Friday, February 19, 2010

Atlus, Shiren and roguelikes

Please excuse a small editorial here, but I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet 'bout this....

People on the internetz, in prime internetz fashion, have been saying that Atlus has claimed that Shiren the Wanderer on Wii is not a roguelike. Atlus has not actually said this. The quote from Kotaku is:

"We're not referring to it like a roguelike because a lot of people have a negative association with the term," Aram Jabbari explains. "They are seen as extremely punishing. We don't want people to think of this game as falling into a certain category and then dismissing it."

Choosing not to call something a thing is not the same as saying it's not, guys.

But on the other hand, Atlus is dropping the ball on this one. All of the people who are interested in Shiren the Wanderer are so because of its roguelike characteristics. Everyone who buys the game expecting something like Final Fantasy is going to be disappointed.

The people who are excited about the game, its guaranteed audience, are so BECAUSE it's punishing, and a lot of fun for being so. This is exactly the same kind of ad campaign that got Sega a lacklustre response to their DS release of the original game. This kind of bait-and-switch is the epitome of short-sighted marketing.

I don't think I am speaking incorrectly when I say that roguelikes are on their way up in the world. They have a large amount amount of "indie cred," and their star is still rising. I'm not saying that they will challenge the likes of Grand Theft Auto, but I do think their popularity is growing.

If I were in charge of the Shiren ad campaign, I would not shy away from calling it a roguelike. But what I would refrain from calling it is a role-playing game! It is forgotten that a lot of people in the U.S. still have a negative association with that term, probably more than have a negative association with the word "roguelike," which is still kind of niche really. They may even have good reason to dislike CRPGs: the primary exemplar of the genre remains a kind of excessively anime-influenced trash fantasy quest game in which grinding is common and expected.

What roguelikes are, more than a straight role-playing game, is a turn-based tactics game with a single player unit. If people were to look at roguelikes in those term, I think, they would be a lot more accepting of both their difficulty (tactical wargamers are more accepting of challenge) and permadeath (since it is more obviously cheating to restore back to the middle of a battle). If Nintendo can continue to afford to localize the Fire Emblem games, which are still fairly obscure in the U.S., I don't see how Atlus can go wrong with Shiren if it's presented in a similar light.

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