drippyBy Dan Bushell
The long awaited jRPG Ni No Kuni, which was co-developed by Level-5 and anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli, has finally hit the gaming world, and it’s stormed the charts in style! Many genre fans will agree that jRPGs aren’t as popular as they once were, yet this stunning game has arrived and now sits astride the charts, occupying the top spot against such massive competition as FIFA 13, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Far Cry 3. These titles may have released in the tail-end of 2012, but they’re still selling in high enough numbers to take the following three spots behind our colourful adventure.

I am a huge fan of the genre, so I was always going to buy this (in fact, I pre-ordered the lavish Wizard’s Edition the day it appeared on the net), but Ni No Kuni‘s chart performance has me very excited about how popular it has been, and I’ve been wondering whether it’s been down to pent-up demand from genre fans, or perhaps new fans are being drawn to jRPGs? I hope for it’s latter, and if that’s the case perhaps it’s the presence of Ghibli – often cited as Japan’s answer to Disney – that is what’s drawing new fans in?.

If it’s the former, there’s certainly pent-up demand to be had; this gen has been a bit sparse as far as Japanese role-playing goes. Sure, we’ve had a handful of excellent genre examples this gen – Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey and The Last Story, Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles and Namco-Bandai’s own Tales of series has furnished us with Vesperia and Graces f, and before long we’ll have Xillia to be getting on with. But I don’t think any of these titles have had a massive impact on sales, certainly not doing as well as we would’ve seen last-gen. Final Fantasy XIII sold a lot, as Final Fantasy titles tend to do, but its sequel only managed half the numbers.

As well as lesser sales, we don’t seem to get as many releases as we would have in the past. During the PS1 era, jRPGs were a powerhouse genre, thanks in large part to the success of Final Fantasy VII. The PS2 was rammed with jRPGs, the Dreamcast had the likes of Grandia II and Skies of Arcadia, and the Tales of series graced the GameCube with Symphonia. But this gen there’s not been much. Some titles just don’t seem to leave Japan anymore (even a Final Fantasy spin-off, Type-0, is MIA here); it can be frustrating when titles don’t secure a release over here due to a presumed lack of interest, and it ends up being a vicious cycle; we don’t get the titles, and so demand drops, and then we don’t get the next title, because the demand is too low.

Tying into this thought, I think back to the Eurogamer Expo in London’s Earl’s Court in September. Ni No Kuni was demoed there, but it was plain to see where most attention at the Expo was going. There were a lot of titles on show at Earl’s Court; big, highly-anticipated titles like Assassin’s Creed III, Black Ops II, Halo 4, Far Cry 3 and others. People were going crazy for these games – they’d queue for over an hour to play a game for ten minutes! Many at the Black Ops II demo seemed to be queuing for that one game over and over, all day long! Contrast this with Ni No Kuni‘s demo area, where a fraction of the number of machines were set up, and you could also walk straight up to play the game at pretty much any time of the day. Namco-Bandai had one staffer on duty from what I could see, yet you never had to wait for her to finish helping someone else before she could talk to you. It just didn’t have anywhere near the interest of other games there; nevermind CoDBlOps, the Doom 3 BFG Edition demo area was busier! And yet here, this week, sits Ni No Kuni, at number one.

Perhaps game sales are down across the board so soon after Christmas, meaning it’s easier to gain the number one spot, but I still call this a significant achievement – Black Ops II was actually top last week, proof that it’s still selling well. That Ni No Kuni has managed such a feat while many places have been struggling for stock is both impressive and disappointing – if Namco-Bandai had issued more copies, they surely would have sold more, but that’s the nature of risk/reward for you, and the company seems to have a habit of downplaying demand for their jRPGs (the Tales of series says hi!). But with Ni No Kuni topping the charts, we can certainly hope it has both pulled in a lot of older fans and a newer generation of gamers to the genre who may never have experienced such games. And we can hope, when the time comes to release Tales of Xillia, that Namco-Bandai remembers this week’s chart.

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