Traditionally, seasons in Japan are marked by flowers. Ume blossoms foreshadow the end of winter, while sakura herald the spring. Long-stemmed cosmos are the flower of the summer, while tiny, delicate nadeshiko are common throughout the cold months of southern Japan. Right now, the arrival of fall is also the time of the mokusei.
The mokusei (Osmanthus fragrans) is a shrubby little tree from China that comes in two varieties, kin ("gold," with dark orange petals) and gin ("silver," with light yellow petals). They went into full bloom last week, and it's easy to understand why they're so popular -- their distinctive fragrance is everywhere. The smell is often said to be like apricots, but one friend of mine in Tokyo told me that it smelled like the entire town had been washed in fruit-punch Kool-Aid.
Despite all the flowers that the mokusei produce, you'll never find a single fruit on any of the trees. They were imported in large numbers because they're easily transplanted, are decorative, and smell nice, but having tons of little fruit underfoot is hardly a plus. Mokusei are sexually distinct, with some producing pollen, and others producing fruit. According to the little informational sign I read at the Kumamoto Museum of Science, most if not all mokusei in Japan are male-gendered.
Poor, lonely trees... Every October is a hyper-pollenated stag party.
Tokyo. October 10th. The Day of the Dot. Sounds ominous, no? Worry not, for the Dot Heroes have come to save the day! Or at least to promote the upcoming release of 3D Dot Heroes, that most weirdly retro of all PS3 titles. The dev team held a press conference and shared their thoughts and the experiences which led them to want to make such an homage to the 8-bit games of yesteryear, especially the classic Atari game Spelunker. The star of that game even made an appearance alongside the Dot Hero.
--edit I forgot to mention this, but the development team has such a love for old Spelunker that they have named 3D Dot Heroes' most insane level of difficulty "Spelunker Mode". On this setting, the Dot Hero possesses all the strength and stamina of the original 8-bit Spelunker. That is to say, he'll die if he gets sneezed at too hard. Sounds fun and rage-inducing.
Names are a perennial problem for game developers, I would imagine. There's the need to convey the essence of a game in just a few choice words, versus the risk of making a name too generic to be memorable. Some resort to bizarre spellings (e.g. Hexyz Force, RIZ-ZOAWD, WiZmans World), others can just rest on tradition and not worry (e.g. Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy).
And then there are a few that just don't seem to give a damn about it. Like the folks behind Legendary Hero's Legend - Legendary Saga, which has to be the most severely redundant title I have ever seen in a video game. The blame can't be pinned on the developers for this one, though. It's a licensed property based on a popular light novel series in Japan.
The plot, as best I can figure, runs something like this: King Shion, ruler of the Dominion of Roland, received a report one day. This report concluded that the relics of the Legendary Hero could, if gathered together in one place, have the power to end wars before they even began.
There's no way a ruler would let something like that pass without notice, and so the author of the report, the apathetic Lyner Root, finds himself partnered with a dango-obsessed lady knight for a typical Grand Adventure™.
Ferris the knight is tougher than she looks, and so is Lyner, who possesses the power to copy and learn the magics of his enemies. Onward they journey through 3D dungeons in a first-person perspective, all the while facing down vicious monsters and humans who stand in the way.
Legendary Hero of Legend is scheduled for release "sometime this winter."
Do you have what it takes? Do you have the heart and soul of a builder, a planner, a maker? Have you ever played some cheap, third-party title and thought, "I could do better?"
Well, it's time to put your money where your mouth is.
The RPG Maker series returns once more, this time to the Nintendo DS. What are they touting now as upgrades to the design formula? First, the character customization-- there are apparently over 800 combinations of physical attributes to work with. Second, the map customization makes a claim to over 1500 options. Third, the enemies -- I'm not sure what's new here, but they felt the need to discuss the setup for monster creation and battle planning, though. Fourth, the music -- 150 themes and variations from which to choose. And finally, the text support -- the DS touchscreen allows for quick text input via a digital keyboard.
So, anyone feeling creative? I think I'll name my new hero character Dan Alpanama, just for giggles.
I mentioned this once a long while back, but there's a new (or rather, old) Mega Man title coming soon to the DS. The original Mega Man Battle Network gets a system upgrade and a new moniker: Operation Shooting Star. So how does it look?
Not too different from how I remember it, to be honest. I'm sure some changes have to have been made though, if only to allow for the supposed tie-in scenes with the Star Force sub-series.
And here's an extra bit for those with an eye for swag: sports bottles emblazoned with the images of both digital-age Mega Man heroes on the side.
Anyone out there heard of Battle Spirits? It's (yet another) collectible card game in the spirit of Yu-Gi-Oh that's been on sale in America since mid-August, I think. It popped up in Japan a few years back and has gained much popularity since then. Just this year an anime series debuted, all about the adventures of the kids who play the game. It's kiddy and cartoony, but the newly announced PSP tie-in game is largely the opposite.
Battle Spirits - Heroes' Soul is certainly an active-looking game for something inspired by a deck of cards. In fact, it's an action RPG that uses cards from the real game to cast magic or summon allies. The story takes place within the cosmos of the cards, with no connection to the "real" world, it seems. The anonymous, fully customizable hero and his companion Spiri are on a journey through the six worlds of Battle Spirits, each represented by a different color/energy and hosting a different variety of enemy types. The Red world belongs to the dragonkin, while the Green is home to the nature spirits. Undead armies haunt the Purple while mechanical soldiers roam the White. Blue is the province of the mighty and strong, and Yellow belongs to the fairy-tale folk.
There's no word on what the story might actually be like, but the scenery looks interesting.
Here's one that seems to have come out of the blue: Shonen Magazine & Shonen Sunday White Comic RPG, or Shonen White Comic for short. I'd heard absolutely zilch on this one before I found the title on this month's release list. Once I knew it was out there, it was easy enough to find the game's home page, but I didn't even have any serviceable pictures to use for the column until fellow RPGamer DQ5 came through for me and located some in the Famitsu site archives.
So what is the Shonen White Comic RPG?
Well, it's a game about a boy. A boy who has just seen his dad sucked into an alternate dimension by forces unknown. So far, that's pretty par for the course for a shonen story. Then Kindaichi Hajime and Edogawa Conan show up to help. Now it gets weird. Those two are the most famous detectives in the shonen super-genre right now, and they're just the start of the cameo-fest that is White Comic. From what I've seen, the list also includes characters from Fairy Tail, Negima, Mr. Ajikko, Hayate no Gotoku, Inu-Yasha, Fist of the North Star, Ashita no Joe, Me-Gumi no Daigo, GS Mikami, Urusei Yatsura, Cyborg 009, and a few more that look familiar but I just cannot place them at the moment.
Wow, that's a lot of reference links. The Konami site promises upwards of three-hundred fifty character cameos, most of them summonable through the blank pages of the game's eponymous White Comic. The game itself arrived in stores late last week.
We're into the final weeks now. Final Fantasy XIII is due in stores in almost exactly two months' time. With all the means at their disposal, how are the marketing people at Square Enix going to promote this one? Well first of all, they're going back to the things that helped them before, soft drinks.
No, it's not Potion™ this time, it's Elixir™! Square Enix and Suntory Drinks Co. have teamed up once again to provide semi-decent beverages in collectible aluminum canisters for the enjoyment of fans. And while supplies last, they even have collectible figurines to help sweeten the deal. I just hope they made this run of drinks a little more limited in production than the last time. I swear, half the convenience stores in my area still have Dissidia-themed Potion drinks in stock.
Time for a Movie Review!
So I went to a Japanese theater recently just looking to waste some time with a mindless action flick when I discovered that not only was Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike a movie, but that it was playing right now. So of course, I snagged my nearest otaku friend and went for it, despite my fail Japanese skills. Since this is just recently aired in Japan, I figure it'll be a while before anyone gets a lot of detailed information, so hopefully someone enjoys this writeup. Thought it might be helpful for the RPGamer crowd in particular.
Basics: The movie is a 2-hour prequel to the game, featuring Yuri and Flynn during their days together as Imperial guards. The movie revolves around their brigade, led by Commander Federock(-taichou), a grizzled old soldier with a strong sense of duty and a heart of gold. We're also introduced to a pair of enlisted twins who often work alongside Yuri and Flynn. Hisuka and Justel (just guessing on this name, it was slurred so badly I could never figure out what it was supposed to be) are primarily mages who are stuck backing up Flynn and Yuri (and often cleaning up Yuri's messes). Apparently the only way to tell them apart is by their bust size, and they call discrimination every time one of their commanding officers calls attention to this. Another mage, Alistair, a silver-haired pretty boy, appears in the film and acts as an advisor to the brigade and is a close friend of Federock's.
We get to see some of Repede's origins as well, as this particular brigade makes extensive use of their canine units. The dogs (all the same breed as Repede) are employed several times throughout the film. The prominently-featured dog Lambert is Commander Federock's partner and Repede's father.
Rita, Estelle, Alexei, and Raven also get bit parts in the movie, but the action is mostly focused on Yuri, Flynn, and Federock.
---Rather long plot summary excised because of length. For the entire write-up in all its glory, check here.---
Well, the movie is gorgeous. There's no problems there, it was a joy to watch. Colorful, crisp, and the character designs are nice. I really like how the Imperial Knights' clothes look. The animation looks like it was made by the same studio that does all the Tales' openings and it's definitely a step above the Tales of the Abyss anime. The spell effects and battle sequences were particularly impressive.
Storywise, despite the wall of text above, it's really easy to ignore the story. This is for the best as story just isn't Tales' strong point. Instead, there's a much heavier focus on character interaction and trying to humanize all the events going on. It's nice to see that Namco is at least able to play to its strengths. It does a good job setting things up for the game while not being completely boring as a stand-alone story. Probably the best one can hope for from a Tales movie.
I was really impressed with the attention to little details in the movie. Characters were never completely static on-screen, even during some of the longer conversation sequences. We get close-ups of the workings of the more intricate weapons like the magic crossbows, and more importantly, the many forms that blastia takes in the series.
Musically, the film was a bit lacking. While it made good use of music in action sequences, there was simply too much silence overall.
Personally, I was really pleased with the movie as it served its purpose as an action-fest with a lot of emphasis on the characters and it never forgets that its primary audience came to see this movie because it loved the game. Not bad for the first Tales movie to make it to the big screen. Needs more Judith though.
(Ace Otaku Djinn Reporting)
Thanks for the info! I'd pretty much forgotten this was even in the works. I think it hit the theaters at the start of October, but no theater I know of in Kyushu is showing it.
Sorry for the one-week delay in updates. I hope this week's slightly longer than normal column helps to make up for it. I predict November is going to be one big mess for updating, though. Be forewarned!
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,