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Jetsetter: Have we learned nothing from Final Fantasy’s terrible numbering?

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The monolingual game importer experiences a unique and irksome dilemma that the average video game fan never has to contend with. The typical video game fan hears that a new entry in a foreign made series is going to be released in the US, and they meet that news with excitement. “Oh they’re bringing out Ys: Memories of Celceta in the US? Huh. That’s pretty awesome,” they may say. This is not the Jetsetter type of fan though. The Jetsetter fan  is slightly more obsessive, they’re the one who says, “Ys: Memories of Celceta?! But I haven’t gotten to play the original Ys 4 in English yet! THE SERIES IS INCOMPLETE!” Unfortunately, just because one game in a long running video game series makes the jump across the pond, that doesn’t mean you’ll get to play them all.

The import geek’s dilemma loomed large in the past week when the role-playing sports game Inazuma Eleven popped up on an official Nintendo release list for North America. For any Americans reading that have never heard of the soccer-based Inazuma Eleven, that’s not terribly surprising. Since the series started in 2008, it’s been sadly restricted to European countries and Japan. Granted, the audience for a soccer-based role-playing game is best suited for the European continent and Japan, a culture that tends to love sports fiction. (Go read the manga Slam Dunk. It’s awesome.) But it is, from another perspective, very surprising that Inazuma Eleven itself is so unknown in the U.S., since it was published by Nintendo and developed by Level-5, creator of the hit Professor Layton series. These are names that carry weight in North America, and can make deeply Japanese role-playing games of this ilk major successes. Just look at Dragon Quest IX, another Level-5 and Nintendo joint for Nintendo DS that sold an estimated 600,000 copies in North America. Those are good numbers. 

So it’s great that Inazuma Eleven is finally getting a shot in North America where it’s already built up an audience. But it’s not great. The actual game that is likely making the jump is actually called Inazuma Eleven Go 3, the most recent entry on Nintendo 3DS. That’s the sixth handheld game in the series, and the ninth overall for Nintendo platforms! It’s a story-based franchise that English speakers are coming into impossibly far behind on. That is more than irksome. That is downright frustrating.

Nintendo’s plight is understandable. They want to open up a new revenue stream for an existing property. Why not? It makes fiscal sense to give this game a shot when similar games on Nintendo 3DS like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Project X Zone have done well in the US. It does not make fiscal sense to spend scads of money on localizing six-year-old games that are for systems that are no longer a marketing priority, like the DS. That’s a knife in the heart of importers that have been following the series since 2008, playing Japanese copies on the region-free DS, and hoping for a shot at professional English localizations. 

The other bothersome part of this reveal is that Nintendo is going to fragment the titling of the series by calling the game just Inazuma Eleven, rather than keeping Inazuma Eleven Go 3 as the title around the world. Why’s that a problem in a place where the series is just starting out? For one, it makes the game almost impossible to properly Google for non-gaming obsessives who might want to look into it. Google “Inazume Eleven” and you end up with scads of information about an ancient DS game and its sequels, not the game Nintendo is only now trying to market.

Dividing the name is also shortsighted. Say Inazuma Eleven takes off and Nintendo sees a business opportunity in bringing the older games to the US. Well then they’re screwed. It’s a problem that’s occurred numerous times over the history of gaming. Look at the Final Fantasy series. Nintendo of America brought the original Final Fantasy to the US three years after its initial release, and right before the Super Nintendo came out. Final Fantasy sold well on the NES, but when it was time to bring out the sequel, Final Fantasy IV was the hot jam over in Japan. Nintendo actually localized the real Final Fantasy II for NES but at the last minute saw greater opportunity in a shiny Super Nintendo game, and localized IV under the American name Final Fantasy II. Confusing matters further, Nintendo America skipped Final Fantasy V, deciding in 1994 to localize Final Fantasy VI as Final Fantasy III in the US. Confused yet? Of course you are! Because it’s confusing and dumb. It was even more confusing and time when just three years later Final Fantasy VII came to PlayStation properly titled, leaving everyone to wonder where the hell the other games in the series were.

Final Fantasy VII sold like gangbusters despite the name change, though. Nintendo should just leave Inazuma Eleven Go 3‘s title as is, start from the base keeping things intact, and not just for the sake of importers’ sanity.