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Where art thou, Persona 4 Arena? Everywhere but Europe, apparently.

November 9, 2012

Oh really?

I’ve been looking forward to Persona 4 Arena for ages. I live and breathe fighting games, and thoroughly enjoyed Persona 3 and 4. A combination of the two was literally a dream come true. Since the game was announced, I’ve been waiting with anticipation for its release.

Persona 4 Arena came out in Japan on July 26, and a week later in America. Europe still doesn’t have a release date.

A joint project between Persona developers Atlus and Guilty Gear/Blazblue devs Arc System Works, P4A was published in Japan and America by Atlus as well. Unfortunately the company do not have a European branch, so duties over here were passed to small publisher Zen United. When Zen first announced they were publishing the game here, they promised a 2012 release, with a tentative but unofficial August 31 date thrown around the internet.

After repeated delays with little information, Zen updated their Facebook page earlier this week, stating it is no longer possible for the game to see European release this year. It’s extremely disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. The company posted a basic FAQ in September, offering explanations for the delay without actually divulging many details.

What is clear is that the situation doesn’t seem to be Zen’s fault:

We are waiting for confirmation as to when the EU version will be complete. Once we take delivery of the EU build – we can project what the likely release date will be. It’s at this point we will update everyone. Unfortunately, as we are not directly involved with the development of the game, we do not have any further information about its progress – or when the EU build will be complete. When we do have that information, it will be passed on to you.

I’ve played P4A a few times at fighting game events, and spoken to a couple of the guys from Zen. They seemed equally as upset at the delays as the fans.

Japanese games taking an age to come to Europe are nothing new. Tales of Graces f, an RPG from Namco Bandai, was released in Japan in December 2010 but didn’t make it to America until March this year. A European version followed in August. Eurogamer spoke to Tales boss Hideo Baba about it in July:

“When Graces f began development we didn’t have a plan to localise it,” Baba explained. “We have to receive requests from our US or EU branches first before we can decide to bring something to the Western markets. 

Scheduling work on localisations of existing games is also tricky. When work on one Tales game wraps up, Baba has already begun work on the next.

“Our Japanese team need to keep working creating new titles. While we were finishing Tales of Graces f we were already starting [next series entry] Tales of Xillia. So we’re always really busy. And there is, as you know, the usual RPG problem that there is loads of text to localise.”

Translation was clearly not an issue in the case of P4A as can be seen with the swift American release. The issue seems to be with Atlus disregarding Europe as a matter of importance. Zen have waited for months for a European build of the game to be submitted, to no avail. Are sales of Atlus games in Europe so negligible that they put no effort into a timely release for the region? It seems like a self-fullfilling prophecy. Obviously sales will suffer if a game is released months, or even years late.

But so what, I hear many of you say. It’s out on PS3, just import the US version. Which, in literally any other case, I would have done. But lo and behold, Persona 4 Arena is the first PS3 game OF ALL TIME to be region-locked. This was apparently to prevent Japanese players importing the game from the States, where it is cheaper. It’s infuriating. There is no way that a significant proportion of Japanese players would go to the hassle of importing a foreign version of the game just to save a little bit of money.

P4A is not an RPG like its predecessor. Fighting games live or die on how big their playerbase is. Hype and excitement surrounding a fighting game’s release can ensure its future for years to come. Similarly, a niche title released with no fanfare is unlikely to ever do well. P4A has done well in America but anticipation has already begun to waver, and many in Europe who were previously waiting with baited breath have since moved on to the next big thing. Guilty Gear and Blazblue, series that play similar to P4A, are both receiving new updates that will cause the game to lose potential players before its release.

I can’t say for sure who the blame lies with in this situation. Persona 4 Arena, already a niche title, will have its sales hurt extremely by the late release. In an age of global, instantaneous information, having such huge disparities in release times between regions is inexcusable. The market and audience is there, and publishers are failing to properly plan ahead to satiate them.

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