Happy Easter, everyone! I hope everyone had a good weekend. On my side of the ocean, it was a mostly sunny, sometimes chilly day spent at the zoo with my wife and our nephew. A fun time was had by all, especially because the Kumamoto Zoological and Botanical Park includes a small amusement area, and a certain little boy insisted on riding the little trains around the chimpanzee enclosure.
Other highlights included taking a while to pet the guinea pigs and goats, stopping by to see the new baby giraffe, and of course feeding the carp and ducks in the pond. There were also black swans and pink pelicans, for a bit of color. The biggest surprise of the day was a pair of little grey cygnets hiding out in one corner of the pond area with momma swan. Thankfully there was a fence between them and the rest of the park, so momma didn't feel too threatened by spectators.
They sure made a little three-year-old boy excited, though.
Caligula, FuRyu's newest title with a funny name, has divulged more of its secrets in the last month. First, let's talk about the heroes.
First, it's important to remember that Moebius, the world of this game, is a self-contained virtual reality ruled over by a superintelligent AI — μ — that was originally designed to be an advanced Vocaloid program. The heroes are in a constant struggle between the siren songs of Moebius and their desire to abandon it all for the 'hell' of reality. One aspect of this struggle is the Catharsis Effect. In order to battle, the characters must divest themselves of their current reality, to some degree becoming more or less than what passes for human. This includes some interesting visual imagery, such as skin being ripped away to reveal a dark, metallic interior. In this state, they can manifest weapons and powerful skills, beyond simply being able to ignore the music.
The music plays an important role in the overall game. There are upwards of five hundred inhabitants of Moebius to be encountered in the game, and most of them are at least partly friendly towards the main characters. That is, unless the music gets to them. Every student has a parameter that translates roughly as 'erosion rate', which appears to be a measure of how much their core persona has been overridden by μ's influence. In areas where μ's songs are playing, this parameter quickly rises, and affected students are more likely to turn into enemies.
The musical element continues on far outside the game itself. So far, three cameo characters have been shown, each with a connection to an actual, real-life vocaloid music composer. The first is Suite P, who represents the composition circle Oster Project. She's the one with the parasol, cycloptic servant, and dessert banquet. The next is Mirei, representing Cyocyo P (a.k.a. Papillon). She's set herself up as the queen bee of the Moebius marine resort area. The last one is Ike P (ike means handsome), who is a second-year student at the main characters' high school. He's connected to the Japanese musician Asa. It's not one hundred percent clear whether they're friend, foe, or something in-between, but in a game like this it's probably not good to make assumptions.
Caligula is still on track for a late June release, and it's only going to get weirder as we go.
As an added note, the Famitsu and Dengeki sales rankings occasionally have differences of reporting. I go with the Dengeki list in part because it goes all the way to 50, but also because it separates different versions of games on the same hardware (like the two Yo-Kai Watch Busters titles) by the numbers.
Normally this does not make much of a difference, but apparently starting the week of Feb. 22nd, Famitsu included all four versions of the original Pokémon games — Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow — in the sales data in spite of the fact that they are all download-exclusive titles. As a result, those four games as a bloc took the #1 slot for the last week of February, the #3 spot for the first week of March, and so on and so forth. For the last week on these rankings, they came in at #15, with 137,232 units sold.
Somehow I missed this last summer. While I gave a fair amount of coverage to Success's iWhatever game Metal Saga: Ark of the Wastes (all the while wondering how it was possible for it to use an IP it no longer completely owned), the company currently in possession of the Metal Max series had its own smartphone title in development.
Metal Max Fireworks looks to be about as good as any cash-in smartphone title, but at least it has a lot of crazy source material to work with. Unlike Ark of the Wastes, which had to make do with enemy models exclusive to the PS2 title Metal Saga, Fireworks has access to the entire expansive enemy roster from Metal Max 4. It also has all six character classes introduced more recently in the series.
Unfortunately, it's still a smartphone game, and Japanese player reviews have been trending towards the negative ever since its launch in late October. I guess we can all still hope for a Metal Max 5, though.
Like it or not, the Genkai Tokki series makes good fodder for Japandemonium. This is largely because no one else on the site will touch stuff like Monster Monpiece with the proverbial ten-foot pole. The last major release was Genkai Tokki Moero Chronicle, which featured panty-raiding seals and epically enchanted undergarments as its primary plot features. How is the next game in the series going to top that?
With pirates. Ridiculously and inappropriately sexy young pirates. Compile Heart has once again called in Mota-san, who did the artwork for Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God, among other things. The heroine of the hour is Palte Kylie, who is apparently the only human in a crew of perky monster girl pirates. Her happy-go-lucky band is in search of the seven great treasures of the seas.
While each of the pirate girls is technically based on a specific monster, the common denominator here is "jailbait". But for the record, up above we have Waffle (kobold girl), Claret (kraken), Polon (skeleton), Jewel (slime), Lind (dragon), and Sakyura (demon). There are probably more to come, possibly in even skimpier outfits.
I am not surprised to say that there is little gameplay footage available, and what little there is appears to focus more on the boob physics of the touchscreen mini-game. Genkai Tokki Seven Pirates is being made for the PS Vita, but there is no confirmed release date yet.
In other Compile Heart news, the company recently announced a collaborative project with Dengeki Bunko, the publishing branch of the company that handles a large portion of the Japanese light novel market. The name of the game is Kamigokutou Mary Skelter, with the first word being a neologism that translates roughly as "the tower of divine imprisonment".
Apparently, in September of 1999 all hell broke loose in Tokyo. If it had been two months sooner, I'd blame the King of Angolmois, just because the Japanese have a thing for Nostradamus, but no, this seems to be something completely different. A huge swath of the city is caught in a geological collapse, plummeting a full six-hundred sixty-six meters underground. The survivors refer to this place simply as Jail. The only connection back to the surface is the tower, which is filled with bizarre monstrosities known as Märchen. True to their German name, these creatures strongly resemble things from fairy tales, as do the heroes.
People being people, even in the depths of a hellish prison babies continue to be born. After a few decades, there's a sizable population in the Jail, all desperate to see the sun and sky. Among them is the Chishiki Girls Squad. They've also got the best chance of making it up the tower, as a lifelong exposure to this place has made them at least partially Mächen themselves. Their name is made from the kanji for "blood" and "type/formula/ceremony", but it's also a homophone for "knowledge". Just another day in Japanese wordplay.
These two are named Jack and Alice, two young members of the Squad. Other members take names based on fairy tale characters, with Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, and Snow White all supposedly on the roster.
The Dengeki article makes teases for various important game systems, including a powerful boss-type Nightmare that appears on occasion to terrorize the dungeon delvers, and a system for expanding the tower upwards by appealing to the powers of vice and blood. The exact specifics are left to the next issue of Dengeki Weekly. There is no confirmed release date for Kamigokutou Mary Skelter at this time, but it will definitely be on the PS Vita.
I have a bit more serious of a question to ask. I was wondering what Japan's like in terms of mental health. Do people generally hide everything and try to keep mental illness a secret? Is there much in terms of help that people can find? I always got this impression that Japan is very "keep your problems to yourself" for most things.
I deal with mental illness myself and I know the struggles of dealing with it here in North America (Canada specifically, but I wonder if it's any worse or better over there?
I've known people over here who've taken therapy, not to mention several who should have been taking therapy. At least one of them is not with us anymore. It's true that there's still a stigma attached to it, but it's slowly becoming more accepted. That's not to say that it isn't an intensely private thing as well, so you're not likely to hear someone going on and on about how great their shrink is, but... I have it on good authority that the waiting period to get a first appointment with a therapist can be upwards of a month, simply because the demand is outpacing the supply by that much. More people than ever are availing themselves of the opportunity, but they're being relatively quiet about it.
I can read hiragana and katakana, and have a decent sense of conversational Japanese. I understand sentence structure and the all-important sentence ending particles that shape what the sentence is about. Now, I'm not actually wanting to dive into kanji. I would rather continue on path that let me learn more words. Which is the nouns. What games do you know of that use lower-level Japanese in the sense of kana but would expand my vocabulary without kanji being an issue.
Honestly, you should start digging into the kanji sooner rather than later, but if you want to get into low-symbol games, you'll probably need to go retro. The older the system, the more likely it doesn't have the memory capacity to handle the entire library of ideograms. Anything for the GameBoy or NES would definitely be low in kanji, but some of the earlier SNES games are limited on the count as well. This does not necessarily make them easier to play. Shin Megami Tensei in particular was a rough row to hoe, since all foreigners and most of the demons speak only in katakana.
The best series for what you're intending would actually be Pokémon. Up until Generation V, the only kanji used in any game of that series was en, the symbol for money. Even for the Black/White and X/Y games, there's an option to forego kanji. And in the case of X/Y, you could play it in Japanese even on an American-bought cartridge since it gives a language choice at the very start.
If you are interested in classic handheld games, I've got a pretty good library on hand, too. Or even more recent handheld games. I can tell you right now that Medabots DS doesn't have any kanji either.
Another question, Is the SaGa series seen as an experimental series by fans and the media, or just another series? What is the general attitude and popularity of the series there?
"Experimental" is a very broad term in a genre that has done so many weird things over the decades. A lot of the gimmicks and oddities of the SaGa series have rarely been copied (aside from obvious homages like The Legend of Legacy or that Clannad fan game a few years back), but the same could be said of the Tales series and its Linear Motion Battle System.
As for the question of popularity, here we have a series with nine primary entries (and one more en route), three slightly upgraded remakes, three completely overhauled remakes — plus phone apps, browser-based derivatives, and cameos in other games specifically intended to make money off of series nostalgia. This does not happen with "just another" game series. There's got to be some deep-running appreciation for most of the series within the mature gaming population of Japan (though I wouldn't begrudge a general distaste for Unlimited Saga).
And seriously, people don't do this sort of thing for niche series too often:
I know I've shown this one in JP before, but it's worth another look. An amateur orchestra doing a medley of Romancing SaGa III music, with many of the players in costume as various characters from the game, while acting out battle actions and performing skits based on game events? Even in Japan, this sort of thing is a rarity.