Hajime Tabata positively glowed when Jeremy and I walked in for our Final Fantasy Type-0 HD interview on the first day of PAX Prime. Wearing casual clothing and smiling broadly, Final Fantasy Type-0's director stood and warmly thanked us for a piece Jeremy had written about the game at last year's Tokyo Game Show.
"After you guys posted that article, we started to receive a lot of inquiries at Square Enix, and I started to directly hear our fans' voices," Tabata explained. "Without that, and without the influx of demands and requests that we received, this probably would have never happened. And it's because of the fans being vocal about wanting this overseas that it was easier to convince [Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda]. The entire Type-0 development team was also fully onboard to deliver this, and that's how we were able to bring it over to next-gen devices. I'm very appreciative of that."
Tabata's words represent the culmination of a longstanding push to get Final Fantasy Type-0 published here in the U.S. Fans have been pining for a localized release of Type-0 HD ever since it was released to strong reviews back in late 2011; and though the chances of a western release dimmed as the months passed, it remained on the top of many fans' wishlist. The reaction to the piece was indicative of the pent-up demand that had persisted for more than two years at that point.
Before Square Enix made it official, rumors of a localized release popped up seemingly every other day. One of my favorites was was that Square Enix had a slightly modified version ready to go for the Vita, but that it had been nixed due to not having enough new content. Such rumors persisted for a year or two, then faded until E3 2014, when Square Enix announced Final Fantasy Type-0 HD seemingly out of the blue.
The main takeaway regarding Square Enix's change of heart is that fan feedback can sometimes be what tips the scales toward a game getting made. As Tabata explained back in his interview with USgamer in 2013, "[Type-0's localization] is in the final stages of consideration. It's definitely the direction that we want to go in. Nothing is absolutely concrete right now with release dates or anything like that. But it's definitely something that we want to do. Really, the primary motivation behind wanting to release the whole experience would be all the support and passion and enthusiasm of the North American and European gaming community that has reached out to us and asked for it. I feel very thankful, very grateful for that enthusiasm."
Ultimately, Tabata got the support that he needed from fans, giving him proof that demand for the game existed in the U.S. and elsewhere. It proved just enough for Square Enix, desperate for its core franchises to remain relevant abroad, to restart the project.
"Without that [article], and without the influx of demands and requests that we received, [Final Fantasy Type-0 HD] probably would have never happened" - Hajime Tabata, Final Fantasy Type-0 Director
Elsewhere within Square Enix, such feedback also has the potential to revive another much-requested release. North American fans have been asking for the Dragon Quest VII on the Nintendo 3DS to be localized ever since it was first announced back in October 2012, but both Square Enix and Nintendo have remained troublingly silent on the matter up until this point. The desire is there, says mobile producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto, but "unfortunately everything is still under consideration and to be determined."
Square Enix has heard the fans, though. In discussing the demand for Dragon Quest VII, executive producer Yuu Miyake goes so far as to hold up a printout of one letter: "This petition came from France, written in Japanese, asking, 'Is there any way you would consider it?' We hear the fans, and we're paying attention. We had actually given up on the idea of localization altogether, but because there's such a great response we're trying to rethink this, to see if there's any way to make this more feasible. We're recalculating, and figuring out the costs necessary. Trying to work out the details."
Unfortunately, the equation is complicated by the fact that Dragon Quest has long struggled to gain traction in western markets, with even the most popular releases being relatively niche successes in comparison to Final Fantasy. Fujimoto acknowledges as much when he says, "If there was any secret to bridging that hurdle between the Japanese and U.S. market, we would love to know what it is. What I'm expecting with these releases on mobile platforms is... if this were a console game, we'd be taking a lot of risk on a single title. But with these being mobile games, we're releasing them in succession, with multiple titles in a short span of time. We're hoping that'll create momentum and get people interested in, make more people aware of the brand."
Miyake adds: "It is a reality that the Dragon Quest series is created with Japan and Japanese consumers in mind, and because it's recognized over there we have a flow of creating titles. We have the main-numbered titles and then we have the various spin-offs. We can create them, and each iteration will be received fairly well. We can do it at a fairly nice pace. But when we think about localization, when we think about having to translate all the text—unfortunately, it doesn't go as smoothly. We have to think about costs and manpower. So again, we hope with the mobile versions and the multiple titles, it'll create a flow and keep more titles going. Being in the digital space makes it more possible for us to adopt our current release strategy. Also, we already have a basis here—there's an original console version we're working off of for these games."
The time and effort it takes to localize a game as expansive as Dragon Quest makes it a tougher sell than even a spinoff like Final Fantasy Type-0, which is apt to have a larger core of diehard Final Fantasy fans to draw from. Add in the fact that creator Yuji Horii also has to be involved, further complicating timing and scheduling, and the cost-benefit analysis starts to skew heavily against localizing Dragon Quest.
Such difficulties are a reminder of how much more difficult it is for Japanese games to get localized in the wake of the bottom falling out of development there, which has prompted many studios to turn their gaze inward. For every Operation Rainfall, there has been a Valkyria Chronicles 3 or 7th Dragon that has fallen between the cracks, seemingly destined to never see the light of day in the west. If Nintendo hadn't picked up the slack with Dragon Quest IX and the Nintendo DS remakes of Dragon Quests IV, V, and VI, they would have likely been lost as well, depriving English speakers of an opportunity to finally play Dragon Quest V in their native language.
In light of such difficulties, it's easy for western fans to feel helpless in trying to secure a domestic release for their favorite game. But as we've just seen with Final Fantasy Type-0, and perhaps Dragon Quest as well, your voice matters. Writing in, tweeting, and generally making yourself heard as much as possible is what gives creators like Tabata the ammunition they need to convince executives to greenlight a western release. Even if the project has been long dead, as in the case of Final Fantasy Type-0 and seemingly Dragon Quest VII as well, feedback can occasionally be enough to revive a project. Even large publishers like Square Enix often have a hard time ignoring the steady thrum of consumer demand. After all, they are a business. If the market demands it, they will find a way to supply it. Well, usually.
So go ahead and pat yourselves on the back. Thanks to your efforts, Final Fantasy Type-0 will finally be getting a much-deserved western release, and Dragon Quest VII might not be far behind. As dark as things might seem at times, you still have the power to turn things around if you're willing to make yourself heard. No matter what, that should never be forgotten.