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MARKETING FAIL: Record of Agarest War

May 17, 2010


I knew about the American marketing behind Record of Agarest War before I requested it for PopMatters. Specifically, as I was trying to figure out whether it might be something I want to play and review, I ran across the “limited edition” of the game on Amazon.com, which, if appearances are anything to go by, is the only way to buy the game for the Xbox 360. Thankfully, my review copy was via PlayStation Network download.

Here’s the rundown: This is a T-rated SRPG, and the “S” does not stand for “sexy”. It stands for “strategy”. Having played the game a bit, it is for the most part a long way from a “sexy” game; granted, most of the female characters wear outfits that would be more appropriate for, say, Dancing with the Stars than the battlefield, but you spend most of your time with those characters in 16-bit-style sprite form. That’s right, this is a game for which you need 10 gigs of free space on your PS3 — not to mention 20 gigs to accommodate the swap space it takes to install the thing — and the sprites are barely PlayStation 1 quality.

During instances of dialogue, you get nicely-drawn close-ups of the characters in play, however, and occasional sections — particularly the “marriage” parts of the game that take place between chapters — show much more of those female characters than is strictly necessary.

In a way, this sort of thing has become something of a necessary evil for this sort of game — 150 hours of pushing chess pieces around a polygonal field needs some sort of “payoff”, after all — though the blatantly sexist approach is likely to turn off a large portion of the audience. What is not even close to necessary, or even explainable, is a marketing approach that makes someone who’s buying this thing feel like they’re getting something that’s one step removed from Custer’s Revenge. The special edition comes with a soundtrack (not sexy, actually kind of cool), a pillowcase with one of the game’s more stereotypically “sexy” characters emblazoned on it (uh, okay), and a mousepad depicting another female character, complete with ergonomic boob cushions.

Oh, good Lord. I just typed “ergonomic boob cushions” on my blog. (watch the hits roll in!)

As if the mere inclusion of these, uh, “goodies” wasn’t bad enough, there’s this:

I mean, wow. Wow. That just happened. We get to come up with our own mental image of what pillow sex (ew), mousepad sex (double ew, and awkward), or CD sex (um, ouch?) might look like. Just great. I can’t believe that trailer exists. I feel bad for the marketing interns who probably starred in it for nothing but “industry experience”.

...and there it is. I weep for my hobby.

I know I talk up Atlus a lot in this space (not to mention other places), but one of the reasons I respect them so much is that they don’t resort to this cheap lowest-common-denominator baiting. They’ve released plenty of games with stereotypically sexy female characters that they could have played up for the sake of attracting horny teenagers, but they’re too good for that.

Even worse, I can’t help but wonder if this sort of marketing is actually going to hurt the numbers of Record of Agarest War (and, by extension, the chances of obscure Japanese games being released in North America) for the long run. Gamers tend to have an inferiority complex, as if our hobby is constantly fighting to be taken as seriously as anyone else’s hobby, and buying a game with a sexy pillowcase and boobpad is only going to reinforce the illegitimacy, as it were, of the hobby. It’s playing into the stereotype of the gamer as lonely, sex-starved, development-arrested adolescent, even as the game will only actually appeal to the most dedicated. After all, there are other SRPGs out there that you can spend 100+ hours with and not feel ashamed; why waste your time with one you need to bring home in an unmarked brown paper bag?

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