The fans, this time, have very legitimate complaints; Sega’s taken an bearish view on the West that borders on pandering. But this is what we call the least worst option; it could have been far worse.
There were three legitimate companies who would have interest in Atlus, let alone parent company Index:
* SEGA is the buyer, and the only even semi-palatable option. Yes, this means we’re not going to get those niche games anymore – I’ll go into that more in a bit – such as Code of Princess and the like, but at the very least, we’ll still get Persona games, and probably still get some Etrian Odyssey games. This could also mean an expanded presence on the PC as well, especially if Sega takes a cue from Falcom/XSEED and lets outsiders (read: fans) do the localization.
As far as gamers are concerned, this can be considered a D+, maybe a C-.
SQUARE-ENIX – This would have been worse news. The good news is that Squeenix would have expanded and at least attempted to do something with the major (SMT, EO, Persona) franchises. Unfortunately, chances are good that corporate hubris and unreachable expectations would have burned their exceptionally corporate setup, and that would be it for anything in their portfolio. Eventually, it’s very likely that all of Atlus’s brands would have ended up like the Saga and Mana series: relegated to the purgatory that is freemium mobile gaming via GREE.
If Squeenix would have pulled a trigger like this – doubtful considering their own problems – we’d call that a D-.
J-TRUST – Lost in all of this was that a financial services company named J-Trust, not known in the gaming realm, had put aside up to ¥13bn to acquire Index. Their thought process had nothing to do with games; according to an interview with Bloomberg, the interest would have been the client base, and nothing more:
“It’s a good idea to buy companies that do communication and application businesses for smartphones and tap their client bases to market our financial services,” Fujisawa said on Aug. 5, citing the successes of online retailer Rakuten Inc. (4755) and Yahoo Japan Corp. They “started as providers of Internet services and grew bigger by attracting existing customers into their financial businesses.”
Translation: they had literally zero interest in video games, they just wanted to use Atlus’s existing cell phone marketing to build their portfolio. This would have been a flaming gong show if it went through; as it stands, gamers should breathe easy that they got off well.
Here’s the thing fans need to realize: Atlus, as we know them currently, is dead. They died the moment Index went into receivership. Anyone who was buying them was not buying them for the niche games that we fans know and love; we’re the minority when it comes to this stuff. Anyone buying them was going to get to Persona, SMT by extension (fans: think you hate people getting them confused *now*? Just wait.), and maybe Etrian Odyssey; everything else – Code of Princess, Growlanser, anything from Sting, etc. – is gone. That was going to be inevitable. While those games might still have a footprint in Japan, we all know what Sega’s track record is with western localization. The numbers back them up; the only series that do well in America for Sega, relative to costs, are Sonic, Football Manager, and the Total War series.
The sadly ironic thing is that earlier today, Kimberly Wallace of Game Informer came out with an article about Atlus USA that will likely serve as their eulogy. Atlus USA will be severely crippled, if they survive.
Now, with all of the negativity out of the way, there is some good news, and a semblance of hope.
* Sega does have a history of letting their developers go with little interference from corporate. This is not Capcom. Sonic Team have carte blanch to do what they want. Sports Interactive and The Creative Assembly, developers of Football Manager and the Total War series respectively, have been able to do what they need, with far greater resources to boot. For them, Sega’s acquisition was a win-win for everyone. Even if the B and C-list games are likely going away, at the very least, Sega will know better than to screw around with SMT, Persona and EO.
* Sega could also utilize Atlus USA as their American outreach/localizer of choice. This is less likely – usually, when corporate takeovers happen, it’s the new company that suffers the most simply because of existing allegiances – but it’s a possibility. If that’s the case, then the damage to what America gets in the West will be far greater.
* Finally, it’s possible – not likely, but possible – that Sega has learned their lessons from more nimble companies such as XSEED and Japanese developer Falcom and decided to outsource their localizations. Remember when XSEED went and got the translator for a popular fan patch for the PC versions of the Ys games1? If Sega utilizes their large, existing, and extremely jaded fanbase, they will not only cut costs, but it will serve as an olive branch towards a group of gamers that’s in open revolt at this point, but when engaged properly are guaranteed income. The trends are going in that direction – Recettear developer Carpe Fulgur is going to be working on the Trails in the Sky series – so if Sega has a brain in their heads, they will utilize the lower costs involved with the fanbase, smaller companies, and digital distribution to a hilt. I have some faith in that happening; again, this isn’t Capcom.
Sega’s purchasing of Index isn’t exactly good news, but it was sadly inevitable once Index went bankrupt. Though there will be casualties, the news could actually turn out better than we anticipate right now. I’m not saying it’s time to get out fireworks and streamers, but I’m also not saying it’s time to get the torches and pitchforks, either.
1 – That was BRILLIANT, by the way. The original Ys patches were a two-man team: programmer NightWolve, and translator Deuce. However, it’s been apparent for years that NightWolve is, and this is a scientifically accurate term, a fucking Looney Tune crackpot. So when XSEED asked for a fan translation, Deuce was brought onto the staff, while NightWolve was left to cry about President Obama, freeloading fans and having to refer to his erstwhile partner as “DeuceBag”. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.