Japandemonium - Grey Matter

Ah, there we go, back on track. My sincere apologies for the lack of column last week. I was getting more and more swamped, so, instead of updating even later, I decided to wait a couple days and get back to my regular update day. As it happens, not all that much happened in Japan in the last fortnight. Well, except for the Mother 1+2 news. It's quite a coincidence that Nintendo announced the game this week, since I received a copy of Earthbound on the exact day that the Game Boy Advance remake was announced. Since the original Mother was never officially released in North America, it'll be interesting to see if Nintendo decides to bring the collection over.

I'll kick off this week with a recap of RPG sales in Japan for the last two weeks, as determined by Dengeki. The week of March 31st to April 6th didn't see too much action at all, although almost all the RPGs from the previous week did gain one or two spots. No new RPGs released during the week managed to crack the Top 20. Sales for last week, April 7th to 13th, continued the trend, with numbers not looking too fantastic. The fourth and final installment of Bandai's .hack series, .hack//Absolute Encirclement, took top honors, with a respectable 80,000 units shifted. This is less than the previous three installments moved in their respective debuts, but not by all that much. The series, which launched in June 2002, has had combined sales of nearly 700,000 copies to date. Sony will be chagrinned to see that Arc the Lad: Seirei no Koukon has already fallen out of the Top 20. The game has managed to sell slightly less than 140,000 copies since its release three weeks ago.

Week of March 31st to April 6th

    Position; Title (Publisher), Console, Sales this week; Total Sales
  • 1. Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Hearts (Square Enix), Game Boy Advance, 121,378, 313,050
  • 3. The 2nd Super Robot Wars Alpha (Banpresto), PlayStation 2, 61,001, 383,059
  • 4. Final Fantasy X-2 (Square Enix), PlayStation 2, 39,314, 1,877,201
  • 7. Rockman EX 3 Black (Capcom), Game Boy Advance, 21,725, 53,508
  • 8. Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 21,522, 203,655
  • 14. Pokémon Sapphire (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 14,292, 2,111,421
  • 16. Pokémon Ruby (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 13,550, 2,059,965
  • 17. Arc the Lad: Seirei no Koukon (Sony), PlayStation 2, 12,667, 129,967

Week of April 7th to April 13th

    Position Title (Publisher), Console, Sales this week; Total Sales
  • 1. .hack//Absolute Encirclement (Banpresto), PlayStation 2, 81,486, 81,486
  • 2. Dragon Quest Monsters: Caravan Hearts (Square Enix), Game Boy Advance, 58,389, 371,439
  • 6. The 2nd Super Robot Wars Alpha (Banpresto), PlayStation 2, 31,071, 414,130
  • 7. Final Fantasy X-2 (Square Enix), PlayStation 2, 26,332, 1,903,533
  • 10. Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 14,811, 218,466
  • 16. Rockman EX 3 Black (Capcom), Game Boy Advance, 10,658, 64,166
  • 18. Pokémon Ruby (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 9,927, 2,069,892
  • 20. Pokémon Sapphire (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 9,436, 2,120,857

Sony announced a very nice update to the PlayStation 2 this week. The new model, the SCPH-50000, has numerous changes from earlier models, all of which make viewing DVDs a much more pleasant affair. The new iteration will allow playback of most types of recordable DVDs. Supported formats include DVD-R, DVD+R and DVD+RW. DVD RAM is not supported. Those with high-definition televisions will be pleased to hear that this model now supports digital video output in the form of 525p progressive scan. If you're like me, one of the drawbacks of using the PlayStation 2 for watching DVDs is the insanely loud fan in the older units. This has finally been rectified, with Sony promising that the SCPH-50000 will be about 1/4 as loud as earlier models. The other addition to the console also relates to DVD playback. Sony has taken note of consumer criticism and has included the RF receiver for the remote control in the console itself, eliminating the need for the controller slot-housed receiver. There is a new remote control as well, which will take full advantage of this new model. All these additions have resulted in one casualty. The new vesion of the PlayStation 2 will not have the iLink (IEEE1394) connector, meaning that it won't be possible to link-up multiple consoles anymore. The SCPH-50000 is scheduled for release in Japan on May 15th and will retail for 25,000 ¥ ($210).

This week, Konami announced that it is preparing to launch Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow in suitably fine style. On Friday, May 10th, series producer Koji Igarashi (aka IGA) and character designer Ayami Kojima will be taking a whirlwind tour through Akihabara. Between 1pm and 6pm, the two will be stopping in at numerous game stores in Tokyo's famed prefecture. Attendees will be rewarded with a signed postcard and will get the chance to chat a little with the two creators as well. Each mini-event will only last around 15 minutes, though, so don't expect too much on the chit-chat side. The game itself will be hitting Japan on May 8th for 4,800 ¥ ($40).

Weekly Famitsu has reviewed a number of games in the last couple weeks, including some upcoming high-profile RPGs. The Game Boy Advance debut of the Harvest Moon series, Mineral Town, fared well under the dissection of the periodical's reviewers, earning a Gold Award. Nintendo's Fire Emblem did even better, and its interesting new title Giftpia lapped up the praise. Both titles were awarded Golds as well. Not as lucky was Tomy's Zoid Saga II. Check out the individual reviewer scores below.

    Title (Publisher), Console, Editor Scores (Total)
  • Giftpia, (Nintendo), GameCube, 8 / 8 / 9 / 9 (34/40) Gold Award
  • Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken, (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 9 / 9 / 8 / 8 (34/40) Gold Award
  • Harvest Moon: Mineral Town, (Victor), Game Boy Advance, 8 / 8 / 8 / 8 (32/40) Gold Award
  • Zoids Saga II, (Tomy), Game Boy Advance, 7 / 7 / 7 / 7 (28/40)

Earlier this week, Capcom announced release dates for a few PC ports from its steadily-growing back catalogue of titles. The games are part of Capcom's budget line, which should suit the wallets of yen-wary consumers. Included in this batch of games is Breath of Fire IV, which was released for the PlayStation way back in 2000. Breath of Fire IV was reasonably well received by critics and gamers alike, so those who missed out on the game might be tempted to give it a try. The PC port of the title (cover art seen below) will be hitting stores on May 30th for a mere 2,800 ¥ ($23).

Breath of FIre 4 PC

Not to be outdone in the milking department, Konami announced a limited edition set of figures this week that will have Tokimeki Memorial 2 fans drooling and non-fans shaking their heads in disbelief. The 13-figure set of hand-made 1/8th size figures seen below (click for larger version) is being offered at the Konamistyle web site. Only 100 sets are being produced, and each carries a retail price of 178,000 ¥ ($1,486)! No, that's not a typo. This collection of miniature versions of the game's cast will set you back nearly $1,500. Insane. The collection will go on sale around the end of July.

Tokimeki Memorial 2 limited edition figures

I thought it might be interesting to show off the cover art of a few recent Japanese releases this week. For some reason, the Japanese box art almost always appeals to me more than the domestic artwork (well, except for the white Final Fantasy covers). Below is the box art for both of the Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem games, Fuuin no Tsurugi, which was released in March 2002, and Rekka no Ken, which will hit stores next Friday, April 25th. Next up is Harvest Moon: Mineral Town and Banpresto's Summon Night: Craft Sword Story. Lastly, we have the awesome cover for the recently-released Final Fantasy XI expansion Vision of Ziraat, which was drawn up by series mainstay Yoshitaka Amano.

Fire Emblem: Fuuin no TsurugiFire Emblem: Rekka no Ken

Harvest Moon: Mineral TownSummon Night: Craft Sword Story

Final Fantasy XI: Vision of Ziraat

The last item for this week deals with Gust's Atelier series. With the fifth game, Atelier Violet, rapidly nearing release. the company has announced a preorder bonus that should delight fans. Gamers who pony up the money to reserve the game will receive a bonus soundtrack CD. Titled "Atelier Best," the disc contains 25 tracks (background, arranged and vocal tracks) from previous installments in the series, including the upcoming PlayStation 2 game. Reservations will be accepted from May 1st. Atelier Violet will ship in two variations on June 26th: a regular edition for 6,800 ¥ ($57) and a deluxe version for 9,800 ¥ ($82). Below is the announcement poster and images of the bonus CD. If you want to give the CD a preview, click here for mp3 samples of several of the tracks.

Atelier Violet Bonus CDAtelier Violet Bonus CD

Atelier Violet Bonus CD

As I write this, there's less than a month to go until the mother of all video game shows, E3. While there are a lot of games that I'm interested in checking out, there are a couple no-shows that I'm eager to find out more about. I'm speaking, of course, about Brownie Brown's Magical Vacation and Intelligent Systems' Fire Emblem: The Sealed Sword, both for the Game Boy Advance. These titles were confirmed for localization just over a year ago, and I've been eagerly awaiting them, especially Magical Vacation, ever since. Hopefully they're not going to end up in limbo. I could use a few more good GBA games. Until next Friday, take it easy.

Exeunt all

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

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