Greetings and salutations! If you are reading this, then the western rim was not destroyed in a massive earthquake on September 12th, as was predicted by Brazilian psychic extraordinaire, Jucelino Nobrega da Luz. No, I've never heard of the guy either, and all the stuff that I could find on Google was either vague or contradictory. In any case, we're all alive and kicking over here, so I can turn my thoughts to some more personal, pressing issues, such as chikuwa-mimi.
What is chikuwa-mimi? To answer that, let's first look at the root words. Chikuwa is a soft, rubbery substance made from slurried fish and egg whites, wrapped around a rod before being broiled. The resultant material (I refuse to call it food) forms a long tube, with a perfectly straight hole running all the way through. It can be served with various noodle dishes or soups, stuffed with cheese or natto, fried in tempura, or just eaten on its own. The important thing in this instance, however, is that it's perfectly straight and hollow. Mimi is the Japanese word for ears. Let's imagine, then, a tube of chikuwa with an ear neatly placed on each end. Thus we have the mental concept of chikuwa-mimi, or as translated into English, "In one ear and out the other."
Ironically, the class in which this word was first brought to my attention also contains several of the worst cases of chikuwa-mimi I currently have the pleasure of teaching.
But enough of that. It's time for the column!
It might sound strange at first, but musical theater in Japan has long been an influence on manga and video games (and we're not talking about Rhapsody DS here). Of particular note is the Takarazuka theater, which was founded almost a century ago with the intention of drawing tourists to the spa region north of Osaka. Takarazuka casts are exclusively female, with androgynous actresses playing all the male roles. The settings are usually historical, the stories and dressings highly baroque. The theater's signature style for the inspiration for Rose of Versailles, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and in fact most of the shoujo manga tradition altogether. What's of note in this column is that Takarazuka's five acting troupes also provided the inspiration, names, and cover stories for the five battle squadrons found throughout the Sakura Taisen series. Now things are coming back full circle.
It's not quite the Takarazuka, but Sega has for the last few years done a musical review of Sakura Taisen V, which this year showed for the last week of August, as well as a few select dates in September. This particular year was billed as the "Last Show," so presumably there won't be a repeat performance next year.
In any case, those interested may look at recent photographs from the review here.
No surprise as to which game made #1 most recently. With only two days' worth of sales on record, Pokémon Platinum rules the roost, and probably will for a few months to come.
Once more, we have word of Square Enix's serialized RPG title, Final Fantasy IV: The After. This time, the star of the show is that bad boy of Baron, the Dragon Knight himself, Kain Highwind. With a mysterious girl for a partner, he's somehow gotten his hands on the Mysidian Crystal. The next stop? Baron Castle. His stated goal? Kill King Cecil.
And, just to show how much this column has been delayed this month, S-E has already graced us with another installment of the series. Available since Wednesday, this newest episode is simply titled "The Lunarians." Hopefully, it will answer some of the questions raised in earlier chapters.
This game interests me more and more with each installment announced. If only S-E would get around to releasing it on Softbank phones...
Long, long ago, in a distant land, Galbaran the Demon King met a band of heroes on the field of battle. His reign came to an end that day, though not without cost -- many died in order to seal the demon within a tree of crystal. Finally, the kingdom of Nabigatria knew peace.
Of course, that kind of situation can never last. The forces of Narrative practically demand it be so. King Abram and his son Gaston have already been taken by Galbaron's monstrous servants, and the Demon King's revival seems more certain by the day.
That's the situation as of the title screen in Kizuna - the Golden Bonds, a newly announced RPG for the Wii, from Jaleco Entertainment. Jareco's a new group on the scene, but they've got some real veterans on board. The game's scenario maker, Miwa Shouda, has credits including the Jewel Thief storyline from Legend of Mana, the Asellus and Blue storylines from SaGa Frontier, and most recently much of the main scenario from Final Fantasy XII. The game's director, Youichi Kawaguchi, has previously been involved with Dragon Quest VIII, Dark Cloud 2, and most recently Little King's Story.
So let's meet the cast. Our hero for the game is Lian, a 17-year-old with a grudge against monsterkind. His dad was one of the heroes who did not survive the final battle with Galbaran, and he takes it quite seriously. The heroine and probable romantic interest is Aina, who at the age of 16 has found herself thrust into the role of queen. Her training, however, has been more arcane than political. In other words, she throws a mean fireball, and isn't likely to worry about political ramifications. Her advisors are her tutor Mist, and Gerard, who led the fight against the Demon King 15 years ago.
In battle, the Wii-mote and nunchuk function as the main controls for guiding your hero and targeting monsters. The various attacks are all executed with the button controls. Specific enemies (or parts of enemies) on-screen can be targeted with the Wii-mote. Special attacks become available when the red Limiter Gauge on the bottom of the screen reaches full power. While it's active, Lian can perform massive combo attacks for a short time. The game thoughtfully provides a timer while combos are active. The enemies themselves look nice, and the article makes a point of mentioning how elements of the bosses' designs were hand-shaded.
Speaking of bosses... I'm not sure how well this shows up in the scans, but the bosses in this game are frickin' huge. We're talking Shadow of the Colossus huge here. Page 4 of the scan shows on of them, and Lian doesn't even come up to its ankle.
So how does one defeat beasts the size of a large hill? That's where the kizuna, the golden bonds of the title come into play. By aiding the citizens of Nabigatria in various ways, Lian forges bonds of goodwill which are supposed to aid him in his quest. The article does not deign to tell us exactly what form that aid with take, however. What is known is that this game has a huge number of quests (at least 100) that play into the "bonds" theme.
Hopefully we'll be seeing more interesting Wii titles in the future, and soon. This game comes out on September 26th, and this is the first I've even heard of it. May there be more happy surprises to come.
Now it's time for one last look at Square Enix's latest RPG, Sigma Harmonics. We've looked at this one a few times before, and discussed the sideways playing format, the characters and Ms. Neon's costume changes. This time, we're taking a walk on the dark side.
When exploring the vast halls of Kurokami Manor, your characters use the right-hand screen for movement, while the left-hand screen is usually reserved for commentary and floorplans of the area. Your position is marked with a white chess piece. The thing is, your marker isn't the only one moving around the level. There are also red and yellow markers, which represent something special.
We already know a little about the Ouma, the elegantly bizarre monsters with the musical themes which haunt the mansion. As it turns out, there's more than just your average garden-variety monsters out there. The first special type mentioned in the scan are the Karuma, powerful Ouma which have attained semi-human form. There's only one per area, as shown with the red icon, and they move in certain patterns. If necessary, you can avoid them by carefully planning your route.
The second special type, identified on the map by a yellow icon, are the divine spirits. They too move around the level, and need to be cornered in order to fight. They're not bad like the Ouma -- in fact, they're rather cute. The one in the scan looks like three kittens in a music box. If you can beat them, they'll give you a special item which I'm sure Neon can put to good use.
The third special type of entity in the game doesn't have an icon, and doesn't need one. This type is important enouch to warrant voice acting.
Meet Dixon and Christy. As far as characters in this game go, they look pretty normal. Well, except for the part where their hair fades into spectral flames. They are the Oumajin, and unless I miss my guess, they are the game's antagonists. At least, Dixon is plainly antagonistic towards Sigma, while Christy looks to be the cooler head of the two. Still no idea who that dark guy in the black cloak is supposed to be, aside from inscrutible.
Finally, we have some more details on Neon's costume changes. There appear to be at least four costumes which Sigma's ladyfriend can don, each with different preferences for weapons. In order to access and fully utilize each outfit, BP is needed. Here's the part where I run into difficulties: the data on this page is a bit on the technical side, and without a copy of the game in hand (curse you, budgets!) I don't have many references to work with.
This is what I think I know. Step 1, Sigma alters the background music in a level, which affects what tiers of monsters can show up. Step 2, Neon needs to pick a fight with one of the Tier-2 or Tier-3 monsters. Step 4, PROFIT! Oh, and of course there's the annoying little Step 3 -- defeat the monsters while taking as little damage as possible. The Karuma give a lot more BP, but then again they're a lot tougher.
In any case, this will be the last time we mention Sigma Harmonics in this column. Hopefully soon it will be announced for overseas release. I've also taken the time to upload all the scans previously used in JP to this game's media page, now that it exists.
I am one happy Gaijin at the moment. Why is that, you ask? It is because Gust has recently announced Atelier Annie - the Alchemist of Sela, the newest addition to its flagship Atelier series. What makes me even happier is that, just from these two scans, it's obvious that many of the glaring faults in the previous title, Atelier Lise, have been rectified.
Let's talk about the story first. Annie Eilenberg is a typical teenager on the Isle of Sela -- a lazy, unmotivated dreamer who's just waiting for her prince to come. Well, that time may come soon. There are plans for a big resort on the north side of the island, a resort based around the alchemical arts. It's just the sort of place where a rich Prince Charming might be found, if only Annie could get in. So, her new mission in life is clear: learn some alchemy, make some cash, and either earn or buy her way into the resort's big event in three years' time. Assisting her in her endeavor is Pepe, a fairy sent by Annie's grandfather to teach her the alchemic arts, and if necessary whack some sense into her skull with a mallet.
Even though she's more of a gold-digger than a gold-maker, Annie still needs a place to do her thing. In keeping with series tradition, she's got her own little shop where she makes and sells all manner of things. Still, there's the matter of where to find ingredients. Here's the first point where Atelier Annie differs from its predecessor on the DS. Instead of passively scrolling around an area, waiting for an item to pop up, the player can direct Annie to various spots of interest. Whether that spot holds the berries she needs for some potion, or a gang of ferociously cute monsters is up to the player to discover.
The second place of improvement is in the battle system. Or rather, it's not so much an improvement as it is a return to the way earlier games in the series worked. Instead of the quasi-tactical battles of Atelier Lise, there's a simple but effective traditional battle system. As would be expected, alchemists don't make good fighters, so Annie will have to recruit, cajole, or shanghai other characters into helping her out. In the scans, we can see Hans Arlenz, a young man involved in building the resort and Brigitta, the local representative of the Adventurer's Guild. The Guild is where Annie will get most of her job orders in the game.
The Isle of Sela has all the standard locations one would expect of this series. There's the centrally located town of Richtersehn, with a nice big forest located nearby. There's a tropical island to the far south, and a volcano and snowfield to the north. There's even a small desert to the west. There are also several suspiciously empty patches that are probably towns.
This is one game I'll be looking forward to next spring. I'm a long-time fan of the series, and if there's anything that falls more neatly into the guidelines of Japandemonium than an Atelier game, I have yet to find it.
Back in June, we introduced RIZ-ZOAWD, a new DS RPG based on the classic Wizard of Oz. At the time, it was commented that the game seemed to mark a return to the source material, though there was debate as to how closely a game could be said to follow the novel, what with random battles and all. Well, its proximity to the source material is about to become a little less close.
From amongst the large selection of RPG clichés out there, the folks at Media.Vision Entertainment have plucked the concept of the four elemental whatsits. Meet Pachi of Fire, Hyul of Wind, Doron of Earth, and Ulu of Water. Aside from any usefulness they might have in battle, this foursome is also needed to affect specific objects throughout the game.
Personally, I like the elemental sidekicks from Avalon Code more.
Also in the scan are details of the battle system, which is described as "semi-automatic." Apparently, commands for each character can be pre-set, and the battle runs with those orders for as long as the players wishes. Different characters run on different "ratios," which I take to mean length of time spent between turns, or something similar to determine play order.
Nintendo's got nothing to complain about right now. Its latest cash cow, Pokémon Platinum (released on the 13th), has sold upwards of 100,000 copies in the first four days. Apparently they were expecting this, and even had the celebration party in advance. On September 12th, lucky members of the Japanese Daisuki Club (Poké-fans) who made the right wish during the "Jirachi's Wish" campaign attended the big send-off at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. They wined and dined while their kids mingled with the likes of Pikachu and Croagunk. There are more pictures to be seen here.
Here's a bit more on what's been added to the game. First, the Battle Area has been expanded greatly, similar to what was done with Emerald's Battle Frontier. A new subplot involving the National Police has been added. As well, several new wi-fi games are now available. The interesting thing, however, is the set of five silhouettes along the bottom of the page.. These are the five alternate forms of Rotom, the Electric Ghost.
There's also a few items about the availibility of certain rare Pokémon, and various alterations, both stylistic and functional, which have been done to various towns and other aspects of the game. At the rate which news travels through fan communities, though, one could probably find more detailed information on the Pokémon wiki sites prior to the game's release. But here it is anyway. Hope someone enjoys it.
I Dub Thee Fan
Do Japanese gamers have the same type of debates the way Western gamers do whenever an American or otherwise Western game gets dubbed in Japanese when it comes to voice acting? It seems like the debate over voice acting only seems to be argued amongst American/Western gamers when it comes to Japanese games getting an English dub overseas.
While I'm not up to date on the latest in foreign to Japanese dubbing in Japan, if I had to take a guess, then I'd say no, things aren't quite the same. Let's think about this a bit. What kinds of things are usually dubbed from Japanese to English? Anime and video games. The handful of major Japanese films that make their way into the world market are generally either subbed or remade into American facsimiles. So, the people who care most about dubbing in America tend to be anime fans and gamers, who we can probably all agree are a contentious and argumentative bunch.
In the reverse situation, however, pretty much every form of media that is imported into this country gets dubbed. All major movies from half a dozen nations, every major television drama to come out of America, every cartoon ever shown on Disney Channel or Cartoon Network, etc. That's a lot of stuff. Also, with Japan's enormous animation industry being what it is, the available pool of voice actors is much larger. More VAs means better chances of getting quality voice acting on a more regular basis.
Besides, Japanese gamers have weightier issues to argue over.
Well, this column's up a bit later than I'd have wanted, but life's just like that sometimes. I'd say we're lucky the typhoon didn't hit Kumamoto, but I'm pretty sure it would have freed up enough of my time to let me post this much earlier. C'est la vie. I hope to get another one in before the end of the month, so please, letters would be appreciated.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,