With Demon's Souls nearing release, it's all things Atlus! We welcome Atlus USA's Manager of PR Aram Jabbari to the show. Localization strategies, digital distribution, aggregate sites, and much more are covered, and we take our best shot at getting you some Persona scoop! The back half of the show brings some of the most in-depth Demon's Souls discussion around. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "Tim Spaeth" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth This week on the GameCritics podcast is all things Atlus. From localization strategies to the future of the Persona series, we have the inside story. And of course everything you need to know about Demon's Souls. Hey, these headphones give me plus 5 to sexiness. The GameCritics.com podcast starts right now.
Welcome, everybody to episode 23 of the GameCritics.com podcast. I'm your host, Tim Spaeth. We have your beloved full cast on board, including Mr. Chi Kong Lu.
Chi Kong Lui Hey, everybody.
Tim Spaeth Brad Gallaway.
Brad Gallaway Hey, guys.
Tim Spaeth Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken Sorry for missing last week. I had to get drunk.
Chi Kong Lui Always a good excuse.
Tim Spaeth Hard to blame you for that, sir. Certainly will not hold that against you. This week we are thrilled—indeed, ecstatic—to welcome as our guest from Atlus, Aram Jabbari. Aram, welcome to the show.
Aram Jabbari* Ecstatic to be here. Thanks, guys.
Tim Spaeth [Laughter] We are devoting the entire hour to Atlus, of course spotlighting next month's big release of Demon's Souls for the PS3, and we will get to that in a bit. Aram, when we have guests on, we usually ask our readers and listeners to submit questions. And for the typical guest, we might get two or three e-mails, posts that trickle in. But when we announced that we had someone on from Atlus, it was a flood of questions. A lot of love, some tough questions as well, but mostly a lot of love. So you're in a warm, friendly place here.
Aram Jabbari* [Laughter] All right, well, sorry about all the questions. I had everyone in our office at Atlus send those all in, so that's all from us.
Tim Spaeth Perfect. Perfect. So for our few listeners who may not be familiar with Atlus, mostly right now I'm thinking of my mom who doesn't play games and really only listens for Mike Bracken, and Mike probably didn't know that, but…
Mike Bracken I didn't. I'm very flattered, though.
Tim Spaeth Yeah. Yeah. Aram, give us the 20,000 foot overview of Atlus, for those who aren't familiar. What is the company's mission? Their mandate? Give us a quick history lesson. Who is Atlus?
Aram Jabbari Sure. Well, Mrs. Spaeth [Laughter], so Atlus is everyone's favorite JRPG, niche publisher. And I say that not just to say that we have only published Japanese RPGs, or we're only known for Japanese RPGs, but, so, okay, let's do the overarching thing. So Atlus USA is the privately owned subsidiary, the US branch of Atlus Corporation Limited in Japan. And the USA branch has been around for close to two decades now. This is a company that slowly, I would say for fifteen years there was just a very, maybe a little less than that, slow progress. But for a long time we were very, very under the radar. And then in recent years, with a few titles that, again, developed by our parent company and released to critical acclaim, but obviously, again, it's a niche genre—Japanese RPGs. If you've played *Final Fantasy, you know, and I say that for the completely uninformed listener. We're talking about that kind of game.
But Atlus, we've added some distinct qualities to the games to make them stand out. And so for, again, close to two decades we've been around and slowly, in the last few years, I think, we've become more and more defined by a publisher of games intended more for the enthusiast or the hardcore gaming audience, primarily role-playing games, RPGs, primarily of the Japanese RPG flavor. So you have more menu-driven combat, for example, and maybe more linear storytelling, but more focused storytelling than some of the larger, open-world Western RPGs. And of course along the way we've had other big franchises that have been successful for us: Trauma Center first originally on the DS in 2005 was a big hit for us and it's turned into a franchise. We've branched out as well. We now have an Atlus online division that's working on Neosteam, a free-to-play MMO.
And so the company has evolved a lot in the last few years, but we are, for the most part, defined by our most fervent and dedicated fans by the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, also abbreviated SMT or Megaten, if anyone's heard those and wondered if it's referring to the same thing. And the hits in that series would be Nocturne, the Persona subseries, the Devil Summoner games. We've had some recent spin-offs on the DS that have been great for us—Devil Survivor.
And so, we're a company that, like I said, we're evolving and we seem to have actually hit an exponential upcurve in recent years in terms of fan awareness and growth. But we're kind of defined by that hardcore RPG niche.
Tim Spaeth Talking about your fanbase, you refer to them maybe as "enthusiasts," "loyal," "passionate," there really isn't a fan more…I hesitate to use the word "rabid," but that's the word I think of. You have some of the most dedicated, loyal fans in the industry.
Aram Jabbari* We are the luckiest company in the video game industry, because…I'm gonna use an example. Working Designs is still to this day, years after having to close their doors, when people talk about a Japanese RPG coming overseas, coming to the US, and they talk about localization, and some company, some publisher's picked it up and maybe it's an inexperienced publisher, you go to the message boards and you look at the thred for that game, and the first few posts will always be: "I miss the days of Working Designs." Fortunately, we hear our name in those posts, too, but it's one of those things where….Maybe it's the fact that we haven't put a watch in one of our collector's editions yet [Laughter] maybe that, like, pushes you over the edge.
But we have a fanbase that has stayed loyal to us and dedicated to us for, again, close to two decades. They are so adamant in message boards and discussions about spreading word of mouth. We don't do the gangbuster numbers of the huge publishers in the industry, but we always have been steady. And we've had this nice growth in recent years, and it has nothing to do with the PR I do or we have a really talented marketing team, but really, our fans continue to drive that. And we're so lucky to have talented developers in Japan, but when we get a game like Persona 4 that came out at the end of '08, and we're able to release that. The kind of scores that game pulled in, it couldn't not expand the franchise and reach new gamers and kind of open things up for us. It was a PS2 game in late 2008. But we're so fortuante to have fans. To all the Atlus fans listening, we endlessly appreciate how you guys have stuck with us.
Chi Kong Lui I think you guys deserve a little more credit, because I remember back in the SNES days localization was a really funny thing and some of these companies would just destroy [laughter] some of these games. They would just mangle them to death, so that by the time they got out to the United States, you wouldn't even recognize them. So I don't take that for granted that you guys are doing a very dedicated…you're maintaining the integrity of the game and all that.
Aram Jabbari* Oh, don't get me wrong. In a second I'll explain exactly why we're so lucky to…we're able to do what we do. But I mean, Chi, in reality, though, think of all the Youtube videos we would not have [laughter] if those terrible attempts at bringing something…I mean, "You sent us up the bomb" if I'm quoting that correctly. [laughter]
We have a really great setup in how we've structured ourselves as a localization company. Everything is done internally, and we have a team of editors and translators who are all gamers, who are all incredibly versed in both Japanese culture and the culture that the gamers would associate more with here, and I think because we have created this kind of organism where all these parts work together correctly to come out with this end product, we're able to do things that seem very natural, and I think in the last few years we have much more faithful localizations than we've ever done as a company in terms of…An example, we have Persona that just came out again for the PSP that was originally in 1996 a PlayStation 1 game that had a lot of dramatic changes done, and most of the folks at Atlus were not at the company when that game was localized and released. But a lot of changes were made, and I think most of them reflect just differences in expectations and what the customers wanted, and what a company should do when they localize a game.
Tim Spaeth So let's talk about that process. How do you select which games get localized for US release?
Aram Jabbari* Sure. Well, it's…Speaking for Atlus—I'm sure other companies have other ways of doing it—we look at everything. The company top to bottom evaluates the products that are either available for us to look at, and obviously we have talented developers at our parent company back in Japan that we obviously have an opportunity to look at all of those titles as well. The evaluation process, again, almost everyone in the Atlus building is a gamer, and it endlessly positively affects the final product, from the cover art to everything—the localization, and I think that's one of our greatest advantages, is when we…
Let's take a game that's coming out in a week and a half or so, Demon's Souls for PlayStation 3, and we're really excited about it. But that's a game that came to us, if I'm remembering this correctly, before any formal discussions occured, one of our senior production managers, Sammy Matsushima, who is currently actually ended up being the lead for this game in terms of the localization and bringing it over, he brought in an Asian copy of the game. And we all took a look at it. And at that point, he was really excited about it. And this is a while ago. And so we all actually kind of took a look at the game and myself, personally, I was excited that what looked to be a innovative next-gen RPG that was very different from a lot of the stuff that had come from overseas, was something that we were taking a look at.
And we go through an evaluation process, folks play the game as thoroughly as they can in a set amount of time, and we have discussions. We have discussions where it's exactly what you'd expect. It's a bunch of people from different aspects of the company, whether it's from a localization standpoint, it's from a marketing standpoint, PR standpoint, sales standpoint, sitting around a table and talking about: "What's this game's viability? Can we market this game? Who do we sell this game to? How big is the audience?" And then of course we project "What's the benchmark for success?" and we see if we can structure something that'll make…Can we be successful with this product in North America? It worked out very, very fortunately for us in the case of Demon's Souls that we were able to obtain the rights to publish that game in North America.
AnAnd a lot of times are there scenarios where you can get a game? Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes maybe we…The conclusion is…and it's the reason that a lot of games that fans clamor for and they'd love to see it come over: "Please bring this game over! that game over!" and we have it in our message boards and we get e-mails.
The thing is that a lot of times, it can't happen for licensing reasons, kind of technical legal reasons. Sometimes they can't happen because we say to ourselves: "We don''t know if we can be successful and profitable with this title in North America. We know that there's fans who are following it, and would love to buy it, but are there enough?" And we've survived for a lot of years by being a very efficient, conservative, lean operating company. And what I mean by that is that we don't build a ton more of a game than we expect will be demand for. And a lot of times fans have complained that there's just way too little Atlus product, especially some of the major hits—Nocturne, for example. "I can't find Nocturne. It's $80 on eBay, $120, it's ridiculous," but a lot of that is us not trying to undercut. It's us trying to hit exactly what the demand is.
So the whole evaulation process top to bottom, I mean we go through that, and sometimes we're lucky enough to get a title that we really are excited about, and sometimes it doesn't work out. And a lot of times, fans hate us and send us vitriol for not doing a certain games, but a lot of times we may have actually gone after it and we just couldn't do it.
Chi Kong Lui With such a limited resource, as you say, right? I hope I'm not characterizing that incorrectly. How exactly do you go about deciding…The way you talked about Demon's Souls it was like one of your guys just brought it out there. Was it really just completely that random, or how do you even go about cherry-picking these things? And once you go through that process, does it ever get competitive as far as having to fight other publishers for those rights?
Aram Jabbari Well, in the case of *Demon's Souls, I'm not sure I'm remembering it 100% correctly, but it was actually the catalyst for our process of taking a look at the game. I do believe I recall correctly. It did start that way. And that's a little bit of Fun Fact right there. A lot of times…Like I said, we're all gamers, and we're all very involved in industry news, and we follow…We have a lot of Japanese speaking staff who obviously, whether they're translators or leads in production. And so they follow a lot of this stuff. Sometimes it actually does come down to just catching word or catching wind of something that's being released overseas, and then there is a whole process that we do have to go through as a company. And a lot of times it involves liasons overseas. We're talking about going after the rights to publish a title, so it becomes, obviously, a process—a negotiation process.
Are we having to fight other pubhisers? I'm certain that there have been titles, and I can't think of any in particular, that we have either picked up and there were other suitors or contenders, or a title that ultimately Atlus didn't publish and it did go to someone else. A title I remember recently, and I don't think the specifics were ever divulged; it's not an Atlus title: Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I saw you guys had a review on it recently. That one was originally, I believe, coming over courtesy of one publisher, and then it changed hands.
I mean, there is competition for quality games coming from overseas. That market and the publishers here, I think it's definitely expanded. I think the hunger and the audience, the community has really grown in terms of number and also their level of interest in getting more product from overseas and less changed, less altered. And so there are more publishers who are in that game now.
Tim Spaeth Do developers ever approach Atlus? Does it work in reverse?
Aram Jabbari Oh, sure. Sure. No, absolutely. I don't wanna make it sound like it's all us just going to import stores and just picking: "Hey, this looks like a good game! *Demon's Souls. I wonder what this one's all about?"
Aram Jabbari* Yeah, there are a lot of situations like that, and fortunately we're a company that we've been around for nearly two decades. And again, I'd like to say a lot of this is thanks to our fans, but we have a very I'd say positive reputation from everything I see. I see our brand perceived positively in the industry, and my job is to not screw that up [laughter] and I hope I'm doing that—not screwing it up.
And so, it comes down to, I think that's one of the key attractors for a developer, for any developer looking at any publisher, a lot of it may have to do with how that publisher is perceived, and does their type of game fit with that publisher's reputation or following? Obviously, that's more of a consideration with us having such a strong RPG fanbase, but we've done titles that were outside of that. We did Trackmania DS, which I thought was a really quality racer. I wish it had caught on a little bit better here. I thought it was really well-developed, but it just didn't catch on here. But we've had a lot of products and situations where maybe things have come to us and it was because of our brand or because of something else.
Tim Spaeth So, two decades—a long time. Industry has changed quite a bit in two decades, certainly.
Aram Jabbari* Yeah.
Tim Spaeth Slight tangent here. Something we didn't have twenty years ago were ratings, aggregate sites, your Metacritics, your GameRankings. How do you feel about those taking such a prominent role in the industry?
Aram Jabbari* Well, that's a really tough question, especially so because I'm in the field of public relations.
Tim Spaeth Of course.
Aram Jabbari There's been this very interesting series of events, and it's ongoing. I won't name any specific incidents, but there've been a lot of incidents that seem to have defined and matured….Let me start by prefacing: The industry, in my mind, is still very much in its infancy, and I think that comes up in discussions about games. I loved *Mass Effect, I'm just gonna throw it out there. Discussions about sexuality in video games, and I think a lot of games are still perceived as toys in some way. And I think in a lot of ways the gaming industry is still in its infancy. We're still…The perception of gaming as a mature or at least a broad spectrum entertainment platform is catching on. In the last twenty years, things have definitely changed. There are a lot more Internet—I mean, the Internet, obviously. But there are a lot of sites now that weren't a few years ago that have changed the nature of things. As a PR person, there's good and bad in even outside of the meta sites. The focus on score becomes such a double-edged sword.
So take for example—again I'll drop the name out—Demon's Souls for PS3. So we're seeing really, really great critical reception so far for Demon's Souls. In every aspect of promoting the game, whether it's promoting the game through our fans, or it's promoting it to our retail partners, or it's just trying to get the word out. If you have great critical reception, great press, you're gonna try to leverage that. You see the trailers for games that come out a month or two after the game ships and they have all the Game of the Year awards if the game had won it, or it has Editor's Choice awards. Obviously, there's tremendous value in leveraging positive word of mouth.
On the other hand, it does tend to become a distraction from what might be other worthwhile merits for playing the game. And also, I would argue that there's really no 100% accurate way of…a review system for evaluating a game and being able to either recommend it or analyze it to everyone. I think it's a pretty fair statement to make. It's impossible to have a review system that caters to everyone, because maybe there's someone who loves that kind of game. There's someone who likes Roguelikes and likes dying over and over and over again.
Aram Jabbari* That's not me
Mike Bracken That's me.
Aram Jabbari* But see, the thing about those sites is that absolutely, I refer to them. And you hear people in the industry referring to the aggregate sites. And you see a lot of the blog sites that are updating day-to-day when a game comes out—a big, high-profile game—they'll do their own aggregate post that posts everything in there, and you have all the comments that flood in.
It seems like if a game gets out of 100 reviews…I'll say out of 50 reviews. If a game gets 30 As, it changes the perception of that game dramatically, and people start talking about it differently. And then if you get a game that's maybe more of an average spectrum, whether they're all midranges, 75 across the board, or whether you got a bunch of 90s and a bunch of 60s, things change a bit. And it becomes this nebulous area where I think maybe people don't give the game enough of a chance, and I don't know how to fix that. I don't know what you'd do there.
But I've missed out on games. There were games that were not reviewed that well, and I played that game. There's a joke around the office that I don't put [laughter] it's kind of like a weird thing, but I don't like putting a cartridge in a cartridge-based system…really low-rated cartridges. Maybe subconsciously I'm worried about some sort of game-transmitted disease.
We're talking, like 30 and 40 percent aggregate. It's kind of a silly thing to say. I guess that, along with my game-smelling fetish, [problem that I?] should've kept to myself.
Mike Bracken New game smell?
Mike Bracken Yeah, I love new game smell.
Aram Jabbari* Who doesn't love new game smell?
Mike Bracken It's the best.
Aram Jabbari* New [pencil?] smell and new art book smell. But, you know, in our business—the business of promoting a game—you have to take advantage of those, and you have to pay attention to a site that takes all of the scores and all of the reviews and combines them. Because when you're talking about a business—and this industry, in the end, is a business—there are different aspects of this industry. Again, whether it's customers, whether it's retail partners, whether it's other publishers, they wanna get that sum-up. "I'm a busy guy. Sum it up."
So you go to that site and you see a number, and it's kinda sad, but the number ends up—I guess that's what I was trying to say—summing up the game. And sometimes I think gamers miss out. I think sometimes it's really hard…and, again, I don't know what the solution is, but those sites really have changed the game, for sure.
Chi Kong Lui In a perfect world for Aram, would you wanna see ratings just go away, or [laughter] or not?
Aram Jabbari* In a perfect world—and I don't know what the system would be—I'd love for a system that is…You know, I really don't know, Chi.
I don't think the industry can do without. In my perfect world, probably. Probably. I'd love for people to evaluate games. 'Cause I talk about like classic games that I've fallen in love with as a gamer, and I go back to early PC gaming. That's where I got my start. I don't talk to people about scores, and I'll never say: "Oh, this game would be a 92 on such-and-such site today, man."
I just try to explain to them exactly what made that game so effing awesome. Of course, if they don't agree with me, then I slap them across the face and that's the end of the conversation.
In my perfect world, of course, we'd have much better discourse in that situation. But I don't think the industry is gonna be ready to move away from that any time soon, and you see websites and magazines changing review formats from numbers to stars back and forth, trying to find some system that doesn't offend publishers, doesn't offend…you know, it better informs the end reader. It's really difficult to assess where that's gonna go.
But in my perfect world, Chi, I think yeah, I would like games to get I guess more of a chance outside of that "Well, it got a 70 on such-and-such site. Forget it."
Chi Kong Lui So while we're on the topic of low ratings, I gotta ask you this. As a publisher, what goes through your mind when an Atlus game gets a low rating? Like, you know, is there…?
Aram Jabbari* Chi, we have the advantage of publishing games that, when we sit down and we're talking about the game, we acknowledge it as a niche product. We consider ourselves…Hopefully, maybe we're able to continue to grow and we don't have to use the word "niche" so often, because honestly, it may be the second-most said word in our office next to some profanity from some really hard game that our QA testers are working hard to get all the bugs out of.
Chi Kong Lui I know this is a tough question, so take your time there. [Laughter]
Aram Jabbari* Well. Well, I…
Tim Spaeth It's okay to say "raw, unbridled anger." It's okay.
Aram Jabbari Well, you know, a lot of things go through our minds. Myself, personally, I do…Especially if it's a title that I personally wouldn't give that score to, or I couldn't understand anyone giving that score to, of course I'll get upset. Because it's like your baby. Even if it was developed by another company, we have brought this product into our loving bosom, and it's our goal to get as many people aware of it, and get as many people to try it as possible. Yeah, there are times where we've had games that we acknowledged from the beginning that the audience for this game is smaller than some of our other titles. This is not a *Trauma Center. And we've had some great series that we were able to put the Atlus name on; I'm happy Atlus was able to publish the Izuna games. But the 2D Roguelike is a very hardcore genre—
Chi Kong Lui Sorry, what was that game again?
Aram Jabbari *Izuna The Unemployed—
Chi Kong Lui Oh, yeah. Mm-hm.
Mike Bracken Yeah.
Aram Jabbari* So, not only is it a very niche genre, but it's also on the DS, which is a huge user base, of course, but what percentage of the audience is hardcore? And there's a lot of hardcore games that are on the DS, but probably the ratio is a lot more balanced than it would be on earlier consoles and and earlier in the industry.
So I do get very frustrated when a game gets that one clunker score and sometimes I think to myself: "Did they really not like it? Or were they just maybe trying to be that really low score to stand out?"
'Cause that has to go through the mind of a PR person. Maybe they're trying to give it a 3 out of 10 so everyone comes to their site. But the only thing that really bugs me in those situations is: "Well, we still believe in this game, but this is gonna affect our ability and the ability of the game to be at least tried by more people." And we've had games like that, where we thought they were just crazy innovative. We were talking about this game earlier. We did a game on GameCube a long time ago&maybe 5 or some years ago? I wasn't even with the company back then, called Cubivore.
Mike Bracken Cubivore.
Brad Gallaway Yeah.
Aram Jabbari *Cubivore—interesting style. I mean, visually, even a the time, a lot of people slammed the graphics, but it had a really distinct style. It wasn't trying to be photorealistic. Really innovative gameplay, and even to this day, we would've loved for the game to have sold more, but I don't think anyone at the company is upset we put the Atlus name on it. We were really proud about that game, and I feel that even from the people who are still there who were involved in bringing that title over.
But sometimes, you get some scores that the person just didn't like it. And, you know, sometimes the person just really didn't like it. Not every editor out there is gonna be a fan of hardcore role-playing games or strategy RPGs, and I guess it's unfair to expect that every time you put a game out there, it's gonna go to exactly the same editor with the masochistic streak that loves that kind of game.
Mike Bracken Well, that's why they all come to me—all the dungeon crawlers and all that stuff. Brad just says: "Hey, Mike! This is for you. It's from Atlus," and that's the end of the subject.
Brad Gallaway If it looks slow, tedious and painful, yeah, Mike Bracken, here [you go?]
Aram Jabbari* Hey! Wait a minute!
Brad Gallaway Hey, Aram, I gotta ask you though, kind of an aside. I actually did the review for Cubivore and I gave it a very positive review. I liked it a lot, so I'm glad that you guys back in the day brought that over. I had a good time with it. But I gotta say, that even though you guys have a really, really good streak going—I mean, you guys in general, you pick way more winners than you do losers, and your library is one to be absolutely respected. But every once in a while, one comes out from Atlus where I'm like: "Man! What were they thinking? This is kinda…"
It kinda puts me aback a little bit. And I wanted to ask you: You guys definitely have your heads screwed on right. I mean, you guys know your market, you know your product, you're very brilliant about what you do, and I give you total props for that. But is there ever a time when a game comes in and you guys internally are just kind of split? Like, do you ever have half the team going: "I love it!" and the other half going: "Enh, maybe not so much"? Is it always like everybody at the company is considered…like, it's a win before you move forward, or do you roll the dice sometimes on certain titles?
Aram Jabbari* No. Sometimes there is the shades of gray. And don't forget, there are times where it may be a title that we like the title, and maybe we think it's rough around some edges, but we think that there's an audience here that wants to play the game, and we're happy to put the Atlus name on it. But it also comes down to the bottom line that we think we can be profitable with that title. And that always has to be a consideration. No one at Atlus, as much as we love games and we love our fans, I don't think any of us will go into an evaluation session of a product and say: "Well, we're really thrilled to sell this title at a loss, because we want to get it out there."
That would be the second-to-last…The next meeting would be us thinking about how we could get a watch in the next Collector's Edition, and that would be [unknown].
No, we had titles that were…I can't go into specifics. I can remember a few that, I myself, personally, I was thinking…and I don't believe we ended up doing the particular title I'm thinking of, so it's not like we can go through the library and guess which one it was. I wasn't particularly feeling aspects of the game, the marketablility here. There are a lot of games that are very, very saturated in Japanese culture, and either it's gonna be a very extensive localization or we have to hope that the audience is ready for that. One of the games I actually really like, in terms of its being absolutely dripping, saturated with Japanese culture is a game we have coming in November called Kenka Bancho, which we lovingly tagged the subtitle on to: Badass Rumble.
I hope you guys don't have to bleep that later. And Kenka Bancho is a series— there've been a few of them in Japan, this is actually the first one that's come over—where you're really just a badass Japanese street thug. You're on a school trip. And you are going out to be—"bancho" basically means…it actually kinda rhymes with "honcho" and there's a synonymous meaning—kind of being in charge, on top, king of the hill.
And so, that game, I mean, really, really steeped in the culture. We definitely had discussions about "Is this game too Japanese? On the PSP, is the audience there?" But a lot of times, yeah, there's shades of gray and in the end, there's a really good reason for the game to come over, whether it's, you know: "There's maybe a small audience, but we believe we can be profitable." Or: "There's a big audience for this game, and it may not be the Atlus kind of game, but we're confident in it, so."
I think the one thing I can say with confidence is we've never come out of one of those sessions thinking: "Well, this game is absolutely rubbish and we're gonna throw it out there."
Brad Gallaway Can I follow up to that really quick?
Aram Jabbari* Sure.
Brad Gallaway So, you mentioned earlier that a lot of fans may feel that your games vanish off the shelves too quickly. That's usually kind of the tagline. If there's an Atlus game coming out, I personally go around telling people: "Buy it on launch day, because you're not gonna be able to find it afterwards."
Mike Bracken Pre-order, because they'll get one copy of it.
Brad Gallaway Exactly. I remember looking around for Devil Survivor, and it was, like, the day of launch I had GameStop telling me that they were out and they weren't expecting any more and that was it. And I never even saw it hit shelves, you know what I mean?
So, I'm kind of wondering, I know you guys have, it seems to me, pretty rarely done second issues or something. I can only think of maybe one, and I may even be mistaken. But with the advent of download services coming out, are you thinking a lot of your titles are gonna have a lot longer legs now that you don't really have to fight for shelf space or worry about physical product?
Aram Jabbari* You know, I think so. One of the things that it's gonna change…retail's not going anywhere for a while. It's gonna be very interesting to see how it evolves. The ratio between digital download, how prevalent it is, especially when you're talking about consoles. I think PC, we're gonna see the push maybe even sooner of how well certain platforms are doing, digital download platforms.
Of course we have this advantage where now we don't have to worry quite as much about too many copies on the shelf, and we're gonna have to pay for that later. We don't have to worry about building precisely to demand to stay lean and efficient. We can obviously have a means for the game to be available long after it's been taken off shelves, and people will have a chance to try it. I don't think the distribution systems are quite there yet to make it a non-issue today. But obviously, yeah, we have no aversion to…We're really excited about all the possibilities that digital distribution bring to the table. And we hope whatever means we have to bring whatever titles we've had in the past, any of them we can, obviously, we'll try to. We're running a business, and there's profitability that we can get out of that, of course. But also, we're able to take games that people consider classics, and we're honored to have games that people consider classics, but we can't really get those into people's hands that easily anymore. It's nice to know that old games don't have to die.
As kind of like just an aside myself: I grew up, like I said, on classic PC games, and now—I won't name anything specific—there's one site in particular that caters to good old games. Well, now, I've just done it right there.
They actually cater to my…old games that I can't find anymore. They're just way overpriced if I wanted to get them on eBay. It's so awesome to not have to worry about that anymore. It's almost a sickness. I've got 15 unopened games in my cabinet right now. There's something wrong with me.
Brad Gallaway That's small-time, compared to who you're talking to, man.
Aram Jabbari Well, I mean, you guys get a lot of games, too. But the thing is, I worry that what if, one day, I wanna show someone how unbelievably awesome the original *Fallout is, from interplay? How do I do that? And then I can still get it; I don't have to worry. Easy. Done. I like the idea of games that were worthwhile, that were meaningful and defined something, anything. I mean, they had place in the industry, and there were people who loved…They don't have to just disappear into nothing. 'Cause there are games right now I would love to play again. I don't know when I'll get a chance to.
So, yeah. Hopefully we can do as many of our games as the technology allows, as soon as we can. We'll see how that process goes, and hopefully it changes…we don't have fans in the future complaining that they can't find our games. 'Cause that's like the worst thing for us. We can't just reprint, like, 12 copies. We'd love to. And we're not sitting on some stack of Ogre Battle 64 or we don't have some huge archive where we're, like, laughing and eBaying those off one at a time and, like, making tons of money. We don't have any copies ourselves, so.
Chi Kong Lui That must be Atlus Myth Number 1, right?
Mike Bracken There went my question asking for a copy of Duel Hearts later. Dammit!
Aram Jabbari* You know, I may have an open copy if that's a genuine request. I can go and take a look.
Mike Bracken Oh, sweet. Yes. That's one of the few games I —
Brad Gallaway That's a good one.
Chi Kong Lui You had that question written down, huh, Mike? [Laughter]
Mike Bracken I did. I was like: "Oh, man. I gotta slip Duel Hearts in there somewhere." It's like one of the few Atlus games I'm missing, so.
Brad Gallaway And you're like: "Oh, we got it recorded! He said he's gonna give me one!"
Aram Jabbari Did I say I would give you one? I meant to say I would *sell you one.
Mike Bracken Yes.
Brad Gallaway [Groans]
Tim Spaeth And I also notice, Mike, you left that question out of the show notes so that none of us would ask it before you.
Mike Bracken I did, yes.
Tim Spaeth Very slick.
Mike Bracken That was my Pearl Harbor for this show.
Tim Spaeth So—
Chi Kong Lui I wanna actually go back to the localization thing for a second. Was there ever a game that you guys were totally surprised at how well it did? Like, you weren't expecting it to do so well?
Aram Jabbari Let me think of a few off the top of my head. *Persona 3 was a title that came…that was a long localization for us, too. I joined mid-localization for that one, joined the company. I think about a year and a half [unknown] to come over. I think we were very surprised at how that title was received critically, and it ended up being very good for us. I can't say a title like Odin Sphere which we got to be known for was a surprise. I think we were all really, really excited for that one to come out, and I think we kind of all knew that that was a really unique title at a time—the timing was right. But as for surprises that…you know, it's hard to say. It looks like Persona the remake of the '96 classic is definitely critically being received better than we expected, and also, we're thrilled with how the localization turned out. All indications are that it's gonna be really solid, and we just didn't know. We didn't know how people would look at a 13-year-old RPG, older than that if you look at when it cam out in Japan, I think. We didn't know how…The mechanics, the game design, you could use the word "dated," although if you say it to my face I'll slap you.
But, yeah, I mean it's simple. It comes from a[n] older time in the industry. (I was kidding about the slapping thing). But it also still is very fresh compared to a lot of role-playing games, because I think what made the earlier Shin Megami Tensei RPGs, made them catch on in a time where it was really niche, was how mature and interesting and intriguing the narratives were, and the characters were, and the philosophy and the mythology that went into it. So that's actually one of those things that I'm a little personally surprised. I was expecting a lot of folks maybe to rip the game apart for being what it is—a 13-year-old RPG. But I think a lot of people appreciated the opportunity to play that game again, and the changes that were made were just almost all for the better. Some people would argue about the soundtrack, but I love the new soundtrack, myself. And not to pimp it too hard, but every launch copy does come with two soundtrack CDs, the full soundtrack. Sorry guys, I had to sell something.
Aram Jabbari* I will entertain them.
Tim Spaeth I appreciate it. I appreciate it. Now, the bulk of these questions revolve around the Persona games, so I'm just gonna clump them all together, and then you can break some big news when I finish. So, here's what we have on Persona. Our listeners would like to know, number one: Will we ever see Persona 2: Innocent Sin? Will we get Persona 3 Portable released in North America?* Will we see a Persona 4 expansion, something like Teddie's Quest? Will we ever see—and presumably, we will, I'm hoping—a current-gen console SMT installment? So pick any of the above and just shock us. Bowl us over.
Aram Jabbari* Well, I will be an absolute dick, and I will answer them all at once. Let me say this, and this is gonna be as close to a [Laughter] a podcast résumè for a politics position as I could possibly do, 'cause I'm gonna dodge the hell out of some of these.
Let me put it this way: first of all, one thing for fans to take note of is, you'll almost never get an announcement of something Shin Megami Tensei from Atlus, USA before you hear it in Japan. So that, I think, eliminates a couple of what you mentioned there. I mean, you'll hear about them first. If we're wondering about the existence of something. If we're wondering about when something's gonna come over, out of everything you listed there, there's nothing I can talk about at this time. I think it's a pretty safe assumption that when a quality game in the biggest RPG franchise that Atlus has is created, obviously we're very excited if we have the chance to bring it to North America. What was the last question?
Tim Spaeth There was the current-gen SMT installment, and before that, any news on a Persona 4 expansion.
Aram Jabbari* There was one after that, I thought.
Tim Spaeth Was there one? Persona 3 Portable, Persona 2…I think those were it.
Aram Jabbari* Huh. Well.
Tim Spaeth But if you're thinking of something you want to announce, go ahead. Do it.
Mike Bracken Yes.
Aram Jabbari* I don't have anything to discuss about any of that stuff. The bottom line comes down to…You know what it is? I think I remember what I wanted to address. I wanted to address the questions of a next-gen, or I guess now it becomes current-gen, which makes me kind of sad for my GameCube.
Let me put it this way: the SMT series, the Shin Megami Tensei games, are…I've said it this way before. I said it once this way and I was misquoted, and I was so pissed. Please don't cut this up. It's very unlikely that the series is gonna end, and it's very unlikely that if the series was to continue that it would not find its way to North America. I'll leave it at that. Who knows what the future brings for the series? Obviously, any chance we get to bring a quality SMT game over, we get excited to do it. And they have all been so mind-blowingly good. It's one of the reasons the company Atlus, USA haa been in business for close to two decades, it's because we have a tremendous stream of unique, distinct…I don't wanna say "genre-defining," because they don't end up reaching a large enough audience, unfortunately, to do that. But in terms of story, a lot of people who've played other games in the genre and they end up playing an SMT game, it kind of leaves its mark.
Anyways, I know I dodged a lot of that. I really do apologise. I apologise to you guys, I apologise to the listeners.
Tim Spaeth But I appreciate excellent dodging technique. And that certainly was that. So I can—
Aram Jabbari* Level up, +1 to my dodging ability.
Tim Spaeth I commend you, sir.
There was one other game that one of our frequent contributors…his handle is Boy. And this, to me, is incredibly obscure, and so we'll see what you do with it. But he had this to ask:
Cozy Okada, the father of the Shin Megami Tensei series, left Atlus in 2003, forming the devlopement company, Gaia.
Stay with me. He writes:
Atlus localized Gaia's first game, Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner, in the US. Gaia's second game, Coded Soul, was released in Japan about a year ago, and I had assumed it's localization was assured, given Okada's past relationship with Atlus, but no localization has even been hinted at.
He wants to know: Where is Coded Soul?
Aram Jabbari No plans for *Coded Soul at this time. It's never ever 100% a sure thing that a title will come over. Let me throw out a scenario. Let's make it totally generic so it can't be misquoted. Let's say privately-owned North American-based subsidiary company B gets a title from parent company A that is so steeped in…it's unlocalizable, that's what everyone says.
Well, it's not a given that the game's just gonna turn up in North America because there are connections there. I hope that's a fair way of saying it. So, it's never 100% "Oh, well, there's…you know, this connection's there, then that must mean this game's coming." And I say that because I get bummed when we can't really comment on something, and we have fans that really want something or they're speculating about something, and they wanna know when it's gonna come. It's really difficult for us to just come out and say: "Well, such-and-such is never gonna happen. Ever. In a billion years. Good luck. Freeze yourself. It's not gonna happen."
We don't wanna do that, ever, in any scenario. But there's some times when maybe the game just can't happen. And I think the safest way to go is just wait for us to announce it. When we announce it, then it'll come to North America. I mean, that's the way I think about it. [That's?] a lot of listeners, though.
Tim Spaeth Essentially: "Don't stop dreaming" is what you're saying. "Always believe."
Aram Jabbari* I feel a song coming on, there.
Mike Bracken It's like Journey time.
Chi Kong Lui [Laughter] Yeah. I'd like to hear the top five things that make a game unlocalizable.
Aram Jabbari* I don't know if there's a top five. I will tell you this: Here's a few examples of things that can be really tough. A huge cast—let's say 200 different characters, and they're all like big, big name folks overseas in terms of voiceover. Then that becomes a challenge from the beginning, because we're gamers. If we're looking at a game that's really popular because of a lot of the talent that's in it, and for some reason, let's say we can't include that talent in the game, we have to look at everything…we have to look at it all over again. I mean, what if it's not gonna be the exact same thing? How will people react? That can be a dealbreaker sometimes. There are…you know, I can't think of too many specific things where I've heard it and I've thrown my hand up and I've stormed out of the room. But there are aspects of a game that can make it difficult to market, sure. I mean, if we're talking about, like, a horse racing simulation, or it's a game where you find two million ways to decorate your dog—although that sells here. Your pony—well, that sells too. Interesting.
There are very specific things that could make a game difficult to market. I'll just leave it at that. And you don't want it to just be potentially a critical success, you want it to be a sales success as well, in order to continue to be able to make games, so.
Chi Kong Lui Sure.
Tim Spaeth Sounds good. Well, why don't we take a quick break, and when we come back, we'll talk Demon's Souls. Sound good?
Aram Jabbari* Sure.
Tim Spaeth All right. Stay with us, everybody. We'll be back in two and two.
Tim Spaeth Well, we are in the midst of what I would call a pretty big time for Atlus. We saw the release of the Persona remake for PSP just this past week, and upcoming on October 6, the release of Demon's Souls for the PS3. Aram, tell us about Demon's Souls. Let's start with that.
Aram Jabbari Oh, *Demon's Souls. Where do I start? It's amazing. I've given this spiel so many times, and, much like the game itself, I guess—the actual act of playing the game—you kinda never get tired of it. But Demon's Souls is an action RPG developed by From Software, known maybe best for their Armored Core series. A talented group of developers that a lot of their stuff has a cult following, but maybe Demon's Souls can be one of those games that really helps grow the From brand here in the States.
It is an action RPG that takes place in the kingdom of Boletaria in terms of story. The king, hungry for power, has awakened a powerful demon called The Old One and unleashed a curse on the kingdom. So things are shrouded in fog and darkness and you are the latest in a series of adventurers that have gone in to deliver this kingdom from its curse. And from the very beginning, things start off in an ominously bad way, where you…I don't wanna spoil the tutorial for anyone, but you do die at the end of the tutorial.
And we've played up the difficulty, but it is a game that challenges the player to master and to strategize and to learn. And the controls play very much like…even like a Zelda, I'm comfortable to say. You have a lock-on camera. You have two kinds of attacks—a normal attack, a strong attack. You've got your shield, you can customize your character from ten different classes. And the interesting thing about the customization is that the classes determine your starting stat distribution and your starting equipment, but really, any character can be taken from that point and evolved into anything. A barbarian that casts spells? Knock yourself out. Facial customization is very in-depth. It is a dark, gritty, medieval-style action RPG. For me it immediately evoked thoughts of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, The Witcher, and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, to name-drop a few.
The online functionality is…You are within your own independent world, and there are a number of other players who are also playing their single-player game within their independent world. And when you're connected to your PlayStation Network account, your worlds are able to bridge, and you are able to have interaction. Not beginning to end, start to finish, from every phase cooperative interation. Not you jump out of the game, and you go to a menu and you have some sort of matchmaker system. Not like that, but more a seamless integration of your world with their world and these online features, everything comes back to enrich the single-player experience.
So you're entering the world and you're clearing out one of the first areas, and you see bloodstains on the floor. You interact with the bloodstains, and the bloodstain shows you a red, translucent ghost of another player. And it's the last few moments of their life. So, for most people, immediately you'll get a little shadenfreude, you'll take a little joy in someone else's misery—
—but then you'll actually realize that you can learn from their mistakes. And they charge down a staircase, and their translucent ghost immediately was speared, and you'll laugh even in that situation as you're learning from it 'cause it's hilarious when someone gets pwned like that. But you watch them go around that corner and you're like: "Well, I'm gonna slow down and take it easy. Someone died around this corner. Someone died in front of me in five seconds."
And then you have these messages where it's like a strategy guide woven into the fabric of the game. The bottom line for Demon's Souls is that even if you play the game and you think it fails, that it's too hard, it tries so many ambitious things, that I would suggest to anyone who's turned off by what we've said so far about it being a difficult game, to just give it a shot. Rent it or try it at a friend's house. It is one of those games that when you get over that hump, and for some people the hump is different, it's at a different point, but when you get over that frustration level initially, it becomes one of the most satisfying and rewarding action RPG…role-playing experiences you'll ever have.
Brad Gallaway Hey Aram, I'd just like to add to what you said. I've been playing the game for quite a while, since you sent out the early release copies, and I agree with pretty much everything you said. But I think the thing that is probably the hardest sell for the game, and I heard you describe it several times, and as I'm listening to you describe it, you probably know the game more than most of the people out there. It's interesting to me that one of the best qualities of the game, and to me what made the game such a standout, is one of the hardest to define things. And that is the sense of immersion that the game gives you.
Now, you tried three or four different ways to explain it, and you did a great job, but even hearing that, it doesn't quite capture what I see as the best aspect—the most interesting, the most powerful aspect. And that is the sense that you are actually playing this character. It asks for a lot more buy-in than the average RPG does. For starters, because you can never pause the game. And that right there gives you a really [laughter] it makes you sit up and pay attention.
Aram Jabbari* Right. Right.
Brad Gallaway It puts you on edge. You know that there is no such thing as: "I'm just gonna hit Start and go get a drink," or whatever. There's a little bit of a negative to that, because some of us do have kids and families and wives, and that's kind of a…bummer when it happens. [laughter] But when you get yourself an hour or two when you know you're not gonna be interrupted, there is something really intense about that. And I think, also, the thing that's really intense is that…The game is hard, yeah. It's hard. But I think that it's not as hard as people make it out to be. In your particular case, I think you're kind of wise to oversell the difficulty so that people aren't surprised by it. But I remember when I got my copy, I was really bracing myself to die all the time, and I was ready to throw myself into a meat-grinder and I wasn't really feeling good about it. And then once I got into it, I was like: "Oh, it's not hard. They just don't want you to be stupid."
Aram Jabbari* Right.
Brad Gallaway If you can put yourself in the role of the character—really immerse yourself into what it means to play this character…If one of us woke up one day in a fantasy world, and there was demons and monsters and stuff, I don't think any of us would pick up a dagger and go charging into the fray screaming, and expect to walk out with all of our limbs intact. It's nonsensical. And so the way that the game asks you to really slow down, think about what you're doing, does this make sense, do a logic check before you enter each room, it's totally refreshing. And to me, it really sold the game.
I don't know if people listening right now have checked out the review on the site, but our review went up a couple weeks ago. I gave it a 9 and a half, and there were just a few, few really niggling things that kept me from giving it top marks, but it's really a top-quality game, and for those who don't know: at this point, it's number one in my Game of the Year nominations. Something that comes along later in the year may topple it, it may not. But regardless, it's, from my perspective, one of the best games of the year.
And if nothing else, I want people listening to this podcast to really understand that you just have to kinda change your mindset. It's a really different kind of game. It's not a game where you bust open every vase and you look for power-ups and you just die and reload and it's no big deal. You really have to kinda change the way you think about it, and immersion is not something that grabs you right away. Everybody I've talked to who played the game for, like, 15 minutes walks away and says, "Ugh, this game sucks. I didn't like it. It was too ahrd. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't hit an enemy. It was awkward." And then I go: "Okay. Well, number one, you're not giving the game a chance, and number 2, this is like a slow-burn game." You can't play a game like Demon's Souls and see its greatness in 15 minutes. It's one of those things that you really have to kind of be willing to sit down, be open to it, give it a chance, and if you're willing to do those things, I agree with you.
It's incredibly rewarding, really fulfilling, really satisfying on so many levels. I mean, I've played a lot of games. I've been playing for a long time. I've played a lot of games, finished a lot of games. And this is a game where immediately I sat up and I'm like: "Woah. This is totally different from anything else I've played before. This caught my attention, made me sit up and take notice. It really got me interested, and it takes a lot for games to do that these days. It's kind of a sick pride in that I'm so jaded sometimes. I get a lot of razzing for it. But this is a game that cut through all of that jadedness and is really quality product. I'm just endlessly pleased that you guys brought this over. So I definitely think that people listening should absolutely give it a chance. Like you said, rent it, but if you rent it, don't just play it for like 10 minutes. You gotta play it like, at least an hour, two hours. You're gonna die a lot, but stick with it, for sure.
Aram Jabbari You said it a lot more succinctly and…you said it a lot better than I said it. And one of the things I realized, I've been playing it a lot. For the listeners, another piece of fun trivia, a fun fact: for a little while we've had a build out that is actually kind of beta testing our North American servers, and we're gonna switch over the server, because the games use a slightly different product code. I'm getting a little technical. We have to switch the server over so it's looking for the retail version and that. So, press copies are actually gonna stop working soon. But I've been playing as much as I can with folks—editors around the gaming press, as much as I could—and I found something very interesting happened playing *Demon's Souls. The first time you play any of the areas and the first time you're experiencing the game, it is what you said, immersion, and there is a sense of discovery. And it's not so much because you're exploring…I mean, a game that's an open world RPG, it's non-linear and all that stuff, it's allegedly supposed to give you more of a sense of discovery.
But in Demon's Souls, you become conditioned, especially when you're conditioning from other kinds of games, changes, and you don't just charge into fights, because you'll be punished for that. But if you do slow it down, as you say, you start to look at every hallway, every turn…you just look at it, you analyze it. You're playing it exactly how you'd play it if you were there. I think you said that very well. But the thing I'm finding now is I'm doing the same areas over and over again. And I've memorized the areas in Demon's Souls better than I've memorized the areas in games for a very long time. When I go back and I play all-time classics like A Link to the Past or Super Metroid, I remember the levels and I remember it so vividly. Some of it was because of what point in my life…nostalgia and all that stuff. It's been a long time since I've played a game that I really remembered…my brain was going into this slightly different mode where I was memorizing everything—patterns. And you adopt this…it's not an attitude [unknown] you're trying to master. And it's not like the game, you know: "You have to do that or you won't enjoy the game." That's just a process that happens when you stick with the game for a little bit. And, like, I'm playing these levels now for the fifth, sixth, seventh, twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth time, and it's weird. It's like deja vu. I don't know. For me, personally, and it's not like I'm being…I don't want to say I'm paid to say all this. That's not why I'm saying it. That aside, just think of me as Joe Schmo. My personal experience with the game…You just think about the levels after you play it. It kinda sticks with you differently than other games.
Chi Kong Lui You know, can I jump in there, Aram? It's actually really interesting that you say that, because this is actually a trademark of From Software's other series, King's Field. And the way Brad was earlier describing Demon's Souls was almost like the exact same description of King's Field. Right, Brad?
Brad Gallaway Totally. I'm actually really glad you said that, 'cause I'm gonna ask if you were gonna bring it up. But, yeah, you're totally—
Chi Kong Lui I've played all the King's Field games, and they're all huge, and they're not done in the third person perspective, they're done in the first person perspective.
Brad Gallaway Right.
Chi Kong Lui But they follow a similar RPG theme. And in all these games, there are huge, long, sprawling exploration-type adventures. And every one of those games, from the PS1 to the PS2, I've never, ever had to use a map. I've never had to create a map, refer to a map. I remember every single stage and they layouts of them just the way you were describing Demon's Souls. So it's just really interesting that that lineage—I don't know what it is about how these guys figure that out, but I think it has a lot to do with the way they view archetecture, and the way they view stage layout.
Brad Gallaway Yeah, absolutely. I totally support everything you're saying, Chi. It's exactly right. And something I'd like to add onto that, is I think that when From is given free reign to kinda do things the way that they wanna do things—like the King's Field games are a perfect example—I mean, they have this brilliant, natural way of creating these logical, believable levels. I remember having a really good time with the King's Field on the PS2, and just being in awe of some of the things that they have the player go through. And I see the exact same thing with Demon's Souls, only taken to an entirely different degree, just because the horsepower is more available, and they're able to put more detail in the levels and things. But once you start one of these levels, it's not like any other level that you've ever played, except if you've played King's Field. And it's just like King's Field in the most positive sense in that you feel like it's a real, living, breathing world, there's a logic to it, there's a believability. You can really mentally get into the feeling of exploring. The sense of immersion is just phenomenal. I really can't get over it. I can't get over it. So, fabulous, fabulous stuff. But, Aram, I wanna ask you a few other things about—not the gameplay so much, but about the business side of Demon's Souls, if you don't mind.
Aram Jabbari* Sure. [unknown]
Brad Gallaway Okay. Okay, great. I know that there's a really strong presence overseas for Demon's Souls. I mean, you kinda mentioned that's how you guys got wind of it in the first place. And I know for a fact that a lot of people here in the States have already imported their copy, whether it be from Japan or Korea or whatever it is. There's already a ton of people, if you go to the GameFAQs boards right now, there's like a ton of people who can answer any question about the game, played it back and forth, finished it multiple times. And I'm kinda wondering: what is Atlus's feeling about what the audience is gonna be? I know you guys know your audience really well, but, moreso in my view, this is a game that has been imported more than the average, I think. So, are you afraid that your audience is already kind of cannibalized by the fact that this game was so easy to import, due to the fact that there was a lot of English voiceovers and text in it already? Are you guys nervous about that?
Aram Jabbari* Not at this point. That was a consideration that we had from the very beginning when we were evaluating the game. We knew that there was a version of the game that was almost entirely in English, and whether there were instances of Engrish in the localization or not, it was playable. And so, we announced it as quickly as we could when we knew that we had locked on to the publishing rights to bring it to North America. See, I do believe that, moreso than possibly any other game that…maybe any other game in the industry's history, the imports business may affect the bottom line for this game just a bit. Just by virtue of the fact that…But, see, it's another double-edged sword, because that same word-of-mouth and that same "have to import this!"…I mean, the reason so many people imported it is because their friends told them on forums and gaming sites: "You have to play this game! It's so different! It's so innovative!"
So, on the one hand, we benefit from that. And we knew that from the beginning. We had a game with a very vocal community. Even if someone imported it, and they didn't wanna double-dip, and…they would've loved to, even, but they just couldn't afford it, times are tough still, so we of course understand. But at least we knew that those people are gonna be vocal about it. Word-of-mouth is one of those things that is almost impossible to manufacture. No matter how many gimmicks or ploys you come up with, personally, I think it's impossible to manufacture. All audience, gamers in general, they smell bullshit a mile away, and so, I think as a publisher hopefully we've almost always done this. We're honest and sincere about stuff. And so, our hope is with Demon's Souls we have a group of gamers that they're just assessing the game, we haven't lied about what the game is. 'Cause, aesthetically, the game could be sold differently than it is. It could be marketed—if we were a bigger publisher, and we could, hell, we could do TV commercials. We could make the game look "Wow! Damn!" The person who would play Madden and Call of Duty, but would never really touch an RPG, not that there aren't people who play all three kinds of games, they may really perk up and say: "That looks like Lord of the Rings! That looks really cool!" But that's when we've been really pushing the fact that the game will punish you if you come in with a certain mindset. And we've been really honest about the game, because we wanna leverage that word-of-mouth. We want people to talk about it. So, yeah. Is it possible that the bottom line will be affected slightly? I think so. I think the one good news is that the import business is still a very small percentage of the final stuff. Look at the DS, for example. You've got a lot games that..I think probably may be the most imported game on DS, or a couple, may be Luendon and Jump Superstars, just a couple. I'm just gonna throw them out. Well, of course Luendon's a pretty bad example 'cause they changed everything when they released it here, huh? And they never released Jump Superstars. Terrible examples
Brad Gallaway [Laughter]
Aram Jabbari* But the point being that…Let's say those games are really talked about, and there's a really great amount of buzz, it's still a very small percent in the scheme of things of bringing over. So we're confident we announced it early enough, but one of the things that we're doing to mitigate that, here's another great opportunity for me to go into Sales Mode, is the introduction of a Deluxe Edition. We always try to do special stuff for our games, but for 10 bucks more, we are gonna add the outer slip case that's nicely ribbed for his or her pleasure—
It's embossed, rather. And the strategy guide, 160 pages, full-color, it's really a fantastic guide. And for almost the cost of what it would be to import it, you basically get the definitive version of the game. So as soon as we were able to get that out the door, we knew if anyone's really interested in the game and they want it so badly that they can't wait to import it, that's like .001%. So, based on the kind of great buzz that we've gotten so far, we're not losing any sleep at all over that.
Brad Gallaway Okay, well. Let me ask you this, then. Demon's Souls is kind of an unusual title in another way. The game isn't even released yet in North America—it's coming out October 6. Nobody who's not in the media has had a chance to play this yet. Yet when you go to Metacritic or some of the other aggregate sites, when I got my copy in the mail, there were already a dozen, 15-20 reviews from the other versions. As a company, was that a special challenge to kind of get your message out with all of these reviews already being out there? Would that lead to any kind of problems? Because while many of them wre positive, not all of them were.
Aram Jabbari* It would be different if it was all, like 4s and 5s. It really would. Even the reviews that focused on things that the reviewer found to be a negative, in the end, it didn't play a large part in anything. But right now, I actually do think it's an advantage. And again, it is that double-edged sword. I would say the majority of those reviews were positive. And positive not just kinda average positive, they were positive of the sort that we're starting to get now, as reviews roll in for North America. And, sure, on the one hand, you don't want anything out there affecting people's opinions of the game, but on the other hand, again, it's that existing word-of-mouth that's driving things. This game, I mean, it could've come over earlier in the hands of someone else, but the fact that we were lucky enough to be able to publish this title, we're really honored to publish this title in North America. It means that maybe there were concerns that, based on thos reviews, it's just too hardcore. Atlus is..I put it into AltaVista earlier. It actually translates to "hardcore."
Aram Jabbari* It's amazing, isn't it? I'm kidding. But we have that association with our brand, and there's nothing in any of those reviews that I saw that would make me say: "Well, you know, this is kinda already out there. Maybe we should talk about this." This was the kind of game that had the kind of word-of-mouth and buzz you can only dream of, and you can pay no amount of money to create. So it's a perfect fit for Atlus, the company that is lean and mean and [laughter] obviously a smaller publisher, but why not? It's perfect to have people who've already spread the word.
Chi Kong Lui I actually had a question about audience as well, but not so much what Brad was talking about as regards the import aspect of it. I don't know if you got a chance to listen to our last episode, but we just talked about the difficulty in games and how games are becoming easier to reach a larger audience.
Aram Jabbari* Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui And this game just completely defies that logic in every which way possible. And you sort of touched on it in some way, but…when you talked about this a little bit. Are you sorta hoping that the Atlus fans, the die-hards, are gonna be on board and somehow, miraculously, you'll get some sort of a mass following at all? What do you think about that?
Aram Jabbari* Two ways I'll answer this question. Personally as a gamer, I have noticed a trend in a lot of the series that I grew up with and I've fallen in love with in the most recent iterations, where I had to spend way too much time at the beginning being explained things that, even if I had no idea how they'd mapped certain controls, I could figure it all out. Because basically, whatever game I'm talking about, they were making the same damn game again with slight improvements. Of course, I still bought it and loved it, but whatever game I could be talking about.
The industry is growing. And growth is fantastic. And the spectrum is undoubtedly…there's a shift towards the center, and it's great. There's more and more people playing games now than there have been. And the demographic is changing. But, Atlus as a company is a microcosm I hope for in the future, where no matter how many ways we've tried to grow as a company, and we've had great franchises that were different for us, like Trauma Center. We have not forgotten, and will never forget, where we came from, what we're about, and what our fans expect from us. You can do a bunch of stuff to grow as a company, but if you're really at your heart something very specific, you abandon that at your own peril. And I really think that just because the industry is expanding in such great ways, it doesn't mean that we have to abandon the hardcore gamer. We don't have to add two-hour tutorials to every game. It's nice to have a tutorial, I mean, Demon's Souls does have a tutorial, and I personally think—I read a review recently that didn't like the tutorial, thought it was inadequate—I think that the perdfect introduction to the game, but it's very subtle and understated compared to a lot…I mean, as an aexample, there's a staircase you can go up in 1-1 in Demon's Souls, the first region of the first archdown, where you can make a right turn and kill a couple fairly easy enemies, and you're up against a fairly powerful mini-boss with glowing red eyes and a pike who will kill you in one hit, maybe two. If you go left, you'll find someone who's more at your level. And the game doesn't warn you, you could instantly die, and you'd be like: "Well, based on that encounter, I have no chance of beating that other guy. What am I supposed to do?" Well, the game never tells you you're supposed to just…well, I come to the conclusion I can't do that yet, and go do something else. Could I start on the spiel about tutorials and games and all that stuff? Chi Kong Lui Yes, yes.
Brad Gallaway Yeah, yeah.
Mike Bracken I was just gonna ask if the tutorial was shorter than the one in Knights in the Nightmare.
Which might be the longest tutorial I have ever seen.
Aram Jabbari* Yeah. And there was two layers to it—
Mike Bracken Yes.
Aram Jabbari* —there was [quck steel?], like: "Oh, I wonder why they're calling this, like, Introductory Tutorial. That's interesting." And then there's a novel built into the game. But you kind of needed it with that game.
Mike Bracken Yes. Yes.
Longest tutorial I have ever seen.
Brad Gallaway I assure you, Mike, the Demon's Souls tutorial is not anywhere near that.
Maybe, like, 5 minutes long, or something.
Aram Jabbari* I feel it's the perfect level of tutorial for a game that you don't wanna ruin exactly what the game is trying to achieve by holding too much hand at the beginning. I think it settles you in just fine.
Brad Gallaway I would agree with that.
Tim Spaeth Well, I hate to say it, but we are just about out of time. So, let me open the floor to any final miscellaneous questions from Chi or Brad or Mike. Anything else we want to ask Aram while we have him?
Mike Bracken No. I just wanted to say thanks for the Persona PSP, because I was totally blown away by how cool it was, as a fan of the original game back when it came out. It was nice to see the Snow Queen quest make a return finally for Americans, and the improved difficulty was nice, too.
Aram Jabbari* Yeah, you know, we all sat down around the table and we came to this…It wasn't done wrong the first time, no one believed that.
No one at our company now was involved on that project, but we did kinda have this attitude, like: "Here's our chance to address feedback, and things have changed in 12 years with regards to localization. We've done Persona 3, we've done Persona 4. It's down to a science now. Let's do it the way we'd do it if it came out today." And we were really excited, I think, to be able to do that.
Brad Gallaway Just for future reference, really quickly, Aram, though, I gotta say, I do disagree with Mike in that I don't think the difficulty was better. I prefer the old difficulty.
Mike Bracken You wimp. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway Hey, man. I got a wife, I got a kid, I got a job. I appreciate something that's not quite as hardcore. I mean, if it's warranted, great, but you know, ergh, just, you know. Little bit more difficulty selection for people like me in the future.
Aram Jabbari* But don't you know Atlus is the company that gets off on our fans' tears? You didn't know that, Brad?
Mike Bracken Yeah.
Brad Gallaway They're coming to you in a really big jug, so.
Chi Kong Lui Let me throw one last question at Aram, actually. With Demon's Souls taking this really Western sensibility, is there…I can almost see a lot of these Japanese developers obviously wanting to tailor their games to a more international audience. Is this sort of a concern, or do you think this is a trend, and how do you think that's gonna affect Atlus in the long term?
Aram Jabbari* That's a really…That's an interesting question, and it's one that I really couldn't answer. I've read so many articles in recent months and even the last couple years from Japanese developers talking about where it seemed like, at one point, everything was coming from Japan, that there's so much new talent and growing talent in the West. And, I mean, you've got develoeprs now in Poland and…I mean, they've got Remedy and, what, CD Project. Things are definitely changing in terms of their being a lot of amazing stuff coming…internationally, all over the world. I know, based on what I've read, that there does seem to be this perception that…it's important to take the Western audience into consideration when making a blockbuster game overseas, and…I mean, I love Capcom and I love Konami, and a lot of times it feels like they're making games that appeal to anyone. I think it's been that way for years. Will these kind of niche RPGs that some other publishers may not touch or wanna touch but it's our game, will those dry up? I don't believe so, myself. Personally, I don't think that changes in the industry dictate or mandate that the niche need to be kinda stomped or set aside. I think it's gonna continue, but you're gonna have a lot of growth at other ends of the spectrum.
Tim Spaeth Well, Aram Jabbari, thank you so much for being on the show. Persona PSP on store shelves now. Demon's Souls for the PS3 October 6.
Aram Jabbari* Right.
Tim Spaeth If folks want to find out more about you or Atlus or the games, where would you direct them?
Aram Jabbari For most things Atlus, [www.atlus.com]("http://www.atlus.com") We have a special site for [Demon's Souls*]("http://www.demons-souls.com") and if anyone's wondering why it's Demon-apostrophe-s, it's actually referring to the souls in possession of the one Old One, as my understanding is. 'Cause a lot of people give us grief about why…"Way to localize the game, Atlus! Grammatically incorrect title!"
Chi Kong Lui Fail. [Laughter]
Aram Jabbari* Yeah, fail.
Tim Spaeth That's hilarious. I was kind of thinking that, but I wasn't going to say it. But I'm glad you clarified that. I appreciate it.
Aram Jabbari* Yeah. We were gonna save that reveal for the Director's Cut, but now I don't know what we're gonna do.
Tim Spaeth Well, Aram, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, and do come back any time. We loved having you.
Aram Jabbari* Thank you very much for having me, guys. I look forward to listening to it and cringing every time I hear myself speak.
Tim Spaeth Aaaah.
Probably only one or two times. Thanks, Aram.
Aram Jabbari* Bye-bye.
Brad Gallaway Thanks, Aram.
Tim Spaeth And that will do it for this edition of the GameCritics.com podcast. Leave your feedback on our website or through Twitter: the handle is @GameCritics. Remember, you can subscribe to the show via the iTunes Music Store and the Zune Marketplace, or just stream it right off the GameCritics.com homepage. Our thanks again to Aram Jabbari of Atlus. Remember, Demon's Souls hits store shelves on October 6. And, of course, my thanks to Mike, Brad and Chi. Thanks, guys.
Brad Gallaway Any time.
Mike Bracken Always a pleasure.
Chi Kong Lui Ditto.
Tim Spaeth Well, that's all she wrote, folks, for now. I'm Tim Spaeth. Good night, and bonne chance.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.