Japandemonium - Jupiterian Vibe

Welcome, everyone, to another Japandemonium. Pull up a chair and join me in a look back at the week that was in Japan. There's a bit of a dearth of news this week, despite the fact that publishers are still going gangbusters with new releases. I've made up for this by including a mini-preview of a rather interesting game being developed by Idea Factory. But first, let's get the sales figures out of the way.

Oh my! This past week was huge for games in Japan. Dengeki's numbers for the week ending August 10th seemingly show a doppelganger of the market we've seen over the past few months, with many new games and a ton of sales. The best-selling game for the week was Konami's latest footie offering, Winning Eleven 7, which sold a whopping 700,000 copies. Far behind, in second place, but still with good numbers is Square Enix's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube. The 180,000 units the game shifted might be relatively disappointing for a Final Fantasy title, but considering the much smaller installed base of the GameCube and the completely different gameplay, the figures should please the publisher. With another 14 games seeing release this week (making 28 in the last fortnight), it's not surprising to see almost exclusively new blood on the charts. The Falcom-developed Ys I · II: Eternal Story didn't fare nearly as well as the week's other RPG releases, despite a fair amount of buzz surrounding the title. For the full RPG details, check out the table below.

Pos. Title Publisher Plat. Sales Total
2 Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Square Enix 179,544 179,544
3 Summon Night 3 Banpresto 143,551 143,551
4 Super Robot Taisen D Banpresto 96,033 96,033
12 Tales of Phantasia Namco 24,322 73,472
13 Ys 1 · 2: Eternal Story Digicube 20,852 20,852

Anyone who's been reading Japandemonium for a while will know that Atlus has been putting a lot of support behind the Megami Tensei games recently. While Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was released with considerable success on the PlayStation 2, the same can not be said for Shin Megami Tensei Nine. When the game was originally announced for the Xbox, many saw it as a sign that Microsoft's console might actually get some respect from Japanese development houses. While the game was supposed to be predominantly an online affair, an offline version was released way back in December of last year. The gaming public was having none of that, and despite numerous launch events the game eked out a mere 20,000 sales.

The Xbox Live version has been a long time in the coming, and Atlus has delayed the game's release several times. On Monday the company finally cozied up to reality and announced that the online version has been cancelled. With the current installed base of the Xbox growing at a pitiful 900 units a week, and the status of Xbox Live in Japan posing a significant hurdle, Atlus decided to cut its losses and pull out of the project. Disappointing news, but hardly unexpected. All hope is not lost, as the online version of Shin Megami Tensei Nine is still being developed for the PC, with a release date still to be determined.

While the constant delays do give the impression that Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life will never arrive, gamers with a serious jones for the title will be pleased to hear that a full soundtrack has been announced. Spanning 59 tracks of background music, the CD will hit stores on September 25th for 2,800 ¥ ($24). Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is currently on track for release on September 12th. Check out the cover art below (image courtesy of Dengeki).

Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life soundtrack

Famitsu has posted news on the special edition of Spectral Souls, the recently announced PlayStation 2 RPG from Idea Factory. Spectral Souls marks the seventh installment in the Spectral series, which started out on the PlayStation way back in 1996 with the Japan-only Spectral Tower. This most recent game is set in the same universe as previous titles, and it offers mostly typical tactical RPG fare--the camera is set for an isometric view, there are grid-based battles, and the world map contains set paths between event and battle locations.

A new twist offered by the game is the "Shift Time Battle" system, which gives skirmishes a faster, more Grandia-like feel. A bar at the top of the screen shows icons that move along the bar, indicating when the next action (movement or attack) can be performed. The speed of each character icon across the bar is different, meaning that some characters will be able to perform more actions in the same amount of time than their team members. Towns in the game allow you to build up your characters as well as to buy items in various shops and to create new items from raw materials. These new items can then be used to add new abilities and to strengthen your weapons. As you would expect, certain characters are able to perform magic attacks, which engulf the screen in an explosion of vibrant color (see our previously posted screen shots for the visual proof).

As for the special edition, those who fork out the extra 2,000 ¥ will get a handful of neat tchotchkes, including: a B2-sized (approximately 25" X 35") cloth map; a sickle-shaped letter-opener; five trading cards featuring character artwork; a character pin-badge; and a notebook. And that's not all. Preordering either version of the game will net you a special edition DVD featuring artwork and movies and also goodies related to Idea Factory's other upcoming PlayStation 2 RPG, Generation of Chaos 4. The limited, deluxe edition of Spectral Souls will set you back 8,800 ¥ ($74), with the regular version coming in at a more wallet-pleasing 6,800 ¥ ($57). Both versions are scheduled for release in Japan on October 23rd. (Images below courtesy of Idea Factory and Famitsu.)

Spectral Souls Special Edition Spectral Souls Preorder DVD


And I'm done. Not all that much to see this week, but there's some interesting stuff nonetheless. I do want to take a second down here to waffle about games; specifically, 2D games.

If you're like me, the arrival of the Game Boy Advance two years ago was a godsend. You see, I started playing video games back in the early 80s, and things were much simpler--and to a certain extent, more pure--back then. The limited graphical capabilities of hardware at the time meant that developers were forced to entertain us with genuinely interesting and attractive gameplay. I'm not going to tell you that I hate 3D games and that the old times were the best times and all that crap. In fact, it's nearly the opposite. I think that developers--some of them, at least--are taking advantage of the technological advances of the last twenty years to produce games that the recently-hired, long-haired Shigeru Miyamoto and his ilk could scarcely have imagined all those many years ago. But the simple truth is that our pastime has its roots in a period two decades past, and were it not for consoles like the Game Boy Advance our heritage would be lost.

Honestly, I'm of two minds when it comes to ports. I find it absolutely shocking and dismaying that in the two-plus years since the launch of Nintendo's most recent handheld hardware we still have not seen an original Mario or Zelda game. Instead we're being treated to ports of games that are a decade or more old. I am pleased that gamers who have only recently discovered the joys of our medium are given the chance to take some old classics for a spin, but this is coming at the expense of new 2D games. I want to experience the joys of a new side-scrolling Mario platformer, and the frenetic chaos that comes with top-down shooters. I want to play a 2D bike game that can get me as amped as Excitebike did in a time before a lot of today's gamers were even born. I'm concerned, and you should be concerned too. Why? Three simple letters: P. S. P.

When Sony launches its much anticipated handheld next year, be sure to pay attention to the sounds at the cash register. What you'll hear accompanying the wallet-emptying ring of the till is the death knell for 2D games as we know them. Sony's new machine is going to be capable of graphics midway between those offered by the PSone and the PlayStation 2, and with this exciting new tech is going to come an onslaught of portable 3D games. Instead of giving us the gorgeously animated, richly sprited Castlevania that we've all been holding our breaths for the last six years, we are going to get yet more 3D games, which are now supposed to be cool because we can play them on the go.

Don't get me wrong. I'm genuinely interested to see what can be done with this impressive-sounding hardware, but I can't help but feel a sense of panic at the thought that it might well mean the end of a style of games that I have cherished since I was a but a young 'un. I hope I'm wrong. I'd like to hear from you. What do you see in store for us? Am I being an alarmist, overreacting and taking things to extremes? Are developers going to continue to support 2D games, even though they're being presented with hardware clearly designed to knock things up a dimension? Send me an e-mail, or take it to the boards. I'd like to hear what you think.

Exeunt all

Missed an installment? Check out the archives.

Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, GameSpot Japan, Famitsu, Atlus, Idea Factory]

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by Alex Wollenschlaeger

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