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New software titles pit 'Pokemon' against rival 'Yokai Watch'

Fans buy the latest Pokemon video games at the Pokemon Center in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Nov. 21.

TOKYO -- Pokemon Co. of Japan on Nov. 21 released the latest video game in its popular "Pokemon" series for the Nintendo 3DS to reach a new generation of fans in Japan and beyond, at a time when a huge hit product from rival "Yokai Watch" is stealing the show in the video game industry. 

     The number of pre-orders for the latest Pokemon video games -- "Pokemon Omega Ruby" and "Pokemon Alpha Sapphire" -- was 1.16 million copies in Japan as of Nov. 16, surpassing that for "Yokai Watch 2 Ganso" and "Yokai Watch 2 Honke" games for the Nintendo 3DS released by Level-5 in July.

     Though the Ganso and Honke games have sold more than 2.8 million copies so far, Pokemon's latest games are likely to overtake them.

     On the morning of Nov. 21, some 250 to 300 people lined up in front of the Pokemon Center, which sells a variety of Pokemon products, in Tokyo's Minato Ward to buy "Pokemon Omega Ruby" and "Pokemon Alpha Sapphire." To avoid chaos, the store opened 90 minutes earlier than usual and started selling the games at 9:30 a.m.

     Many of the customers at the store appeared to be in their 20s, and some of them were even dressed as Pikachu, a popular Pokemon character.

     People that age enjoyed the "Pokemon Ruby" and "Pokemon Sapphire" games released in 2002 as elementary school students and are boosting sales of the latest games, which Pokemon Co. describes as the remake versions of the 2002 games.

     While Yokai Watch primarily targets elementary school students, Pokemon has an advantage of having boomerang customers in their 20s in addition to elementary school students.

Avid Pokemon fans line up in front of the Pokemon Center before opening hours in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Nov. 21.

     Also, Pokemon's popularity overseas far exceeds that of Yokai Watch. The latest games support seven different languages, including Japanese, English and Spanish, and are released almost simultaneously around the world.

     Japanese companies usually make popular games in foreign languages as well so they can sell them overseas. But it is often the case that a few months' delay cools the excitement about new games. Making Pokemon games in different foreign languages is not an easy task as the games focus on plot and use large amounts of text. Nevertheless, Pokemon Co. puts a lot of effort into localizing its products.

     In the U.S., the largest video game retailer, GameStop, launched a campaign to mark the release of the latest Pokemon video games at more than 3,000 stores nationwide.

     Sales of previous versions of the hugely popular game series -- "Pokemon X" and "Pokemon Y" -- reached 4.2 million in Japan, while approximately 9 million were sold overseas.

     In emerging countries, where the game market is still mostly untapped, Pokemon Co. starts by airing animated shows on television to build the brand. It also introduces inexpensive card games to lay the foundation for future game sales.

     Pokemon Co. was established by three Pokemon copyright holders, including Nintendo and Game Freak. It has created a "Pokemon economy," which has sold 4.3 trillion yen ($36.1 billion) worth of Pokemon products so far.

     It oversees more than 1,000 new products of various kinds released every year. Company President Tsunekazu Ishihara said that the popularity of Pokemon is attributable to "elements that everybody can enjoy, such as insect collecting."

     In fact, collecting, training, exchanging and battling the monster characters, which have been Pokemon's focus since the game was launched 18 years ago, are essential elements for recently released  smartphone games.

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