Nintendo has a problem – region-locking. A dirty word for niche gamers and importers alike, Nintendo’s consoles have been consistently lambasted for this draconian and arbitrary restriction. But despite continuous backlash, the Wii U has continued this dubious tradition – and this speaks volumes about Nintendo’s attitude toward localization.
Before Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, Jump Ultimate Stars (a crossover brawler starring characters from various Shounen Jump manga series) was the closest we got to playing Super Smash Bros. on a handheld (with online play, no less!), but a licensing quagmire prevented it from being released outside of Japan. Importing the game was the only way to play it, and that wouldn’t have worked had the DS Lite not been region-free. Jump Ultimate Stars is my favorite Nintendo DS game of all time, and I might have missed it had Nintendo not (until the 3DS at least) made their handhelds open to imports. On consoles like the Wii, fans have to resort to modding and other dubious practices to play games like Fatal Frame IV or Disaster: Day of Crisis, despite the latter being released in English in PAL territories.
Region-locking has plagued Nintendo’s home consoles since the company first stepped into the ring, and while it once helped to prevent market saturation, in the modern digital game market, the cons outweigh the pros. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has recently stated that region-locking is in place to protect game vendors as opposed to the customers, which is baffling when online marketplaces should allow gamers to buy directly from Nintendo anyway (“should” being the operative word). While Iwata is open to re-assessment should future generations demand it, it looks like we’ll be stuck behind arbitrary borders for the time being.
It’s discouraging to hear this, because region-locking doesn’t seem to be doing anything for consumers aside from frustrating them. While I understand Nintendo wants to give vendors in each market a fair shake, that only works if a game comes to a region in a timely fashion. Nintendo’s haphazard localization schedule makes people want to import in the first place. If Nintendo released Xenoblade Chronicles, Disaster: Day of Crisis, or Fatal Frame: Oracle of the Sodden Raven in more regions at once, then retailers in those regions wouldn’t have a problem to begin with. If Nintendo wants to get people off their back over region-locking, they need to bring more than just their biggest titles out of Japan in a timely fashion.
If Operation Rainfall taught us anything, it’s that Nintendo is putting up walls between themselves and people who want to buy their games. Nintendo’s desire to delay or outright refuse localization of games like Xenoblade Chronicles and Fatal Frame is causing fans to be discouraged, and region-locking just compounds that. Wii U owners would love nothing more than to get more games on their system of choice, especially something with the production quality of Fatal Frame, and by leaving these locks on, Nintendo is ultimately only hurting themselves.