Due to an unfortunate lack of internet access after his transatlantic move to London, this week's update of Japandamonium is going to be lacking of the soothing tones you've all become accustomed to and replaced by what are hopefully the only slightly more jarring musings of me, Gabe. In all seriousness though, I'll do my best to make this like gossamer for your brain, as there was a lot that happened in the world of Japanese gaming during the time that Alex has been gone, and it will take a deft hand to fit it all in.
Following the general trends we were seeing last time, the Japanese game market has been on a steady climb as it steamed its way into the Tokyo Game Show this last weekend. Probably the biggest news of the past weeks has been the debut of Drag-on Dragoon, which openned in the top sales spot last week with 133,000 units sold, and has been dominating since. However, of the rest of the RPG pack, one of the other winners has definitely been Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu, which has managed to reel in 236,000 units sold and only slipped to 8th place on the charts after four weeks of competition. In fact, between this week and last, Seiken Densetsu actually increased in position after it had fallen to 10th for a time. This is in fairly stark contrast to Marvelous Interactive's Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, which openned at 5th during its first week on the charts with 32,000 sold, but has already dropped four places and seen its sales fall by over half. Of course, compared to Atlus' two most recent games, the paired Fire and Ice versions of Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children, Harvest Moon sounds like it's doing quite well. After their only luke warm reviews by Famitsu, both of these titles fared poorly on launch, only moving a combined 5,500 units between them on launch, and have since slipped off the charts. Of course, this whole affair is simply good news for Nintendo, as of the top RPG sales slots, only one is not held by a Nintendo compatible product.
Sales for the Week Ending 9/21/03
Sales for the Week Ending 9/28/03
Probably the most signifigant piece of news this week has been the Tokyo Game Show which took place over the past weekend and highlighted some of the most promising titles for the coming gaming season. For those who don't know, the Tokyo Game Show is an annual gaming convention, similar in a number of ways to E3, and is probably the largest gaming show in all of Japan, as well as a close contender for the world. In the past, it has generally been dominated by Japanese owned companies such as Konami, Sony, and Nintendo. However, this year Microsoft made a fairly strong showing with numerous games, including two RPGs: the upcoming Bioware title, Jade Empire; and Level 5's MMORPG, True Fantasy Live Online. Overall, TGS was a fairly large success this year, drawing nearly 150,000 visitors to the booths of 111 different exibitors. This measures as about a 10% increase over the figures from last year.
Of course, the big contender at the show for RPGs was still Square Enix, as it announced a number of new games in a flurry just before the show, and then managed drop a number of bombs during it. Frankly, I'm beginning to wonder if the corporate management has been watching a few too many mecha shows, as little else could explain the vigor with which they're promoting the Front Mission series. Not only has Square Enix announced both a Front Mission sequel and remake in the past months, but during TGS it announced its newest robotic tale of war, Front Mission Online. Currently in development for the PS2, Front Mission Online is meant to be a strategy game that will allow players to join up with either the OCU or USN and do battle across Huffman Island. A beta test for the game is scheduled to start in Japan during the Spring of 2004 and Square Enix is hoping to have the title ready for release by sometime in late 2004.
In addition, Square Enix announced that a special limited edition box set for the Front Mission series will be available to Japanese gamers by the end of this year. Entitled Front Mission History, this collection will include the previously mentioned remake of Front Mission in addition to both Front Mission 2 and Front Mission 3 in their original PlayStation forms. And to top it off, the entire set will also come with three Wanzer figures, whose designs have yet to be revealed.
Continuing on with the announcements from Square Enix, which was apparently bursting to the seams with pending projects, a new Director's Cut of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time will be hitting Japanese shelves sadly before North America even sees the original. Due out this winter, it will offer a number of new dungeons, as well as a few new characters. As an added bonus, it will also have all of the bugs removed which made the original release nearly unplayable for some.
Finally, at the same strategy meeting where the silence regarding Front Mission Online was broken, Square Enix discussed its plans for both Final Fantasy XI and the PlayOnline service in general. For Final Fantasy XI, most of the changes mentioned were minor tweaks such as an increase in the level cap from 70 to 75, a number of new expression and gestures for characters, and the inclusion of missions for high-rank characters. However, a couple of major changes are also in the works. The first of these is the creation of a player vs. player mode, which will obviously have an impact on the player base at large. The other is the introduction of "reverse areas". These areas will basically be similar to prior sections of the game, but they will have had their mood altered signifigantly through the use of modified render maps and color filters. The changes to PlayOnline will also be similarly minor, such as the inclusion of mobile phone support for checking on characters or server status.
Oh, and near the end of his presentation, Yousuke Saitou had an interesting bit of news for the assembled crowd. Apparently Enix's first ever venture into the MMORPG market, Cross Gate, which was released back in July 26th 2001, has garnered subscription numbers which boggle the mind. Building on a rabid fan-base in China, Cross Gate passed the one million active subscriptions mark back in mid-August and is still growing. As of today, it has a total of 1.3 million subscribers with nearly a million of those being out of mainland China. For perspective, that's about five times the number of people enrolled for North America's fastest growing MMORPG, Star Wars Galaxies.
Not to be outdone by Square Enix, during an event at Namco's booth, Akira Yoshizumi told the audience that Namco has already been working on a sequel to Tales of Symphonia for half a year. Unfortunately, at this point he became all secretive again, after having given away just enough information to bait everyone's appetite, and wouldn't even reveal a planned system for the title. Instead, he only went on to mention that his team had put a lot of effort into Tales of Syphonia, but had wished they could have done more once it was complete.
Apparently, Sega now finds it amusing that they're not supplying North America with anything Sakura Taisen oriented, as they've started to use wacky little bits of American culture as iconography in their games. Probably the best example of this is the new Sakura Taisen V: Episode 0 - Arano no Samurai Musume, which will feature a katana-wielding Texan femme with flame red hair as its main character. Named Jemini Sunrise, she will begin the game on a journey from her home in the South to the great city of New York, only to have her passage blocked by one of the classic Sakura Steam Armors. However, the main purpose of this title will be to serve as a lead in for Sakura Taisen 5 by introducing all of the main cast and members of the New York Hoshigumi Team. As such, it will take place in the year 1927, just a few years before the events of the upcoming Sakura Taisen 5. As of yet, Episode 0 has no official release date for Japan, only a vague timeframe of sometime next year.
Unfortunately, Square Enix caught wind of Yoshizumi's vagueness as well, and to match stride released its own contentless promise, although for a subject that will probably make a few people take notice. In addition to going live with a webpage for Final Fantasy XII, a promise was made that on November 19th, at the Roppongi Hills' Virgin Cinema, Square Enix will officially pull back the veil and reveal Final Fantasy XII. Bated breath and all that.
Well, with that my time is basically done. Apparently Alex has managed to get his ISP problems straightened out, so you should be seeing an update from him in the near future. As far as my own work, I would have liked to have included more things that were reflections of Japanese culture, and not just big marketing ventures, but maybe the next time I volunteer to do this I can have a little more prep and put in some truly eclectic stuff. Of course, if I calculate that time at the general rate which Alex misses updates or has catestrophic losses of internet access, my next gig will probably occur in oh...a year and a half. Hmm, just in time for E3 2005.
Anyhow, with that I'll leave you with some of the odder things I saw while looking over the bounty of TGS. Also, my thanks to the fine folks over at Impress Gamewatch who had a bounty of pictures direct from the floor.
[Exit stage left]
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|Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, Sega, Square Enix]|
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by Gabriel Putnam