Released on July 2015 following a beta phase, Bandai Namco Games’ free-to-play arena fighting game Rise of Incarnates will be over in December of the same year. This Mobile Suit Gundam VS.-inspired fighter’s lifespan totals at five months. It will join Soulcalibur: Lost Swords as two of the company’s failed attempts to enter the F2P market. While there are other published games still active in the model, it can be said that the publisher doesn’t have the knack for F2P. For ROI, there are many reasons that this game didn’t work.
Announced in 2014, the game was announced out of the blue with little to no fanfare. It was Bandai Namco’s attempt to make a new IP inspired by the success of the Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. series of games in Japanese arcades. Gameplay elements such as the 2vs2 third person arena combat, mobility skills and button/directional-specific abilities were carried over from EXVS. To reach a wider market, the elements were modified to make the game more accessible to lesser skilled players. People who played EXVS shrugged it off as a beginner friendly version of its influence while others didn’t care at all because it wasn’t either Tekken or Soulcalibur. Bandai Namco didn’t do enough to promote the game either. What was also missing from Rise of Incarnates was that it lacked the Gundam aspect.
At least in North America, Gundam had its time and people later were interested in other anime franchises. Regardless, Gundam did have a group of people still interested whether it was watching the various anime iterations or building model kits to this day. With anime fans growing in numbers year by year, this is a great opportunity to capitalize on Gundam once again. The problem for a while was how it was being dealt with outside of Japan. Before the recent developments at New York Comic Con, it was more or less challenging to officially find media. Licensing was more or less the culprit. Now Bandai Namco along with Gundam owners Sunrise are aiming to get as much content in international waters as possible. This includes streaming on sites like Hulu and Crunchyroll as well as releasing a series once only available in Japan.
The media initiative to bring Gundam overseas will need to expand to games. Bandai Namco’s last attempt to bring a game outside Japan was Crossfire for the PlayStation 3 in 2006. The negative reception from international publications seemed to hinder any plans of future Gundam games. While Dynasty Warriors: Gundam and its followups came out in North America and Europe throughout the years, it was influenced by Koei Tecmo’s desire to bring all their Musou games overseas.
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. and Rise of Incarnates producer Ryuichiro Baba mentioned that the latter was “tailored more to a Western audience” in “not just with the look of the game, but the mechanics, as well.” With the closure of ROI imminent, this was a major flaw. If Baba and crew thought they can convince people to play ROI instead of popular multiplayer games like League of Legends and Call of Duty, they failed entirely. It can be seen as a one-sided battle. Also adding that free-to-play games are prone to closure, it adds insult to injury.
While licensing concerns are understandable, the team behind ROI probably could have found better results if it had an anime aesthetic with the depth of the Gundam Vs. games. It still might not persuade many gamers but it’s better for people outside Japan to play something more true to its inspiration instead of importing a copy.
After the recent successes of localizing various Japanese games, Bandai Namco Games on the record acknowledged that there is a high demand for Gundam games. If Gundam Vs. is considered, that can be potential for some success in the West. With a console port of the successful Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. Maxi Boost likely on the way, this is the chance to have the game easily available outside Japan.
Being a fighting game, albeit not traditional, it can gain ground on that community. Fighting games have progressively been gaining popularity since the 2009 release of Street Fighter IV. More and more people are becoming competitive. With the Gundam Vs. games always on one of top series to play in Japanese arcades, it seems like a no brainer to spread the success to the world. If a game like Rocket League can get recognized as a eSports game, Gundam can as well.
Rise of Incarnates might face its end soon but Bandai Namco can find worth in releasing Gundam Vs. overseas to continue promoting the team-based fighting game series. There is interest but people acknowledged that they want the real deal, not a Westernized shell.