A while back I decided I should practice drawing more regularly, so I went around looking for some cheap sketchbooks. I've got a small collection of the things now, but the best deal I ever got on one was the little rakugakicho I got from a convenience store for a dollar. It's the cheapest pulp paper available, but it has eighty sheets of it so it's good for just scribbling whatever I feel like.
Technically, that's exactly what rakugakicho means, though: scribble book. Whenever I want to practice a design and don't want to waste my nicer paper, that's what I pull out of my bag. And it's pretty useful in class, too. It's handier than a whiteboard, and if I'm teaching shapes and colors to my toddlers (like I am now) it's a handy way to practice.
Now, on to the column!
Luida's Bar in Roppongi is still open and business is booming, it seems. Recently the management posted some changes ("going to level 2" as they put it) to the menu, dropping a few items while adding others. So what's out? The dragontail soup, the Fishbell Seafood Chow Mein, the Grilled Chimera Wing, and the pumpkin and strength seed salad aren't going to be there much longer. But the following items are taking their place:
The Bunicorn Carbonara, Medal King mini-pizzas, curry slime dumplings, and Momon tiramisu all appeared at Luida's Bar last Tuesday, and anyone who comes in for the next week (until the 27th) can get a free taste of whichever one they please. After that, they're on the menu for real. What are we to drink with these new goodies?
New for the drinks menu, we have the Mahyado Blue, Ryan's Ginger Ale Highball, the Dolmor Choco, the Zame Herb Tea, and the house wine.
So, anyone want to go get a drink this weekend?
Now, I've seen some pretty odd game concepts in my time, but this one takes the cake. For anyone who hasn't heard about Neptune yet, the next paragraph or so is going to sound a bit strange. To be honest, when I first heard the basic plot for this game, I thought it might have been a late April Fool's joke. It definitely sounds like something I'd come up with for a lark, at least.
So, in the quasi-science fiction realm of Geemugyokai (lit. translation, "Game Industry"), there are four realms presided over by four goddesses. Their names are the White Heart Goddess of Ruwii, the Black Heart Goddess of Lastation, the Green Heart Goddess of Leenbox, and the title character Neptune of Planetune (who is shown in her normal and Purple Heart Goddess forms in the last three pictures). If the names of the first three realms seem to remind one of the current top consoles in the industry, that's intentional. The goddesses are actually anthropomorphic versions/parodies of the Wii, Playstation 3, and XBox 360. As for Neptune... well, Sega is bankrolling this title, so I can see how that would be a fitting name for a hypothetical new console and successor to the Saturn.
Strife between the four goddesses led to fractures in the infrastructure of Geemugyokai, and from the depths of the underworld came the dark goddess Magicom, a word usually associated with a particular type of data chip that can be used to emulate and pirate DS software. The key to the dilemma is the all-knowing book of Istwahl, which appears to be sealed by Magicom (I'm sure there's an in-joke somewhere in that, but I haven't found it yet). In order to break the seal and put an end to the war, Neptune has set out in search of the Key Fragment.
In other words, the entire plotline seems to be an extended metaphor for the evils of game piracy and the damage it does to the gaming industry, as well as a parody of the console wars in general. And let's take a look at Neptune's "equipment":
For the record, THz is terahertz, TB is terabyte, PB is petabyte, and I have no idea what "120 gn" means, but it sounds impressive. In fact, upon researching a few of these terms, Neptune's design specs look even more impressive. Wikipedia had some really good examples. Take the petabyte (1,024,000 gigabytes), for example. Google itself processes about 24 PB of data every single day. World of Warcraft apparently utilizes 1.3 PB to maintain itself, and Valve's Steam network delivers about 20 PB of content on a monthly basis. That would fit easily in the heroine's data storage. By herself, she could handle the processing needs of two of the four projects currently taking up time with the Large Hadron Collider. Now there's a console of the future...
As if the idea of anthropomorphic game consoles wasn't odd enough, various game companies have their own avatars in Geemugyokai. As Neptune is being developed by Compile Heart, one can expect the usual suspects to appear:
First is Compile Heart herself, all dressed in pink. Then we have Idea Factory, with the leaf in her hair. Next is the ever alchemy-obsessed Gust. And finally, NIS, looking all dark and cutey-goth. These four have seen a lot of action together in recent years, what with the various crossover RPGs they've contributed to, so it's no surprise to see them together like this. It does make one wonder who else might be showing up, though.
As of yesterday, Tokyo Mono Harashi - Karasunomori Gakuen Kitan hit the shelves, and today we have some info about the various characters to be found in this Atlus collaboration for the PSP.
The hero of the show is Touji, a senior at Karasunomori in the same class as Minori, the game's heroine. Also studying at the school are Nakahide, a junior who's big into kendo, and the school's charismatic student council president Tomoe (there always seems to be one of these in school related games). Finally there's Shu, a game enthusiast who seems to think paper bags are the height of fashion. This is the home team.
And here's the competition, apparently. The game's story revolves around the race to retrieve and put down the various kamifuda (lit. "god-cards") that have been unleashed all around Tokyo, so of course the heroes aren't going to be the only ones interested. There are Giou and Migiri of the Demon Crest Gang, a group of criminals with international aspirations, for example. And then there's OXAS, the Oopards eXploration and Archives Squad, whose members (Zero and Ichiru, on this page) wish to study and seal away the rogue kamifuda, and see the heroes as an annoyance. Then there's Ayahito and Rin. No one seems to know how they're involved in this mess.
There's a good chance that this one will come to the US, so I hope the experience holds up to what we've seen so far.
Back in March, we commented on a certain Twitter post from Level-5's Akihiro Hino, in which he teased us with news of an unknown title. Well, we know what it's called now, and a little of what it's about.
This is the only picture we have for Level-5's upcoming Time Travelers. What is it about, aside from the obvious? No idea. Is it an RPG? That's quite possible, but then again Level-5 also does the Professor Layton series, so it's possible this is an adventure title. In fact, since the other creative mind involved is Jirou Ishii, the guy who made 428, that's quite likely. Pretty much all info on this title is still TBA, though, including the platform. The only thing Hino has to say about that is that the hardware "has yet to appear," which would be appropriate for a time-travelling game.
It looks cool, though.
It's been a while since we've had an On the Radar piece here at Japandemonium, mostly because I've had a lot more success in digging up material in recent months. This week, though, we have three items whose only sources are little blurbs in the pages of Famitsu Weekly.
First we go to the Wii section of the magazine to see what's new for download on the Virtual Console. As regular readers probably recall, I have a long-standing affection for Romancing SaGa 2, and I'm happy to see that it's getting a new audience on the VC. Since it's just a port of the SFC game, it's not enough to get me to buy a Wii, though. I'm stilling holding a candle for the possibility of a remake.
The Battle Spirits franchise is getting a new RPG adaptation, it seems. Unlike the previous title, Battle Spirits - Digital Starter will be a card-based DS RPG centered on the events and characters of the anime series, rather than taking place within the cards' game world.
And finally, we have a remake for you all. Class of Heroes 2 is going G, for Grand. And by grand, we mean it's getting upgraded to the Playstation 3 with a graphical makeover, wider options for character customization, and full voice acting.
Import / Export
Dear Gaijin: I've noticed as of late that you've been reviewing a lot of obscure Japanese RPGs from across the pond. What's some of the weirder titles you've picked up? Also, what's the used game market like in Japan compared to North America?
Hehe, first define "weird." Keroro RPG was kooky, but it was a solid RPG. Meremanoid is a bit more experimental at times, being completely underwater with a 3D field map. Then there's Rowdy Princess, a game that was one part RPG to two parts Adventure game to six parts interactive magical girl anime series. I'm currently playing an Adventure title / TRPG hybrid based around cosplaying, and I've got another game on my docket that's a loli-goth action RPG.
But really, is it any weirder than a game about a plumber who doubles in size when he eats a mushroom? Or when a blue hedgehog breaks the sound barrier? Or a puzzle game where critters barf rainbows? The Japanese game industry is full of weird people. Just look at Neptune!
Also, the used game market over here is enormous, but if you're wanting a recent title it's often not very cost-effective. The used game price for a popular series may only be a couple dollars less than the full retail price, and some games (the GBA Pokémon titles in particular) can hold top dollar prices for years. On the other hand, they're pretty good about paying for used games, too. Earlier this week I got 3000 yen back for five games. Only one was really worth anything (1500 yen all by itself), but as I checked the shelves later, it turned out I received thirty percent of the store's price for four of the games, and nearly fifty percent for the most valuable of the lot.
Not bad at all, says I. Thanks for writing in!
Hi there Michael!
I'm on a train right now and hopefully will fly home tomorrow after a
long 2 weeks of travel. I thought, why not sending our man in Japan an
e-mail now that I have the time?
Yeah, that volcano in Iceland messed everything up, huh? I hope Sweden's been good to you.
Since I know you liked FF13, I wanted you to tell us more about it.
What are the 3 things you enjoyed the most? Who's your favorite
character? I personally like Fang a lot.. She's strong willed, she
does everything for her friends and she's.. Well gorgeous to put it in
a way! What do you think about the story? I like the concept of fighting
against their own fate; I think it fits into the standards of the FF
games. What do you think?
First, for the record, I am usually very easy to please when it comes to games. Check my review history or my current playing docket (mentioned in today's first letter) for proof of that. That said, I enjoyed the hell out of Final Fantasy XIII, despite any flaws it may have. I thought the story was one of the most cohesive and well thought-out plots in the history of the series, with fewer than average plot holes. How much of this opinion would be different had I played the game in English, I do not know. I've played so many games in other languages by this point that mental editing and story re-organizing has become second nature to me.
For the graphics, well, FFXIII was my first current-gen game, so my virgin eyes had no previous exposure to the current standards of pretty graphics. I was too busy going "Oooh... pretty...", "Wow, awesome...", and "Oh crap! INCOMING!!" to worry about the textures of the grass or other things like that.
Was it linear? Heck yes. Was that a bad thing? I dunno. Definitely the plot's pacing would have suffered dramatically if there had been too many diversions or distractions. It's funny now that I think of it, but I found FFX to be every bit as linear for much of its duration (the existence of towns not-withstanding) and far less enjoyable because its cast didn't work nearly as well together as an ensemble. FFXIII had a good cast of main characters, though it fell flat on the secondary characters. It could probably have used a few interlacing subplots to bring in the B-listers more often.
One thing's for certain, if I want non-linearity, exploration, and variety then Final Fantasy is not the first series that comes to mind for me. I went into this game expecting cool graphics, big explosions, and bigger monsters. The story was a bonus.
In another subject, tell me about your life in Japan! How did you end
up there? Are you planning on staying there permanently?
Well, I'm almost at my destination, so I have to go.
Well, what can I say? I walk to the kindergarten every day, have classes, have meals somewhere in there, generally enjoy myself and have at least three miscommunication-related incidents a week. My diet consists of a lot of fish, curry, and ramen, and I'm actually losing weight somehow. Not having a car actually helps with that, since I'm walking about four or five kilometers a day.
Honestly, I've got a good gig here, and I'm holding onto it for as long as I can. Not that I'm not also working towards other options, but I'm really enjoying what I have.
I hope a certain couple of friends we have in common read this so that
they get mad after reading good things about the game they so
unrighteously hate, hehe. It's time for payback after all their bad
talk about 13!
Take care and I wish me luck with my flight home!
As I know exactly who you're referring to, I can also say that nothing's going to change their minds on the subject of FFXIII, and you know that. Anyhoo, be careful and avoid any smoking volcanos, okay? Good luck on the flight!
Next Thursday is the Showa Day holiday, but I should be able to get a column in around that, no problem. That weekend, however, I'm on a plane to the US to attend my little brother's graduation. So... no column for the first week of May. Sorry, all.
I also paid my application fee for the July JLPT this week. Anyone else who's interested in taking the Level 1, Level 2, or new Level 3 tests this summer should get their applications posted by next Friday! Man, JLPT...
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,