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JAPANDEMONIUM
 
yayoi no misoka
Robin Roido no Bouken
Konnichiwa

Here we are at the end of the month. I considered holding out for one more day so I could get an April Fool's joke in, but I'd never do something like that....

OK, OK, yes, I would do something like that. On multiple occasions. In multiple languages, in fact. But not this time. I switched to an about-once-a-month update schedule in order to let news build up a bit, just so I could have enough for a single column. Well, that plan backfired on me this month, as you shall soon see. There are no fewer than five newly announced titles in this one, but first we'll start with a blast from the past.


This year I vowed to work through my gaming backlog more systematically, choosing to take on the twelve unfinished and/or unreviewed Gust games in my collection. For March, I chose to play The Adventures of Robin Lloyd, Gust's one and only true non-RPG experience. It's perhaps the oddest game to come out of Gust in the 90s, at least in relation to the rest of the Gust library. It's a 3D game, for one, and the 3D isn't half bad. It's still a PSX game, but it's far from the worst I've seen for that console. The titular character is a famous detective who lives in London circa 1926. He's calm, suave, carries a gun and drives a fast car (looks like a red Studebaker or old model Benz -- with a front mounted cannon when necessary).



The plot revolves around a missing ruby, a piece of the Crown Jewels that's gone missing from the bank vault where it's normally kept. Robin Lloyd is called in by a Miss Alicia MacDonald, whose fiancé was originally tasked with finding the stone, but is now missing. The story plays out like someone's Tintin fanfic, with an excursion to a museum revealing a hidden forgery ring, black auctions, and a model pyramid in the London sewers. It continues into the second half of the game with a derelict pirate ship, wherein the real ruby is hidden. About half the game is pure adventure, with Robin running around and picking up random items to see what works together. Some of the puzzles are obvious, some are not, and in many cases the player will have to use the camera's panning ability to find clues in hard-to-see spots when examining items or characters.



The other half of the gameplay is ACTION! (spelled with an exclamation point at all times), but this isn't as well implemented. The controls are difficult to work with, the hit detection is a little funky at times, and Robin's usually better off firing blindly rather than taking time to aim. On the plus side, the ACTION! segments are never dull. There are Nile crocodiles to fend off in the sewers, evil lackeys to take out, rolling boulders to avoid, a steam-powered gorilla mecha, and even some vehicular combat (in which the Robin-mobile turns out to not only have front-mounted cannons, but also an amphibious mode). Thankfully, there are infinite do-overs, and the two boss battles aren't so tough that they're unfair.



My only complaint is that this game was too darn short. At the end of the pirate ship episode, the ruby's recovered, everyone's happy, but then Alicia's fiancé is forced to go look for another lost jewel and is last heard of somewhere in the jungles of Africa. It's the perfect lead-in to another three or four hours of fun, but it turns out to be a permanent cliffhanger for this oddball title.

Traditionally, western RPGamers have been an isolated lot as far as the mainstream is concerned. You don't really see much serious pop culture penetration outside of sectors directly connected to our shared hobbies, at least not when compared to Japan. Take these screens, for example. What would you say this is?




Would you believe me if I said this was a website for a job-finding service? The Japanese company RikuNabi created a Flash-based 8-bit town for their website, with the message: "You've saved the world, now what?" You can click on the NPCs to see what they have to say about finding work, and there's even a minigame where you have to make beds at the inn. The point, as RikuNabi is trying to present it, is that there's more to life than just fun, and that work can be an adventure in its own right. Instead of patronizing the young and unemployed about their hobbies, however, the company recognizes their importance and uses them to carry the message.

And then there's the video.

Witness the plight of the hero who was so good at just one thing, heroing, that he managed to put himself out of a job. See him flounder as he tries to survive in a world that he is not trained for, using the wrong set of skills every which way. Landing critical hits on the vegetables, the cutting board, and the table beneath them! Forgetting that real-life stores have to give out change! Using magic keys to enter hotel rooms and change the sheets, regardless of whether the guests are still in there! Getting arrested! Well, at least he finally gets it in the end...

It even has a recognizable parody of the DQ theme song stuck in there. Seriously, would any similar US company think of doing this, much less take it this far?

3/17 ~ 3/23 3/10 ~ 3/16 3/3 ~ 3/9 2/24 ~ 3/2 Up / Down Title Publisher Platform
8 2 3 6 Last seen at 6 Youkai Watch Level-5
10 1 * * New Arrival! Dark Souls II From Software
12 * * * New Arrival! Game Center CX 3 Bandai-Namco
14 * * * New Arrival! Hyperdimension Neptune Rebirth 2: Sisters Generation Compile Heart
15 6 6 2 New Arrival! Fossil Fighters Infinite Gear Nintendo
16 * * * New Arrival! Phantasy Star Online 2, Episode 2 Deluxe Package Sega
17 * * * New Arrival! Hero Bank Sega
19 3 2 1 New Arrival! Harvest Moon: Connect to a New World Marvelous AQL
20 5 5 5 Last seen at 4 Dragon Quest Monsters 2 Square Enix
23 9 10 15 Last seen at 15 Puzzle & Dragons Z GungHo Entertainment
25 4 1 * New Arrival! Soul Sacrifice Delta SCE Japan
26 10 12 16 Last seen at 13 Pokémon X/Y The Pokémon Company
27 19 25 Off-list Last seen at 30 Monster Hunter 4 Capcom
Off-list 8 7 3 Last seen at 2 Yakuza Ishin! Sega
Off-list 15 * * New Arrival! Dark Souls II From Software
Off-list 17 4 * New Arrival! Ar no Surge Gust
Off-list 18 11 8 Last seen at 3 Yakuza Ishin! Sega
Off-list Off-list 27 13 New Arrival! Valhalla Knights 3 Gold Marvelous AQL

That last week's massive dumping effect was courtesy of a huge number of top releases all coming out on March 20th, including Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes at #1, Sengoku Musou 4 at #2, and Mario Party Island Tour at #3. Faced with that onslaught, there was no way the mid-month's high-rankers were going to survive. Except for Youkai Watch, that is. For a game released last summer, it's proving to be amazingly long-lived.

Once upon a time, a young man overturned the fate of a world... but that was many years ago. The great devil Satanael may have been defeated, but as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, the war between angels and demons is one without end.

The angels think they've got an ace up their ethereal sleeves, though. They have perfected the Fate Awakening Crystal, an object that will turn one human into the perfect anti-demon weapon, i.e. God.


The game, by the way, is Kami-sama to Unmei Kakusei no KurosuTeze, rendered into English as "God and the Fate Awakening Cross Thesis." It's the sequel to The Guided Fate Paradox by Nippon Ichi, and appears to cover many of the same themes. It's even got the same group doing the new intro music.


Our hero du jour was walking home from school one day when he was mugged by a gang of strangers who seemed to literally drop out of the sky, then stab him through the heart. For most people, that would be the end, but Shin Kamikaze isn't most people. He wakes up in Heaven, deified and thrust into a conflict he never knew he did not want to be a part of.



From now on, Shin's life is one of big decisions, the first of which is displayed above. Fate Awakening has two heroines, but the game's advertising is very frank when it declares that the hero can only save one. On the left is Jupiel Soraumi, the daughter of an aristocratic angel lineage, who takes it upon herself to act as Shin's afterlife coach. On the right is Arle Agarie, who while a demon is also a resident of Heaven in reasonably good standing. She's one of the researchers who created the Fate Awakening apparatus and is directly responsible for Shin's current state of being.
















In the Famitsu Weekly article that I first read, there's a short story impression, and the writer stresses how difficult the choices will be to make. That "only save one" line is not to be taken lightly. In fact, it seems to have a very direct impact on how the player goes through the game.



God and the Fate Awakening Cross Thesis is due out on July 24th, 2014. No international dates are set, but it's only a matter of time.



Source: Dengeki Online

Welcome to the future. Again. Here, everything is linked digitally through an advanced network known colloquially as cyberspace. Everything is well organized and efficient, so of course there are people who make it their business to exploit every little glitch in the system for their own amusement. A sub-society of hackers has sprung up in the shady corners of the undernet, wielding a strange new type of A.I. virus. They're calling it a "digital monster."


When the main character's online buddies tell him about a spot in the deepest levels of cyberspace where digital monsters dwell, he didn't hesitate to accept the capture protocols from them so he could try it out for himself. Something weird happened, however. There was an error in the program's execution, and his body is rendered into a "half-digitized" state. How this is even possible is a mystery which the player must solve, and fast. If the barriers between virtual and actual reality are already this thin, then it's only a matter of time before something really nasty crosses over.



Being effectively half-Digimon, the hero has a unique gift for accessing data terminals and flinging himself bodily into cyberspace. What secrets will this let him uncover? What mysteries will it help him solve? That has yet to be seen. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth will be out for the PlayStation Vita, presumably some time later this year. I might see it at the Tokyo Game Show next September, in which case I'll definitely check it out.





Source: Famitsu Online

The Saga-SaGa collaborative expo came and went this month without much fanfare. The interviews from the big night were interesting, not least because of how the panelists had to dodge questions about whether there'd be a new SaGa game in the future. It's nice to see that there's still some support for the series after all this time. As it is, the only game-related news to come out of all this is that Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call will include "The Sewers" from Romancing SaGa and "The Four Noble Devils" from Romancing SaGa 3 (among others) as additional tracks, presumably for download.

I did like the designs for these plates, though.










Open question: does anyone know of a minor deity or three who'd be amenable to burnt offerings in exchange for a new SaGa title?

Source: Famitsu Online

Falcom is known for its long narrative arcs, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the company recently announced that The Legend of Heroes: Sen no Kiseki II would be released on the PS Vita and PlayStation 3 sometime later this year. As this is a sequel — and a Falcom sequel, at that — it directly follows the plot of its predecessor, making pretty much every background detail simultaneously a spoiler alert to fans and complete rigmarole to everyone else. Even the game's "new" characters would have to come with spoiler warnings. So I'm going to save myself the trouble and put up a bunch of screenshots and leave it at that. Enjoy.






















Obviously, English-language gamers are going to have to hold their breaths for a long time if they want to play this one. Chinese or Korean speakers, on the other hand, will be able to play the first Sen no Kiseki game in their respective mother tongues this summer. Lucky them.

Source: 4Gamer.net

I admit that I don't keep up with who's working where in the games industry, so I didn't know until just recently that Masahiro Yamamoto and a large portion of the Disgaea dev staff migrated to Compile Heart. Apparently it happened a while back, since they've already got a game scheduled to release later this year.


Makaijin Trillion takes two things the Disgaea series is famous for — crazy demons and obscene damage totals — and runs with it. The titular character is the villain of the piece, an underworld-devouring entity so insanely strong that they had to name it after its hit point total. Yes, the Makaijin (translatable as either Demon Destroyer God or Demon-Destroying God, both apt) has a grand total of 1,000,000,000,000 HP, and it's going to take a heck of a lot of firepower just to put a dent in that.

More to the point, many demon lords have gone up against this thing and come away in pieces. Such was the fate of Zeabolos, Dark Lord extraordinaire. His initial attempt to subdue Trillion was, to put it mildly, a disaster. Only the intervention of the mysterious girl Faust kept his soul from being permanently extinguished. Instead, he is now bound to her Grimoire of Souls, serving as her strong arm and test subject for myriad bizarre science projects. Hopefully some of them will actually prove useful against the Makaijin.










Along the top we have Zeabolos, Faust, and Trillion, but after that we come to the thing we have come to expect from Compile Heart — boobage. Granted, not all of them are so well endowed, but at least two of them are getting pretty deep into the alphabet of cup sizes, so if you average them all out you'd still have a lot of cleavage. Those six devilish lasses are the lesser demon kings (queens?) representing the mortal sins, and are all related to Zeabolos in some manner. Ruche (Pride) and Perpell (Gluttony) are his nieces, for example. Ruche has even made a bid to take over the underworld while her uncle's post-existential state of being continues. Fegor (Sloth) is actually his older sister, but she's too lazy to take on the task of ruling. Mammon (Greed) and Ashmedia (Lust) are his cousins, while Levia (Envy) is his childhood friend. I'm assuming that Zeabolos himself represents Wrath, or else we have another devil lady hiding in the wings.





Trillion is treating the six layers of the underworld as a buffet line, stuffing himself full of tasty ethereal matter before moving on to the core, which lies beneath Zeabolos's castle on the sixth level. Should the Makaijin devour that, then the entire plane will be erased from existence. It really will take a concerted effort to keep him away from his supper, but can the demonic nobility of the underworld get themselves organized and ready without killing each other in the process? Only time will tell.

Source: Famitsu Online
Title Publisher Release Date Platform
Natural Doctrine Kadokawa Games 4.3.14
Tokyo Twilight Ghosthunters Arc System Works 4.10.14
Super Robot Wars Z III - Jigoku-hen Bandai-Namco 4.10.14
Crayon Shin-chan - Kasukabe Movie Stars Bandai-Namco 4.10.14
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Square Enix 4.14.14
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment Bandai-Namco 4.24.14
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call Square Enix 4.24.14
Maple Story: Girl of Fate Nexon 4.24.14
Source: Dengeki Online

As we came to the end of March, there was one bit of news which I was certain would turn up. Like clockwork, the guys at Gust have announced a new Atelier title — Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. Yes, alchemists, as in plural protagonists. Just like its immediate predecessor, Atelier Shallie takes two alchemists with differing backgrounds and outlooks, applying the hand of fate to bring them together for a grand adventure. Let's meet our heroines.


The serious, dark-haired young lady is Shallistera, age 16. She's the youngest scion of an alchemist lineage reaching back to before the Dusktime. For generations, her family has watched over a ruin known only as the Boat (or perhaps Ark), but the recent climatic shifts now threaten her village. In order to find help, she travels to the oasis town of Stellade, and meets the second heroine.


The not-so-serious green-haired lass is Shallotte Elminus, age 18. She took over the family atelier when her dad passed away, but a lack of skill and experience has kept her from making it big.



So we have two alchemists, both nicknamed Shallie. In a dusk-gloamed world where the seas have vanished and the land turns to dust, these two will have to pool their knowledge, resources, and connections to do... whatever it is that needs to be done. I'm not about to second-guess the Dusk games at this point. On the plus side, we also have confirmation that familiar faces from the first two games will make appearances, so we might finally find out what happened to Ayesha Altugle as well.

Again like clockwork, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea will go on sale June 26th, 2014. I only wish more game studios were this reliable.

Source: Famitsu Weekly
What's in a Voice?

Hey Gaijin-san,

Ohisashiburi desu. So, I had a question for you. I think you might've possibly been asked this before, and I'm sorry if I'm asking again, but do you ever play the same game in Japanese and English? If you do, I'm wondering what your opinion is regarding the feel of the story and characters when comparing a game in its original form versus its translated one. For example, I'm a huge fan of the Tales series, and one reason for that is that I love the characters. Their personalities, stories, and interactions, and the voice acting is always so awesome. But I feel like some of this awesomeness is lost in translation, at least in the English version.

But on the other hand, I think some games, like the newer Final Fantasy games, are pretty damn good in the English versions. Maybe the theme or setting of the game makes a difference? Anyhoo, I'm curious as to how you feel on the subject.

Can't wait to read the next Japandemonium!

David

Gaijin

While I have played several games in multiple languages, the majority of them were for SNES or GameBoy, and to be honest a lot of those weren't well translated to begin with. I do get an odd feeling any time I see a video of a game I've played in Japanese when the video's voicework is in English, though. Partly that's because, after all these years, I'm not used to the conventions of English voice acting anymore, and it just sounds off. Another, larger part is that I have a tendency to nitpick word choice. It's one of the hazards of being an English teacher as well as a hobby writer, but it really annoys me whenever an English voiceover gets hit with a weird phrasing or poorly placed stressed syllable.

Quality of writing staff can make a huge difference, as can good voice direction. Sometimes it can seem like the voice actors have no idea who they're supposed to be, which is when the performance really suffers. Japanese VAs generally have more time to get into the role, and the character conventions of anime and gaming over here help to place most characters into easily definable brackets, which helps more than you might think. Of course, my wife thinks that Japanese voice-acting is ridiculous, too. It's all about your point of reference, I suppose.

Finally, there are fundamental differences in how the two languages work. Japanese has an incredibly pithy set of personal pronouns, the usage of which can do a lot to round out a characterization, not to mention the various levels of polite language and their subtexts. On the other hand, Japanese narrative tends to lack variety of vocabulary, while English narrative puts a premium on avoiding unnecessary repetition by finding synonyms, metaphors, and other workarounds to keep things interesting. A bad localization can be a technically flawless, word for word translation of the original text, and yet also be incomprehensible and/or dull beyond tears. A good localization, even if it butchers parts of the source material, is memorable in its own right.

Tolerance is Skin-deep?

I have an oddball question you may or may not be able to answer. I have a visible tattoo (heartless crest on the back of my hand), and I know in trope Japanese culture that's associated with Yakuza. Does it actually limit the places I can go, particularly in regards to Onsen?

--Paws

Gaijin

Once upon a time, it might have given you some problems, but nowadays small tattoos are common enough that the general public won't automatically equate them to organized crime, especially since yakuza tattoos tend to be rather large and elaborate. Still, many onsen will have a blanket ban on visible tattoos, rather than try and create a complicated set of rules that would exclude actual criminals while including people who like ink. In your case, you shouldn't have any problems anyway, since no one in their right mind would ever mistake you for a Japanese mobster. Nozomi also points out that you're better off not mentioning your tattoo at all, as long as you can cover it up. If you want to visit an onsen over here, you can put a bandage over the spot (gauze and medical tape, if it's that big), and no one will question it.

So have no fear in your balneal explorations, for any problems you might have can be easily assuaged.

A more serious open question: Which Japan-exclusive series do you really wish had made the plunge, and why do you think they never did?

And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,

Your man in Japan,

Gaijin Monogatari

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