Japandemonium - People are People

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's Japandemonium. In stark contrast to last week, there were plently of happenings in the RPG world over the past week. The Tokyo Game Show is set for the end of the month, and all signs are pointing to a bounty of RPGs on the show floor. The recently announced Wild Arms and Front Mission games and Suikoden IV will be making appearances, and we're sure to see plenty of updates on the panoply of games that are steaming towards their end-of-year releases. For now, let's take a look at the past week's preceedings, shall we?

It's clear that things are starting to pick up again in Japan. After a few sedate months, companies are finally getting back into the swing of releasing games on a regular basis. Seven new titles hit stores last week, including top spot-taker Kidou Senshi Gundam: Meguriai Sora, Bandai's latest in an obscenely long line of games based on the seminal franchise. The top selling role-playing game for the week was Square Enix's Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu, which proved more resilient than Namco's Tales of Symphonia and sold another 50,000 units--reasonably good second week sales, especially in the face of strong new releases. Konami's anime tie-in Get Backers Dakkanoku: Jagan Fuuin!, which moved a paltry 5,000 units, was the only new RPG during the week. It's worth noting as well that Media Create has the GameCube outselling the PlayStation 2 for the second week in a row. This is surely good news for Nintendo, which seems to be taking a lot of flack from both gamers and journalists of late. The top-performing RPGs according to Dengeki's sales figures for the week ending September 7th are reproduced below. As far as new releases go, this past Thursday saw the release of Square Enix's Drag-On Dragoon, with Harvest Moon: A Wonderful life following on Friday. Both games have developed a fair amount of buzz, so it'll be interesting to see how they are received.

Pos. Title Publisher Plat. Sales Total
4 Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu Square Enix 48,789 200,333
5 Tales of Symphonia Namco 46,125 222,725
13 Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Square Enix 9,474 304,743
16 Super Robot Taisen D Banpresto 7,313 163,271
17 Get Backers Konami 5,447 5,447
20 Tales of Phantasia Namco 5,010 111,688

As mentioned above, Marvelous Interactive released Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life on Friday, after months of delay. To celebrate the eventual arrival of the game on store shelves, the company has announced a lucky draw competition that will net the winner a very rare plush figure. Since the two recent Harvest Moon games (A Wonderful Life for the GameCube and Friends of Mineral Town for the Game Boy Advance) share the now nearly-requisite connectivity capability, this offer will be geared towards those that are picking up both games. By sending in coupons from each of the games, 30 lucky winners will be sent a plush Mukumuku doll (seen below in both in-game and plush form, courtesy of the fine folks over at Impress Game Watch). In addition, Marvelous has revealed that the link-up features of the series extend to more than just the GameCube and Game Boy Advance games. Square Enix is currently offering a portable installment of the series on all three of the major Japanese mobile phone game networks, and Marvelous has revealed that there will be cross-talk between the GameCube and mobile versions of the game. This will be in the form of passwords, which can be obtained in the console version and will grant access into hidden areas in the mobile phone iteration.

Harvest Moon plush Harvest Moon plush

Not only has Sega never seen fit to localize even one of it's critically acclaimed and insanely popular Sakura Taisen games, they've also given Japanese gamers tons of neat tchotchkes (and whole stores) over the years. Just to rub salt in the wound, Sega announced this week that it will be running a promotional campaign in conjunction with Coca-Cola to celebrate today's release of Sakura Taisen 3 for the PC. The two companies are teaming up to release a collection of 16 keyrings that feature oh-so-cute, super deformed art by series artist Yukihisa Fujita. These keyrings will come with 500 ml Coke bottles in specifically marked vending machines at 29 Sega locations across Japan. The campaign kicks off on Tuesday, September 19th, and once the keyrings are gone, they're gone. If you happen to be in Japan [ahem, Andrew, get me one of these--Ed], you can head over to this page to check out the exact locations. Otherwise, join me in checking out the posters below to see what we're missing out on (images courtesy of Sega).

Sakura Wars keyrings Sakura Wars keyrings

This year's Tokyo Game Show is just two weeks away, and joining the rest of Japan's big videogame companies in announcing their line-ups is developer Monolith Soft. The company, unsurprisingly, will be bringing all three of its current projects to the Makuhari Messe. In addition to the highly anticipated Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Boese. the company will also be showing off Baten Kaitos for the GameCube and the updated version of the Xenosaga opening act, Xenosaga Episode I: Reloaded. Both of the latter two games are set for release within the next three months, so we can expect to see them to have a prominent presence on the show floor.

Speaking of Baten Kaitos, Namco has updated the game's official homepage. The most significant new information is a solid release date for the game. Gamers can expect to pick up the two-disc title in Japan on December 5th, at the regular retail price of 6,800 ¥ ($58). The site also contains some clarification of the card-based battle system. Everything in the gameworld, including items and equipment, is imbued with a "soul," called the Magna essence. The game's cards, called Magnus cards, carry the Magna essence of objects, and by using them, the objects are returned to their original form. So, for example, by using a magic card, the Magna essence of the card is released, unleashing the spell on unsuspecting foes. There are a variety of cards, which carry the Magna essence of character items, weapons, armor, and magic; the Magna essence of humans and animals, however, cannot be stored on cards.

Another game on the receiving end of release details is Slime Morimori Dragon Quest: Shougeki No Shippo Dan. Despite only being unveiled two weeks ago, the Dragon Quest slime's solo debut will be hitting stores on November 14th. The Game Boy Advance game will carry a retail price of 5,800 ¥ ($49). For more information, check out Square Enix's official Dragon Quest page.

At the risk of turning this into Europeandemonium (and, honestly, with a name like that, who'd want it?), I'm going to include some European exclusive news this week. First up is an announcement from Atari that it will be publishing a special edition of Square Enix's recently released Unlimited Saga. The collector's edition of the game will arrive ensconced in a regal purple sleeve, with the DVD case featuring artwork of the seven main characters by Tomomi Kobayashi.

And that's not all; this expanded package will also contain a bonus DVD entitled "Final Fantasy X-2: Eternal Calm," which contains a prologue to Final Fantasy X-2. This footage's Western debut has been a long time in the coming, as it was originally released alongside Final Fantasy X International in Japan in January 2002 (you can check out the original Japanese footage right here). The 14-minute video has been remastered for this new release, and it will feature English dialogue with subtitles in five languages.

Cyril Voiron, group marketing manager at Atari said that Europeans have the game's beautiful artwork to thank for this special edition, stating: "For this unique game, we wanted to offer to the Square Enix fans--who are so sensitive to great art--a unique and exquisite package they would be proud to own and showcase in their game library."

Check out the images below (courtesy of Jeux France) for an idea of what to expect from the special edition when it ships at the end of October.

There's still hope for North American gamers unwilling (or unable) to import who still want to give "Eternal Calm" a viewing in English. Gamers is reporting that the December issue of Official PlayStation Magazine (which hits stores the second week of November) will include the prologue on its monthly demo disc.

Unlimited Saga special edition

On Thursday, THQ announced that it has signed a deal with Sega that will see the company release five of Sega's Game Boy Advance games in Europe and other territories outside of Japan. On that list is none other than Shining Force, a previously unannounced port of Sega's 1992 Genesis strategy RPG, which was developed by Golden Sun creator Camelot. The game was well received at its initial release, and it should prove to be another worthwhile addition to the Game Boy Advance library, which is rapidly proving to be a haven for strategy RPGs.

The deal between Sega and THQ comes at a time when Sega is seeking to return to profitability, and part of its roadmap includes a bigger presence in territories outside Japan and North America. "This partnership not only helps us realize our commitment to expand our overseas presence, but also gives us the opportunity to further strengthen the Sega brand name in the international marketplace," said Mike Sherlock, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Sega Europe. There are no release details for the game yet, but the speed with which Sega's recent Game Boy Advance ports reached the market points to a release of Shining Force in the near future. There has been no confirmation of the game making it's way to North America, but as was the case with Shining Soul for the Game Boy Advance, a domestic release is a near certainty.


All this European news brings me to my closing commentary: What's the deal with Europe always getting shafted? Yes, I know that the continent is home to a host of languages, and this oftentimes poses a significant hurdle to localization efforts. But with the current size of the market, you'd think that publishers would put a bit more effort into pleasing gamers.

On Tuesday, Sony released their worldwide shipment figures, which indicate that the company has now shipped more than 60 million PlayStation 2s. The breakdown by territory goes something like this:

  • North America - 26.4 million
  • Europe - 24.2 million
  • Japan - 19.4 million

Now, I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed that Europe is the second biggest market in the videogame industry (yes, I'm extrapolating from shipment figures to market size). Yet, for some reason, the continent is regularly overlooked by publishers. While it's true that the situation has improved a great deal over the past decade, publishers are still not giving the second largest market the attention it rightly deserves.

Just look at Nintendo, for instance. While gamers across the world have been fashioning outfits and lounging about in their self-decorated pads in the extremely popular Animal Crossing for many months already, our brothers-in-gamepads across the Atlantic have been left to slobber at the wing-tip shoes of Nintendo's bosses in the hope of securing a domestic release. And to top it off, Nintendo had the nerve to crack down on importers that were bringing in North American product to satisfy urges that the company itself chose to ignore. Lambasting the hard-core is not going to accomplish anything, so the company's actions come across as both foolish and ogreish.

While this would have been nothing beyond a way to fill up my commentary space in the past, it's now a very personal subject. After living in North America for four years and becoming accustomed to the wealth of gaming options on offer, I'm going to be heading to London at the end of the month. While I'll be glad to be able to pop in for tea and crumpets with her majesty on a regular basis, the idea of having to import all my games scares me. Not nearly as much as the prospect of waiting the interminably long times for PAL ports to reach Europe's neglected shores, mind you. But, I did it before, and I'll do it again.

So, North Americans, I hope you realize how easy you have it over here. And Europeans, I have felt your pain, and I will feel it again. One day, this mess will be sorted out. Till next week, take it easy.

Exeunt all

Missed an installment? Check out the archives.

Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, Gamespot, Sega, Gamers, Jeux France, Square Enix, Eurogamer]

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by Alex Wollenschlaeger

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