I make no apologies for my absence last week. It was Obon, and even the Japanese gaming industry tends to take time off for that. What's Obon? It's the Shinto version of Memorial Day, and it can be a pretty depressing time of year. Families visit ancestral graves to pray, tidy up, and burn incense. Movies like Grave of the Fireflies play regularly on TV. Oh, and it coincides with the dates my homeland decided would be best for reducing two Japanese cities to radioactive rubble, 65 years ago.
On that note, guess where I went on vacation?
Nagasaki's looking pretty good these days. We arrived on Monday, and any plans to visit the Peace Park that day were stifled by the weather and the twenty or thirty thousand other people who were also trying to visit. Hiromi doesn't do well with large crowds or sardine-packed trolleys, so we visited the other side of town first.
Way back when, on the eve of the Bakumatsu Revolution, foreign trade was dominated by a Scotsman named Thomas Blake Glover. He had a beautiful estate built for him on a hill overlooking the city, and even today the Glover Gardens remain a historical monument dedicated to the gaijin who, among other things, was instrumental in founding Mitsubishi, Kirin Brewing Co., and the Meiji Government.
Tuesday started out sunny, so the two of us took the ferry to Ioh-jima, a small resort spot with an unmistakeably Mediterranean feel to it. Its name could possibly be translated as "King of Italy Island," but we're not sure about that. A one-day package ticket for ferries and baths was only ten dollars.
That same afternoon, things were a bit wetter. That's when we visited the Dejima Museum. For two centuries, Dejima was Japan's sole point of access to the West -- a fan-shaped artificial island the size of one city block, with severe restrictions on who could and could not pass through the gates. More recent reclamation efforts have absorbed it into the mainland, but the government's done a good job of recreating the entire block of buildings.
Nagasaki's Chinatown was surprisingly small, but then again it's now mostly a shopping and dining area for tourists, not an active residential area. It was a good place to stop and eat in the evening. I had the pari-pari yakisoba (seafood chow-mein) and Hiromi had the champon (a seafood soup with spaghetti-like noodles).
On Wednesday, we finally made it to the Peace Park, and it wasn't crowded at all. Of course, this was because Typhoon #4 was busy plowing its way through the straits between Japan and Korea. We somehow persevered all the way up to the new Urakami Cathedral (the old one didn't survive being a quarter-mile from the hypocenter), where we had a chance to sit down, rest, and admire the statues and stained glss.
The weather settled down for a few hours before our train departed, so we spent some time visiting historical spots in the old geisha district and eating gyoza dumplings at a particularly famous -- and tiny -- restaurant. It was a good end to a busy three days of no work. Now, back to the column!
There was a party in Tokyo last weekend, and Famitsu has pictures for all the fans (like myself) who couldn't make it. Saturday, August 14th, was the date for Atlus's Persona Music Live Show 2010. Here's a bit of what we missed:
While there don't seem to be any video clips of the event on Youtube just yet, there are plenty for last year's concert (the album version of which I currently have in my CD player). Watch on, American fans, and wonder.
There's a song out there that tells us to thank Heaven for little girls, because little girls get bigger everyday. Someone at Image Epoch seems to have taken this song to heart, but I think they got the details a little mixed up. The girls in IE's newest game have certainly grown up, but Heaven hardly comes into it.
Just look at the title for a moment. Criminal Girls. What images does this evoke? Maybe leather catsuits, whips, and hi-tech gadgetry? Or maybe prison stripes and public showers? Get your collective brain out of the gutter, please. We're not talking about some D-grade porno here. This is a serious attempt at an original RPG premise, developed by Image Epoch in collaboration with Nippon Ichi Software.
Okay, maybe I lied about the "serious" part. Maybe it's less superheroic than it is stripperiffic. It's still original.
This isn't just any tower here. This is Hell. The seven "heroines" (and I use the term loosely) of Criminal Girls have all died with sins weighing on their souls, and this tower is to be their prison for the rest of eternity. Fortunately (again, term used loosely) for them, they all qualify for an early release program. If they can make it all the way to the top of the tower, then they get a second chance at life.
The player gets to take the role of one of the prison's wardens, tasked with the unenviable onus of whipping these selfish brats into shape as they scale the various floors of the tower. Through hells of mud, fire, ice, and who-knows-what-else these seven misfits have to be pushed, shoved, and sometimes coddled in order to get them to behave. These aren't nice girls, after all, and they don't really want to do what the warden is telling them to do even if it's in their best interests. And if they can't even be bothered to trudge through a bit of muck in order to get out of Hell, it's going to take all the threats and abuse the player can muster to get them to fight the other inmates who don't want them to leave.
In fact, there are times when the girls refuse to do anything at all. In that case, it's time for some special punishment.
You know, I'm not sure what is going on here, and I'm not sure I want to know.... Nippon Ichi isn't going to tell us any more about it either, so let's learn a bit more about the girls instead, shall we?
First there's Kisaragi, whose sin is Greed. She's always been obsessed with "real" things, not fakes. If it's not the best then she won't have it. Second is Arisu, whose sin seems to be Heresy. I'm not sure if they're using the word in the same way it's usually meant in English, though. The Japanese word itan, as well as her character description, seems to fit in more with the actual origins of the word, as in "chooses to think differently," rather than the religious crime of old Europe. However they mean it, Arisu is a bit of an odd duck. What she sees isn't necessarily what everyone else sees, she notices things that others may overlook. Our third girl is Tomoe and... I think everyone can guess what sin she's supposed to represent.
The other four girls have not been formally introduced, but again Nippon Ichi has promised that we'll get to know each of them better soon. Criminal Girls will be in Japanese stores on Nov. 18th, and will also be available for PSP download on the same date.
Maboroshi is a fun word in Japanese. It's also deceptively simple to translate. Usually it's given as "phantom" or "illusory." These are both accurate when the symbol is used in a word combo, and in normal usage they'd also both be wrong. Maboroshi's meaning includes both of these words, but it also includes several others, like "amazing," "rare," and "unbelievable." In modern parlance, maboroshi by itself is most often used as an adjective and means something like "This famous thing that everyone's heard about and no one thinks exists but actually it does." In Nintendo parlance, it's the prefered adjective to describe any of the ridiculously cute legendary Pokémon that can only be gained through special event downloads: Mew, Celebi, Jirachi, Manaphy, and most recently Victini. In the past six-to-eight months, three of these were made available via the McDS program. I just got the fourth one this week.
Starting last Saturday and continuing right up to the release date of Pokémon Black & White, Manaphy can be downloaded onto any Japanese Pokémon DS cartridge. Just the Japanese ones, by the way. I tried it once with my American Soul Silver cart, and was not able to access the Japanese McDS offer. I was able to access the American McDS offer though, which is how I now have two Jirachi. So if anyone out there has a Japanese cart and access to a McDonald's wi-fi spot, now's the time to try it for yourself.
Oh, and I'll probably get Victini next month, while he's still available for free at any participating games store in Japan.
Just a few days back this website went up. Click the link, see the movie, or just watch it below:
Presto, you now know exactly as much about this game as anyone else on the internet. Well, except for the name. It's not actually in the movie clip, but the supposed title of this game is Black Rock Shooter with a cute little star symbol between Black and Rock. How it relates to the anime series of the same name is unknown. The Japanese lines in the clip read: "In the year 2032, the human race came to an end. Before she opened her eyes." As the clip ends with the line "She becomes RPG," we're just going to have to assume that she also belongs in this column. Now we'll have to wait and see, like the rest of the internet.
You report on them often enough: are you, in fact, a cell phone RPG player?
Good question, Jumes! I'll get back to the rest of your letter at a later date, I promise. At the moment I am not a cell-phone RPGamer. The poor control schemes, myopia-inducing screen size, and poor battery life turned me off of them back when I was playing The After. Why do I report on them so often? Because cell phone games are still one area that I can almost always guarantee will come under the purview of this column, for one thing. So few of them ever leave Japan, after all -- though Gameloft has had the tendency to release everything stateside a week or two before they release in Japan, recently. I need to check more thoroughly in the future.
The thing is, the cell networks, and now the iPhone and iPad, are where a lot of the silly and weird creativity is going these days. Development costs are less, distribution is 100% digital so material costs are a lot less, and successful games on this platform might be optioned for a DSi or Wii-lease in the future. The After Years may have been the first such game to make it stateside, but it wasn't the first cell phone game to make the jump, nor will it be the last. I'd bet that Final Fantasy Legends will do so in the future, and Star Ocean Blue Sphere might as well. Let's see what's in the near future, though:
While I'm pretty sure the American adaptation flopped, Masked Rider is still a major action series (or series of series) in Japan. The cell phone networks are also a good haven for niche or tie-in titles, and this one probably counts as both. From the screenshots in the scan, it actually looks fun, in a cheesy sort of way.
And then there's this game, new for the iPad. Like AR Monsters (mentioned in a previous column), Sekai Yuusha (World Hero) uses the iPad's camera technology to have the player combat monsters drawn from real photographs and locations.
Cell phones and the i-series are also good places for remakes. Hopefully the iPhone's control interface works well with a strategy title like Shining Force. I'd be interested in seeing what else they feel like porting over as well. I don't have an iPhone yet, but I may get one in the near to middling future. My own cell phone is getting pretty beat up.
But yeah, that's why I cover cell phone games so much, Jumes.
My name is Ken and I been reading this column for a long time. Usually check it out at work, always been big on the jrpgs since a kid.
Your posts of Luida's Bar makes me want to visit Tokyo again as I'm a huge DQ fan! I met quite a number of Japanese in the recent years and been in Japan for a few months, even though I did not really obtain linguistic skills I hoped I would. Always peak of interest in the odd things (odd to a westerner of course!) they got over there and their butt cleaners (too lazy to look up the proper term) are the best! Aside from gaming, have a question you may or may not be able to answer and I didnt know who else to ask.
Nowadays, in the West, gays are slowly becoming more open to the public. Of course many still keep it a secret due to social pressure or such but its on the uprise to let it out. What about Japan? Do you know any or hear of people coming out to the open? Or you think due to how the society functions there, it would be a secret forever for most? I can't really think of any news in that sort that comes out publicly among local citizens. Sorry about this odd question but figured, you probably be gotten stranger questions asked before!
Your opinion is much appreciated!
Yes, I have gotten stranger questions before. This one, I'll actually print, but not without removing a bit in the middle. When dealing with a topic like this, I'd prefer to remain a bit more objective and not go around outing people by accident. My apologies.
OK, a few fun facts to start off. The first fact is historical. Kabuki, the famous all-male theatrical style, was originally developed by a geisha from what is now known as Kabuki-cho in Yokohama, and for the first ten years of its existence kabuki was performed by men and women together. However, the shogun had to put his foot down when too many young samurai were getting themselves killed in duels over the affections of the pretty young actresses. Women were banned from the stage, to be replaced with young boys à la the Gaieties of Shakespeare's time. This didn't last very long, as the samurai continued to duel each other to the death over the affections of the pretty young actors instead. For this reason, all roles in kabuki are now performed by adult men.
The second fun fact relates to my experiences in Japan. After five, going on six, years of watching the news and trying to read the newspapers in this country, do you know how many local (non-international) stories I have seen concerning homosexuality? As far as I can recall, none. I turn on CNN, and I can bet that within half an hour I'll see some reference to it, either for or against, but it's largely under the radar in Japanese news. Everything I personally know about the subject comes from people I have met either through work or socially, or occasionally from watching ridiculous Japanese talk shows.
Now we get into all the things I discovered while trying to prove or disprove my perceptions of homosexuality in this country. I was pretty sure of a lot of this, but Shinto as a religion does not say anything at all about the morality of same-sex activity. Buddhism does, but only in the context of its prohibition on all sexual activity for those following a monastic lifestyle (a prohibition that has been oft ignored, if one's to believe the history books). There is no moral imperative against it in Japanese society, and as I learned from reading, Japan had an anti-sodomy law on the books for all of seven years in the 19th century before it got repealed. The only reason they had it in the first place was that it was part of the Meiji government's program to model modern Japan according to European society.
Currently, many labels used to define a person as homosexual in Japanese are loanwords from English. All the classical Japanese words for the behavior refer strictly to the behavior. The lover was the lover, the act was the act, and one did not define the other. While the Japanese have absorbed some attitudes on the matter from the West, by and large this attitude appears to have survived. I've heard that there's a burgeoning gay and lesbian community in the bigger cities, but for the most part people keep it low-key. There have been quite a few openly homosexual tarento in the last few years, though, all of them quite popular.
I admit, my only real barometer for gauging public opinion on this is my girlfriend. She was raised in a very conservative household, and we still butt heads over ridiculous issues at times. She's convinced, among other things, that it's illegal for junior high school students to set foot inside a game center or used game store (because school by-laws try to prohibit it). One time she tried to explain to me why convenience stores were bad for the morals of today's youth (because they were too convenient), but she's since decided that was just silly. Her opinion on homosexuality? It's not her thing, doesn't interest her personally (though she's interested in gay characters in TV dramas), but she doesn't care to meddle in what other people do in their free time.
Seriously though, I could have simply answered this question with "Ever walked into the 'Boy's Love' section of the manga store?" Japanese literature and art are full of sexual themes that would be considered weird, obscene, or illegal in some parts of the West. The classic work The Tale of Genji makes direct references to homosexuality, and that sort of literary forthrightness hasn't changed much in the last millennium. Kochi-Kame, which at three decades and counting is the longest-running comic book series in the world, has had a transexual major character for most of its print run.
That's about all I can say on the matter, though. This is one area where eastern and western traditional thought are so far apart that it's hard to figure out just where to begin asking. Thanks for the interesting question!