Xbox Goes for Japan Street Cred

TOKYO – After all its struggles in Japan, Microsoft isn’t above making another big push to convert gamers here from Sony’s PlayStation to Xbox.

At a media briefing Wednesday morning, Microsoft executives shared the stage with legendary game designers Toru Iwatani (Pac-ManFinal Fantasy), who talked up new games they were working on for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console.

The company also took the opportunity to make several other announcements. Most notably, it finally revealed that a peripheral allowing Xbox 360 to play HD-DVD movies will be released Nov. 17, at a cost of 19,800 yen. In addition, Microsoft said that a forthcoming firmware update for the Xbox 360 would allow it to display both movies and games in 1080p resolution.

The message was clear: Microsoft is serious about forging stronger ties in the territory that has most eluded it since entering into the game business with the original Xbox console in 2001. Xbox sales in Japan — where the console launched nearly two years after Sony’s PlayStation 2 — barely broke 500,000 units over four years.

And even though it appeared a year ahead of PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 has only moved 150,000 units since its December launch.

At the briefing, Microsoft unveiled its plan to effectively lower the price of Xbox 360 hardware in Japan. On Nov. 2, the company will, for the first time in the territory, ship the stripped-down Core package, which does not include optional accessories like a hard drive or component video cables. The package will cost 30,000 yen – about 10,000 yen cheaper than the current bundled configuration and half the cost of the cheapest PS3 model.

With 360 clearly in trouble in Japan, one would think the press conference would be short on bravado. But that’s not the Microsoft way. The widely held maxim that the American-made Xbox 360 does not offer titles suited to the Japanese market is “an impression that we can eliminate,” said Xbox Japan general manager Takashi Sensui. “In terms of quality, we will have the strongest lineup. We can promise you this.”

To make good on these promises, Microsoft is putting most of its eggs into the basket of Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created the blockbuster Final Fantasy role-playing game franchise before going indie in 2004. Taking the stage, he showed off two games that will be playable on the Tokyo Game Show floor: Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey.

Both games hew to the familiar RPG formula that Sakaguchi pioneered, blending turn-based RPG battles with dramatic, cinematic presentation. Blue Dragon features cartoonish artwork from Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama (perhaps Japan’s most well-known comic artist), whereas Lost Odyssey takes a grittier, more realistic approach.

Microsoft made an even more impressive move when it announced that upon Blue Dragon’s release in Japan on Dec. 7, it would be included for free with the Core package.

Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani announced that Microsoft would hold the first ever Pac-Man World Championships early next year, picking the top 10 players off of the Xbox Live online leaderboards and flying them to New York City for a grand finale.

Microsoft VP Peter Moore was on hand to pull back the curtain on a slate of new downloadable classic games for Xbox Live Arcade, including the best-selling arcade game Ms. Pac-Man as well as more hardcore hits like Castlevania.

Moore also announced that Microsoft would partner with several of Japan’s top-tier universities, including Tokyo Daigaku and Ritsumeikan University, to introduce its XNA Game Studio Express software, which lets any programmer create Xbox 360 games, into the classroom.

News source: WIRED NEWS


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