At first, it seemed oddly ironic: after the news that Canada had received their copies of Fire Emblem: Awakening a week before it was supposed to release, American fans received the news that the game was potentially delayed because of shipping issues, with GameStop – who ran a preorder bonus that gave away an art book – stating that they were expecting the game to be in by Friday, four days after release.
Times like this had me seriously considering buying the game digitally, something I would never even consider if it wasn’t Fire Emblem. Buying 3DS games digitally is generally a fool’s errand, due to the fact that they take up so much space (roughly 1GB, or half of the 3DS’s default 2GB SD card) and due to the fact that they’re locked to the system they’re purchased on; only Nintendo would have a digital distribution system that neither lets players deauthorize systems or download them onto other systems. All of this, for the same exact price1 that we pay in the store. Needless to say, I want no part of this farce, though the prospects of being without Fire Emblem for another week had me getting weaker. It didn’t help that my youngest brother had already checked the area out, and came up empty.
However, today on Twitter, reports came about that people in America were able to actually buy the game, usually at big box retailers like WalMart and Target, with the odd report of Best Buy having them trickling in as well. Therefore, after getting out of work, I decided to take a chance and try to pick the game up. What follows is can only be described as a voyage across the majority of Fairfield County in Connecticut, with a last ditch effort to finally acquire the nugget in the upper left hand corner. All times listed are approximate.
7:13PM – After warming up my car (and a quick game of the Genie table in Pinball Arcade; yes, I’m that incorrigible), I decide to call the closest Walmart to me, in South Norwalk. For those familiar with Connecticut’s geography, I work on the Westport line, and Walmart is on the Darien line; it’s a good ten to fifteen minutes out of my way to get to this Walmart, so I decide to call them and see if they have the game. Two calls, two times being transferred to Electronics, and two times of the phone ringing before just deciding to hang up on me later, I decide to hell with it and drive to Walmart.
7:34 – I get to the Electronics section of Norwalk’s labyrinthine Walmart – seriously, this rivals some of the stores they have south of Virginia – and look around the electronics case. The Nintendo section is virtually barren; about 70% of the 3DS/DS and Wii section is gone. It resembles a toy aisle around Christmas. I ask the woman behind me if she has Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Then I ask again, because she can’t understand me.
Then I ask a third time, because the language barrier of a three word video game is too much to overcome. Finally, she gets it, and… doesn’t have a clue of what I’m asking about. So I ask her if she can check other stores, because if I can’t understand her, maybe a computer can. This is one area where GameStop has me spoiled; if one store doesn’t have a game, all stores have access to a giant inventory database, and they can punch it up to find out who has what, and call ahead to reserve if necessary. That’s not how Walmart rolls, and this poor woman who speaks 3/4 of a language, with a fraction of that being English, comes back twenty minutes later and says that seven other Walmarts don’t have this Fire Emblem whatchamacallit, including the three (Stratford, Shelton, Derby) on the way home from me. I’ll give her an A for effort, at least.
Total GameStops passed at this point: 1 (Norwalk)2
7:54pm – The one thing I remembered from going to Twitter was that most Americans were getting their copies of Fire Emblem from Targets. On a whim, I decide to call the one in Ansonia to see if they had it in stock. The woman I got on the phone took five minutes, but then informed me that it was strange; her system had it in stock, but it didn’t have a “location” (basically, a sellable SKU). I asked her if that just meant it wasn’t out on the floor, letting her know that the game literally just released today. She came back a few minutes later saying she had five copies in stock. I told her I’d see her in less than an hour.
Total GameStops passed at this point: 2 (Westport)
9:05PM – I got to Target at about 8:40. After grabbing a hot chocolate, I waited around Electronics for a good fifteen minutes – missing the “hit this for assistance!” button, it should be noted – until someone just happened to walk into my field of view. I asked him if I could buy Fire Emblem, and he reiterated what the woman I’d spoken to an hour ago said: they were having “problems” with the game due to the release date. He found someone else – likely the person I spoke to earlier – and she told me that they did have the game, but could not sell it to me because it technically wasn’t out yet. I informed her that it definitely *was* out, I could buy a digital copy on my 3DS literally at that moment, and that people were purchasing Fire Emblem from Targets all the way out in Minnesota, which is only the corporate home of the entire company. She told me I was probably right, but she didn’t have the authority to override a purchase like that, there was no manager available, and that they literally could not sell it until tomorrow, saying “all new video game releases hit on Tuesday”. I gave up at this point, knowing that you can’t fight corporate – it’s not her fault Target’s issues are larger than her – and left the store. I don’t blame her for not being clear on things, because the Ansonia Target employs about four people on the floor at that time of night.
At this point, I was ready to go home, play some other game, and fight the urge to blow half my card on a game I had literally no rights to just to be able to play it. Thankfully, I had one more trick up my sleeve.
Total GameStops passed at this point: SIX (Two in the Trumbull Post Mall, and more in Bridgeport, Shelton, and Derby)
9:14PM – In a near desperate bid to try to buy the game, and not quite believing the whole “you can’t buy this until tomorrow” spiel, I called the Target at Hawley Lane Mall on the Trumbull/Stratford line which, it should be noted, I passed to get to the one in Ansonia in a timely manner. The Electronics person picked it up, and immediately told me that he had one copy of Fire Emblem. Not wanting to be burned twice – burning more gas to turn up empty when gas is running at about $3.80 a gallon in Connecticut would have driven me close to the edge – I asked him “so, uh, can I actually BUY it?”. Sounding tired, and obviously having dealt with this question all day, he told me that it was “really weird” (echoing the woman in Ansonia), that they weren’t supposed to sell them until Tuesday, but a manager had given approval to sell them, “so yeah, we have one more game left.” He did agree with my assertion that the whole situation was a “total cluster”. After asking one more time if I would be able to buy the game if I drove from Ansonia to Trumbull, he took my name down and said it’d be waiting.
Total GameStops passed at this point: 6
9:35: I walked into Electronics, and a bookish young man named Wesley immediately said “Chris?”. He pulled it from under the counter, rang me out, and I was on my way out the door a minute later.
After all that I’d been through to acquire this game, this seemed anti-climatic. I did, however, note to the store manager how awesome Wesley was, when she asked me if he told me about the survey on my receipt. I noted he didn’t, so it’s really going to suck if I ended up inadvertently getting Wesley in trouble because he didn’t shove his surveys down my throat a half hour before closing with a bunch of stuff to do.
May whatever God you worship bless you, Wesley in the Hawley Lane Target.
Total GameStops passed in all: 7 (Stratford)
Conclusion: Fire Emblem: Awakening still sits next to me. I haven’t opened it. Opening a new Fire Emblem is like deflowering a virgin; you want to make sure you do it carefully, with great affection, and preferably without pain. I even have it sitting next to an opened copy of Shadow Dragon, both of which I just stare at. I’ve talked in the past (and might again in the future) about just what Fire Emblem means to me, as an emotional bond; it’s more than a video game, it’s the link to almost everything that’s happened in my life since I first played the Game Boy Advance game in 2003, including some of the best friends one man could ask for.
I actually asked on Twitter last night for an informal poll of weather I should wait for the physical game or swallow my pride and get the digital game. With one exception (my 15 year old brother, which I’ll write off as a product of a generation gap), everyone, to a man, said to wait for the game, with the significance of owning a physical copy of the game meaning even more than the DRM ramifications. I own every single game in the series with the exception of Gaiden and Thracia3, including three copies of the aforementioned Shadow Dragon (one Japanese, two North American), and that’s a feeling that digital simply cannot replace.
Three hours after it started, my trip to acquire the latest game was well worth it.
1 – Nintendo’s incompetence in the online realm has its advantages. Unlike Amazon or virtually any other online retailer, Nintendo doesn’t do any kind of checking of a person’s actual location when they buy games; it goes by the address you give them, which doesn’t have to be your credit card’s address. Therefore, despite both my credit and shipping addresses being in Derby Connecticut (with 6.35% sales tax), Nintendo believes that I, who have never been this far west, am located in Bozeman, Montana, which doesn’t have a sales tax. That makes a huge difference on minor purchases like Virtual Console games. Thanks for sucking, Nintendo!
2 – As I go along, I will list the locations and numbers of GameStops that I pass, and their locations. This is to emphasize how embarrassing it is that the one place I never considered calling to inquire about giving money in exchange for a massive-label video game was the massive chain of retail stores that literally only does video games, because even if they did receive it, they wouldn’t sell anything to me because I didn’t preorder the game, likely costing some poor 18 year old kid his shitty job. I apparently wasn’t the only one, as RPG Fan’s John McCarroll had a similar sentiment. I might not like digital rights management much, but I won’t exactly pour a 40oz. out when GameStop inevitably goes the way of Blockbuster Video.
3 – On a whim, literally as I wrote that sentence, I did a search for Fire Emblem Gaiden. I REGRET NOTHING.