The season for flowers is largely over in Japan, at least for trees. The ume plums and the sakura are gone, and the dogwoods are on the way out. The camellias are in bloom, but that's true for most of the warm part of the year in this country. Still, it was a good show while it lasted. The trees definitely put a lot of effort into looking pretty. Now it's time for those efforts to bear fruit.
Oddly enough, the ume are the slowest fruits to mature — even though they bloom the earliest of the three. The cherries are a little hit or miss, as not all of the varieties found in Japan bloom at the same time, nor do they all bear fruit in equal measure. There is one tree on my regular walk to work that provided a regular little snack for me every day last week, however. The third fruit tree shown above — the biwa — isn't quite ripe yet, and that particular tree is on private property so I don't think I can help myself to any. I'm looking forward to getting some from the supermarkets soon.
Fruit is also a popular gift to give in this country, which goes a long way to explaining both an obsession with perfect fruit as well as the astronomical prices said fruit can command. Sometimes I get gifts of fruit from students, and sometimes I just treat myself.
The melon was a gift from a student. Her family has a small garden patch somewhere, and these little Japanese melons were among the first harvested. This variety is somewhere between a canteloupe and a honeydew in terms of taste, if that makes any sense. The other fruit was a treat for myself. Dekopon aren't really known in the West just yet, though that may change soon as a variety called Sumo has been available in California since 2011. The name of these funny looking citrus fruits were actually a trademark of Kumamoto Prefecture for years until certain quality and royalty agreements were worked out. Now it is more like a controlled appellation, similar to "champagne."
At least I didn't have to worry about breakfast this week. Now, on with the column!
Pokémon Black 2 / White 2 is gearing up for a release next month, and Nintendo is showing us a bit more of what to expect. For instance, we know that these characters from the original Black/White are making appearances.
Also, this game apparently boasts a do-it-yourself "movie" minigame called Pokéwood. The feature film today is a kaijuu epic. It even has a Mecha-Tyrannitar.
Finally, there's something called the "Pokémon World Tournament," perhaps akin to the Battle Frontier or other post-game challenges. Eight trainers from across the series are known to be registered for it. How many of them can you identify here?
Also, Nintendo has put together this short animated feature to promote the B2W2 story. Amazingly, it has no Ash Ketchum in it at all. It's too bad Nintendo will never reboot the anime the way they did the actual game series.
Annyeong haseyo! For this little bit, we turn away from the Land of the Rising Sun and look to its near neighbor, the Republic of Korea. Normally I don't report on Korean titles because either (1) they never show up on my radar or (2) when they do, they are invariably online and massively multiplayer. Okay, so this one's online as well, but I figured one or two Falcom fans in the audience might appreciate it.
Here is the latest footage of Zwei!! Online, the MMORPG based on Nihon Falcom's popular Zwei!! series (for PC/PS2/PSP), and yes, it's all in Korean. That's where the company in charge of it is based, and that's where they're doing the beta testing. Pretty much all the Korean I know was learned during a really dull airplane trip over the holidays, and it's definitely not up to adding commentary about the contents, so make of it what you will. I'm pretty sure that all the character class names in Korean are actually phonetically the same as the English ones, though.
Atelier Ayesha: Alchemist of the Sunset Lands, like pretty much every other game in its series, looks to have a story based heavily on character interactions. That's just the way Atelier rolls, after all. Let's introduce the next two characters.
On the left is Juliss Grunden, who gets the epithet "The boy who chases dragons" in his info clip. He comes from a long line of huntsmen, and believes in the tradition that in order to be recognized as the best of the best he must defeat a dragon and use its scales to make his armor.
On the right is Wilbell fol Elsliet (and man, are the names in this one hard to guess...). A young witch from an accomplished family of magic users, she's on her wanderjahr. She's still working on that whole "flying" thing, it seems.
In other interesting news about this game, Gust has apparently gotten a wide range of musical talent doing the soundtrack. The opening theme, for example, is sung by Mutsumi Nomiyama of the group Local bus (no caps on bus for some reason). It's definitely a different sound from what we heard at the start of Rorona, Totori, or Meruru, that's for certain.
I'm not sure who did the other tracks on the Atelier Ayeshahomepage, but I'm digging them as well.
This game is still set for a late June release, and I for one already have my copy reserved.
P.S. Hobby Stock, game swag retailer extraordinaire, is now taking orders for all manner of Gust related merchandise. First there are microweave towels for Totori, Ayesha, and Ciel no Surge.
Next, we have some character keyboards and tapestries, also for Ayesha and Ciel no Surge.
Finally, we have clear folders for Ciel no Surge and every single Atelier title on the PS3.
Where there is success, there is imitation. That's true of any medium, but it tends to be pretty obvious when it happens in games. Take the following two games, for example. Aoi Umi Tristia (Tristia of the Deep Blue Sea) and Aoi Sora Neosphere (Neosphere of the Deep Blue Sky) were both PC releases from Cyberfront, later released on the PS2 by Nippon Ichi, and are about to receive PSP re-releases this August. Incidentally, the aoi in their titles uses a specific kanji that denotes a particularly deep greenish blue in most of the contexts in which I've seen it. Getting back on topic, these two games follow the adventures of a young inventor named Nanoka, who works tirelessly in her workshop to produce newer and better items. Some are for the betterment of her hometown, while others are just meant to make big bucks when she sells them in her shop.
These screens are all from the second game, but they're representative of both.
Basically, these two games are Atelier without the overt RPG elements. In the first game, the city of Tristia has fallen on hard times since a dragon laid waste to much of it about a decade ago. The citizens of Tristia send a plea to the famed inventor Prospero Blanca, a man known as the Builder of Cities, in the hopes that he will come and restore the city to its former glory. What they get, however, is Prospero's granddaughter Nanoka. Resentment and hijinks ensue. The second game follows in a similar vein, with the airborne kingdom of Neosphere calling on Prospero to help study and repair the ancient technology keeping it aloft. Again, Nanoka is sent in his stead. Hopefully she doesn't get airsick...
Honestly, if Tristia or Neosphere showed signs of a combat system or any other feature more closely tied to the RPG genre, I'd be nominating them for site coverage. They both have the feel of one of the earlier Atelier titles, not to mention a very similar layout and interface. If I ever come across a copy of the PS2 version for either, I'm tempted to grab it just to see for myself.
Once more our coverage of Toki to Towa (Time & Eternity) returns, and once more we're back at that wedding around the start of the game. Seriously, we've met the bride, the groom, and even the wedding planner, but we've had very little word on how these nuptials connect to the bigger story apart from the growing sense of doom overshadowing the proceedings. When's something going to happen?
Okay then. Yeah, that doesn't look so good.
The other thing we know about this game is that the heroine's name, Toki, is a play on the title. Toki is the Japanese word for "time," while towa is the word for "eternity." Well, apparently when Toki gets pissed off enough...
... Towa comes out to bust heads. What this will do to the story is anyone's guess. According to Famitsu, Toki and Towa actually swap out every time the heroine gains a level. As Toki prefers long range weaponry and Towa likes to put her fist through things, this should probably make for some interesting battle dynamics.
Time & Eternity still has no definite release date, but the news sites continue to list it as "sometime 2012."
Coming back to the subject of Cyberfront, I forgot to mention one little thing. If you look up at the sales ratings, you might notice one little title that popped up at #11 during its first week before sliding off the sales board. Seinarukana: Orichalcum no Na no Shita ni (or The Spirit of Eternity Sword II if you want to use its English subtitle) is the sequel to Aselia the Eternal, which was released last year in the West.
After watching the video and reading through the story blurb on the homepage a few times, it seems like the setting is as follows. There are those who are born as the reincarnations of the divine, gifted with the power to create or to destroy. The main character, Nozomu, was a god of destruction in a former life. He lives in our world, but is drawn to a strange realm dominated by the Jikenju, the Tree of Time and Space (a.k.a. Yggdrasil). From this world, various parallel dimensions are spun off, including a world of swords, a world of magic, and a world of spirits. The gods fight each other through their various incarnations, attempting to gain control over it all. In order to destroy a deity for good, you must destroy its kanna, or divine name. This name apparently has some sort of existence beyond its bearer, as it is also refered to as the Orichalcum Name. Without it, the deity will fade into nothingness instead of being reborn. The actual driving force of the plot is something that I can't claim to understand, largely because Cyberfront is being good about not revealing too much information in its promotional material (something I wish more Japanese companies would be careful about). However, it seems that Nozomu is gathering a bevy of beautiful ladies, many of whom have a connection to one of the Swords of Eternity.
Hm... I'm kind of curious now, but I don't have a PSP. I might have to track down a copy of the PC version that Xuse put out in 2007...
Well, there were supposed to be two letters in Culture Corner this week, but things happened. Namely, my staff mail account got scuppered at about the same time as the RPGamer forums. There is some good to come from this, I suppose. Now, if you want to comment on anything in a column, you all will have to actually write me an email (any length is OK!) and let me know what you think. I might actually end up with more letters this way!
Anyhoo, columns should be going up on a more regular schedule soon. If this past week is anything to judge by, the Japanese gaming news cycle is starting to pick up again. Let's hope for the best, shall we?