Japandemonium - From Safety to Where

Good evening, all, and welcome to this week's edition of Japandemonium. First, let me apologize for the lateness of the column. School was complete and utter bedlam this week. It seems that things have been nice and busy in Japan too. There's lots to see this week, so let's dive right in, shall we?

Digicube has released yet another Final Fantasy Tactics CD (see these two past installments for info on the previously released CDs). This latest release, titled "Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Radio Edition ~ Complete Version ~ Vol.2," is the second CD taken from the ongoing radio drama based on the game. The radio drama was broadcast on Tokyo-FM and features several prominent voice actors. Included with the CD is a cute Moogle sticker. The disc, which contains bonus material not yet broadcast, was released on Wednesday and will set you back 2.800 ¥ ($23). Fans of the series can look forward to the third release on April 23rd. Check out the cover artwork for the CD below.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Radio Drama CD

A few months ago I mentioned the "Black Mages" Final Fantasy Battle Theme collection CD. Fans of this metal-liscious take on Nobuo Uematsu's battle tunes should be interested to hear that Rittor Music will be releasing the complete multitrack score of the project. Totalling 192 pages, it sets out the music for all ten tracks on the CD, which span the entire history of the seminal series. In addition, there is an interview with Uematsu wherein the creator speaks about his musical contribution to the Final Fantasy universe. The score will retail for 3,200 ¥ ($26) when it hits stores on April 30th. As an extra treat, Rittor Music will be offering five lucky winners a signed copy of the "Black Mages" CD.

Black Mages Score

There are no real surprises in this week's Dengeki charts. Square's most recent offering, Final Fantasy X-2, fended off the competition to retain the top spot, with Sony's Arc the Lad: Seirei no Koukon coming in a distant second. There have been a lot of new releases in Japan in the past couple weeks, but RPGs have continued to dominate the charts. Notable shifts this week include Star Ocean 3, which tumbled down to the 16th position. It's also disappointing to see Sega's new Sakura Taisen game on the PlayStation 2 fair so poorly. After doing well in its first two weeks of release, Sakura Taisen: Atsuki Chishio Ni plummeted down to the 40th spot. In the increasingly crowded Japanese market, even big name titles are struggling to show consistently good sales for more than a couple weeks. Below is the list of Top 20 RPGs for week ending March 23rd.

    Position; Title (Publisher), Console, Sales this week; Total Sales
  • 1. Final Fantasy X-2 (Square), PlayStation 2, 213,987, 1,757,481
  • 2. Arc the Lad: Seirei no Koukon (Sony), PlayStation 2, 91,493, 91,493
  • 8. Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 45,970, 151,070
  • 10. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Square), Game Boy Advance, 18,213, 384,149
  • 11. Pokémon Sapphire (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 17,708, 2,078,087
  • 12. Pokémon Ruby (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 17,533, 2,027,582
  • 15. Final Fantasy X Mega Hits (Square), PlayStation 2, 11,400, 80,633
  • 16. Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time (Enix), PlayStation 2, 11,174, 444,902

This week's issue of Weekly Famitsu has a significant dearth in RPG scores, but the periodical did dole out its opinion of the new Dragon Quest Monsters title, Caravan Hearts. Enix's new monster breeder title scored very well, earning itself a Platinum Award (see below for individual reviewer scores). The game holds the distinction of being the last title released by Enix before its merger with former-rival Square is set to be completed on Tuesday, April 1st.

    Title (Publisher), Console, Editor Scores (Total)
  • Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Heart, (Enix), Game Boy Advance, 9 / 9 / 8 / 9 (35/40) Platinum Award

Konami announced this week that it will be offering gamers who preorder its upcoming title Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow though its Konamistyle online store a limited edition booklet. The 18-page full-color booklet will contain artwork from the game (which has a bit of a different look, at least character-wise, thanks to the temporal relocation of the series to the present day) and also a timeline, setting out the chronology of the series. The art duties for the title are once again being handled by longtime series character designer Ayami Kojima, so fans have a pretty good idea of the style to expect. (Check out this earlier artwork posting for more). Interestingly, this installment of the series will be the first that will carry the "Castlevania" moniker in Japan, where the series has until now been known as "Dracula." Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow hits stores on May 8th and will retail for 4,320 ¥ ($36) through Konamistyle or 4,800 ¥ ($40) at other retailers. Check out the very nice box art below.

Castlevania art book

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow box art

Despite the fact that North American gamers are just now getting into Bandai's .hack series, our comrades across the Pacific are holding back the tears as the series prepares to conclude with the release of .hack//Absolute Encirclement on April 10th. The faux-online RPG series kicked off last June in Japan, and since then it has done well, garnering both critical acclaim and popular support. To commemorate the franchise's successful run in Japan, Bandai staged an event on Saturday. Hiroshi Matsuyama, president of the game's developer Cyber Connect 2, Bandai's .hack project leader Daisuke Uchiyama, ".hack" anime series director Koichi Mashimo and several of the series' voice actors were on hand at the occasion.

The game creators spoke about their involvement in the franchise, taking questions from the 1000+ attendees. Matsuyama showed off his original conceptual outlay for the series, then known as "Treasure Hacker," which had been presented to Bandai. It wasn't just about the creators, though, as the audience was quizzed on their .hack knowledge, with the eventual winner getting some nice swag in return for her smarts. As a bonus for the audience, there was a screening of an as-yet-unaired episode of the anime series. Check out some pics of the festivities below.

.hack Fan Day.hack Fan Day.hack Fan Day

.hack Fan Day.hack Fan Day.hack Fan Day

.hack Fan Day.hack Fan Day.hack Fan Day

With the economy globally struggling to get out of the proverbial commode, it comes as no surprise that consolidation is the current name of the game. Two deals were announced this week that pertain to mainstay RPG-producing companies. Toy maker Takara announced that it is acquiring a 30% stake in Atlus, publisher of the popular Shin Megami Tensei series. Atlus is already involved with publishing powerhouse Kadokawa Shoten, which has stated its desire to continue the relationship. The acquisition will leave Takara with a controlling share in the company, though there are currently no plans to radically alter the day-to-day operation at Atlus. The other business news of the week was the announcement that Victor Interactive Software, the creator of the successful Harvest Moon series, will be wholly acquired by Marvelous Entertainment. The company will be renamed Marvelous Interactive as of April 1st. There's no need for panic, though, as all announced games remain unaffected by the deal and will see release.

Speaking of Harvest Moon, Victor Interactive announced last week that the upcoming Game Boy Advance series debut, Harvest Moon: Mineral Town, will be hitting stores on April 18th. While this is good news indeed, the accompanying announcement on the company's website of the GameCube installment's delay is not so good. It seems that something rather nasty has popped up, as the company cannot say whether Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life will be released within the next three or six months or even this year. As previously reported, the GameCube and Game Boy Advance versions of the game are slated to offer substantial link-up options, including access to a third town exclusively accessible via link-up.

In closing, I wanted to speak a bit about the end of Square and Enix as independent companies (feel free to stop reading now if babbling offends you). These two companies have provided most of us with countless hours of entertainment over the past decade or so and I still find it rather odd to think that they're going to be working together now. I mean, it's like Pepsi merging with Coke, for Pete's sake! It may surprise some of you, but my first Square game (but not first RPG) was Final Fantasy VII and like many of you I was enthralled by what I experienced. It motivated me to seek out and play a lot of company's offerings, and while they weren't all good, all of them showed that the company was committed to its games and focused on doing them properly. I hope that things go well for the new combined company, and that together they can stoke the fire of innovation to entertain us for another decade (or more) longer.

As a final comment: I'm still accepting logo submissions for this here column. Your work will be on the front page for the world to see, so I'd like to see something really exciting/interesting. Logos should be 125 x 75 pixel GIFs. The artist of the logo I decide upon will receive an ultra-cute and oh-so-lovable Vivi plush doll. Come on, you know you want it (or another one, as the case may be). I'll be accepting submissions until the end of April.

Exeunt all

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by Alex Wollenschlaeger    
Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, GameSpot Japan]

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