Sega/Atlus = The Return of the Old School?
Sega’s purchase of Index Holdings is old news at this point. Index Holdings is the owner of the developer and publisher Atlus, famous for RPG titles such as the Persona and Disgaea series. This move by Sega has caused a large amount of speculation and worry from fans who above all else feel that Sega was not the right company to take control of Atlus, leaving one of the few publishers responsible for a steady stream of JRPG and niche titles from Japan in less than capable hands.
It’s easy to see their point of view. It takes a less than a casual eye on gaming to see the Sega of today is not the Sega of old, the Sega we all grew up to adore. With a lack of new IPs, constant rehashing of their mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, and the debacle that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, Sega’s latest track record has been incredibly spotty at best and downright embarrassing at worst. Not to mention that their efforts to bring over overseas titles to North American audiences have been less than adequate. North American fans’ constant demands for titles from both the Yakuza and the Valkyria Chronicles series have seemed to fall on deaf ears. The titles that do eventually make it over to the US suffer from slow localization times and poor promotion of the titles.
This is a complete 180 degree turn from Atlus, who is not only known for bringing over niche titles from Japan, but also for localizing and releasing them mere months from their Japanese release. This puts Atlus fans in a very worrisome spot, fearing that many niche titles will never reach North American shores and as well as the possibility of the “Sega-ization” of their beloved franchises with famous Sega characters making appearances in games whether they logically have a place or not.
For the Atlus fan, this is all cause for concern.
For the Sega fans however, this could potentially be the opportunity they have been waiting for. With Atlus, Sega has the ability to do what the fans have been asking for: bring back old franchises.
The allure of Sega isn’t its selection of modern titles or recent releases; the draw of Sega and the reason it holds so many dedicated fans, is that, like Nintendo, it has a strong nostalgic factor. Sega has a massive backlog of titles from its past that have gained a strong cult following over the years. Titles such as the Jet Set Radio and Panzer Dragoon series have a large following, earning them not only digital re-releases on multiple consoles but also cameo and guest appearances in several recent Sega titles. Mentioning a title such as Shemnue, Skies of Arcadia or Nights Into Dreams would most likely garner as much of a positive response as even the most anticipated upcoming titles.
Sega is in the position to use Atlus to do something that fans have been asking of Sega since the Dreamcast days: bring old franchises and IPs, long since dormant and forgotten by the mainstream, to old and new audiences alike.
In a recent interview with Index, it was revealed that Sega gave permission to Atlus to utilize their iconic characters and franchises in any way deemed appropriate. With Atlus’ strong localization team, games long thought to be doomed to existence only in Japan may finally have a strong chance to make their way to the US. That sequel to Yakuza 4? That new installment in the Valkyria Chronicles franchise? Anything is possible if Sega realizes just how much of an opportunity they have to appeal to an older fan base and draw in new fans as well.
Sega can use the rapidly growing digital download market and multitude of services available to download from on nearly every console currently available to their advantage, providing fans with a steady release of classic titles and obscure Japanese games while still working on making the latest installment of their most lucrative and popular releases.
In a perfect world, balance will be found and the Sega/Atlus merger will result in the company not only continuing to produce niche and hardcore Japanese titles but also bringing out new and old Sega titles. Granted this optimism doesn’t come without reservations and concerns, I nonetheless want to remain hopeful that Sega will realize having a publisher like Atlus will not only earn consistent sales from their dedicated audience but also bring over more games to appease their entire Sega fan base, both old and new.
This is a chance for Sega and Atlus to use their partnership to both of their advantages. Together they have a strong hold on the JRPG and new title market as well as older titles, characters, and IP's. This presents the opportunity to earn a new legion of fans and win back the same fans that Sega had long ago.
Sega has the potential to become what they have not been in decades: a household name. By borrowing a page from Atlus’ playbook, Sega will see proof that standing out from the crowd and having faith in your fans rather than trying to appeal to the broadest spectrum of customers can be a successful business model in an age of cynical cash grabs and sequel after endless sequel.