Final Fantasy XIII Launches in Japan

Final Fantasy XIII, one of the most awaited video games of the year, went on sale Thursday morning in Japan. The game marks the first time the long-running series has appeared on the PlayStation 3 and launches as the console is enjoying better sales.

Several hundred people queued in the pre-dawn cold in Tokyo's Shibuya district to be among the first in the world to own the game. Sales began at the Tsutaya software store on Shibuya crossing at 7a.m. and simultaneously at other major electronics stores across the city. It costs ¥8,300 (US$93).

Testament to it's expected appeal are pre-release shipments, which have reached 1.8 million copies, according to the CEO of game developer Square Enix, Yoichi Wada, who was at the launch.

"Final Fantasy XIII is an entire world developed by one of our creators," he said. "Of course you can complete the game fast but if you take your time you'll be able to live inside the game for several months."

Those initial shipments compare with three-month Japan sales of 2.3 million copies for Final Fantasy X and 2.2 million for Final Fantasy XII when the games launched in 2001 and 2006 respectively.

The Final Fantasy role-playing series has sold over 85 million units worldwide since it first launched in 1987 and is one of the most popular games in Japan.

This latest installment has been a long time appearing. Fans have been waiting more than three years since it first appeared in video preview form in 2006 but the project has been even longer for the development team.

"We've spent more than 5 years developing this game," said Yoshinori Katase, producer of the game. "My son was in the first year of primary school when we started and now he's in the second year of middle school."

The launch of Final Fantasy XIII also marks the first time the Final Fantasy series has appeared on the PlayStation 3 platform. To coincide with the launch, Sony Computer Entertainment began selling on Thursday a special edition of the console with an illustration of "Lightning," the game's heroine, and the Final Fantasy XIII name on the case. The console costs 41,600 yen.

Sony is hoping the special edition will help boost sales of the PlayStation 3 ahead of the year-end holiday season. Sales of the console have recently been improving thanks to a redesign and price cut and it now costs roughly half what it did when it first went on sale in 2006. But Sony is still losing money in its game business and recently said it expects to return to profitability in 2010.

With the launch of the PlayStation 3 version in Japan on Thursday, the game will next appear in Europe and North America on March 9, 2010. In those areas it will also be available for the Xbox 360.

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