Level-5 has grown a lot in the course of the last 3 years; it had created a series which was able to sell million of units all around the world (Professor Layton); another series has recently reach the million mark exclusively in Japan (Inazuma Eleven); its collaboration with Sony has carried on with the development of a new IP, White Knight Chronicles, out on PS3 and soon on PSP; moreover, it was behind the best selling Dragon Quest ever, the ninth chapter and it’s preparing a lot of title for 2011 among which a ton of games for 3DS (Time Travelers, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright).

Some weeks ago, one of its most promising game has been out in Japan: Ni no Kuni (i.e. 二ノ国 which means “Second Land” and it can be expressed as “Another World”) is a jRPG for DS with the artistic direction assigned to Studio Ghibli that will be followed by another version in 2011 for PS3.
Cutting to the chase, Level-5 has shipped 600.000 copies of the game but it seems it’s not performing so well: in fact its price has decreased almost everywhere which is not a good sign at all. The game will almost surely arrive at least in North America: Akihiro Hino hinted something during the GDC  in 2009, where the game had been shown.

Here are Ni no Kuni sales in the first weeks (Media Create data: 1, 2, 3):
1st week:   170.548 (December 6-12)
2nd week: 74.329 (December 13-19)
3rd week:  84.115 (December 20-26)
4th week:  53.295 (December 27 – January 2)
Total sales are 382.287, which is roughly the 63,7% of the initial shipment.
Ni no Kuni debut is very good considering the fact that it’s a new IP; it’s one of the best start for a new-brand jRPG, only behind the first White Knight Chronicles debut (203.033 copies, Famitsu data). It also showed unusual legs for the genre, surely thanks of Christmas holidays.
I do hope the game will continue to sell well, but I wonder if it can reach the first stock ordered by retailers. Actually, it’s not an impossible goal but the time needed to arrive might be dangerous for future Level-5 games.

Anyway, let’s check it out some possible factors which are affecting this strange result:
1. the price. 6.800 yen (~ 62 €) is quite above the average price of  DS titles that are around 4.800 yen (~ 44 €) and in some cases (Square Enix and Capcom games) about 6.000 yen (~ 55 €) as PSP and Wii games costs on the average; it doesn’t reach PS3-levels (7.500 yen, about 68 €) but it might represent a deterrent for the purchase.
2. the book. Ni no Kuni has been bundled with an interesting book, a sort of magic diary that contains instructions and advice concerning the game. But players need it quite often while they’re playing (an average span of time is not computed yet, maybe they’ve done in Poland but I don’t know, but it’s guaranteed that the book is necessary to walk through the game and players do not know when exactly) so they must carry on the book everywhere which is not so convenient for a handheld console that can be brought during the underground route or at friends’ place. Moreover, the big package certainly takes more space than usual on shelves and sellers chose to put a smaller amount of games on them.

3. the target. Level-5 has turned the advertising campaing to a broader audience than jRPG fans as TV commercials clearly show. In fact the purchase intent has been detected high among women, which are not usually the typical launch day-buyers.
4. the PS3 version. Perhaps the fact that some months later (if not a whole year) an enhanced version (at least technically speaking) will be out it may have prevented jRPG players to buy this Ni no Kuni and convinced them to wait the home console game. In fact, on PS3 the genre is not so well-represented but when a software house decides to develop a RPG of any kind, the outcome is usually good even though on DS and PSP there are the best selling jRPG of the generation.
5. the game itself. I haven’t played the game yet, but it seems it lacks appeal despite its undoubted quality. Ni no Kuni is a very classical jRPG, with a turn-based battle system, a world-map, a breeding system for the caught monsters and a fantasy setting; but the latest best-selling jRPG on DS has shown a bizarre structure or at least something refreshing within the genre: Inazuma Eleven conjugates football with a RTS battle system; Dragon Quest IX stepped on the accelerator on the local cooperative game modes; 7th Dragon was addressed to nostalgic jRPG fans thanks of 8bit tracks and vintage graphic (as The 4 Heroes of Light did) and so on.
Instead Ni no Kuni hasn’t anything to resemble a new way of thinking the genre and it fall in the classical mood without being nothing extremely catchy. Studio Ghibli skill should have caught attentions, and I think it partially succeeded but with just the artistic direction its involvement doesn’t seem complete.
6. the retailers. The game preorders were fairly high but maybe who decided how many copies to order for the stores has been too much trustful; obviously it’s tricky to do this work because statistics might fail and the market doesn’t usually follow a straight path which can be predicted but the experience can help and retailers had a similar situation this year with another game from Level-5, Inazuma Eleven 3 Spark/Bomber. 900.000 units were shipped in stores but this mark has just been reached (six months later the release) also thanks to a price-cut.

In my opinion, all these factors put together have given the strange market response to the game; we’ll see in the next weeks how Ni no Kuni will behave in the Japanese chart, wishing it to reach at least the first shipment. Anyway, a LTD around 550.000-600.000 copies is not bad for a new IP; I do think will be a good result which can ensure a future for the brand.