R P G A M E R - J A P A N D E M O N I U M
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It's a wonder that I'm even getting to write this column at all. A few days ago, I sent an email to Martyr and Alethea telling them that my computer, Chibi, was dead. The whole story started when I attempted to start a video chat with my girlfriend. I was having trouble, so I considered rebooting. Upon finding out that my computer was having a LOT of trouble booting, I called my girlfriend and let her walk me through some diagnostic utilities on my Mac. After everything checked out, my computer finally booted very slowly, and I opened iChat. Then, my computer made a noise like the sound of a rabbit dying. This was not a good sound. I shut my computer down and hoped it would work when I came back from work.
Well, it DID come back to life and allowed me to back up all my important stuff, although I still needed some cheering up. I got it yesterday when I bought my PSP. In a word, it is amazing. You have to see it to believe it. The screen is so bright and clear, and it just feels GOOD in your hands. It beats the daylights out of the GBA or the GBA SP for feeling right. Even the DS doesn't feel this good in your hands. But more on that later.
It's time to write this column after I eat the tofu that I am frying. That stuff is amazing. You drop regular tofu in hot oil, and within minutes, you are left with these crunchy brown things of goodness. It is like magic. You know what else is like magic? My new section of Japandemonium. I call it "Ask Sensei." Read on to find out what goodness awaits.
I read the Dengeki rankings this week and was slightly surprised that Dragon Quest VIII is still leading the pack. Last week, it sold enough units for every person in Japan (except me) to have 6 copies. I didn't think the Japanese were tired of buying it, but I figured they would simply RUN OUT of copies. Amazingly, it still managed to hold onto the top spot despite strong competition from Mario 64 DS. The other RPGs didn't fare so well... Everything except Pokemon Emerald got knocked down a few pegs. Heck, Men at Work! 3 Springtime Loves at Hunter School didn't even make the cut this time. Now that the PSP is out, I wanna see how its games do on the charts. Only time will tell...
Tis the holiday season, and yet another huge launch caused a mad dash to stores as hopeful gamers attempted to pick up their own PSP. Much like Dragon Quest VIII, gamers began lining up for the launch. The line began at 3 pm on the 11th and eventually wound itself around two blocks. Oddly enough, the line continued to grow after 7 am when stores opened their doors with streamers flying. Once again, Sony launched a system in low numbers, and demand was extremely high. It is doubtful that any of the 200,000 units that went on sale yesterday are still on store shelves. They were being sold as fast as store staff could sell them, even with the aid of Sony executives like Ken Kutaragi helping sell the first one.
As for Niihama, Sony didn't send any high ranking people to help sell the PSP at the local toy store. It didn't really matter though. People began lining up at LEAST a half hour before the doors opened. I arrived on the scene at 8:30 eagerly awaiting the doors to open at 9:00. (an hour early too!) The owner of the store greeted us and asked us which variant of the system we wanted: PSP alone or the Value Pack. I selected the Value Pack so I would get the protective soft case and 32 meg memory stick. Then at 9:00, the click of the doors opening was heard, and I ran inside to be the first person to claim my own piece of handheld goodness. I was so excited when I purchased it and Lumines that I forgot to get my change. A sales clerk had to run my 340 yen out to me.
As for the system itself, it's beautiful. Sony has a way of designing good looking electronics, and the PSP is no exception. It is a sleek black case with transparent buttons that fits very well in your hands. Then there's the screen; it is the most beautiful sreen I've ever seen on a handheld. It is so bright and clear, and the resolution is amazing. Even with a dead pixel, (already!) you can't tell unless you are in the dark and the screen is black. The pixels are THAT tiny. As for battery life, don't worry about it. I played for several hours and didn't need a recharge. Gamespot says you should get around 6 hours out of gaming, and I agree. Based on what I see, you should be able to get that relatively easily.
As for games, I opted for Lumines. They didn't have Vampire Chronicals: The Chaos Tower, but I don't mind. Lumines is a fast-paced block puzzle game similar to Tetris 2. The music is great, and the game is a really good twist on a classic puzzle game. Honestly, I agree with just about every online news site. You SHOULD buy it. I bought it on a whim, but I'm glad I did. But I still plan to pick up Vampire Chronicals and Dynasty Warriors next week.
I give the PSP five stars out of four.
Phantom Kingdom and Xenosaga Anime Get Voiced
Some of the voice talent has been revealed for the recently announced Phantom Kingdom. The voice of Demon King Zeta is Takehito Koyasu. You may know him from such titles as Gundam SEED, Slayers, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Fushigi Yuugi, and many many more. I'm quite excited about that choice because he is quickly becoming my favorite voice actor. Kaori Mizuhashi will lend her voice to The Prophetess Pram. Kaori Mizuhashi has also worked on such projects as Kiddy Grade and several Rockman.exe anime.
Also, Namco has announced that the original voice cast from Xenosaga Episode I will also do the voices of the animated series. This will come as a relief to any fans who may have been worried that Namco would change any of the voices. At this point, there is still no talk of the animated series coming to America, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is picked up by one of the many US anime distribution companies.
Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner 2 Pre Order Bonus
Atlus recently announced that gamers who pre-order Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner 2 will receive a special DVD containing a soundtrack with some of the game's background music, a compilation video that explains the story in greater detail, and a promotional trailer. Also, retailers can give additional goodies to customers if they wish.
Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner 2 will hit store shelves on January 27 with a price of 6980 yen. At the going rate, that's $66.48 of your hard-earned dollars.
Red Stone Closed Beta Begins
Yet another MMO is getting a closed beta in Japan on 12/21. This time it is Red Stone, the newest offering from the Korean company, Game On. Red Stone features realistic graphics that will actually run on any computer more powerful than my previous one. All you need is a Pentium III 600 mHz machine with 256 megs of RAM and a GeForce 2 graphics card.
Red Stone breaks from the mold in at least two ways. Visually, the game uses 2D style graphics and sports a more realistic look over a cartoony one. And the game allows you to use two radically different jobs at the same time. For instance, a player can choose to be a "wolfman" and a "wizard." Switching between the two jobs will be a breeze as it only takes the click of a button.
Culture Corner: Ask Sensei
I thought that since so many of us have never lived in another state, let alone another continent, I'd start a new section where readers can email me and ask me questions about life in Japan. I'll try to stick a few in each week. They can range from video games, to culture, to food, to just about anything. I'll try my best to answer anything you guys want to know.
Since you're living in Japan right now, I thought I'd ask you something
about the culture. You see a little about what it's like over there through
anime and things, but you can never know if it's real or not. Are Japanese schools really teh same as what's depicted in anime?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they are. I've never been inside a public school, but I've seen many in my travels. They look exactly like every anime I've ever seen. Truth is, a lot of stuff in anime is pretty close to real life. You never really realize how many things you see in anime that you never pay attention to until you move here. For example, the little bicycle ports and the round fluorescent lights. These things are quite common, but I never noticed them until I moved here. Same with schools. They really DO look like what you see in anime.
What is it like, as a gamer, to relocate from a culture where Hardcore gaming is generally frowned upon as a social faux pas, to a culture where it is often considered mainstream? What are the cultural clashes you have encountered while doing this?
The truth is, I haven't really seen any kind of cultural clash. I'm more or less fit in with this culture pretty well in that respect. My older students don't understand my hobbies, but they are of a different generation that doesn't really understand anime or video games. As for moving into this culture, I love it. There are so many things I can buy and try here that I simply cannot do in America.
After being a gamer in the US for so long, what were the biggest contrasts you noticed in being a gamer in Japan when you first moved there?
The first thing I noticed is that games really are a lot more expensive over here and that the price varies. In America, I can expect to go to Wal-Mart, Gamestop, or Best Buy and buy a game for exactly the same price. It will be 49.99 for PS2/GC/XBox or 29.99 for GBA. But in Japan, this is not the case. When I was looking at Paper Mario 2, the price ranged from 6800 to 4750. That's a 20 dollar price difference. Also, at my local store, Dragon Quest VIII goes for 8080 yen, while the MSRP is 9240. However, I have seen things like model kits sell above the MSRP as well.
The other thing I noticed is that Japan has some more.... liberal games. While walking to the bathroom in Sofmap, I walked right through the H Game section which was right in front of the entrance to the bathrooms. I was looking at posters of Metal Gear Solid 3, Radiata Stories, and others when wall the sudden I look up and see a poster that would NOT be hanging right in front of the bathroom if it had been America.
The first reaction is that it is quite wrong, but that would be forcing a Western moral to something Japanese. Hentai is a big part of Japan for good or bad. I'll admit that I was taken aback, but it's not as shocking anymore. You get desensitized to a lot of this stuff after a while.
How expensive is sushi?
It varies depending on the place, but generally it is around 75 yen a piece around here. Or, you can buy bento that range from anywhere from 300-600 yen that may have sushi. Generally, food is expensive. I eat up around 10 dollars a day, but then again, I eat a lot. My food intake was close to that in America at roughly 6-7 dollars a day.
On Japanese subways, myself being 6 feet tall, it wouldnt be a tight fit on the train would it?
I'm 6'1" and I fit ok when I was in Osaka. The public transportation seems to be able to accomadate all types, but the doorway to my living room is a differnt story. If I don't remember to duck my head, I scalp myself. It can accomodate a person who is 6'3/4". You have no idea how much it smarts to do that...
It seems like video games are a much larger part of every day Japanese life for everyone, regardless of age. How accurate is that perception?
Not as much as Americans have been led to believe. Really, Japan is no different than the US in that respect. Most of my students that are older than me don't play video games. I do have a 27 year old gamer, but I have many students between 25 and 30 who do not play video games except for on their cell phones. Looks like the gamers are still mainly 23 and under here too, just like the US. It's all thanks to the NES.
The Final Grumble
I managed to finish my column despite having constant urges to pick up my PSP and play for long stretches of time. That thing is just too easy to pick up and play and keep playing... I'll give a micro review of any games I pick up so you'll all know which ones to get when it finally comes to the US.
Hard to believe that it's nearly Christmas. Two weeks from now I'll be home with my family. It's amazing how time flies in Japan. I've already lived here for over 5 months. I have no idea where the time has gone, but I have loved it. I really enjoy life over here.
Anyway, shoot me some emails for my Culture Corner: Ask Sensei, or leave me a question via IRC in #questions. I may rename that channel in the near future, but I'll mention that here when I do.