Sunday, August 30, 2009

Small Hauls

Got a small haul or two from J-List and Strapya World this Saturday. I'll let these (captioned) pictures speak for themselves.

The entire little Strapya package lootMy favorite of the bunch was this Melonpan-chan strap ^^
Kabocha-chan and Wasabi-kun (kabocha means pumpkin)
Mikan-chan bell (mikan means tangerine)Capybara-san (Capybara are the largest species of rodent in existence)
Made by the same company as Capybara-san,Iwaya, this is Moichou. This item is a cellphone stand, but I use it for my iPod Touch. It fits perfectly!
And this one toddles along when you wind it up
Megahouse is really the master of gimmicky toys, this seemingly-edible Tirol chocolate transforms into...
...a really innocuous looking robot. Salami & Cheese flavored Cheetos? Hell yes! Don't these seem like a flavor that would be available in North America?
Cheese Pretz. Not much more to say beyond that.
The oddly-named Mike Popcorn. This flavor happens to be Green Tea & Salt.Japanese Pringles, in this case Mayo & Cheese Potato flavor....and Spicy Chicken Flavor. Again, why are these flavors not released here?
A mug from Doki-Doki Majo Shinpan, a series of ecchi games for the Nintendo DS. Unusually enough SNK (yes, *that* SNK) makes these games.

I love the art style on this mug, I used to have a oppai mousepad of the character in the first photo but sold it to get a Yoko (from Gurren Lagann) oppai mousepad. =P

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Room Update

One of newer acquisitions, the limited edition Lucky Star Netsuke Straps, they released 3 for each region in Japan, making for a total of 18. I got these from Yahoo Japan Auctions for a hefty 10,000yen for a complete set. These are made by Goodsmile Company, and fall under the "Nendoroid Plus" label.

I "remixed" my Animal Crossing setup. So now instead of the hidden village I had before, I now have a tiny city occupying a whole shelf. Hopefully there won't a downpour of those Super Mario Bros Soundrops above them. ^^;

Nendoroid Zange-chan 来た!

I was a bad "recovering otaku" last week and decided when I got Hobby Search's weekly restock mail, to order Zange-chan from Kannagi. I have a total weakness for all things Nendoroid, and Kannagi's art style is so cute. *ahem* I debated buying this, because I'm really, REALLY not a fan of western religion, so the cross/habit was kind of a turn-off. But, while Zange-chan's hairpin cross doesn't come off, her necklace is removable (and breakable ^^). Besides, how could anyone resist that face? (Those faces?)

She is typical of a Goodsmile product, very clean, smooth lines, well-textured, sturdy in construction, etc. And speaking of sturdy, I think GSC has FINALLY found a way to keep the head-heavy 'droids from falling on their faces/backs! (And occasionally smudging the paint on the backs of their heads and pissing me off! ^^;) The newer stand included with Zange has a Revoltech-type joint that a butt-supporting base sits on, and that flexibility makes all of the difference, really. I know it's a stupid thing to be so ecstatic about, but when I pick her up she doesn't wobble, her stand doesn't fall off of her body if I pick her up by her head, it's amazing! \^o^/

Monday, August 24, 2009

Metal Gear Sold 4 Ration Sound (Drops)

Got these awesome little ration-shaped, Soundrop-type toys from Mugen Toys the other day. They make all of the awesome trademark sounds from the series. I think perhaps that the "!" and "CALL" ones are going to run out of batteries soon. =P

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yujin Shooting Historica Vol. 3

I really love shooting games, unfortunately shooting games don't love me. Ever since I was little I've loved games like Gradius, Darius Twin, In the Hunt, Life Force (Salamander), Parodius, etc etc. I've never been especially great at them, but I love the ship designs. So last year whenever Yujin came out with their own trademark brand of really inexpensive capsule toys featuring ships from various STG games from the past, I was pleased. When they released 2 more sets of these toys, I was thrilled!

This week (after receiving set #2 instead of 3 by accident) I got the entirety of Shooting Historica 3 in the mail. The first set included a lot of ships from games even people who aren't shoot-em-up fans would know. This set is a little bit more obscure, having ships from games that even I don't know.

The sub from In the Hunt has 'Option Parts' to transform it with.

The Raiden fighter can be configured to regular or Power-Up mode.

The two highlights for me were the fighter from the game Raiden, and the submarine from the 1993 arcade (and later PS1 & Sega Saturn) game In the Hunt. Interesting side note: I always thought that this game resembled the Metal Slug series, and it turns out that after making In the Hunt, the same team went on to make the Metal Slug games. Neo Geo ftw. ^^

Wolf Fang MechaTank from Granada (the game, not the nation)

There's a mech in this set from the game Wolf Fang, in the last set there was a mech as well. Hopefully if they make another set more mecha will be forthcoming, as I appreciate variety. There was a semi-generic looking ship from the game Sokyuu Gurentai, which I'd never heard of before and had to look up. A tank unit from the game Granada, and finally the CEASER ship from Star Soldier.

Ship from Star Soldier
Ship from Sokyuu Gurentai (Roughly means: Azure Sky Crimson Corps)

The first set of Shooting Historica had the gimmick of a few of the ships having options and parts to attach to the ships. The second set really had no gimmick. This set has a "transforming" gimmick with every ship having the ability to "power up" in some way (at least that's what the instructions say). All in all I love this series of Gashapon toys, they're aesthetically pleasing, accurately resemble what they're supposed to be and have gimmicks to boot! If you'd like a set of these, I bought them at Mugen Toys, and amazingly they had some full sets left (they don't make you buy 'random' ones even though they can see through the capsule!).

Friday, August 07, 2009

Yoko the Busty PVC Bounty Hunter

Got an unusually large box from Hobby Search today containing three items: Bounty Hunter Yoko Littner (Littner, really? Ritona sounds so much better), Revoltech Super Galaxy Gurren-Lagann and last but not least a box of Dragon Quest IX "Character Making Figure". By now I know the approximate size of a box of small trading figure types, Yoko is 1/8 scale, and the size of Revoltech boxes is damned-near uniform, so I couldn't figure out why the box they were shipped in was ginormous.

Then I got it home and opened it. Yoko's box was, for some reason, huge. Huge when compared with the normal 1/8 figure box, anyway. They set her base at the bottom, flat, that's the only reason I think it was as wide as it was. Other than that, her coat sort of sticks out a bit - still if you look at the pics I've taken of the box, it still doesn't reach anywhere near that width. Perhaps they were just that worried that a $75 figure would suffer from broken cape syndrome?
At any rate, none of the products disappointed. I've been looking forward to this Yoko since February or so, when her preorder opened and she did not fail to impress. From her boots to her abs to her facial expression and clothes, this iteration of Yoko is excellent. I'm especially impressed that they didn't make the face lopsided or not capture her look properly, which is the problem I have with most of the Yoko PVCs I've not bought. There seem to be certain characters that most artists have difficulty with rendering their face in 3-D, and Yoko seems to be one of them. Louise, from Zero no Tsukaima seems to be the other that stands out in my mind.
The Revoltech Super Galaxy Gurren-Lagann is a pretty standard Revoltech model. I have a weakness for this series, especially its mecha, so I've gotten every version of GL they've made with the exception of the Gurren and Lagann one they produced in June, I think it was. He comes with the standard sunglasses, drills, extra hands and such.
Lastly, the Dragon Quest IX Character Making Figures are kinda cool. I purchased all 3 of the Roto sets as well as the equipment sets in box form before and I was angry to find that every time, despite each series (outside of the equipment one) containing less than 12 items - which was the number you'd get in a box - I'd never collect all of them in one box. I assumed SquEnix did this on purpose for people who bought a box at a time. However, this time I was pleasantly surprised that the 12 boxes yielded a full set and then some. There are only about 6 characters in the set, but a few of the same come with different elements of Roto's armor/sword in place of the items they'd come with in their "normal" version. They're called "Character Making Figures" because you can not only swap the Roto equipment, but any hair/face/body/weapon combination you can think of, like making your character in the game. (Which, I find the figures a lot more entertaining than the game itself, unfortunately)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Fan Translations

As I mentioned in my last post, playing MegaTen re-sparked my interest in "retro" gaming and online fan translations of our favorites that never made it overseas. It's funny to see how that "scene" has remained virtually unchanged in over 10 years. There are still people hex editing ROMs, there are still circa-1998-looking webpages that aren't updated that often, the patches are applied (of course) in the same way.

Now, these take forever because ten times out of ten they're fan-based projects, which means that a few people over the net, or sometimes one person all by him/herself are tackling the translation, the ROM hacking, the table editing and whatever else needs to be done. This is the work of normal people with real jobs and lives and probably less free time than you or I. However they find time to put in work on their labors of love, and for free.

The equivalent of a really complex fansub, these fan translations often take years, if they're ever completed at all. Hex editing - a term I mentioned above - is necessary, which means that games are a lot more difficult (technically) than your typical anime episode or movie. Compounded by the fact that games have no uniform way of being made, so when they're dumped into a file the structure is preserved. So if the company that made Game X in 1987 that you wish to translate, used some ghetto, wonky way of structuring its programming, then you may be in for a long road ahead before you even get to editing the text.

To make matters worse, a certain amount of memory/space is often allocated for text in any given game, and there's a big difference between English and Japanese. When writing as well as typing, whether you use one kanji or 5 letters to express a word, your brain is still counting them as 1 character and 5 characters, respectively. A computer is no different, despite the fact that I type "head" in English or "頭" in Japanese, the computer makes the distinction that "head" is 4 characters and "頭" is only one. A good example of this is Twitter. In 140 characters in Japanese you can basically type a paragraph, in English that expands to probably over 250 characters depending on what you're talking about. While this is in fact no problem when you're on Twitter, because tweets are unlimited, when you have a set length programmed/allocated for text in a game, you may be required to cram a complex thought into a small space in English, from the Japanese game. Obviously not wanting to reprogram the entire game around a translation, this is why older games often contain strange text or scripts that seem unfinished. (I'm not talking about Engrish here, more like SNES-era RPGs that have strange scripts - think FFIII(VI) )

So after years of hard work, not making a single pittance off of translating a game, why do these guys do it? "For the fun of it," or, "So other fans can enjoy it," much for the same reasons that fansubbers do the same with anime. But one comment on the Wiki entry for Mother 3 (known better as Earthbound in the states, only the 2nd title of the series has been released anywhere but Japan) struck me as odd. "1UP cited the initial low critical response and sales with the lack of an English release for Mother 3." Now, for one, in this day and age it's a well-established fact that there are games that do much better outside of their home country/demographic, especially those with an already built-in fan base - which Mother 2 had in spades. If you look at the fact that nearly every Final Fantasy game before the PS-era titles as well as now the Dragon Quest series has been re-re-re-released for portable systems, people will buy remakes, there's a whole new generation out there waiting to try these rumored titles they've heard so much about, and finally if people love a series and you release titles that have yet been released in that region, people. will. buy. it. No matter how low the critical response was, people will buy the damned game for two reasons: 1) they loved Earthbound, if they see more titles from that series, most will buy it out of sheer curiosity & 2) It's a Nintendo in-house-made title. Most first-party Nintendo titles are explosively popular, often because they're good. Obviously there have been bad titles, but I can guarantee you that Pokemon Dash paid itself off.

Which brings me to my next point. Why the hell not? Localizing something like Policenauts or Snatcher now, unless in a compilation for a new system, would probably not make fiscal sense. However, every other week a Sega compilation of crappy 16 bit titles or Monkey Island or one of a dozen older games comes out in downloadable form. But if these people/groups that translate these titles out of their "love of the game" just want to see them released to the public, why not just pay them a small amount of money for their work, release it and make everyone happy? Obviously there's more to it than just that, but the company has minimal financial output beyond localization, especially if you're quietly releasing a title without any real advertising budget behind it. And now you can release a "risky" title with viral and word-of-mouth marketing that costs next to nothing.

As bizarre as it seems that no one has really indulged that idea as of yet, companies are actually still showing opposition to things like this. I recently ran across a few Chinese-made games on iTunes, one of which had a blatant ripoff of Wario of Nintendo fame, and the other was a ripoff in total of Mr Driller, by Namco. They're still there months later, making money for what amounts to pirates, after reporting this to both Nintendo and Namco's legal departments, who could've easily killed both games. But in recent years companies have threatened to sue fan translation groups, and in a unique case the asshats at Square-Enix have threatened legal action against a group that started doing an amazing 3-D remake of Chrono Trigger. Why would you not hire, or at the very least, comission the work of these talented people? They could totally do what most free-market economies are predicated upon: Buy someone who is talented's work for a minimal amount of money, exploit them and make piles of cash from it.

Everybody wins in a situation like I just described. The company has a minimal fiscal risk, the fans get a localized version of a potentially great game and the translators get to do what they love and get somewhat remunerated (read: happily screwed) for it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Retro Nostalgia

Recently I acquired both Dragon Quest XI and Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor for my DS. Upon playing a bit of both of them I noticed something... Despite having actually played a few Dragon Quest titles before but never having played a Megami Tensei title before, MT seemed so much more familiar than DQ. For two, Dragon Quest has lost that "retro" feel by this incarnation - it certainly doesn't feel canon at all anymore. They've traded all of the gameplay and suck-you-in story of previous titles for really, really overreaching graphics and from what I've experienced so far - tedium. As I said, I've never played a Megami Tensei title before, although I've had lots of interest in doing so, just ultimately never bothered to. However, this game actually gave me more of a nostalgic "retro" feeling than any title in recent memory. MT has flashy graphics with hand-drawn anime/manga style characters and demons, convenient gameplay to expedite strategy to action and different gimmicks that certainly do not feel like gimmicks.

I have to say I'm fairly disappointed by DQIX, and I can honestly see why Japanese people gave it unanimously "shit-laden" reviews. Visually, the game is kinda pretty for a DS title, but I felt like the scenery was sparse at points, there was too much emphasis on character graphics and that it almost overreached on both at points. It's hard to explain, but it sort of makes me think of an overtly-ambitious N64 game. Thankfully, though, it doesn't suffer from the same affliction that the awful remakes of Dragon Quest V and VI do. And that is that they both looked like poorly-textured PS1 titles. I would rather have a translation in earnest of the original 16-bit titles, than something where every texture looks like someone pooped spinach onto the side of a building, and the characters look like pulled-apart SNES Mode 7 pixelated messes. The story seems kinda awful, too. So far I've discovered that I'm a "guardian angel" of a village and I have to take people's prayers that I've fulfilled and appease some sort of world tree with the "energy" that their thanks generates or some BS. I can only assume that at some point the world tree gets blown to smithereens or something and then my character becomes human and has to gather a band of warriors and take down retard-a-saurus or whatever.

This is precisely why I stopped playing Final Fantasy games. Why the hell do these things need to be so bloody abstract now?! It was charming when Final Fantasy Tactics Advance had some kids pulled through to another dimension to save it. When they continued with some thinly-veiled "we don't give a shit" story in the same vein in A2, it just became an awful mess. A2's story was super-blatant and straightforward, as well as extremely half-hearted. For those of you that remember the first Tactics game for the PS1, it was about, well, Tactics as well as a deeply rooted, complex story like an ancient tale come to life. I have zero objections to a story that's strange/abstract, but well-executed. Chrono Trigger is, in my opinion, one of the best games of all time and its story is amongst the most abstract I've ever seen. However! It was also well-executed (and built into a time-traveling gimmick to boot). These new games have stories that are really slap-dashed together or they smack of cliche, or worse they try something "new" with a major title (ala DQIX) where it alters the mainstays of the series to the point where I don't want to play anymore titles in the series. I used to be the biggest FF fanboy ever, now I don't own a single title. When it got to the micromanagement stage in FFVIII, I quit. With minigames and card games and all of that crap to get in the way, they were all gimmicks gone awry.

Gimmicks are fine when they're well-executed, but when the whole story becomes a collect-a-thon of weapons, where overpowering your enemy is more important than strategy, it just gets pointless. Which in these days, does not surprise me. When you can BUY cheats on XBox Live for a game, it doesn't surprise me that all it takes to beat the crap out of a strategy game is to train a character in a class that crushes everything else with no real play balancing. And I know that you have to keep things fresh, so new battle systems and play mechanics are necessary, but why should every title now be a complete overhaul? Not to genre-jump, but look at all of the gradually-changing DLC that they've released for titles like Fallout 3 and Gears of War 2? The play mechanic changes slightly, the setting changes, a few new weapons, new story. Another good example is the Castlevania series, all the way through actually. From the first title it's been a gradual, graceful evolution (except for the N64 title and the PS2 titles weren't so great, either). The GBA titles in the series added more and more without being radically different, and ended up being great. When the GBA titles grew slightly stale, the DS entries changed the system of combat, slightly. It didn't alter the play mechanic entirely so as to alienate people that actually liked the way things were. Making players that love a series jump through hoops to control an RPG/Strategy game is not most peoples' idea of a good time.

So now, instead of having a swords n' sorcery epic that I look forward to playing 10 years from now, like Chrono Trigger, I have some half-baked title where I have to feed a tree with the peoples' wishes.

Onto the good side of things... MegaTen is such a good game. Every gimmick well-executed coupled with a battle system that is slightly lopsided at times, but forces you to adapt and not just "power through" with one strong character. It has been such a long time since I've had a game that requires me to actually watch out and make my characters work as a team. The elemental affinity system requires you to strategize as to who does what, and the battle system allows you to use each character's talents in any order, and individually, which makes soooooo much sense. Much more than just about every other strategy game I've played in recent memory, anyway. In most strategy games the game's system requires you to move and then use your attack command or if you attack while stationary you forfeit your chance to move or do anything afterward. And then if you wish to heal or cure status ailments, you have to either do so in battle or do it in lieu of attacking. In MegaTen DS you can actually use your characters'/demons' individual talents every turn, in any order, in addition to attacking. This gets a little annoying when the computer has 3 of the same demon with the same skill set and cures themselves/their allies over and over if you don't kill them, but then again you can perform the same cure tanking if you set it up properly.

The game itself has enough of a learning curve that you won't get bored, but you won't get frustrated to the point of throwing your DS, either. Features are introduced gradually and not thrown at you all at once, and the customization options for your demons are amazing. A large chunk of the game is fusing demons to create new ones, and even the system for that seems well-thought out (and apparently is inherited from the other games of the MegaTen series). This aspect would almost seem Pokemon-y if it wasn't for the fact that the actual demons' art looks so occult/manga.

Speaking of presentation, the graphics and backgrounds are very crisp and the game on the whole looks pseudo-retro, in my opinion anyway. It feels almost nostalgic (pretty funny for a series I've never even played, eh?) with the hand-drawn graphics and such that come off somewhere between "then" and now. The story progresses by you moving throughout Tokyo trying to figure a way out before a demon lord is summoned. I won't reveal too much here, but the normal goings on, er go on. You navigate the map and talk to people, battles ensue, you help people, and there are branching points that add replay value to an already interesting and deep game. Goals other than "slaughter everything in sight" keep things good, too.

The story is intriguing without revealing too much at one time and without keeping the player in the dark so much that they don't know what's going on. As well, despite the anime characterizations the story doesn't get obnoxious with characters fighting for a whole paragraph to the extent that it detracts from the story like other games I've seen that have anime archetypes for characters. (And this one is full of em, the nerdy best friend of the hero that naturally butts heads with the typical self-reliant moe girl with big breasts type that whines a moderate amount, the self-sacrifcing stoic type with a "secret", etc), but nor does it get like survival horror scary either. It seems just dark enough, with an added element (and I suspect that this is on purpose) of naivete on the characters' part where they complain about not having cell phones or power or whatever. They complain about it like they've taken it for granted and their world has been shattered, but they don't curl up into a ball and die - they adapt gradually. And for "typical anime characterizations" these kids are sure "real". Like I said above, it has its moments where it gets silly, but for the most part they act like people that aren't total idiots, would in a crisis. And speaking of anime characterizations, whoever did the translation did an excellent job. And I say translation as opposed to localization because they want you to know that the game takes place in Japan. They leave cultural references in, they leave the word otaku in, they leave the word cosplay in, manga? anime? check. It gave me a chuckle when I saw "shut-in", I said to myself, "Not brave enough to leave hikikomori in, eh?" There is one Japanese word that they left untranslated that really blew me away and I cannot remember for the life of me what it is. FINALLY a company/translator gets that certain people play certain games and you don't have to boil everything down to the stupidest and most localized level for the dumbass masses who will chances are never even see this game let alone play it. I would rather have a game retain jokes I don't get and then have to research so I gain some cultural knowledge, over mangling it into something that's not funny to anyone and misses on all levels.

Despite being released in 2005-2009 the Phoenix Wright (even the title is over-localized) series of games have been butchered to shit in terms of J-references. I remember playing the last case of the first one, where the "lunch box girl" sells you her special "pickle box lunch" which was clearly like ika (squid) or something to that effect. And character names like "Sal Manella" or "Wendy Oldbag", as well as a lot of the dialogue just ends up sounding queer and half-baked when they try and translate it for a mass audience. I mean I don't expect them to release the game transliterated and expect people to figure everything out (like the main character's name is Naruhodo Ryuuichi. In Japanese, naruhodo equals something like "I see"), but really poor puns are, well, really poor. I've written about this before, and I guess maybe it's an unfair sort of thing for people just wanting to play a game, but that's a catch 22, too. Because this isn't Halo or Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto or Rock Band it's not getting a chunk of mass audience. You're not going to turn MORE people off than are already being turned off by the title or concept, by having "that tharr Japanese" in it. Generally the people that are buying a game like Phoenix Wright, are buying it because "it looks neat" or because it's a unique-looking game, or much more likely - they, "read about the Japanese version online and really wanna play it hehe!"

So I guess the point of this post inadvertently turned out to be one of ambivalence. I'm going on and on about how retro games are great, anything that has that retro feel, but improves on the old and does the gimmick thing well is okay, but too much new is bad. At the same time I'm bitching about how companies aren't marketing/creating correctly and it's not 10 years ago when no one heard of anything until it came out in a monthly magazine. That more culture is spread through the net and more people understand more now and that they shouldn't be afraid of "new" ways of doing things. I'm a hypocrite, lulz.

Aerocat Asuka...

...wants my Melon Ramune~!