It's that time again, a special time for Japan, and one on which much of their agriculture depends: the rainy season. The heavens open their floodgates, and for about three weeks most of the country gets inundated. This isn't as problematic as it sounds, since a few thousand years of this have taught the locals the benefits of combining irrigation channels, aqueducts, and spillways into one set of infrastructure. The season's just getting started now, so all the farmers are scrambling to get their rice seedlings planted before it's time to flood the fields. There's also a lot of last-minute grass-cutting going on, since everything green is going to be growing a lot in the next few weeks.
Right now though, it's not so bad. Sure, it's approaching 90% humidity, but with lots of clouds and a stiff breeze, it's not so bad. Yet.
Today we have some big science news out of Japan. I'm kind of hesitant to put this up, just because it's potentially a big deal, but as I've find zero mention of it on CNN or any other non-specialist news source in the western hemisphere, I feel obliged to bring this to the attention of the audience.
Simply enough, about two weeks ago now, a Japanese physicist named Yoshiaki Arata gave a presentation on what he claims to be a proven, repeatable, and sustainable cold fusion reaction. The repeatable part is what's important here, since so many past attempts at cold fusion have been foiled by "inexplicable" obstacles to the reaction working. The possibilities are endless here, which is why it's a little puzzling that there's so little information about it in the American media. I've found Australian and Indian news articles, a physics journal item, and quite a bit of mention on physics-related blogs, but when I do a search on "cold fusion" at CNN I get, in order, an article on Bollywood, a travel journal from Iraq, three articles on global warming... well, absolutely nothing related to the item at hand, obviously.
In any case, I hope you all find the article interesting.
Seeing as how Glory of Hercules: Proof of the Soul has done so well in its first week of sales, I figured it was time to write a bit about it.
While it's no secret that most RPGs draw upon Greek myth at some point or other, they usually get it through a filtering layer of D&D first. Nintendo's Glory of Hercules series takes a more direct route to the source material, and rips names, places, gods, and monsters right out of the myths, and into a convenient faux-Hellenic RPG setting. Any historical or geographic relevance is generally left by the wayside.
Nintendo's done a fair job of adapting the series to the DS. Navigation and interaction, both in and out of battle, are handled with the stylus. Want that bag that's lying on the ground? Tap it. Change your party formation in battle? Use a turn to drag them around. Super-charge your attacks? Tap or drag the stylus as directed while the attack animation is doing its thing.
The story follows the adventures of a young man who has somehow come into possession of a piece of immortality, making himself immortal. He's joined by the strangely effeminate boy Lokos and the long-haired Shukion, both of whom also possess immortality. Why and how the three of them came to be this way seems to be the central point of the game's plot, as it's implied that the immortal portions of their souls did not originally belong to them.
Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys the scans. This one looks like it might be interesting.
I've mentioned The World Revolves Around Me twice before, mostly in the sense of "we have a name, but not much more than that." Well that's all changed now, with a nice two-page spread in the latest Famitsu. Now, we can get a good look at the game, and see that it's really... pastel?
Here's a précis of the plot: Angela, the self-acknowledged most spoiled princess in the world, wants it all. Everything at her beck and call. Literally. Thanks to an unspecified source of magic, she has the ability to order around anything and everything, provided she has the SP (Selfish Points) to do so.
For some reason, Angela has decided that it would be more interesting to go out and have adventures in order to get want she wants, instead of just making other people do it. She sets out with her pets and bodyguards (the two guys on page 1), and her confidence that everything will go her way. And how. In battle, Angela can use SP to make the enemy beat themselves up, if she so desires. Simple commands like "Don't Move!" use up 1 SP, while stronger ones like "Everyone just leave me alone!" which eliminates all monsters in the area, take as much as 100.
It's not just people and monsters who jump at her command, however -- the land itself will do what she tells it to. There are four major areas in Angela's kingdom, each divided into an expandable grid (8 by 8 max). At royal whim, any spot on the grid can be altered so that it produces more hidden items, more monster encounters, or a small jungle of wildflowers, among other things.
Of course, there are some people who are so unreasonable as to actually ask for something in return when Princess Angela wants their stuff. In an incredible show of noblesse oblige, she goes on quests to further her own goal of getting what she wants.
While I still have no idea what Global A Entertainment was thinking when they came up with this one, I'd say that this game has all the hallmarks of a girls-demographic game. The art style fits, as do the choice of companions and the loose quest-and-social-scenario approach to storytelling. I won't be buying this when it comes out next week (among other things, I doubt I'll have finished FFTA2 by then), but I'll keep an eye out, nonetheless.
My God, it's full of ninjas! That about sums up my initial impression of Final Fantasy IV - The After, Part 5: "Edge and the Tower." As part of the series of strange events that have occured since the reappearance of the Second Moon in Part 1, the Tower of Bab-Il has lit up with activity. The last time it did that, the Kingdom of Eblana went up like tinder, so King Edge is understandably worried. With four of the kingdom's most experienced warriors in tow, Edge once again storms the tower via the back entrance. Hopefully he'll find some actual information, and live to tell about it.
His followers' names are Gekkou, Tsukinowa, Zangetsu, and the pony-tailed Izayoi. The screens suggest that they all share Edge's original Ninjutsu skill, but have different secondary skills. What those may be, I do not know.
In other Square Enix related news on the mobile phone, we have these scans. On the first page, we get a look at the third iteration of Crystal Guardians, a multi-player melee game where the players have to defend against an invading horde of enemies. In the new version, monsters and classes from Final Fantasy Tactics: A2 have been added.
In the lower half of page 2, we get a look at the new gallery pictures available over the Square Enix mobile network. Sigma Harmonics, Star Ocean 2, The After, and Front Mission 2089.
In the upper half of the same page, though, we get a look at Dragon Quest Yangus - Mobile Edition, yet another dungeon explorer game for cell phones. The rest is just a review of the first three chapters of Final Fantasy IV - The After, with a special note that they are all now available on EZweb, the internet service from AU, second of the three big mobile phone companies of Japan. Unfortunately, I subscribe to the third big provider, and so am left in the lurch for a while longer. My inner otaku weeps.
Here's one more that I didn't pay much attention to until it hit the Top 50: Boku wa Kaseki no Holidaa. What exactly a Holidar is, I have no idea, but it's the hero's job to become the best one he can be, by seeking out and excavating ancient fossils.
After he has the necessary pieces, he can then patch together his own dinosaur battle-slaves and do three-on-three battles in tournaments or against other characters in the game.
If all this comes off as just one more Pokémon clone, well, that's about all I can say about it as well. There must be something more entertaining about it, though, since it's steadily climbing in the rankings.
Well, I was all ready to put up this column, when one more little news item was sent my way. The latest issue of Famitsu Weekly (so new I haven't had the time to track a copy down yet) has announced that the next in Chunsoft's classic series, Shiren the Wanderer 2 - Castle of the Sands is in production for the Nintendo DS, and is planned for a winter release in Japan.
This time, Shiren and his little sidekick Koppa find themselves lost in a great sandstorm when they stumble upon a mysterious castle full of monsters, ruled by an ogre of a king (literally, this guy has all the hallmarks of an oriental demon-god). Thankfully, Shiren gets a bit of help from Princess Ateka, and makes a break for it. But who is the strange man in the dark hood, and what plans does he have for the castle? We'll just have to see.
Why No T-Bone?
Enough of me just asking for random translation aid - time for a proper letter again, Sir Gaijin.
I'm curious about how the people you interact with regard Yasuo Fukuda. Given the circumstances by which he came to be prime minister it would be understandable if he got something less than adulation from the public. On a related note, is Junichiro Koizumi permanently out of politics or is he just taking a lengthy sabbatical?
I'm also curious as to how well Japan acknowledges its role in instigating World War II. Certainly the Japan-US conflict arose from mistakes made by both sides, but what Japan did to the nations it conquered is not something to take pride in. Do you have any knowledge of Japanese teachings in recent history to make a judgment on this?
And for less serious matters... as you've no doubt noticed lately I started playing more Japan-only titles. What would be your top pick(s) for games that are well worth playing and yet either did not or probably never will be officially translated?
And is the Xbox 360's Japanese library anything of note, or have all the worthwhile games showed up in English?
Hm, let's take this in order, shall we? First, Fukuda is one of the least popular prime ministers I've ever heard of in modern Japanese history. I'm sure there have been worse, probably, but as it stands now the newspapers are currently running articles on the likely candidates for next prime minister, and have been for a while. Koizumi, on the other hand, has kept rather quiet recently, at least in the media. I think he's enjoying being out of the line of fire.
When it comes to taking political responsibility for the past, Japan is notoriously bad at it. In the past few years, there have been political dust-ups about revisions to the history books (like removing all mention of Nanking), official rememberances being paid to the dead at Yasukuni Shrine (where the majority of the old Class-A war criminals are buried), and a complete about-face in the government's stance on the "comfort women" of Korea and China during WW2. As in, 10 years ago, the government acknowledged some culpability in the matter, but about 2 years ago, Prime Minister Abe's government pretty much went and said "we didn't do it." That riled a lot of people in Japan as well as on the mainland. These are all things that have made the news since I arrived in Japan.
So let's move on to lighter matters, eh? The later Atelier games are pretty much all worth playing, if you like the series at all. Also from Gust is Taishou Mononoke Ibunroku, which is something like a cross of Valkyrie Profile and a MegaTen game, with a ton of classic Japanese monsters thrown in the mix. Devil Summoner : Soul Hackers is one of the best games in the MegaTen metaseries. Magical Vacation is in many ways superior to its sequel, Magical Starsign. Seven - The Molmorth Cavalry and its sequel Venus & Braves are both good games with a really quirky approach to battle formations. For a much, much older title, I would recommend Monster Tactics for the original Game Boy. It's one of the more innovative tactical games I've ever seen, where every battle is played in the dark, and lines of sight become very important if you want to know where the enemy is.
As for Japanese 360 games, Magna Carta 2 still has not been announced for American release, but that's about it. All things considered, 360 games aren't usually in my purview.
Thanks for writing in!
Hey! I recently returned from a trip to Japan, and I found a few things of interest that I couldn't really figure out.
Are there ANY drinking fountains in Japan? I think I saw maybe one at the airport, but I can barely remember it-- I'd taken it for granted! Or do we all have to rely on having either 120 or 150 yen to buy something to drink from a vending machine?
Japanese tend to be really fastidious about anything that's public use. A lot of this is influenced by ancient Shinto rules of cleanliness. So it's surprising that the answer is, yes, there are drinking fountains in Japan. They're almost all in government buildings, like city halls or post offices.
Why are the subway lines of Tokyo in Roomaji, but the JR lines aren't?? When buying your ticket, it's all in kanji, yet when you step onto the train, the TV screens at the tops of the doors explain things in both Japanese and English! Why would they do that?? I can only read around 65 kanji characters, and as expected, very few of them helped me when looking at that piece of work. I got around okay, because I at least knew how to ask somebody how much it was to get to a certain stop, but what about the people who don't speak any Japanese??
A lot of it has to do with the various parts of the subway and train system not getting updated at the same time. Simply enough, the convenient little announcement screens are much newer than most of the station maps or ticket machines, and are easier to alter into English. The trains around here are even more of a mixed bag, with maybe a third of them having the announcement screens. The rest of the time you have to rely on the train driver's announcements, or read the signs outside the window. My advice for anyone moving to Japan is, figure out what places you'll be going to frequently, and commit those kanji to memory. It doesn't matter what your actual level of Japanese is, learn to at least recognize those symbols! Trust me, it makes things so much easier.
Something that I knew going there but it caught me off guard: There aren't any paper towels in the restrooms. You really do have to have your own napkin if you want something other than your clothes to dry your wet hands with. And there are still squatters! I can understand the traditions being preserved, but I honestly can't understand that tradition being held onto.
The paper towel thing is a bit more variable. Most of the big shopping centers will have them in the restrooms, but train stations, for example, often can't afford the extra cost. Some train lines can't even afford a human stationmaster. The continued existence of the squat-toilets seems strange, but again it goes back to the Japanese fastidiousness. A squat-toilet, properly used, does not require a person to touch the toilet at all, whereas Western-style toilets have you sitting down, with your butt in secondhand contact with the rear ends of an unknown number of strangers. When you look at it that way, it makes a bit more sense, no?
If you aren't familiar with Tokyo and can't answer these, it's fine. Maybe it's the same when you go to other big cities, as well, so thanks for the information!
Well, as in Tokyo, so in the rest of the country. Tokyo just tends to be more everything in every way. Thanks for the letter!
Well, there you have it. Thankfully the rain has held off long enough for me to get all this together (since my internet connection practically dies in heavy rain). Next week we may not be so lucky. Rain, rain, go away....
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,