UPDATE: Pandora’s Tower has been announced for North America, published by XSEED Games, and scheduled to be released Spring 2013!

Three months ago I began work on a four part article series for Operation Rainfall’s month long celebration of The Last Story.  Titled “Pondering a North American Release for The Last Story, the series contemplated various alternative means of distribution for the game.  As The Last Story’s month ended I decided to revisit the topic, as a single article.

Xenoblade Chronicles was released in North America last week.  The distribution method of the title surprised many, angered some, while confusing others.  While I understand the frustration of a limited release, to many with hopes of seeing the title sell ten million copies a day, an exciting new precedent was also set.  Nintendo of America, who has never been keen on niche titles or alternative means of distribution, has given us a game they considered niche, and has done so as a retailer exclusive..

When The Last Story was announced for North America as well, yet another new precedent was set.  XSEED, a niche-specialist developer, was partnering with Nintendo to publish the title.  Beyond the surface value of my adoration for the niche publisher, I found myself deeply excited that Nintendo would work with another publisher for one of their properties at all.  Nintendo, who holds their properties with an iron grip (even when it means not releasing them at all), has decided to partner with another publisher in order to release a property they seem to have considered too niche to publish themselves.

This brings us to Pandora’s Tower, still without confirmed North American distribution.  Pandora’s Tower is the most niche of the three, and seemingly losing marketable time with the ever approaching release of Nintendo’s next console, the Wii-U.  What is the best way for Nintendo to release Pandora’s Tower in North America?  This article intends to consider that question.

“Go to America? That’s just what we call pillow talk baby.”

As we mentioned in the first “Pondering a North American release for The Last Story” article, a retailer exclusive would not only cut costs significantly, but provide additional benefits for everyone involved.  Nintendo would further their relationship with whichever retailer they allied themselves with, potentially granting them better shelf real estate in the future.  The retailer would enjoy 100% of a title’s North American sales rather than the traditionally smaller share they would take with other retailers in the picture.  In addition to the 100% sales margin, the retailer would also be able to avoid competitive price dropping on the title, ensuring greater profit margins throughout the title’s shelf life.

As The Last Story has shown us, another key method of release for the title is through a partnership with a 3rd party publisher.  Having an established relationship with XSEED could present the best chance Pandora’s Tower has of a North American release.  Even if XSEED passes on the chance, it should also be noted that they are not the only game in town.  From the first time I saw Pandora’s Tower, I couldn’t help but think of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise from Atlus.  Then there is Nippon Ichi America, Ignition, and many other publishers who might just be happy having a stronger relationship, in general, with Nintendo.  Third parties can enjoy a cheap and nearly complete localization, while Nintendo of America can collect an easy license fee.

With the Wii-U launching this year, perhaps the easiest means of a North American release for the game is to offer it by means of digital distribution on the upcoming platform.  The Wii-U is already supporting large scale digital content such as Ghost Recon Online.  The precedent for this option was set on the Wii itself, which saw the successful digital release of Sin and Punishment, a title that was previously only available in Japan.  Pandora’s Tower could be the first of a string of formerly missed opportunities for the Wii-U.  Fatal Frame 4, Disaster: Day of Crisis, maybe even Captain Rainbow and Giftpia could all get their chance as digital titles.

Xenoblade Chronicles is in ours hands through a retailer exclusive, The Last Story is on its way through a 3rd party partnership, and the Wii-U is hitting this year with digital distribution opportunities.  So I pose this question:  What is the best means of a North American release for Pandora’s Tower?

Mike D., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast, former Operation Rainfall PR Staff:

As Pandora’s Tower has always been the least likely of the three to see a Western release (Nintendo obviously believed in Monolith Soft enough to buy an ownership stake in the company, and Sakaguchi-san‘s name alone burnishes the credentials of The Last Story; Ganbarion doesn’t have such prestige), I would think that the most likely course of action is digital distribution.  But with the game’s English-speaking localization already completed by NOE, it is (paradoxically for NOA) pretty much a risk-free financial option to release in North America at this point.  They would get to release an intriguing and stylish game at launch, but without the issue of taking up physical shelf space next to skittish third parties.  They would also be able to give a knowing wink to us fans who stuck with the Wii, despite its late-life drought.

However, I do think there’s a glimmer of hope for a physical Wii release from a company like XSEED.  The Wii’s release schedule is, of course, barren.  The only other game on the horizon right now is The Last Story, but look when it’s releasing: two weeks to the day after E3 2012’s opening.  This might be Nintendo’s version of a cleverly-titled send off, but it could also be a sign that they aren’t going to wipe the slate entirely before the Wii U launches.  Before the new console’s likely holiday debut, it leaves a late summer slot open in the release schedule for the Wii (its last viable moment, really).  It may be a long shot, but that would be my preference for a Pandora’s Tower release.

Ryan Tyner, Co-leader of Operation Rainfall:

Well it seems to me that any of those options would work. Nintendo now has a working relationship with both GameStop and XSEED, the questions is, are either of them actually interested in the title? You would think that because of the attention the game has received because of Operation Rainfall, one of them would be. But, the truth is, we just do not know because Pandora’s Tower is more niche than the other two titles of Xenoblade and The Last Story.

I would think that digital distribution would be the best option for Nintendo. The could reduce the costs involved by physical distribution, and offer a selling point for the Wii U for the many of us that are anxiously awaiting the chance to play this game. I know this may not be the most popular option, I know a lot of people love having a physical copy of a game for a variety of reasons, and, I’m sure there are those that are not ready to upgrade or cannot afford to just yet. But I think most of us can agree that getting the game this way is better than not getting it at all. Personally, I do not mind digital distribution in general if it is used as a means to reduce costs for the customers or provide them with niche content.

Alex Balderas, Editor, Nintendo Enthusiast:

What do I prefer? Right now I prefer to make it here in any way possible. Who would I rather pay money to, though? I’m not sure. If the game came through digital distribution, it could possible mean updated graphics (or at least in higher resolution), but it would also mean a longer waiting time for North America. On the other hand, if XSEED handled it then it would be an even more solid ground for them to release future niche titles (Monolith Soft’s next title on WiiU?). Making it a retailer exclusive is probably the least beneficial method of them all, as it would really benefit no one beside the fans and the particular retailer (such as GameStop).

My top dollar lies on either a digital distribution with higher resolution graphics, or a release through a third party like XSEED.

“That the game was already localized into English though, would have me ask instead if not releasing that localization elsewhere will harm overall profitability.” – Tyson Gifford, Operation Rainfall Co-Founder

David Fernandes, Operation Rainfall Staff:
Pandora’s Tower is such an unusual title, that relying on a Third party is not a bad solution at all.  In fact, it would make more sense now more then ever for Nintendo partner up with any of the small publishers we know. Not just XSEED, but ATLUS, NISA etc.

Special Editions, Limited Editions, Premium Editions, all fine and dandy when it comes to getting any game, especially RPGs. I bring this up because it seems a medium that has so many things going for it, is a controversial issue.  I’m talking about digital distribution, ah yes the term that can make even civilized forum posters clash with each other. The question though, is; should it be used?  There is no easy answer, as there is no absolute answer. Here it is an option, a well placed option, considering the rampant issues and circumstances with localization for so many Japanese companies. It could even be the best, and only, way to go.

I’ll be one of those guys that will plainly state; this game, while having many things going for it, is its own worst enemy. I will list a few reasons: Ganbrion is not well known outside of Japan, new intellectual properties now have a harder time getting an audience then ever before. We know Japan has a certain taste for games just as any other region, and sadly they weren’t interested in this particular game; basically sales weren’t that good. Reviews weren’t the kindest bunch to this game either.

Lastly, I hate to say it, but there is another problem I see nowadays. Remember, not all gamers want something different, but something that’s familiar to them. Xenoblade & Last Story have a certain element found in most popular RPGs made in the western regions; Big Open World, and Party Members being essential to the plot. Pandora’s Tower has neither.  Not a bad thing, per se, when you want to make something new, nor is it bad that both of those games rely on such standards, especially considering how well they use them. My point is, Pandora’s Tower in general, out of the three games, has a lot going for it, but also has a lot going against it.

I still believe it deserves a chance, the gameplay looks solid, and games that try something new, and do it well, should turn a few heads. I know that, while not the majority, a good number of gamers would agree with me on that. I personally love hack-and-slash games. A dating simulation for a character that’s likeable, one you want to be around with, getting to know, and generally want to protect. Music that is nice to the ears, with some nice voice acting. Whether physical copies, or digital distribution, it depends on how they’re going to go about it (and with who). Either way, we win.  In the end we get to play, what looks to be another great game.

Yasmine Barkani, Operation Rainfall Staff:
Pandoras Tower is probably the most overlooked game, and also the most questioned game in OPRA, mainly because it’s so different from the others, and also a niche game. But Pandoras Tower is still a title worth looking at, especially when you think about how the game came to be in the first place.

Pandoras Tower, is Ganbarions first, and only original IP.

And for a new IP, it does have pretty good scores

The game also knows what it truly wants to be: A game about developing a relationship, with a cursed girl, and also a hack-and slash dungeon crawler, where you explore 13 towers, while you’re under a time limit, and it also has basic RPG elements, which lets you upgrade and build items, and level up.

Surprisingly, even though it has such mixing with different genres, it is still a pick up and play title, which is what Nintendo really goes for, in their games.

But now when the game is released in Japan, and Europe, what about America? Will we see the game released for the Wii, right before the WiiU hits, which might damage the sales, because many would be saving up for the WiiU. Maybe it will become a launch title for the WiiU, and therefore eliminate the problem with sales, or maybe a downloadable game, which could help getting the WiiU started on its future downloadable service.

But what matters the most with Pandoras Tower, is that if any of these thing are going to happen, it would need a publisher.

XSEED has already signed up for the localization for The Last Story, and XSEED might also target Pandoras Tower, but nothing has yet been confirmed.

I’m hopeful that Pandoras Tower will hit the American shores one day, mainly because there are still people in the West who are interested in games like Pandoras Tower, and Nintendo themselves has said that they will focus on the hardcore gamers with the WiiU. Pandoras Tower is definitely a hardcore and mature title, which deserves just as much attention as any other game at OPRA.

” I do think there’s a glimmer of hope for a physical Wii release from a company like XSEED. ” – Mike D., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast, former Operation Rainfall PR Staff

Tyson Gifford, Operation Rainfall Co-Founder:

A Pandora’s Tower localization is a tough prospect.  It has neither the acclaim nor the pedigree of Xenoblade Chronicles or The Last Story.  It has also not performed nearly as well as those two games.  What really needs to be called into question is if the game can be profitable.  That the game was already localized into English though, would have me ask instead if not releasing that localization elsewhere will harm overall profitability.  The brunt of the work is done after all, is it not time to reap what has already been sowed.

Perhaps the most elegant solution is, indeed, digital distribution.  A digital distribution model removes the expense of shipping and packaging, making nearly every earning a pure profit.  As the localization is already complete, it would take very little effort and money to re-package the title as a digital release for the upcoming Wii-U console.  It could even be argued that having a full feature title at the launch of such a service could kick the doors wide open for a healthier digital distribution platform.  It could, in fact, be the tip of a much larger opportunity, considering the backlog of absent titles from the North American Wii and Gamecube lineups.  I firmly believe that digital distribution is the future, and an eventuality for the industry as a whole.  This generation will likely mark the transition into such a business model.  While some gamers might fear the change, I ask them to consider the benefits.  Prices will surely plummet, while developer earnings should skyrocket.  Costs will be leveled and reduced, allowing developers to experiment with less risk.  The days of regional exclusivity might very well come to an end.  The proof for these claims?  Look at the booming indy game industry, the level of freedom and creativity being explored, and the exceptional growth in profitability compared to the currently troubled front of retail gaming.

In the end I would be happy with any means of release for Pandora’s Tower in North America.  My Money is waiting.

Make your voices heard during “Pandora’s Tower” month; How do you feel “Pandora’s Tower” should see release in North America?

I would like to thank Ryan, Mike, Alex, David, and Yasmine for contributing to this roundtable discussion.  We at Operation Rainfall would also like to thank Nintendo, Monolith Soft, Mistwalker, AQ Interactive, and Ganbarion for making the games we are so passionate about.  Last, but certainly not least, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to, supported, and covered Operation Rainfall since it’s inception last year.  Keep fighting!

Operation Rainfall Contributor
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