Operation Rainfall and the Future: The Post-Pandora Interview

With the recent announcement from XSEED Games confirming the North American localization of Pandora’s Tower, it almost feels like the end of an era: the Operation Rainfall era. But the release of the three games that gave birth to an organization doesn’t mean their time is over – at least, not judging by what Operation Rainfall owner Jonathan Higgins has to say. It’s just beginning.

I recently sat down for an interview with Jonathan and chatted about the past, present, and future of both Operation Rainfall and the games that are its heart and soul. He’s confident that as long as there are still more niche games and publishers to bring to the world, Operation Rainfall will be there to dedicated to giving them their time in the limelight. Read on for the interview.

GenGAME: Operation Rainfall originally began as a fan movement to get three games localized, and now it has its own regularly-updated website and delivers other news. Could you explain how the movement got to where it is today?

Jonathan Higgins: I suppose the one-word answer to that question is “drive”. To elaborate, though, it involved the drive of both the people behind the scenes of the Operation Rainfall campaign and the followers of the campaign. For the first six months or so, as our campaign was just beginning to take shape, the only presence that was truly vital to our success was the kind offered by social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc).

operation-rainfall-xenobladeAs soon as Nintendo of America confirmed Xenoblade Chronicles on December 2nd, 2011, that gave each individual behind the scenes a renewed sense of motivation. Promotion and coverage went on in full-force, even to the point of offering in-depth looks at that game, as well as The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower. To that end, just having social media presence wouldn’t be good enough anymore. If we wanted to offer information regarding our knowledge and passion for these games, we’d need a bigger avenue.

The website was in its beginning stages right around the time I joined the Operation Rainfall staff, just after a month of coverage devoted to The Last Story (funnily enough, on one of the last days of “The Last Story Month,” Reggie confirmed the game was coming stateside courtesy of XSEED Games via a Nintendo Direct). In the few months after our website launched, we began to expand upon the idea of Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower being “niche” games. Operation Rainfall’s renewed sense of purpose came from making sure every “niche” game, developer, and publisher got its time in the spotlight.

Even though it’s been almost a full year since the launch of our website, and the “Operation Rainfall Campaign” is considered retired in favor of less campaigning and more coverage, we haven’t forgotten our roots. To examine what we’ve become today is to keep that in mind: we started as a campaign, but each and every one of us had the drive to become something bigger.

GG: Could you explain the “Operation Rainfall” name – what it meant in the beginning stages, and what you see it representing now based on your broader mission?

oprainfall-logoThe concept of “Rainfall” is what gave our campaign form. It’s the symbol of one raindrop going unnoticed, versus a collective rainfall bringing about a quiet storm. In the instance of campaigning for our three games, I know the idea rang true to me personally because “Operation Rainfall” was a way for my tiny voice to become part of a collective one that echoed similar sentiments towards Nintendo, hardcore-RPGs, and the like.

Moving forward, I find the sentiment of “rainfall” to still echo across our broader mission. It is through a collective presence, after all, that we can work to make publishers like XSEED Games, ATLUS, NISAmerica, and others even more well-known than they currently are. I’ll say something similar to what I said when I wrote up XSEED’s announcement of Pandora’s Tower on the site:

“Rain is mostly a calming phenomenon in my eyes. But if I urge one thing from everyone reading this, as someone who has supported Operation Rainfall since the beginning—show [the games you love] a storm of support.”

GG: Why did you select Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower as your three headline campaign games? Was it just about the likelihood of success, or is there something deeper that you see these games as representing?

To put it another way, I’ve heard a lot of people call Xenoblade the best JRPG of the generation or even of all time – that has to suggest there’s something special there that people have been looking for.

JH: I wasn’t there in the beginning, so I might not be able to provide the most comprehensive answer to this question. I can, however, offer my best guess:

The Nintendo Wii was suffering as a platform prior to E3 2011. There were almost no comprehensive, hardcore RPGs to be found on the system as of late, and anything that was coming seemed minimal or way, way far off. I imagine the sentiment that sparked this campaign was just a handful of fans longing for hardcore experiences to be had a Nintendo platform that wasn’t the Nintendo DS, much like I was…having gone from 2006 to December 2011 or so without ever owning any other “next-gen” systems.

the-last-story-cityXenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story had star-power behind them. And Pandora’s Tower certainly had the potential for star-power, being a new IP from a new developer. I suppose all three games were chosen because of the tailwind that could be created behind their continued presence in American and European minds. For many, it was “the creator of Final Fantasy made a game exclusively for Wii? Why? And more importantly, why can’t I play it?!” Similar sentiments must have been shared for both Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower.

While many of the campaign’s founding members no doubt shared a love for all three games, I imagine each of them approached the campaign with that one game they wanted in mind. I know for one of the other site owners, Richard Ross, that one game was The Last Story. And when Xenoblade was confirmed, it was just an added bonus. Now that Pandora’s Tower has been announced as well, many of the staff who never got the chance to experience the game shall have another “added bonus” as well.

Having joined the staff after two of our three games had been announced, I kept an extremely close eye on reception of Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story as they were released. What began as a phenomenon of getting these games noticed by people has certainly turned into a sea of “thanks” from our most devoted fans, who now carry fond memories of Xenoblade and The Last Story with them.

It may not have been something special in the beginning, but I have no doubt it’s become special now.

I know my motivation for Oprainfall’s success after playing Xenoblade Chronicles skyrocketed to an unfathomable extent…so much so that my “tiny voice” when I joined in February 2012 has become one of three driving voices behind the site, looking towards the future.

GG: It sounds to me like you’re a big Xenoblade Chronicles fan! That leads me to the next question: of the three main campaign games, which is your personal favorite and why does it stick out to you?

JH: Before I knew anything about the three campaigned games, I would have answered this question with “The Last Story,” simply because of my love for Hironobu Sakaguchi and MISTWALKER. Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower were two games I was…somewhat familiar with, but that one was the one I was most interested in experiencing.

That certainly changed the day Nintendo of America put up their Xenoblade Chronicles trailer and I got to see the action for the first time. I was hooked to say the least. That soundtrack combined with those visuals left me longing for April 6th. I even imported the soundtrack; the “Main Theme” from Xenoblade Chronicles remains the most played song in my iTunes library. I may be showing off my nerd-pride a little too much there, but…it’s just that good.

Playing through Xenoblade Chronicles took me just over eighty hours. I wanted to 100% the game, but after certain events took place in the story, I found myself way more motivated to power through to the end and see what would happen to these characters and their world.

xenoblade-challenging-status-quoI am extremely motivated by the philosophy found in video games. I definitely consider video games to be art, and in my opinion, Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the highest forms of art in the medium. Because of how the story functions and what motivates each character in the world, you cannot possibly come away from that experience without questioning the motives and functions of our own world. One of the most striking philosophical conundrums presented in Xenoblade is the notion of existing “outside the pre-established harmony.” If I went into too much detail, I could fill volumes… but let’s just say Xenoblade Chronicles did a lot to make me question fine lines that most games tend to set very quickly.

It’s funny, and I’m ashamed to admit this on public forum, but… I haven’t finished The Last Story yet. Playing TLS immediately after Xenoblade left me wanting more from it. That’s why I think anyone who tries to compare our three campaigned games to one another does so in folly. These games are cut from three very distinct cloths that appeal to very different types of people. But part of what I find fascinating about Oprainfall is how all of these different types of people can come under one umbrella to talk of games they’re passionate about. And somehow, everyone understands.

GG: I know that you’ve said that Operation Rainfall is about more than just localization campaigns, but it still seems like that kind of community drive is a core force. Now that XSEED has announced Pandora’s Tower, do you have plans to pursue the localization of any other games? We haven’t heard anything about Bravely Default yet, for example…

JH: And to your “Bravely Default” question, I answer with “Bring Bravely Default to the West,” one of many members of the Oprainfall “Campaign Hub.”

We’ve been asked many, many times if we’ll ever “pick up another game.” The Campaign Hub is our answer to that question. Rather than do the campaign work from scratch, we found it a much more effective means to unite the many, many campaigns out there that have been inspired by the success of Operation Rainfall, or which existed as separate entities previously, under one familiar banner.

project-crystallis-oprainfallThe success of members of our Campaign Hub is largely dependent on how much effort they put forth as individuals. The example I constantly bring to the forefront of a discussion like this is Project Crystalis, the campaign for Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. They’ve become an identity all their own, with things like their recent interviews with the voice-actresses for Fang and Vanille from FFXIII, and their very successful “Project Playthrough” as worthy accolades.

“Operation Rainfall” as a campaign retired a ways back. But the phoenix that rises from the ashes of the old campaign is the collective “Campaign Hub,” whose members will no doubt become their own success stories in time.

GG: I think it’s really significant that the three “central” games are all Wii games. There was once a time when Nintendo didn’t really have to worry about high-profile RPGs appearing on its platforms, but with the PlayStation’s introduction of CD-ROM format, a number of those RPGs found a new home.

With the apparent success of the Operation Rainfall movement’s push for those three Wii RPGs, and Monster Hunter’s appearance on both 3DS and Wii U, do you think we’ll see more Japanese RPGs brought to Nintendo platforms this generation than in the last few?

JH: I really, really hope so. I’ve actually spent the past several weeks playing an imported copy of Soma Bringer on my 3DS. Even though the game is entirely Japanese, I was able to make my way through it, understand it, and…realize what a completely missed opportunity it was for Nintendo to not release this game outside of Japan. Both North America and the PAL region have missed out on one of the finest hand-held RPGs I’ve ever played! Soma Bringer was the Monolith Soft RPG that came before Xenoblade. I’m kind of hoping the “clamoring” that Oprainfall has created will lead to Nintendo localizing the next great Monolith Soft game, as well as all other RPGs in general.

The Japanese RPG just isn’t a well-traveled medium anymore. I think this sentiment is causing more and more developers out there to bring games like Xenoblade Chronicles to their audiences; in an epic struggle to stay in the forefront of people’s minds, we’re honestly getting some of the most well-developed role-playing games since the “Golden Era” of the SNES. I look no further than Fire Emblem Awakening and Etrian Odyssey IV for proof of that!

GG: Last question, and one I’m asking in the spirit of one of our seasoned reviewers: what’s your favorite cold beverage?

JH: THE TOUGHEST QUESTION OF ALL! No, seriously. Hmm… you just can’t go wrong with A&W Cream Soda.

A big thank you to Jonathan for taking the time out to help us deliver this excellent interview. Be sure to check out Operation Rainfall and their Campaign Hub for all the latest news related to games like Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower that fans are fighting to see published in the West.