Japandemonium - Beelzebubba

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's stuffed-crust edition of Japandemonium. Despite the relative dearth of new titles hitting the market at the moment, there was a ton of news in the industry this week. So, I'm not going to waste your time up here. Let's get this thing going.

For the first time in a few weeks, the best selling game in Japan was an RPG, specifically the PlayStation 2 iteration of Hudson's re-release of Tengai Makyou 2: Manjimaru. With sales of just over 90,000 units for the week, the game has proven to be a reasonable success, and it's already far outpacing the GameCube version, which was released to relatively lackluster sales last week and sank rapidly this week. Apart from that, however, things in Japan are relatively quiet. There were only three new releases in total, compared to 18 during the previous week. There's little light on the horizon either, as the only RPGs coming out in the next couple weeks are a budget release of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Matantei Loki: Ragnarok, an RPG from publisher J-Wing based on the anime series of the same name. Below are the details for RPGs that made it into the Top 20 during the week ending October 5th.

Pos. Title Publisher Plat. Sales Total
1 Tengai Makyou II: Manjimaru Hudson 91,277 91,277
5 Drag-On Dragoon Square Enix 19,525 213,420
16 Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu Square Enix 5,800 251,395
18 Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life Marvelous Interactive 5,540 59,636
19 Sunrise World War Bandai 5,259 31,040
20 Tengai Makyou II: Manjimaru Hudson 5,259 26,144

As mentioned above, one of the few RPGs coming out in the next couple weeks is the anime-based Matantei Loki: Ragnarok. Famitsu's editors have already weighed in on the game, and the result is not good. The game failed to impress the magazines editors at all and pulled in an unremarkable 19/40. Individual editor scores are reproduced below.

Title Publisher Plat. Scores
Matantei Loki: Ragnarok J-Wing 5, 5, 5, 4 - 19/40

Scarcely three months after Kenshin Dragon Quest was first announced, Square Enix has rolled out its stand-alone, sword-flailing game. The game hit stores in Japan on Thursday last month [Thanks Suzanne], and popular importer Lik-Sang was kind enough to send over the images of the final product seen below. As described previously, the game consists of the Game Box that connects directly to your TV, an Adventure Book that serves as a memory card, and the eponymous, wireless sword (well, actually, it's more like a dagger if you want to get technical) itself, which is--quite logically--used for smiting all sorts of slimerrific foes.. In keeping with its name, the memory card is designed in the shape of a book. It will be interesting to see just how well this novel doodad does. Several high profile executives in Japan have accused the videogame industry of making games that are too complex and that consequently scare off potential customers. It will be interesting to see whether this simple concept will prove these critics right. I guess we'll just have to wait for next week's Dengeki sales numbers to know for sure.

Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest Kenshin Dragon Quest

To commemorate the game's release, Square Enix also put out a new Kenshin Dragon Quest commercial last week. The ad is a continuation of the previous commercial, and features the kid-star being interviewed for his slime-slaughtering ways. The commercial is currently airing on TV Tokyo and will be accompanying the broadcasts of various anime shows in the near future. Images of the commercial below are courtesy of Impress Game Watch.

Kenshin Dragon Quest commercial Kenshin Dragon Quest commercial

This weekend saw the Toys R Us ToyFesta 2003 pull into Tokyo, and most of the big names in the Japanese videogame industry had booths at the event to entertain the assembled masses. Not very many RPGs were on hand, but Kenshin Dragon Quest did make an appearance. Elsewhere on the show floor was Konami's Boktai. Of course, Konami were wise enough to place Hideo Kojima's sun-sensitive RPG in an area of the hall that allowed for some nice, healthy, vampire-slaying natural light. Below are a few images from the show, courtesy of Famitsu.

Kenshin Dragon Quest at ToyFesta 2003 Kenshin Dragon Quest at ToyFesta 2003 Boktai at ToyFesta 2003

On Thursday, Sony announced a new batch of budget re-releases for both the PlayStation 2 and the eight-year-old PSone. Namco's Tales of Destiny 2 for the PlayStation 2 joins the Mega Hits series (3,000 ¥ or $27), while Atlus' Busin: Wizardry Alternative enters the PlayStation 2 The Best line (3,000 ¥ or $27). Sony's debut console is also on the receiving end of a couple of ow-priced games; joining the PSone Books series are Konami's classic Akumajo Dracula X: Gekka no Yasoukyoku (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in North America) (1,800 ¥ or $16) and Summon Night 2 from Banpresto (2,800 ¥ or $26). The games are all scheduled for release in November.

Import gamers waiting with baited breath for the release of Xenosaga Episode I Reloaded (a re-release of Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht that contains additional material included in the North American release but absent from the original Japanese release) will be a tad disappointed to hear that the game's release has been pushed back slightly. Instead of the originally projected November 6th release date, the game will now hit Japan on November 20th. Namco has stated that the reason for the delay is to take care of some final bugs so that the game hits stores in as polished a condition as possible.

As most of you are no doubt aware, videogames have been a staple in Japan for a long time now, and as the medium expands and evolves, more and more serious attention is being given to it. An example of this is a recently announced exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. The museam has announced that it will be hosting an exhibit that examines the short but tumultuous history of this burgeoning art form and its impact on popular culture. Titled Level X, the exhibition will take over the lower floor of the museum, with emphasis being given to the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES), which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The exhibit will feature a timeline of the Famicom, from its original iteration two decades ago to the very last machine that rolled off the production line when manufacture of the console ended last September.

As one of the main attractions of the exhibit, the organizers are planning to display copies of all 1,200+ games that were released for Nintendo's machine, several of which will be present in either playable or video form. Creators will receive some of the spotlight too, as the exhibit will include pre-recorded interviews with such notable game creators as Shigeru Miyamoto, Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri, Earthbound director Shigesato Itoi, Dragon Quest director Yuji Horii and several more. It's not all going to be about the Famicom though: several modern games on all three current consoles will also be on display. Level X will run at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography from December 4th to February 8th. (If any of you are planning on going, please get in touch with me.)

Fans of Gust's Atelier series with a penchant for chronometry will be pleased to hear that the company is gearing up to release a caldendar based on the franchise. The B5-sized (approximately 10" X 7") 2004 calendar features artwork of several of the series' most popular characters, and of course their birthdates are listed on the calendar as well. So there's no excuse for missing Violet's birthday next year. The calander can be pre-ordered straight from Gust's site for a paltry 1,500 ¥ ($14).

Atelier calender

On Friday, From Software took the opportunity to show off its upcoming Otogi sequel at the AsoBitCity in Akihabara. Gamers who swung by the event got the chance to take Otogi 2 through its paces, and there were also a few pods that were playing a preview movie of the game. Images below are courtesy of Famitsu. In a related story, From has updated its site with a downloadable movie from the game that was previously shown off at last month's Tokyo Game Show. The movie can be downloaded from From's official Otogi site (Flash is required for the site). Otogi II is slated for release in Japan on December 6th for 6,800 ¥ ($63).

O-To-Gi at AsoBitCity O-To-Gi at AsoBitCity O-To-Gi at AsoBitCity


That's all the news I have for this week. In closing, I wanted to ask a rhetorical question of developers. Why is there so much hesitance in the console RPG development community to provide a radically different gameplay experience? (I stress 'console' because developers of PC and handheld games seem much more open to experimentation).

For the last two hours, I've been sitting here in my apartment as my housemate created his character for WWE Raw 2. The process is easily as in-depth or moreso than any RPG (console or otherwise) that I've ever seen. There are a ton of visual, physical and skill attributes ready to be allocated in any way you see fit. Once you do get done with recreating yourself (or your favorite adult film star or whatever), the game itself also offers some interesting gameplay options. In career mode, there is an emergent story that develops as you claw your way through the ranks of the WWE en route to one of the coveted belts. There are also a ton of options for directly influencing the flow of events through interference in other matches, setting traps for other wrestlers and more.

Now, I'm no wrestling fan (in fact, truth be known, I think the sport is rather infantile...please don't flame me [or at least make it funny], that's just my opinion), but I find the game very interesting. If you added in some behind-the-scenes stats (actually, I'm pretty sure that there already are), I would have no qualms with calling WWE Raw 2 an RPG.

It seems to me that there is still a lot of untapped potential for RPGs as far as settings and gameplay are concerned. Why is it that we have never had an RPG that melds a strong storyline and the fighting mechanics of Soul Calibur, or a real golf-RPG (yes, I know about Mario Golf for the Game Boy, I mean something more substantial) where you meet up with NPCs and challenge them to a quick 3-hole match all while a story unfurls. Activision's latest installment in the ludicrously popular Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, Tony Hawk Underground (which, for reasons unknown to me, is being abbreviated T.H.U.G.), is a large step in the direction of a skateboarding RPG.

I would really like to see some of the traditional leaders of the console RPG market expand their range a bit. I have nothing against the tried-and-true fantasy games, but we really do need to start seeing some more innovation in the genre. Until then, I'll be bugging management to allow coverage of T.H.U.G.. What do you guys and gals think? Send me an e-mail or post your comments on the message board. Till next week, take it easy.

Exeunt all

Missed an installment? Check out the archives.

Sources: [Impress Game Watch, Dengeki, Gamespot, ZDNet Japan Games, 1Up, Otogi Official Site, Gust, Quiter, Famitsu]

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by Alex Wollenschlaeger

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