Music in Japan has changed a lot over the last century. The slow and exotic melodies of the samisen and koto, the skilled beat of the taiko drums, the haunting sound of the Japanese flute -- all have made way for the frantic, electronic mish-mash known as J-pop. But, for a long while, a different style was on the ascendant and held the hearts of the populace.
That music was enka. A product of the post-war occupation, enka combines the traditional eastern scales with melodies more in line with what was popular in America at the time -- namely crooning tunes by the likes of Frank Sinatra. It's usually slow, sentimental, and incredibly easy to sing at karaoke parties.
In its heyday, enka was amazingly popular, and it still has a nostalgic lock on Japanese culture. When the famous singer Frank Nagai passed away last week, it made the national news. Still, while it used to be universally popular in Japan, in the 70s it found itself relegated more and more often into the realm of "mom and dad's music," and eventually settled into the status of "grandma and grandpa's music." Younger generations might still enjoy it from time to time, but would be too embarassed to admit it.
Until recently, that is. For the first time in about a quarter-century, an enka artist is among the Top 5 on the Oricon charts. This in itself is amazing, but it's still not the most surprising thing about all of this. What is? The singer is from Philly. Have a look for yourself.
I usually like to reserve this section for technology news, weird cultural stuff or swag items, but today I'll make an exception. Today, I'm doing the Happy Dance. Why is that? Because Square Enix apparently heard my cry of frustration in the previous column, and decided to release Final Fantasy IV - The After for Yahoo Softbank cellphones this very week. Now all I need is a new phone charger, because running software on that thing really drains the batteries.
WANTED: Willing applicant for the position of Keeper of the Balance, Guardian of the Cosmos, and Master of All that Exists. Duties to include ministering to the faithful, adjudicating in the ongoing Dark vs. Light dispute, and the occasional smiting. No previous experience necessary.
It's hard being at the top. Just ask the previous major deity in the world of Sacred Blaze. He got caught in the crossfire when the eternal war between Light and Darkness got out of hand, and is now proving Nietzsche to be in the right. For the moment, Light and Dark are safely contained within their respective domains -- but for how long? Humans still walk the earth, but errant monsters do too. Clearly, someone needs to fill the vacant position. That person is you.
Woken from near-eternal slumber, it's up to you to guide the heroes of the world towards a restoration of the cosmic balance. Aiding you in your task is Navi the Angel, who's there to show you the ropes and ease your transition into divinity.
Characters in Sacred Blaze can be sorted into two categories: Master and Servant. All the plot characters are Masters, though Servants fulfill various story roles of their own. Servants are not unique characters, and as a Master's entourage grows, new bonuses and special attacks become available. As their deity, you the player are able to aid them in battle with various benedictions, blessings, and outright miracles, though at the cost of Force Points.
Let's take a look at our allies now!
First, we have Lord Alexid -- Hero of the Light, born and raised. He has his own cadre of knights at his command, and when the charge is called, enemies get hurt. You can see their group attack at the bottom of the third scan.
The Sacred Milhirete is a member of the Temple of Light, and obviously this game's main healer. It was foretold at her birth that she would be the one to find the "Hero of the Torch." A sort of light elemental called the Animus serves her.
Serpina is the White Mage. Seeing as this is not a Final Fantasy title, and her actual role bears no resemblance to that job class as it is used in most games, I expect that title to change if and when this game is exported. Her title in Japanese translates more like "the White Sage" or perhaps Magus. In any case, she's the offensive magic user, and loves her feline familiars.
Lam Shing is a Dousi. What's a Dousi? From the Japanese, we can tell that it means "Disciple of the Way," which (combined with the outfit) makes this kid a variation on a Taoist magician. The Ressi Fighters who serve her are actually kyonshi, an oriental ghost / revenant sometimes called the "Chinese Hopping Vampire." The best example anyone in the US is likely to know would be the character Lei-Lei from the Darkstalkers fighting game series.
While Tifelei looks like some bored diletant, he's actually an accomplished archer, as well as the finest minstrel in the land. His troupe of dancers are nothing to sneeze at, either -- while the enemies are distracted by their charms, they go for the jugular with those knives.
Kidam is a merchant-adventurer who, as has been commented before in the forums, bears some resemblance to Balthier of FFXII. He's something of a loner, prefering his books and his birds for company.
And last, we have the requisite "cute fuzzy thing" for the game, Kattent of the Bulcannus Tribe. His people specialize in mechanical engineering, and his servants are predictably cute little robots. His weapons selection is a little more varied than the other characters', being anything he can shoot or bludgeon with.
Well, that's the cast. In closing, I'd like to direct your attention to the bottom-right corner of scan 5, where we can see the lovely art book being offered as a pre-order bonus.
SNK Playmore's "light novel" RPG, Your Hero, has spent a week or so on the Dengeki Top 50, which means it's about time to wrap up our coverage of it here on JP. If it weren't for one little detail I'd forgotten to mention, I might have skipped this part entirely. But the fun is in the details, so let's go!
First, I'd like to address the game's play time. In keeping with the "light novel" motif, the story is segmented into a large number of chapters, each designed to be played through in about thirty to forty minutes. By SNK's own estimates, one could play through the game in a day and a half - provided one has a normal reading speed in Japanese. The game is rather text heavy.
The game designers counterbalanced the brevity of the game with a number of diverging storylines, all mutually exclusive and not bearing any real connection to one another. It's up to the hero / reader to decide which path to take. We've already covered three of these storylines previously, but here are the other two.
Meet the elven ranger Lunette. She's described as being a little spacy, but an excellent shot. She also seems to have a complex over her age versus how people treat her. Last on the list of plot choices is Fijay, an archaeologist and geomancer who needs help exploring some ruins.
Also, we have villains! Sneaky little Heim and her batty cohorts, Sebastian and Beige, are out to interfere. Why? We'll just have to find that out for ourselves.
It seems we can't go for one column over here without bringing up Level 5 Entertainment. So let's get it over with. Here are some screens from three of their major games projects which we haven't had a chance to show you yet. Enjoy.
The Another Country
First up on the radar today is Narisokonai Eiyuu, which, if I'm reading my dictionary right, could be translated as "heroic failures." The main character in this game has the power to read people's hearts, and hopefully help them turn from zeros to heroes as they search for the seeds of the World Tree. It'll be out for the PSP in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Thought you'd seen it all when World War Moe hit the scene? D3 Publishers wants you to think again with their new DS offering, Tactics Layer - the Retinagard Chronicle. Forget about limiting yourself to just one cosplay style -- this game's entire premise and skills system are based around how you dress (or undress) the troops. I sincerely doubt this one will be able to make it over to the US.
One game which we're certainly going to see more of, however, is Mario & Luigi RPG 3, due out next year. This one little image is all I've got at the moment, but it's enough to give us a look at the battle system, and some insanely obese mushroom people as well. Rest assured that as soon as I find more, you'll see it on the main site post-haste.
It's raining, it's pouring... It's sniffle season, and my girlfriend keeps telling me to get to a hospital. We don't agree on a lot of medical matters (for instance, she insists that 98.6° is a fever), and I don't want to waste Dr. Ushijima's time, so I'm stocking up on the decongestants. Remember this guys: this Christmas season for those loved ones in Japan, send the gift of Benadryl. You cannot buy it over here, as it's technically contraband, as are most other potential amphetamines ingredients.
We sniffle in silent misery.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,