Even though it's been decades since McDonald's successfully led the American fast food invasion across the globe, there are plenty of ways to eat cheaply and quickly in Japan which are uniquely local in nature. Some of these, like sushi and ramen, have become known worldwide, even if the experience differs some. One delicious lunchtime alternative has remained largely unknown in the West, however: donburi
Donburi is, at its essence, a bowl of rice with stuff piled on top, but that description doesn't do it much justice. It comes in all sorts of varieties, some ubiquitous, some limited to certain regions, but whatever you order on it, it's served promptly. Popular versions may include batter-fried pork cutlets (katsu-don), tempura-fried anything (ten-don), roast chicken and egg (oyako-don), or tuna sashimi with dried seaweed (tekka-don). The most popular by far is gyuu-don, or sautéed beef and onions with a little red ginger on the side. This item is so popular that when Yoshinoya (one of Japan's biggest donburi franchises) cut it from the menu during the Mad Cow scare, the company almost didn't survive the public backlash.
At four to five dollars for a large bowl, gyuu-don is about as perfect a lunchtime meal as one can find in Japan. There's just one way to make it better, and the word for that is tsuyudaku. If you go into a Yoshinoya and order gyuu-don tsuyudaku, the cooks will pour a ladle-full of cooking broth over your already delicious mid-day repast, lightly soaking the rice in savory beef juices. If that's not enough, then order it tsuyudaku-daku to get a double-serving of broth added. Then get a spoon, because by this point it's hard to eat with chopsticks.
So remember: If ever you find yourself hungry and budget-bound in Japan, gyuu-don is the way to go! And don't forget the tsuyudaku!
Here's a bit of tech news for the ecologically minded: Sumitomo Electric has recently unveiled their prototype for a new design of electric car engine. What makes this one unique is that it incorporates superconductive materials instead of the usual copper wiring, and requires liquid nitrogen instead of a radiator. Performance-wise, Sumitomo says their new engine can outperform conventional motors in distance tests by more than 10%, while using the same type of battery.
An English summary of the Japanese news articles involved can be found here.
Also in energy news, a completely different Japanese research company has just unveiled an electrical generator that runs on water. The items shown in the article are pretty low-wattage, but there's potential to be had here.
With the Olympics coming up in about a month, we've been seeing a lot of sports-tech related stories recently. This one's about running shoes. Apparently, the new Olympic marathon courses run through some pretty tough terrain as far as running conditions go: dense road surfaces that were designed for heavy military vehicles, air pollution, not to mention the scorching heat of Beijing in August. Hitoshi Mimura, a veteran shoe engineer from Asics, has the answer -- recycled rice. Asics first produced these special running shoes, which use a combination of polyester and ground rice husks, for the marathon team at the Athens Olympics four years ago. More notably, the gold medalist for the women's marathon in Athens, Mizuki Noguchi, credited her victory to them. With teams from around the world looking for an extra edge that will take them to victory, Asics running shoes seem to be getting a lot of attention.
For those interested, the article is here
Sorry to keep you all waiting like this. Due to some bad timing, we seem to have missed a week of sales ratings, but the blanks should be easy enough to fill in. Nintendo seems to be having an up week, at least.
Here's a new title that's just come on the radar: Tactical Guild, slated for release on the DS in late August. Not much is known about the story at this point, but it would appear there are three different heroines sharing the spotlight with the main character, and the possibility of multiple story endings based on in-game decisions. From the screens, it looks to be properly complicated in terms of troop management, with seven different troop types shown (by name) in just these screens: Soldier, Wizard, Adventurer, Knight, Hunter, Weaponsmaster, and Witch. Gameplay-wise, there's something different going on here. It's a little hard to tell from the screens, but it almost looks like this game uses a system similar to the Advance Wars series. We'll just have to wait for more screens to appear, so we can know for sure.
If you'd like to see some pretty pictures, you might try the game's official site as well. There you can see the main character, Guin, as well as the three heroines: Rosetta the Knight, Lia the Witch, and Natsu the.. mischievous-looking. Hopefully they'll be adding more content in the near future.
When I first saw this, my reaction was "Yay! Another Atelier game!" Then I took a closer look, and my thoughts changed to "Huh? The art's all wrong." Then I actually read the article.
The Alchemist of Lemuol is a DS title from Mainichi Communications, which is coming out later this month in Japan. In many, perhaps most, ways, it's a clone of Gust's Atelier franchise: the heroine, Tico, owns and operates an alchemy shop in the Lemuolian town of Ishvald. People come to ask for items, and she makes them. Sometimes she goes in search of ingredients, or sends adventurers to get them for her. The game supposedly offers an extensive range of item variation, with lots of customizing, which sounds promising at least.
Let's meet the characters. First, we have Tico and her apprentice Ruvel.
Then there are Shio and Phil, the adventurous gofers who get most of Tico's supplies.
And the local service industry: Shiba the wandering trader, Click the mechanically-minded repair girl, and Sophia, who runs the local charities.
Finally, we have a few screens to show you. These mostly showcase the social and shop-simulation aspects of the game. If there's an actual combat aspect, such as is found in most of the Atelier series, then I haven't seen it yet. Tico does have a health bar and an experience bar, however, so there's something going on there.
You know, I really wish I could have found this one in time for the May 30th column. the nameless game is a horror adventure story with an odd gimmick -- it's effectively two very different games fused at the hip. In a rather meta-fictional twist, the focus of the horror story is a "cursed" mobile phone game that is being passed from person to person along Japan's mobile networks. It's like the movie Ring, but with video games. You receive the nameless game on your phone, and you die after a week has passed.
In the world of the nameless game, reality is a dark, twisted nightmare through which your character must struggle in order to find a way out of the death sentence imposed for playing the game. In this version of existence, the player must hold the DS vertically, like most adventure games have you do. From time to time, however, the player must enter the nameless game itself to find answers. Here is where things get weird. The game (which, due to an apparent ROM corruption, has an illegible title screen) is a a blatant imitation of roleplaying games from Nintendo's Famicom period, specifically Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The DS has to be held horizontally for these portions of the story, which only adds to the bizarre disconnect in styles.
Within the world of the nameless game, something is slowly corrupting the ROM and producing some really odd graphical glitches. The most disturbing, perhaps, is the occasional introduction of text symbols into the background. The symbol shi (death) appears particularly often.
So, what's the connection between the two worlds? No one knows. Is this game an RPG? Most likely not, since there are no combat screens in evidence. For the record, however, it's a Square Enix production, so those probably are FF sprites and DQ backgrounds being used, and that's more than enough to get it a mention in this column.
Still, I wish Famitsu had put this in their magazine a week earlier. This would've been perfect for the "Uncle Suku" column.
Just a little swag notice for enjoyment: here's a picture of what lucky Japanese gamers got when they received their reserved copy of Shiren the Wanderer III about two weeks ago.
Cute as it is, this plastic figure of Koppa, Shiren's fuzzy little sidekick, is also utilitarian. It's actually a holder for the player's Wii-mote. While it's probably too late to get one the usual way in Japan, there'll probably be a few popping up on E-bay any time now.
This fall, Marvelous Interactive is coming out with Avalon Code, a fairy-tale action RPG for the DS. Japandemonium is proud to present four scans' worth of pretty pictures for your perusal.
In Avalon Code, players may choose between a hero (Ymir) or a heroine (Tia), and many of the choices and events to be found in the game's story hinge upon that choice. Different characters' reactions change, depending on who you're playing as, and there are apparently even some romantic angles to explore.
There are two important aspects of gameplay to discuss here. The first would be your helpers. In Avalon Code, there are four elemental spirits to help you through the troubles of the world: Neaki of Ice, Mieri of Forest, Ur of Lightning, and the double-barreled Renpo of Fire (those are actually shackles). This foursome is bound to the Book of Prophecies, and the shackles which are incorporated into their outfits affect them plotwise as well, e.g. Neaki, who's bound around the neck, cannot speak, while Renpo has to make do without the use of his hands.
The second interesting part is the Book itself. Its chosen bearer, whichever the player chooses, must make frequent use of it in order to survive. Not only does it give guidance over the course of the game, it also serves as an interactive encyclopedia. The hero(ine) can use it to "scan" monsters, items, or people, and learn more about the world in that manner. More importantly, the player can use this to change the world as well.
You can see some examples on pages 2, 3, and 4. On page 2, we meet Fanna and Rex, potential friends and/or love interests. Fanna is suffering from a wasting illness, which appears in her book entry as a skull icon. Surrounding it with potion icons will remove the illness entirely, and likely enable more scenarios.
On page 4, we're shown how weapons can be altered to different types by shuffling around the magic icons. More interestingly, on page 3 we can see how even the toughest (in this case, invincible) enemies can be beaten by scanning them with the book, and then liberally rearranging their defensive characteristics.
Finally, we have a few story teasers in the last page. As is almost inevitable in RPGs it seems, there's a war going on, this time between the Kingdom of Galeira and the Vysene Empire. The young lady in the poofy dress is Princess Dorotea of Galeira, while the guy, Duran, is a self-styled hero. These two are also both potential romantic interests.
Hope you enjoy the scans, and hopefully we'll have more on the story in later columns.
I literally just saw this one right before I planned on updating, but I couldn't stand to wait until the next column to mention it. Riz-Zoawd is exactly what it looks like: an RPG based on The Wizard of Oz, made by the same production team that brought us the Wild ARMs series. Apparently, it's so close to the original book that I can't even comment on the story. It's supposed to be coming out this winter, so I expect we'll being seeing more info on this game in the near future.
On the third and fourth scans, you can see some of what the game controls are like. You don't maneuver Dorothy around with the buttons-- instead, the game encourages you to make use of the shiny green trackball located in the lower screen. Also, the battles are played out in an odd semi-automatic mode, where you can set party members' attack patterns with the stylus and let the AI do the rest. It sounds similar to the system in Persona 4.
Well, that's all for today, folks. No letters to answer this time around. I think I'll go out and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts, since we're technically still in monsoon season over here. In a Japanese June, when it rains, it really pours. If you've got anything to ask, or comment on, feel free to write in.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,