The Ni no Kuni games sure seemed like they had plenty of promise when they were first announced. Their biggest triumph was getting Studio Ghibli to work on a video game again, a medium they hadn’t been involved in since Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color for PS2 a little over ten years ago, where they contributed character designs and artwork. Their absence was possibly influenced by director Hayao Miyazaki’s indifference towards the hobby. The first game was announced for DS, while the second one was for PS3 -- the latter having visuals that almost match the animated cutscenes done by Ghibli. Combine that with a Joe Hisaishi score, and there’s no way Level 5 wouldn’t have a guaranteed success on their hands, right?
Sadly, no. As good as they look, the games didn’t do very well on retail shelves in the east due to some miscalculations from Level 5. The DS version had the unfortunate benefit of shipping with a gigantic magic book necessary to consult for spells. Though it was seemingly there to make the game a more “realistic” experience (and also worked as a piracy prevention method, which might have been the direct intention), it also didn’t make the game portable friendly. Want to play the game on your DS on the bus? You’ll have to lug that gigantic book with you. The game didn’t move very fast from retail shelves for that reason; since it was taking up so much space, retailers discounted it quickly. It sold over 500,000 copies in Japan due to that and holiday season sales, but it wasn’t as big of a seller as Level 5 would have liked, considering they shipped 600,000 in the first week.
But that performance was spectacular compared to the PS3 game, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, which dropped off Japanese sales charts at less than 100,000 copies sold. Similar to the Kingdom Hearts 3D post I made yesterday, there’s no definitive reason as to why it didn’t do very well, but there are some hypothesized ones. Though Level 5’s White Knight Chronicles games on PS3 sold well, they weren’t well received; anyone who played that (or them) might have avoided this game because of it. Also, plenty of players thought the DS game was boring and slow-paced, and decided to avoid the PS3 game because of that. The third reason is that Level 5’s marketing efforts didn’t do a good job of showing the audience that this game has a different story than the DS game, leading them to think this was just an HD-ified port. Lastly, this could be a demographics mismatch; the game looks like it’s aimed at younger audiences, which may not have PS3s.
Though Hino expressed a desire to continue the franchise, a sequel is now in the hands of western audiences. Here we have a JRPG in 2012 that’s depending on western sales for a sequel. This is pretty surreal. And it’s also unlikely.
But here’s hoping my pessimism is unwarranted. Though its western publisher, Namco Bandai, sure isn’t doing the game’s potential purchasers any favors by taking their good old time localizing it. The game isn’t due until Q1 2013, making this a long announcement to release than Tales of Graces f. This is probably because they want to release the game simultaneously in America and Europe, and the latter version has to have its text translated for multiple languages. That’s also unlike ToGf, which still doesn’t have a European release date yet.
That may not be the only reason. Namco Bandai also stated that the western version will have extra features. Precisely what those are is, of course, currently unknown, but they’ll presumably tell us sometime between now and the release date. They also showed the first English trailer, and it seems the game will have British voices, which is an interesting choice.
Hopefully the game is as good as it looks. Level 5’s games tend to have good presentation, but falter in the gameplay systems -- the biggest exception to this being the Professor Layton titles. Hopefully this game joins the “good” side.