About this NISA anime licensing thing…

Posted by DiGiKerot in Free Talk at February 13, 2010 on 8:13 pm

So, apparently NISA have decided to have a go at this anime thing. The reactions to it seem to be a little on the mixed side.

Reaction on some of the gaming forums I read is kind of just a massive, simultaneous facepalm – the Japanese parent company has just announced a massive drop in profits (note – drop in profits, it’s not like they’re in the red or anything), and here they are throwing their hat into an industry that’s been in a state of freefall for the last couple of years. It probably doesn’t really help that in recent times NISA has gone from being a fan favourite (mostly on the back of titles that ATLUS handled the localisation on) to a laughing stock generally known for a lack of quality control. The lack of quality control thing came to a head when Ar Tonelico 2 was published in the US last year.

To establish a little context here, the Ar Tonelico games are, rather than being developed by NIS, developed by a Japanese studio called GUST, and published over there by Namco Bandai. NISA publish a number of their titles in the US. GUST aren’t particularly renowned for their technical prowess – they tend to produce RPGs with low production values that target the otaku market in the precise fashion that higher budget projects can’t really afford to focus on. Typically, their first titles on any given platform will look an awful lot like a C-grade game from other publishers on the previous generation of hardware.

Take the recently released Ar Tonelico 3, for example – that game looks an awful lot like a C-grade PS2 game, by which I mean not a Final Fantasy, a Xenosaga, a Tales game, Tri-Ace game, or even a Shadow Hearts. It’s a game in which most of the dungeon-type areas are built flat, with ladders providing verticality, because the game isn’t advanced enough to understand the concept of running down a ramp – on those occasions where the game has something like a staircase, reaching it tends to result in your character continuing to move forwards, like Wily-E-Coyote running over a cliff. Downwards momentum is provided by licensed Havok Physics engine, but because the characters have so little weight, the result is that they bounce along in a hilarious fashion.

Even beyond that, GUSTs quality control isn’t typically the greatest – Ar Tonelico 3 even left the debug menu available from certain screens in the release build. It’s good for getting some easy Trophies (Level 99? No problem!), but it doesn’t exactly leave a good impression. Basically, GUSTs games aren’t unknown to have bugs.

But, hey, the game has an unbelievable amount of fanservice, including a combat system built around stripping the female characters.

GUSTs typical standard is why it isn’t really a surprise that, for the US release of the game, NISA kind of managed to introduce a bug that causes the game to freeze whilst fighting one of the bosses towards the end of the game – you kind of get the impression that GUSTs games are easy to break, and NIS release an awful lot of them.

That said, that’s only one of the many reasons that made Ar Tonelico 2 notorious. In the state that the game made it out onto the market, it’s hard to believe that anyone had actually bothered to play it before release, or that Sony actually passed it through the approval process. The games script is full of grammatical errors and mistakes in the text which go beyond mere typos to being simply the wrong words – and that’s where they actually translated the text, there being a commonly recurring piece of dialogue which wasn’t translated at all. It was pretty embarrassing mess, really, particularly coming after a couple of minor hiccups in other games, not to mention the name changes in Mana Khemia.

NISA have, at least, turned something of a corner since then – there’s been minor glitches in a few of their games since then, but no hysterically bad translation issues or game breaking bugs or anything like that, as far as I’ve ran across anyway – but people have long memories.

The point, I guess, is that Ar Tonelico 2’s reputation proceeds it, which means a lot of people are freaking about the possibility of NISA ruining their animu’s. Seriously, we are getting all kinds of reactions, from people expecting broken scripts, name changes and, god forbid, changing the order of the characters names. It’s kind of hilarious, given that it’s mostly unfounded. I mean, anime is a completely different kettle of fish to videogames – the scripts are far, far shorter, and there’s none of that pesky programming stuff to worry about. It’s a lot harder to screw up than a game is.

We don’t really know all that much about the direction NISA is going to take with their anime publications, but we can make some pretty good guesses based on the press releases and hearsay. The likelyhood is that we’ll be seeing 13-episode, subtitle-only releases that’ll only be available from a handful of online-only stores – I’d reckon NISA’s own RosenQueen, Rightstuf, Amazon and possibly Roberts. There’ll probably be extras of some kind, and you’ll almost certainly get more of them if you order directly from RosenQueen.

Chances are, though, that they’ll run it similar to how people (at least tend to) think of them running their videogame business. They’ve already claimed that these shows are going to be limited print runs, which is what they also tend to say about their games. They like to build the assumption that, if you don’t buy their games immediately upon release, you’ll probably not be getting them as they’ll be impossible to find later. You can’t wait for the games to get cheap like the major studio releases, because they’ll no longer be available. This, of course, kind of flies counter to the way the US anime industry works, where people tend to wait for the boxsets.

That works for games, because there’s not necessarily another option for getting ahold of that material. Not everyone has the hardware to play pirated games, nor the bandwidth to download them. Toradora, on the other hand, has kind of already been “available” – you can’t really increase the value through scarcity at this point, because even those who they are going to be target the release to will already have seen it. Still, I guess the idea is that they’ll only produce what they think will sell at retail in the first couple of weeks. No pesky returns to worry about and reduced warehouse requirements and all that, and no ongoing concerns – a small but guaranteed profit instead of risking the kind of long term returns issue that caused the US market so much pain a couple of years ago.

Ultimately, it’s kind of a wait-and-see situation, though. Chances are that the releases themselves will be entirely fine. If there’s one concern I’d have over this enterprise, it’s that it could potentially have a negative impact on their gaming business – frankly, I’d rather see them announce English Ar Tonelico 3 already instead these anime titles. I’m kind of concerned about the titles they’ve announced as well – I think it’s telling that they led things off with Toradora. I don’t mean to say that Toradora is bad, but rather exactly how badly the move reflects on the quality of the Persona anime. Given the popularity of the games, the fact that they aren’t shouting about it sends what I gather are all the correct messages about it…

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