'Twas the week (or so) before Christmas, and all through the class, the students were twittering. What would they ask? Their homework was undone, but did they care? For they wondered of Santa-san soon would be there.
Yes, Virginia. Japanese children believe in Santa too. I've heard some of my third-graders speculate on the "Santa is really daddy" theory, but they don't seem 100% convinced yet. This wouldn't be the first time that the Japanese have appropriated a foreign holy figure or minor deity, but at least Santa has a better pedigree than some.
Like everything else that has found its way into Japanese culture, Christmas has made its presence felt in video games, more so through the trappings of the holiday than anything else. The twinkling lights and happy snowmen make a slightly exotic backdrop for the obligatory icy areas of a game, and the Christmas tree jives well with the Japanese concept of sacred trees (such as the ones found in almost every shrine in the country).
Santa's presence has been a bit less frequent. The only appearances which I know for certain reached US shores were in Secret of Mana (as part of a main plot segment) and Dragon Quest IX (as bonus content). The SoM appearance even makes reference to sacred Christmas trees.
This year I played two games with very different representations of Santa and the Christmas culture. In Linda3 there was a company town that was molded by the whims of its madam president into a picturesque North Pole village. Here Christmas hams were available for anyone, the employees were forced into a Santa dress code, and the official town music was "Jingle Bells." The fact that one of the final bosses, a bulky homicidal maniac, was included in this theme just made it all the weirder.
The other game, which I am still playing, is Metal Saga: Season of Steel. While it does have one very snowy town, that's not where Santa is. Farther south lies the cliff-dwelling community of Santa Peak. In the game's nuclear apocalypse of a backstory, the inhabitants of this region were saved by the Great Santa. In reality this was just a red-suited maniac in a really big tank, but the villagers all believe that he was the real deal. They dress up in his image, give elaborate gifts, maintain a very Shinto-looking Christmas tree, and await the second coming of Santa down the big chimney in the center of town.
Alright, so these two examples are the extreme representations of a foreign holiday in Japanese pop culture, but it's not like a big, fat, magic old man in a red suit has much in common with a 4th century bishop in ancient Anatolia, either.
I found this following item while I was Christmas shopping this past weekend. I'd be tempted to buy it, but I wouldn't know who in my family to give it to.
Yes, these are Legend of Zelda playing cards. I like the design on the back, and having Tingle as the Joker card is a nice touch. I couldn't tell if the suites had been changed without opening the case (it was sealed). If the deck is still there next weekend, I might just buy it for myself...
If there's one thing that a Super Robot Wars title doesn't need, it's more robots. And yet, that's the first thing that pops up in any news item for this series. Let's see what's new in the world of Super Robot Wars Original Generation Masou Kishin - Revelation of Evil God (not to mention ridiculously long titles):
This is Shuu Shirakawa. I had a nice bit written up about him before I googled the name and realized that he appears in quite a few other SRT games, including all of the other OG strategy games. He and the Granzon are back for action once more.
The next guy seems to be a bit newer on the scene. Gido Zeihoffer is a German soldier from the surface world, and a bit of a ladies' man as well. His mecha, the Dinflail, is powered by the guardian spirit of lightning, Dinhyul.
Gaen here doesn't remember much, or anything, of his childhood, not even his own birth name. But that doesn't matter. He's on a mission from God. Unfortunately, that God is named Vorcrus, and He is not the kind of deity one wants in the neighborhood apparently. Gaen pilots the Dziyen, a wicked looking contraption indeed. While most of the mecha in this game are masouki, powered by elemental spirits, the Dziyen is a reisouki. It is the product of an even more ancient time, and from the name it sounds like it's powered by the souls of the damned. Anything is possible, I suppose.
Raikou Zeffember is a captain of the Erial Kingdom's Adversary Squad. He seems to be involved with the same group as Gaen, the Jingi Mukyuuryuu. I have no idea how to translate that, unfortunately. His mecha, the Svend Nedam, does not have a deep connection with any one elemental spirit. Instead, it seems to be able to juggle connections with lesser elementals to provide it a great deal of flexibility in combat.
Niko Sandreev is a captain in the Schturdonian military, and the pilot of the Kyuumei Scarlet. Like the Svend Nedam, the Kyuumei is an Erial model makes use of lesser spirits to bolster its abilities. Niko and her twin sister Riko are both aces in the military, but are currently separated in opposite sides of the country.
Reffen Dasdreche is one of the ace pilots of southern Schturdonia. His mech is the Embaros, an upgraded close-in fighter. There's not much else to say about him that won't be even more impenetrable from lack of context. He just looks tough, doesn't he though?
Finally, we have Colonel Bradroi zan Berifait and his daughter, Major Sharian zania Berifait. They command the Hringhorni, the main carrier craft of the Antiras Squad. It's impressively large, with a max speed of Mach 4 and room for thirty-two magical mecha in its hold. It can also put up a good fight when necessary. For the record, the Japanese wiki pages for Norse mythology are amazingly extensive, and are the only reason I was able to confirm how this ship's name was actually spelled.
There are plenty of event scenes in this game as well, to judge from the following.
Whatever else this game may be, it assuredly provides everything that SRT fans have come to know and love. Robots and explosions.
Last week we saw a lot of Compile Heart and Kenji Inafune's Mugen Souls. One of the weirder parts of it was how the protagonist, Chou-Chou Infinite, apparently lives life in the plural, with different personalities and forms that pop up under various conditions. Here are three more, by the way.
From left to right, we have Chou-Chou (dom), Chou-Chou (sub), and Chou-Chou (neatfreak). This brings the total number of alternative personalities up to seven, which matches the number of worldlets in the game. It remains to be seen if this is just a coincidence.
In non-Chou-Chou news, we have the heroes of Sunworld. Sol Skyheart is an acclaimed warrior, but also a bit of a weirdo. He seems to have an obsession with getting female party members to dress up in swimsuits. Shandy Sunshine started out as a regular princess-in-distress, but even after Sol rescues her from monsters she refuses to go back to the castle, instead following Sol around like a confuzzled duckling.
Mugen Souls is due out March 22nd, 2012, on the PS3.
A point of clarification: The original PC version of the following game was released in the US a bit over a month ago. Aselia the Eternal was released on the PC in Japan in 2003, made it to the PS2 in 2005, and is just now getting passed onto the PSP. If you want a plot synopsis, click here. If you want to see Japanese screens, look below.
A Point of Definition
In the upcoming Shining Blade PSP game, is Rage the sole protagonist, or is Sakuya selectable as the player character? In the character section on the offical website it describes Rage as the pureiyaa no bunshin, which I translate as 'the player's other self' while Sakuya uses the standard shujinkou i.e. protagonist, though I can't tell what the distinction is. In your previous column you mentioned Sakuya has her 'own entourage' which makes me think of the games Trinity Blade, Mana Khemia 2, and Hexyz Force, which each had a selectable male/female protagonist who had their own parties, and I wondered if you had read something I hadn't.
According to the game's own website, Sakuya is "one more protagonist" (mou hitori no shujinkou), but more importantly, she's the only character currently on the cast list so described. When I said entourage I meant the cat and the sword, but she's also the leader of one of the major resistance groups in the game. Rage is supposed to be from another world entirely, and as such makes a good stand-in for the player, who likewise won't have any idea what's going on at first. That's how I read it, at least. Rage is in a sort of Tidus situation where he's the hero but is intentionally made a fish out of water so that the player can better self-identify and discover the world with him. Sakuya, on the other hand, is more likely to be the major plot protagonist that is teamed with Rage and the two Lorelei, Hermina and Altina (who, despite their importance to the plot, are not called protagonists in their character bios).
I was also wondering if JRPGs with female protagonists, or otherwise giving players the choice was a growing trend or not, since I've noticed a lot of developers doing this, especially Namco with Milla from Tales of Xillia, which has up until now followed the traditional formula of male swordsman protagonist with female characters as support roles not meant to engage in direct combat.
Hm, there are a couple young ladies from Tales of Destiny who would like to challenge that description. Granted, Stahn was still the protagonist of that game, but Rutee and Mary were hardly the back-row support types. As to the state of the genre as a whole, female protagonists have made appearances in various game subsets for a couple decades now. It all boils down to what the developers' largest target audience is. For the entire history of video games that has meant designing for young males in their teens or college years, and so there is a preference for heroes over heroines as the principle driving force of the plot. While there have been a few counter-examples, mostly in Japan and mostly based on shojo manga titles, this has held true. Nowadays, games with player-created characters will almost always allow for female characters, but only a few companies routinely produce games with female protagonists: Gust, NIS, and Compile Heart. Considering the usual art direction for games from these companies, it's quite likely that they are producing titles with the male demographic in mind as well.
A Point of Order
I have a quick cultural question about discussing politics in Japan,
spurred by all the recent political discourse in American news.
Stateside, we have a saying that one shouldn't discuss politics in
polite company. Indeed, in certain settings, projecting one's
opinion--even if not strictly partisan--may cause others discomfort,
especially if unsolicited and the listener would rather not be
disagreeable in that context. Prime-time television and advertising,
for example, typically opt to avoid anything politically controversial
because it could offend or alienate potential viewers or purchasers.
In a country where politeness norms are often divergent from the West,
does Japan have similar taboos?
The Japanese don't talk much about politics at all, compared to in the West, but there are certain exceptions. For example, there are laws on the books concerning how a candidate for office may present himself, and these are generally interpreted to mean that candidates are barred from campaign advertising on television or the internet. Every time an election comes around, campaign walls will be set up in neighborhoods for candidates to hang their posters, and supporters will drive around in vans with loudspeakers announcing political platforms. People quickly get sick of it all. Outside of politically charged areas like Okinawa, where candidates often campaign vociferously on anti-military platforms, no one really talks about politics unless and until something scandalous happens. I have heard that a Japanese version of the Tea Party is popping up in Osaka and Nagoya, however, so things may change. Probably won't, but they may.
Yo, Wheels! Where's that letter you promised? For the rest of the audience, here's a general question: What odd bits of translation do you remember best from your years of gaming? Things that seemed out of place, silly, or just plain wrong? Odds are, there's an explanation (though it most often boils down to someone in the localization department not consulting a thesaurus). I'd love to hear from you all!
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,