Japandemonium - Against the Grain

Welcome back everyone. As you'll see below, this past week was abnormally quiet in Japan. So much so that I've decided to have a look at some upcoming cell phone games. Next week should be a little different, however, as Square's Final Fantasy X-2 is finally being released on Thursday. The review scores for the game are below, but first, let's have a look at what's flying off of shelves in Japan right now.

Ah, now this is more like it! Game sales in Japan showed a bit of a resurgence last week after a period of rather lackluster sales. RPGs feature prominently on this week's chart, with last week's new releases, Enix' Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time and Sega's Sakura Taisen: Atsuki Chishio ni, coming in at the 2nd and 3rd positions, respectively. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is still holding strong in the 7th position. Sales for Star Ocean 3 would probably have been higher still were it not for the technical problem that emerged on the game's release day (see last week's installment for all the gory details). Below is the list of the RPGs that made it into the Top 20 for the week ending March 2nd.

    Position; Title (Publisher), Console, Sales this week; Total Sales
  • 2. Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time (Enix), PlayStation 2, 349,571, 349,571
  • 3. Sakura Taisen: Atsuki Chishio Ni (Sega), PlayStation 2, 142,351, 142,351
  • 7. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (Atlus), PlayStation 2, 37,328, 190,004
  • 8. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Square), Game Boy Advance, 33,911, 324,444
  • 10. Pokémon Sapphire (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 17,967, 2,029,945
  • 12. Pokémon Ruby (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 14,250, 1,981,082

Weekly Famitsu has doled out some more review scores, and headlining the list is the aforementioned Final Fantasy X-2. Square's first direct sequel impressed reviewers and earned itself a Gold Award. While this is decent, it's not quite as good as its forebear fared at release. Final Fantasy X walked away with a Platinum Award and a score of 39/40 when it was released in July of 2001. Also on this week's list is Link's Game Boy Advance debut, Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords. While the game saw release in North America in late 2002 already, Japanese gamers had to wait--for a change--to get their hands on this gem of a title. Since just about everyone reading this has probably played the game already, it should come as no surprise that the game earned a Platinum Award. Check out the individual reviewer scores below.

    Title (Publisher), Console, Editor Scores (Total)
  • Final Fantasy X-2, (Square), PlayStation 2, 9 / 8 / 8 / 9 (34/40) Gold Award
  • Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords, (Nintendo), Game Boy Advance, 8 / 9 / 9 / 9 (35/40) Platinum Award

As this week was a little slow in Japan, I'm going to stray from my regular platforms of coverage and touch on some cellphone games that are coming out around now. While the domestic cell phone gaming market continues to flounder, Japanese gamers have been getting their RPG on via their phones for years. Given the Japanese penchant for all things Dragon Quest, it follows naturally that the series is well represented on this platform, too. Enix announced this week that it will be introducing a mobile version of Dragon Quest Monsters on the EZWeb network starting Thursday, March 6th. This game has already been available on both the i-Mode and J-Sky networks since last year, with over 150,000 people coughing up the 300 ¥ ($3) monthly fee.

Essentially, the game is a trimmed-down version of the Dragon Quest Monsters games, featuring monster accumulation, an assortment of dungeons to battle with said monsters, and--utilizing the networking capability of mobile phones--the very cool ability to swap monsters with friends or sell them to the highest bidder. Enix is also periodically updating the game; A new dungeon is being added to the J-Sky version this week. Below are some sample shots from all three versions of the game.

Dragon Quest Monsters cellphoneDragon Quest Monsters cellphoneDragon Quest Monsters cellphoneDragon Quest Monsters cellphone

If tactical RPGs are more your style, Enix has you covered in that area too. The company launched Tactical Quest on Monday, a game that has the distinction of being one of the first RPGs to utilize the isometric viewpoint we have all come to know and love. Despite its humble platform, the game is stacked, with over 100 non-player characters to interact with and a story rooted in Celtic mythology. The use of the isometric viewpoint allows for more strategy during battles, as players will be able to take the environment into account when turning up the hurt on unsuspecting foes. Four classes are available, namely swordsman, horseman, mage and archer. The i-Mode version went live on Monday, while the J-Sky iteration is set to start on April 1st, and both of them will set you back 300 ¥ ($3) a month. Screens are below for your amusement.

Tactical Quest cellphoneTactical Quest cellphoneTactical Quest cellphoneTactical Quest cellphone

With the pitiful state of mobile gaming in North America, the likelihood of anything of this sort making its way over here anytime soon is virtually nil. If you're interested in seeing what some of the other staff members think about mobile phone gaming, check out this edition of our news roundtable discussion.

In more Enix news, the company revealed some info this week for its upcoming title Dragon Quest Monsters III: Caravan Heart, specifically related to travelling around the game world. During your sojourn in each burg, a whole smack of info is gathered. Then, when you're at the world map, you can check out each town and get a synopsis of some of the info that you previously gathered. Additionally, it will be possible to warp directly to places you have visited, cutting out some of those oh-so-annoying random encounters. If that's your wish, of course. Dragon Quest Monsters III: Caravan Heart is slated for release on March 29th.

There are unconfirmed reports coming out of Japan today that the release of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube has been pushed back. Apparently this is being done to sort out some quality control issues and to make sure that the game ships in perfect condition. No further details are known right now and, so far, this report cannot be corroborated. So, importers, put away those kleenex for the moment.

I would like to take my outro space this week to talk a bit about the Game Boy Advance SP. I finally got mine last week and so far I'm hooked. The shape of the unit hearkens back to the original Game Boy, and since it's narrower, it's a little more uncomfortable. Also, I really don't like the fact that there is no headphone jack included. On the plus side, the new front light is pretty good. It can look a little odd at certain angles, but most of the time it looks fantastic. The other new addition is the rechargeable battery pack. This was almost as important to me as the front light, since I don't like buying expensive batteries all the time, and I didn't want to buy a generic rechargeable set. All in all, I'm really happy. Unless you're one of the unfortunates that just got a regular GBA over the holiday season, I would highly recommend that you pick one up. Now I have to go dig out Castlevania: Circle of the Moon so that I can actually see what I'm doing in the game. Till next time.

Exeunt all

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by Alex Wollenschlaeger    
Sources: [Dengeki, Famitsu, Quiter]

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