Jet-lag, my friends, is a pain in the neck. It compels me to wake up pretty early every morning, then keeps me up late at night. I've been having to take long naps to keep up. Thankfully (for me), the Japanese news scene has been fairly quiet on the RPG front these past few weeks, so I don't have so much catching up to do here. Hajimemashou!
Recently, I've been seeing commercials on NHK, professing the benefits of a bundled NTT high-speed optical internet connection (aka B-Fletz). More importantly is how they're marketing it: through the promise of networked gaming on the Wii console. The entire commercial -- and it wasn't a short one -- was focused on people being able to have it out with their friends via the B-Fletz internet connection and their Wii consoles. The new Super Smash Bros. game featured prominently throughout, with two families playing against each other from their respective living rooms.
Overall, Nintendo has definitely ramped up the marketing for the Wii as a family console, and the sales seem to reflect that. Wii Fit, the console exercise program, has been bobbing up and down the top 5 games in sales for over a month now, and Wii Sports is currently at #3, after over a year of sales.
Wow. That was short. I'd have thought that the new RPGs for the Wii and XBox 360 would have more staying power in the sales world, but the DS dominates the board when it came to RPGs before, during, and after the winter holiday. There was a strong showing during the pre-Christmas shopping season, topped by -- surprise, surprise -- the newly reborn Final Fantasy IV for the DS, which sold 300,000 units in a very short time (Dec. 20th to Dec. 23rd). As well, rising from the ashes of the Lower 50 was Pokemon Diamond, after an absence of several weeks. The top-ranking game overall prior to Christmas, however, was Mario Party DS, with 318,000 units moved.
This Christmas season was a good one for Nintendo, especially. According to Dengeki, the company managed to take in 69.5% of all retail hardware sales (DS - 39.6%, Wii - 29.9%) and 79.3% of all retail software sales (DS - 56.8%, Wii - 22.5%) for the week leading up to Christmas, which is just as big a sales season in Japan as it is in America.
My apologies for the odd formating this week, but the Dengeki ratings were left un-updated for almost three weeks after Christmas. Since most businesses in Japan simply shut down for the New Year's holiday, that's not so surprising. If something is listed as "Off-list," that means that the game has at some point dropped off the Top 50, and not risen back up. If the game hits the Top 50 again, I can see where they were on the Lower 50 previously.
Over the years, I have seen and played some games that did interesting things with the RPG formula. Card-game RPGs, board-game RPGs, shooters and action-based RPGs, even a race car RPG, which I always thought was a bit of a stretch. The folks at Level 5 have given us a new twist, though, with their soccer-based Inazuma Eleven. These scans from Famitsu give us a bit more info on the characters in this sporty tableau, specifically the teams from Denmon Junior High School (the main character's team, from the looks of things) and the Imperial Academy (who have dark, gloomy antagonism written all over).
On your team, there's Shinichi Handa (all-around normal-looking kid), Ayumu Shorinji (who has kung-fu literally written into his last name), Ryuugo Someoka (tall, brooding type), and Jin Kageno (the ninja). The main antagonist seems to be a kid named Kouenji.
There are a variety of special techniques that can be used in the soccer matches, in typical Japanese Xtreme-action style. Much of the interface, both for determining plays and for using techniques, strongly reminds me of Final Fantasy X's Blitz Ball system, which would make sense. Time pauses for short periods while you determine which play to make with the stylus. The two techniques featured in the scan are Illusion Ball and Tornado Fan.
While there seem to be distinct Story and Tournament Modes, I can't tell much about those from these scans. It's not that they're not chock full of information, I'm sure, but more because they're written in Taiwanese. This is still the Japandemonium column, not Taiwandemonium. If I can track down the Japanese version of that same edition of Famitsu, I might have more info for you all later.
Finally, your success as a team has some impact on the school itself. The better you do, the more students are encouraged to transfer to Denmon Jr. High. This will apparently unlock various side-events and features, as well as garnering your team its very own cheer squad:
These three gals also sing the ending theme song for the game, in their alter-egos as the real-life "idol unit" tw'elve (yes, no caps). They're using this game as a sort of media debut. For anyone interested, you can see a picture of them here.
Ever wanted to just kick back, relax, and enjoy the scenery? Take in a show, admire the clock tower from the village square or, yes, even have tea with a certain little yellow bird? Square Enix is currently alpha-testing its new Virtual World, where you can do all that, and presumably more. It's currently only available to registered members of the Square Enix site who have good knowledge of Japanese.
According to a PDF released by the company last month, Virtual World should be available to a wider audience starting mid-2008, and has the following system requirements:
|MS Windows XP / Vista, Japanese version
||Intel Pentium4 2.4Ghz or better
||512MB or better
||More than 500MB
||ADSL 1.5MB or better
||keyboard and mouse
A while back, Banpresto announced a remake of their PlayStation strategy RPG Summon Night 2, following its predecessor to the DS. While some non-Japanese gamers out there may be familiar with the series' spinoff, Sword Craft Story, introductions are in order.
This entry in the series focuses on a young summoner (your choice of two), and his or her relationship with the denizens of the four "outworlds" from which monsters are summoned. Each summons has different characteristics and abilities, and different worlds have dominance over others when it comes to combat. In the second scan, you can see a basic circle of dominance: Phantom Beast beats Machine beats Fey beats Ghost beats Phantom Beast.
The gameplay seems to be solid tactical RPG, all the way, with the addition of some nice, helpful map and stat windows in the upper screen of the DS. We'll see how it looks come April, when it's released in Japan. Until then, I can only wonder at the fact that Banpresto managed to shoehorn a two-disc PlayStation game into a single DS cartridge. Moore's Law applies doubly to video game storage capacity, it would seem.
And to round out our column, here's some of the more recent swag to appear over here:
First, we have this lovely selection of DS cover decals from Nintendo, courtesy of the Pokémon Daisuki Club (aka the Pokéfans).
And more from Nintendo! Besides the mouse/mousepad set (2,980 yen and 580 yen, respectively), we also have a nice selection of children's household slippers available from department stores across the country. To round things out, we have game-themed school material boxes and pencil sharpeners for both Pokémon and Blue Dragon, also available at local department stores. April is the official start of the Japanese school year, so it's back-to-school sales all around.
Long Stories Best Kept Short
I was just wanting to know what games you've picked up since you've been in Japan. Have you gotten anything you'd like to share with us? What's on your "to get" list? Is there anything over there that you've played and enjoyed that you're pretty sure will not make it over to the States?
Whew. Well, as I think I mentioned a while back, I've gotten a lot of games over here, but since many of those were bargain bin impulse buys, it's hard to credibly list some of them as "worth mentioning".
A few gems I can think of... Devil Summoner - Soul Hackers comes to mind. This one combines the usual demonology and summoning of the MegaTen meta-series with some good cyberpunk storytelling. The game's video sequences were actually quite good by PSX standards, and the music was awesome. It doesn't strike me as likely that this game will come over anytime soon, but they did re-release the original game in the series a while back, for PSP, so you never know.
Some other good games included the later Atelier series games, which had their own, distinct thing going on. Atelier Judie and Viola for PS2, and Lise for the DS were all entertaining games with some good writing done for their various scenarios. They're all incredibly text-heavy as well, which has provided much reading practice.
As for what I've found recently... I was more than willing to put down the money to reserve a copy of Final Fantasy IV when it came out last month. I've even been able to turn it into a talking point in some of my classes, since several of my students also got it for Christmas.
I'm still lurking around the stores trying to decide on what the next purchase shall be, when I can justify it in my budget. Possibly Mana-Khemia; I've had my eye on that one for a while.
Anyway, thanks for the letter, and I'll probably drop a few more names at random in future columns. I'll endeavor to make sure they're all good games mentioned!
Well, home was nice, but things are good in Japan too. My little students are as cute as ever, and there's always something to be done. Oh, and there are also (at last count) four new flavors of KitKats available in stores: lemon, red bean, Yukimizakura ("Cherry blossoms fall like snow") cherry, and some sort of gourmet strawberry variety.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,