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Breaking the Chains (or, Region Free or Die)

May 15, 2010

Finally.

Finally, I’ll get my chance to play some of the shmups that have exactly ZERO chance of landing an American release. Finally, a publisher realizes that a good way to gauge overseas interest is to actually open up those games to a worldwide userbase. Finally, the globalization and standardization of media is dragging the antiquated standards of the console era into the 21st century.

Finally, Cave is lifting the region locks on some of its most celebrated shmup series.

Perhaps spurred by the groundswell of interest in the upcoming American release of Deathsmiles (most of which unfortunately centers on the appropriateness of an apparent “loligoth” aesthetic in its character design), Cave has begun to release its celebrated cult-hit shmups without region locks.

Way back in November, Mushihimesama Futara was the first. As far as the current generation of bullet-hell shooters go, Mushi-Futara is actually purported to be one of the more forgiving. Of course, so is Ikaruga, and I still spend 20 or so lives getting through its final level. By starting with one of the more forgiving shooters on the market, however, Cave is making a calculated choice to ease American gamers into the genre if they choose to import it.

February saw the release of Espgaluda II, supposedly a much more difficult entry in the genre, but with enough innovation to perhaps capture the imagination of a gamer looking for something with a little more meat than a mere Gradius-style space shooter. [more]

Finally, in June (or maybe, July, August, October, February 2011 the way some of these shmup releases go), Deathsmiles will arrive. It’s actually older than the other two games that will have been available for months before its American release, and it’s actually the most traditional of the three games. Still, there are hooks built in to the other two that may actually provide a bump to the sales of Deathsmiles, from players who have developed an interest in the genre who will be happy to be able to get such a game at domestic prices (rather than the actually-pretty-reasonable 70 bucks the imports cost).

It’s a great time to be a shmup fan if you own an Xbox 360. Small as the audience for these games might be — especially the portion of that audience willing to import a game that won’t be released domestically — it’s hard not to think that the PS3, a future-friendly region-free machine, might have benefitted from a few of these types of games that would bolster its worldwide clout as much as its local clout.

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