Final Fantasy Fans Bolster Sony PlayStation Sales

Matthias Mann couldn't wait three months for the European launch of "Final Fantasy XIII," the latest edition of the game that's sold more than 92 million copies since 1987. So he flew 5,500 miles to Tokyo from Germany to buy one in a language he doesn't understand.

Mann, 42, who's played the series for a decade, was one of about 170 fans lined up at 6 a.m. in downtown Tokyo yesterday to pay 9,240 yen ($103) and be first to battle monsters from the "lowerworld" of Pulse. The game, projected to challenge Nintendo Co.'s "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" as Japan's best-selling title this year, is only available for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 console in the country.

"Make no mistake, this should help lift sales of the PlayStation," said Yusuke Tsunoda, an analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities Co. "The Wii has peaked out, but PlayStation is still on the upswing."

Sony may prolong the rise in PlayStation 3 sales and chip away at Nintendo's lead in the console market should the title's popularity in the U.S. and Europe mirror Japan's when the game goes on sale in the world's two biggest markets in March. Yoichi Wada, president of franchise creator Square Enix Holdings Co. forecast it will sell at least 2 million "Final Fantasy XIII" copies in Japan.

Sony and Microsoft Corp., maker of the Xbox 360, initially lose money on hardware sales, betting a broad user base will lead to higher earnings from proprietary software and licensing fees from third-party developers. Final Fantasy will also be available for the Xbox 360 outside Japan.

PlayStation Trails WiiAt the end of September, Kyoto-based Nintendo had sold more than 56 million Wii machines since the console was introduced three years ago, more than double the PS3's sales since 2006, according to the companies' latest earnings statements.

In "Final Fantasy XIII," gamers control characters from the land of Cocoon in high-definition images. Square Enix recruited Grammy-nominated artist Leona Lewis to sing the theme song.

"The look, the action, the characters—this game is just mind-blowing," said Mann, who's on his fourth trip to Japan to buy a Final Fantasy game and plans to buy a German copy once it's available. The title is scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. and Europe from March 9.

First Day SalesSquare Enix shipped 1.8 million units of "Final Fantasy XIII" to Japanese retailers, Wada said yesterday. Worldwide sales of title may reach 5.6 million, Barclays Plc said in a report on Dec. 16.

Sales of the game exceeded 1 million units on the day of its release, not including copies bundled together with PS3 hardware, Square Enix said in a statement today. Japan's best-selling console title this year is Nintendo "Wii Sports Resort," which has sold 1.4 million units since going on sale June 25, according to research firm Enterbrain Inc.

The new game will probably help Tokyo-based Sony increase PS3 sales in Japan by 500,000 units, Hirokazu Hamamura, president of Enterbrain, said in September. Enterbrain yesterday said PS3 sales in Japan exceeded 4 million since the console's release in November 2006.

The PS3 console's best-selling game title in Japan to date is Konami Corp.'s "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots," which sold 706,461 units, with more than half coming in the week after its June 12, 2008, release, according to Tokyo-based Enterbrain.

Money-Losing ConsoleSony Chief Executive Officer Howard Stringer in July said the then $400 price mark was unprofitable. The electronics maker, which in August cut the PS3's price 25 percent to $299, is still losing money on each console according to industry researcher ISuppli Corp.

"At this point Sony's got a double punch going for it, in the positive sense," said Jay Defibaugh, a games analyst at MF Global FXA Securities Ltd. in Tokyo. "You've got a price cut that's brought out the perception of value combined with a very big title."

Sony has risen 33 percent this year to close at 2,550 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange today. That compares with a 37 percent drop for Nintendo and a 34 percent slide for Square Enix. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average has climbed 14 percent.

"Final Fantasy" may face tougher competition abroad, said Tokai's Tsunoda. Outside Japan, the game will face competition from Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" and Ubisoft Entertainment AG's "Assassin's Creed 2."

Key Market"Japan is kind of a special case this time because 'Final Fantasy' doesn't have any rivals," Tsunoda said.

Sales of "Final Fantasy XII" for the PlayStation 2 reached 6 million worldwide, of which 40 percent were in Japan, since its 2006 release, Square Enix spokeswoman Misa Tokunaga said. The series generated at least 29 percent of its software sales last fiscal year, the game developer said in May.

The franchise has lured customers to return for more. Yuka Izawa, a 22 year-old college student from Tokyo, lined up from 3:00 a.m. to get her copy of the new game.

"The story is so deep and so immersing that it makes you feel like you are growing together with the characters," she said. "It's an experience everyone should have. I cried playing Final Fantasy X."

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