From cryptic announcements to ignoring its fans to its shoddy release, E2 Gaming's legacy only serves to be one of bad business practices.

Taisho x Alice x Disaster

Otome games have been on the rise recently. Visual novels have been exploding in the west thanks to games like Ace Attorney and Zero Escape, but it’s only been a few years since licensors have realized there is a demand for games for women. It’s really not a surprise since manga readers are at least 50% female. Heck, even CNN did an article on romance games for women. So while companies like Voltage and Aksys Games have helped steer the reins, it’s no surprise that others have starting throwing their hat into the ring (MangaGamer, Idea Factory International).

And now, enter E2 Gaming.

A Brief History

Let’s flash back to a year ago. This post and its previous articles does a fantastic job of laying out the initial timeline, but here’s a recap:

In early May 2016, a company called E2 Gaming announced a new theme song for the English version of Taisho x Alice, an otome game from Primula. Taisho x Alice was originally released for PC in 2015 in four installments before being collected and ported to the PlayStation Vita in 2016. Considering no one had ever heard of E2 Gaming before, the Facebook post went largely unnoticed until a YouTube video was uploaded a couple of weeks later. People were confused since there had been no official announcement. The legitimacy was suspect considering the official website did not credit the original developer and the sites seemingly used fan translations for the character profiles.

In late May, E2 Gaming officially proclaimed they were bringing over all four episodes of Taisho x Alice. They apologized for their earlier missteps, saying they had been over-excited. Things got even more bizarre when evidence emerged that they had starting making convention appearances in February 2016 and had changed their Facebook logo in March. Comments were also reportedly deleted.

Those actions aside, no doubt most visual novel players have two questions upon hearing a license:

  1. Will there be voices? And
  2. Will the project be crowdfunded?

In different responses, E2 said basically “well maybe” to the first and “definitely” to the second. On May 28th, 2016, they said “No problem, we’ll be releasing the games shortly and everything will be all good!” Primula officially confirmed the license, and E2 Gaming promoted Taisho x Alice in a series of conventions over the summer and the occasional Facebook post. In August, they revealed the first game had been fully translated, Spanish subtitles would be included, and that crowdfunding was no longer necessary for the series, and they uploaded this poorly edited graphic:

Taisho x Alice Information
Four legs, three shoulders, seems legit.

In November, they said they were trying to finish the release by the end of the year. One conventiongoer was told by a representative the game would feature Japanese voices along with an English dub.

The J-LOP logo was spotted there as well. The “administrative arm” of the Cool Japan Fund (now called VIPO I believe), it aims to develop and send Japanese content overseas. Both private companies and the Japanese government provide support, financial and otherwise.

Well, in late December, that goal changed to March, which then later became April. Finally, on May 8th, the game was released.

I’m sure you have guessed by now… it wasn’t released to critical acclaim.

The Final Product

Again, Elly of Figuratively Speaking does a wonderful job of breaking down the issues.

But let’s start at the beginning.

No, not the beginning of the game; the checkout process.

If you go to E2 Gaming to buy the game (or even just to learn more about Taisho x Alice), your browser will warn you that the connection is not secure. Obviously, this is pretty nerve-racking even with PayPal Checkout. I don’t know who their host is, but the code reveals it is powered by WordPress. Some hosts have an easy way to install SSL encryption (it’s basically two clicks on SiteGround), but even if not, it’s still a free process with Let’s Encrypt.

E2 Gaming Checkout

In my humble opinion, to not secure a site involving financial transactions is just asking for trouble.

But those who actually purchased the game quickly found the release… subpar.

Now on to the actual beginning. Of the game. You know, the opening movie.

Taisho x Alice Opening Credits

Yes, the credits are in Japanese.

So, okay, the company didn’t want to edit the Japanese text. Fine. Lazy, but not a dealbreaker. But what happened to the replacement theme song “Phantasia”, which had been announced since BEFORE Day One?

But when you start the game, here’s something you may notice:

Yes, that is Japanese.

Let me repeat: the menus are in Japanese. In an English-localized game. In 2017. By a real company, not a fan project.

However, some Japanese was replaced– Japanese voices. Yes, Taisho x Alice has an English dub. Unfortunately, evidence has emerged this was an in-house dub. I’ll let you judge for yourself as to the quality:

But if you don’t like the voices, you can just disable them. (Make sure to use the handy-dandy PDF of the menu to figure out the options if you can’t read Japanese.) However, there’s one thing that can’t be disabled: the text.

E2 Gaming’s site does not have any screens of Taisho x Alice, which is highly irregular. Yes, they have some background images and character designs, but the site does not have any images of the dialogue. Unless, of course, you count the two images from back in December. Here’s one of them:

Taisho x Alice Screen

Now, perhaps the grammatical mistakes could be forgiven in a beta release, but the final version doesn’t seem much better:

Dealing with honorifics and the different Japanese writing systems can be a pain for translators (think the two titular girls named Nana in NANA). E2 Gaming decided to tackle the problem in their own way:

I guess Alice B and Alice G, Alice #1 and Alice #2, or Alice and Arisu were out of the question…?

E2 Gaming’s Response

E2 Gaming has not revealed a lot about their organization; suspicion is that it is, essentially, a one-man operation. That doesn’t excuse the many blunders the company has made. When fans started voicing their complaints about the game on the announcement post on Facebook, E2 Gaming deleted the entire thread and announced the second volume is slated for summer.

I’m no PR expert, but I do know that trying to squash a controversy only causes people to get even more upset. Supposedly, their original PR guy was let go because of the allegations he plagiarized and the poor response, but this “new” person isn’t doing any better. As the saying goes, happy customers will tell five people; angry customers will tell 50.

Interestingly enough, by May 12th, the whole Facebook page was disabled or deleted. Is this their way of trying to avoid more backlash?

Are Fans Overreacting?

Certainly not. To charge $30 for a product that doesn’t even bother to translate the menu is unacceptable. I don’t even know what would be an acceptable price for a game like that! And E2 Gaming is not doing anything to address fans’ concerns. Instead, they’re trying to sweep everything under the rug. This whole episode is How Not To Sell Your Product 101.

But let’s play devil’s advocate. What if E2 Gaming had been very upfront about their process? I imagine fans would have been more forgiving, but this would still be labeled a very substandard product. The sub vs dub debate has been done many times before (and will probably continue on until the end of time). But this is 2017, not 1997; there are several established studios that could have recorded the voices. Even disregarding that, the grammatical errors do not make for a stellar product. E2 Gaming should be trying to put their best foot forward for their first release, especially since there are three other games in the series that they want customers to purchase. I wasn’t too thrilled with all the errors in Norn9: Var Commons from Aksys Games, and that was from an established company that has a better reputation!

From PR disasters to delays to a substandard product, E2 Gaming is not making people want to buy Taisho x Alice. And that’s a shame on multiple levels.

First, the negativity surrounding the game is almost certainly going to affect sales. Obviously, someone — quite possibly the Japanese government — is footing much (all?) of the bill to localize the game. This means that it is quite possible for the project to lose money, and this will likely make grantors and investors second guess supplying funds to startups. An individual or small organization may really want to bring over a game, anime, or manga, and now their projects are in jeopardy.

Next, the game itself. Taisho x Alice is Primula’s first game, and I don’t even believe their parent company, Production Pencil, or any of its subsidiaries have had a game licensed. Some creators are very protective of their product and act like helicopter parents to foreign publishers, but others trust in their business partners. This Twitter Moments timeline features one individual’s response from Primula about the game. It sounds like Primula was not aware of the game being ready for release, let alone its issues.

That same thread features some research on E2 Gaming, but some of it relies on secondhand sources. You can judge for yourself as to the veracity.

Even in the best case scenario, E2 Gaming figured they could do the project on a shoestring budget. It’s just a visual novel, how hard could it be? Hype the game, a chance to promote a singer, translate text, put text in game = boom, instant profit. Taking longer than expected? Cost more for proofreaders, an established dub studio, etc.? Cut corners here and there. Although the announcement about E2 Gaming acquiring private funding came in August, it wouldn’t surprise me that the funds came in before that. After almost a year, I would venture somebody wanted to see some results. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it has been almost exactly a year since the game started really being promoted.

The Future of Taisho x Alice

So will Taisho x Alice Volume 2 ever come out? At this point, who knows. Although E2 Gaming had stated it would, as every publisher knows, later volumes and sequels almost certainly sell less than the previous ones. Yes, production costs are generally lower, but I imagine there will be a sharp drop-off between the first two Taisho x Alice entries. Even with a small budget, can the series really turn a profit?

As the original developers, Primula could try to seize the rights back. Hopefully they have a clause in their contract that reserves them the right to terminate the agreement at any time. (A situation similar to TOKYOPOP’s loss of Kodansha manga I imagine.) Unfortunately, without an overseas branch or established connections, the series would likely stay incomplete. Primula loses revenue, Taisho x Alice loses exposure, and the fans lose a chance to support otome games and visual novels.

If E2 Gaming wants to (or has to) finish the series, they have some serious bridges to repair. A patch that translates the menus and touches up the dialogue would be a wonderful gesture, but I doubt they would spend the money to fix the release. At the minimum, E2 Gaming should apologize and take full responsibility for a release that disappointed so many. Don’t pretend people are happy or make excuses. I doubt they would make any changes to the voice cast, but the later volumes should have a polished script and a menu English speakers can use with ease. This may cut into their profits, but there aren’t going to be any if word keeps going out they are releasing substandard products.

I’m not holding my breath.

Final Thoughts

I would have bought the game eventually, but it was released in a rather bad time (right between two major English otome Vita game releases). However, I do not plan on supporting E2 Gaming, but I hope others make it clear to Primula that it’s because of the release, not the game itself. I know the zip file of the game is easily available on the Internet, but please remember that you could always support Primula and not E2 Gaming by importing the original PC release or Vita port.

So, have you been following the saga of Taisho x Alice? Have you bought any visual novels before? Have you bought a product with a similarly tumultuous release? How did you and/or the company react? What do you think Taisho x Alice fans and/or E2 Gaming do?