About this time of year, two years ago, I was on a train. This was a weekly thing for me, as my girlfriend and I were temporarily living in different cities, obliging me to make a regular commute on my days off.
On that particular train, most of the window seats were taken, leaving only aisle seats. This was a problem for the little old lady who boarded a few minutes before departure. Japanese people, especially those of the older generations, have a deep-set fear of imposing on others unnecessarily. It's no coincidence that the most common phrase to express thanks in Japanese actually means "I'm sorry."
The little grandmother was having trouble deciding where to sit, as all available seats were next to a stranger, and she didn't want to impose. After a moment, I waved to her to show that the adjacent seat was available.
As the train was leaving the station, we had the standard meet-the-gaijin chat -- where I was from, how long I'd been in Japan, etc. Things were pretty quiet after that (it was past 10 PM). I read my book, and she watched the news ticker that ran over the door at the end of the aisle.
When the ticker mentioned the late mayor of Nagasaki (recently assassinated by the yakuza over a car insurance dispute), she started talking again, this time about her home and family in Nagasaki.
Why was a little old grandmother, seventy-five if she was a day, making day trips between Nagasaki and Hakata, I had to ask. She tried to explain, but my command of spoken Japanese just wasn't up to the task. Finally she pulled out a program sheet. It took a moment, but I figured out what it said:
52nd Annual Nagasaki Survivors' Convention.
Older folk from Nagasaki and Hiroshima have obvious reasons for not liking Americans, and here I was, at a loss for words. We'd already had the meet-the-gaijin Q&A, so I couldn't even lie and claim to be Canadian. She was a lot nicer about it than I could have hoped, though, and we parted ways when she had to change trains at Kurume.
Enough reminiscing, though. It's column time.
While 5pb.'s recently released game Item Getter might not have the most imaginative of titles, the company's marketing department seems to be picking up the creative slack with this promotion. Four stores across Japan have been appointed "Embassies of Affilia," the fictional setting of the game. At these shops, one can sit down and have a quick snack with "traditional Affilian cuisine," supposedly prepared with materials found within the game itself. Each of the shops offers two different items, so some travel will be necessary if one wants to try it all. The promotion began last Thursday, when Item Getter first appeared on store shelves, and ends at the end of August.
The first shop, The Royal Affilian Magic Academy, has appeared in Tokyo's Ikebukuro area. It offers two gelatin desserts called "Black Stone" and "Purple Stone." Both desserts are 600 yen.
The second shop, Affilia Sherries in Tokyo's Ueno area, takes a more adult approach with its "Shepherd's Nightcap" beer and "Timtam Castella" snacks. 1000 yen for the beer, 500 for the little cakes.
In Nagoya, Affilian Dining also features drinks and light snacks with "Sugar Flakes" (fruit salad, sugar, and I think yogurt on cornflakes, 600 yen) and "Shepherd's Drink," an unidentified beverage which is also 600 yen.
Our last stop, Affilia Kitchens in Osaka's Nihonbashi, is more kid-oriented with a pair of ice cream drinks on the menu. The "High-Class Tatapioka" and "Carbuncle's Ruby" ice cream floats are 600 yen each.
And of course, should one happen to have a copy of the game in hand when they visit these shops, then that person can get one snack on the house.
Last week, Square Enix put up a big countdown web-page, which prompted much speculation in the gaming community. This turned out to be (much to the dismay of non-Japanese gamers) Lord of Vermilion 2, sequel and upgrade to S-E's card-based arcade RPG.
The most recent issue of Famitsu had fourteen pages of material on this, ten of which were dedicated to crossover material (and art thereof). It seems that characters and entities from more than one series are making their way into LoV2-- two Square Enix, one not. Let's start with the odd man out.
First surprise of the evening -- Wizards of the Coast is licensing out material from Magic: the Gathering for use in LoV2. Is there anyone in the audience familiar with the entities shown in the scans?
Less of a surprise was the presence of several characters from the ever popular Final Fantasy IV. Rydia, Kain, Edge, Golbez, and presumably several others will soon be available in trading card form for out amusement.
Now for the whopper. Granted, most folks in the Western audience won't get this, but the above scans about knocked me off my chair when I first saw them. Allow me to make introductions.
Kzinssie, Bokhohn, Dantarg, Rocbouquet, Noel, Wagnas, and Subier. Together they are the Seven Heroes, ironically the villains of Romancing SaGa 2. RS2 was one of the first RPGs I ever played in Japanese, and holds a special place in my heart. It's also one of the high points of the entire SaGa series.
While RS2 was popular enough in its time, and the series' 20th anniversary is coming up, that's still not enough to explain why S-E would resurrect a game this old (turns 16 this December) in this way -- unless they were planning a remake. If that's the case, then LoV2 can go shuffle itself. I know which game I'd rather be playing. It's a bit of a stretch at this point to assume this sort of thing, sure, but that's not going to stop me from hoping really hard.
Ready for some sexy witch lovin'? That's right, Luminous Arc 3 - Eyes is officially on its way with all the buxom fanservice we've come to expect.
So here's the specifics: a few decades back, the faerie Felicia appeared in the peaceful kingdom of Baldia, awakening secret powers within the populace. And thus the hunt was on to identify and gather the Gifted together. The end result was the Urgart Magic Academy.
That's right, we've got another school-themed RPG coming up. As such, the way the game's scenarios are set up makes some sense. There's a main story scenario at the school, then a training battle (with adjustable difficulty beforehand), then an "After break" period -- a social RP aspect which is supposed to have quite an impact on how the game ends. All characters seem to have separate outfits for battle and school as well. The school itself has all the usual locations to be expected of such an institution -- dorms, nurse office, cafeteria, library, fortune-teller...
The main character, name of Refi, is an orphan raised by the church. He's enrolled in the Urgart Academy in order to fulfill his dream of joining the Magi Knights. The other characters shown thus far seem to be involved in a school organization called "Magus."
OK, so the scans are a little light on sexy witches, but you all just know they've got to be out there somewhere.
It's SaGa time again, and this time we have major new stuff to talk about. SaGa 2's new subtitle is "Goddess of Destiny," but there's more than one goddess on the block. In fact, there are eight. The Muses are a set of low-ranking deities who apparently pop up from time to time in various realms, always in need of help. As a reward, they give out Muse Points (MP) which can be used towards creating and strengthening bonds between characters (as part of the combo attack system). They'll occasionally even show up in battle, it seems.
The eight Muses of SaGa 2 really are based on the Greek goddesses (though Urania seems to have been left out). There's Kalliope (only one with no name change), the twins Polynia and Melmene (Polyhymnia and Melpomene), the slightly metallic Euter (Euterpe), the mermaid Leio (Clio), the fairy Thaleia (Thalia), the centauress Repsira (Terpsichore), and the oriental maiden Aleito (Erato).
Other than that, the left-hand scan shows that SaGa 2 is borrowing the Map Abilities system from Minstrel Song. The screens below feature some of that, and a bit more -- they reveal that the Meat System (by which Monster characters change form) has received a major overhaul, and now actually looks like something that can be easily understood.
And if you all want to see more pictures, check out the game's media page.
For those of you all who are into collectibles, Square Enix is offering a nice "Collector's Pack" with the game, for those willing to fork over $120 for it. Available online through S-E's e-Store, it includes the soundtrack, a postcard set, and a Mr. S cellphone strap.
September 17th cannot come fast enough.
Many fantasy stories begin with something along the lines of "Long, long ago..." As far as RPGs go, Wizardry can be said to have begun "Long, long, long, long ago...", in 1981 in fact. That's positively ancient by RPG standards. How would such a game hold up today? Genterprise is willing to find out, as the original Wizardry title gets a total remake, due out next November. Wizardry - Wedge of Life is one of several projects which comprise the "Wizardry Renaissance," another being Wizardry - The Dungeon of Captured Souls for the PSN.
Great pains have been taken to properly translate this game into a DS title, including adding new twists to how traps work or how one can interact with puzzles. Still, this is the granddaddy of all dungeon-crawlers, so it can be expected that many will have a tough time beating this one.
And finally, inevitably, we have Pokémon. The Pokémon Dungeon series has received a new look, coming to WiiWare in cutesy 3D graphics.
I'm not really sure if these are wholly original entries to the series, or if they're adaptations of the original games to a new format. I'm also not sure if we'd be able to tell the difference in either case, since they don't seem to deviate from the standard elements of the series one iota.
There's also a friends code system included in these titles, allowing the player to expand their available party members beyond what would otherwise be available in their version. According to Famitsu, the friend code for Chikorita is 4T#H XW#0 YRM= 5&@7 (for anyone who cares). There's also a WiiConnect promotion through which the player can get themselves a Mew. It's only until this Friday, but the way Nintendo operates means there should be more such events in the future.
I'll be spending more quality time with the girlfriend for the rest of the month, so there may or may not be another column before September starts. Hopefully there will be time available. The amount of material in the latest Famitsu was rather surprising, and as I recall this time last year was a big one for game announcements. I just hope I can keep up with it all.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,