It's not winter just yet in Hi-no-kuni, but the mercury is dropping and it's putting folks in the mood for something safely almost-exotic. Generations of strict controls on travel during the Edo Period meant that every region developed its own unique culinary tricks -- like the umpteen varieties of ramen to be had in this country. It's not unusual for department stores to do limited sales of a particular region's meibutsu (famous goods). Two prefectures in particular often get this treatment: Okinawa (in the summer) and Hokkaido (in the winter).
And while it's not winter yet, the Hokkaido goods are popping up in groceries, department stores, and convenience stores already. But what's so famous about Hokkaido besides the snow? And the beer? And the cheese? And the crab legs, the curry, the salted chocolate, and the koropokkuru?
Um, nevermind. I think we have enough reasons.
The oddest thing I've had so far has been a bottle of regional soda. Salt-flavored regional soda. Gross as it sounds, it was still better than anything Pepsi's put out recently. Speaking of which, the latest seasonal flavor from Pepsico? Mont Blanc soda.
I suppose I should talk about this. Hatsune Miku just had her first live concert in Japan this week. The big deal here is that Hatsune Miku does not really exist. She's one of the most popular Vocaloid programs around. Vocaloids are games of a Japanese sim genre that allow the player to write their own songs for digital divas to sing. And now one has a live concert.
I think I'm going to stop right here, and just appreciate the oddness that is Japan.
A small apology here. Apparently I missed Lord of Arcana in the sales rankings for the last update of Japandemonium. Given the sheer size of the thing, I guess I should be glad that's the only thing I missed.
Now here's a title I haven't heard in a while. While I never got a chance to play Venus & Braves, I did play its sorta-prequel, Seven - The Molmorth Cavalry, through to the end, and it was certainly an odd duck of a game. I'm not sure how much of Seven's highly strategic, position-based gameplay is shared by Venus, but I'm betting they're pretty close. In any case, Venus & Braves is seeing a PSP remake sometime next year. Maybe it'll actually make it stateside this time around. Here are just a few screens ('cuz there are a LOT of them out there):
A recent update from Varie, our resident non-Japandemonium translator, confirms that Venus and Seven share mostly the same battle system, so here's the lowdown:
In this series, position is everything. The battle formation has three rows, and each character type has front-, mid-, and back-row abilities. Front-row abilities are direct attacks. Mid-row abilities are ranged, and may require that no one is standing in front of that character. Conversely, some attacks may require cover from a front-row defender. All healing abilities are back-row. Every round, the player has the option to rotate the formation forward, bringing the front row back for healing. The game's huge monsters have definite attack patterns, so timing of formation changes is critical in many battles
As should be apparent, combat in this series is like nothing else seen in the genre, and it's nice to see it making a comeback.
Now it's time to meet the cast.
On the left is the Yuushadan (Band of Heroes), a group of friends from the mining town of Barkway. There's the leader, Brad, in the center. Joining him are Caleb (red bandana), Lily (green dress), Wipple (half-pint), and Wallace (the grizzled veteran). The reason they formed the Yuushadan is simple -- Barkway's got a bandit problem. The Golem Gang has moved into the hills near town and it's got lots of eager young highwaymen on the payroll, like Frie Alvaroth (seen on the right).
In the grander scheme of things, we have these two. The Goddess Alia (the "Venus" of the title) has appeared unto Brad and warned him of great disasters to come, culminating in the Big One on the kingdom's one-thousandth anniversary. On the other hand, the Great Witch Vivi looks like someone who might enjoy a disaster or five.
And let's not forget the supporting cast:
Let's keep our hopes up on this one. After seven years it's still looking interesting.
Well, it's not how I would have wished, but Romancing SaGa II is back ... for cell phones. It's just a port and not a remake, but seeing how few good screenshots of the original game are actually available on the web, it's definitely worth my time to post these.
There have been a couple of things added, at least. Two new character classes round out the party selection now. The Ninja class needs no explanation, but the Onmyoji class is a little tougher.The Onmyoji were court wizards of medieval Japan, with an odd blend of Buddhist, Taoist, and Shinto tricks up their sleeves. My guess would be that the Onmyoji class in RS2 is meant to provide a group of magic-users with a default in Dark Magic -- something that the original game lacked.
Also new to this version of the game are some new areas. The capitol city has been expanded a bit, but what's really interesting (to me, at least) is that there are four new dungeons -- the Red, Blue, White, and Black Labyrinths. More adventure and background info on the game's villains, the Seven Heroes, is to be found within.
Finally, sort of new game plus feature is being implemented that increases the difficulty level on the next playthrough. As if this game needed any more difficulty....
I'm still holding out for a full remake though. Maybe we'll hear something after SaGa 3 is released.
Ever since news of the SaGa 3 remake (with the secondary title of "Shadow and Light") arrived out of the ether, the biggest question has been "What's different?" The head designer and Kawazu himself have stated in interviews that they came into this project with the question "What can we change?" on their minds.
Previously, we looked at how the combat has been altered to better match the rest of the series (and be more interesting, to boot). Nothing was said of the story though, and that's the part that really needed work. We have a few details now.
Granted, it wouldn't take much to improve this game's story. These scans re-introduce us to the four main characters (none of whom have names matching the original English version) and several NPCs. Of the four I can identify from the original game, only one has the same name as in FFL3 -- Dion. Faye's original name was Nemesis, Lara's original name was Freya, and Myron's original name was Melrose. Props to anyone who remembers the original game well enough to know who these characters are.
More importantly, these scans introduce us to a completely new character, the Wanderer. I can't be 100% sure, but his placement on the big ad splash page sure makes him look like the sort of central villain this game never had.
Getting back to the gameplay, the devs didn't stop with just a complete overhaul of the battle system. They had some fun with the subsystems too. Because SaGa 3 uses a tech-learning system similar to later games in the series, the combo system from SaGa 2 required a few alterations. Now, linking two attacks together in a combo allows the second attack to inherit some attributes of the first. In the example screens, the spell Blizzard was linked with the axe attack Deadly Spin to create a new physical ice-elemental attack.
For even more fun, the Time Gears (primary MacGuffins of the game) now do more than just allow the game's airship to traverse time and space. Using the Time Gear "Present" in battle stops time for one critical moment, allowing the attacking character to make a focused, devastating attack. Time Gears "Past" and "Future" summon alternate versions of the attacking character from other times for double the damage with special attacks. Kind of makes one wonder what the other ten Gears do now....
Just keeps on getting more interesting, doesn't it? The release date is January 7th, just in time for my birthday. Good timing, I'm thinking.
Here's one that's almost past its shelf date. Super Bokura ga Kaseki Horidaa, hereafter known as Super Fossil Fighters, appeared in Famitsu Weekly a few weeks back, but I never had a chance to scan it in. So here we are:
If you like fossils or the first FoFi game, well you're in for a lot more of the same. I never played the first, so I can't tell how much is new here, but we can see a few of the characters: Pollyun, Raptor, and the obviously villainous Dokuron.
One item that certainly looks new is the game's co-op fossil reclamation mode. Before a fossil can be recovered and reanimated as a dino-fighter, it has to be extracted and cleaned, and now up to four people can join forces to get better results. As well, silver "Mystery Fossils" and golden "Miracle Fossils" can be found. Using those to make a dino-fighter will result in a much stronger variety of dino.
Super Fossil Fighters is in stores next Thursday. Get it while it's nearly fresh!
You had to bring up monsters and monster movies, and that makes me wonder about other things on the same tangent. In recent decades, the slasher movie and its subset, the torture porn movie, have seemingly taken up the majority of "horror" movies in the West. Does Japan simply dub these things, does it have homegrown series in the same vein, or does this sort of horror not find favor?
While it's still a majority-foreign genre, there are some home-grown slasher films over here. As for "torture porn," well, I don't go into that section of the video store much....
Recently I learned courtesy of a James Rolfe non-AVGN video that Japan may have made some King Kong knockoffs in the 30's that are probably lost now (those firebombs dropped by B-29s were excellent at winnowing the ranks of prewar Japanese films). Have you ever heard of anything like this?
It's news to me! I do know that Godzilla was intended to be a knockoff of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, though. Apparently Toho didn't have the financial resources to do the whole claymation thing à la Harryhausen, so they used plastic suits instead. I can imagine King Kong doing a sort of crossover with the Monkey King to produce a kaijuu movie, though.
Even though the movie is a disappointment (it came out back in the beginning of 3D and thus has a bunch of shots that serve no purpose except to display it), The Creature From the Black Lagoon seems to be accepted as one of the iconic monsters. Is it known in Japan like the other Universal monsters?
I've seen a few references here and there, but nothing quite as pervasive as Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, or the Invisible Man.
I'm curious: do you ever look at the katakana for something, and wonder what the developers intended it to signify for a little while?
Sometimes. I'm pretty used to the common katakana words by now, but when the writers get creative (often with names) it can be a bit of a headache. Especially if they start throwing around katakana versions of French or German words. Those are just whacky.
Also, sometimes random katakana will get mixed in with dialogue, if the speaker is a robot or otherwise non-human entity because those kinds of beings are expected to talk funny. Those can be annoying, but generally legible. Foreigners speaking in Japanese will often have the last syllable of a phrase done in katakana, again to show that they're speaking it just a little off. The worst I've ever seen was in the original Shin Megami Tensei, where all the foreign NPCs, including every single American soldier in the game, speak only in katakana. That's just nigh unreadable right there.
Today's title comes from Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders. If it wasn't two TV movies jammed awkwardly together by Ernest Borgnine, the violence Merlin stirs up would've had longer-term consequences.
Whew! Didn't think I'd be able to get this one out on time! I'm sorry if I had to leave out (a lot of) Venus & Brave material, but I had to make my time count. There may or may not be a column next week, but definitely there will be one the week after that.
To make it up to you all, here's a picture from my school's Halloween event. It's Agent Looker of the Pokémon National Police with his sidekick Pinky the Pokabu.