"I hope this comes out in the US!"
"I'm gonna get this game as soon as it comes out here!"
Comments like these seem to crop up wherever the new Sengoku Basara 4 trailer is shown. Every time, someone has to break it to the eager fan that the game probably won't be coming to the west, and every time there's surprise and disappointment in their response. It's heartbreaking.
It often feels as though the English-speaking Sengoku Basara community is its own worst enemy. It's necessary to click the following link to read the rest of this post since it's not something everyone wants to hear.
On any given day you can check social media websites and find there will be more people talking about pirating the Sengoku Basara anime and games than about buying them, and far more people moaning about Capcom's shortcomings than making constructive comments. Even on this blog, I get significantly more hits from people searching for scans or an illegal way to watch the Sengoku Basara movie than I do from the wonderful people who come here looking for actual information.
It can be argued that these people aren't the main audience and their opinions should be ignored. Then surely a desperate effort to persuade Capcom Japan to include an English translation with Sengoku Basara 3 Utage would have united the hardcore followers of the series? Instead, it was hopelessly destroyed before it got off the ground by hurt fans arguing amongst themselves; by the time a second topic was made hardly anyone was left to lend it their support. A Facebook campaign aimed at Capcom USA was attempted as well, and it too fell far short of its goal.
If I were a Capcom employee looking into this fandom from outside, I'd write it off as being small, unprofitable and difficult to please. That's unfortunate when there are thousands of passionate people out there waiting desperately to be able to buy more Sengoku Basara games.
I started writing this post so that I would have somewhere to point those people when they ask why the next game won't be coming out in English.
As most fans know, the Sengoku Basara games received two English language adaptations in the past. I'll summarise the current situation for those who are new to the series and wondering why everyone is so pessimistic about the new game making its way to the west.
The first attempt to localise the series took the original Sengoku Basara game and reworked it into a dark fantasy title called Devil Kings. Back then in 2005, Capcom was full of optimism about the series' potential in the west. Their only worry was that the Japanese setting would alienate a wider audience, so they spent a lot of time and money painstakingly stripping the game down to make it more generic. With missing content, a lack of Japanese historical references and characters with silly names like Puff, Q-Ball and Kahz, this strange adaptation both failed to attract new fans and upset purists who loved the original historical references. It was regarded as a failure.
The west missed out on the next few games. Yet fans kept demanding more Sengoku Basara, and in 2010 Capcom made their next attempt to push the series overseas with Sengoku Basara 3. Renamed to the more descriptive Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes for the benefit of English-speakers, this time Capcom pulled no punches. The localised version contained all of the gameplay and characters from the Japanese release. It was given a faithful translation through an expensive English dub with some relatively big names. It came out for Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3, and at a discounted price right from the start. The English version of the anime was timed to come out around the same time to draw more attention to the game (and vice versa). Capcom weren't holding back.
And Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes was a failure as well. In fact, it reportedly sold about the same number of copies as Devil Kings despite false rumours that it performed well. When you consider that the game was priced lower than normal even though the localisation would have been more expensive than it was for Devil Kings, it's easy to see why this would be a shock.
There were plenty of reasons given for the poor performance, from the dub-only presentation to complaints about the characters having their names in western order. It's also true that the marketing effort by Capcom's overseas branches was weak. I only knew that Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes was coming out here in the UK after an interview was posted on an American anime website I happen to read, which is absolutely ridiculous given how much I love the game. And Capcom's European office did little to change that: shops didn't know about it, and as soon as the sales figures failed to make an impact in the first couple of weeks the entire company started pretending the series didn't exist at events. There wasn't even any attempt to pull in extra revenue from the people who did buy the game; my plea that Capcom Europe should make the avatars and themes from the Japanese edition available for purchase on our local PSN fell on deaf ears.
However, it's a fact that there simply aren't enough Sengoku Basara fans in the west to justify continuing producing expensive failures. The anime discs included subtitles and a dub and they still sold poorly in both the UK and the US compared to similar titles. 'Dynasty Warriors'-style games get a lot of bad press in general, too, to the extent that gaming news sites weren't interested in devoting any significant coverage to Sengoku Basara to support its release. That's not Capcom's fault; after all, how many accurate reports about Sengoku Basara 4 have appeared to date on major English-language gaming websites? The mainstream media doesn't care about an over-the-top action romp based on another country's history when they could be hyping up the latest macho shooter game instead.
30,000 sales per game may well be the maximum that the series can support in the west. That's a huge number of people in absolute terms, but a tiny minority when you're investing heavily in a localisation and courting the media across several continents. It sounds as though the anime adaptation might have sold less than a tenth of that quantity in English-speaking countries, so there's no lucrative market for tie-in products to bolster mediocre game sales.
When your potential audience is so small, spending more on marketing is throwing good money after bad.
If what Capcom's ex-Senior VP Christian Svensson has said is true, Capcom USA aren't interested in the Sengoku Basara series any more. It's done, and there won't be any more fully localised English adaptations. Since Capcom are scaling back their overseas operations, it's unlikely we'll see any efforts to bring the game over from that side of the world.
Which means that if you want to see Sengoku Basara 4 translated into English one day, you need to approach Capcom Japan.
After writing the first part of this section I stumbled upon the old Sengoku Basara 3 Utage campaigns I mentioned before. It was almost uncanny how similar my conclusions were to those of some of the participants in those discussions!
The series seems to have several distinct types of fan in the English-speaking world:
1. Japanese-speakers who will import the Japanese edition of the game and understand it.
2. English-speakers who will import the Japanese edition of the game and manage to play through hard work and fan translations.
3. English-speakers who will import the Japanese game if it has English subtitles so they can understand it.
4. English-speakers who won't import the Japanese game, but they'd buy it from PSN if there were English subtitles.
5. English-speakers who won't be satisfied unless there's an English dub.
The first group is irrelevant to this discussion, and the fifth group is out of luck. But the other three can be catered to if Capcom Japan include English subtitles with the game - either with the Japanese game disc or as a downloadable extra later on as part of a global PSN release. I think that the approach which makes the most sense is telling Capcom that English-speaking fans exist who would love to have English subtitles with the new game.
One thing which was apparent during my reading of the old forum thread was that a lot of people are unaware that creating subtitles costs money. Capcom would need to manually translate a huge amount of dialogue written in very challenging Japanese, then they need to overlay the text in the game, create new art assets where necessary and test it all works properly. Many fans are blind to the reality of how much professional subtitles cost due to the availability of people who will translate for free online; please don't take the hard work that those fans put in for granted. A decent subtitle script which flows properly in English and maintains the 'flavour' of the original Japanese takes a considerable amount of effort.
So, if subtitles cost money anyway, why not push for a full English dub and localisation?
Dubs, needless to say, cost an order of magnitude more than subtitles. If it supposedly costs $10,000 to dub a single episode of anime into English, localising a game like Sengoku Basara 4 would be tremendously expensive due to its large cast and the sheer amount of dialogue. When you consider the cost of translation, testing, redesigning the menu artwork and marketing, it's incredibly unlikely that Capcom is going to splurge on another dub, especially as many fans prefer the original star-studded seiyuu cast. You're not going to be able to convince Capcom Japan that there's any merit in continuing to fund a full English dub unless you are influential enough to be able to personally convince tens of thousands of westerners to go out and preorder a full-priced game.
Perhaps one day, after the fan base has grown and proven that a cheaper subtitled release can turn a decent profit, we'll be in a position to see a revival of dubbed Sengoku Basara. That's pretty much the only chance it has.
If a full localisation is out of the question, the best time to contact Capcom to get the message about English subtitles across is now - before they finish work on the Japanese edition. They haven't formally announced a release date for Sengoku Basara 4 yet so there's a chance a translation could still be squeezed into the schedule for the Japanese or Asian editions of the game, and the Playstation 3 is region-free.
I understand that some people still won't buy the game if it requires importing: they might want it on a different platform, or with a dub, or from their local Gamestop... the list goes on. And that's fine. What they want isn't going to happen, so they are going to have to move on and play something else until market conditions have changed.
I'm directing the remainder of this post to the people who would import the game if it came with English subtitles. Now is the time to act.
1. Petitions don't work. Everyone knows that there's a huge difference between a person signing an online petition and that same person actually putting down the money to support the game a few months later. In any case, there aren't enough people who want an English translation of the game included with the Japanese release to make a petition worthwhile.
2. Kickstarter (or another crowdfunding solution) is probably not an option. It seems like the perfect solution: Capcom lists the English subtitle translation for the game on Kickstarter, sets a realistic target to avoid seeming greedy and watches the money roll in, then ships out Japanese copies of the game to everyone who supported the campaign. It would only take a handful of dedicated western fans to fund the entire translation and if enough people backed it, there's no reason to think that they couldn't fund a fully localised western edition with stretch goals, too. The reason that Capcom thinks this won't work is outlined here. In short, they're wary of the negativity that would follow a major company using a crowdfunding site to fund a localisation; indie gamers and publishers alike would condemn the 'abuse' of the system, and the press would spread rumours that Japanese companies were planning to use this method to avoid localising other games properly in future. And it makes Capcom look cheap.
The complicated situation that Sengoku Basara is in simply isn't well-understood in the western gaming industry. Even though it's unfair when there are so many superfluous Kickstarters funded every day, Capcom have a lot more to lose from damage to their reputation than the fly-by-night companies who exploit Kickstarter for their own vanity projects. The only chance I could see for this to work is if someone uses their connections in the gaming press to educate gamers about the situation.
3. Asking Capcom to persuade another company to license the game and release a translated edition overseas. It's a shame, because the most lucrative solution to having a small audience which can't support a budget release is to shift to making that small audience pay more (as with the Kickstarter idea). This is something several dedicated localisation companies could do in the form of a special edition - however, it's not how Capcom usually works, and I don't think they're going to change that now.
4. Posting stolen fanart, illegal scans and DVD rips on your Tumblr account. This may well 'spread the word' about the series online, but it weakens the series commercially and annoys existing fans or creators whose work has been misappropriated. It doesn't help efforts to convince Capcom that foreign customers will pay for more Sengoku Basara games, and it may even discourage Japanese fans and producers from wanting to support foreigners in their campaigns. Creating your own fan works is a much better way to stimulate interest in the series.
5. Re-posting Capcom's videos to YouTube for no reason. Capcom released the most recent Sengoku Basara 4 trailer on YouTube instead of using their own website - and within a week a bunch of people had re-uploaded the exact same video to YouTube alongside it. These copies have racked up thousands of hits from foreign fans, which means that when Capcom checks the statistics for their own video they'll get the idea that the game isn't popular with people overseas. This is part of what I said above about Sengoku Basara fans being their own worst enemy: gamers are going out of their way to avoid showing Capcom that people outside Japan are looking forward to the new game!
I don't include the unofficial translated trailer in this complaint as that one clearly shows Capcom that there's demand for a translation based on the number of hits it receives. The rest are a waste of time for everyone except the people profiting from the advertisements - please don't link to them and try to spread the link to the official video instead.
6. Posting angry messages directed towards Capcom USA/Europe on their social media platforms, Capcom Unity or on fan websites. None of the decision-makers at Capcom Japan will ever see them, and even if they do people rarely tend to reach out and help people who are rude to them.
What fans can do to help
A single letter makes a much stronger statement than thousands of emails or online petitions combined; letters show that the writer has invested time, consideration and money into communicating with the recipient. That being so, why not write to Capcom in Japan? Airmail costs a couple of dollars - if you aren't interested in spending that much trying to get your point across it's worth questioning how much you really want the game translated into English. Japanese imports aren't cheap. This seems to be the best mailing address for Capcom:
Capcom Co., Ltd.
It's probably best to address the letter to Kobayashi Hiroyuki, Yamamoto Makoto or the Sengoku Basara staff.
Writing the address in romanised Japanese as above is fine, but if you're able to write clearly in Japanese and prefer to use the Japanese address, this is the correct one to use:
株式会社カプコン 〒540-0037 大阪市中央区内平野町三丁目1番3号
Keep the 'Japan' in English or your native language so the postal services can figure out where to send it, and remember to add the name(s) of your intended recipient(s).
This next part is mostly common sense, but as fans can sometimes get a little bit too emotional I feel I should offer some additional tips for writing an effective letter/postcard.
- Don't make demands, insult Capcom or complain about their decisions. In most companies, that kind of aggressive letter will end up in the trash long before the intended recipient ever gets to see it.
- Don't make unrealistic suggestions. If what you want is clearly impossible from the beginning, there isn't much point in writing a letter about it. That just makes people feel bad when they can't help.
- Instead, it's best to be polite and make your message positive. Saying "I'm looking forward to seeing Keiji in Sengoku Basara 4!" carries a much stronger message than the dramatic "If Keiji isn't in Sengoku Basara 4, I'll never buy a Capcom game again!". Even if you're serious about it, statements which sound like threats are a bad idea.
- If you don't speak Japanese, no problem: use English. It's much easier for a Japanese person to read a simple sentence written in English than it is for them to decipher the weird Japanese which comes out of online translation tools.
- Keep it short. Capcom employees are all busy working on the game right now so they probably won't appreciate a long letter. A simple postcard from a foreign country with "Sengoku Basara is great! Please include English subtitles in Sengoku Basara 4!" will be just as good.
- Feel free to include a little drawing you've done, or a quote from the game. Or a full oil painting of the cast of Sengoku Basara dressed in your country's traditional attire if you're blessed with artistic talents. A personal touch shows that you really love the series, and it might help your message get noticed!
- Don't expect a reply. The best you can hope for is that your message encourages the staff to think of fans in other countries in future.
If subtitles aren't your goal and you want a dub, getting Capcom's attention will be a little harder. The only thing I can suggest is petitioning Capcom USA/Europe to get Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes up on PSN (if it isn't already) and then trying to get a significant number of people to buy it to show that there's interest in the series. The game is long out of print and Capcom won't get any money from customers buying used copies, so this is pretty much the only way to show them that people still want dubbed Sengoku Basara games. Buying the anime, manga and art book will also help. If you're in a country where there's a legal stream of the Sengoku Basara anime series, convince your friends to watch it too to show that fans are out there.
Finally, if the game does come out with no translation attached and you choose to buy it anyway, I recommend taking a moment to complete the survey which usually comes with a unique code inside the box. Including a comment about English subtitles with your survey response will mean it goes straight to the people in charge of marketing future games in the series. They want feedback from their customers - let's give it to them!
It's extremely unlikely that we'll ever see Sengoku Basara 4 in English.
If you're one of the fans who bought the previous game, anime and manga releases, or if you're simply a new fan upset that you'll never get to try out this cool-looking new game, please do something to help the cause and convey your feelings to Capcom. If there are as many devoted English-speaking fans of Sengoku Basara as there ought to be it's critical to prove that we exist.
Otherwise, I highly recommend studying Japanese.