Games That Delighted Japan In 2011

The year 2011 was a roller coaster for Japan, hitting rock bottom in March, when the 2011 East Japan earthquake and tsunami shook the country. It took many lives and brought services and transportation to a standstill for the survivors in East Japan. It was time for mourning and recovering and many entertainment related events were cancelled, out of respect. There were rumors that the Tokyo Game Show (TGS) was going to be cancelled too. Instead TGS reduced the size of the annual event, which went ahead with the slogan TGS 2011: Cheering up the world with games.

And yes, the game industry – like the rest of the world – is still spinning and selling, proof that it is surviving. But what games ruled the Japanese market in 2011? Here I highlight some games from the yearly game sales rank announced by Famitsu.

The boss of the bigwigs turns out to be Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, selling for over 2 million copies. If you are here in Japan, you can’t fail to see and hear about this title a lot, and I mean a lot. It’s everywhere, taking up plenty of time and space in television commercials, billboards and store advertisements, as well as word of mouth. With some fantastic graphics and new adventures for the fans to enjoy, it was a sure fire hit.

Final Fantasy Type-0 did as well as you’d expect any FF game to do in Japan. It was the second best-selling game of the year. Like all FFs, it has wonderful graphics, although the gameplay is a little lacking. In the later stages of the game, boredom sets in and only the die-hard FF story fans won’t be frustrated by the repetitive gameplay, which is interspersed with long periods of dialogue and not much actual playing (Xenogears disc 2 trauma anyone?). That said, it probably has one of the most intriguing storylines of the year. Type-0 examines difficult themes, such as death and takes the story in a different direction to other FF titles, making it a winner for me.

Dissidia Duodecim Final Fantasy is probably another game that goes into my list. It ranked 11 on the 2011 game software sales despite the timing of the sales. Before FF haters can hate me, I know this game isn’t without its flaws. I know, the gameplay hasn’t really changed since the previous Dissidia FF and I know that even the story is almost the same, but this time around it has more characters. DD FF gets my vote because, let’s face it, you get to feast on some of the best graphics and characters out there.

Next on the list is Tales of Xillia. I am sure this one game is in the top three of the sales ranking because "Tales of" is an RPG brand that’s as famous as FF here. I am a longtime fan of the series, so I was expecting a lot from this game. This series tries to explore the duality of life, leaving us to choose between two heroes, but in the end it doesn’t matter who you pick because their stories are exactly the same. Tales of Xillia is not disappointing because it’s true to the Tales of setting, offering the richness of characters and gameplay we’ve come to expect. Xillia brings some improved graphics, battle techniques and field events. And despite it not making any major leaps from its predecessor, Vesperia, it gives the fans everything they want from a Tales of game.

Sometimes the stresses of life make you wish you could just go on a rampage and show everyone who is boss and this is the reason why people love crowd clearing games. 2011 saw hordes of crowd clearing games announced Shin-Sangoku Musou 6 (Dynasty Warriors 6) as king of them all, selling almost half of million copies. This title sticks with basic premise of its series gameplay, but adds more characters and better graphics, not to mention lengthy loading times, which could just add to player stress before they get to some in-game massacring.

As for hardware, the yearly sales rank report that Sony rules 56 percent of the hardware market with almost 20 million hardware sales. Nintendo was probably beaten by Sony in hardware competition, but they thrive in software sales with 7 million copies sold. That’s 22 percent of the whole game software sales!

So where did Xbox 360 and its games go in 2011? Xbox360 unfortunately, does not do that well. It is second to last in the hardware sales, above the old timer PlayStation 2. And you can see the highest spot for a 360 game in that list is the 159th with Idol Master, a Japanese simulation game where you’re playing a male producer trying to nurture the next Japanese female idols. Interestingly, not far from Idol Master’s spot, you can see Gears of Wars 3 and Call of Duty Warfare 3, which was surprising considering public assumption that Western games don’t do well in the Japanese market. But then, there is a possibility that Western games dominate this hardware rank genre because they are one of the few games available for 360. Most Japanese developers go down the safer route of making games for the consoles with most users.

Overall, 2011 saw big name series dominate the charts, in spite of having few improvements and even some flaws. Here in Japan, hardcore fans will always find something good to enjoy in the latest title from their favorite series. I guess some people just like the familiarity of a game and don’t really want any major changes or additions.

In a year that saw a lot of upheaval, you can’t really blame Japanese gamers for searching for some security in a familiar game. Or maybe people are just following the latest gaming trends. Just like fashion. You just don’t know.

Onward to 2012!

My top tips for 2012 are: Inazuma Eleven Dark and Shine – check them out.

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