What I Did on My Summer Vacation
Wow! August sure was a busy month over here. First, I went to Miyazaki in south-east Kyushu with my girlfriend and some of her family. We went to the beach, rode all sorts of water rides, made frequent trips to the onsen, and ate like pigs at the buffet.
We also visited a few beaches in Kumamoto, like Ashikita, 30 minutes south of the city. We dug for clams, body-surfed, and watched kites flying in the sky (the birds, not the toys).
Two of my girlfriend's younger relations are huge Indiana Jones fans, so we watched the first three movies a total of seven times altogether (Raiders twice, Crusade twice, and three times for the Temple of Doom). I also got to go to the Chagall exhibition at the local museum of art with my girlfriend, which was interesting.
Last weekend, my school had a big camping trip for our grade school crowd, which is the main reason why this column is going up this weekend instead. It was about as rough as sleeping in the school gym, honestly. On the plus side, there was some actual wildlife to be surprised and chased by the kids, including a Japanese pheasant who happened to live in the area. Those things sure look funny when they run. I also managed to catch a frog in the staff toilet before it had the chance to scare the heck out of any of our Japanese staffers. We made a big deal of letting him go after breakfast, and all the kids watched intently as he made his escape. All in all a good experience for them, I think.
I think that's about all the parts worth mentioning. As I said, it was a busy month, with torrential downpours happening every other day for the last three weeks, but I still managed to type out this monster of a column for you, my audience. So please, please find it in your hearts to leave a comment on anything you think is interesting, okay?
With Japan's population becoming steadily more concentrated in a few big cities, the nation's smaller towns are feeling the crunch. Some are fortunate enough to have some commodity -- be it historical, recreational, or gourmet -- which ensures that people will keep coming. Others are not so lucky, and many small towns in the countryside have a half-deserted feeling to them.
A few, however, have reason to thank their lucky stars.
One such town is Washimiya, in Saitama Prefecture. This sleepy little town of just over 30,000 was notable mainly for its local shrine, which is one of the oldest in the region. Its fortunes did not look good.
Then last summer, Washi-no-Miya Shrine was identified as the model for one of the more prominent settings in the print and TV series Lucky Star. Overnight, the town became a major tourist site for fans of the series, most of them male, most of them dressed in high school girls' uniforms. The townsfolk seem to be taking it in stride, though the official sightseeing guide requests that visitors not sing and dance in public.
For the full article, go here.
This time around, I'd like to give a shout out to RPGamer's most infamously enthusiastic JRPG afficionado, JuMeSyn. I've had this bit of news on the back burner for a while now, but until recently I didn't have any good pictures to back it up. It's time to rectify that situation with this article / advertising double whammy from Famitsu:
Red Entertainment -- known for such titles as Sakura Taisen, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang, and the upcoming Tales of Nostalgio, just released a compilation for the PSP, encompassing three games from their most... inventive of series, Tengai Makyo. The PC Engine Best - Tengai Makyo Collection includes the first three games of the series in their original versions, plus a fighting game and a special image gallery. While heaven knows there have been enough remakes and ports of these games in the past (I recently downloaded Ziria to my cell phone, in fact), there will always be those who have as yet missed out on the quirky (if that's the right word) experience that is Tengai Makyo. So, here are the games:
Tengai Makyo - Ziria, circa 1989. This is a mostly serious RPG in the vein of Dragon Quest, loosely based off of legends of Jiraiya, Kyushu's most famous ninja -- as interpreted by a fictitious Western researcher from the mid-19th century. At the time of its release, it was famous for being the first RPG on a CD-ROM system, and thus the first with actual cutscenes, halfway decent in-battle animations, and voice-acting. It was remade for XBox 360 about two years back, and as I mentioned, there's a cell-phone version available.
Tengai Makyo - Manji-maru, circa 1992. This one's probably the most popular game of the series, and has definitely seen the most number of remakes. Its quirky cast of characters paved the way for much insanity in the future. It is loosely based on the 13th century clan war between the Heike and Genji families, again as interpreted by the fictitious researcher
Fu-un Kabuki-den (Kabuki's Unlucky Tale), circa 1993. And here's the insanity that ensued. This game was a gaiden (spinoff) of Manji-maru, based on the adventures of Kabuki, one of the most fundamentally insane protagonists ever introduced in a Japanese RPG. The story revolves around the questionable hero rushing to foreign lands in order to rescue all the cute girls of Jipang, who've been kidnapped by the villains from Ziria. It's also much more like a Final Fantasy title than previous installments.
Kabuki Klash. And apparently just for the hell of it, Red Entertainment decided to make a fighting game based on the characters from Manji-maru and Kabuki-den. According to legend, Red Entertainment had their best brainstorming sessions when everyone brought strong liquour to the party. I can believe that.
And that's the whole list. Quite a lot of gaming in there, for the low price of 2,940 yen (about $25). Easily affordable, even for collectors on a budget. The other game shown in the scan is Galaxy Fraulein, a PC Engine shooter series, by the way.
This year, we've seen more than a few unlikely genre crossings, particularly for the DS. SNK Playmore is about to bring us another, in the form of Kimi no Yuusha (Your Hero).
The Japanese "light novel" is a variation on the adventure genre, and in concept resembles a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel (anyone remember those?). As the name of the genre suggests, they are very heavy on text, and light on interaction, for the most part. While it would seem a reasonable idea to infuse this style of game with some RPG elements, the results may be slower-paced than some would like. The Famitsu article itself puts on emphasis on how much the game experience will feel like reading a novel, though I've got my doubts. Anyhoo, let's take a look.
Meet Tio and Wanda. Tio has recently graduated from magic school, and is given the task of recruiting the next Great Hero of the Age™, i.e. the person reading the novel, i.e. you. It is the fate of the Great Hero™ that he or she must guide the Keeper of the Celestial Key, in this case Wanda, on the usual Grand Adventure™. Note that Tio and Wanda appear fully cognizant that you are "reading" the adventure as they live it. That rumbling in the background is the sound of the fourth wall collapsing. In keeping with the "Choose Your Own" theme, the game's many scenes have frequent branch points, with major or minor repercussions.
Lending a hand in the quest (as well as adding a few more digits to the ungodly high combo damage totals) are Grey and Tango, though it looks like Tio and Wanda can hold their own in battle. This one looks interesting so far.
Once more, we bring news of Dissidia, but fresher news this time around. The latest scans from Famitsu showcase a new pair of hero and nemesis. In the blue corner, we have that paragon of prudence, that exemplar of excellence, that champion of the common man -- the Onion Knight!
And in the red corner, weighing in at three bajillion metaphorical tons of pure spite and fury, that sultry midnight maiden, that twisted temptress of twilight -- the Cloud of Darkness!
While not a pairing to elicit much emotion or angst (hard to do when neither has a definite personality), they do promise some interesting times on the battlefield. The next two pages of the scan give some details on two important parts of the game's system: Ex-Mode and Ex-Burst.
Near as I can make out, Ex-Mode is a special, high-powered state that characters can enter once the conditions are correct, similar to Trance or Limit Breaks. In the case of the Onion Knight, the player can get a class change for short periods of time. There's a choice of Ninja or Sage, with corresponding boosts to physical or magical attacks.
Ex-Bursts are the usual sort of super-uber-hyper-mega-stupendous-limited-time-offer attacks that have appeared in Final Fantasy games since the introduction of desperation moves in FF6. Both of the Onion Knight's alternate forms possess unique Ex-Burst skills, which appear to be satisfyingly destructive.
Let's just hope that dear Onion Knight comes fully equipped, or else he might not survive long enough to upgrade to first class.
Games companies in Japan have a unique avenue for advertising that is not seen much in America - brand-dedicated comic books. The trend began in the '80s, with Nintendo, Capcom, and Enix blazing the way with whole series based around (or spun off of) their more popular franchises. I currently have titles from Seqa, Square, Enix, Atlus, and Gust, and I've seen far more than that in the stores. In stores this month is a new advertising blitz from Sega, based on the upcoming game Blazer Drive.
While it doesn't tell much about the actual story of the game (not surprising, since the game's not out for another two months), the manga does set the scene very well, with a few gang fights, the introduction of the Guardians organization of Blazers, and some background on what the mystic stickers can be used for. And if the characters in the game are anything like their counterparts in the manga, then Blazer Drive is going to be one strange game. We'll just have to see.
The Level 5 Game Company has certainly done its fair share of advertising for the upcoming Inazuma Eleven. Between the formation of its own girlband to do the lyrics, and buying the naming rights to a J-1 team's stadium, the company has put quite a lot of money down so far. So what's next? Their own anime based on the events in the game?
Why, yes. From October on, not two months after Inazuma Eleven is released, Level 5 will have its very own cartoon show one afternoon a week. They've already had a serialized manga appearing in Monthly Koro-koro Comics since May, so this is just a logical step up. And it's not like they're the only ones ever to do this kind of thing. Still, one has to wonder what else the company will do to market this game.
While it has published a few games in Japan thus far, Gung-Ho Works is better known as the local service provider (and now majority shareholder) for the Korean game Ragnarok Online. Given the strength of the publicity they have gained from this arrangement, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that Gung-Ho has set its sights to moving farther afield. In fact, the company recently had two DS games featured back-to-back in the same issue of Famitsu. So, what's the first title with which Gung-Ho intends to lure its Ragnarok fanbase into joining the handheld market? Why, it's none other than...
Ragnarok Online DS. I kid you not, the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG genre has finally come full circle, providing a framework and backdrop for a single-player, plot-motivated DS role-playing game.
While the new protagonist, Aless, starts out as a Novice with the potential to aspire to any class, his four comrades, referred to in the article as "friend NPCs", all have set first-tier classes. Green-haired Liesel is a Magician, while Lusifi is a swordsman with the Prontera Knights. Blue-haired Viselk is a thief and caravaneer, and Shera, the girl with the feather headdress, is a Shaman.
Didn't know there was a Shaman class in Ragnarok Online? For those who care about such things, Gung-Ho is using this title to introduce two new character classes: Dark Knight and Shaman, both shown on the second page of the scan. We can only assume the female Dark Knight is compensated in some manner for the massive gaps in her armor.
Otherwise, this game looks to be as identical to its online predecessor as possible, given the hardware. Character outfits are still highly customizable. Actions which would have required the mouse on a PC have been reformatted for the touchpen. As well, up to three players can join together via wireless to take on the Shinkirou no tou, or Tower of Illusions, challenging its 50 floors in search of rare treasures. Fans of the MMORPG should give this one a look-see.
Gung-Ho's other featured title, Hero's Saga Laevatein, is a horse of a different color. A dyed-in-the-grain tactical title, its story and artistic style place it worlds away from the cartoony feel of Ragnarok.
The story unfolds across the continent of Euramecca, a thinly veiled imitation of Europe in the Middle Ages. For 15 years, the Heroes' War has raged across the land, with the Empire of Gallia generally triumphant over all others. The secret behind its success is an ancient magic, which (unfortunately for them) has just fallen into the hands of Prince Ernesto Diaz, second heir to the Kingdom of Valencia. With his older brother, the Crown Prince Claudio Diaz, and Claudio's fiancée, Diana of Aragon, he's going to show the Gallians what serious resistance feels like.
The central element of the game is the "Hero's Legacy", a magic that allows one to imbue weapons with the power of heroic spirits. The spirit's rank and experience determine the abilities gained by equipping it. As well, different Legacies allow for different classes to be attained. With a troop capacity of up to 150 heroes, the implication is that there's a lot of variety to be had.
Another major point is the proper use of formations. Usually, each troop icon on the map is in fact a squad. Placement of troops within the squad can affect how they attack as a unit. Finally, there's the Outbreak ability, where a unit leader calls upon the power of his or her Legacy to smite some enemy butt.
There's also a lot of options available via wireless. Players can "rent" heroes from each other for a fee, or just trade them. Multi-player battles are also a possibility, as is the option to upload your heroes as NPCs, for you or others to then download as set battles. All in all, it looks interesting.
Are you a fan of '80s giant robo anime? Do you like lots of customization? Then Creative Core has the DS game for you. Gadget Robo focuses on the adventures of a boy, his grandad, and their personal Gundam lookalike as they search the world for pieces of the "Core Crysta", a falling star which powers super robots, apparently. The battle screens look neat.
Starfish SD recently announced that an adapted version of their PS2 dungeon-crawler Elminage will be out for the Nintendo DS. As I don't know too much about the original, other than that there are three playable races, I cannot comment much on this one.
Ready to take command of it all? Global A Entertainment has yet another world-building RPG in the works, this time on the PSP. Give the Order! Building Our World takes a page from their soon-to-be-released Master of the Monster Lair, and expands upon it, letting the player make a whole world, one area at a time. That said, I expect that gameplay will be substantially similar to Monster Lair, but we'll just have to wait for them to give us more info.
From Square Enix comes news of Ellark. This game was announced a few months back, and was reported in Japandemonium as an "On the Radar" item. I won't bother linking that, as this article will recap all that was known about the game at the time -- namely that it existed -- and continue on from there.
Well, Ellark is going to be available soon, so what is it exactly? For starters, it's S-E's newest attempt at an MMORPG... sort of. It's also a mobile phone game, to be available on all three of Japan's major cell providers.
So how does this work? Near as I can make out, each character is registered in the central server, called Moba-Ge Town (short for mobairu geemu), and the character's entry is updated regularly as they gain levels or skills, or have their appearance customized. Those who wish to go a-questing can choose three companions from among the other players on the server, and the rest plays out like a standard turn-based game. Players are able to choose between more than the usual "fight or run" options when faced with monsters, much more like the early MegaTen games in fact.
The story seems to revolve around the usual MacGuffin "uber-magical thingy of power" premise. The thingy in question is the Ell-Ark, a mystical vessel holding unknown forces within it.
Graphically, this game is quite pretty. When you take into account that it's meant for cellphones, then words like "astounding" may be allowed. While the article doesn't mention what models of phone are required, the specs are probably more than my little year--and-a-half old phone can manage. For those who think their hardware is up to the task, however, registration is currently free.
Welcome to the Age of Adventures! When previously we looked at Red Entertainment's upcoming Wind of Nostalgio, we met the main cast -- adventurous Eddy, shifty Pad, magical Melody, and the mysterious Fiona. This time, Famitsu is showcasing the real star of the show, the airship Maverick.
The Maverick, as it turns out, is a highly customizable piece of machinery, with each change you make being reflected in its appearance throughout the game. These changes have a direct impact on combat, as those are the parts doing most of the damage. In aerial battles, Eddy's at the helm, and in control of the huge ramming spike on the ship's prow. Pad controls the machine guns, while Melody uses the ship's main cannon (and seems to enjoy it immensely). Fiona's in charge of something called the orb, whatever that does. Enemies can come at you from three different directions -- front, left, and right -- and each turn you'll have to decide which way a character's attack will aim.
But the important thing about the airship is that it lets you travel -- and really, what 19th-century style adventure story would be complete without the exotic locales? In these scans alone, we see Cairo, Rio, the Pacific, northern Europe, and the jungles of Africa.
Finally, on the second page we get a glimpse of the game's skill system, and the branching grid that lets you gain more abilities. Skill points are placed into individual skills, increasing their power. Level them up enough, and a neighboring skill on the grid is unlocked. In the example shown, bringing the Overdrive skill up to level 5 will unlock the Attack Boost skill. Some skills are for melee combat, while others are specific to the aerial battles.
Overall, this is shaping up to be a nice little adventure, wouldn't you say?
That's all he wrote, guys! The biggest column in recent Japandemonium history ends only half-finished, since there's still a ridiculous backlog of stuff for me to put in. So, for our next column, we have a choice of Pokémon Platinum, Sigma Harmonics, or Riz-Zoawd for the "recap" game section. Any favorites? My social schedule for the next month or so will be a little hinky, so expect some irregularity in updates.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,