Stephen Foote tackles the issues of the day in Best Foote Forward. He will neither confirm nor deny that he was responsible for the naming of this column.
I don’t often draw attention to this point, but I’m a huge fan of the rhythm genre. Due to the perceived lack of interest in these titles in the 90s and early 2000s, outside of arcades Australia rarely saw any of them until the original Guitar Hero exploded onto the PS2. Naturally, I prepaid and picked it up on its release day and did the same with its immediate sequel. Unfortunately, in the following years Activision took over the IP and began boring the world to death with release after release while rival title Rock Band completely ignored Australia altogether. It was then that I started to look abroad for my rhythm fix. Thanks to one of the banes of gaming – regional restrictions – the majority of overseas releases were unplayable on PAL consoles.
I started searching for lesser known rhythm games, something that could sate my hunger for the genre. It was during this search that I came across the DJ Max series. Starting out as an online PC title, DJ Max is a Korean series by developer Pentavision. The game is quite similar to Konami’s Beatmania series of titles and for most people the two would be interchangeable. At the time of my rhythm quest, DJ Max Portable 2 had recently been released in Korea for the PlayStation Portable but, unlike so many games released in the Asia region, actually had an English text option.
Sony made a very smart decision with the PSP in removing game region restrictions. Of course, this didn’t save the machine from being hacked like lumber in the middle of winter, but it did deflate most of the arguments surrounding its fame as a machine ripe for piracy. Why would you hack your PSP if you could legitimately play any imported title on it? You know, other than being cheap.
Having given me an English option, I imported DJ Max Portable 2 and fell in love. For beginners, the game is brutally difficult. However, it is one of the few games that you can feel yourself getting better at as you play. Returning to songs that brought you to the game over screen within 10 seconds not a week previously and clearing them without missing a note brings the kind of elation only other gamers (and perhaps professional sportspeople) can appreciate. As of writing, I have every DJ Max game released, whether it is exclusive to Korea or having seen a release in Japan and/or North America. I even have this monstrosity, which I had to import through a Korean auction site using Google Translate.
Later this year, the DJ Max series is making its debut on the PS Vita with DJ Max Technika Tune. Whilst initially the news filled me with excitement, I was soon disappointed to find out that the game would be using the SEN (or PSN to us old school PlayStation 3 players) to distribute additional content as DLC. Just in case you aren’t already aware, I’ll lay this out for you: the Australian PSN Store is, to put it mildly, a bit of a joke. As far as releases go, we are often ignored or overcharged when compared to our fellow gamers overseas. Remember the good old days when Australia was lumped in with Europe when it came to releasing games? Well Sony chose to abandon that, meaning that our PlayStation Store has sometimes even fewer releases to choose from. This means that despite the PS3, PSP and PS Vita all being region free (at least for games, Sony continues to hold firm to DVD and Blu Ray restrictions) there is often no avenue for gamers wishing to legitimately purchase DLC for imported games.
Now I know many people will jump to the PS3′s defence, declaring the ease of creating false overseas accounts with which to purchase said DLC, which you ALSO need to pay for using overseas PSN Cards as Sony understandably tightened their Credit Card verification a number of years ago. Quite frankly, this is a lot of hoops to jump through just to give a company your money. This is all well and good for the PS3, as it is designed to handle multiple PSN accounts, thus allowing you to play games from other regions complete with their DLC if you’re willing to put in the effort. The PSP and PS Vita however are not so fortunate. Sony locks you into a single PSN account for these devices. For example, when I changed my PSP’s PSN account from US to Australian in order to purchase DLC for my Australian version of Valkyria Chronicles 2, I was no longer able to play PS One Classics Xenogears and Chrono Cross which I had purchased on my US account. Both are games which, despite being widely regarded as classic entries in their genre, never saw a PSOne release in Australia and for some inexplicable reason still haven’t appeared on the Australian PSN Store to this day.
Here’s my problem (and how this all ties together): given the series’ track record, I highly doubt DJ Max Technicka Tune for the PS Vita will see a release in Australia. Heck, the games haven’t even surfaced in Europe. Sure, I can import the title from either Korea or the US and play to my heart’s content, but Sony have made sure that unless I abandon my Australian retail and PSN purchases completely, I won’t be able to access the games DLC. Also, what they fail to tell you is that importing a PS Vita title will render its online functions unavailable to you, given Sony’s penchant for including Network Passes as a PSN Store code which is only redeemable by an account based in the region from which you purchased the game.
To me this is a fundamental design flaw in Sony’s policies regarding regional restriction. This is something that cannot be done in half measures. Sony needs to either allow multiple PSN accounts on the PS Vita and PSP to bring it in line with the PS3, or they need to allow cross regional DLC purchase options from within the game, ala iOS software in-app purchase options. In today’s global economy it is ridiculous that a company makes it next to impossible for you to give them your money. A few months ago, I would have guaranteed you that developers don’t care how or where you pay for their game, only that you pay for it, however Atlus’ recent decision to make their upcoming title Persona 4 Arena the first PlayStation 3 title to be region restricted gives me little hope for the future of this issue. While some publishers no doubt have deals in place for different regions, I’d always assumed that at the end of the day they just want their products purchased. What do publishers and Sony gain by preventing legitimate purchases by end users? To my mind the only people who ever benefitted from region restrictions were retailers.
I know some people might see this is a relatively unimportant topic given the amount of serious issues currently doing the rounds in gaming press. However, an increasing number of consumers in Australia are looking overseas for their purchases. What will happen when they discover that importing a game at a lower cost also means being prevented from purchasing DLC or even playing online?