Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water’s Digital Only Crisis

Originally Posted October 10th 2015 on the Seafoam Gaming Forums

A month ago Nintendo of America issued a press release regarding their upcoming holiday 2015 lineup, with release dates for many of their upcoming games finally getting revealed (Although Star Fox Zero has since been delayed right as this article was beginning to wrap up). However one particular game has caught the attention of a small group of fans on the internet, a game that Nintendo hasn’t really mentioned much at all since its announcement earlier this year. That game, is Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.

Initially released in Japan over a year ago as the fifth installment in the popular Zero series, (Zero being the Japanese title, while it was called Project Zero in Europe and Fatal Frame in the Americas) fans in the West were nervous about a potential localization, mainly due to the poor cases of bad luck that plagued the series after Nintendo purchased the rights from Koei Tecmo nearly a decade ago. Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse never came to the West due to numerous glitches, the spinoff installment Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir was critically panned when it did come to the West and the Wii remake of Fatal Frame II was a European and Japanese exclusive while North America didn’t receive it due to the Wii’s life cycle coming to a conclusion around the same time. (Interestingly enough, North America received the Kirby Dream Collection that same year while Europe did not, essentially meaning it was a tradeoff of sorts, likely due to the Kirby series’s popularity in the US being a safer bet for the end of the Wii’s lifecycle than a remake of a game from a rather obscure horror game series at that point in time.) With a system that was relatively new at the time of the game’s announcement, fans hoped this would finally be the chance for Fatal Frame to return to America. With a confirmation earlier this year, fans rejoiced as it seemed that the horror series was finally back in the states, along with a European release so that everybody could enjoy some horror action this holiday!

However the first cause of concern came shortly after Nintendo’s Digital Event, when the American hub page for Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water was made with no sign of official boxart, instead opting for the eShop icon that was typically used to indicate digital releases, prompting fears of a digital only release for Fatal Frame on the Wii U. So what makes a digital only game a bad thing, you may ask, and why were people concerned? Well, you see the original Japanese version was 16 GB in size for the download version. That’s right, 16 GB, essentially making the few basic set owners out there having to rely on the physical version while the Deluxe Set owners had to carefully manage their storage space, or buy a USB Hard Drive for more space (Which the Basic set users could do as well although it would be much more costly since you’d barely have any space to put even the smallest indie games on your system without needing one) having a retail game installed will usually take up a lot of available space for the average Wii U owner, making it something most users avoid unless it’s a smaller retail title.

In early August at Gamescom, it was confirmed that Europe would be getting a version which was free to start, allowing newcomers to the series to try the game out and see if it was worth picking up in full on the eShop or via a limited edition retail bundle with some extra goodies, which in the PAL region is the only way to get a physical copy of the game. Later that month, Nintendo of America confirmed the same free to start model but unfortunately no limited edition bundle is available, prompting the fan movement Operation Zero to express their concerns for the performance of the game here in the West if it’s stuck as a digital only game.

So that brings us back to the question: Is this digital only movement for Fatal Frame on Wii U a sign that Nintendo of America hates the series with every fiber of their existence, and is too scared to give it a bigger release like in Europe and Japan? Well, honestly, no. That’s right, you heard me, no, it doesn’t. Yes, it’s true that the PAL Region gets a limited option with some cool goodies, and that Japan gets a normal physical edition that has no hassle in terms of purchasing, but digital only isn’t the end of the world. Of course that doesn’t mean its the best way to sell games on a marketplace, as for this game in particular it will hurt sales due to the big file size, but there are some reasons that I believe NOA chose to go with the digital only route for Fatal Frame on Wii U, and I’ll explain some possible reasons below, as we look at both sides of the story in this opinion article!

Reason 1: Nintendo of America never released a previous Fatal Frame game in the West before.

Now yes, I know Spirit Camera was indeed a Fatal Frame game, but in terms of the main series NOA never brought over FFIV or the FFII Remake for the reasons I mentioned earlier, while Europe at least managed to bring over the remake. Considering how they are making a limited edition for the game in that region, it’s my guess that in the PAL region Project Zero II sold decently to warrant a limited edition, but not a full on production run of the game, allowing both sides to be satisfied if they really desired the game. In America on the other hand, NOA doesn’t have anything to go off on in terms of success for this region besides old sales data from over a decade ago, when Fatal Frame III: The Tormented came to the US on the Playstation 2. Considering how much the market has changed since then, and since the only info of US sales data I could find for that game was from VGChartz, a site that isn’t too accurate in their data, it was hard to find out exact numbers for North America compared to the rest of the world. What I can say with confidence however is that it seems that North America was indeed the best region for Fatal Frame III in terms of sales, so it does have a bigger audience in North America in that regard, which brings me to the next possible reason.

Reason 2: NCL doesn’t trust the Americas with the game’s success.

It’s been known for a while now that Nintendo Co Ltd (The main division of Nintendo in Kyoto) is rather strict with NOA when it comes to some of the things they do. While they are usually accepting of most localization decisions, there were a few instances where NOA wants to do something only for NCL to turn them down. A possible explanation for why the game may be digital only could be because NOA knows this game has an audience here in the West, and really wants to bring it over, but NCL isn’t sure if North America would be successful enough to warrant a full print of a Physical release, therefore making NOA release it digitally first to test the waters before any physical releases can come about. As for why NOE gets to do their own thing, it likely stems from the fact that they are typically the weakest region for Nintendo’s games in terms of sales, which probably means NCL figures that all attention should focus on the two biggest regions for them, North America and Japan. Of course this is just my estimated guess on the matter since in the past we have seen reversals where NOE didn’t bring over games NOA did, such as Brain Age Concentration Training or Kirby’s Dream Collection.

Reason 3: NOA thinks Devil’s Third is more “American”

Now before you go and think that I am crazy for the title of this reason, hear me out. We do know that Devil’s Third, which launched in Europe and Japan back in August was mysteriously absent from the NA release lineup for a while before being revealed for a release date of December 12th here in the states, nearly four months after being released everywhere else in the world. While Yoshi’s Woolly World is like this as well, that delay can easily be explained with NOA wanting another big name game released during the holiday season so more people would buy it compared to the summer.

Here’s the ironic thing though, Devil’s Third, a game that will miss the big holiday month of November despite already being localized a few months prior, is getting a physical release with no questions asked despite rumors spreading about of the game’s cancellation in the United States from NOA not wanting to publish a game with such negative reception. Meanwhile Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, a new game in a series that has already been released in North America for a while now (Even if there has been a 10 year wait for the next real installment) is stuck with a digital only release despite being more well received from pre-release impressions and having more hype behind it compared to Devil’s Third? That honestly makes no sense, and seems to me that it should have been a case of “why not both?” where we would either get BOTH of those games as physical releases or BOTH of those games as digital only, not one or the other, especially Fatal Frame considering the excitement built up around the game while Devil’s Third is mostly seen as a disappointment from gamers across the Atlantic. For the past few weeks I kept trying to look for reasons on why this was the case, why NOA felt that a game released after the big holiday rush would warrant a physical release more than a game in an established franchise that was being released at the perfect moment. (Before Halloween) After thinking for a long time, I believe I found my best guess.

What is that guess you may ask? Well, it’s that simply put, NOA feels that Devil’s Third is more appealing to the American audience due to the themes in the game, from a tough guy protagonist, an art style heavily influenced by Western culture along with the swearing and intense action which are things generally associated with games made by big budget Western developers. NOA likely thinks that if they publish a game that has all the “cool” violent themes in it, then they’ll attract the hardcore gamers who felt left out when Nintendo didn’t focus on them as much as they hoped during the Wii era. When you look back on Fatal Frame, it’s obvious that it’s still very Japanese in design, especially considering the location the game takes place in. While that definitely isn’t a bad thing, it is rather sad that it seems NOA had to play it safe by catering to the stereotypical demographic instead of the fans who have been loyal for many years, and that’s another major reason why I believe NOA went digital only with Fatal Frame.

How to support the game

So now that we have the possible reasons on why out of the way, the final question of the day is “How can we show our support?” Honestly, the answer isn’t too difficult, which is to buy the game. Yes, it’ll eat up your storage space but you CAN delete downloadable games without erasing the save data for your Wii U games, meaning that for the majority of Wii U owners who have the deluxe set they still can download and enjoy the game even if they have to get past some minor inconveniences to do so, plus when you beat/complete/master the game you can easily delete the 16 GB Game file and keep the save data in case they make a physical version or when you get a hard drive. That being said, I’m aware this doesn’t make it easy for everybody, as there are a few other problems with the file size that could damage enjoyment of the game even if you carefully remove data for games you aren’t playing, so here is the biggest reason on why Fatal Frame being a digital only release is still a frustrating mess, and the reason why being stuck this way will hurt the game in the long run.

That reason is the fact that 16 GB takes AGES to download, even if your internet speed is fast.

Where I live, most of the time games take a reasonable amount of time to download, with games that are 1-3 GB taking anywhere from 10-30 minutes to download. For Virtual Console or indie titles, that isn’t much of an issue and they download very quickly, but for retail games or bigger downloadable games it’s a very long process even for me. Basically have 1 GB equal 10 minutes and you can easily figure out that Fatal Frame would take to install on my Wii U, approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes just for the download, and probably 5-10 more minutes for the installation. That’s a really long time. Unfortunately, not everybody out there is so lucky with their download speed. For example when I reviewed the bizarre Fit Music for Wii U back in 2014 I had to download a huge game that was over 10 GB, but I was away at my vacation cabin, which at the time had probably one of the worst internet speeds ever, with 1 GB files taking at least an hour to install compared to the 10 minutes it took at my normal residence. Fit Music was around 11 GB in size, and I still can remember the time it took for everything to get done from start to finish, which was from 9 AM to 8 PM, that’s 11 hours. Yes, it did get done eventually, but the fact that it took ages just for a video game to download was rather boring, even though the game wasn’t worth the wait in the end, it still brings us back to the discussion on Fatal Frame. With the game being 16 GB in size, if someone with my cabin’s former internet speed had to download something that big it would definitely take their entire day away and would be more of a hassle compared to putting in a physical version of the game. I can’t judge the internet speed of everybody who reads this article, but I’m fairly certain that the average consumer would be waiting at least an hour no matter what internet speed they have, which isn’t the most exciting thing to do.

Luckily, here are a few possible solutions for this issue to make it hurt less if you really want to play this game, and maybe convince some of you who aren’t sure if you can support the series with a digital only approach to check it out anyway, or at the very least show your support for the franchise.

Solution 1: Hope for a Physical release

This is pretty obvious and is the reason why people are demanding the option. Even if Nintendo would have to do something like partner with NIS America, Gamestop or offer it via their new loyalty program there would still be plenty of folks who would prefer the physical option, as proven by how in the PAL Region the limited physical release sold out in pre-orders rather quickly. Feel free to let them know, but please, for the love of Articuno do NOT spam them! Operation Zero has been excellent at keeping this in mind and showing your desire in an honest, polite way is the best way to get the point across. Send them snail mail, a polite email, or call-in, and that’s all you need to do, or follow Operation Zero on their Twitter to see how else you can politely get the point across. They know of the demand, and hopefully NOA has the power to do something about it to keep the fans happy without worrying about a potential lack of sales, despite the irony that a digital only release would cause the game to sell less no matter what.

Solution 2: Buy an external hard drive or a flash drive

The most likely solution for anyone who really wants to play this game. Of course, this is much easier said than done. Unfortunately this is a rather difficult subject to talk about, mainly because of the many complicated explanations and suggestions on which one is the best and why Nintendo doesn’t recommend using flash drives. To keep it simple, some storage solutions, while they technically will work for a while won’t last too long if you intend to use them for your console. Especially flash drives due to the fragile nature of them and the fact that they aren’t intended to be used constantly for saving data. The huge variety of flash drives and hard drives also doesn’t help, so finding one that isn’t super expensive while also being durable is quite difficult to do, depending on how you intend to use it. Did you plan on getting one for a long time, or did you just want one for Fatal Frame? Honestly, to prevent myself from going on and on about the many frustrating steps and precautions needed to make sure everything is done right, I’ll just leave the talking to this helpful support page from Nintendo, which you can find here.

If you read the page that I linked to above and you still aren’t sure what HDD is the best for you, I personally recommend the Buffalo 2 TB Hard Drive, as for me it has helped keep my games secure and safe for almost two years now and does a good job of storing the many indie and retail games I have, although the decision is up to you as long as you find a HDD that works reliably. Unfortunately Hard Drives are rather expensive, so you may want to wait for a sale for them if you don’t want to spend too much money, or get a flash drive if you really have no other option, although I don’t recommend it.

In Conclusion

In the end, it’s clear that Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water made it to the US by a pure miracle, likely due to the dedication and hope from Fatal Frame fans encouraging Nintendo to give the series a shot as a holiday title. Sadly having such a well-made game be forced as a digital only title will inevitably prevent quite a few people from even being able to play the game unless they remove a lot of space, or if they buy a hard drive for their systems. (In the case of the few Basic Set owners out there, the latter option literally is the only way) Still, I do feel that NOA may indeed have a point in playing it safe with this game, even if giving Devil’s Third a physical release makes no sense at all in comparison. The series has been quiet in North America for a decade now and Spirit Camera likely made the situation worse, so NOA likely has incredibly low expectations for this game, as unfortunate as that may be.

On one hand, that could be a very good thing as it would mean the Fatal Frame fanbase could easily crush those expectations if they show enough support, but on the other hand it’s a very bad thing as the lack of interest from NOA could lead to the game performing incredibly badly regardless of how much the fanbase supports this game, which would almost certainly doom the rest of the franchise in North America. Luckily with the free-to-start price model there’s still some hope for Fatal Frame to get into the hands of new fans, which could maybe lead to the game becoming successful enough to warrant a physical release later on like the NES Remix games and Shovel Knight. No matter what the outcome may turn out to be, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding Fatal Frame, which is that we should be thankful that we are still getting the game localized and brought over to the West at all, as it could have easily been like Fatal Frame IV in that it would have remained a Japan only title. Yes, a digital only approach has a ton of issues that will hurt the game in the end as I mentioned above, but to have some option gives me a glimmer of hope that things can improve if the fans that have the ability to store this game can spread the word on how good the game is and show their support, when the game launches in the US on October 23rd, 2015 and in the PAL regions on October 30th, 2015.

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