The Gaijin's Japandemonium 2009 Halftime Report
1st Half
The Highlights So Far
Feb.Sacred Blaze
Mar.Brandish - The Dark Revenant
Apr.Muramasa - The Demon Blade
MayHalf-Minute Hero
JuneAtelier Rorona
JulyDragon Quest IX

Another year, another Halftime Report! What's out in Japan, and what's yet to come? That's what we're looking at today. While I know some of my choices last year were questionable (From the Abyss instead of Endless Frontier... what was I thinking?), 2009 has been a great year so far. So, let's see what there is to see.

Our first title of note for the year is the January Wii release Fragile. A weird, post-apocalyptic survival RPG set in the ruins of Tokyo, Fragile practically radiates an aura of strangeness at times. Hopefully Western gamers will have a chance at it soon as well.

February brought us Sacred Blaze, yet more proof that the Playstation 2 is not quite dead yet. With a strong good-vs-evil motif and a real choice between sides, playing God in the middle of a holy war has never looked so interesting.

The choice of game to talk about for March is a bit harder. On the one hand, there's Atelier Annie, which is going to be the first game in the main Atelier series to come to America. But I already did an impression on that one, so let's talk about Brandish - The Dark Revenant instead. Normally, I'd be against listing remakes here, but this one appeared to come out of the blue, at least to American gamers. The series has a strong backing in Japan, however, and it is to be hoped that the comprehensive graphical makeover it has received will make it more accessible (or at least less confusing) to new players.

Now on to April, and Muramasa - The Demon Blade. "But Gaijin!" I hear you say. "Didn't you include Muramasa in the upcoming section of last year's Halftime Report?" Why yes, I did, more out of enthusiasm for the title than any hard evidence. It's in stores now, so Wii enthusiasts can gleefully shred a host of bizarre Japanese monsters to ribbons at their leisure.

Yuusha 30 (aka "Half-Minute Hero") sped into stores in May, and quickly zoomed to the top of the sales charts. Its quirky graphical style and frantic gameplay apparently appeal to a lot of people, and this PSP title seems destined for cult status. Time will tell if the American audience enjoys it as much.

Waltzing in as June comes to a close is Atelier Rorona. Ah, my Rorona. Arriving in stores just in time to be on this side of the Half-Time Report, Atelier Rorona appears to have lived up to fan expectations by successfully adapting the signature artistic and musical styles of the series to beautiful 3D environments. Fans have responded by apparently buying up 90% of all available copies in the first week. This one's on my "if ever I can afford a PS3" list, if I can find it on the shelf by then.

And then there's Dragon Quest IX, which came to stores on July 11th, only four months late, but still before this year's slightly delayed Halftime Report. With several million copies pre-ordered prior to the original release date, there's no way this title could be kept off the list. I for one have been enjoying some old-school monster bashing for over a week now, and hopefully American gamers can do so soon as well.

2nd Half
The Best That Is Yet To Come
5Final Fantasy XIII
4The Another Country
2Trinity Universe
1SaGa II

Now that we've looked back a bit, it's time to move forward, and see what is on the horizon. There are some major titles coming soon to stores, and inevitably they find their way onto this list. So let's get this one out of the way first: Final Fantasy XIII. Set to be in stores by year's end, this is one title whose spot on the Top Sales list is pretty much assured for a few months, at least. While details on the game have been slow to arrive, every new piece of information seems to spark either gasps of joy or flames of debate. Let's hope it survives its own hype.

Take one up-and-coming development studio with a good reputation. Add the efforts of an animation studio reknowned the world over. Shake vigorously. Now enjoy. That seems to be the general idea behind The Another World (I still prefer "The Another Country"!), which is set to come out at some unspecified time later this year. While practically all gameplay details are hazy-to-unknown, the visuals alone would be enough to sell this title to many people.

Not willing to stop there, Level 5 is also coming out with Ushiro sometime this year, though details on the game have been as elusive as the game's shinigami (death-god) protagonist. This game's dark atmosphere and creepy parody of Tokyo life make it one of the most interesting upcoming titles for the PSP, and something to really look forward to.

Last year we had to mention Cross Edge, the five-way crossover RPG. This year, there's Trinity Universe, a three-way collaborative effort between Gust, Nippon Ichi, and Idea Factory which brings some disparate characters into a fantastical space opera setting. It's hard to say if this one will turn out any better than Cross Edge did, but anyway we'll still get to have fun with Beautiful Space Pirate Captain Etna (for great injustice!).

No one who keeps track of the Japandemonium column should be surprised at my number 1 most anticipated title of the year, however: SaGa II. It's like they took a slice of my childhood and waved a magic wand to make it a thousand times more awesome. If ever a game were a hands-down must-buy item for me, it's this one. The fact that Square Enix has put a lot of work into improving the story and the gameplay is just icing on the cake.

So, here ends the 2009 Japandemonium Halftime Report. Looking back, it's pretty obvious that some of the most interesting titles of 2008 weren't even on the radar by this time last year. Who knows what else is coming up? The fun is in the finding out. Japandemonium will be there to try and keep up with it all.

Your man in Japan


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