Xenoblade Chronicles: Okay to Hack?By Nick Simberg | August 20, 2011 | Editorials | 3 comments | Share
Yesterday, a game was released on the Wii. A “real” game. Not shovelware, and not a dumbed-down, inferior version of an HD title. A triple-A RPG. You may have heard of it: Xenoblade Chronicles.
What makes this game unique, however, is that it only released in PAL territories (Europe today; Australia gets it on September 1), and Nintendo of America has zero interest in bringing it to the States, despite the fervent enthusiasm of the group of fans involved in grassroots movement Operation Rainfall. Fun fact: despite the – shall we say, lacking – North American Wii lineup in 2011 (besides Kirby and Zelda, we have… not much), Nintendo of America also has “no plans” to localize two other recently-released-in-Japan-and-heading-to-PAL-territories-but-never-to-America “core” titles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower. The games are already localized for English speaking countries. A simple region-lock switch and some new box art, and Nintendo could easily release them in the U.S. But they don’t want to, despite claiming they’ll “never say never.” Even thousands of fans can’t change Nintendo’s mind, apparently.
So, what are the options for Americans? Well, you could do what Nintendo wants, and simply never play these titles. That sucks, though. Xenoblade Chronicles (originally released in June 2010 as simply Xenoblade in Japan) garnered rave reviews – it’s currently sitting at a pretty 91/100 on MetaCritic, and there are only six Wii games with a higher aggregate score. Total. Ever. Seems worth playing, if you ask me.
So, option two? Pirate the game. Torrent it illegally, giving no money to developers Monolith Soft or publisher Nintendo. It’s not only highly illegal, but it’s also completely immoral, cost-effective, and it somehow supports terrorism. Don’t be a pirate.
Option three, you import the game. Of course, if you want to stay legit in the face of region-locked consoles, you’ll also have to import an entire Wii. So, despite costing roughly the same amount as an American Wii after the currency conversion, you still have that pesky British export tax, ensuring that you can’t order it from the heavy-hitters like Amazon.co.uk, or even GAME, which I was sure would export stuff to the U.S…. but apparently not anything weighing over 1 kg (for example: all hardware).
Furthermore, your European Wii works with a very small number of current American televisions (not many support a PAL signal – despite the programming being in the TV, manufacturers turn it off), so you might need a new TV. And I’m not 100% positive, but you may need a power converter to plug your shiny new Wii into the wall, as well. This sounds like a lot of hassle and wasted money to play any game, even if it is the best Wii game in recent memory.
And then there’s option four: hack your Wii, voiding the warranty, but import the game. This gets the money to the people that created the title, and you actually get to play it for yourself. Reggie Fils-Aime himself once hinted that strong PAL region sales of the three titles under the eager eyes of Operation Rainfall may convince Nintendo to do more with the games, like, say… bring them to North America after all. But if everyone who wants to play the games already imported them, who would buy the games when they hit U.S. shores? There would be no one left interested. Then Nintendo can say “I told you so” and resume not making core Wii titles. Wah wah wahhhhhh.
Option four doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Sure, there’s the incredibly negative connotation of “hacking,” but that’ll happen. Suuuuure, you’re breaking your Terms of Service and voiding your warranty, but so what? Wiis don’t break often. (How many Wiis have you had, hm? Now how about Xbox 360′s?) And then you can download the Wii homebrew emulator and play all those games you don’t own! Wait, that sounds awesome! That can’t be legal, can it? Oh yeah, it’s not. (The free games, I mean. Hacking only breaks your warranty and your grandmother’s heart.)
The point of the matter is that the Wii has a humongous homebrew community. The problem with that is that they also have a humongous hacker community, and thus pirate community. The two go hand-in-hand, regardless of what the “I just want backup copies of my discs” people try to tell you. There are plenty of gamers out there that, for one reason or another, just won’t pay for new games. Maybe they’re poor and would never be able to afford it otherwise (to which I say: get a job with all that game-playing free time, ya hippie!). Maybe they just like stickin’ it to the man. Maybe the store is wayyyyyy over there and it’s hard to get their Rascal into the van. If someone wants to hack their Wii (or any other console) to play an imported game that they paid for legitimately, there’s nothing wrong with that. And if you need to know, the internet will provide the answers. Just don’t pirate, ya jerk.
However. Something happened over on Joystiq yesterday that was… a little out of the ordinary. Jason Schreier, a writer for Wired.com’s Game|Life and freelancer extraordinaire, posted “How to play Xenoblade Chronicles if you live in America,” a guide on how to hack your Wii so as to play your legally purchased and imported copy of Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s a very informative and simple step-by-step guide to jailbreaking your Wii from its pesky region locking.
Now, there is nothing legally wrong with hacking your Wii to play imports. There’s not even anything wrong morally. But, where Jason could have merely shown people how to remove the region-locking, he took it farther. Using his guide, you have all the tools necessary to play pirated bootleg Wii games, if you so desire. He did make sure to point out the reasons why his guide was only for playing legal copies of games (nobody wants to get sued here, after all), but… there are instructions on bomb-making on the internet, too. Say “Don’t make this bomb; it actually works” at the bottom, and you’re removed of all liability. But what kinds of people are going to stumble upon that site? What kinds of people are going to go looking for it? People that want to use it.
Jason’s intent was to give American Wii owners the power and ability to play a game that they may otherwise never be able to play. A noble venture, if you ask me. However, how many people will use Jason’s words as their first step into the world of hacking? How many people will get their first taste of piracy from Joystiq, one of the most highly respected game sites in the country? In the world?
The hacking world has always been sort of the seedy underbelly of the video game universe – it’s acknowledged as a sort of necessary evil interfering with all the “wholesome” gaming going on in the overworld where everyone is smart and beautiful and has enough money to afford every game they’ve ever wanted to play. By showing us a way to circumvent Nintendo while still giving the creative minds at Monolith Soft their just rewards – to play games that Nintendo apparently didn’t want us to play – Joystiq has single-handedly legitimatized, condoned, and promoted hacking. And thus, piracy. The two still go hand-in-hand, dudes.
All of this information – all of it – is available elsewhere on the internet, mostly on hacking sites, where the users make no implication that you aren’t just using it pirate the latest and greatest titles for the system. On the other hand, without emulation and hacking, no one would have ever had the chance to play the localized, ready-to-be-released American version of the original NES Earthbound (which became Earthbound Zero on the ROMs), so it’s not all bad… right?
Still. People hack their systems. They bought them, and they can do what they want with them. But putting a “this is how to pirate (but don’t actually pirate)” guide on one of the most visible game websites in the world, well… that’s just irresponsible. GameJournos may not have had a problem with it, but all the disclaimers in the world won’t keep people honest.
“Hey son! There’s a gun on the table and here are some bullets and this is how you load it, but make sure you only use it for hunting!” Sure Dad. You can trust me!