The times they are a-changing. Whereas two decades ago Japanese-only games often remained Japanese-only, nowadays the West is getting best-selling franchises thick and fast. Monster Hunter has now sunk its claws everywhere, and JRPGs are getting more and more popular by the month. Perhaps this is a sign of great things. Maybe the dream of Japan-exclusive games being available to everyone will be a reality someday. Of course, reality or not, that day is a long way off, because the transition from East to West takes time and patience; the point is, we should always be thankful for whatever we get.
Take Yumi’s Odd Odyssey by Japanese developer Natsume, for instance. This is not only the first game in the Umihara Kawase series in twenty years, but also the first Umihara Kawase game to be released outside of Japan – albeit via digital distribution. The game is set to release in North America some time at the end of February or early March and with the somewhat vague release date drawing near, Nintendo Everything recently sat down with two of the game’s main developers, Graham Markay and Kiyoshi Sakai.
The interview mostly outlines how both strange and fortunate it is for the game to be coming to the West, and when asked about the decision to make the game digital download only, Markay said:
The great thing about digital distribution avenues like the Nintendo eShop is that we can take risks on games like Yumi’s Odd Odyssey without having to spend a lot of money compared to the cost of a physical production runs. If the Nintendo eShop didn’t exist, there would still be a chance we would pursue a physical release of the game, but, again, the risk/reward factor would be much more costly.
It seems as though the Nintendo eShop is playing a key role in the distribution of Eastern games, and is giving developers the confidence to take chances they might otherwise hesitate to take.
Even with this in mind however, the game series hasn’t been seen in twenty years and, popularity and awareness aside, the gaming world has changed a lot in that time. Of course the most notable difference is probably the graphical capabilities of current consoles compared to the 16-bit sprites of 1994. When asked about the series’ evolution into the modern era and the challenges of its graphical upgrade, Sakai said:
The game wasn’t for pursuing the quality of graphics. Thus, there wasn’t anything particular that was challenging. But generally speaking, the demand for higher graphic presentation is getting more and more in the market, which I believe is one the factors that direct[ly] affects the soaring development cost
It’s always good when a developer puts the game before its appearance, and this could be another reason why the decision to bring the game to the West was made. Not only is the avenue of digital distribution more appealing, but the games themselves — with their priorities of gameplay over graphics — seem to be more cost effective. When asked whether we’ll be seeing more from the Umihara Kawase series in the future, however, Mr Sakai gave an expected “we’ll wait and see” response.
Of course, Natsume is no stranger to Western gamers, as it's already delivered plenty of games to North American and European 3DS’ over the years. With a new Harvest Moon already announced for Japan, it only made sense to ask whether the game would be making the leap overseas as well. Unfortunately when asked about such a thing, Markay cleverly sidestepped the question, but he did say:
We will definitely be announcing more titles for the 3DS in the future!
With all this talk of retail games, what about Natsume’s line up of Virtual Console games? The company had already said that it would be bringing out its Game Boy Color games to the 3DS Virtual Console, but Nintendo recently announcing the chance to download DS titles on the Wii U also caught Natsume’s interest. Could Natsume be planning on showing its support for the Wii U eShop as well as the 3DS’?
We believe our back catalog of GBC and DS titles is very strong, so, to speak frankly, we will try to get as many of our back catalog games as we can on the 3DS eShop and Wii U eShop!
Another string in the Wii U eShop’s bow to be sure, but what about the Wii U itself? Is there a chance that Natsume could show its support for the console outside of its back catalogue?
We’re definitely fans of Nintendo, and if a title came along for it that we were interested in, we’d certainly publish it
It looks as though Natsume is on board with the Wii U, or at the very least standing by, and it’s always good to hear a developer show its support for the console, especially at a time when developers seem to be coming and going for Nintendo. Yumi’s Odd Odyssey may be an obscure choice to bring to the West, but if it serves in bringing more games — be they 3DS or Wii U — outside of Japan, we're sure you’ll hear no complaints from a lot of players. Yumi’s Odd Odyssey is pegged to release digitally in North American at the end of February.