Japandemonium - Two Minutes to Midnight

Hey everyone, and welcome to this week's Japandemonium. A scholastic overload and a relative lack of huge news out of Japan resulted in me holding back from posting on Monday so that I could instead get back on schedule. There's still some stuff worth seeing this week, so let's get stuck into it right away.

Last week was another biggie for game releases in Japan. Fourteen new games hit stores, though most of them did abysmal business. Only four games in the group managed to shift more than 20,000 units. First place went to Bandai's latest Gundam cash-in, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, while the best performing RPG was Namco's Tales of Phantasia for the Game Boy Advance. The remake of the SNES classic came in third, with a respectable 50,000 sales. Shining Soul 2 and Onimusha Tactics, both of which were released the previous week, already find themselves booted out of the Top 20, with less than 20,000 units moved. This week also marks the first time since last November that neither of the Game Boy Advance Pokémon games made it into the Top 20. Below are the sales figures for the week ending August 3rd. Expect next week's chart to be dominated by Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which was released on Thursday.

Pos. Title Publisher Plat. Sales Total
3 Tales of Phantasia Namco 49,150 49,150
18 Boktai Konami 8,363 46,266
20 Mother 1+2 Nintendo 7,750 231,909

Almost a year to the day after it was first announced, Square Enix's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was finally released this week. Although it's not the straight-up RPG that most series fans were hoping for, the title nonetheless heralds the return of the bellwether franchise to a Nintendo home console. The game has garnered a lot of attention in the months leading up to its release, leaving many anxious to get the first word of whether the action-RPG, well, sucked or not. Famitsu's editors took the game for a spin and came out smiling. While the reviews weren't glowing, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles did manage to pull in a Gold Award. The game is shipping right now, so get in touch with your favorite importer if you don't want to wait until next month's February's North American release. Individual editor scores are reproduced below (Edited to correct date, 08.11.2003, thanks Jim).

Title Publisher Plat. Scores
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle Nintendo 9, 8, 7, 8 Gold Award

With games making significant headway in the online arena, it was inevitable that some would try to take advantage of the system. Case in point: I received word from Ragnarök Online users that all sorts of hell are breaking loose in Loki, one of the game's servers. It seems that some intrepid gamer discovered a vulnerability in the server and proceeded to inject a pinch of chaos into the virtual world. A good kind of chaos. The hacking Robin Hood gained game master status and was responsible for the dissemination of several rare items in decidedly not-rare-like numbers. The game's developer, Gravity Interactive, has responded by removing several rare items from all players on the Loki server during Wednesday's maintenance.

This is not the first time that the popular MMORPG has been subjected to electronic shenanigans. In June, thousands of users had their registration information revealed after someone gained access to one of the servers. In that instance, Gravity rolled back all characters to an earlier state, but the company has stated that this is a worst case recovery procedure and it is not currently being considered to take care of this most recent intrusion. Players that have suffered stat damage will be able to buy a "stat reset" until August 12th. Thanks to D G for the tip.

It's a sure sign that video games are more popular than ever when companies announce DVDs based on their titles. Unlike Treasure's recent Ikaruga Appreciate DVD, which showcased mind-bogglingly good shoot 'em up gameplay, Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Special DVD is a look back at all aspects of the popular 11-years-in-the-making game. Scheduled for release later this month, the DVD will contain extensive footage with the game's principal creators, Cozy Okada and Kazuma Kaneko. There's also coverage of the special launch events that accompanied Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne's release back in February.

Series fans will be pleased to hear that Atlus has included an impressive gallery of artwork by lead designer Kazuma Kaneko. The disc will contain samples of Kaneko's original work and also the final 3D in-game models. Another quirky inclusion is an interactive personality test, while numerous Easter Eggs round out the package. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Special DVD will see release in Japan on August 20th and it'll set you back 5,800 ¥ ($48). Those interested in picking up the disc might want to head over to Amazon Japan, which currently has a pre-order discount offer for the DVD. If you do order the disc, just remember that Japan uses Region 2 DVDs and not Region 1 as in North America. Below are the DVD's cover art and a few screen-caps (images courtesy of Atlus).

Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD
Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD Shin Megami Tensei 3 DVD

The annual Tokyo Game Show is right around the corner, and CESA (Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association) has announced a breakdown of the titles that will be on display. More than 250 games have already been confirmed, with a semi-respectable proportion of these (27) being role-playing games. As you would expect, given the platform's dominance of the market, the PlayStation 2 will be best represented, with more than 80 titles on the floor. Interestingly, the PC will have nearly double the support of both the GameCube and--rather surprisingly--the Game Boy Advance. The Xbox's inability to coax any sort of emotion out of the Japanese public is reinforced by the pitiful five-game line-up that will be on show.

NCSoft CEO Tack Jin Kim be will making an appearance at the show. He will head a discusion on online games, which is set to focus on Lineage, his company's immensely popular MMORPG series. There will also be a networked PC area to try out all the shiny, new online games. TGS runs from September 26th to 28th at the Makuhari Messe, and, unlike most other game shows around the world, it is open to the public. If you're in the area, pack a lunch and brave the 150,000-strong crowd to check out some upcoming titles. Famitsu has put together a preliminary list of titles for show, which you can check out right here. Some of the RPGs destined for the show floor are listed below.

Title Publisher Plat.
Growlanser 4 Atlus
Busin 0 Atlus
Shadow Hearts 2 Aruze
Shadow Hearts (The Best) * Aruze
Lineage NCSoft
Lineage II NCSoft
RPG Tsukuru Advance Enterbrain
Ragnarök Online Gravity Corp.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Konami
Boktai Konami
Sakura Taisen 5 Action (working title) Sega
Sakura Taisen Sega
Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution Sega
Baten Kaitos Namco
Tengai Makyo II: Manji Maru Hudson
* The Best is the name of Japan's Greatest Hits line.

The North American box art for Final Fantasy X-2 was unveiled this week, and it's decidedly more color-filled than the quiet, staid Japanese version. Below are the two covers for your perusal. Feel free to take your arguments over which is better to the message board.

Final Fantasy X-2 Final Fantasy X-2


That's all I have for this week. Our news crew has been exceptionally active of late, so make sure to check out the rest of this week's reports. I did want to chat a bit about Nintendo down here. You've likely all read the stories resulting from Nintendo's strategy meeting earlier this week. In case you were wondering, the GameCube is doing badly. Not Xbox-badly, but very badly, all the same. The Kyoto-based company managed to shift a measly 80,000 GameCube's in the last quarter. 80,000!

The weekly numbers from Media Create have the GameCube selling, on average, about 11,000 units a week, compared to 37,000 for the PlayStation 2, a whopping 45,000 for the Game Boy Advance (SP included) and a contrastingly pathetic 850 for the Xbox. The numbers for the GameCube are actually so unexpectedly low that Nintendo announced this week that it will be halting production of the GameCube to get rid of its stock surplus.

Excluding the fact that Microsoft could just as well give up on Japan right now, Nintendo's numbers show a company that is increasingly losing touch with gamers. At E3, Nintendo was all about interconnectivity between the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance instead of between gamers themselves via online play. Their stated reason for ignoring this increasingly popular medium is that no one has yet come up with a price structure that makes online games a financially attractive venture. While I can agree with this from an economic standpoint, I can't help but think that Nintendo is doing itself a disservice here.

While Nintendo is sitting back in its Mario-covered La-Z-Boy, counting the incoming cash from its latest franchise cash-in, Microsoft and Sony are making losses in the online arena. More importantly, though, Microsoft and Sony are showing gamers that they are interested in this new facet of gaming, and they are willing to take a hit on the balance sheet to get the online party started. Nintendo's shunning of network play is showing gamers that it is more interested in making money than taking chances.

The odd thing is that Nintendo is sitting on a couple of veritable gold mines. Two games in particular stand out as examples of titles that Nintendo could take online successfully: Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour and the upcoming Mario Kart Double Dash!!. Consider for a minute how many people would be willing to sign up for online gaming just to play these games. And that's not even considering the company's true cash cow: Pokémon. From discussions I've taken part in on message boards and in IRC channels across the internet, it seems clear to me that people would jump at the chance to take on their friends via the Internet.

I will be the first to admit that Nintendo does do a lot of things right. Of the three main players, it is the only company that is more concerned with making games than taking over your living room. The trouble is that most of its franchise games are essentially offering more of the same. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, since the GameCube installments of Nintendo's popular series are just as good, if not better, than their Nintendo 64 siblings. And Nintendo is making some innovative games that offer gamers new experiences; games like Pikmin and Animal Crossing immediately come to mind. I do, however, have this nagging desire to play more original games from the company that--to me--defined video games.

All this does not exempt Nintendo from reality though, and the reality of the situation is that if the company does not come up with some solid plans to get gamers back into Nintendo games, we will see the company losing even more of its market share. Sony will be releasing the PSP (PlayStation Portable) at the end of 2004, which is sure to give the aging Game Boy Advance a run for its money. While the PSP will target a different demographic out of necessity, Nintendo could very well find itself losing the ever-increasing section of older gamers that are picking up the newly-redesigned Game Boy Advance.

Nintendo has announced that it will be releasing a new "game product" in spring 2004. There's no word on what this is, but the timing would suggest that it's the successor to the Game Boy Advance, to compete with Sony's impressive-on-paper PSP. The company has also stated that it is determined to beat both Sony and Microsoft to the market with its next home console. This could be a good sign that things are going to change. We can only hope.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you like what Nintendo is currently shoveling? Where do you see them going in the near future. Feel free to e-mail me your comments, or post on the message boards so we can get a discussion going. Till next week, take it easy.

Exeunt all

Missed an installment? Check out the archives.

Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, Ragnarok Online, Amazon Japan, Atlus, Tokyo Game Show, Quiter, Gaming-Age, GameSpot, Famitsu]

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by Alex Wollenschlaeger

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