I wanted to create a new series of articles highlighting games trapped in Japan, not only to hopefully draw new eyes to them, but also to discuss whether they should have been released in the west and if they could have found an audience over here.
DISCLAIMER – Throughout this series I will share my thoughts on game localisation, and whilst I do understand what may make a game appealing and unappealing for a localisation company, I don’t have any knowledge of how the process works and potential time scales etc. These are merely opinion-based speculative articles.
The first game I have chosen to analyse is @Field for the PlayStation Vita, a massively overlooked arcade sports game released early in the handheld’s life cycle.
@Field was developed and published by Sonic Powered in Japan, who are probably best known for their ‘I Am An Air Traffic Controller’ series of 3DS eShop games as well as their Nintendo DS role-playing game ‘From the Abyss’.
It is therefore fair to say that @Field was a departure from their usual staple, but from the looks of the game’s official trailer, it looked like an interesting and fun little title (see below)
I would describe the gameplay as looking like an odd mix between mini-golf and pinball, with all the obstacles and environmental hazards strewn around courses.
It also reminds me of Super Monkey Ball, thanks to its multi-level, puzzle-like holes and reliance on high-score based arcade gameplay.
For these reasons, I feel like @Field could have definitely have found some form of audience on the PlayStation Vita, especially given the handheld’s lack of arcade sports games.
Some may say that the game’s Vita exclusivity may have worked against its localisation potential, as its fair to say the PlayStation Vita didn’t really find the kind of audience in the west Sony envisaged.
However, I believe that its PlayStation Vita exclusivity could have worked in its favour.
For starters, the Vita has a proven hardcore audience who buy games and lots of them (see its ridiculously high attach rates), and Vita audiences would likely have gotten behind the game even if it was limited to a digital only run.
Another reason why I’m honestly surprised that @Field wasn’t localised is because of when in the life cycle the title was released.
@Field was a very early PlayStation Vita exclusive, seeing release in Japan on March 29th 2012, meaning that if it had been localised, it would have been one of the early Vita games and therefore had faced very little competition with an audience desperate for new releases.
I mean when you consider how little text would have had to be translated, the game could have reasonably been released in summer 2012 and faced very little competition.
Between July and September 2012, North America only got eight PlayStation Vita games; Foosball 2012, FIFA 13, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, Puddle, Sound Shapes, Madden NFL 13, Zen Pinball 2 and Table Ice Hockey.
Now obviously, there are reasons why a localisation would not have made sense, or may have prevented localisation all together.
For starters, unlike companies like Nippon Ichi and Marvelous, Sonic Powered had no western publishing arm at the time of @Field’s release, meaning it may have struggled to find a partner.
Sports games are also very infrequently localised, namely because most sports games in the west are backed by a major sports license, such as NBA, NFL, FIFA etc.
A combination of these two factors may have made it very difficult for Sonic Powered’s unique sports game to attract localisation interest.
In fact, that unique nature may have also worked against localisation, as unlike other arcade golf game’s like Everybody’s Golf, the gameplay would have proved harder to communicate and therefore companies may have not seen it as worth the risk for a game that would likely have only reached a very niche market.
Yet it isn’t just the risks attached to the game which may have harmed the game, but also with the platform it was on.
The PlayStation Vita at the time was very new, yet there were already worries about the fanbase it was finding, and without it being proven yet as a hardcore gamers haven, localisation companies may have been scared of the system early on.
It’s also important to consider that the few localisation companies who were supporting it from the start had a wide range of choice, maybe placing @Field further back in the queue.
For context, games such as Lord of Apocalypse, Assault Gunners, Gundam SEED Battle Destiny, Ciel noSurge, Tales of Innocence R and Time Travelers all launched around the same time as @Field in Japan, yet none were localised even though some, namely Ciel noSurge and Tales of Innocence R, were released by major publishers and stemmed from notable franchises with already localised works.
Obviously, every localisation case is different and a lot of these are more text heavy and therefore require a lot more resources, but still, at least with some of these titles western publishers knew there would be a marketing potential and could reasonably estimate expected returns.
Also, it is important to remember another arcade golf game in the form of Everybody’s Golf launched with the PlayStation Vita mere months earlier.
Now, Everybody’s Golf is an entirely different type of arcade experience to the unique package offered by Sonic Powered, but not all consumers may have seen it this way and instead have compared the two.
Whilst I have not played @Field, Everybody’s Golf is clearly a game with much higher production values and is likely a much more enjoyable experience, which may have further put off potential localising companies.
Earlier, I mentioned the potential of digital only, as it could massively cut the cost of localisation for a smaller team and mean that the game may be viewed as more viable, but again, perceptions on the PlayStation Vita were likely very different back in the day.
Compared to now where digital-only localisations appear all the time because of that hardcore Vita fan base, the potential success of digital only releases on the PlayStation Vita had been proved at the time of @Field’s Japanese release.
There had been very few digital only releases at that point, and most had been released by Sony, namely titles such as Escape Plan and Super Stardust Delta, meaning once again @Field may have just been a risk too far.
The sad thing is about @Field that you would hope this sort of game wouldn’t be a risk too great for companies, as it doesn’t seem to be a massive localisation effort and has universally friendly game play mechanics at its core.
The game even featured motion controls, a staple of early PlayStation Vita games in how developers wanted to shoe horn in all the Vita’s features, as well as a level editor and character customisation options.
Personally, I feel like @Field is the sort of game that, given the Vita’s audience and library, should have been released west. I would have loved to have yet another arcade sports game for my favourite handheld system to waste hours in.
Maybe @Field was just too risky a proposition for the Vita in that climate, and maybe if it had been released in more recent years it could have found a home in western PlayStation Store’s alongside other obscure Japanese titles like Touhou and Torquel.