The month of March has come and gone, and with it the season of the sakura. The iconic pink hue of the cherry trees is the defining image of spring in this country, but this year didn't live up to expectations. Between the cold weather outstaying its welcome and the rains arriving much earlier than usual, the window of opportunity for cherry-viewing parties (hanami) in Kumamoto City was a short one. On the big avenue near my apartment, the dozens of cherry trees all bloomed out of synch. Some were in full flower a week ahead of the rest, while others took so long that their leaves had already come in by the time the flowers were done with.
With all this in mind, realize that my friend Tomo's decision to hold a hanami in the park near the castle last Sunday (April 5th) was not necessarily a wise one. It all turned out okay, largely because we somehow hit the twelve-hour period (out of five consecutive days) when it was not raining, but locations were a little limited. Out of the myriad cherry trees in Ninomaru Park, only two were still in full bloom, and that was because they weren't your normal cherries. They were shidarezakura.
There's more than just the one variety of cherry in Japan, though I wouldn't fault you for thinking otherwise. The standard sakura can be found almost everywhere in this country, and it's frequently exported to other lands as well. The lesser known varieties, like yaezakura and shidarezakura, are most often found in ornamental gardens, or as wild forms. I've even seen them as bonsai.
The thing that makes a shidarezakura stand out is its branches. They tend to be long, thin, and arching downward from the main boughs of the tree. When I was sitting on a tarp beneath them, I got flowers in my hair because the branches really did droop that low. A German tourist who passed by remarked that they must be "weeping cherries," because their branches were so willowy. I had a fun time explaining that one to the rest of the party, most of whom didn't speak English well enough to even begin guessing at what he meant.
The trees really do look like a cross between a cherry and a willow, though.
With its big presentation earlier this week, Level-5 invites us all once again to get a life. The irony here is that they want us to do so on smartphones, one of the leading causes of not having any free time to live. Fantasy Life 2 seems to follow in the footsteps of its 3DS predecessor in some ways, while skewing towards the smartphone demographic in others. It's got the same set of twelve lifestyles to pursue, and the general look of the game is well intact, but there are elements of town-building and community simulation that are one hundred percent the product of cross-pollenation with casual gaming.
The story sounds fairly similar as well. Something's gone wrong with the world. The God who governs the rules of life seems to be missing, and the Moon has suddenly become the Moons. In a world steadily going weirder, people have begun to gather in a forgotten little corner of the earth called Namona, setting up a new community. It's up to the hero to get the village going, help people live their dreams, and somehow revive the power of the lost Goddess in the hopes of setting everything aright. No pressure.
Okay, like I said last column, I'm switching over to the Dengeki Top 50 for my sales info from now on. The biggest change that comes with this is that games with dual version releases on the same system (like Pokémon) get their different versions ranked individually instead of aggregated. Because of this, the "Last seen at" section may not jive with last month's sales rankings 100% of the time.
There have been games that made the world wonder, "How did this ever get made?" An astounding number of them later prompted the question, "And why does it merit a remake or sequel?" On that note, let's take a look at a new browser title from DMM Games and Nippon Ichi Software.
Yes, Criminal Girls Busse, with "busse" apparently being German for "penance." The setup is the same as before, with the player taking on the role of an afterlife parole officer charged with guiding a group of "half-damned" souls through the trials and tribulations leading to true atonement.
Instead of giving the player a group of pre-set young souls, Busse provides special items tied to the seven deadly sins, with which the player can summon a new party member to use from thereon out. Each sin stands as a sort of job class, with specific strengths and roles in combat. So, Greed gets speed-based skills, Gluttony gets healing, Wrath gets the high attack power, Envy gets a bit of everything, Lust gets status afflictions, Sloth gets defense and some healing, and Pride gets the best attack magics.
It wouldn't be a Criminal Girls game without the cheesecake factor, and so this game serves it up in huge portions. Battle damage gets translated into outfit damage, so when combat's got the girls running ragged, their clothes match the adjective. The stakes are a little higher in this game, as a girl can be lost permanently when her HP reaches zero. There's an item called a Soul Drop that can prevent this, but they're in limited supply, and are a very likely candidate for in-game purchase plans.
And of course, there's the punishment mini-games. We needed to meet our sketchy image quota for the year....
I think the images really say it all, so I won't bother. If you're really into this sort of thing (and I won't judge, really), the game is available to play right here.
To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, Aquaplus is bringing back an old series with a new game. Utawarerumono was originally a PC adventure and tactical RPG title published in 2002. In 2006, it was released on the PS2 with a new and improved combat system, and later ported to the PSP. Then, in 2011, there was word of a sequel for the PS3 being in the works. Fast forward to this week:
And we see that Aquaplus has been very busy. Utawarerumono 2: Itsuwari no Kamen (Mask of Falsehood) is coming to the PS3, the PS4, and the Vita in September of this year.
What we know of the story isn't much. The main character, Haku, wanders the wasteland with absolutely no idea as to why, where, what, who, or any other detail that might explain his existence. Total plot-induced amnesia seems to be the name of the game, though the connections to Utawarerumono's protagonist, Hakuoro, are almost certainly there. The main plot takes place in the kingdom of Yamato, which is definitely a cognate to the early days of the Japanese empire. Given that much of the society in the first game is based around the native Ainu people of northern Japan and Hokkaido, and this gives us a reasonable framework for understanding the central conflict.
Does anyone else find it worrisome that Square Enix is doing so much to promote the SaGa series, only with the glaring omission of any media pertinent to the new Vita game the company swears is in development? Last month, S-E reprised its publicity campaign with Kyushu's Saga Prefecture, and this time they included all the stops.
Train stops, that is, with displays in four major stations in the prefecture. Not to mention the airplanes, too! For a week and a half last month, Spring Japan Airlines (local service to and from Saga Regional Airport) used SaGa-themed headrest covers, cups, and scarves for their flight attendants.
For things that don't require some measure of travel to see, S-E finally released Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song on the PS3 digital archives. In a sort of early celebration, Dengeki Online made another of its incredibly fanboy SaGa videos, this one dedicated to the original Romancing SaGa. In that game, there were four optional bosses called the Four Kings who could also be summoned a limited number of times if the player did quests for them instead of killing them. The King of the Winds, Tiny Feather, was notable for having a petrification attack that had a low chance of working on anything in the game. This includes the final boss, Saruin. So Dengeki made a compilation video of one thousand attempts to get this to work.
Yup, that's the sign of a true fan(atic). Gotta try absolutely every strategy at least once, if not a thousand times.