hazuki no nijuurokunichi

Last weekend I got to have a little adventure. It was time for my school's annual reunion and camping trip at Zassou-no-mori nature park in the middle of Kumamoto City. That doesn't sound like much of an adventure? Well, imagine it with sixty elementary schoolers aged first through seventh grade. Anyway, I didn't have much time to take pictures, but I got a couple interesting ones.

That first one is the big bonfire Saturday night. We sang songs, some of the staff did a silly performance, and then I got to finish things up with a (mildly) scary story. The second picture is from the next morning, within the main building at the camp. This is where we were staying, since the Japanese definition of camping doesn't usually include tents. We were all kind of thankful, because Kyushu was in the middle of a two-week marathon of bad weather. Look carefully, and you can see the rain in the picture.

But all is nice and sunny again in Hi-no-Kuni. Sunny with high humidity, unfortunately, so I'm still not happy on my afternoon walks to work. Oh well.

It's the end of the month, but we only have one Lovely Lady Lab entry. It's sort of a double, though. Hiroyuki Maeda was asked to produce a card for the arcade CCG Lord of Vermilion II, and this is what he came up with.

The card came with that issue of Famitsu.

In a different issue, there was an update on the Chirashi (advertising poster) column for advertising of yesteryear. I haven't commented on this in a while because they haven't been featuring RPGs. That's changed, though, with this latest entry.

This is an advertising poster for Shin Megami Tensei, but not for the Super Famicom. This is the ad for the PC-Engine release of the game, which the poster states will be September 24th, 1993 (it was really December 25th, according to GameFAQs). In any case, it's as weird as ever.

Source: Famitsu Weekly
8/8 ~ 8/14 8/1 ~ 8/7 7/25 ~ 7/31 Title Publisher Platform
2 * New Arrival Super Pokémon Scramble Nintendo
8 Off-list Last seen at 17 Legend of Zelda - Ocarina of Time Nintendo
13 6 New Arrival Epic Mickey Nintendo
16 13 Last seen at 6 Inazuma Eleven Strikers Level-5
18 20 Last seen at 16 Pokémon Black/White Nintendo
23 24 Last seen at 14 The Little Battlers Level-5
24 14 Last seen at 2 Queen's Gate Spiral Chaos Bandai-Namco
28 16 Last seen at 3 Devil Survivor 2 Atlus
29 29 Off-list Monster Hunter Portable 3rd Capcom
Off-list 11 New Arrival Elminage III Starfish
Off-list 17 New Arrival Half Minute Hero 2 Marvelous
Off-list - Last seen at 26 Nora's Studio Atlus

Elminage III has popped onto the sales lists and popped off just as recently. I suppose this is as good a time as any to show some screens for this PSP title.

If you like first-person dungeon diving, then this is a game for you. It also appears to have some odd character models available. There isn't much more to say about it, though.

Source: Dengeki Online

There are days when I'm really glad I can get the latest Famitsu before I update the column. Today is one of those days.

In my hands I have four pages of material on Ni no Kuni: Queen of Sacred White Ash. I'm still trying to process how it connects to the DS title, Mage of Darkness, however. From the look of it, parts of the original game's introductory sequence happen all over again, which really should not be possible if this is a sequel. It could be that the PS3 game is an alternative storyline, but Shizuku is still described as being turned into a doll by the Mage of Darkness in his backstory. Many locations seem to remain the same, but new ones pop up in these scans as well.

Anyway, these scans really focus on the new characters. On the second scan, for example, two new fairies are introduced. While Shizuku is the Crying Fairy, Puchi is known as the Sullen Fairy. His friend Nico is known as the Smiley Fairy. On the third scan, we see a Mystery Girl, who somehow tries to interfere with fate in Oliver's tragic backstory. Presumably she fails. And watching all this through her magic crystal ball is Reinas, the Queen of Ash herself, who can be seen in the fourth scan. She is described as being the ruler of the world, though what her interest in Oliver may be cannot be known at this point.

Well, it's nice to have proof that this game exists, isn't it? Even better, a tentative release date has been set for November 17th. There is no word of whether or not a book will be included with this one, but I'll be reserving my copy ASAP for sure.

Source: Famitsu Weekly

Many games allow the player to hire mercenaries. Sometimes it's because one needs convenient cannon fodder. Other times it's because there's no one else to help. Few games really let the player be the mercenary, though. The guys at Bandai-Namco have taken this idea and ran with it to create Yuugen Kaisha Brave Company. That bit in Japanese is a bit of wordplay. In Japan, there are two major types of companies. Kabushiki gaisha is a publicly traded company, while a yuugen kaisha is a privately held company. In this game's title, the yuu part has been swapped out for a homophonous symbol that means "courage." And thus, we get the brave company of the rest of the title.

The first person there is the secretary, Cecilia. She serves as the interface between the company president (the player) and the employees. There are only four job classes shown here, but the wording of the article makes it likely that there are more to choose from. The art is done by a guy named Foo Midori, who has a lot of light novel illustrations under his belt and who also did work for the Silver Rain tabletop game. When I first looked at it, though, I mistook the art for that of Tomomi Kobayashi, who did a lot of work for the Romancing SaGa series. I did later find out that both Kobayashi and Midori worked on character designs in Granado Espada though.

While the battles look to be fairly normal RPG fare, this game was originally a social game for the iPod in Japan. These screens are only from the refurbished 3DS version, but presumably there will be some of that social functionality in there.

Strangely enough, this isn't the only title in this vein to crop up recently. Here's one more from Inti Create.

Bokura no Kingdom is a social-RPG for GREE and other cell phone portals. The player sets up shop as a questor-for-hire, makes alliances (befriends other players), and generally does heroic stuff. There are only six classes to choose from -- Imperial Guard, Minstrel, Alchemist, Jipang (samurai/ninja), Butterfly (socialite), and Wizard -- but gender, coloration, and possibly equipment are customizable.

Source: Famitsu Online

While clearing through my copies of Famitsu for the last month, I came across some pages I hadn't scanned. The game in question was the DS remake of Metal Max 2. It had been three weeks since I'd last looked at it, but I'd just spent much of those weeks playing the GBA port of the original version of this same game. Now, I could see just how much has been changed.

First, let's look at those people along the sides of the scan. On the left we have Hunters and Soldiers, and on the right there are Mechanics, Nurses, Wrestlers, and Artists. These are the classes with which the player can form a party in Metal Max 2. The thing is, none of these guys exist in my copy of the game. In the GBA and Super Famicom versions, the party roster was fixed to three characters (Hunter, Mechanic, Soldier) and a dog. The job class setup was something new introduced for Metal Max 3, and apparently was so well received that the devs decided to just redo the whole of the second game the same way. I'm liking the looks of that new bounty target, the Desperoido, as well. Finally, there's the pyramid that can be seen in the scans. I've visited that place in the GBA game, and I must say it looks a lot better here.

Part of me is screaming "Buy this game!" but the rest of me is thinking "I just played the heck out of the original. Maybe next year..."

Source: Famitsu Weekly

Hyperdimensional Game Neptune mk2 was released last week while I was on vacation, and I figured I might as well check out some of the media on it. It's been a while since the game was mentioned in the column, after all. At one of the big game stores downtown, I saw the latest promotional video (only two weeks late), and was pleasantly surprised. It was... well, take a look.

The battles are much more dynamic, allowing the player to move characters around the battlefield within certain ranges, for example. More attacks seem to be available, and more references to other games (including the Arland trilogy of the Atelier series). Most surprising was the addition of additional Maker characters. I'd already known that 5pb. was to be included, but Cave and Falcom? That should make things interesting.

I probably won't pick this up for a long while, partly because I haven't finished the first one yet, and partly because of my SD/PS3/myopia issues. I will get it eventually, though, which is more than I thought I'd be saying about this title, last May.

This is a Letter Title

Hey Gaijin!

I've noticed that your column mentions cell-phone and on-the-go type games pretty regularly. Mobile media games for cell phones, smart phones and tablet PC's have been gaining a steady incline in popularity in America the past few years as well. At first, the gaming community over here was excited about the prospect - the more people are interested in gaming, the better quality and selection of future games. However, these on-the-go games have taken off in a direction all their own. While major console games have turned into sprawling 50+ hour epics, complete with individual cosmologies, cartography and novellas (see HALO, Mass-Effect and Bio-Shock), mobile device games run on simplified, brief plots (or no plot at all). Many of them are based on short levels that take only 1-5 minutes to complete. These mobile games have risen in popularity so much that in America, "Angry Birds" has more players than there are people who own standard gaming consoles.

Tom Bissell from recently mused that the age of console gaming may be reaching an end, though he admits this might be akin to saying that "the novel is a dying art form." Even as a mild to moderate gamer, I find myself logging more hours on online flash games than on an XBox or PS3. As someone who has seen the mobile market more closely than the average Westerner, what do you think? Are iPhones in and consoles out? Will narrative prevail over cheap entertainment?



Y'know, I've had three weeks to think of a good reply to this letter, and every time I start up, I have a different thing I focus on.

I think I'll start with the Wii. Nintendo built the success of the Wii on its accessibility to casual games, exercise programs, and all sorts of things that appeal to the less-gaming oriented populace. And it was a success. Market penetration in Japan was incredible. But as the total number of people with console gaming systems increased, the number of "hardcore" gamers, for whom gaming is as much a lifestyle as anything else, didn't expand to the same degree. For companies that pay close attention to consumer demographics, this had to cause some sort of reaction. Suddenly the larger part of their market was playing casual games more often than in-depth titles. It's been funny watching the major companies over here scrambling to follow the casual and social gaming trends, be it on cell phones, i-whatevers, or downloadable platforms on the Wii, DS, 3DS, PSN, etc.

As mentioned in that article, the form that developmental cycles have taken in recent years does not help either. In the effort to outdo the competition, the quality of graphics and sound has been pushed to the limit, but sometimes at the expense of other parts of the game such as story or actual gameplay. Games are taking longer and longer to make, and at greater expense, while the number of gamers may not be able to support it. I'm talking mainly with RPGs in mind here. There's been a popularity shift towards FPS titles for years now, to the point where it's starting to bleed into RPG designs. Finally, the console manufacturers aren't always helping the situation either, as games have never been more difficult to program for, at least on certain systems.

Looking back, three systems really stand out for both number and variety of RPGs: Super Famicom, Playstation, and DS. All three provided an upgrade in processing capabilities and memory management over earlier consoles in their niches, and all three were relatively simple to create content for, to judge by the sheer number of games that I have randomly discovered over the years.

But what's important is what people are playing now. Every day on my commute, I see lots of people with cell phones out, but from what I can see they're mostly texting. Older businessmen often play gambling games on them. There are usually a fair number of DS's and PSP's in evidence, though. Sometimes I check out the top downloads on iMode as well. Famitsu Weekly shows these on about a monthly basis, and there will always be at least four console-style RPGs on the top ten. Some of these will be ports of titles from older systems, but others will be originals. The House of Kemco has proven to be really fruitful in this regard. So, even on the encroaching bastion of casual gaming, people still play some pretty complicated games. And what the people play, someone will provide. The game companies may have to learn to gear down a bit though. Nice, shiny graphics are all well and good, but if the cost of producing them dooms the game, then what's the point?

We got one last massive dump of rain today, but it's supposed to be nice and sunny all weekend. Guess I should get out the sunscreen.

And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,

Your man in Japan,

Gaijin Monogatari

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