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JAPANDEMONIUM
 
Shigatsu no juu-san-nichi (getsu)
Tashika ni
Konnichiwa

Hello all, and welcome back to Japandemonium. First off, I would like to welcome back the members of the Japanese Bureau of Verification and Fact-Checking (JBVFC), who have just returned from a three-week vacation period. The previous column left a deep impression on them, and to thank me, they gave me this lovely chrome bracelet as a souvenir. Now if I could only figure out how to take it off...

Well, anyway. It's been brought to my attention that their were some inaccuracies ZAP!

Ouch, that stung. As I was saying, there were a couple of items in the previous column that were not properly vetted ZAP!

OK, this is getting annoying. Look, not everything in the our April 1st column was verified ZAP! beforehand, and we need to check our sources more carefully ZAP! and it ZAP! won't ZAP! happen ZAP! again.... ZAP!

OK, OK, so I was lying through my teeth the entire column! Ninety per- ZAP! ninety-five percent of it was complete and utter fabrication! And, as per the mandates imposed by the JBVFC, I have to 'fess up to pretty much everything now. Here we go:

1. The Intro

Yes, there's a Rabbit in the Moon. Yes, he makes mochi. Yes, the legend is referenced early on in the Dragonball anime. No, there is no festival for him, much less one called uso-tsuki (Japanese for "liar"). The story was based on fragmentary memories of an old Cabbage Patch Dolls storybook my sister used to have, 20 years ago.

2. The Ghibli

Sad news, folks. There is no word from Studio Ghibli about any further video game collaborations. The four films mentioned are the most likely bets if they ever decide to (though maybe I should have added Pom Poko to the list). The only true part of the article was that Ghibli animators collaborated in the making of Magic Pengel.

3. The Rankings

Seriously, if any series could manage a clean sweep of the RPG listings, including two games that are a year and a half old now, it would be Pokemon. However, only the first game on the rankings was actually ON the list the week before April Fools. By strange coincidence (I didn't check beforehand), Pokemon Ranger - Batonnage actually did place first in the sales rankings. Here's the actual list:

(DS) Pokemon Ranger - Batonage #1 NEW

(PSP) Tales of Rebirth #5 NEW

(DS) Sakura Taisen #8 NEW

(DS) Soma Bringer #37 down from #20

(DS) Etrian Odyssey 2 #49 down from #28

4. Kanji Kwest

Did anyone take this one seriously? What I originally had in mind with this was something like some Flash-animated stickperson fights I saw a few years back. Unfortunately, my ability with computer graphics programs is exactly nil, so all my attempts to make a battle scene (Watashi, Boku, and Ore versus a giant Hotaru) turned out pretty poorly. My "sketch-a-kanji" diagrams weren't quite as bad, but pretty useless without the battle image. The longest symbol I would have considered using, tatsu (ryuu), is 16-stroke, and probably would have been the ultimate summoning spell.

5. Lennus III - Relics of the Disappearance

So I was sitting at the tapioca tea cafe, notebook in hand, wondering "What ridiculously improbable sequel can I at least make SEEM plausible?" The Lennus series just seemed like a nice target. The screenshots in the column are actually from the 1994 sequel, Lennus II.

6. Mew in May

This was a complete fabrication, but still a possibility. Nintendo's been known to do stuff like that. It was a toss-up as to which Pokémon to use, Mew or Deoxys, but I ended up going with the cuter one.

7. Culture Corner

The letter was a complete fraud. I didn't want to insult any real letter-writers by subjecting their letters to bad answers. (Don't worry, those who actually have written in, I'll be answering regularly from now on). Take every part of that response with a grain of salt. If you want to stay on good terms at all with anyone in this country, try to be as polite as you can remember to be. The "gaijin zone" is a bit of an exaggeration, but sometimes it seems like it.

Oh, and never EVER give chrysanthemums to a Japanese girl on a date. Mums are a flower for funerals, not romance.

Now that apologies are out of the way, on with the column!

Bad News for Game Centers?

Fun fact about game centers in Japan: the majority of them are actually owned by the companies that produce the games available therein. Sega, Taito, Capcom, all of the big names in the fighting and arcade shooter markets run their own game centers all over Japan. The industry, however, is in a slump. Smaller branch outlets are closing all over the country, for all the companies involved. Patronage is down, as the centers' staple customers -- un- or semi-employed 20-something males -- have increasingly turned to an alternative choice, one that's readily accessible at home, and in the long term, probably cheaper: the Nintendo Wii.

For anyone interested, the whole article is here.

10 Essential Vitamins and Nutrients

In a move that shows that people will buy just about anything if it's promoted correctly, Kyowa Pharmaceuticals of Japan has turned its attention to expanding its already vast share of the vitamin supplement market to a new demographic -- stay-at-home gamers. Their new "Game Supli" brand vitamins are supposedly formulated especially for strengthening visual acuity (blueberry flavor) or sustained concentration (DHA super-supplements). I think I'll stick with the green tea, personally.

And if, after your tea and vitamins, you are feeling a bit peckish, here's a story for those gourmands out there.


Source: Asahi Shinbun Source: TechRadar

Well, this week's ratings report is not quite so favorable to the RPG market. The previous week's (skipped over in favor of April Fool's Day), wasn't so bad, with five games still on the list. Out of those five, four appear to have blipped off the Top 50 completely. Let's hope things improve for our favorite genre this week, shall we?

Position Up / Down Title Publisher Platform
3 New Arrival Star Ocean 2 - Second Evolution Square Enix
5 2 Pokémon Ranger - Batonnage Nintendo
40 24 Tales of Rebirth Bandai Namco

Previously in "State of the Keitai," Square Enix released a sequel to their classic game Final Fantasy IV, entitled "The After." Now, they're going for a hat trick, filling out their portfolio with a little side-story set within the timeframe of the original game.


Anyone who has played the game should remember a little green-haired girl, who was separated from the rest of your party for a while, and then returned, much older. The question is, what happened in that strangely compressed period of time?

There are some answers to that question now, in what is apparently a second installment of Square Enix's mobile phone extension to the series. "Rydia in the Land of the Phantom Beasts" sets everyone's favorite little magician on a quest for survival and discovery, and fills in one of the largest gaps in FFIV's background story. She's not alone, however, as she is joined by Luka, a young artisan in search of a master, and her two doll-like companions Calco and Brena. Whatever connection might exist between these characters and their same-name counterparts in the original game is unknown, however. They certainly don't look like a dwarf princess and her possessed dolls, that's for sure.







Source: Dengeki Online

In April, a small development company called Sonic Powered released a new action-RPG From the Abyss. I've got a copy, played it all the way through, and it's a fun game, if really short on story. The game's battle system was good, though.

Now, however, Sonic Powered has taken the game in a direction I'd never have considered: they've made it into a mobile-phone online RPG. This is curious, annoying, and a little worrying. Curious because it's such an out-of-the-blue sort of choice. Annoying, because once again my cellphone provider is left out of the service plan. Worrying, because the battle system was really what made the original game, and that sort of thing just isn't possible on a mobile phone.

From the information available on Dengeki, it seems that players are divided into several nations, with characters from the same nation being recruitable for team playing. The Soul Capture system from the original game is still in play, but some sort of auto-battle system has also been implemented. Unfortunately, I can't tell how it plays unless and until I can get my hands on it, and for the moment it seems to be an iMode exclusive title. Sho ga nai.




Source: Dengeki Online



News from the world of Mana Khemia 2 is at hand! In these prints, we are introduced to two new characters, who are special in part because they are hero-specific. As mentioned previously, Mana Khemia 2 has two protagonists, Roz and Ulrica, and the choice of character determines which scenarios and characters are available within the game.

First, we have Chloe Hartauk, the bookish young lady on the lefthand print. She's a very dedicated student, and in that way the complete opposite of Ulrica. She also insists on precise language at all times.

On the righthand side, we have Puniyo, who was apparently abandoned at a young age and raised by wild Puni slimes, or something, because that's all she ever says -- "Puni, puni puni!" Even her little slime friends are more eloquent than she is. It seems pretty much all her spells and abilities revolve around Puni slimes, including the Puni King summon ability, which you can see in the print. She seems to weird out Roz a bit.

Another reason these two are special is that once you've befriended them, they can assist you with your alchemical homework. Mana Khemia 2 has a team-alchemy system in place, with two characters cooperating to create higher-level items than they would normally be able to make.

And to finish up, we have a few random screens for your visual enjoyment:







Source: Famitsu Online

The fine folks at Square Enix have brought us an interesting variety of games over the years. Some good, some bad, some execrable, but in the end, you knew those guys were a solid source for RPG entertainment.

This time, they bring to you Sigma Harmonics... an adventure game.

Let's define "adventure game" first, though, shall we? The Japanese genre of adventure games are a bit different from the old Sierra games of yore. In fact, the genre in Japan has its own long, varied history, and is strongly bound to Japanese animation. The majority of anime-related spinoff games on the Japanese market are adventure games, with a few fighting games and the occasional RPG. They are usually very text-heavy, with static portraits instead of gamer-controlled sprites, and quite often a dating-sim approach to character interaction. Most of them are dating sims, for that matter. So it's interesting to see Square Enix bringing RPG elements into a style of game that hasn't seen much play in the US of A.

Let's start with some screenshots:







Note that these are all split-screen shots -- this is a DS game, after all. That said, do you notice anything odd about them? For one thing, they are all vertically oriented. One common trait for DS adventure games (though this was done first on the WonderSwan) is to make the game appear sideways on the dual screens, so the player must hold his or her DS like a book. I'm assuming they allow you to switch for lefthandedness, or else this could pose a problem for some.

Whatever else it is, it definitely looks like an RPG in that third picture. I'm still waiting to see an actual battle screen before I say anything else on the gameplay, however.

The folks in charge of making the game have been quoted as saying that the main theme of the game is "sound," which would help explain the harmonics part of the title. The story is about a "perpetual student" named Sigma Kurokami, who up to now had led the comfortable life of a Japanese college student. That is, until an encounter with a dark stranger catapults him into the past.

All in all, it looks pretty interesting. I might check it out sometime, myself.

Source: Famitsu
Shock and Awe

Dear Gaijin,

Ha ha ha, nice little play on words for the explanation for the name Usotsuki there (which, for those who don't know, actually means "liar"). Or... was it a joke at all? Truth be told, it was actually a little hard for me to tell. And that story about the rabbit saving the village from oni? That certainly wasn't the way that I heard it. But again, now I'm not so sure anymore.

That feeling pretty much covered the entire column for me. It was hard for me to tell which stories were real, and which were fake. Or, were they all fake... or were they all real, given the title of the column? Is Studio Ghibli really making a game?! Was the Dengeki chart legit?!? Will I really be playing a new Paladin's Quest soon?!?!? And while I seriously doubt it... how about Kanji Kwest?!?!?!? Someone help me, WHICH IS IT?!?!?!?!? I'm freaking out here!!!!

*deep breath* Whew. Okay, so I exaggerate a little, but still, I really did mean it when I said that it was hard to tell if a story that you reported in that column was true or not, given how you started off the column. And that sure bothered me quite a bit. See, whenever I read Japandemonium, I treat it as a rare and valued opportunity for me to actually get a glimpse of the gaming scene in Japan, something that I always have dreamed of experiencing myself for ages, and I treasure the information that you supply greatly. But take away the certainty that I normally have as to whether or not what I was reading was legitimate, and then I don't know what to think anymore. Suddenly, reading Japandemonium seemed so uncertain, and that actually took out a lot of the usual fun I have.

Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't do April Fools' pranks anymore. Quite the contrary! I'm just expressing how I much I enjoy reading the Japandemonium columns that you write, and how I actually felt a little nervous reading the April 1st one for that reason. Which is not a bad thing, since April Fools' Day is all about having fun pranking people when they least expect it, and the more you, say, play off a passion of theirs and make them feel nerve-wrecked, the more successful you were. So in my case, you really nailed it!

And about Kanji Kwest, who was Ei? What was his role? Was he a foreigner in the Kanji Kingdom, once a sworn enemy, but now a trusted friend?

Gaijin

Mwahahahaha, now this is the kind of reaction I was hoping to get. My apologies, but it'd been so long since I'd had a chance to really do an April Fools prank, I just couldn't resist. I think I covered all the truths and falsehoods in this column's introduction. As for Sir Ei, I can't believe I forgot to mention him! He was supposed to be a distinguished, older knight and mentor figure. If there were any voice-acting in this hypothetical game, I would probably have chosen the guy who played Capt. Peacock on Are You Being Served? to do his part.

Anyway, let's continue with the first letter you sent, before the April 1st fun and games. Hope you don't mind me merging the two, but your reaction letter was too good to pass up!

"No...way..." pretty much sums up my initial impression of those PhoneBravers. Still, I have to admit that after watching this, my interest is slightly piqued. Though I seriously doubt that the phones can really do half the stuff that is shown in this series, the advertisement still seems pretty bizarre. What better way is there to advertise something that would otherwise be a nerd-exclusive product in this "cool" light? I can think of none.

Anyway, a real question: I'm not sure if you already answered this before, but have you ever had any "Homestay" experiences in living with families abroad? I ask because I'm going to partake in TWO of these this summer, for the very first times. I'm not actually asking for general advice or tips or anything like that (I get plenty of that from people I know), but rather something a little bit more specific. I'm wondering how much "nerd behavior" would be acceptable. See, I pretty much encompass all traits of the stereotypical nerd of Asian entertainment. Don't get me wrong, I'm very much interested in the linguistic, cultural, political, historical, etc. facets of Japan and China too, but because of my interest in the entertainment facet, I would feel pretty embarrassed if I acted in a manner that can confirm certain stereotypes that my host families may have on people like me. Part of this came from watching this series called "Lucky Star," and seeing this one character named Patricia, a study abroad student in Japan who is poked fun at in this series with various Western otaku stereotypes, and who scarily reminded me of myself. This kind of advice I cannot get from my real-life contacts, since they are all totally serious students (most of the nerdy students, besides myself, that I have met were never very serious, and tended to drop out of their language classes after just one year, never getting the chance to study abroad).

My asking you is NOT to imply that I think that you're a nerd or anything, not at all, but rather I can tell that you at least share many of the same interests in video games, music, anime and such that I have, so I thought you could maybe tell me something about this concern of mine, like whether it's even a big deal or not. Any relief would be appreciated.

Furthermore, you mentioned in your bio that you have games in six different languages. I'm curious, other than the obvious two, what are the other four? Being able to speak and read six languages is a pretty commendable feat itself, so I applaud you.

Keep up the good work!

FirstAid

Gaijin

Well, they say that the first step to dealing with a problem is acknowledging that it exists... Mostly joking there, but I think you should take Patricia's situation as a warning. Now, I don't know where you're going for your home stay, or how old you are for that matter (I'm assuming mid-college years), but I can say: don't make a mad rush for the otaku stuff when you arrive. Take a few days to sound out your host family, and see what they think is normal. This can vary a lot between households in Japan, but most people wouldn't look down on you for an interest in manga and anime, as long as you don't go rabid fanboy or try to spend three thousand dollars on a 1/40 scale model Gundam (132 cm tall, 35 kilo -- I took notes just for anecdotal reasons). Also remember that serious host families often try to plan things for everyone to do together, so haring off to Akihabara without warning would probably hurt their feelings.

On the other hand, what you do with your free time is your own business, and with a bit of planning ahead, you can probably visit most of the places you want to see on your own or with friends. Some otaku destinations have a sort of ecchippoi (disreputable/perverted) reputation, though, especially places like the cosplay bars. For that matter, game centers are also a little questionable at times, especially the ones that decide to expand their pachinko section (effectively making them more casino than arcade). I know many Japanese elementary schools specifically forbid students' parents from taking their children to game centers, and while such a ban has no legal standing, many families will follow school mandates anyway.

In any case, have fun, stay safe, and for goodness sake, try to keep whatever you do out of the local newspapers. I do not want to wake up in the morning and see "Crazed Gaijin Otaku Arrested For Theft Of Life-Size Evangelion Heroine Doll" on my news sites.

Most of the languages in my video game collection come from the time I spent as an ALT (assistant language teacher) in France. Most of the European game releases are required to be multilingual, so I now have a few tri- or quadri-lingual Game Boy games. The top spot goes to my copy of Legend of Zelda - Oracle of Seasons, however, which can be played in English, French, Spanish, Italian, or German. Actually, I can only speak English, French, and (constantly improving) Japanese, while my Spanish is too rusty to do much communication. I can still read in Spanish, though, and between it and French, I can work through simple Italian and Portuguese as well. German... I just never did well with German for some reason.

Well, best of luck in your homestay endeavors!

Hail and Well Met!

Sir Gaijin, I greet you. Though I do not recall ever directly corresponding with you in the past, we both threw quite a lot of entries into Q&A in the past.

Two questions today, one fairly serious and the other frivolous. On the serious side I wonder what knowledge you possess of the JET program. Though obviously too late for this year I intend to go through the application process for next year and am curious as to your take on it.

As for the frivolous: just how popular is Sakura Wars in its country of origin?

Mike 'JuMeSyn' Moehnke

Gaijin

Greetings, oh profuse master of online correspondence!

Amongst the English-teaching community in Japan (at least those I have known), the JET program is considered quite a cushy job, but one with some annoying quid-pro-quo attached. First, the job itself pays fairly well, especially considering the work hours, which are light compared to what you would work at the big companies like Nova or Geos. On the other hand, you have no choice at all where you'll be sent (not that you really do with the companies, but...). Also, they have the tendency to place couples in opposite sides of the country.

As well, odds are you'll be placed at multiple schools in an area, so get used to using lots of public transportation. At any given school, your duties will have to be decided by the teachers you work with, so if they have no idea how to use you as a resource, or for some reason don't want to use you in class, then you get to sit around twiddling your thumbs for large periods of time. The Japanese work ethic promotes attendance above actual performance, so you will have to stay at school for the entire allotted time every day. In some cases, you may be required to spend time at the town, city, or prefectural offices to make the time-sheets balance out. However, you can get away with a lot when it comes to coffee breaks or "trips to the post office" (a favorite excuse for one former JET I know). I really suggest you take up a hobby, study Japanese in the office, draw, write something, anything to take up extra time.

Don't let the petty annoyances put you off, however. It's a great experience, so get your application in early. Really early. As early as possible, because it's first-come, first-served in the JET program.

As for Sakura Taisen, it's one of those series that, while not as outrageously popular as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, still commands a respectable fanbase. I know that when the latest iteration came out, it got major billing in the in-store advertisements around town, and it apparently had enough of a core fanbase to push it into the Top 10 games on the sales ratings for that week. After that, it blipped out, since all the major fans had rushed to buy their copy the first week. It was somewhere in the 30s in its second week, and this week, it's not even in the Top 50. But then again, this is a busy time for game releases, so I think it did pretty well to stay up in the top ranks the way it did.

Nice to correspond with you directly this time, though, JuMeSyn. Don't be a stranger!

Well, there you have it. A one-hundred-percent accurate column. I hope folks enjoyed the "column of questionable veracity." Funny enough, the things mentioned at the end of the previous column were all true. Hi-no-kuni women do have a reputation for being passionate. The locals do set fire to the countryside annually. And the name of the new prefectural governor actually is a homonym for "Hippo Island" (it actually means "birch tree island), a funny fact that he used in his own election campaign.

See you all next week, I hope, with more interesting items from the land of the rising sun.

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

Your man in Japan,

Gaijin Monogatari

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