Hello everyone, and welcome once again to another installment of Japandemonium. There's plenty to see this week, most of which has to deal with two companies that have been rather busy of late: Monolith and Square Enix. I'll save any ranting for later, so, let's dive right in, shall we?
This past week was another busy one in Japan, with 14 new games seeing release. Only three of the new releases were RPGs, the most notable of these being Konami's Boktai. Hideo Kojima's unique, solar-powered game debuted at a mildly-disappointing 8th position, shifting a meager 23,000 units. The game did have a ton of competition, though, so it will be interesting to see if sales pick up next week. Banpresto also got in on the new release action with two new games: Dragon Drive D World Break for the Game Boy Advance came in in 14th position, while Super Robot Taisen Compact 3 for the WonderSwan failed to break the top 20, settling for 23rd spot with 7,500 sales. The specifics for RPGs that made it into Dengeki's Top 20 for the week ending July 20th are listed below.
The latest issue of Famitsu was once again overrun with reviews, though only one of them is worth noting here. The magazine's editors weighed in on Namco's Tales of Phantasia for the Game Boy Advance. The remake of 1995's classic Super Famicom game was not the hit that many were hoping for, but still managed to pull in a semi-respectable score. Check out the individual editor scores below.
With online video games taking off in a big way worldwide, a few companies have decided that now's the right time to launch a dedicated game show. The inaugural installment of the Online Game Fantasista took place in Tokyo on Friday, with several RPGs getting some much-needed exposure. The line-up for the day included WebZen's MU, Lizard Interactive's Cronous and Atelier Double's Bakusou Yankee Damashii (to be published by Square Enix). In a rather unusual move, the show featured only a few computers for the demos, instead relying on presentations by representatives of each of the companies, and as a result the event failed to attract too many gamers.
Considering its publisher, it's understandable that Bakusou Yankee Damashii was one of the more popular titles on display. The title's producer took questions from the audience, and divulged such interesting information as that you can suffer 255 degree on suntan during the game. The open beta test, which has been underway since May, is set to come to an end next Friday, August 8th. The pictures below (courtesy of Impress Game Watch) show off the summer-related events currently on offer, and also demonstrate that there's a lot more to the game than merely cruising around on your tricked-out ride.
The other big game at the show was Webzen's phenomenally popular MMORPG MU. The Korean-developed game is being published in Japan by GameOn (which is also publishing Cronous). The game's producer, seen below decked out in cosplay garb (apparently, he does this at events), spoke a bit about the game, which has been undergoing continual upgrades and improvements since its introduction. The Cronous portion of the talk was notable for the appearance on stage of the team that won the 30-hour Cronous World Championship.
As you'll no doubt have noticed, there was a ton of news last week dealing with Baten Kaitos and the Xenosaga games. Most of this information came from a press conference held by Namco and Monolith on Monday, during which the companies got to show off their wares to the assembled Japanese media. I stress Japanese, because, with a handful of exceptions, the event was off-limits to any Western media. Most of the information revealed has already been reported earlier this week, so I thought that I would show you some images from the conference itself. All images are courtesy of Impress Game Watch.
The first set of images comes from the Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese section of the presentation, which featured an overview of the new character designs that are already causing conniptions among message board posters across the Internet. The proceedings were headed by (left to right, first image) composer Yuki Kajiura, director Kou Arai, producer Tomohiro Hagiwara (Monolith) and producer Shinichiro Okamoto (Namco), who each addressed the faithful to expand on their role in the game's creation. Also on hand were three of the voice actresses for Xenosaga Ep. II: Ai Maeda (who voices Shion), Rumi Shishido (MOMO) and Mariko Suzuki (KOS-MOS).
The next batch of pics is from the Baten Kaitos presentation. Several of the GameCube title's staff members were at the event, including (left to right, first image): movie sequence producer Masataka Kurasawa; composer Motoi Sakuraba (previous work includes Star Ocean and Tales series); director Hiroya Hatsushiba (Tri-Crescendo); director Yasuyuki Honne (Monolith); scriptwriter Masato Katou (previous work includes the Chrono series); producer Kiyou Nomura (Monolith); and Namco producer Shinji Noguchi (Namco). Video shown at the event displayed the game in motion, which also gave a clearer indication of the battle system. While it does use cards, the system is quite different to current card-based systems. Battles are in near real-time, and the different card types (attack, defence, summons, spells) are used in rapid succession, giving the system a decidedly quick and exciting look.
Not to be forgotten is Xenosaga Episode I: Reloaded, which is basically a Japanese re-release of the North American version of Xenosaga: Der Wille zur Macht. It was revealed at the event that scriptwriter Satoru Takahashi is currently working on both a novel and an animated series based on the Xenosaga franchise. The images below show off one of the new additions: new outfits for KOS-MOS and MOMO.
Marvelous Interactive (previously Victor) announced a few more details for the perennially-delayed Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life for the GameCube. As it stands, the game looks to be a perfect time-waster for virtual farmers. In addition to the cows and chickens that have been a staple of the series, A Wonderful Life will also allow you to raise goats and ducks. Those of you that are tired with the generic-looking dog from previous installments will be pleased to hear that this time you can choose to have a chihuahua or even a tortoise as a pet. Another significant change is the passage of time, which will be much slower this time around. This is to allowing gamers to farm to their heart's content before getting back to the courting duties. Once you've earned the hand of one of three young lasses, you're able to have a child, who will eventually grow old enough to start working on the farm. The game is broken up into distinct chapters, which would explain how the story is able to span a period of thirty years. Unfortunately, gamers are going to have to wait even longer to play the game. The Marvelous site currently lists the release of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life as September 12th.
Phew. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that Namco is becoming quite the RPG behemoth. Between the Xenosaga and Tales series, the company is producing a large amount of products. The diminutized Japanese market is, no doubt, currently dominated by Square Enix, but Namco is starting to give them some serious competition. Baten Kaitos is looking stunning as well, but right now its uncertain whether Namco will be take up the publishing rights or not. It would seem to be a good move for the company to do it, since the game promises to offer gamers something a little different. I was a bit skeptical when I heard that it was going to be a card-based game, but now that I've seen what it actually looks like, I'm much more interested. It's ranked right up there with Tales of Symphonia on my most wanted list. Two GameCube RPGs. Who would've thought? What are you looking forward to?
I did read something this week that should come as no surprise to regular readers of this column, but it was interesting nonetheless. Despite the fact that companies are putting out a lot of games, the Japanese video game industry seems to be in a bit of a rut. Sure, there is the occassional million-seller, but for the most part it appears that things could definitely be better. CESA, Japan's Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association, released its annual analysis of the industry today, and the numbers are pretty grim. Across the board, sales in Japan were down for 2002. Japanese and international sales of hardware and software were lower in 2002 relative to 2001. This is particularly dismaying when you consider that 2002 saw the release of some big games in Japan, like Final Fantasy X-2 and Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
Pundits have, of course, proposed many reasons for this decline, such as the continuous increase in the use of mobile phones in the video game-buying demographic. It's interesting to note that the video game industry, which was railed in previous years for stealing young people's attention away from books and other media (while making a handsome profit at the same time), is now getting a bit of the same stick. The simple fact is that there are only so many hours in the day, and time spent on the phone is time spent not playing games. If video game developers can't create titles that would convince people to rather spend that precious time with a game, then things are only going to get worse.
Just a quick note to you Castlevania nuts out there: the latest issue of Play magazine has a 20-page special feature on the long-running franchise. The piece covers the 17-year history of the series, and there are profiles of some of the notable creators and some gorgeous full-page art as well.
That's it for my uninformed pseudo-economics (not too be mistaken for George Bush Sr.'s voodoo economics) and other whining. I'll be back on Sunday with a fresh helping. See you then.
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|Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, Namco, Quiter, Zenosaga, Freespace Game, Marvelous Interactive]|
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by Alex Wollenschlaeger