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Atlus has been quite reluctant to jump over the present generation of home consoles, in particular PS3 and 360, relying on more confortable environments, such as the handheld consoles and PS2.
Did it get wrong? Watching the result of its first HD game, I would say so.
Catherine topped 160.000 units in the first week across the two console where it had been released, Ps3 and 360.
In particular, sales are split as following (Media Create data):
141.826 – PS3 version
21.936 – 360 version
Total: 163.762


According to the numbers Atlus expected, 150.000 units to be precise, that’s an incredible result and strange as well. Catherine is not a jRPG, it doesn’t properly fit in the classical Atlus line, consisting of series as Shin Megami Tensei, Persona and Etrian Odyssey, and it’s not even resembling stand-alone games like the Vanillaware titles. The game has some adventure components but as a matter of fact it’s composed of two different systems: during a portion of the day, the protagonist will be immersed in a novel, with dialogue to handle and relationship to cultivate, while during the night, a sort of puzzle game will take place; here he must climb up a huge staircases, made with blocks to push and pull and strange characters who impede the ascent. That is, not a conventional game.

But it sold as hell during the first days: why?

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I must admit, this generation of console is having an absolute weird behaviour: every region seems to have its own particular trends, and more units sold doesn’t mean having the great support from third parties anymore. Microsoft failed another time to reach the mainstream audience with its last home console in Japan, but attributable to the strange happenings of the past few years in the gaming industry, it’s possible to acknowledge some kind of success to Xbox 360. As a matter of fact, its installed base grew up slowly but steadily, and it already more than doubled the previous console result (1.437.244 against 700.000 units sold approximately); then, also thanks to the shared developers interest with PS3 and the good numbers put in the West, 360 is receiving a lot of Japanese titles which have helped to gain attention in the unfriendly land. But it’s not due to Lost Planet or Dead or Alive 4 if niche video gamers, to not called them otaku, arrived on the console in a constant flow during the last 5 years.
Exclusive jRPG from Microsoft itself (through Mistwalker anyway), Square Enix and Bandai Namco set the stage, and a high numbers of visual novels, 2D shoot’em ups and arcade porting addressed to a particular audience have permitted the console to build a strong and loyal userbase who also buy western games and allow some multiplatform games to not sink against the PS3 version.

The Idolm@ster is certainly the best example of the situations described above. Bandai Namco idol simulator where players assume the role of a music producer was initially developed for the arcades and two years later ported on 360; this version was immediately very well received and made Xbox Live sign-ups explode during the first weeks after the release.

As software houses know well, spanning a brand over different kind of formats is always a good strategy, and so Bandai Namco did with this series. An exclusive chapter, Live For You, more focused on concert coordination instead of the managerial aspects, had headed Microsoft console in 2008 while a porting of the original game was out on the PSP in early 2009 split into three versions each featuring different idols. Moreover, a Nintendo DS version of the game was released on the same year, under the name Dearly Stars, which has been talked about because one of the idol protagonists was actually a boy in disguise. An anime (i.e. Idolmaster: XENOGLOSSIA) was loosely ispired by the game, and obviously tons of merchandise of any kind dedicated to these teen idols invaded Japanese shops.
For a proper sequel, fans will have to wait until the end of February, when The Idolm@ster 2 is set for a release.  Meanwhile, let’s check how the game performed in every appearance:

The Idolm@ster (Xbox 360) 48.695
The Idolm@ster Platinum Collection (Xbox 360) 47.344
The Idolm@ster: Live for You! (Xbox 360) 75.272
The Idolm@ster: Twins (Xbox 360) 6.621

The Idolm@ster SP: Perfect Sun / Missing Moon / Wandering Star (PSP) 189.568

The Idolm@ster: Dearly Stars (DS) 50.170

(courtesy of Japan Game Charts)

According to these numbers, PSP was the most suitable choice for the series; indeed, on the Sony handheld console it’s possible to find a lot of similar games, such as Project Diva, and titles addressed to a kindred userbase, such as Tales of and Final Fantasy fan-services; it also recently got AKB 1/48, the eponymous game dedicated to the most famous idol band nowadays in Japan.
On 360, anyway, the game saw strong sales, while the DS version can ben considered the weakest entry in the series.

Given these data, The Idolm@star 2 should easily top the 50.000 mark, and it might sell in the range 75-100.000 units. But if I were Bandai Namco, I would port this new chapter to the PSP as soon as possible, and exploiting the live contents to earn more money and expanding the franchise while the new generation of consoles is on the pipeline.

As is common knowledge, creativeness has not recently been Square Enix strong point; the abuse of its most popular brands has been quite aggressive while the efforts to develop something more fresh seems to be sadly inconclusive. So where did a flash of genius as The World Ends With You come from?

This wonderful game (no surprise the original name is すばらしきこのせかい, i.e. It’s a Wonderful World) was the first attempt of Kingdom Hearts team on the DS, and the desire to exploit every features of the console seems to be the common denominator which had supported the works of the creative unit, consisting of Tetsuya Nomura among others. The brilliant gameplay is just one of the characteristics that makes The World Ends With You innovative and memorable: the soundtrack is a great piece of art (buy it on iTunes!), while the scenario combines real locations with manga-style characters drawing its inspiration from metropolitan trends and underground culture.

By the way, without breaking any record, the game has been very well received by the video gamers all around the world; considering its niche nature and some supply problems in Europe, The World Ends With You went to sold at least 400.000 copies worldwide:

Japan: 192.955 (Famitsu data)
North America: 140.000 (as of September 30, 2008, Square Enix financial reports); 172.000 (as of January, 2009, NPD data)
Europe: 20.000 (as of September 30, 2008, Square Enix financial reports)

The poor result in PAL countries suggests a wrong strategy in promoting and distributing the game; the unoccured translation in other languages than the English, the low advertising and the little by little distribution had strongly affected The World Ends With You but a small and faithful group of fans supported this new IP by creating a lively community and keeping the interest up throughout the years. Considered a cult game by the critics, the waiting for a still not announced sequel is fitful; I’m sure the sales of The World Ends With You had been satisfying even though it deserved a lot more attention and the interesting battle mechanism tailored on the dual screen may be further exploited by Square Enix in some way in the future.

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