To the relief of fighting fans everywhere, Atlus has confirmed that Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold will be released for the PS3 in Japan. I write this excitedly, although I’m sure most of us are giddy given the recent slew of Persona related announcements. Disregarding the language barrier, fans of the excellent Persona 4: Arena should be able to import the game from Japan given the much appreciated region freedom of the PS3.
However, with Persona 4: Arena, Atlus did the unthinkable. They made Persona 4: Arena the only region locked game available for the PS3. This caused a tremendous problem with overseas fans, especially those in Europe. If it can be helped at all, Atlus must not region lock Persona 4: The Ultimax.
When Persona 4: Arena was first revealed in August of 2011, it grabbed the attention of two groups of relatively niche gamers: those who were fans of Atlus’s Persona series and those who were fans of Arc System Works’s fighting games. Although I was initially a part of the latter group Arena ended up being the doorway into the Persona RPGs. The game was hotly anticipated and covered extensively by numerous outlets. I mention these things to express that fans worldwide were excited for the game.
After spending a good deal of time as the most popular fighting game in Japanese arcades, Arena hit the PS3 and the Xbox 360 in Japan on July 26th of last year. This wasn’t before Atlus confirmed that both versions of the game would be region locked. For those who may not know, a region locked game is one that can only be played on hardware originating from the same region. For example, a Japanese copy of Persona 4: Arena cannot be played on an American PS3. Unless you also happen to own a Japanese PS3, this move effectively removes the option to import the game.
Since Arena’s North American release date was August 7th – less than two weeks after it released in Japan – North American fans were not too severely affected. The same cannot be said for European fans. Atlus stated in May of last year that the game would also be released in Europe sometime in 2012. After missing an August 31st release date, Atlus finally confirmed in November of last year that the game wouldn’t be released until 2013. Mid 2013 to be exact; the game didn’t launch in Europe until May of 2013, almost a whole year after the Japanese release.
As fans waited for the release of the anticipated (and by this point very well reviewed) fighter, they harshly criticized Atlus’s decision to set a precedent with the very first region locked PS3 title. Atlus released a statement explaining their decision in response. Basically, they said that they anticipated Japanese players would probably import the relatively cheap NA version of Arena instead of buying a more expensive copy of the game in Japan, which wouldn’t be optimal for the company.
I would also assume that Atlus wanted to accurately document the game’s sales in each region, and this could be affected if for example an American gamer imported the game from Japan instead of buying it when it released in North America.
To this end, one lovely and (theoretically) simple solution comes to mind: a single global release date. Nailing down and sticking to a single release date for a single game in multiple territories and perhaps even on multiple consoles could be complicated, but it is certainly not impossible as we’ve seen it before. If Atlus could execute a unanimous worldwide release of Persona 4: The Ultimax, then no fan would have to go out of their way and pay an unreasonable amount to import the game, which in addition may not even be in a language they understand.
When you consider that Atlus actually confirmed an international release of Arena relatively quickly after the game was initially revealed, it seems like I’m just crying over the spilled milk of international fans having to wait a great deal longer than Japanese fans to get their hands on the game. However, the stakes get higher if we consider that Ultimax may only release in Japan. Only a Japanese release has been confirmed at the time of this writing. If that happens then the only option an international fan has is to buy a Japanese PS3 on top of importing a copy of the game, which personally seems like more trouble than it is worth.
Obviously this seems like an unlikely scenario given the global popularity of the Persona franchise and the series’s release history, but who knows what tomorrow has in store?
There is a saying in the realm of PC and web accessibility that says “where the experience cannot be identical it should be equivalent” or something to that effect. The same principle should apply when it comes to video game releases. Release the game at once in all territories. If this is impossible and for whatever reason one region has to wait a year longer for a game than another, then please don’t eliminate the option of importing – for those of us who could afford it, anyways – with things like region locking.
Especially not when it comes to the sequel of last year’s highest rated fighting game.