What didn't make it into the latest Halo? According to the video above by TheHaloCouncil, which shows stuff found in the code of Halo 4, at least two armor abilities.

These would be the "hacker" and "teleport" abilities. The former can undo the armor ability of your targeted victim. Say you deploy your hardlight shield: if the other person activates hacker, then your shield is gone, just as an example.

Teleport, meanwhile, looks kind of similar to thruster pack only it vaults you farther. There's also the possibility that it goes through solid objects, but maybe not. It's hard to tell from the video. Either way, in its current form, it's glitchy as hell—your Spartan might die after doing it.

I kind of love the idea of just undoing someone else's armor ability. And if teleport does let you go through solid objects, then that's also majorly cool.

Reaching out to 343 Industries, a Microsoft spokesperson issued the following statement to me about these armor abilities:

There are many legacy items in any large code base - some that made it quite far in production before being cut for reasons of balance, scope or simple fun; others which were simply prototype ideas that didn't make it far at all. 343 Industries has no plans to add further armor abilities from that code base in any future "Halo 4" downloadable content.

It's too bad we didn't see these armor abilities implemented the game. I would have liked them, at least. Alas, my thruster pack will have to do.


Ten Crazy JRPG Predictions For 2013This is the last new Random Encounters you will ever read in 2012. Shed a tear.

Okay. Now that you're done crying, let's talk new years. I imagine that 2013 will be an interesting year for JRPG fans in both good and bad ways. So I've drawn up ten JRPG-related predictions—some ridiculous, others not-so-ridiculous—for the Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand Thirteen.

Let's go.

1. Ni No Kuni Will Bomb.

It makes me sad just to write this, but I think the first big JRPG of 2013 will be a sales flop. Critics will love Ni no Kuni, but it will ultimately fail to garner much of an audience thanks to its strange name and lack of mainstream retail exposure. I imagine I will still enjoy the heck out of the game.

2. Square Will Reveal That Final Fantasy Versus XIII Is Now Final Fantasy XV.

They'll realize that the XIII brand is way played out, and show off the newly-named Final Fantasy XV at E3. It will be stunning, and it will hit Durango and Orbis in spring 2014.

3. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Will Be Surprisingly Good.

I couldn't stand Final Fantasy XIII and I thought its sequel was just as dull, but I have a good feeling about Lightning Returns, despite the tepid reactions it's earned from fans so far. The gameplay sounds unique and interesting. I think it could be a cool game.

4. One Western Developer Will Make A JRPG.

Let's take a wild guess and say Naughty Dog. Uncharted 4 will be a turn-based RPG. The pitch of Nathan Drake's voice will be raised five octaves. All guns will be replaced with gunblades. There will be twins for some reason. Nathan will die. (Then come back a demi-god.)

5. At Least One Big JRPG Will Come To Wii U Next Fall.

Maybe a Final Fantasy spinoff in the vein of Crystal Chronicles, or maybe even a Tales game. Dunno. But I think JRPG fans with Wii U's will have something to play by the end of 2013.

6. Final Fantasy IV Will Be Released On At Least 7,000 More Devices.

Not content with just letting you play Final Fantasy IV on your Super Nintendo, PlayStation, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, DS, iPhone, iPad, WonderSwan, Game Boy Advance, and PSP, Square Enix will re-release Cecil's adventures a few more times. You'll now be able to play Final Fantasy IV on Xbox 360, Xbox 720, PlayStation Orbis, Vita, 3DS, Ouya, PC, TI-84 graphing calculators, toasters, Flash browsers, dogs, coffee mugs, voice recorders, Google+, blueberry pies, packing tape, and the Times Square Jumbotron.

7. A Much-Requested Game Will Be Localized.

Not a new one, like Bravely Default: Flying Fairy (which, bonus prediction, I think will come to America next summer). I'm thinking an older one, something that most people thought had no chance of ever making it to U.S. shores. Wild guess: Valkyria Chronicles 3.

8. Square Will Announce A Direct Sequel To Final Fantasy VI.

Fans will go crazy. A new story in the world of Final Fantasy VI? Bloody fantastic.

Then Square will announce that it's a free-to-play browser game, and we'll riot in the streets.

9. 2013 Will Be The Year Of Indie 2D JRPGs.

More than any year before it, 2013 will see tons and tons of high-quality JRPG-style games made by Western designers. Some will come out of the blue; others will come from Kickstarters launched in 2012. All will add to our ever-growing backlogs.

10. Every Single Kotaku Reader Will Play Suikoden II.

Look, everyone needs goals. Mine is to get you to play Suikoden II. So either start now, or wait for the subliminal messages that start appearing in every article I write next year. Your call.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.


Tomb Raider Will Have Multiplayer, Studio ConfirmsA recent retail listing in the UK indicated that Tomb Raider's 2013 reboot will have a multiplayer mode, with playable characters including "Lara's Shipmates or Yamatai's Scavengers." In a Tweet today, an executive for Tomb Raider studio Crystal Dynamics confirmed that the game would have multiplayer, and that details are forthcoming in the next Official Xbox Magazine.

Earlier this month, Kirk Hamilton previewed the game and asked about multiplayer, a line of questioning that was immediately, if politely, shut off. The game is due on March 3.

Tomb Raider Multiplayer Announced [IGN]


Oh My God, Someone Is Actually Making A Persona 4 MusicalA fan-made Persona 4 musical. You knew it was going to happen.

The popular role-playing game has already gotten a stage production, so it seemed only a matter of time before it also got a musical. Brother/sister writing team Jake and Gina Smith have recently unveiled their Persona 4 musical project, which they first undertook three years ago. Last month, the two began to share the fruits of their labor on Tumblr.

Jake talks about the project's origin over at the project's forums:

I've always been a musician, it's been my passion my entire life, and one day while playing Persona 4, during a loading screen, Gina (my sister) and I started singing random songs about "Adachi The Cabbage Man" and "Bufula being not as great as Mabufula." After joking for awhile, we started to actually talk about how cool a Persona 4 Musical would be, and VOILA!!! 3 Years later, you see what has become of our little joke :D

You can listen to a bunch of demos over at their Tumblr. I like the one nearest to the top, the emotional ballad "Big Bro."

The demos are rough, with Jake singing all of the parts. But they have a charm to them; the whole thing is a little bit like Rent, but with Persona characters. (So, you know: Your mileage may vary on that.) But I can imagine how this could be a fun, small theatrical production, given the right cast.

Gina discusses their plans for release over at another thread on their forum:

I realize that this is an odd remark, but understand that we were not expecting people to respond to the songs and our work with such enthusiasm. The original plan was to gather some local performers and put on a concert version of the show (Sort of like the Jekyl & Hyde experimentation concert in which they played over 40 songs and then got the audience to tell them what should be kept and what should be cut in the finished product) in order to verify which songs should be kept/cut ext, to finalize the staging and to make video recordings so that people could see what we were working on. Past that...well, we really had not planned that far.

Who knows whether the Persona 4 musical will ever see the light of the stage, but I can't say I'm not rooting for them. I'll be keeping an eye on the project.

Persona 4 Musical [Tumblr, thanks Colette]


SimCity Social 'In With the New Part 1' Quests: Everything You Need to KnowTo help ring in the new year, players in SimCity Social can now complete three different Parts in a large "In with the New" event in their cities. Similar to the Cool Yule Christmas event, this In with the New saga is timed, with quests being split into three different Acts or Parts. We're here with a guide to completing all of the quests in Part 1, thanks to the game's official forums. Let's get started!

Party Planner
• Build the Outdoor Dance Party
• Collect from a Fireworks Factory

The Outdoor Dance Party is the "free" business that EA / Playfish started offering to players early this week. It requires building materials to finish, so it's definitely not entirely free, but it will produce 1,000 Simoleons every four hours, making it pretty profitable in the long run. As for the Fireworks Factory, this large Factory can be purchased in the store for 35,500 Simoleons. If you already have one in your city, it can be collected from every two and a half hours. When you complete this first quest, you'll receive 2,000 Simoleons.

Brown Sugar
• Collect from Honey Factory
• Collect from Candy Factory
• Collect from Mocktail Bar

The Honey Factory costs 57,000 Simoleons in the store, while the Candy Factory won't even unlock for purchase unless you've reached a population of at least 31,500 citizens in your town. It also has a high pollution rate, so be prepared for both of those factors when going into this quest. Finally, the Mocktail Bar is a business that requires 160 Fame points to purchase. Fame points are those golden ribbons that you earn when visiting friends, so if you're an incredibly dedicated "visitor," you should have more than enough Fame built up to purchase a Mocktail Bar (if you don't have one already). If you've already purchased one, it can be collected from once every two and a half hours. You'll receive three Holiday Snapshots for completing this quest.

SimCity Social 'In With the New Part 1' Quests: Everything You Need to KnowPimp my Party
• Have a 1-Star Outdoor Dance Party
• Collect from the 1-Star Outdoor Dance Party
• Have BBQs

The Outdoor Dance Party can be upgraded by collecting four Foam Fingers, five Fury one Flair and four Animal Mascots. While you can ask your friends for many of these items, you can also purchase them outright with Diamonds if you don't feel like waiting for help. Even after you've collected these materials, you'll still need to pay energy and Materials before you can finally finish the upgrade. As a reminder, this business can be collected from once every four hours. You'll receive three Harmony for finishing this final quest in Part 1 of the In with the New event. Again, this is a limited edition quest series, so you'll only have a week to finish it off. Good luck!

Play SimCity Social on Facebook now >

More SimCity Social coverage from Games.com

What do you think of this In with the New series of quests in SimCity Social? Do you think you'll be able to finish them all in the short time remaining? Let us know in the Games.com comments!

Republished with permission from:
SimCity Social 'In With the New Part 1' Quests: Everything You Need to KnowBrandy Shaul is an editor at Games.com


The Legend of Zelda cartoon from the late 1980s gave us a seemingly immortal joke with its "Well! Excuuuuuuse me, Princess!" catchphrase but it didn't feel a lot like the games it was based on.

What I like about this short by animation studio Shamoozal is the fact that Link shows some of the fear that anyone would feel in a "oh, crap I'm fighting a dragon situation." And the stunned relief that he actually won? That's a great moment, too.

(via GoNintendo)


The television network TLC—known for gems like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo—aired a couple of specials following speed dating last year. Not just any speed dating, mind, but speed dating at nerdy events like Comic-Con. The hope was that the episodes would do well enough to warrant a full show.

The premise banks on the idea that dating for nerds and geeks is difficult because of the stigma that comes with being obsessive about certain subjects. Despite that stigma, like any other interest, nerdy activities can define a person enough that it's impossible not to let these interests weigh in on dating decisions. That also makes things tough: finding someone nerdy and geeky might be difficult.

A while ago I wrote about the insecurities and troubles that come with considering dates who share similar interests. Would it be overkill? Heck, would knowing that I like video games so much kill my chances with someone? Could I, should I even hide my interests?

Which is to say, I find the issues in the show familiar to some degree, but then again, I'm not convinced these are particularly unique quandaries. Dating is difficult whether you're a nerd or not. Wearing a costume or really liking Dr. Who isn't going to change that.

But the stuff that comes with normal ('normal') dating doesn't quite look like a circus, does it? That, I fear, is the true reason why TLC took an interest in geek dating: because it looks ridiculous. People will watch it in the same way they watch Honey Boo Boo: to point and laugh and feel better about themselves, because obviously you're better than those people.

Judging by the lack of updates, it seems that the show didn't perform as well as they hoped.

UPDATE: This show aired last year, but for some reason trailers resurfaced this year. I updated the article to reflect this. Reader rhys1882 points out that while the show didn't do well on TLC, it's been picked up by IGN's Start YouTube channel. This is likely why all the different trailers for the show are circulating this year. The first trailer is from the IGN show.


Your Pick For 2012's Game Of The YearWe're gearing up for our Kotaku-official game of the year nominations set to be ready for your eyes next week, but in the meantime we'd like to hear your thoughts. Maybe even give you all the opportunity to have an influence on our decisions. So let's hear your best cases for the absolute best game (or games, feel free to choose a few) of 2012.

There's a lot to choose from this year. From the bigger, household titles like Halo 4 to the surprises like The Walking Dead's episodic adventure series. And if you're on the fence about any of this year's biggest titles, maybe we can help there.

So let's see 'em!


The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In America

Every Friday afternoon, the staff of Xseed Games have a meeting. They sit in a conference room, break out the booze, and talk about video games. They talk about what games might be fun to make, what games might be fun to play, and what sort of strange Japanese titles they should work on next.

It's a much-needed moment of respite for the gang of talented multi-taskers, heroes to any American gamer desperate for someone to drag overlooked Japanese games across the Pacific for us to play, who work long hours translating, marketing, and bringing Eastern games to life in the United States. They have to work hard: there are only nine of them. Nine people. At the entire company.

But while the bigger guys—giant game publishers like EA and Activision—duke it out over who can sell the most millions, Xseed is happy to stay small. They're happy to focus on quirky Japanese games. And they're happy to stick within their niche, even knowing that it won't make them nearly as much money as they might make chasing after shooters and dubstep.

It's not easy. Big retailers want nothing to do with them, passionate fans can be a little bit too passionate, and everyone in the company has to wear multiple hats every day. But Xseed keeps going. And to people who like Japanese games—games like Half-Minute Hero, The Last Story, and Valhalla Knights—Xseed has become one of the most beloved companies on the planet.

Niche of a Niche of a Niche

"How do you pick the games you localize?" I asked Xseed. I was sitting in their conference room, chatting with vice president Ken Berry, editor Jessica Chavez, translator Tom Lipschultz, and marketing manager Jimmy Soga.

"I would say usually games are found either by somebody contacting us, like the Japanese developer team or publisher contacting us and saying, ‘Hey, we have this title, are you interested in publishing it in North America?'" Berry said, "or us just hearing about a title, whether it be reading about it in Famitsu, or seeing it a trade show, or seeing it covered on the Internet."

"Then we'll take all that feedback, sit down together as a group, and then say 'Okay, here's what I like about the game, and here's what I didn't like about the game,'"

When they're interested in a game, they'll approach the Japanese developers or publishers and ask about the North American rights. If a deal is possible, Xseed will ask for a playable build of the game so the whole team can check it out. Everyone at Xseed will spend a week or so playing the game and filling out internal assessment forms to figure out whether it's good or bad.

"Then we'll take all that feedback, sit down together as a group, and then say ‘Okay, here's what I like about the game, and here's what I didn't like about the game,'" Berry said. "And then based on that feedback, we'd have to come up with some kind of basic sales estimate—how much we think the title can sell. And then based on that we would have to put in a proposal to the original developer team or publisher in Japan."

Xseed will make a specific offer, pitching an upfront minimum guarantee ("You will definitely make $XXX") and a royalty rate ("You will make X% of every sale") based on how many copies they think the game will move. At this point, that Japanese team might also be taking bids from some of Xseed's competitors—other niche publishers like Nippon Ichi, Atlus, or Aksys might be interested in the game as well. So the bid is very important.

"What if you found a game that you really, really loved, but you just couldn't justify publishing it because you wouldn't sell enough copies?" I asked.

"That's every single game that Tom likes," Berry said, laughing.

"The one that I really pushed for, actually," Lipschultz said, "was the Hatsune Miku minigame that came in the first expansion pack for Project Diva, called Hello Planet, which I thought would make a great PSP Mini. But yeah. Nobody here really thought that was a great idea."

Hatsune Miku, an auto-tuned android that sings Japanese pop songs, is immensely popular in Japan. It's never quite picked up steam here.

"Tell him the premise!" Chavez said.

"Well it's a game based on an actual Miku song," Lipschultz said, as Chavez giggled uncontrollably next to him. "Basically it's an 8-bit style platformer that is in like a post-apocalyptic world. World War 3 happened. Humanity's been wiped out. But Miku's like an android that was like awoken automatically after a long sleepcycle. You play as Miku trying to find your master. Eventually you find his grave and, like, die at the side of his grave."

(Chavez still couldn't stop laughing.)

"You get to read all these emails about what happened," Lipschultz said. "And hear about, like, the end of the world. And it's billed as like the last love song of the planet. It's a very sentimental, very sappy sort of game, but it's really genuinely touching, and really fun... I thought it'd be a good choice but I couldn't convince anybody."

"A niche of a niche of a niche," Chavez said.

The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In AmericaXseed's office is small, cluttered, and full of personality.

So yes, sometimes games are even too smalltime for a small publisher like Xseed. And their biggest regret, Berry said, is that they can't bring over the sequels to games that didn't sell well, like Retro Game Challenge or Half-Minute Hero.

"I mean, we take so much flack from our fans," he told me, "because they say they bought it and they loved the first one, and why can't we bring over the second one? Well... Half-Minute Hero was probably one of our worst-selling games."

I asked how many copies they sold.

"Just imagine our hypothetical threshold and then cut that by five," Chavez said.

Berry laughed. "Look on VGChartz and then take like 1/5 of that and that's probably it."

Fleeing Square Enix

Xseed started with an exodus.

It was 2004. Just a year before, two big Japanese companies called Squaresoft and Enix had merged to form one bigger Japanese company called Square Enix. And although the merger had gone smoothly for Square's U.S. offices, some of their big American executives were starting to disagree with their Japanese counterparts on how to grow business in the United States. Eventually, Square Enix U.S.A. president Jun Iwasaki stepped down. So did a few other executives, including business development manager Ken Berry.

"A couple months after, he called us all together and said he wanted to start up a new company," Berry told me during a meeting at Xseed's office earlier this month.

There were six of them: Iwasaki, Berry, Square sales manager Sean Montgomery, marketing manager Kenji Mimur, CFO Kenzo Nogimura, and PR head Kyoko Yamashita. Iwasaki gave them all the pitch: first, using his contacts at Square Enix, they'd do some marketing work on a freelance basis. Once they'd gotten off the ground, they'd transition into publishing their own games.

From there, Xseed was born.

"We actually did all the sales and PR and marketing for Kingdom Hearts II even though we weren't a part of Square anymore."

"We actually did all the sales and PR and marketing for Kingdom Hearts II even though we weren't a part of Square anymore," Berry said. "We also pitched in quite a bit for Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus, and the movie, Advent Children."

Iwasaki was close with Tetsuya Nomura, one of Square Enix's most powerful producers and the man behind Kingdom Hearts. While at Square, Iwasaki had recognized just how appealing a Disney/Final Fantasy crossover could be, and he'd launched a big marketing campaign for the game. It became a massive hit in the U.S. Nomura was always grateful for that, so even when Iwasaki had left Square, Nomura worked to get him onto their projects.

The newly-formed Xseed also did some marketing research for Namco-Bandai, helping run focus groups during Comic Con to take a look at the Gundam series. But the folks at Xseed didn't just want to do marketing. They wanted to sell their own video games. They wanted to be a full-fledged publisher.

Towards the end of 2005, Iwasaki found out through some Japanese contacts that Sony of America was going to pass on localizing the Wild Arms 4—the fourth game in the popular RPG series that blends giant robots with wild western themes—and the folks behind it were looking for a new publisher. Around the same time, Berry suggested that they go after another RPG: Shadow Hearts: From The New World, a game with a bizarre plot and a fascinatingly intricate combat system.

They got both games. They brought on a company called 8-4 to help with translation, while they handled everything else: sales, PR, production, distribution, licensing, and all of the other fiddly little things that need to be done before a game can be brought to life. They also got funding from a Japanese company named AQ Interactive (a company that, later, would go on to become their majority shareholder).

Xseed Games had become a publisher.


The first thing you notice, when walking into Xseed's office in Torrance, California, is the big white shelf full of video games in the entryway. Some of the games are in English, but most are Japanese imports: weird-looking games with titles you've never seen before. One cursory look at the shelf might lead you to a fishing game, or maybe an anime-style girlfriend simulator. It's fascinating.

Over the past six years, Xseed has brought a number of Japanese games to the West. Some you might recognize, like The Last Story, a Wii RPG helmed by the creator of Final Fantasy. Others might be less familiar, like KORG DS-10, a synthesizer application that lets you make music on your DS. Xseed has a large, eclectic library of games, from remakes of old classics to RPGs based on fairy tales.

Today, Xseed looks much different than they did in 2004. Of the founding members, only Ken Berry is left. And they no longer do marketing work for Square Enix. Now, they partner with a number of Japanese developers and publishers in order to get Eastern games to the West. For hardcore fans of Japanese games—of which there are quite a few in the U.S.—companies like Xseed are a lifesaver.

Xseed works on the ground floor of a black building not far from the freeway and walking distance from a number of Japanese restaurants and convenience stores: perfect for stocking up on the staff's two main vices—ramen and beer. Their office, which I visited earlier this month, leads right out into the parking lot. While walking around the floor space, which is small and well-decorated, full of dolls and action figures of all sorts, I found a closed door towards the back of the main room. I asked localization editor Jessica Chavez what was inside.

"That's where we keep the interns' bodies," she said.

It's that bizarre sense of humor that characterizes many of the translations in Xseed's games, and it's one of the reasons fans have grown so fond of this ragtag group over the years.

The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In AmericaSeen in the entryway to Xseed's office: this collection of interesting goodies.

If you play video games, you've probably played something that came out of Japan. Many of gaming's biggest and brightest series—Mario, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil—were developed by Eastern companies, then translated and programmed for North American or European machines.

But for every Japanese game you've seen on U.S. store shelves, there are 10 more that never made it over here. Two particularly infamous examples are Nintendo's Mother 3 and Square Enix's Final Fantasy Type-0. The list goes on and on.

So why do so many games seem to slip through the cracks? While it's tempting to imagine a world where one finger snap can turn a Japanese game English, the process of bringing a Japanese game to the West—a process known as localization—is timely and expensive. Not only do games have to be translated, they often have to be rewritten entirely for English cadence and Western sensibilities. The best translators are creative writers as well, adding a dash of their own humor and charm to replace all the Japanese puns that might get lost in translation.

Once translators are done with the script, the game has to be programmed for localization. Then there's voice acting, quality assurance, ESRB approval, printing, shipping, and all of the other random factors that can cause hurdles and delays during the process.

In other words, localizing Japanese games is an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. For many big companies, the costs just aren't worth it—especially for RPGs, which tend to be unwieldy, massive games with limited appeal. That's bad news if you're a Western fan of Eastern games. More than a few hardcore gamers have taught themselves Japanese just to play all the games they wouldn't be able to play otherwise.

The rest of us have to rely on companies like Xseed.

'Do As I Say, Not As I Do'

One big advantage of being a small company is that you can kind of do whatever you want—and indeed, everyone at Xseed wears multiple hats: Chavez does editing and licensing; Lipschultz translates and dabbles in programming; Soga handles marketing as well as IT for the whole company; and Berry not only handles business deals, he runs the online store (by printing out orders and shipping the games by hand alongside their assistant production manager, Brittany—"We are the online store," he told me).

But when you're owned by a big corporation—Xseed is now owned by a company called AQ Interactive—even the smallest move can have a giant ripple effect.

Last year, Berry was talking to fans on Xseed's Facebook page. One person had asked if they would bring over a certain title—an anime game called Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Battle of Aces—and Berry responded by saying that retailers in the U.S. tend to dislike anime covers that aren't Dragon Ball Z or Naruto, so it'd be a hard sell.

The next day, Berry found a story on Siliconera, a blog devoted to Japanese games: Retailers "Refuse" To Carry Anime Games. The story was based on Xseed's Facebook post.

"Then the next day we get an e-mail from our parent company AQ interactive," Berry said. The Japanese version of Yahoo Finance had picked up Siliconera's story, but something was lost in translation. Yahoo reported that AQ Interactive's subsidiary, Xseed, was struggling in the United States. Because "games from Japan don't sell in America."

AQ Interactive's stock went down. Because of that Yahoo article, which was based on a Siliconera article, which was based on an Xseed Facebook post.

"We got an angry letter from Japan saying, ‘What's going on over there?'" Soga said.

Berry's innocuous Facebook comment had been blown way out of proportion, and now they had to deal with the fallout. It's the sort of incident that might lead a bigger publisher to demand that employees never use Facebook again. It's also the sort of incident that leaves companies like Xseed rather paranoid about exactly what they say to whom.

"[Ken] sent an e-mail to us," Lipschultz said, laughing. "The subject was, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.'"

The Big Deal

In 2010, Xseed struck a deal with a respected Japanese developer named Falcom. The folks at Falcom were well-known in Japan but significantly less popular in the United States, where they had released a number of games with several different publishers. By working together, both companies could build up their individual brands.

"They really liked that idea of us handling multiple titles," Berry said, "and really just pushing the Falcom name and brand awareness here in the U.S."

Xseed published a number of Ys action-role-playing games: first Ys Seven, Ys I & II: Chronicles, and Ys: The Oath in Felghana on PSP, then Felghana and Ys Origins on Steam. Xseed also localized and published Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, a game so huge and time-consuming that it still gives localization editor Jessica Chavez fits to think about. (By Chavez's count, Trails had 1.5 million Japanese characters to be translated. It took them close to a year.)

The unfortunate thing about Trails in the Sky—a well-written fantasy RPG that ranks among my personal favorite games—is that it ends on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. This is part one of a trilogy—a trilogy whose second and third parts may never even make it to the United States.

"Falcom realized after the first Trails in the Sky what a huge effort that was, to do the localization programming. I think they're a bit more hesitant to take on such a huge project again."

"Yeah, we haven't really officially confirmed that it's coming at all in a while," Berry said when I asked about the second game in the Trails in the Sky trilogy. "We sort of missed our window a while back I guess. We're still in talks with Falcom..."

Missed their window?

"In terms of Falcom doing the localization programming, and also UMDs [PSP discs] still being a viable format," he said. "For one, Falcom realized after the first Trails in the Sky what a huge effort that was, to do the localization programming. I think they're a bit more hesitant to take on such a huge project again. And also, it's been quite some time since the first one came out, when the PSP market was still somewhat alive... we have a combination of much bigger effort to get the game done and potentially much smaller sales, so that makes it pretty tough to justify."

Not great news for Trails fans eager to see what will happen next. Still, Berry says there's always a chance that they could release the game digitally on some other platform or combination of platforms.

"Both us and Falcom don't want to leave [fans] hanging," Berry said. "So we'll both continue to try to come up with a way to make it work without either one of us losing a ton of money while trying to please the fans."

Not Quite The Last Story

Last month, Xseed announced that The Last Story was the company's most successful game to date.

But The Last Story almost never made it here in the first place. Before Xseed approached Nintendo about possible localization rights, Berry had to convince their own marketing team that selling a $50 Wii game in 2012 was somehow viable.

I asked the folks at Xseed if they'd give us a tease for one of their upcoming games. In response, localization editor Jessica Chavez walked up to the white board in their conference room and wrote: "If you build it, they will come."

"It was a constant fight even within our own organization," Berry said. "To our external sales reps, we'd be saying, ‘No, like you guys don't understand. There's tons of fans out there that are asking for this. There's a huge fan movement.' I mean, so yeah. In the end, I think we were right."

Xseed's sales reps were surprised at how well The Last Story sold on a "dead platform," but Berry knew that it'd be a hit. Preorders were great, hardcore fans were desperate for a new console RPG in a rather dry year, and the game received a load of free publicity in 2011, when a fan-driven campaign called Operation Rainfall made headlines by asking Nintendo to bring The Last Story—and two other big Japanese Wii games—to the United States.

Can't hurt that it's a really good game.

"We're eternally grateful to the fan community out there," Berry said. "They really stepped up their game and put their actions and their wallets where their mouths were earlier. They backed up their talk."

The Chicken Or The Egg

Not every story has ended well for the small publisher. While it's easy for them to sell games online or get them into GameStop, Xseed has found it impossible to convince the big-box retailers—like Walmart and Target—to carry their games. That makes it very difficult for many of their games to reach wide audiences, Berry said.

"It's sort of the chicken or the egg," he said. "We can't tell Walmart that we have a $3 million TV budget behind this title unless they tell us that they're gonna bring in hundreds of thousands of units of it. So do we wait for them to commit and then commit to a huge marketing spend, or do we commit to the huge marketing spend first and just believe that they're gonna bring it in? That's the tough part."

Even their games that could have widespread appeal—like Victorious Boxer, a boxing game released for the Wii back in 2007, when the system was flying off store shelves—couldn't make it to Walmart and Target. Without the budget—or the track record—of bigger publishers like EA and Activision, Xseed can't compete.

The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In AmericaLocalization editor Jessica Chavez shows off the deadline board that runs her life.

Sometimes, outside factors can prevent Xseed from getting the rights to a game in the first place, even if that game never makes it to the U.S. anyway.

"Most of the big names that people keep requesting from us over the years, we've been in talks on," Berry said. "There's a couple that we were right there... like one that would've pretty much shocked the industry if we could've announced it. But for whatever reason, at the very end, maybe some executives at the company just realized that this brand is too important to their company to license out to another company. Even if their U.S. branch isn't going to publish it, they can't let anyone else publish it."

I asked what game, but Berry said he couldn't tell me. Part of dealing with Japanese companies means dealing with secrecy.

"Anything you can hint at?" I asked.

Berry laughed. "I think I already hinted too much."

They've all got their dream projects—Berry says he'd love to publish Valkyria Chronicles 3, for example—and they're all fans of the games that they release: it's not uncommon to find Lipschultz and Chavez chatting about games on message boards like NeoGAF and GameFAQs, or even on Kotaku.

And Berry's optimistic about Xseed's future. "I would say we're in the best position we've been in in years," he said. They've got big plans for next year, too: Berry said they're planning to announce most of their 2013 lineup in mid-January, and it includes "a pretty big announcement" for a game that isn't even out in Japan yet.

"In an industry where the big guys are almost exclusively going after blockbusters and the smaller games don't seem to make much money, how does a company like Xseed survive?" I asked.

"No office snacks," Chavez joked.

"I think it's because we're small," Soga said. "We can live off the crumbs—what falls off the table. To them, it's nothing. To us, it's enough to stay fed."

Berry chimed in. "Plus, I mean, we know not to take those guys head on. We're not gonna put out any first-person shooters. A big part of our competitive advantage is, we're willing to work on RPGs, mainly from Japan, that those big guys won't... We're talking huge cost, time commitment for relatively small sales. But we thrive in that environment."


You're* Pen is a Mighty Sword in The Grading GameIf your like me, you hate being corrected. Readers know how fast I loose my temper when mistake's are pointed out. Its not that I think I'm always right, I just hate someone telling me when I'm wrong.

The Grading Game, for iOS (iPad recommended), turn's the tables by letting you vent all that nitpicky rage back on some truely hopeless college kid's, marking up (or down, as it is) there papers as the T.A. for a extremeley unpleasant professor. If grade inflation is a porblem on campus, Dr. Arthur Snerpus, whose as nasty and antisocial as his last name implys, aims to fix it by flunking everyone out.

In The Grading Game (buy developer Mode of Expression) your presented with a serious of papers to "grade" by touching there errors with you're fingertip. Misteaks like double words misspelling missing punctuation the ineffably irritating you're/your and its/it's confusion and even runon sentences all await your mercyless pen. Its you're job to give each paper as low a grade as possible, idealy failing ever single one.

If that sound's boring, the grading game's delightful humour makes each task an enjoyable challenge. Snerpus is an implacable bastard, and begin's each grading assignment with a private memo profiling the upcoming target, or that is student, who's work must be failed. The memos contain a snippet of something stupid they said on Tiwtter, (making it clear they have a mutually hatefull relationship) plus an extremely pedantic lecture on basic writing competencys everyone should know.

Needless, to say, I was fired up to give all of these poor bastard's Fs. In Quick Play, the more you flunk, the more money you shave off you're $200,000 dollars student debt. Quickplay ends when you fail to, uh, fail a student (or grade there paper below the target, Usually a C.) Each mission in career mode requires you to catch all errors, and if you dont, you start over.

Grading papers can be tough. You're given 30 seconds per paper in Quick Play and I never caught every error in that mode though i did catch the lions share. The challenge is worth it, just to hear what nasty thing Dr. Snerpus has to to say about the next student.

The Grading Game takes what by all rites should be a boring concept and makes it both amusing and playable. Alot of thought went into this, and as this review might suggest, creating paper's deliberately rife with errors is harder than it sounds. At ninety-nine cents its worth a look, and worth a laugh. May you're pen be a mighty sword.

The Grading Game [iTunes, $0.99]