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Konami has always been skilful in doing good and appreciated dating simulations; indeed, Tokimeki Memorial, one of its most famous productions, has often be associated with the entire genre, representing it for at least a decade in Japan. During the mid-90s, the first chapter (i.e. Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You) in the series stormed the charts by selling more than 800.000 units both on PS1 and on Saturn (473.795 and 374.936 units respectively) and certainly reaching the million mark counting the other platforms where it came out (PC Engine, Super Famicom and PC, and later also on mobile phones and PSP): an incredible result for such a niche genre, usually confined to the personal computer market. This was enough to entitle Konami the queen of dating sims and to begin a very extensive brand exploitation, between anime TV series, spin-offs (bound to girls as well) and merchandising of any kind.

But it seems Konami has recently found another brand to milk properly among otaku audience.
A dating sim which was able in its first appearance to more than double the latest entry in Tokimeki Memorial series; a game that has made Japanese video gamers a bit crazier than usual when digital girls were around… An out-and-out mania which started slowly and grew over time becoming one of the most popular and wanted game of the past two years.
A very simple title, LovePlus (or Love+), and not so many expectations at first, even though the DS was chosen for the release; the game was introduced as a more interactive dating-sim than Tokimeki Memorial, which is actually more novel-oriented, and focused on the relationship to establish day by day with one of the three girls the player has to choose (for the record, Manaka, Rinko and Nene); in order to have a more realistic approach, the internal DS clock would have helped the days to flow as it did in Animal Crossing Wild World. But concerning the genre Konami had published just some Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side on DS (which had a remarkable success) so the outcome of the project wasn’t so obvious
In fact, LovePlus debut was modest: 47.854 units sold within the first 4 days in the market, in early September 2009; actually, the game had been sold-out straight after but continued to sell well for months and it eventually ended up with more than 240.000 units sold . This unforeseen result is even more important when we consider the usual commercial life of similar products: otaku games almost always run out of their market potential within the first weeks after the launch, being more front-loaded than every other game; dating sims are in the group, with tie-in of certain manga or anime (e.g. Suzumiya Haruhi) or particular title with digital idols (e.g. Project Diva), and they usually tend to sell the majority of their LTD in a very short lapse of time. LovePlus, instead, kept selling from September to Christmas holidays and even in the first months of the new year, with a small but constant amount of copies weekly. As stated before, neither Tokimeki Memorial 4, released on PSP in December, 2009, could sell so much, stopping at about 70.000 copies, less than one third of LovePlus total sales.

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The following chart will be pretty boring if we look at the recurring names which make at least an appearance, but it won’t if we take in account that positions changed a lot in the last years, in particular at the top of the chart.
Here the Top 10 (Famitsu data):

1. Pokemon Black / White: 2.637.285 (2 days) | 2010
2. Final Fantasy VIII: 2.504.044 (4 days) | 1999
3. Dragon Quest IX: 2.343.440 (2 days) | 2009
4. Dragon Quest VIII: 2.236.881 (2 days) | 2004
5. Monster Hunter Portable 3rd: 2.146.467 (5 days) | 2010
6. Final Fantasy VII: 2.034.879 (4 days) | 1997
7. Final Fantasy IX: 1.954.421 (3 days) | 2000
8. Dragon Warrior VII: 1.862.065 (2 days) | 2000
9. Final Fantasy XII: 1.840.397 (4 days) | 2006
10. Final Fantasy X: 1.749.737 (2 days) | 2001

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It tooks more than one year (383 days to be precise) but finally one of the best episode in the acclaimed Yuji Horii’s series is arriving in the West! Dragon Quest VI, renamed Realms of Revelation for the occasion, will be out on February 14th, 2011 in North America, making the month very busy for the american jRPG fans (Tactics Ogre and Y’s I&II for PSP are coming just the day after).
Actually, the big news is not the arrival of the game itself (which was roughly announced by Square-Enix two years ago when the remakes were presented in a row for DS) but the publisher, that is Nintendo, as the press release on its website has announced.

This seems to strengthen the relationship between Nintendo and Square Enix after the successful Dragon Quest IX operation of the last summer; the latest entry in the series has indeed topped all the European charts: 5 weeks at number 1 in France, 5 weeks in the Top 10 in UK and Ireland, 4 weeks in the Top 5 in Germany (source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Exact data for the game are not known in PAL countries yet, but it’s reasonable to think that it performed better than Dragon Quest VIII which didn’t have such a constant presence in the charts and ended up with about 600.000 copies sold in these territories.
In North America, Dragon Quest IX behaved very good as well: it debuted with more than 133.000 copies in the first weeks (doubling the predecessor first month) and stayed in Top 20 the month after the release.
The results presented above show how Nintendo touch helped this jRPG in the West, where the other entries has never sold at par with Final Fantasy (always overcome by the former in Japan).

As follower of Dragon Quest saga, this news made me really happy; having Nintendo as publisher means a lot of advertisement and better places on the shelves so it will be more likely to reach a wide audience which Square Enix couldn’t obtain with Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen and Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (just 260.000 and 130.000 copies respectively outside Japan).

The reapproaching between Nintendo and Square Enix can explain the fact and may lead to future collaboration both in publication and development of games; Dragon Quest X has been set for a Wii release and 3DS has already this brand in its line-up; meanwhile, Dragon Quest VI appears to be quite waited from the fanbase grown on DS during the past months and it will surely show great sales than the other two remakes as it did in Japan (even though by a very small margin): 1.293.916 units sold compared to IV’s 1.214.610 units and V’s 1.190.404 units (source: Famitsu).

Here the debut trailer for the game:

Amusement Journal, a popular magazine dealing with gaming industry, has recently updated on its website the charts relating to the popularity of games in Japanese arcades, from a two-months off (the last charts were from August).
Games have been split into two categories: conventional cabinets, with a classical external structure, and large cabinets, recognizable by their big presence and peripheral devices.

Conventional/Non-dedicated cabinets:
1. Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion (=)
2. Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. (NEW)
3. Blazblue Continuum Shift (=)
4. Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown (+)
5. Street Fighter IV (-1)

As usual, fighting games have a clear domination in Japanese arcades; the situation has been pretty stable throughout this year and in November just the new Gundam episode entered the chart (pushing out Mobile Suit Gundam vs. Gundam NEXT).

Large/Dedicated cabinets:
1. Border Break (+2)
2. Mahjong Fight Club: Reincarnation Garyu (=)
3. Sangokushi Taisen 3: War Begins (-2)
4. Mobile Suit Gundam: Bonds of the Battlefield (Ver B.) (=)
5. Taiko no Tatsujin 14 (NEW)

In this case, tastes are more mixed: the famous Namco rhythm game has entered the chart at number 5 with its latest entry, than robots and samurai share positions with a new number one to make the formers win: the action game Border Break, developed by SEGA, focused on mech battle through network connectivity between cabinets.

I know, it was too easy; sorry for the play-on-words but the software house that created Castlevania and Pro Evolution Soccer many years ago is following a plain strategy on the DS, alongside dating sims and tie-in productions: make a copy of successful concepts on the console.

The proof showing Konami has a lot of pleasure in committing this behaviour is in the last Famitsu, where it has been introduced its new (and first) adventure novel for 3DS, Doctor Lautrec and and the Forgotten Knights. Does the title remind you something? Well, let’s see: a high brow person as the protagonist; a cute assistant; a story full of mystery set around the late XIX century; puzzle to solves, dialogues to read… Mmh, perhaps Konami has chosen Level 5’s Professor Layton as inspiration? Trivial question, I know. Even because this is the second time in a year the Tokyo-based company tries to replicate Hershel Layton’s success by copying him.

Indeed in October it published Zack and the Ombras: The Phantom Amusement Park (above the two main characters) directed by Junko Kawano (Suikoden, Shadow of Memories), an adventure game plenty of logical tricks and quiz to clear up which debuted in a very low position in the weekly Media Create chart (38th, with 8-9,000 copies sold approximately); Layton’s big numbers were obviously quite impossible to reach as a new IP but Zack and the Ombras opened even less than some other similar structured games, such as Sloan to MacHale (58.513 copies in the first week, Famitsu data), Project Hacker (33.199 copies) and also Time Hollow (25.827 copies), a game by Konami itself from the same director.
Forgetting this failure, maybe Konami has thought that the path to follow was right and there was a large fanbase to feed; actually, Doctor Lautrec is more well-promising than Zack (it has a good 3D graphic and more game elements), but it looks too much similar to Layton and this might be a double-edged sword: 3DS is still a rich soil to be exploited and starting with so high (at least, in terms of design) production values it might be fruitful; but the release date is set in 2011 Spring, the same as the first Level 5’s game, which is just Professor Layton, namely The Mask of Miracles, and this is not a smart move.

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Almost one year after the launch in Japan, the last Chunsoft game has arrived in the United States and it’s manifesting how such a niche game can attract the interest of video gamers, thanks of many factors such as the solid fan-base has grown on the DS throughout years and its Japanese production quality.

999 is basically an adventure game which mixes a puzzle part with a visual novel component à la Professor Layton; also the background is similar to the acclaimed Level 5 series: a mistery story with eccentric characters and paranormal-horror events, reminding Agatha Christie’s books and the Saw movies (in fact it was rated Mature by the ESRB).

With about 30.000 copies (367th position in the 2009 Famitsu Top 1000, so now it may be somewhere above the 50.000 copies considering how good DS games sell in the long period), 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors has not achieved a great success in Japan when it was launched during last Christmas holidays; I do think he suffered the competition with another mistery game, Professor Layton and the Specter’s Flute, which had been out just 2 weeks before. Moreover, Spike promotion wasn’t so widespread in stores, so the game was on the sly.

But something has happened after its distribution by Aksys in the United States. Word of mouth is making the game very popular in all american discussion boards, such as NeoGAF, where the topic of the game is growing faster; moreover, the average rating on Metacritic is 90 out of 100, based on 5 reviews… Not so many, but enough to say that this adventure game worths attention, even because DS games don’t usually have this kind of treatment from the critics, which try to compare them to counter-parties on home consoles and  exaggerate flaws.

In Europe in this game hasn’t arrived yet; I do hope it will come, but meanwhile I can advice all of you to order it on Amazon and appreciate the great game is.

March 31st, 2011 is the date decided by Square-Enix to launch in the Japanese stores the expansion of the last Dragon Quest entry.  Many more monsters than Joker 2, new moves and maps will attract video gamers who have followed Dragon Quest Monsters throughout years (and Nintendo portable consoles).
The interesting question is: how much will the game end up in its LTD?

As the first re-edition of the series, quite similar to what Capcom has always done with Monster Hunter Portable on PSP, it is difficult to predict the commercial performance;  Square-Enix has surely been cunning to place the game just some weeks before the Golden Week, a traditional Spring holiday in Japan, when usually the sales go up by a large margin. Joker 2 Professional is mostly dedicated to a young audience, one of the best buyer during the late April vacation.

The original chapter had crossed the million mark, ending with a total of 1.234.192 copies, and even though saw a 16% decrease from the previous one, it has showed the strenght of the brand becoming one of the best-seller of this 2010 and the 22nd game in the DS chart.
Might Professional aim at doing better? I don’t think so.
Might Professional aim at doing worse? Surely it might. It’s just an enhanced version of a one-year old game! But how much worse? I do think that 400-500.000 will be a good mark; this would bring Joker 2 at about 1,7 million, not so bad: a great goodbye to Nintendo DS for Square-Enix!

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