March 12, 2008
Howaito Dei
Hisashiburi da ne?

Hello, my name is Gaijin. It has been two three weeks since my last update. But now, with the help of Late Updaters Anonymous support group, we are ready to roll!

In all seriousness, though, March is the end of the Japanese school year, and so life is insane for anyone working in a school from late February to April. I've had parent observations and conferences, new student observations and conferences with their parents, and student reports to write. Speaking of which, I think I still have one or two of those to finish, so, moving on...

The last cultural point of note is the upcoming festival of love, White Day, such as it is. Being a non-Christian nation, Japan was introduced to Valentine's Day in the usual way, i.e. as a marketing ploy to convince millions of young women to buy chocolate for the guys they like. Note that in typical Japanese fashion, the guys weren't expected to give anything in return. After a few years, many young ladies were feeling understandably gipped by this tradition.

Sensing a potential marketing niche, a cookies and marshmallow company from Fukuoka City started pushing their wares as an appropriate return present, which guys could give to the ladies who gave them chocolate the month before. Most women I've talked to around here would still prefer the chocolate, but tradition is annoyingly traditional, even if it's only been so since 1965.

Anyway, on the column, and I can get my girlfriend something nice and untraditionally chocolatey later.

Japanese mobile-phone companies have a long history of gimmicks and weird services used to beguile new users away from the competition. For those geeks with no one to talk to, SoftBank has the PhoneBraver, a cell phone with poseable arms and legs, and enough AI in its core program for it to pick up on its user's habits, giving small-talk commentary all the time.

And for those looking for a night out on the town in Akihabara, this next item is a must-have. The Japanese Travel Bureau has recently released an intensive guide book for the otaku culture, with maps to all the major areas of interest in Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and other regions of Tokyo, as well as articles on pretty much every other subject imaginable. So, if you need advice on cosplaying, want to know where to find all the crazy themed cafes, or are just curious how different brands of canned udon noodles fare in taste tests, it's worth a look. Well, assuming it's ever translated into English.

Source: Google Article

Source: Book Page

Well, it looks like we are back to status quo, with four DS RPGs in the top 50, two PlayStation 2 games, and Disgaea just recently dropping off the horizon into the depths of the Lower 50. This leaves the next-generation consoles without any role-playing games in the top sales range yet again. The moral? Invest in handhelds, I guess.

Position Last Week Week Before Last Title Publisher Platform
4 New Arrival! New Arrival! Soma Bringer Nintendo
7 2 N/A> Etrian Odyssey 2 - Grail of Lords Atlus
26 11 3 Poison Pink Banpresto
35 38 26 Final Fantasy IV Square Enix
39 40 28 Dragon Quest IV Square Enix
43 30 19 Tales of Destiny - Director's Cut Bandai-Namco
Off-list 46 24 Disgaea 3 Nippon Ichi

Not long after the announcement that their academically-themed RPG Mana Khemia would be coming to America this year, Gust announced that a sequel was in the works. Mana Khemia ~Ochita Gakuen to Renkinjutsushi-tachi~ (The Alchemists and the Fallen School) seems to promise more of the same gameplay that makes the first game so quirky, and the initial release statement made a point of mentioning that there would be more interaction between classmates.

There's not much more about it to be said at the moment, except to introduce the main characters. Players will have a choice of hero (Rozelux) or heroine (Ulrika). Roz is described as a realist, a serious-minded young man who hopes to raise money in order to help his ailing grandfather. Ulrika is his polar opposite in character, a dreamer who believes that alchemy will be the key to making her wishes come true.

Source: Famitsu Online

On the quiet, blue-black waters of Lake Noir, there floats an island that buffers heaven and hell. Known as Saint Celestina, it has from time immemorial been the site of Arvenheim Castle, where both peace and war have been waged between the celestial and infernal powers. Now, a powerful demon named Zolganahk has risen, and the castle has fallen through the work of treachery. What fate has befallen the brave knights within the castle? Who betrayed the castle? Well, that's what Our Heroine, the mysterious Maria, gets to find out, as she and the warriors she recruits try to break out of the nightmare.

In Knights in the Nightmare, Sting has promised us a unique game experience with this title, and the battle system as it is described definitely sounds different. As I understand it, the way each scene works is thusly:

Step one: Each battle scene starts with a short story segment. This looks more than a bit like Sting's previous major title Riviera, and suggests a similar sort of pacing between the two games.

Step two: Set the tactics for each character. You can set the route the character will take, and which enemies will be targeted as the action is taken.

Step three: Once all the characters are set, it's time to start things up! The battle will play out in real time, with your knights doing their best to follow the tactics you have dictated, while the enemy does its own thing. There's a time limit to each round of battle, and once the timer runs out, then it's time to set direction and tactics again.

After the battle, there's usually a short wrap-up conversation between characters before moving on.

Finally, we have some of the behind-the-scenes things to contemplate. First, all of the troops you recruit during your quest have a limited amount of Vitality which allows them to continue acting in the demonic atmosphere surrounding the castle. As you use them in battle, their Vitality will slowly decrease, until it runs out, and the character vanishes completely. The good news, it is possible to extend a character's lease on life. The bad news, you have to sacrifice other characters' life force in order to do so. The second picture showcases the Itemization feature, which allows you to turn your battle-weary troops into new equipment. I'm assuming there must be a pretty high troop turn-over rate in this game.

(edit: Sorry, I somehow forgot to actually mention the title originally. D'oh. --March 14, 7:30PM, JST--

Source: Famitsu Online

Once upon a time, there was a little anime movie called Windaria. It was a good story, and proved quite popular in Japan. Then the decision was made to bring it over to America, and problems began. The film's length was cut by 7 minutes, scenes were rearranged, and the entire screenplay was practically rewritten before the dubbing actors were done. In short, this little fairy tale about love, war, and politics was raped. But that was the '80s.

Now to the present day. In May, a new RPG will arrive for the Nintendo DS. Titled Dungeon of Windaria, it follows the story of the original film, with players following the exploits of Isu, a glory-seeking young farmer caught up in the politics and intrigue of a war that really shouldn't have ever started. It is, however, a randomized-dungeon game, which may turn off more players than the promised story would lure. We'll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

Let's meet the characters, shall we? First, we have Izu and Marin, a young farm couple torn apart by the war. Next are Zil and Arnas, prince and princess from opposite sides of the war. After them are Lancelot and Guinevere, the rulers of the two countries, who declared war against the wishes of their children. Finally, we have Kyle, Lancelot's spymaster, and if his character design doesn't scream "sneaky, conniving bastard," then the artist wasn't doing his job right.

And last, we have a few screens of the game on hand.

Source: Famitsu Online

Music-lovers rejoice! The Black Mages, those hard-rockin' masters of the Square Enix repertoire, are going to release their next album, "Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight," this next week, on March 19th. At 2,800 yen, it's relatively cheap for a new CD release in Japan, so I might just be picking this up soon.

Track # Title Game Notes
1 Opening - Bombing Mission Final Fantasy VII
2 Neo EXDEATH Final Fantasy V orig. "Final Battle"
3 The Extreme Final Fantasy VIII
4 Assault of the Silver Dragons Final Fantasy IX
5 KURAYAMINOKUMO Final Fantasy III trans. "Cloud of Darkness"
6 Distant Worlds Final Fantasy XI
7 Premonition Final Fantasy VIII
8 Grand Cross Final Fantasy IX orig. "Final Battle"
9 Darkness and Starlight Final Fantasy VI orig. "Opera ~ Maria and Draco"
10 LIFE ~in memory of KEITEN~ ??? seems to be original

This is a Letter Title

Hey Gaijin!

There are a few things that I could ask..

1) My boyfriend was discussing with me my trip to Japan this summer and he asked if I would like to go "buy a ring together". Automatically, I assumed a wedding ring so I decided to play stupid and be like, "I don't understand", but then he said that it was a "together ring" sort-of that some couples did, like they each bought one? I don't know. He didn't go into detail, which is completely understandable since I probably wouldn't be able to understand him anyway, since my Japanese is pretty pathetic, but I was wondering if you could help me out with that.

2) I was wondering if I were to bring my PS2 to Japan, would it work? Yeah, the plug-in might not fit in the wall in view of the slight differences in the length of one side, but it would easy to get an adapter for that. But what about the TV cords? Just wondering if I'd have to survive without my Video Games in English when traveling abroad or even when I make the "Big Move" and find myself permanent residence.

3) I know hina dolls are passed down from generation to generation, and I know it's kind of a big deal to young girls on Hinamatsuri (?), but exactly what do they represent and where could I get some? All I know about it is what I read in a book on the children's side of the library.

Let me know, okay?



Thanks for writing in! Well, the answer to your first question is, he's talking about couple rings, not an engagement ring or wedding ring. It's pretty common in Japan for young couples to get matching rings just as a sign of being together. I've got two myself. The first one's stainless steel with black shell inlay, and wasn't too expensive. The second one was part of a set my girlfriend insisted on for her birthday and... well, it was cheaper than an engagement ring, that's all I can say. Like Valentine's Day, engagement rings are a very recent tradition in Japan, and heavily influenced by advertising from the jewelry industry. So, a "normal" engagement ring in Japan has to be a platinum Tiffany-style ring with rocks that can blind a person in strong light. No wonder couple rings are more popular.

As for the PS2, it should work just fine over here. The slight difference in prong size is usually a non-issue. A bigger problem is if the appliance has a three-prong plug, since most Japanese electrical sockets are two-prong affairs. If you have to, though, you can get an adaptor from any electronic goods store for about 5 bucks, usually. There's a minor difference in voltage, but the appliance's own transformers should be able to handle it (no explosions, like you might accidentally get in Europe).

Hina dolls are available everywhere during February and early March, it seems. Specialty stores usually carry them all year as well. They're kind of a good-luck charm for a girl's future, i.e. getting them a good marriage. While the really nice sets are practically family heirlooms, there are plenty of less expensive ones around.

Well, the school year is almost over, and then I get a two week break! I'll do my best to get my act together here, and make updating a bit more regular in the near future.

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