Wednesday 3 October 2012

Hall of shame: Persona

After the positive buzz that Production I.G.'s forward-thinking Kickstarter project is generating, I think it's time I brought up this topic I've been meaning to write about for a while.


My personal history with the Persona series is complicated. I played the early games on my Japanese Playstation when they originally came out, but didn't keep up with the more recent games and gradually drifted onto other things. Meanwhile, it was these later games which dramatically increased the fanbase for the games overseas. With Persona 4 receiving a popular television adaptation recently, as well as news that the highly entertaining fighting game, Persona 4 Arena, would be released close to simultaneously worldwide, it looked like a great time to get back into the series and catch up on what I'd been missing for the last few years.

Unfortunately, the companies in charge of bringing fans the Persona brand have recently been responsible for some shockingly poor decisions, and as a result not only am I not buying either the Persona 4 anime at all now, but I'm also not buying Persona 4 Arena, ever. I feel so strongly about this that I'm not touching anything else in the Persona series, and should another Atlus game come along which I want to play, I'll have think long and hard about whether I really want to support such a dreadful company.

The first problem is with the game. Persona 4 Arena has become infamous as the first (and to date, only) Playstation 3 game which utilises region locking to prevent potential customers from playing a version of the game from a region other than the one they live in - or more accurately, from a region other than their Playstation 3 comes from, as some of us have imported consoles. The reasons given are very simple: they wish to price the US edition significantly lower than the Japanese edition but force everyone to buy their local version to maximise potential profits.

Setting aside the extremely dubious morality of this underlying reason, there are several obvious problems with this. If the US version is being region locked, that makes perfect sense - Atlus want to wring more money from Japanese customers by preventing them from importing. But what I don't understand at all is why the Japanese version is being region locked as well. If anyone imports that, they're choosing to pay a significant premium to do so. There seems to be no logical reason for Atlus' actions.

I would have absolutely no problem with what they were doing if they region locked only the US edition of Persona 4 Arena. I would have switched my preorder to the Japanese edition and paid a little more to willingly receive the best possible version of the game. However, Atlus doesn't care about pleasing their customers. Atlus cares about pleasing their investors, even if the way they go about it makes no sense.

Adding insult to injury, anyone outside of those two regions is completely out of luck. While a European edition of Persona 4 Arena was previously announced for a slightly delayed release, the release date came and went with only a vague announcement that the game had been put back. It will probably eventually come out, but by the time it does the world will have moved on. We're not allowed to import it from elsewhere, so nobody's getting any money from Europe at all for Persona 4 Arena any time soon. And when it comes out months later, and flops, the only conclusion the companies will draw is that European people aren't interested in Japanese games so there's no point catering for us. Great.

I for one won't be buying the European release at all, because I'm now boycotting anything that has the word 'Persona' anywhere near it. Also, the idea of releasing something months (or years) later in one territory for reasons of self-serving corporate politics is outdated and distasteful - we speak English in the UK and the game's already fully translated and mastered. The only reason we're not playing it is that some genius in an office somewhere decided to go out of their way to treat their customers poorly.

So, the Persona game series is dead to me. At least, I thought, I have the US Blu-Ray of the anime adaptation of Persona 4 on order to tide me over and introduce me to the later characters from the games.

However, the Persona team's acute case of xenophobia soon struck again. A few weeks after the Persona 4 Arena news, it was suddenly announced that the US Blu-Ray release of the anime would be gutted. The original voice track would be removed entirely, leaving fans with a choice to either buy the series on DVD instead, with its significantly lower quality picture and sound, or to buy the Blu-Ray but only have access to the English dub rather than the original voice track.

Presented with those options, I cancelled my preorder immediately. While some individuals may be able to tolerate or even enjoy cheaply made English dubs of unenthusiastic-sounding Americans talking over the original animation and pronouncing one another's names incorrectly at random, I've long found that for me removing the original audio completely destroys the point of watching something.

The US distributor was very apologetic about the disappointing release, explaining that it was an order directly from Japan and not something they had done by choice. As Persona is a popular title and the gaming crowd it will cross over to are used to playing with the dubbed edition, it's likely that some people will still buy the crippled Blu-Rays.

Back to Europe. Europe is in a different Blu-Ray region to the US and Japan, so the blinkered Japanese companies believe that nobody will ever figure out that it's cheaper to buy the European edition and a European Blu-Ray player than it is to buy the Japanese Blu-Rays. A different distributor is handling the Blu-Ray edition of the Persona 4 anime over here, and accordingly they've confirmed that there shouldn't be any problem including the Japanese voices with their edition. Of course, it's not out yet, so it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen, or whether the release will be ruined in another creative new way instead.

I'm tired of this. If Atlus wants to charge more in Japan, that's perfectly fine. I actually don't mind paying. Sadly, they didn't bother putting English subtitles on the more expensive Japanese discs, even though those subtitles already existed for the streaming version of the show, so for most of us overseas importing the deluxe Japanese Blu-Ray discs was never an option.

As long as this production team continues to treat overseas fans as though they are fools, providing us with no decent way to buy their products in order to drain as much profit as possible from their Japanese and American markets, I will not be touching their offerings. Their behaviour gives us major delays, and crippled releases, and blocks us from participating based on the country we live in rather than how much we're willing to pay. No alternatives are provided for fans who want a higher quality option: Atlus simply wants its customers to fall in line, to accept disappointment after disappointment, and to continue to do as we're told, happily paying to be treated this way.

I'm done with you, Atlus, and I'm done with Persona. My money is going to companies which treat their customers with respect, no matter where they live.

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