The Week in Japan

The Week in Japan

This week, Tim Rogers reports on Famitsu’s sales charts, Mother 3, Monster Hunter 2′s monster popularity, and most everything in between…

This Week’s Charts

Fourteen DS games round out the list, including all our old favorites. English Training still sits in number one as of the compiling of this list. It sold 61,993 copies the week of the 9th, and has sold 385,192 copies to date. Second is the sequel to Brain Training. The original Brain Training sits in number 6, moving back up from 8th last week. Most interesting is that two weeks ago, it was number 6. It just won’t go away. It’s great. The sequel has sold 1,208,409 copies, and the original has sold 1,565,988. Expect these numbers to surge higher as the new DS lite is released next week, as the DS unit shortage still holds Japan’s DS-wanters in an iron grip. It’ll all be over soon — or maybe not: word is the first shipment of DS lites only numbers 300,000, meaning stores will be bone-dry in the space of a few hours.

Most disconcerting is that many buyers of the DS lite will already own a regular DS. What they’ll do with the original DS is anyone’s guess. They’ll either pawn it or give it to a friend or family member. Either way, whether it’s the new model or a secondhand old model, DS software sales will pick up. Not that they’re not already appropriately picked up.

The hardware sales charts indicate that only 10,196 DS units sold that week, while PSP sales numbered 26,549. I had said a few weeks ago that this was only because some people had money and wanted to spend it right away. Though now, since Monster Hunter Portable is out for PSP, I cannot say the system has no good games anymore. Darn. I cherish my definitive statements like I cherished Elixirs in Final Fantasy VI, you know.

Oddly, though, PSP software sales accound for only 11.4 percent of software sold, while DS accounts for 40.8 percent. Which means that the people who own DSes are continuing to buy games. It’s such a sunny, happy atmosphere, even as Tokyo glows pre-spring gray. People with game systems in their hands, all buying games starring cartoon animals or go-karts.

Dirge of Cerberus drops from third place to 8th. It shall drop further. Even the mighty Kingdom Hearts II has fallen to 29th. Capcom’s Onimusha holds strong at five, probably because the name "Capcom" is so strong in everyone’s minds again thanks to Monster Hunter 2. SCE and Polyphony’s Tourist Trophy (essentially Gran Turismo with motorcycles) has dropped from its debut in sixth to 9th. It sold just over 20,000 that week, for a total of 79,834 copies sold. If it drops out of the top ten with less than 100,000 copies sold, this might make it a failure. Design-wise, it’s certainly successful. Though who knows — it’s harder to get people excited about motorcycles than it is about cars. A lot of people own cars. Only guys with long hair and leather jackets ride motorcycles. To buy a game about bikes is to include yourself in their company.

[See MediaCreate's Japan software and sales charts for last week here

Much ado about Monster Dos

This week’s Famitsu has Monster Hunter 2 on the front cover for the second week in a row. This week, it’s cool colors. White and blue. Last week, it was warm colors. Maybe next week, it’ll be green. That would be perfect.

I suppose Monter Hunter 2 is on the cover because it’s a good game, though common knowledge nowadays can lead the casual observer to understand that the game is also selling very well. It’s the first game to offer connectivity between the PlayStation 2 and the PSP in such a seamless fashion: You can use your character data from the PSP version on the PS2 version, and vice-versa. The PS2 version, according to all the hardcore players, is the better of the two versions, which isn’t much of a surprise, considering that it has better graphics and all. Last I heard, people liked graphics.

There’s been much talk on the mythic Japanese Internet these past few days about Monster Hunter 2, and why it’s so good. The consensus is that it is a manly game about men doing manly things. The most philosophical way of analyzing the game’s sudden, crazy appeal is that it allows you to be yourself, in front of others, without having to hide behind a cute character. The game’s personality is what the Japanese would call "shibui," which means kind of serious, quiet, and contemplating.

Yet it is also about action. It is about methodical button presses. It is about saving money and navigating detailed environments. It’s more about being with traveling companions you feel comfortable with — the online mode mostly encourages you to play with people you know in some form or another — than running around asking strangers to sell you rare items. It’s less about the clicking and the grinding, less about the collecting (a la ORPGs like Diablo II or an MMORPG of any kind) and more about action-oriented gameplay. It shines in not being about deathmatches or bite-sized missions: rather, you’re hunting monsters. Sometimes the monsters are just grazing in plains. Sometimes, they’re mammoth, colossal beasts. The game damn near radiates by making your opponents usually stupider than any human player, and by giving this all context: they’re monsters. In this calm fantasy world, what are monsters, if not just animals? Hunting them with your friends and roasting their meat is manly business.

It’s not possible to get accurate demographic statistics of what kinds of people made up the 500,000 who bought Monster Hunter 2 last week, though it’s safe to say that most of them were hardcore gamers. That the game has broken out so suddenly like this is something of a victory for people who enjoy videogames as videogames, and not pieces of entertainment that can teach your foreign languages or what have you. 500,000 is a strong turnout for the traditionalist gamers. It’s enough to make you want to raise a closed fist, knuckles facing out, like saluting the end of a jazz drum solo, that’s what it’s like. It makes me, at least, wholly confident that Hironobu Sakaguchi’s little revolution lately — preaching that new franchises can be made, and that neither Final Fantasy nor Dragon Quest are divine (though they both certainly seem to be infallible) — might not be such a bad idea after all.

Next: More on MH2, plus Famitsu scores