It's depressingly common these days for a new game's success or failure to be determined by its day-one or week-one sales.
We've seen in cases such as Square Enix's Tomb Raider reboot that "success" can eventually come after a long period (and, in that game's case, after rereleasing the game on new platforms), but in the case of big business publishers, those early sales are often vitally important to determine the future of a franchise.
The situation is a little different with the more niche interest market of Japanese interactive entertainment, at least partly because the numbers are a fraction of the size of those seen with the latest triple-A releases. But that doesn't mean fans should be complacent about picking up titles they've been eagerly anticipating for months, and nor does it mean that fans should be cynical about the prospect of future installments of a series making it to Western shores. Rather, it's more important than ever to vote with your wallet and prove to the dedicated publishers that do bother to bring us niche-interest titles that they are doing the right thing; that there is a market for what they're doing.
The most prominent example I can think of in recent weeks is Sega's Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F/f for PS3 and Vita. Sega is a pretty big publisher in comparison to a more devotedly niche-interest outfit like, say, Xseed or Aksys, but Project Diva was still a pretty big risk for the company. While the Vocaloid characters are a bonafide pop culture phenomenon in their native Japan, they're relatively unknown in the West outside of the most dedicated fans of Eastern entertainment in all its forms. Not only that, but the bottom fell out of the music game market with the decline of the Rock Band plastic instruments fad a few years ago, so the prospect of releasing a new rhythm action game over here is doubtless something that Sega decided to think long and hard about before deciding to bring over Project Diva.
But bring it over they did, initially only on PS3 and more recently on Vita (where I'd argue it is much more comfortable, if only for the lack of audio-visual-input lag) -- and it apparently turned out to be a solid decision. How do I know this? Well, because just a few weeks after the Vita release of Project Diva f, Sega announced that its sequel Project Diva F/f 2nd would be coming to the West.
It helps, of course, that Project Diva f is a solid game with a ton of content to play through. Not only does it provide a challenging music game with an enjoyably diverse track listing that runs the gamut from cheesy J-pop to aggressive, pounding electronica, but it also provides an in-depth experience for Vocaloid fans. The game is stuffed with fan art from artists from all over the world, provides the facility for players to make some seriously impressive user-generated content both in the form of new rhythm game stages and background music videos, and even has the facility to hang out with the Vocaloid characters in their own customizable rooms. The latter aspect may initially seem a little pointless to some, but buy your Vocaloid friends a few "Gadget" gifts and suddenly, magically, you can use your Vita as an alarm clock, kitchen timer or jukebox of your favorite songs. (You can do many of these things already with the Vita, of course, but not with Miku being adorable at the same time.)
Project Diva F/f 2nd brings all this and more. There's new songs, plus some returning classics from earlier, non-localized Project Diva games on PSP. There's new options to play with in the Edit mode, and new costumes to dress the Vocaloids in. And additional challenge is added to the music game mode with double-scratch notes and sliding touchscreen notes. In short, it's exactly what Project Diva fans want: more Project Diva.
Project Diva F/f 2nd is out this week in Japan, and Sega claims we'll see a localized version by the third quarter of this year -- a pretty speedy turnaround for sure, though the game isn't exactly text-heavy and is thus quite import-friendly even if you don't speak Japanese. Pleasingly, Sega has also confirmed that the game will be getting a physical release on both PlayStation 3 and Vita in both North America and Europe, which will be nice for collectors.
The big question now following Sega's continuing support of Project Diva in the West is whether this means we'll finally see some long-awaited Sega titles that are currently in localization limbo. Phantasy Star Online 2 and Yakuza 5 are the biggies, but the company still has quite a back-catalog of non-localized titles to make up for, too. Where's our Valkyria Chronicles 3? Or 7th Dragon? Or… [insert your favorite non-localized Sega title here]? Perhaps we'll see them one day if the market keeps showing support for "risky" titles like Project Diva -- and in the meantime, we get to continue playing unusual, surprising games.
The lesson to be learned, then? It's an obvious one that you probably already know: have faith, show your support for the games you're interested in, and you'll get more of them. It can be easy to feel cynical about modern gaming's sometimes seemingly narrow focus when big releases like Titanfall and Dark Souls 2 have a habit of monopolizing coverage from big gaming sites (not to mention conversation on social media), but there are plenty of companies out there who are still providing interesting, unusual niche-interest content of Japanese origin, and there are plenty of players who enjoy stuff a little off the beaten path.
We'll continue to champion these titles here in the JPgamer column, and you can continue to support them by picking up new releases and helping make them a success. I'm particularly looking forward to checking out Demon Gaze and Conception II in the next few months; what are you keen to get your hands on?