Summer is upon us, and all is sweltering and suffering here in the land of Japan, where it seems there is no place more than 60 or so miles from the ocean. The upshot of this is that the air is so humid, you can almost cut it with a knife. A normal, warm day of 32°C (about 90°F) can feel like 38° (about 100°) in the shade.
So what do the locals do? They drink lots of cold tea, take siestas when possible, tell ghost stories to send chills down the spine, and eat foods that are supposed to keep you strong during the worst of the heat. Specifically, they eat a lot of unagi (eel).
While nowadays they're praised for their high mineral and vitamin content, eels have long been a traditional summer food in Japan. It's so common to eat eel during the summer that there's even a semi-official holiday for it -- July 24th is Ushi no Hi, or the Day to Eat Eel. Convenience stores and restaurants have to take advance orders on all eel dishes for almost a month before the 24th, because there's such a jump in demand on that day.
Personally, I'll stick with sno-cones. Now on to the column!
Today we start off with the one and only bit of DS-related news for this column, and it's all swag. As a promotion for their upcoming remake, Dragon Quest V - Hand of the Heavenly Bride, Square Enix has commissioned this lovely protective case. DS players can now show their fanship with pride, at least as long as they're using a DS Lite. My nice, sturdy original DS doesn't make the cut, apparently. Obsoletist pigs.
This week's number one game really doesn't come as much of a surprise. Persona 4 managed to sell 208,000-plus copies, beating Persona 3's first week sales by more than 200% (P3's opening week sales = 94,000 units). Note the dates for this sales information, and then realize that P4 didn't come out until the 10th. That means that this game sold over 208,000 copies in four days. In comparison, the #2 game, Densetsu no Starfy sold 32,000 copies. I wouldn't be surprised if P4 outsold the top dozen or so games combined. According to Dengeki, retailers across Japan reported sales of up to 90% of all copies in stock. Makes me glad I bought mine 6 minutes after the store opened.
What's precious and red and -- under an alternate name -- synonymous with an open, bloody sore? A garnet, that's what. Just such a stone is what's the center of attention in this new offering for the PSP: Garnet Chronicle.
Meet Killian, paladin in training. A serious sort, he's got a bit of a complex when it comes to losing. In his philosophy, losing to an opponent is a one-time event. The next time around, his opponent's going to be the one in the dirt. He's just the type to be a little too zealous at his job.
En route to his first duty assignment, however, fate puts him in the position of rescuer. Meet Spinel, mysterious and scantily clad half-elf girl. She's out to find the biggest treasure of them all, but the world is getting in her way.
It doesn't take a literary genius to see where this story is going.
The game's battle system is touted as "easy to play," and it looks simple enough. There are a lot of spells and skills available through a branching tree system of advancement. Timed button strikes while attacking seem to cause extended attacks, which is nice.
The story is filled with cut scenes according to Famitsu, with voice actors identified for all six characters shown in the scan. The lead character VAs even sing the game's theme song as a duet. If the screens in the middle of page 2 are any sign though, there will be plenty of fetch-questing as well. Part of Killian's job is to hunt monsters, so his bosses will occasionally give him assignments like "Bring us 5 Galerin horns," which sounds more like an online RPG.
That might not be so surprising though, as the game's production group, Ironnos, has brought in the artistic talents of Kim Hoyon and Kim Dong Suk from the Lineage MMORPG series for this game. Anyway, this is one for the PSP crowd to enjoy.
Sony has just brought us more news, appropriately via Morse Code. Last winter's hit rhythm and kinda-sorta-not-really-maybe RPGish hybrid Patapon is ready to spawn a sequel in time for next Christmas. Get ready to tap, pat, and head-bop your way through more incredibly stylized graphics as you lead your followers to safety, survival, and success.
As befitting a sequel, new characters and abilities have been added to the repertoire. Tribesthings can now be trained in the art of avian air assault, and a new class, Hero, is available. Heroes can have a variety of different abilities, depending on which rare items they are equipped with. As well, a new set of apparent villains, the Karmen Tribe, stand in your way at all times.
For more fun, a four-person multi-mode is included. The idea is that four tribes have been gathered by their gods in order to cooperatively hatch a giant egg. Inside the egg are all sorts of goodies, but everyone's got to be on the same beat in order to get at them. There's no word yet on whether or not a competitive multiplayer mode exists, however.
Anyhoo, pon pon pata pon pata pon pon!
Little by little, the Japanese games scene is becoming more international. The MMORPG sphere is already full of Korean companies, but now other Asian countries are making their way into the market.
Take Rareland Story, originally a Chinese PC game, and soon to be released for the PSP by Arc System Works. This little sim-adventure title came out last year in Hong Kong under the title Rantou Monogatari (at least, that's how it reads in Japanese). It strongly resembles the Atelier series in many ways, especially in the shop-simulation and social interaction aspects. There doesn't seem to be any combat aspect to this game, however
Rareland Story is divided into two play modes: Adventure and Development. Most of the story is told in Adventure Mode, with over 400 scenes to experience. In Dev Mode, you have to help Chiria (the heroine) run her business, be it through advertising, item management, or research. You can even create new outfits to sell or dress Chiria up in, giving her appearance a wide variety of customization.
This looks like a fun little game, and one that could stand as example of a socially-motivated, as opposed to combat-motivated, RPG. It should make a nice addition to the PSP library. It does make me wonder what other games are hiding in the Chinese market, though.
The School of Sword and Magic has been in session for almost a month now, and the students have just switched to their summer uniforms. Time for one last tour of the campus!
First, let's review the student body. Starting along the top, we have Humans, Elves, puppy-ish Dwarves, animatronic Gnomes, Clads (formerly known as Hobbits), Fairies, Felpar (cat-folk), Bahamun (half-dragons), and two new races: the Diaboloi and Celestiae.
Continuing our tour, let's visit the main buildings. You can recruit or organize your study groups in the school dorm, while assignments are handed out in the library. In the labs, you can try your hand at crafting new items, or you can just buy stuff off the shelf from Nyao Ming in the school store. The nurse's office serves its expected function well. If you feel like having a change of heart, the school counselor can hypnotize you into any moral alignment you'd prefer. Finally, there's the records room, where new students are enrolled.
At the Academy, a wide variety of occupational training is provided. A few classes are open to all, but most require a specific character alignment to enroll. Four classes are only open for the appropriate gender as well.
Studies at the Academy are all very practical and hands-on. Study groups of six students each are allowed into the vast subterranean labyrinths to explore as they please. New students should be aware that testing is rather high stakes. If you fail, you may not be rescued.
Finally, there's always time for extra-curricular activities, at least according to the picture at the bottom of the brochure. The young ladies do not look too amused.
We hope you have enjoyed your tour of the campus, and hope to see you next semester!
Another Example of a Citizen Who Isn't READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!
Hi there Gaijin. I'm fairly tired at the moment, so this'll be short.
The Japanese custom of removing the shoes upon entering the house derives from what, do you know?
Why does the hot spring feature so prominently in so many anime and manga? Are they profusely scattered about Japan?
Horse racing games - why so many?
Have you partaken of Japanese beef, or is it too expensive to be within your reach?
Pardon the terseness - headache overtakes me. Title took all the mirth I have.
Short letter? Short answers!
1) I assume it comes from a history of having tatami flooring and dirt roads, in a nation beset with annual monsoons.
2) Yes, they are. Some regions more than others, but hot springs are frequent feature of Japanese topography. Oita Prefecture alone counts as the third most active geothermal site on the planet, after Iceland and Yellowstone, I believe.
3) "The Sport of Kings" became popular in the Meiji Period, and still has a very high-class image in Japan. There are far more racing enthusiasts than there are racetracks, however. The market goes where there is demand.
4) If I have beef, it's usually Australian in origin. I have heard that Kobe steaks are excellent, but I'm not willing to shill out that much money for one. Basashi, on the other hand, is usually worth the price.
In any case, take care of yourself, and thanks for the letter!
If it's not the heat, it's the typhoons, this time of year. We got hit with a tropical depression on Wednesday, and man was that a lot of rain! But the typhoon that was supposed to come our way this weekend took a pitstop in Guangdong and never left. So instead of relentless, job-stopping rain, we get relentless heat that we still have to work in. Atsui......
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,