. -- CTZ]

I know what you think: "I have heard the whinings of the PAL gamers often enough and know them inside out by now. Time for them to STFUAJPG." But let me tell you: You probably don't know the half of the horrors of PAL gaming. It's an ocean of shit so unbelievably big and deep, you can't imagine it in your wildest dreams. Even if you are a PAL gamer yourself, you maybe aren't fully aware how much you got screwed during your life.

The two most common complaints about being a PAL gamer are the release dates and the pricing. And yes, it's true. Fun fact: When Chrono Trigger DS gets released here some time in 2009, that will mark the first time Chrono Trigger is released here ever. It never came out here for the SNES or the PS1. Same goes for Super Mario RPG, or Earthbound. And you know what the first Final Fantasy was to be released here? VII. Yes, VII. No Kefka for us until 2002 on the PS1.

Today, these things in particular are not that much of a problem, thanks to NOT emulators, eBay, etc. And it became better. But from time to time, they show you how much they still despise you (See Brawl).

And the pricing, oh yes, it's all very true. When Chrono Trigger DS was announced for 39,99$, many people bitched about the price, the Square Enix tax and so on. You know how much the first Cooking Mama for DS is over here? Roughly 55-57 in US Dollars. Same for the first Phoenix Wright, even after two years.

But there is one thing that's worse. While it fortunately isn't such a big problem with the current generation anymore (at least I think it isn't -- I don't own any of the current consoles, but I haven't at least heard anything bad in that way), it's a pain in the ass concerning all other generations.

The damn conversions.

I still haven't gotten a PS2. I would love to go to a store and buy one and a handful games for it, but it's not that easy. There are two problems:

1) NTSC runs at 60 Hz, PAL usually at 50 Hz, which means: Most games run around 17% slower here. As I said, I don't think this problem exists with the current generation of consoles and with HDTV and all that, but older games are always a tiny bit slower, until there is a special 60 Hz mode (practically all TVs can display PAL at 60 Hz without a problem) built into the game or the console. The Dreamcast for example was the first console to feature such a PAL60 mode, but there are still games that don't support it. On PS2, there are at least a few games that feature PAL60. But the majority is just too slow.

With older game consoles like the SNES or the NES, all games are slowed down (or at least 99% of them). That means if a European tells you that he has beaten Ninja Gaiden (err... Shadow Warriors) on the NES, you can laugh at him, because what he has beaten was in reality a slowed down and therefore easier version of the game. Granted, it is not that much of a difference, but in faster, reflex-based games it matters quite a bit in my opinion. And when you play it, you can feel the difference. In the PAL version of Super Metroid, Samus controls sluggishly and feels heavy as a rock. In 60 Hz, she flies like a bird. Another problem is the loss of the sense and thrill of speed in racing games or say, Sonic the Hedgehog (see the video further down).

2) The second problem is even worse. Because PAL has more lines than NTSC, the PAL picture is vertically squashed, with black letterbox borders, if it's not properly converted. That means that square blocks aren't squares anymore and characters become shorter and fatter. In the last 10 years, the conversions generally got a bit better, but even one generation ago there were still many games that weren't adapted at all. A famous bad example is Final Fantasy X, which you can't buy here without getting eye cancer. It's like watching a version of Yuna that must have eaten far too many pizza rolls (or whatever people eat in Final Fantasy X). And games older than the 6th generation are doomed anyway.

To illustrate my points, watch this comparison of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, first in NTSC, then in PAL.

The biggest problem, which infuriates my hatred the most, is that many people just don't care. They don't even notice the difference, because they are morons without the slightest sense of aesthetics. These are the same people who don't notice when a movie is displayed in the wrong format or chopped on the sides (and if they notice, they don't care - because they are morons).

Well, many of you probably won't understand either why all this bothers me so much. But I simply don't want to play a slower, uglier version of a game, especially when I paid a European price for it. If I wanted to own and play PS2 games the way they were intended, I'd have to buy a PS2, spend roughly 100$ on modifying it, so it can play NTSC games (or import one, modify it for running on the European power supply network without exploding) and then import every single game I want to play and that isn't properly adapted from the US, paying horrendous shipping costs. And while this may be manageable, it should not be fucking necessary.

God bless PCs and handhelds. Photo Gallery: (1 images)
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Perry Simm,
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