Did you ever play Phantasy Star Online series on the GameCube? If you did, then you’ll perhaps be aware of their infamy as the only GameCube titles to use the broadband capabilities of the console. But what if I told you that this is not true? That a different title outside the PSO series exists, not only capable of using the GameCubes online capabilities, but also of using the console as a server itself. What if I told you that this game is titled Homeland? An extremely unique title for the GameCube, published and developed by Chunsoft. The same Chunsoft who created the first five games of the Dragon Quest series. Now you might be asking yourself, with a pedigree like that, how come almost nobody knows about Homeland?
Homeland is definitely an obscure title. Featuring elements that aren’t normally common in role playing games probably made Homeland a hard sale for customers. But I believe that it’s these very same elements which made Homeland such a joy to experience. You see, Homeland is a very nonlinear game, to the point where you the player can experience any of the 12 storylines in different order depending on the choices you make throughout the game. Not only does this add variety to Homeland, but it encourages experimentation and curiosity.
You play as either a boy or a girl in Homeland. The stories presented to the player are your usual RPG fare, and can as simple as saving the world to an extremely challenging quiz… trust me it’s nightmarish. They’re usually very interesting, and allow for a lot of experimentation with the addition of side-quests within each one. The game becomes even better when you bring a friend along for some co-op action which is possible without the use of an online mode. But even if you do bring a friend, there are still some story lines which can only be played online…
While Homeland features a rather well-developed single player mode, it was still marketed as an online title. Each game can feature up to 35 players, and when chained together the characters can boost each others’ stats in order to become more powerful. A feature that has to be praised is the foresight demonstrated by Chunsoft by gating off the online mode until players had finished at least one story. This would ensure players had an idea on how to play the game before diving online, while simultaneously serving as the tutorial. But in order to play online, one player has to become the gamemaster.
The gamemaster is capable of helping of hindering the players in his server. A good gamemaster strives to find a balance between punishing, and rewards his minions while maintaining peace among the party. To ensure this, they can kick out trolls and other toxic players from the server if they are causing problems. An interesting aspect of the gamemaster is that their GameCube is also the acting server for the game. This avoids any of these fees typically associated with membership to games like the official PSO servers which cost 10 dollars monthly to play. Hosting a full server meant that a gamemaster had his hands full as players could topple nearly any challenge, and how can you be fair when the players are kicking your rear? Well, I guess it comes down to the experience. After all, what fun is it if rocks fall and everyone dies? You can find out if you play Homeland on the GameCube…
But you can’t unless you’re willing to play it on a Japanese GameCube and import a copy. Players have been trying to figure out how to host a server using homebrew for some time now, and they’ve still haven’t had any success. While you can enjoy the single player campaign using emulators, nothing matches the joy of being able to play online mode. What reason could Nintendo have had for not porting Homeland over to the West? Especially after the success of Phantasy Star Online? Actually, Nintendo probably has a few good reasons.
Homeland was released in April 29, 2005. Diehard fans of the Fire Emblem will recognize this as nine days after Path of Radiance released on the same console. Anyone who understands gaming will know that releasing obscure titles around the same time as a big release will almost guarantee failure, even more so if it’s late in a console’s lifespan. This is especially worse when we consider that both Fire Emblem and Homeland are both Role Playing Games which puts them against the same market. The requirement for the Nintendo Broadband Adapter was also a negative, as they were hard to find in the United States. The fact that it’s a very text heavy title probably made Nintendo worry as recent time have shown us that they don’t believe in complicated storylines.
In essence, it could have been a multitude of things which went against Nintendo’s ideals at the time. It’s fair to use that Homeland wouldn’t have probably sold well in our side of the world. An obscure title from the creators of Dragon Quest wasn’t necessarily a sure winner at the time. Nintendo has been undergoing a lot of changes lately and have slightly shifted towards more risk-taking behaviors. But Homeland had the distinct misfortune of being born before this era. The fact is we might never see a title like Homeland on the GameCube, yet maybe we can see some changes with Nintendo’s policies one day. Until that day, there’s only so much you can do to experience Homeland.
(P.S. I’m trying to get a group of people who know about Homeland together to play on a server. I actually own a retail copy of the game, and would like to hear from other players who’d like to try it out. I could gamemaster for us if required. But I’d need some assistance, mostly instructions on how to host since I can’t read Kanji, Hiragana, or Katakana.)