Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Valkyria Chronicles 3, what went wrong?

When Valkyria Chronicles came out in 2008, it was hailed as a revolutionary step in the strategy RPG subgenre. It had a great cast of characters, a touching war story, great visuals, amazing music, and incredible gamplay. It combined all of those aspects in a unique game that has yet to be equaled. As fans waited for a release, they were let down when the game was announced on the PSP. There was a lot of rage among people who chided the Handhed Console platform and called it a step back in the franchise. Hyperbole and overreaction filled the internet as people vented their frustration. Valkyria Chronicles 2 did eventually come out, and the people who played it experienced a wonderful game that had polished gameplay refinements from the previous iteration. The third game was announced, with a darker storyline and a focus to the battlefield storyline that made the franchise so popular. It was hailed as a return to form for the franchise. After its Japanese release, all was quiet until today, with anime press and gaming press all over the world echoing the bad news I broke 4 months ago on this blog. What went wrong for this to happen?

PSP Software Ecosystem: The PSP is considered one of the most popular handheld consoles of all time. It was the first console to battle the 40-foot-tall giant of the handheld console world and survive and prosper for a time. The PSP succeeded and sold toe-to-toe with Nintendo for a while, until Sony took the focus off PSP development in 2006. If you don't know your history that well, 2006 was when the PS3 was released, and PSP resources were moved to create PS3 games. Once Sony stopped developing software for its portable console, third party companies started to migrate from the PSP platform. The software shift also happened at around the same time that the PSP started to have heavy piracy, delivering a very heavy blow to the platform. In Japan, Sony was smart enough to get the Monster Hunter franchise as it exploded in popularity, which was able to push the platform back to relevancy. In the States there was no such killer software that pushed units, so the software ecosystem for the PSP started to die off. Once Sony realized just how bad the PSP's situation was in the West, it was already too late to save the system. It was during this time period when software sales started to slide dramatically that Valkyria Chronicles 2 was released in the USA.

Valkyria Chronicles 2 Sold Poorly: There are a variety of reasons why Valkyria 2 sold poorly in the United States and in Europe. The first reason is because the game was released on a dying platform in the West. Sales of the hardware started to decrease and software sales have fallen off a rock in 2010. That is around the same time that Valkyria Chronicles 2 and Phantasy Star Portable 2 was released, great timing on SEGA's part. The second reason is an obvious one, the platform change from the PS3 to the PlayStation Portable. People bought Valkyria Chronicles and they had a vested interest to play a sequel, if it was released on the PS3. Once many of them found out that Valkyria 2 would not get a PS3 iteration, many people decided not to buy Valkyria Chronicles 2 out of protest. The combination of platform shift and a release on a dying platform led to lower than expected sales.

Wrong Portable Console: Sega insisted on releasing Valkyria Chronicles to the handheld consoles. The problem on SEGA's end that Valkyria Chronicles 3 was not released on the right console, or at the least should have been simultaneously released on the PSP and the right console. As stated before, Valkyria Chronicles 2 was released when the PSP was all but dead in the West, so it was not the greatest idea to release the sequel to a platform that was completely dead in the West. Valkyria Chronicles 3 was released in Japan on January 27, 2011, the Nintendo 3DS was released in Japan on February 26, 2011. SEGA should have released Valkyria Chronicles 3 on the 3DS. When the 3DS was released in Japan (and subsequently the USA and Europe) it had a very anemic lineup of games. A high-quality epic strategy RPG like Valkyria Chronicles 3 would have made waves on the platform during the time period that it had a huge software lull. This would have allowed SEGA to capture the core gamer and early adopter market to develop the Valkyria Chronicles franchise on the Nintendo Consoles. Valkyria Chronicles 3 would have likely been in a similar situation as Valkyria 1, where word-of-mouth would push sales until the game would go through multiple printings. The most important part, it would be part of a hardware that had lots of adopters in the West.

SEGA's Corporate Structure: As any longtime SEGA fan can tell you, SEGA needs to improve its corporate structure. The company in Japan holds all the power within the organization and they dictate which of their properties can be released in North America and Europe, and which ones cannot. There are many fans of Valkyria Chronicles within Sega of America and Sega of Europe, and had they had their way, they probably would have localized it on a small budget and been mildly profitable the same way that companies like NIS America and XSEED can make profit off of games that sell a couple of thousand units. I am not blaming SEGA of Japan, since not releasing Valkyria 3 in the states makes sense from a business perspective. Rather, I am blaming the fact that Sega of Japan should work better with its American and European subsidiaries. A company that doesn't listen to its employees is a company that will make mistakes that can negatively affect brand equity and customer support.

There you have it, Valkyria Chronicles 3 not getting a North American of European release is not because it is a horrible game or because SEGA hates gamers. It is because the PSP software ecosystem is in a terrible shape. The predecessor had the unfortunate timing of being released right as the PSP became irrelevant in the West, which led to the poor sales of the game. SEGA should have released the game on the 3DS, at least for the Western Market's sake, why they didn't capitalize on a potential new market is beyond me. Last but not least, SEGA's corporate structure centralizes the power in Japan, and the Valkyria fans working in the Western Sega subsidiaries have to listen to what their bosses say. I am hoping that fan outcry will push Sega into releasing a PS Vita or Nintendo 3DS iteration that has a chance of Western release, but the final decision will be up to SEGA. Here is hoping that the greater good prevails and that we westerners can get the Valkyria game we always wanted.


apricotsushi said...

This is disappointing news, but it definitely makes sense. I've been following the series for a while (and have covered this recent SEGA statement for, actually). I've wanted to jump in to the series but for a variety of reasons have not been able to try any of them yet.

I'm assuming you've played both English releases, so out of curiosity, is it possible to play and enjoy VC 2 without having played the original for the PS3, or are the stories too intertwined? I've got to get off my butt and purchase one or the other to show my support for the series. I've heard a lot of great things about it

Anonymous said...

It is possible to enjoy Valkyria Chronicles 2 without playing Valkyria 1, so buy it and enjoy it. You will experience one of the best RPG's on the PSP console.

Rich$Con said...

u need to go work for them Kris, show them how to market correctly!

KrisZ said...

Apricotsushi: Definitely pick up Valkryia Chronicles 2, it is one of the best games out there on the PSP. It has heavy school influence due to the popular of the Persona franchise, but it has amazing polished gameplay, a wonderful soundtrack, and great characters (save for the main lead, who is annoying as heck).

Richard: I sense some sarcasm in there, but once I get my MBA I will definitely have the degree to back up my management skills developed over many years of experience ;)

apricotsushi said...

Great, thanks for letting me know, Kris and anon! I'll pick up whichever one I can get my hands on faster ;)