The Gaijin's Japandemonium 2008 Halftime Report
1st Half
The Highlights So Far
Jan.From The Abyss
Feb.Poison Pink
Mar.Dramatic Dungeon: Sakura Wars
Apr.Valkyria Chronicles
MayDungeon of Windaria
JuneThe World Revolves Around Me

As your faithful Japandemonium host, I've been asked to weigh in on this year's half-time report. It took me a little while, but I have finally put down a suitable list, one which is going to be completely different from anything else in this feature for sure. So, how has 2008 been for video games so far in Japan? Let us see...

In January, there was From The Abyss. While the story's not much (I once described it as "save the kingdom from the dire hole in the ground"), this is one little action title with a lot of potential in terms of gameplay. The battle engine is easy to work with, and there's a surprising amount of variety in the skills and magic department. If Sonic Powered continues to build on this foundation, then I predict some really good things for the future.

In February, Poison Pink made its way onto the scene. In a market glutted with strategy titles, this one really stands out, if for nothing else but the artistic style. Dark, gothic fantasy is not a genre you see much of in the world of console RPGs, which is a damn shame. By all accounts it's actually a very challenging title with a complicated storytelling style, allowing the player to see plot progression from the view of three different protagonists, as well as extended chapters for those who beat all three stories with good endings. Personally, I like the sound of that replay value.

In March, we were blessed with Dramatic Dungeon: Sakura Wars, which took the theatrically complicated character storylines of the main series, and somehow translated that into a dungeon-crawler. The rest of the series is pure tactical simulation, so a change that big took a lot of guts on someone's part. Overall, it seems to have gone over well here in Japan.

In April, another major contender joined the fray. Valkyria Chronicles is another title grabbed my attention through its artistic style. The well-animated look of the graphics just feels right to me. At the same time, it looks to be a fairly engaging tactical experience, with a wide range of realistic troop types and frequent use of strategic maps, bundled with a very different alternative Europe as its theater of operations. And it's got tanks. Big tanks. Gaijin is happy.

Instead of flowers, May in Japan brought a bit of nostalgia to many otaku in Japan, with Dungeon of Windaria. While it's another dungeon-crawling game, it also has the distinction of being adapted from one of the major fantasy anime films of the early 80s. While I'm not sure how well it did on overall sales, there's always the hope that more companies will go down the route blazed by Compile Heart, and adapt some more old favorites. For now, however, such speculations make for good April Fools' Day fodder.

Lastly, we come to June. In the last few minutes of the first half, The World Revolves Around Me makes a characteristically selfish grab for attention. Over the years, I've gotten tired of the usual angsty heroes on the RPG scene, so it's nice when something completely different makes an appearance. Let's think about this: a heroine who's not only an incredibly spoiled brat, but whose powers hinge on her selfish nature. The concept is outrageous, the execution hilarious, and the artwork ridiculously pastel. High points for originality here.

2nd Half
The Best That Is Yet To Come
6Inazuma 11
5Little King's Story
4Oboro Muramasa Youtoden
3the nameless game
2Cross Edge
1Persona 4

If the first half was worth checking out (and there were many, many more games I could have mentioned), the second half of 2008 is looking even better. Even as you read this, there are yet more games that are about to be announced for the fourth quarter, or early next year, on top of the already immense pile of games already known about. Keeping up with it all is a task fit to drive normal men insane. Thankfully, I work at a kindergarten, so I've got a nice insanity tolerance built up. So let's take a look at just a few items on the horizon.

Let's start with Inazuma 11. This one's got my interest piqued, and I'm not a fan of sports games in general. The art style's bright and cartoonish without triggering a mental gag reflex -- which is good. There's an actual story, with a good deal of drama involved -- which is interesting. Level 5 Entertainment has gone to extraordinary lengths to promote this game, up to and including the formation of their own girl-band to do the theme song vocals, and buying the naming rights to a large soccer stadium -- which is downright astounding. Level 5 obviously has a great deal of faith in this one, so let's hope it lives up to its creators' expectations.

Little King's Story. What can I say? This one's just cute. Hilariously cute in an odd, fairy-tale sort of way. Don Quixote riding a cow cute. I don't even own a Wii, and this game is still tugging at the back of my mind, screaming "Buy me!" The game designers are on the record as saying they wanted to make something with broad-spectrum appeal, and so far they definitely have this gamer's attention.

Moving on, we have Oboro Muramasa Youtouden, which is quite a mouthful. How about we call it "Legend of the Phantom Blade Muramasa," or just Muramasa for short? In any case, as my girlfriend can wearily attest, I'm a big fan of Japanese monsters in general, and Mizuki Shigeru's GeGeGe no Kitarou series in particular. Just from the few screens made available so far, it's obvious that the production team for Muramasa are big fans too. What does that tell us? One, the art for this game's going to be something strange, and the monsters will be stranger still, which makes for a game experience unlike anything yet brought to America as far as I know. I really want to see more of this one.

Very early in the second half, so early that it may be out before this report, there's the nameless game. What is the nameless game? Is it real, or just an urban legend? No one knows for sure, but the game about the nameless game is set to come out early in the month of July. Everyone will just have to play it then to find out. And then die within a week. That's how these urban legends are, y'know.

For other weird game concepts, we come to Cross Edge, sometimes spelled with an X. What can I say about this one? I love Gust's alchemy-themed games, I enjoyed Disgaea, and Darkstalkers is one of my favorite fighter franchises. While I never imagined I'd ever see them all together in one game, well, a few years back I'd have said the same thing about Mickey Mouse and Sephiroth. Will this combination turn out so well? God only knows, but I'll keep my fingers crossed and my eyes peeled.

Last, and certainly not least, we have Persona 4. This is by far my most anticipated title, and not just because I've already got a copy reserved for July. Its predecessor was a superb example of the MegaTen sense of the surreal, with solid writing and bizarre situations, even as it introduced completely new elements in terms of gameplay. Just from what I've seen, the 5th installment of the series promises to be all that Persona 3 was, with the proverbial bag of chips thrown in. And any game that could make eyewear look so cool is a winner in my book.

Well, that's that for this year's halftime report, special Japandemonium edition. Tune in next year, and we'll be sure to have just as many odd games you may never have heard of. May your lives be enriched by the experience. Ja mata ne.

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