Archive for Japan Stuff

Another trip to Japan – stuff I picked up edition

I returned from another trip to Japan about a week ago.  This was my third journey there, and I was lucky enough to share it with my significant other.  She was most enthusiastic about visiting as many places as possible each day, so I had a ton of really good experiences I hadn’t before.

What was interesting about this trip versus my second was that I actually did very few of the same things I did the first time.  The only repeats were:

  • Akihabara (which gets less game-y and more creepy as time progresses)
  • Golden Temple (which I could go to every week and not get bored)
  • Kenrokuen and Kanazawa Castle (see Golden Temple)
  • Briefly, Den Den Town in Osaka (much better than Akihabara)

Although I only went to a few stores by comparison, I still made it out with some pretty good game-related loot.  I got the following games (all for SFC/SNES):

  • LaPlace’s Demon (sort-of psych thriller set in early 20th century (link))
  • Metal Max Returns, open-world post-apocalyptic RPG remake. Earliest entry we got was Metal Saga (PS2).
  • Leading Company, a business simulator by Koei that didn’t make it over the Pacific
  • Elnard, 7th Saga in Japanese
  • Mystic Ark, Elnard’s semi-successor
  • Wozz, a bizarre parody JRPG that’s highly regarded

In addition, I picked up a pack of soundtracks I’d been looking for:

  • Wild Arms 2 and 3 (2 and 4 CDs respectively)
  • Suikoden II (both volumes, 4 CDs total)
  • Stella Deus (1 CD, apparently poorly regarded as it was $7)

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Mini-update: Rune Factory Frontier, Black Sigil, Reading

My recent game-playing has been prone to brief enjoyment followed by hours of disappointment.

Rune Factory Frontier is paradise for anyone with ADD.  You will do a dozen different things a day and make no significant progress in any of them.  For me, this was really fun for about a week and a half.  Then sort of boring but enjoyable enough for another week.  And then a few weeks of drudgery akin to World of Warcraft culminating in my farmer committing suicide to escape his hellish existence.

I have since started playing Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon on my shiny new PSP.  So far it has the benefits of Rune Factory (spiffy new system, more interesting plot than Harvest Moon) without the disadvantages (requiring ingredients to cook, assembling a dozen different things, raising monsters, managing runeys).  Plus I’m a robot!  But don’t tell anyone.

Black Sigil, on the other hand, is a quite progress-y DS RPG in the vein of the SNES classics.  Except it forgets that the classics were classic because they were accessible, ran quickly, and had just enough combat to be interesting without the player losing grip of the story.  The result is a game that’s alternatingly difficult and frustrating, and ultimately more disappointing than Suikoden Tierkreis, which had incredibly bland (though easy) random battles.

Next I will be tackling Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, which has gotten rave reviews from a lot of places.  I’m not sure I’ll be so impressed; the only tactical RPG that really amazed me was Final Fantasy Tactics, and there are only a couple others I’d consider replaying (Saiyuki and Vandal-Hearts).  Nearly every other game in the genre has crushed my soul in one way or another and to be honest I’ve been tired of them for a while.  Perhaps some hee-hoo Jack Frosty goodness will manage to rekindle my interest in the genre.

On a completely different note, videolamer’s editor Jay and I have been talking about an entirely-too-serious topic: the rebuilding/recovery of Japan after World War II and its impact on modern war-crime denialism (one of my Japanese culture profs brought in her highschool history textbook; three paragraphs on WW2, which showed Japan in an entirely defensive and reactionary position in the war).  Some estimates of the civilian casualties in East Asia due to Japanese occupation are as high as 30 million, but very little is said about it.  To further my knowledge of this area, I have begun reading John Dower’s Embracing Defeat which discusses the reconstruction in general (which I read some about before) and goes into detail about the cover-up that ensured Emperor Hirohito would never be forced to take responsibility for actions taken during the war.  Interesting stuff.

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Go for Baroque

I don’t often avoid buying games when they catch my eye at a store.  But I had heard so much bad and so little good about Baroque that I avoided it for the better part of the year, despite wandering over and reading the back every other time I went to the local Gamestop (not too often).  Eventually I caved in and picked it up.

Very rarely has a game so short managed to occupy my mind for so long.  Baroque presents a set of mysteries large and small; a world that is at the same time both cohesive and shocking.  I have seen the first pair of Silent Hill games, which are the closest analogue I know of.  Both have strange things happen, but neither bothers with being either coherent or sensical (as I recall, it was either “oh, that’s just Silent Hill and weird things happen there” or “oh, it’s just some ancient demon god resurrecting” depending on your ending).  In the end, Baroque manages to top them because it has a coherent explanation for each weird thing that happens.  But it doesn’t explain things piece by piece except in small parts; the larger picture has to be derived from the events, down to exactly what a baroque is.  The differences between the Malkuth order and the Koriel group are lost in the fact that only rarely is either discussed; you interact with some members of each, but it takes a while to figure out what the goal of each is.  Presumably the less explored areas of the plot are explained in the manga.

But at the same time, Baroque is a short-ish Roguelike.  Played on Easy, it’s quite beatable within 15 hours and is not nearly as punishing as the usual; to hear reviews, Normal is crushing while Hard is… well, probably a lot like Rogue or Nethack.  Play on Easy and you’ll be rewarded with an easy (though occasionally frantic) game attached to an interesting plot.  Play on the other difficulties and I’ve no doubt you’ll find an interesting plot in between running for dear life through a dungeon that wants to kill you.

And yet, despite its depth, there is very little detail to Baroque at all!  The town only contains 6 NPCs; each has only a few significant lines.  Perhaps another half-dozen dwell in the Nerve Tower; most have still fewer lines.  Special events account for the majority of plot development, but even they would be numbered in paragraphs rather than pages.  Sting was able to create a moderately intense plot in Riviera: The Promised Land despite very little dialogue; they reproduced this in Baroque, and made the setting much more interesting to boot. (incidentally, it might be vice-versa, since Baroque was originally made in ’99).

The feel of the game is claustrophobic, oppressive, panicky.  It is at once both lonely like the Metroid games and as frantic as a shooter  My heart rate must’ve gone up by about 10 while playing the game; even Resident Evil and Silent Hill have places of respite.  Baroque has no such safe havens outside the main town; you can be just as easily poisoned from behind while you’re talking to an NPC in the Nerve Tower as anyplace else.  As a real-time action Roguelike, I would expect nothing less.

Baroque has an official website here; despite being in Japanese it is quite navigable without any knowledge of the language.  The link points to the character section, which is probably the most interesting; each has some nifty artwork, a blurb about the character, and a movie with one of their lines.

Another resource would be the scanlated first manga, which is all over the place; one example here.  The second and third volumes have not been translated, probably since they’re so damnably rare or the original translation group lost interest.

I’ve bought the first two manga volumes online; each cost about as much as the game ($20); I wasn’t disappointed by the first, as it maintains the feel of the game.  I can’t argue with Alice travelling with the protagonist, since it’s hard to have an interesting story with only one person.

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Japan Trip etc

Been a while!

Figured I’d post up a few pictures here, if nothing else.  Click on the “more” too see ’em, along with a description of the trip.

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And… off!

I recently picked up a Dreamcast and a copy of Shenmue.  I’d been planning on trying the Shenmue games for a while now, and finally got a chance.  The first is great in its own way – in some ways, it’s great for precisely the same reasons that it’s tedious.  I would recommend it for anybody who can tolerate a game that moves slowly.  I think I’m almost through the first game, but it looks like I won’t be able to finish it for a while.

In about 20 minutes, I’ll be leaving for the airport.  I’m headed on a trip to Japan.

Long time in the planning, but now that I think about it… there’s nothing in particular I want to see – just want to be there again, and have the chance to explore.  Sure, I’ll be looking for cool stuff – but the simple chance to get away from the routine (much as I enjoy routines) will be nice.  To say nothing of the appeal of the trip.  Japan is foreign and yet familiar, and (one of the themes in Shenmue, coincidentally) contains a culture centuries old that coexists with and is offset by one of the most consumerist, modern cultures on the planet.  It doesn’t do either halfway, either – nothing seems to be halfway there.  It’s a place of extremes.  That’s not to say it’s entirely a good thing… but it is certainly different from the usual.

I’ll be back, hopefully with more pictures and other goodness, at the beginning of September.

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