When I look at the calendar, I can't believe that I've been home for a month now. Granted, February IS the shortest month of the year, but I can't believe I've been home that long. I've gotten a lot done in a month though. I've been to Florida to see my parents, gone to Texas to see Caroline's family, and gotten a job at Best Buy in their home theater department. I've actually been really busy in this past month, and I don't know where it all went. I'll wake up some day and wonder where the last year has gone.
In gaming news, I found a cheap copy of Dead or Alive 4 on eBay, so I got it. I've got mixed feelings about the game. I'll admit, it IS the most beautiful fighter I've ever played. The cheap monitor I saw it on in Osaka didn't do it justice. The game is gorgeous, but it makes little flaws. The game is abound with clipping issues, and it doesn't do some things right. When standing in water, the water effects take your breath away, but when you move it looks almost dry. The hair suffers from some of the worst jaggies I've ever seen. It's also VERY hard if you've never played any of the other games in the series. But all that aside, it's a pretty good game. The fighting system IS impressive; I just don't know it. It's not something you can pick up from one play like a Tekken, but it'd be fun to master. Crying shame I'll never get time to, but I'll always have something to play when I need my rear handed to me by beautiful, very bouncy fighters. It also has some WILD endings. In my opinion, 7/10 for newbies like me, 9/10 for DoA vets.
Well, other than that, I don't have much else. I hope you all enjoyed Bryan last week, but I should be around for a while. So that said, this week's column means 'bunny' in Japanese. Once again, I couldn't come up with a good title, so I asked my wife. Being the kind of woman that loves all cute things, she smiled and said 'bunny!' Incidentally, it's also the name of Serena from Sailor Moon in the Japanese version.
Let's get this party started!
Since Bryan wasn't able to translate last week's chart, it seems to be lost to the ages, but I've got this week's chart for your viewing pleasure. It's topped by Sengoku Musou 2, but we would know it over here as Samurai Warriors 2. It seems that it managed to edge out Suikoden V and Disgaea 2 for the top spot. If I still lived in Japan, I'd probably be among those that proudly own the latter; I'm very excited about playing it when it comes to our shores this summer.
As for the rest of the chart, at first look, it looks like it fared well, but the bulk of the chart is composed of new titles. There were a few games that managed to stay, but they were pushed pretty far down the chart. The next few weeks should have some great new games, so we'll have to see if the record of seventeen games will ever be broken. Let's see how they fared, shall we?
Nippon Ichi just went live with a new RPG for mobile phones called Duologue. The game is a completely original game that is set on a continent called "La Jikku" in a fantasy world. Towering mountains and a river divide the continent into northern and southern halves. King Prezuil rules Montanal in the north, and the south is composed of a confederation of five countries called Sanaulban. The two halves have a long history of peace and active trade. The main character is a boy named Alius, and it's his dream to join the Sanaulban defense forces, Quratol. But just as he's getting ready to take the Quratol initiation trials, mysterious incidents known only as "The Possessions" start happening all across Sanaulban, and Alius gets entangled in them.
The gameplay is standard RPG adventure with ATB battles, but Nippon Ichi did add a bit of their unique style to the game. One is a collection mini-game game of sorts called "Entirie" in which the player seeks to get entries such as "X joins the party," "Arrived at Y town," "Z achieved a 99-hit combo," and other unique "items" to collect. With more than 1000 items, there will be no shortage of things to find, and depending on how many the player collects, they can get more and better items, new techniques, or other prizes.
Another twist is that the character development system is completely open ended. Depending on what type of "Zenoris," a type of magic stone, a character has equipped, his stats will increase in different ways upon leveling up. By using the right Zenoris with the desired stat boosters, a player can steer their characters in any direction they wish.
But that's not all Zenoris do, they also give abilities called "Uniques," which can range from standard fare as attack or item or go all the way up to special abilities. One Zenoris can hold up to three Uniques, and any character can have up to five different Uniques. But it's not just a matter of equipping the right Zenoris; players must also spend mana points that they earn by defeating enemies to actually learn the Unique. Since Zenoris cover even the most basic moves, characters that don't have any equipped cannot act in battle.
Duologue is slated to cover 10 chapters with an undisclosed amount of bonus scenarios and side quests. Like so many other mobile games, this one is for the DoCoMo iMode phones. It's compatible with any of the 900i series or higher and the new F702iD. Those that want to play it can start immediately; it launched on February 20 and costs 315 yen per month.
On February 22, From Software released the original soundtrack for [eM] eNCHANT arM cleverly titled "eM eNCHANT arM Original Soundtrack." It features 42 different songs from the game, and it goes for 3000 yen.
Square Enix has shed some light on the way that monsters will be teaming up with a younger version of Dragon Quest VIII's Yangus in DQ: Yangus and the Mysterious Dungeon. Players will use an item called "Morley's Pot" to make party members out of enemies he encounters. During battle, a mark resembling the pot will show up on the monster if Yangus has a chance at inviting it into his party. Once the monsters join, they are kept in a special house in the village where they can be taken care of and switched in and out of the party.
DQ: Yangus and the Mysterious Dungeon is set for release on April 20 for the standard 7140 yen. So far, no announcement has been made for the game to leave Japan. We can only hope it will.
An unusual number of games got release dates this week, and they're all due out in summer for Japan. First up to bat is Atlus's Growlanser V. It is slated for release on May 18. A week later, the PSP scores a pair with Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in Itadaki Street Special and Magna Carta Portable on May 25.
June picked up Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria from Square Enix on June 22.
And July kicks off with the release of Xenosaga: Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, the conclusion to the three-part series, on July 6. In other Xenosaga news, Bandai Namco opened a new site for the series.
Square Enix is adding two more titles to its successful Ultimate Hits collection of value-priced games. Romancing SaGa - Minstrel Song and Front Mission 4. Both will be repackaged with the Ultimate Hits banner and see shelves again on May 11 for a wallet-friendly 2940 yen each.
Idea Factory announced that their upcoming Spectral Force 3 ~Innocent Rage~ will feature the Meimai Knights of Spectral Force Gaiden, which was released on the original PlayStation in 1999. For those that never played the game, the six members are Folt, Tina, Latt, Rime, Anita, and Kiratt.
Falcom has announced another installment in the Eiyuu Densetsu series which is known as the Legend of Heroes series in North America. Titled Eiyuu Densensetsu: Sora no Kiseki SC, the game will be a direct sequel to Eiyuu Densensetsu: Sora no Kiseki, which was released in June 2004. For those wondering, the "SC" stands for "Second Chapter."
The game picks off where the last game left off. It follows Estelle Bryde, a wondering mercenary. Previously she and her friend Joshua Astrei went through several adventures and quests that transformed them from simple mercenaries to key characters in stopping a major world coup d'état. At the end of it, Joshua suddenly left Estelle, who had begun feeling more than simple friendship for him. SC will follow Estelle's journey to find Joshua and discover the reason for his sudden departure.
Players with save data from the first Sora no Kiseki will get bonuses in this game. Money, items, and recipes will not carry over, but players will get a boost in level depending upon their levels in the previous game. This level change will also affect parts of some quests. One other treat is that the player will keep any characters they had at the end of the last game.
Eiyuu Densensetsu: Sora no Kiseki SC will also feature several improvements to the battle system from the first chapter and introduce some new elements like "Chain Crafts," where up to three characters team up to deliver a devastating combination attack. Familiar side quests and mini-games like the Breather Quests, cooking, fishing, and the casino will also return.
As for characters, Joshua and Estelle aren't the only characters that make a return in this game. Sherazade Harvey, another mercenary that Estelle thinks of as a surrogate elder sister, will return. A new character called Kevin Graham will also join the cast. He is a wandering priest that speaks with an Osakan accent; he is extremely proficient with a crossbow.
Eiyuu Densensetsu: Sora no Kiseki SC is designed for Microsoft Windows, and will hit shelves on March 9 for an unannounced price. There will also be a Limited Edition that includes a drama CD and a story book. Unlike the regular edition, it does have a price, and it will cost a hefty 8400 yen. But those that missed out on the first chapter and are enticed by this new one are in luck; they can pick up the Complete Edition for 9975 that contains both games in one convenient package. And if you only want the drama CD and the story book, the pair can be picked up separate from the game for only 3150 yen.
This week I've got two letters, and they're both on the same theme: travel. I'm sure many of you would love to go to Japan, and I will do my darndest to answer any questions about travel that I can. I wish everyone could have an experience like I had, and if I can help you all get even a fraction of what I was lucky enough to have, then I'll be glad to do it.
That said, let's get to them!
Tons 'o' Travel Questions
Hey J-Sensei, I've been thoroughly enjoying your column for a while now,
Gotta give you your props on it, it's really well done, but have never
really had anything to ask you about... Until now!
I am in the very early planning stages of an awesome trip to Japan. My sis
and I have wanted to go for so long, and our schedules are finally gonna be
freed up by next spring (the estimated travel time).
I have like a million questions, I figured I'd ask while your memories of
Japan are still fresh,
so answer as many as you can, I'd really appreciate it!
1. The Japan Rail Pass? Seems like a good idea from what I've researched it
seems like a really good thing to get (as we will be traveling through as
much of the country as is physically possible).
Would you say that the "green car pass" is better than the "ordinary car
pass" (if you know the difference even would be great because I don't
If you can also comment on the train system, i know it is applauded for it's
efficiency, but how easy is it to navigate the various trains with limited
knowledge of Japanese?
2.To get into the country obviously a passport is important, but what about
a travel visa? are they required? (for a 3 week trip)
3. This is going to be a budget trip, what food items in Japan are
relatively inexpensive, and fairly filling? Are fruits and vegetables cheap?
4. What are Ryokans like? I've visited websites that gives some pics and
What can I expect to pay there? Are they cheaper than more "western-style"
(not the fancy ones just minshukus, standard ryokans or ryokan hotels...)
5.Here is a list of locations possibly going on the itinerary, feel free to
give any opinions on them (good or bad), and if you have any suggestions for
must-see places, please fill me in!
-Matsumoto (for the freakin' sweet
-KOYASAN! (stay in a buddhist temple! I'm there!)
-Rurikoji Temple in Yamaguchi -Kochi
This may be a bit of a stretch in 3 weeks, but we're planning on taking
advantage of night trains, which leads to my next question...
6. Are night trains any good? With a Japan Rail Pass, some of them are free
even! (regular seats only though...) what do you think? Wanting to see so
much... maybe a good idea taking the night train?
7. Finally, and not as important, where is Square-Enix headquarters located?
We wanna stock up on weird merchandise for Hagaren, Final Fantasy, etc.!
Well that's it! Take your time on this one, an answer is not needed
immediately, plus it's really a lot of stuff to get through here... sry
about the killer length... I really appreciate you taking the time to read
Thanks a lot,
-Longtime Reader, First Time... Question-Asker...
P.S. hope your Mardi Gras was rockin'!
This IS a long letter, but I've had a few doozies in the past. Nothin' I can't handle. It's awesome that you're going, so I hope these help.
As for the Japan Rail Pass, it CAN be super mega awesome. But here's the deal on it. If you're planning on covering a LOT of ground, it'll rock your socks off. If you plan on spending a few days in each place, it's not as good. A few trips on the shinkansen will EASILY make your money back. Basically, there are a two schools of thought on how to hit Japan. Hit a few select cities and get deep into them or just hit a smattering of everything. Regardless, Tokyo needs at least two days and so does Kyoto. There are umpteen billion temples in Kyoto; I've been there twice and not seen all of the ones on my list.
Trains in Japan are really, really nice. You'll also find that most train stations are easy to get around. There are usually signs in English and Japanese, but if you stray from Honshu, you might not have anymore English. Shikoku is almost entirely Japanese for the trains. So keep that in mind. Also the 'green car pass' means you can sit in nicer cars. The green car has really good seats, and if you're on a shinkansen, they have plug-ins for the first and last seats on the car. Honestly, skip it. It's nice, but you're better off spending that money elsewhere.
As for a visa, you don't have to worry. You'll be able to get a 90-day visitors' visa. Since you're not planning on staying longer than that, you'll be A-OK.
Food. This can be a sticky issue. There ARE cheap foods in Japan, but most of the yummy stuff can cost you a bit. I don't know how much you eat, but I generally ate through about ten bucks a day in food. Fruit and veggies can be REALLY expensive, but meat is somewhat cheap. Convenience stores offer relatively cheap food that is surprisingly good, and there are other places that can provide cheap eats. When in doubt, look at the place. Does it look nice on the inside? If so, it's probably more expensive. If it looks like a fast food kind of place, then it'll be cheaper. Speaking of fast food, it's in Japan, but it's not cheap. But DEFINITELY hit up a Mos Burger. It is the best burger you've never had.
Ryokan are hard to explain in a way. The room is kinda 'eh,' but you're not paying for the room really. The thing that makes ryokan more expensive is that they normally provide dinner. I was wondering why the room was nearly 100 bucks a person per night in Kochi, but I realized why when I got the meal. NEVER have I had such a feast. You're also paying for the experience, and that alone is worth it. Look for websites to help you. You can book them online and then pay in cash when you get there. I'd recommend you hit one if you have time. Otherwise, stick to business hotels. America doesn't have them, but they are basically stripped down western hotels. The room is small, but it'll have everything you need for a lower price. They're generally around 5000 yen a night per person.
As for question 5, that's quite a list. You've got all the good ones. I recommend Kyoto and Nara the highest. I'd also recommend Osaka and Himeji together. Himeji has an AMAZING castle. I really wish I'd gotten to see it. Honestly, skip Mt. Fuji unless it's climbing season. But if the weather is clear, you'll be able to see it on the train from Kyoto to Tokyo. Kochi is GREAT, but it's on the southern tip of Shikoku. It'll be hard to get there. So be warned. But do to so, you'll have to go through Niihama. <3 Honestly, send me another email, and maybe toss in your IM nick. I'll chat with you and see if I can offer you more help.
Moving along we come to night trains. I've never taken any, but they are an option. I always took night boats. But you'll have to pay for those, even with your JR Pass. I nearly took one, but I found a way home that allowed me to catch the last train home with four minutes to spare.
And for the last one. I hope six out of seven is good enough for you. I'd assume it's in Tokyo somewhere, but I've never seen it. If you want some merch, try any gaming store. You can also try gasha. 200 yen can get you some nifty stuff.
Hope all this helps. It's a lot to take in, but there's a LOT to see. The country is about the size of California, but a lifetime isn't enough to experience it all. Three weeks is almost enough to barely scratch the surface. Enjoy your trip.
Thanks for writing and send me a follow-up. Hope to hear from you soon!
Hi there, I've been following your column for a long time
but this is my first letter in. I'm really interested in
Japan, and just found out last week that I'll be going to
study in Sapporo on exchange this year! I'm super excited
to have this opportunity and am already planning the
trip.. So I just have a few questions for you in regards
to traveling. I'm a pretty hardcore gamer, and although
the focus of my visit will be studying and enjoying what
Japan has to offer in regards to its amazing culture, I
know I won't be able to leave behind my video gaming ways
in North America. So I'm wondering how you play american
games in Japan? (you've mentioned playing Dragon Quest 8
and Alter Code F) Do you have them sent to you from home?
Or are english games readily available in Japan? Would you
advise packing a console for the flight? (I'm thinking
slimline ps2) I think you may have covered this in the
column before but I'mImo not sure. These are kinda silly
questions but I'd appreciate any advice at all, travel
tips in general would be great. Thanks so much, I'm a huge
fan of the site and I always look forward to your column.
If you're going to be there for a while, and it looks like you will be, I do recommend having a game system. I don't know how good your ability to read kanji is, but mine was pretty bad. The only game I was able to finish was Paper Mario 2. If this is the case, you WILL want your own console. In that case, stock up on a couple good games. I made frequent trips to the US or flew my wife in. I went home four times, flew Caroline over three times, and my family visited me once. I'd stock up on US games with each trip.
If you plan on buying a console over there, buy one used. You can find pretty good deals in the second-hand shops. I got my GameCube relatively cheap, but I paid full price for my PS2. I actually thought I might use the 20 gig HDD. Some games are fun even if you can't understand the language, and there are often translations online.
Regardless of which system you pick, I'd say the slim systems are the way to go. One thing you will quickly learn is that space is important. It's not so much the space in your room that you'll need; suitcases are what will kill you. You'll also pick up a LOT of stuff in a year, so be warned. You'll probably have to ship a lot of stuff back unless you plan on leaving it.
I hope this helps you. Have fun in Hokkaido. I would have loved to have gotten up there. I hear Yuki Matsuri is AMAZING. Have fun, and thanks for writing!
There you have it. Another column that is overflowing with news. Sorry that it is going up a bit late. I got sleepy a bit earlier than usual, and I didn't feel like pulling the all-nighter to finish. Hopefully, the nice spelling error I'm using for my closing quote will make you forget all about the delay.
Catch you on the flip,