Of the official public holidays in Japan, remarkably few are religious. I can't claim to know the reasons why, but it probably has something to do with the part the official State Shinto played in politics prior to the second world war. In any case, most Japanese holidays bear names like Marine Day, Labor Day, or Respect for the Aged Day. At least half of them are not set to a fixed date, but rather to a day of the week, the way Thanksgiving in America is always on the third Thursday of November. With the passing of the Happy Mondays Act of 2007, all those holidays now fall on Monday, to give everyone a three-day weekend. I work on Saturdays, so Sunday and Monday are my usual days off. I hate the Happy Mondays Act.
There are still a few holidays that buck the trend. One of them was this past week. Shubun no hi, or the Autumnal Equinox, shows some of Shinto's roots as a nature religion. The solstices and spring equinox are also holidays, but Shubun no hi is special because of its connection to Hachiman.
Hachiman is a god of both agriculture and warfare, so it's not surprising that there are a lot of shrines dedicated to him in Japan -- a bit over 30,000, in fact. Only Inari, the god of business, has more. In Kumamoto City, his main shrine is Fujisaki Hachiman-gu. Every year, right before the equinox, there's always a big festival at the main Hachiman-gu shrines. I was busy with other things this year, but here are some pictures from last year's festival:
As could be expected, ceremonial armor plays a big part in this parade. As far as I know, however, the horses are a feature that is unique to the Fujisaki festival. Several dozen horses canter through the streets alongside portable shrines and taiko drums. It's long been illegal to give the horses beer, but every year some idiot tries to do so.
But in any case, on with the column!
I usually get my weekly copy of Famitsu first thing in the morning on Saturday. That's a little later than some of the big websites, but that's when my convenience store gets it. Normally, I hold off on reading it through until after I've posted the column (because the last thing I need is more delays...), but sometimes I see something while flipping through that just demands attention. Here's the current eye-catcher:
This is an advertisement for Level 5 Vision, Level 5's big showing at the next Tokyo Game Show. The main site for it is here. What's got my attention is who Level 5's partner is in this enterprise. If the artistic style in those scans seems familiar, well it should be. That's Studio Ghibli's work. Specifically, it's for one of their three new RPGs, titled The Another World, which is due out sometime next year. I'll have more to say on this when I have the time to completely read that article. It's ... rather long and wordy, to say the least. The gist of it so far is that the main character is sort of stuck between the Real World and the Another World, whose inhabitants mirror the people in his life in strange ways. His only key to understanding what's going on is the Book, which has its own curious double existence -- a real copy of it comes with the game. The player will have to decipher its clues personally in order to advance the hero's story.
There are two other games to be on the lookout for: Ushiro and the oddly titled Danboru Senki (Cardboard Battlers). Level 5 is all set to dominate this column for a couple months, at least...
So, let's look at some scans! The page above is for Cardboard Battlers, a sort of customizable robot fighting game for the PSP. Sort of, because the little warriors in question are all 1/100 scale model miniatures that duel on realistic model dioramas. The "cardboard" in the title has more to do with the typical Japanese model kit box.
The last item we'll be looking at from Level 5 today is the PSP game Ushiro, which appropriately means "from behind." The protagonist in Ushiro is a bit, shall we say... different. The spooky-looking Reiichiro isn't by any means normal. He is, in fact, a shinigami -- a death god or grim reaper -- who likes to get up close and personal, riding behind his "clients" for a while before the final act. His specialty is with suicides, people whose despair and anguish open portals for dark spirits to enter the world. His partner for the duration of this story is Nanako, a mortal teenager who's probably not going to be on the mortal coil much longer. Like Reiichiro, she can see the "lights," the flickers of life within other people, and can tell if a person will die soon. The game operates on two levels, with Nanako handling all interaction in the human world, and Reiichiro duking it out with dark spirits in the death world.
Crossovers always tend to play to the fans -- and really, that's the point. The most improbable game to grace the PS3, Cross Edge (sometimes spelled with an X), is a wonderful example. How many RPGs allow you to dress all the female characters in cosplay, for example? Just look at the variety in that second scan:
I'm sure some people will buy the game just for that. There's more to be seen, however, as several characters are now confirmed for the cast. Jedah from Darkstalkers is a definite favorite for the role of major villain, while Ruhrich from Mana Khemia 2 may come in handy. Ayatane and Bourd from Ar tonelico look impressive as well.
Even more original characters are on hand as well. Touya Ishuin is the newest of the game's home-grown heroes. Elma, Vivi, and Ilma make for an interesting, if loli, take on the wyrd sisters archetype. Finally, we have the homegrown villains, Anesha and Judas, who are two members of a group called the Twelve Generals.
While I'm not certain how much of the game is voice-acted (probably a lot), it's apparent that they've got a lot of talent lined up for this. If I'm reading it right, every "borrowed" character in the game is voiced by the original actors for each part. And every character in the game is voiced, period, so the cast list is going to be a long one.
That's all we've got for now, but please feel free to enjoy the bath scene on page 2.
Feeling the need for speed? Koei has a fun little RPG coming out for the DS this winter, simply titled Monster Racer. In typical monster-farming fashion, the player must raise his or her own high speed critter to challenge the best of the best for fame and glory. As well, four-person wi-fi races are also available.
Kemco's a company that's moving up in the world. Their popular mobile phone series, Sorcery Blade, has been converted into a Wii-tastic downloadable game. For 1000 Wii-points, players can take part in the action which, despite the game's name, is set in the year 3000 AD, on the planet Mars, with heavy sci-fi trappings.
While not exactly an RPG, Elebits - the Mysterious Journey of Kai and Zero bears enough resemblance at first glance to Pokémon Ranger that I figure it's worth mentioning. The titular hero, Kai, takes the wrong bus, and the world is a whole different place when he gets off. In order to get home, he'll have to find the legendary Omega Elebits and provide the wattage to power the return trip.
It's time to bend narrative reality again. Kimi no Yuusha (Your Hero) is back, with even more whacky hijinks. Three new characters have found their way into the battle roster, and if I understand this right, their plot paths may be mutually exclusive. That would definitely reinforce the game's "Choose your own adventure" theme.
First, there's Aroma. This buxom little catgirl is a true moneygrubber at heart, and accompanied by her sister sidekick, Sera. Their motto is "Anything can be converted into cash," and their tag-team attacks are just weird.
Then there's Dranco, who is apparently a Dwarf. It says so right there in the description. Personally, I think he looks more like a weird dragon-cat-beachball hybrid. The cheerful pink thing on his head is The Missus. She's quite proud of her husband, and insists on traveling with him everywhere.
Finally we have the buxom (noticing a trend?) mermaid princess, Silk. She's a master of boomerang combat, but no other funny plot elements about her are mentioned at this time.
In the rest of the scan, we can see a few of the game's events (which look hilarious), the characters' special attacks (which look really odd at times), and the dungeons (in which the designers promise much variety). There's also a selection of "Cockatrice Stamps," which can be applied to characters to increase stats.
Last, SNK Playmore is offering a very nice artbook and character guide as a promotional item. Everything's looking good for this game so far.
Once upon a time, a company called 5pb. brought us a fairy tale...
Pique Boisille is a kid with a problem. One night, he and his friends snuck into the big museum exhibit his dad was working on, and they climbed into a strange contraption known as the Tribalt #5. Zap, suddenly they're in Affilia, a kingdom in the realm of magic. After quickly impressing the local soldiers with the "power" of his dad's lighter, he gets pulled into the struggle against the evil wizard Jack, who's trying to conquer the kingdom. It should be noted that this game does not seem to take itself very seriously.
But that's just the way things are in Item Getter, whose byline in Famitsu might be translated as "This isn't your normal fantasy hero..." Pique has to explore caves, search through forests, and fight to get the materials he needs for various unique items. Killing or defeating a foe usually isn't the point here -- battles are counted as "won" when Pique has harvested a useful item from his foe.
Why get items? Well, the only form of magic for which Pique has any aptitude is the art of alchemy. With the right tools, the right materials, and the right diagrams drawn on the touchpad, he can make almost anything. There's even an option to personalize item icons, creating "new" items in the process, which can be traded over wi-fi as well.
Pique's not alone, at least. Aside from the twenty-six characters shown in portrait in these scans (ask for the names in the comments thread if you're really interested), there are the two other kids who climbed in after him. Ritt is a bit of a nerd who's always got his laptop on him. Eris is a happy, energetic girl who, like her namesake, likes to stir up trouble at times.
We'll definitely be keeping an eye out for this one. It looks to be a fun little romp through fantasyland.
He Tried to Kill Me With a Forklift, Ole!
Hi there Gaijin. Been a little while since I last corresponded - if you felt slighted, apologies. But I gather yours has also been a busy time.
So Yasuo Fukuda is out and Taro Aso is presumably in. What's the reaction of the people you talk to about this development? Is there any chance that the politics of Japan might stop being dominated by backroom deals and the one party that has been in charge for about fifty years?
Well, I can't say it wasn't a lonesome time over here at JP...
Anyway, there's nothing "presumable" about Aso's rise to power. He's in, now. People on the street seem to be a little wary of yet another Prime Minister in as many years, but they're willing to give him a chance. Politics and real life aren't things that really connect much in Japan, however. The Prime Minister is chosen by the prefectural governors and a group of career politicians, similar to the Democrats' "super-delegate" system in America. So, the common man has no say in top-level politics, as such. I don't know about most people, but as my girlfriend says, "It's the suck." I'm still working with her on colloquialisms...
While I'm on the political bent... what do the people you interact with think of the American Presidential race that began over a year ago and is finally nearing its end?
They're following it really closely, actually. Obama has quite a few supporters over here, and not just from a certain small town in Nagasaki that happens to share his name.
JET applications are available as of September 24... you advised me to get the material in post-haste, correct?
I've noticed a tendency in Japanese popular culture, at least the items that get noticed across the ocean, to ignore World War II (save for exceptions such as Grave of the Fireflies, easily one of the saddest things I've ever seen). Can you come up with a reason for this aside from the simple fact that Japan lost? And what might this collective desire to ignore the war reflect in the public mentality?
There's a great deal of awareness on the topic over here, actually. There have been films made over almost every aspect of the war, from the fire-bombings, Pearl Harbor, and early politics, to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Occupation. It's just that a lot of it stays in-house, as it were, and is never exported. There's no ban on discussing or portraying it, the way there is in Germany at times. It's the government that's trying to downplay it, more often than not. Perhaps a matter of face?
Did the PC-FX have anything on it anyone might want to play, or was it disposable hentai junk for the most part?
That's all for now. Hopefully the weather will be more pleasant for you henceforth.
Looking through the PC-FX wikipedia entry in Japanese, I don't really see much that grabs my attention. Most of the good-looking RPG titles are either ports from earlier systems, like Der Langrisser, or were ported to later systems. The PC-FX only had a lifespan of two and a half years, after all. I don't think there's anything on it that would be worth the effort of finding.
Anyway, thanks for writing in! Always a pleasure.
Not much to say but, wow, the latest issue of Famitsu has a lot of games in it. I covered three at the start today, but I can fill most of next week's column with just this issue. And I can't do that, because I still have a few items left over from previous issues to cover. ARGH! Well, until next time...
That's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,