Month in Japan – December ’12

Posted on by peter swan
Mario and Sonic Winter

Christmas is upon us. Though not a particularly important date on the Japanese calendar, Christmas is still a celebrated time of gift-giving and well-wishing, and as such a golden opportunity for gaming. Kids in Japan tend to only receive a single Christmas present from a parent each year, but on New Years they will have money given to them by multiple relatives, a custom known as otoshidama. This makes December a month of commerce across Japan as much as it is in the west.

It’s been a busy month for game players and game producers alike, with events and news coming in a veritable torrent. News of future game releases has been limited; this is a time for looking back rather than gazing forward. As 2013 looms on the horizon, it is a time of reflection on some of the triumphs of the year.

MMO on the go

Massively multiplayer titles such as World of Warcraft are immensely popular in Japan. Often abbreviated to ‘netgames’, MMOs make up a massive amount of national gaming, especially on the PC. Though it is a gigantic market, one of the biggest hits of late has been Phantasy Star Online 2, the sequel to Sega’s age-old Dreamcast title. Released July of this year, PSO2 has a staggering fanbase, and word has been spread of a coming US release some time next year. Back in Japan, however, excitement is high for the upcoming Playstation Vita edition of PSO2.

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The Vita port will have all of the features of its PC predecessor, including flashy graphics, randomly generated dungeons and all the character customisation you could want. In addition, players on Vita will be able to play alongside their PC counterparts, or choose not to and stick with their fellow handhelds. The game will be released early 2013, and will be a huge step forward for the MMO market in Japan.

There can only be one

Have you ever heard of AKB48? If you have been in Japan at any point over the last year or so, you will most certainly have heard of the 48-piece idol group, who have become true pop icons over the months. The girls, all aged somewhere between 15 and 19, have spawned a long line of partner idol groups in their time, including groups in Taiwan and Korea. The girls have sold themselves to shows, sports teams, phones, homes, drinks and, naturally, video games. The most famous (or perhaps notorious) of these was AKB1/48 on the PSP, a dating simulation in which you select one of the group’s members to pursue and then try your luck at being their boyfriend for a while.

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Unlike traditional dating simulations, and there are an absolute ton already available in Japan, there is no story as such. The game follows a roughly connected series of encounters with your girl that culminate in something incredibly romantic such as a Christmas Eve walk by starlight, or fireworks at a summer festival. It was extraordinarily popular at the time of its release, so much so that more recently an absurdly named sequel, AKB1/149, was released. And yes, it is exactly as grand as you imagine it. 1/149 contains not only romantic challenges with many of the girls from the titular, Tokyo-based AKB48, but also their counterparts in Nagoya, Osaka and others across the nation.

The reason the game hit the headlines this month was because it has won a Guinness World Record. And that record was ‘most pop singers featured in a video game’. I kid you not. That is a real record, and it is now held by AKB1/149 on the PSP. Wonders never cease.

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Don’t they just look thrilled…

And the world laughs with you

The Japanese pop culture video site, Nico Nico Douga, is a real force to be reckoned with. Though non-profit, much like Youtube, the site holds considerable sway over game popularity and hype, and is the origin of thousands of smaller game companies and illustrators looking for that first step. Earlier this year, Nico Nico staff held what they called the Nico Nico Choukaigi (meaning ‘super meeting’) in Tokyo. Renting out a huge events hall and outfitting it with more cameras than MI6, the site then invited game publishers who make use of the site, even the most humble one-man operations, to come and share their wares in stalls for visitors. In addition, a massive screen ran for the full 48 hours of weekend, streaming the most popular Nico Nico videos of all time for all the world to see. The ‘meeting’ was a huge success for the site. Over 90,000 visitors attended over the course of the weekend, with another three and a half million watching from the comfort of their own homes. Over 470 million yen changed hands, the equivalent of three and half million pounds.

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Well, in April of 2013 the whole thing will happen again, on the weekend of the 27th and 28th. Nico Nico Choukaigi 2 plans to be bigger, brighter and more vibrant than its predecessor, and so far it seems to be gearing up to be just that. After all, Nintendo recently announced that their annual project meeting, where all the year’s biggest titles are named and planning teams organised, will be occurring live at the event. Nintendo representatives will be on hand after all the names have been named to answer viewer questions.

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Korma Quest

A cult classic was revived this month in the form of Madou Monogatari, an old 1990 PC game distributed by a magazine deal. The game was an joint venture by a number of greenhorn character designers, and an attempt at trying out their skills for real. Now those designers are the tops of their field, and decided to bring their maiden project back from its dusty shelf. Many people have already professed a great excitement for the game’s renovation, as over the years it has found itself decently popular, referenced in countless other modern titles.

Madou Monogatari was a 3D dungeon-crawling RPG following the exploits of witch-in-training Pupuru. During her final exam, Pupuru comes into contact with a mystical book which had been lost centuries past. The book, it turns out, is a cookery book, and contains the recipe for a curry so divine that it contains magical properties. Yep, you read that right. The game, then, follows Pupuru as she travels to the four corners of the planet to gather ingredients. Along the way she will trade blows with other groups in search of the wonders of this mystical devil-curry, including other witches and wizards, pirates and travelling bands of heroic knights. This culinary role-playing experience will be remade for Vita under the name Sei Madou Monogatari in March.

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To me

And then there’s the Wii U, which finally hit stores this month to considerable excitement. Events took place all across the nation to commemorate the new console, though the general opinion is that compared to its older brother the Wii, release hype could have been higher. 30,870 units were sold in the opening weekend. Not bad, but maybe not the great revolution Nintendo were hoping for. New Super Mario Bros. U was the top seller for console software with 17,500 copies sold, followed by Monster Hunter 3G HD with 11,000. Time will tell if the new console can really turn the tables for Nintendo.

Now for the charts. Animal Crossing on the 3DS maintains its staggering lead, and the new Inazuma Eleven GO 2 comes second, making the 3DS the winning console for Christmas. The action-packed yet heartfully emotional Yakuza 5 (releases as Ryuu ga Gotoku 5, Yume Kanaeshi Mono here in Japan) on PS3 hit third. Next month, the first of 2013, we will see Demon Gaze, a highly anticipated character RPG, on PS3, along with Playstation Allstar Battle Royale.

Until 2013, then, sayonara.

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