Friday, February 5, 2016

S Pulse Camp Announcements

This last weekend was pretty much of a loss as far as events go. There was nothing in front of Lotteria on Saturday, and Amu Plaza was just running some kind of bargain sale in the open space in front of the main train station. On Sunday, there was a very short ceremony announcing the training schedule for the S-Pulse soccer team. This consisted of the corporate sponsors giving little speeches to the players and audience, and a table being set up to show the corporate gifts given to the team management. Very business-like, and very boring. The audience was kept at a distance with a barrier chain, and their only option for fan support was to wave the little orange flags that were handed out at the beginning. It was scheduled to start at 3 PM, and I didn't manage to arrive at Lotteria until 3:15, when everything was already wrapping up.

I doubt any of these guys have played on the field in, like, forever.

The gifts included bouquets of flowers, and a giant diakon (radish). Plus shochu.

I wonder if the fact that the 30-person audience consisted primarily of older housewives means anything.

The ceremony ended with a brass band playing marching songs. At 3:20, the band leader looked at the organizer, who just shook his head. That was the band's cue to leave, and they just walked out. And like that, everything was done and people wandered away.

The schedule consists of a few exhibition games, and a "J League New Year Cup" over the next week.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Yokai Dai Senso comments

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Yokai Dai Senso (The Big Yokai War), by Shigeru Mizuki, written by Hiroshi Aramata: Grade: A
I'm a little confused as to the timeline involved with this manga. According to the wiki entry on the Great Yokai War movie, there seems to be 3 components at play. First is a book Aramata wrote, entitled Teito Monogatari (The Tale of the Imperial Capital), which began serialization in 1983. This apparently was part of the inspiration for the Great Yokai War live action movie that came out in 2005. Other inspiration included Mizuki's Gegege Kitaro manga. However, the "Yokai Dai Senso" manga (shown here) drawn by Mizuki also came out in 2005 and, while it follows the main plot of the movie, has several major differences (such as Katou's henchwoman being a yokai named Hanako in the manga, and Agi in the movie; the movie uses a lot more monster machines; and the hero's sword doesn't break in the manga.)

(Hanako is out in the woods vacuuming up stray yokai, but manages to miss the one that befriends Tadashi.)

The wiki entry describes the movie, and Aramata's book, as a retelling of the Tale of Momotaro, in which Momotaro (Peach Boy) drives demons out of an island. The problem is that in Mizuki's version, the main villain is a wizard named Katou, who creates a monster plant with the help of the yokai girl, Hanako; and Hanako uses a yokai vacuum cleaner to capture other yokai to cremate and sacrifice to the plant. The hero, a young cowardly boy named Tadashi, succeeds in defeating the plant, and probably killing Hanako, but Katou runs away with plans on returning again later. This storyline really isn't that similar to the Momotaro story in question, although there are a couple parallels. Anyway, if you read the wiki summary of the movie, you'll know most of the story for this manga.

(Tadashi and the remaining yokai go into a mountain cave to meet Dai Tengu, the oni that gives the hero sword to Tadashi.)

The artwork is typical Mizuki. If you like Kitaro, you'll like Senso. There are several cameos, including an appearance by Mizuki himself as a crazed yokai specialist, and part of the story takes place on Yokai Road, a tourist attraction in Tottori that features statues of many of Mizuki's manga characters. Later in the story, the statues come alive to join in the battle against Katou.

(The Yokai Road bronze statues come to life.)

It's a simple story with fairly simple Japanese. If you're a first or second year Japanese language student, you shouldn't have any trouble following the dialog. It's also a decent introduction to Japanese society, given that Tadashi's schoolmates, and his mother, all act in stereotypical ways (typical for a manga story, anyway.) Recommended.

(There are three splash pages in the gallery at the end of the book, implying that this story was originally serialized in a magazine somewhere, but there's no mention of serialization in the copyright section. Katou is in the top background on the left page, and Hanako is next to his right eye. There's no explanation for why she follows Katou, other than that she just likes causing problems. Katou just doesn't like humans.)

(The back cover has a lot of empty white space.)

Summary: Aramata is a fan of Mizuki's, and he wrote a story featuring Mizuki's yokai. A live action movie was based on the book, and Mizuki seems to have drawn a manga related to the movie, I guess. It's a fun manga, and recommended if you like Gegege Kitaro.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Setsubun, Feb. 3rd

Setsubun was held in Japan on Feb. 3rd. The traditions revolving around this holiday kind of depend on the region, and/or family you're with. In many households, the adult males will put on demon masks and terrorize the children. The kids, in return, throw beans at the demons (oni) to chase them out of the house. In other cases, the children will stand at the doorway of the house or apartment and throw the beans while yelling "Demons out, good luck in." Yet another tradition is for families to visit the local shrines, where the priests and heads of sponsoring companies toss out bags of candy and beans to the audience. That's what we have here at Terukuni Jinja, near my apartment.

I arrived just before 4 PM, when things were supposed to start, and the parking lot was already packed. There was no option for getting any closer to the stage, and at any rate all that was at stake were candies and dry, flavorless beans. I stayed at the back, and watched as the adults went crazy for anything that got close to us. The entire event lasted 30 minutes. After that, half the people simply left, while the other half went to a booth to buy their own bags of beans. Also, one other custom is that after throwing the beans, you pick them up and eat the same number as your age for good luck in the coming year, but no one did that in the parking lot, that I saw.

Direct youtube link

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Army Men Samurai

In retrospect, I really have to wonder what took so long for this idea to surface - taking the green plastic Army Men concept and translating it to other cultures. This capsule ball series has 10 different figures, including a wash woman spectator, a local government official (like a policeman), a peasant spectator, and then paired samurai. One of the pair is attacking, and the other has been slashed. 2" tall, 200 yen ($1.60 USD) each.

The plus side of the U.S. Army Men figures was that you got a huge bucket full of them for a few dollars. The green samurai figures are one for $1.80. Not quite the same level of a bargain.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Black Cat: Kuroneko no Concerto comments

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used for review purposes only.)

Back when I got the Chameleon game, I'd been looking over the shelves of the Book Off nearest me, and there really wasn't anything I wanted to get. Either the prices were too high for a used game issued 8-10 years ago, or the game itself didn't look interesting. I got Chameleon just to have it in my collection because of the weird green-lizard character art on the cover (and it was only 250 yen). I didn't see any RPGs that looked interesting at any price, but there were two other really cheap games that I considered getting at the time mainly because of the names. First was a Rockman spin-off for 250 yen, which I put down because the description on the back of the box seemed completely unrelated to the original Rockman concept. The second was Black Cat.

(Cafeteria menu. The cheapest meal - bread crusts for 500 coins - restores 30% health but decreases strength by 10%. The 6000 coin lunch set gives you 50% health and 5% strength. The 20,000 coin full course restores 80% health and 20% strength. According to the only existing English FAQ, this meal is the only way to bring your strength back up following battles, and strength seriously affects the damage you deal to enemies. So, spending money on the lunch set or full course is necessary to ensure survival, but kills your chances of buying better cards.)

Black Cat: Kuroneko no Concerto (2007, Compile Heart)
After finishing Chameleon so quickly, I went back to Book Off to consider getting Black Cat. I'd read the original manga when I was in the U.S., and I'd liked the character designs and most of the first half of the story. Unfortunately, the ending got stupid and left me feeling very disappointed. So, I kind of wanted to get the game because I wanted it in the collection, but I also didn't want it because it was 500 yen and is basically just a rock-paper-scissors form of card game battle. In the end, I broke down and got it just to be able to write about it here.

(Eve's stats screen following a card test. After you eat your meal, you can choose to either let one of the characters go shopping for random items that can raise or lower Eve's stats, go bounty hunting, or do a card test. For the test, you pick one of the cards given to you by the game, which has good and bad effects on each of Eve's stats. Then, you get a short matching game (Eve thinks of a dessert, book, or doll, and you have to click on the right item from a display of 6 things. Doing this correctly 6 times gives you the maximum stat changes.)

What may be telling is that the loaded games from the previous owners are dated "2008", "2009", and "2014." I'm guessing that whoever had it before didn't play it much, or didn't feel the need to have multiple save games. Anyway, the idea is that the female character, Eve, has helped Sven rescue the hero, Train, following some attack on him by the Chronos Numbers gang. Train has amnesia and thinks that Eve is the one that tried to kill him. Eve runs away and gets captured by Chronos, and Train arrives to save her. But, rather than this being a real-time combat, or adventure RPG, the fight consists of playing 1 to 4 cards against the enemy. You get dealt 6 cards from your deck, and only receive 1 more card per round. The cards have the faces of characters from the manga, along with rock, paper or scissors alignments. If there's a clear winner, the loser takes full damage based on your character's strength and the number of cards you played of the same type. For a tie, you both take 10% of the damage. You can also choose to activate the attributes of a card, or do nothing, in which case you take full damage. Starting out, the attributes are very weak and just boost stats a bit. Doing nothing lets you receive two extra cards.

(Choosing to bounty hunt, and encountering your bounty.)

(In the actual rock-paper-scissors card game. Both sides used paper, so it's a tie, with the enemy (using the one card at the right) taking 4 hits and Train (using the two cards at the left) taking 9.)

When you start, you're in the daily menu, where you choose to spend money to recover health and strength for 500, 6,000 or 20,000 coins. Then, you can pick 1 activity for the day, which can be to either go shopping for something that boosts or drops Eve's stats; do the card test with Sven or Train (for Eve, she can change clothes if she has more than one outfit); or, go bounty hunting. Shopping costs money, and the card test costs a turn. Bounty hunting is the only way to make money, but the initial bounties are only in the 10,000 to 20,000 coins range, which is pretty paltry, and the fights are, again, card games. You start out on day 364, and every turn drops you down by one day.

(Starting the next round, with the enemy's cards face down at the upper right section of the lower screen, and Train's cards at the lower left, face up.)

Trying to amass money by taking higher bounties runs the greater risk of losing the battle, which only costs you a few hundred coins (that is, you don't lose the game) and one day from the calendar, without giving you the bounty. But, you really need money for one specific purpose - buying more cards. Every 7 days, you have the option of doing a "main event". If you accept it, you can buy cards (see below) but then you might get some story and have to fight a Chronos Number gang member. The first fight of the of the game is against a weaker Number, and after that I had enough money to get 3 packets of three cards each, one packet each for rock, scissors and paper cards. (One packet of 3 cards of one type is 20,000 coins. 6 cards for 38,000 coins. A 9-card packet of one type is 56,000 coins.) Cards are random, and you can get the same card more than once. After that, I had enough money for one 20,000 coin meal in the cafeteria. I missed the significance of the "main event option" a few times. Instead, I struggled to make enough money bounty hunting in order to buy 6,000 coin lunch sets every day to bring my strength up from 0, and save a little to get a few cards. I'm not even bothering with the Sven and Train shopping events. But, having beat the second Numbers gang member, I did receive an outfit for Eve.

(End of the battle. If you win, you get the bounty (17,500 coins) minus "expenses" incurred in the fight (that is, the costs of using the cards you played = 1,900), for some total (15,600) added to your current savings (45,900). If you lose, there's no bounty, but you still have to pay your expenses. It is possible for your savings to go negative, in which case you aren't allowed to shop for items for Eve, or buy cards.)

Summary: The artwork is ok, as are the character designs and the music. I didn't listen to the voice acting. There's no real animation in the game, just stills being shaken around when you attack or defend. The game play is pretty much just pure luck because you don't have control of what cards you get from the deck, and even if you knew what kind of card your opponent will play, if your hand doesn't include the winning card type, you're going to take damage. I don't like card battle games to begin with, and the idea of having to play 365 rounds to play out the story seems a bit silly. I bought this game just to have it, but it's not something that I'd really recommend to anyone that doesn't like Yu-gi-oh or Pokemon.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Zelda Tri-Force Keychain

At the same time I got Shampoo, I found a machine for the Zelda video games. 5 keychains in the series, including Link painted on a brick wall, a sword in a rock, two of the Tri-Force emblems, Zelda and Link. These are 300 yen apiece, and I only wanted one keychain to represent the set, preferably one of the two humanoids.

Unfortunately, I got the Tri-Force emblems. The character designs on Link and Zelda aren't that great, so I don't want to waste another 300 yen or more in trying again. I'll live with the keychain I got.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Chameleon DS comments

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Kurukuru Chameleon, 2005, Star-Fish
"Kurukuru" in Japanese is a sound effect for a small, spinning object. The game came out in Japan originally in 2005, was ported to the Nintendo DS in 2006, and was released in the U.S. in 2007 under the title Chameleon: To Dye For (with really crappy cover art, if I may add). The GameFAQs stats indicate that there have been 31 registered users of the game, but very few of them rated the game play, perceived play level or identified how long they played it.

In the U.S., the game was $18 new; I got it used for 250 yen ($2.10 USD) just because I felt like expanding my collection. Chameleon builds on the match the colors/match the shapes concept first explored with Tetris, and expanded on by Puyo Puyo and just about every other table top-style game released ever since. It's 2-player, on a long rectangular field. You start out in opposite corners, and the hexes between you either have colored tiles, rocks or bombs. Rocks are barriers, and bombs cause the neighboring tiles to become unclaimed and turn random colors. The players take turns selecting one of four available colors from the menu palette. There are actually 6 colors, but the two used by the players in the previous turn are disabled for the next turn. Choosing the color of a neighboring set of tiles makes them part of your collection, and expands your influence in the map.

(Typical starting positions for all of the modes.)

You can choose to play as one of 4 chameleon girl characters, and you then go up against the other three in either Normal, Story or Continuous modes. Each girl has a special attack (turn one group of tiles to stone, turn one group of stones to active tiles, etc.), but otherwise there's no difference in strategies between them. The only real reason to pick one over the other is in story mode, to find out what the stories are. Then, there are three possible goals to each round. One goal is to capture 50% or more of the tiles before your opponent does. Next is to race to a flag in the center of the field. Third is to capture the "kings" (super tiles placed on the field in odd numbers; you have to get 6 tiles surrounding the edge of the king to claim it). There's no score to the games, either you win or you lose, and it doesn't matter how elegantly you capture tiles. Taking the full board one tile at a time, or racing up to the middle of the board and sealing off your half for 50 tiles in one stroke makes no difference in the long run. All that's important is that your strategy allows you to achieve the requirements for that game, or it doesn't.

(Capture the Kings round.)

The normal and story modes only have 9 or so rounds, and the last 3 are up against the story boss - Mama Chameleon. Defeat her and the game is finished for the character you chose. In continuous mode, you randomly face any one of the other three girls, or mama, and there's no upper limit on the number of rounds. However, if you go into options, you can set 1, best 2 of 3, or best 3 of 5 modes for the games to make things more challenging. The artwork and character designs are good, the game play is simple if occasionally frustrating, and I guess the music is ok (I kept it and the character voices turned off most of the time). The game AI is very rudimentary - I occasionally won simply because my opponent made bad choices. There's no real replay value though. After finishing all the different modes with each of the 4 girls, I got bored and put the game away, which represented maybe 6-8 hours of play time. The English cheats on GameFAQs say that you can unlock mama as a playable character if you finish the story mode with any of the girls, but I couldn't get that to work on my version. Sigh.

(Your character is happy if she wins.)

Summary: Chameleon is a simple matching game that you can either play against the computer or a friend, as one of 4 characters, up against the other three or boss mama, in either story, normal, or continuous modes, You can easily master most of the strategy in a few minutes, and beat every aspect of the game in a few hours. I only took 6-8 hours to explore everything. It stands up against most smartphone table-style games, but is recommended only if you can find it really cheap, used. (Comment: The Star Fish website shows the PSP version, which looks much more powerful than the DS port. If you have a PSP, that might be the better version of the game.)