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Nintendo did it again. There’s no other video game company that can take people by surprise through good times and bad as the historic Japanese corporation which gave birth to Mario and Samus Aran (and a thousand of other memorable characters). Unexpected announcements concerning both economic decisions and gaming ideas have always been a kind of particularity of Nintendo, and also today it lives up to its name: 3DS price has been enormously cut and video gamers communities are literally exploding in several directions, from the unqualified pessimistic attitude which wants Nintendo to present a new handheld device next year to the huge upbeat wave ensuring much higher sales and changes in third parties strategies.

But let’s explain this in an orderly fashion. The news came out along the 2011 Q1 financial report released early this morning; at first, Japan was informed about the price decrease with a PR stating that Nintendo had decided to change the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the console starting from August 11, 2011: a cut of ¥10.000, down from ¥25.000 to ¥15.000, the price by which the original DS was released back in 2004; ¥15.000 means that from the next month 3DS will be one of the cheapest console on the market, below PSP (¥17.800), PS2 (¥16.000), Wii (¥20.000) and DSi XL (¥18.000) and on par with DSi. It’s also clear why Super Pokémon Scramble, original planned for today in Japan, has been moved on August 11.
Then North America got its reduction too; one day after the Japanese cut, 3DS will shift to $169.99, down from the original $249.99 price, for a $80 decrease, less than the other territory (¥10.000 are roughly $130) but still an important amount. Nintendo press tried to have a warm tone by citing the arrival of Super Mario Bros. 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 during the holiday season and the reward in terms of 20 free NES and Game Boy Advance games available on the console eShop for the early adopters.
As usual, PAL countries came at last; Australians will be able to buy a 3DS for AU$249.95 down from the previous AU$349.95 thanks to a consistent $110 decrease, while in Europe there is not an official recommended retail price yet. Nintendo of Europe has confirmed the initiative and the compensation program, but even if rumors want the new price around €169 (and £130 in UK), it’s still not possible to quantify the actual drop.

Hence, a question obviously arises: why do Nintendo decide for such an aggressive price in all of its territories just few months after the launch? This cut is unprecedented in some way; Sony adjusted PS3 price many times but always introducing a new model or new retail configurations (e.g Slim, 80GB) and Nintendo did as well, but later within the console life cycle or, following the other companies, by introducing new versions of the same console as occured with DS and its 3 revisions. It seems also that with this decision, Nintendo will make a loss on 3DS hardware as Bloomberg Japan as reported, which probably falls in a safe range to allow the company to have a leeway, since this is the first time that it undercuts a console.

As a matter of fact, many factors brought to astonishing price slash, but it’s important to think objectively about the matter without being affected by the negative feeling people appears to have in the last weeks; in particular I’m talking about the game cancellation affaire, exaggerated in many Internet communities since just few titles has been scrapped indeed, and not because the sales of the system but for other reasons: Mega Man Legends 3 has been adandoned because of the lack of fans participation (while someone would be willing to wager that it’s because Inafune-san has left the project) considering the fact it has never been greenlighting; Assassin’s Creed: Lost Legacy had never entered in production and some of its concepts were channeled into Revelations, the new episode for PS3 and 360; DJ Hero suffered the reassessment of the Hero brand due to Activision following the low sales of the last entries (on home consoles, not on DS, where Guitar Hero games have always sold quite well); Hudson titles, such as Omega Five and Kororinpa, instead, felt the acquisition of the company by Konami which now totally owns it. Read up is not costly nowadays, therefore ascribing this events to a presumed low performance by 3DS is specious, especially when people play delays off as oddities that never happened in the history of the video game industry: guys, wake up, this has always occured! Software houses might have many projects under active consideration, but not all of them see store shelves, in particular for young products.

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Following the announcement of Xenoblade in the PAL regions (and it’s not an April Fool since a page for the game has been created on UK Nintendo website with also the first European trailer), renamed for the situation Xenoblade Chronicles, I will briefly explore the sales of the game in Japan, where it came out almost one year ago, on June 10, 2010.

The numbers: 141.059 units as the last week of the year for Famitsu, around 160.000 for Media Create, reasonably about 150.000 copies sold in Japan in 2010. Certainly, not astonishing but not too bad: a decent result in my opinion for several reasons.

First, it’s the best selling game from Monolith Soft. in Japan after Nintendo purchasing (except for Dragon Ball licensed titles for Namco Bandai). In fact, Xenoblade went to sell more than the two Baten Kaitos on GameCube (108,615 copies for the first one and just 44.297 for Origins), Disaster: Day of Crisis on Wii (27.896 copies) and the acclaimed Some Bringer on DS (barely above the 100.000 units); aside from tie-in games, it also sold more than the two Super Robot Taisen OG Saga always on DS.

Second, everybody knows the particular situation of the Wii userbase, unwilling to explore new fields, namely genres, outside the classic Nintendo proposition; almost all jRPGs on Wii have tanked, and the most niche games failed to expand their little boundaries. Therefore, Xenoblade showed nice numbers against an average advertising campaigne and very little interest from Nintendo compared to its other big jRPG production, The Last Story, which received bundles, special TV presentation and more.

Third, despite the different scenario and gameplay, Xenoblade is aligned with the Xenosaga sales decline, and assuming it has reached the 180.000 mark (not very unlikely after all) it sold at par with the last title of the former series, Xenosaga Episode III, which saw 181,297 units by being released in 2006, on a platform, PS2, with a huge jRPG-fanbase.

Finally, the sales pattern is good compared to the typical path of its genre, which usually exploites its commerciale life in a few weeks, by selling the 70% and more of the LTD in the first days. Instead, it seems that Xenoblade was able to catch attentions after the release, with word-of-mouth and a high response from magazines and website. It has also one of the best rating on the japanese Amazon within the Wii category (where it is still at the same launch price and keeps holding on in the best-sellers chart).

For these reasons, I strongly believe the relationship between Nintendo and Monolith Soft. is going to continue with a good amount of productions, maybe with a sequel of this game; surely, the announcement of Xenoblade Chronicles shows a certain interest of the company to introduce it to a wider audience (demonstrated also by the translation which will span five languages plus the dual voices, English and Japanese), hoping for a start of a new franchise; the bases which have been built are pretty solid and for this time, Nintendo has worked well in one of its most unexplored ground.

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:

A picture

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