[Nintendad Coffeehouse] How Operation Rainfall made Monolith Soft Nintendo’s MVP

Tale as old as time, true as it can be

Today, Nintendad is looking back on Operation Rainfall, ten years removed from its beginnings. We’ll be looking at its significance particularly with respect to Monolith Soft, but also Nintendo on the whole. Operation Rainfall, for those who don’t know, was a fan driven campaign to see Japanese titles release in the West.

At the tail end of the Wii’s impressive life span, three titles were released in Japan. With most Wii units stagnating in their owners entertainment units at this point (with Sony and Microsoft having now well and truly launched the HD revolution) the audience wasn’t active enough to justify publishing costs, despite the Wii’s phenomenal install base. For Western gamers, the chances of ever playing Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower, the three games targeted by Operation Rainfall, seemed slim, without resorting to importing or modding their systems.

The three titles targeted by Operation Rainfall were all JRPGs – Japanese Role Playing Games – which, while often have ardent fan bases, don’t show their loyalty with high sales figures. Operation Rainfall’s primary focus was to make Nintendo, specifically Nintendo of America, aware of just how in demand these titles would be. The movement quickly gained momentum, thanks to a huge number of media outlets who picked up on the story and as momentum grew, Nintendo took notice and brought Xenoblade Chronicles to the west. The rest is history.

Incidentally, both The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower were published by XSEED as a result of Operation Rainfall.

Just a little change, small to say the least

Much like another of Nintendo’s big hitters – Fire Emblem – there were moments where it seemed as though the Xenoblade franchise simply wouldn’t endure. However just like Fire Emblem, it came through its period of uncertainty and is now a series that gets people genuinely excited. While it doesn’t hold the same sway that The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario command, it has a ferociously loyal fan base (this humble hack included) that simply put, adore the worlds that Monolith create.

The original entry, which is soon to be released as a beautiful remaster on Nintendo Switch, had Monolith Soft flexing their technical muscles as they created a game world quite unlike anything on the Nintendo Wii. While it was admittedly quite rough around the edges, the expansive and diverse world that they crafted showed a level of ambition that was admirable. Given the Nintendo Wii’s incredibly limited resources, Monolith had put together a masterpiece.

Xenoblade Chronicles was never about anything other than the story. The world was part of that, as from the offset the player was told a story of two warring titans who one day just stopped. These two titans – the Bionis and Mechonis – became the worlds in which our merry band of protagonists traversed throughout the duration of this 50+ hour epic. As with any JRPG worth its salt, there are twists and turns along the way, but what really resonated in Xenoblade Chronicles was the overarching theme of friendship, and with it, a sense of family.

Ever just the same, ever a surprise

When Nintendo released an updated model of their incredibly popular 3DS family of systems – the New 3DS – with the promise of exclusive titles that could only run on the updated hardware, it was telling that they chose to port Xenoblade Chronicles as their flagship offering. While there would only be fourteen titles in total that would demand a model with the New moniker to be played; seven of which being SNES Virtual Console titles, the fact that Nintendo opted for Xenoblade Chronicles further cemented not only the franchise, but also Monolith Soft as two of Nintendo’s most valuable assets.

With Nintendo moving into further uncharted waters with the release of the Wii U, their first foray into HD gaming, Monolith Soft once again joined the party, this time conceptualising a game world so uniquely unadulterated, so brimming with life and personality that even today, it puts some modern day titles to shame. Xenoblade Chronicles X wasn’t about character development, and the story – while perfectly respectable – played second fiddle throughout. In Xenoblade Chronicles X, Mira was as much a character as Elma, Lin or the inimitable Tatsu and discovering her many secrets was what made Xenoblade Chronicles X almost infinitely playable. Perhaps the barren nature of the Wii U’s library played a part, but Xenoblade Chronicles X offered so much and once more, cemented Monolith as Nintendo’s MVP.

Despite the Nintendo Wii U’s failures, it was undoubtedly a necessary step to facilitate the development of the Nintendo Switch, essentially acting as a prototype for Nintendo’s hybrid heavy hitter. As such, it was no surprise that within the first year of the console’s launch a Xenoblade title arrived, and this time it adopted the moniker Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Once again, Monolith reverted to a story-driven gameplay experience, offering a compelling narrative to push the title along. Whilst set in a new and exotic land with an entirely new ensemble of adventurers, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – as the name seemingly alludes to – was in fact a sequel of sorts to Xenoblade Chronicles.

Ever as before, ever just as sure

With the nature of the video game industry, a season pass was announced and it brought across protagonists from the inaugural outing to act as a supporting cast to Rex, Pyra, Mythea et all. The conclusion of the season pass brought with it new story content that was so ambitious that it even got its own physical stand alone release. Torna ~ The Golden Country built upon everything that Monolith had previously put in place and added a battle system that excelled in every single way. Once again, it was also an incredibly powerful piece of story telling that furthered the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and added layers of lore to an already rich repertoire. Unlike Breath of the Wild which promised additional layers of story delivered through DLC but ultimately fell a bit flat, Torna added to Xenoblade 2’s narrative in a rich and compelling way and was ultimately totally deserving of its standalone release. Yet again, Monolith delivered.

Speaking of the aforementioned Breath of the Wild, 2017’s GOTY, it comes as no surprise that Nintendo turned to thier most trusted lieutenant to help implement the expansive open world that they had envisioned for Hyrule. Anyone who has played Xenoblade Chronicles X will almost definitely feel Monolith’s DNA scattered throughout Hyrule. Not content on helping conceptualise just one Nintendo GOTY offering, they even lent a hand in bringing the world of Animal Crossing New Horizons to life. As mentioned earlier, Monolith are without a shadow of a doubt Nintendo’s most valuable asset.

With the upcoming remaster of Xenoblade Chronicles arriving on the Nintendo Switch imminently featuring Future Connected, a new story expansion, the franchise appears to be in great health and seemingly will play a part in Nintendo’s plans for generations to come. A port of Xenoblade Chronicles X seems entirely plausible and depending on what Future Connected sets in motion, a sequel to the Chronicles series seems like a given. Monolith seemingly has found its rightful place by Nintendo’s side.

Certain as the sun, rising in the East

The possibilities seem infinite. Xenoblade Warriors would be phenomenal, given the eclectic array of characters introduced throughout Xenoblade’s ranging entries. It could rival Hyrule Warriors as a must-have time sink title. As well as crossover content, everything is in place for a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles X and the ambiguity surrounding the ending of that title would certainly provide an opportunity to return to Mira, or a new planet akin to Mira, not just in scope but also in creativity.

As Monolith’s stock within the Nintendo infrastructure continues to rise, the company’s exponential expansion is no surprise. With 247 members on the team as well as four active studios at the time of writing, Monolith Soft is here to stay. But how different it could have been not just for Monolith Soft, but also Nintendo and gamers alike, had Operation Rainfall been a wash-out.

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