Out with the old, in with the new

Last week, my video game time was dominated solely by Fire Emblem for the GBA. But I haven't even played anything at all since Sunday. I put in a grand total of about 6 Hours and 40 Minutes. I can't base this on the in-game clock, because it doesn't account for my regular chapter restarts when characters die. Although, due to a stupid mistake on my part, I finally lost my first character to permanent death a couple chapters ago. It was one I hadn't used much and was trying to level up a little. But he died, so no big loss really. Naturally, I'll try not to let it happen again. I'm about halfway through Chapter 26x, so I think I have only 7 more chapters to go. I should be able to finally finish this game through a combination of on the plane ride to the States and time at home. But, then there's the second story. This might take a while...

Otherwise, I've been focused on learning as much as I can about Japanese Mahjong. Somehow I've become fascinated by it. My goal in the new year is to find a Japanese Mahjong tutor. I really want to learn and to be able to play against people. If I can, it might feel like I actually take something away from Japan with me. Here's hoping I can find a good teacher.


Mahjong...Not the Tile Matching One

How can you become incredibly passionate about something, even if you've never actually done it? I've recently fallen in love with the game of Mahjong, and I've never even played it before. Except that stupid Mahjong solitaire computer game (matching tiles), but that's different and doesn't count. The Mahjong I like is sort of a combination of Rummy and Poker. I really want to learn how to play. There are a dozen or so major versions of Mahjong, usually based in different countries. Naturally, I'm interested in learning the Japanese version, commonly called Riichi Mahjong (it sounds like "reach"). It's a 4 player game, where everyone's trying to complete a hand similar to Rummy, but with cool tiles instead of playing cards. My girlfriend's getting me a Mahjong set for Christmas, and more importantly, I hope to find a Japanese Mahjong 'tutor' to teach me. I feel like I know how to play the main game, but I don't really know much about the rather complex scoring and hand system. So that's my immediate goal: find a Japanese person willing to teach a foreigner with limited Japanese language ability how to play Mahjong. Quite a daunting task. I hope I actually see this desire through to the end.

Oh, and the best site I've found about Riichi so far is the recently redesigned Reach Mahjong. It's updated by the only 2 American professional Riichi players, and one British girl who they are teaching to play. Great site, although they're still working on bringing the new site up to date. Can't wait to start playing. I just need 3 friends who know how...


What I'm Playing

Monday means it's time for my weekly video game update. Here's the numbers for 11/26-12/2.

Super Mario Galaxy - a paltry 0:15
Final Fantasy II - 2:40
Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi (#6) - 0:40
Fire Emblem (#7) - 1:00
Total Time - 4:35

It was a busy week, with hardly any time for games. I only managed 4.5 hours. On Friday and Saturday, I didn't play anything at all, largely because there was a big school enkai on Friday night, and I spent Saturday recovering and shopping for Christmas presents. But that's ok. It's not a contest. I tested Fire Emblem 6 just because I'd been watching a lot of Fire Emblem preview videos on Youtube, and that made me want to play an easy mission. That, of course, led me to delve back into my nearly completed Fire Emblem 7 game, which I've been playing occasionally for a couple of years. I need to finally beat it. I finally beat mission 24 tonight, and I think there's around 31 or so. So I've probably got a good 10 hours of game play left. I'm hoping to work on it a lot on the long flight back to America. We'll see.


Busy Weekend

It's been a busy weekend, with very little time for playing any games so far. In fact, I haven't played anything at all since Thursday, when I played a few minutes of Fire Emblem 6, the Japan-only GBA release. I just had a sudden urge for some turn-based, strategic combat, and I didn't feel like working my way back into Fire Emblem 7. Then Friday night was an overnight bonenkai (end of the year party) in Tendo. I wasn't looking forward to it, because my Japanese is shit and I usually feel a little awkward at some point. But I ended up having a great time. The first party had great food, bingo, and I got to talk to some of the new, younger teachers a little bit. And, the 1 teacher I really, really can't stand didn't talk to me at all. What a success! Then on to the second party in a hotel room with Kocho- and Kyoto-sensei (principal and vice-principal). It was tense, but fun. Then out to a strange, modern hostess bar, where I was forced to sing a song by myself. It was the first time I've had to sing in an open bar rather than a private room. I was terrified. I chose the classic "Copacabana," and I think it went pretty well. Thank you, alcohol. Oh, and 1 of my teachers did an awesome Elvis impersonation on "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." Brilliant. Then on to ramen, and in bed at 1:30. Excellent night.

So Saturday was spent recovering, and doing some last-minute shopping for Christmas presents for my family. Today, also, will be shopping. I need to get a shogi set (Japanese chess) for my dad, but I'd really like to find him another present too. He's hard to shop for. So there might be little time for games today, too. But, less than 2 weeks until I leave for a much needed holiday in the U.S. Thank goodness.


Hanafuda - My New Passion

My new passion is Hanafuda cards, which means I'm either an old Japanese man or a member of the yakuza. Because apparently nobody uses Hanafuda cards anymore except for the above groups. More specifically, I've learned how to play the game, Koi Koi, which can also be found in Clubhouse Games for the DS. I first read about Hanafuda over on High Dynamic Range Lying, a blog mostly about games by someone in Japan. Then, I realized, "Hey. I'm in Japan. I like card games. I bet I can find some of those." Then, of course, I felt like I saw references to these little cards everywhere. Most recently, Brian Ashcraft at Kotaku is giving two decks as prizes for a Funde Razor in Denver and New York. Just like the ones I purchased, they're made by Nintendo, although they must be a different quality or edition. And now that I've mentioned it, Nintendo, that giant video game company, is also one of the few companies that still makes Hanafuda cards, which is how the whole company started in the first place.

I'm going to try to find some different decks to be able to take home as souvenirs. What's most surprising is how really small the cards are compared to a regular deck of cards. They're kind of hard to shuffle and feel weird to hold. So far, I only have my girlfriend to play Koi Koi against. Luckily, she thinks it's fun too.


The Demo Channel...It's True

As I was perusing the Wii forum on GameFaqs today, I found a thread claiming that the DS Demo Channel for the Wii had been released in Japan. Despite many posts of "Fake!" and "Liar!" I thought I'd check it out for myself, especially since my Wii was pulsing a calming blue. To my surprise, the light was not Toad thanking me for finding another power star, but was indeed the arrival of the Demo channel. The rumors are true. And in Japan, the channel is called Everybody's Nintendo Channel, which makes sense having checked it out myself. This new channel includes short interviews, commercials and previews of upcoming games, a feedback system so you can rate games. It has a very clean layout and is easy to use. Basically there's a big list of available videos, you click on one and it starts playing in a few seconds. You can then click to make it full screen. That's about it.

I watched a few incomprehensible interviews about Wii Fit, which looks cooler than I imagined. But for me, the Demo bit is sort of a disappointment at this point. It's definitely the coolest feature to come out for the Wii in quite a while, but most of the games available aren't...well, games. The ones I understand are a vision trainer, and English trainer, some sort of Tamogotchi thing, a ebook reader, and a few I just can't figure out. What I thought was a Pokemon Diamond demo was actually just a download for current owners of Pokemon Diamond/Pearl. Hopefully, this will be frequently updated with actual games, as this feature is amazingly awesome in concept. But Come On, give me some actual games, Nintendo.


Weekly Game Time Update

After hours and hours of hard work and number crunching (or a few minutes), it's time for my first weekly update on game play time.

Super Mario Galaxy - 0:56
Final Fantasy II Advance - 4:37
Meteos - 0:10
Total Playtime - 5:43

My time this week was overwhelmingly spent on FFII, as you can see. The numbers might even be a little bit deflated, because my Thanksgiving weekend was quite busy. The one thing that stands out is my 10 minutes of Meteos, for DS. Not that I don't like Meteos, it's quite fun, but I needed to test out a DS screen protector that I had just bought. Stupidly, I saved a few yen by not buying the best one (a Hori model), and it looks like it won't last very long. Although it was surprisingly easy to put on.

I also ordered yesterday Finaly Fantasy III (which will complete my collection of the first 6 remakes) and Hotel Dusk as Christmas presents to myself. Although it's also to stock up on English games while I'm in the U.S. for Christmas. Everyone needs to treat themselves sometimes, right?


The Aesthetics of Video Games

Over on Steven Poole's blog, stevenpoole.net, he's made his first book, Trigger Happy, available for a free download. From his site, it's a "book about the aesthetics of videogames — what they share with cinema, the history of painting, or literature; and what makes them different, in terms of form, psychology and semiotics." I've only read the first chapter, and so far it's very interesting. I've always found it a little difficult to track down more academic, intelligent discussions of video games, so I'm hoping this will prove to be a good read.


Some Gripes about Final Fantasy II

Final Fantasy II. A pretty good, classic RPG, at least the Dawn of Souls version. But the leveling system is still mostly a flawed experiment. Mostly it's ok. As I've progressed through the game so far, my HP, weapon, and shield levels have all progressed at a rate appropriate to the enemies I've been encountering. As have some of the spells, especially the three main attack spells (Fire, Thunder, and Blizzard) and the Cure spell. However, the lesser-used spells (Protect, Teleport, etc.) rarely level up on their own. They're just not needed enough to level up the way the system intends them to. So if you want those spells to keep pace with the rest, you have to stop and cast them over and over again. Then heal, and repeat the process. Annoying. But even worse is leveling up MP. Your Magic Points don't increase just from casting one spell in a battle. Oh no. You have to use up a big chunk of your MP in one battle to have a chance of them going up at the end of that battle. What this means in practical terms is that you have to start a battle, have everyone cast spells or attack themselves, disregard the enemies completely, and hope they don't run away before you use up half your magic. The reason is because most enemies can be beaten by just attacking. So far, a few enemies are strong enough to require magic to beat, and some boss battles are made easier by magic, but in general magic just isn't needed enough for you to gain MP naturally. And it's a pain in the ass to prolong one battle against 4 goblins just to have a chance at raising your MP 10 points.

I like the system in principle, especially with becoming more proficient with certain types of weapons as you use them. Maybe a better system would be to have HP, MP, and statistics level up on their own, and weapons and spells level up based on usage. Anyway, I'm trying to hatch the lasy Wyvern in the world, and then find the last Dragoon. Off to battle!


Mario Galaxy Co-op

I think I'm going to stop giving semi-daily updates on how much time I'm spending playing games. The main reason is that I'd rather get a broad overview of how much of my time I spend on games, and which games I play the most. Therefore, I'm going to try to start posting my play time on a weekly basis, maybe every Sunday or so.

In unrelated news, I forgot to post my thoughts about Mario Galaxy's 2-player Co-op mode. In the right circumstances, such as with a parent helping their young child play the game, it's brilliant. Basically, Player 1 fully controls Mario. Player 2 uses a remote and has a pointer on screen which can collect star bits, shoot stars at enemies, point out a good path to follow, and most importantly, freeze enemies and projectiles in their path momentarily for Player 1 to pass on by. This last feature is brilliant, and lets someone who is not that good at video games have a much more enjoyable time. I tried it out recently with my girlfriend, who gets frustrated quickly and easily with Mario games, and it definitely prolonged her experience. It's a great feature.


Back on Track

It's been a while since my last post. I was busy going to a 3 day teaching seminar in Tendo, a nearby city. With commuting times and general exhaustion, I barely had time for playing any games, much less blog posting. But still, since Wednesday I've managed about 50 minutes of Mario Galaxy and much more time on Final Fantasy II, 2:53. The beginning of the game has felt really slow, though it's starting to move along a little now. I've played nearly 5 hours, and there's only been one real dungeon and one boss. Part of the problem was that a new set of mythril equipment opened up all at once in the shops, but it was super expensive to outfit everyone with the small amount of gold the monsters give at that point. So I toughed it out and beat up on endless waves of pathetic enemies. Boring, but I can't pass up a new set of equipment. Finally, though, it feels like I'm advancing the plot. Anyway, I'm exhausted after a long night of drinking, and an even longer day spent recovering.


Starting a New Game

Yesterday I only managed a paltry 9 minutes of video game time, spent getting one or two stars as Luigi on Mario Galaxy. Today I had a little more time, and spent 16 more minutes on Galaxy, and 38 minutes so far on Final Fantasy II. I have to say, I like the very brief amount of time I've spent with FFII so far. But the leveling up system is already annoying me. Even in just this first hour of gameplay, trying to use every spell, and hoping your HP goes up seems tedious. Not to mention attacking yourself as a method of increasing your stats. For my first-ever play through of this game, I think I might try to avoid artificially leveling up as much as possible, and stick to the main story and fight random battles mostly normally. Perhaps with the exception of leveling up spells by casting them repeatedly if they prove useful. I'm sure there will be many more posts about this game.

And a quick note that Nintendo released the Check Mii Out channel yesterday, which is called simply, the Mii Contest Channel here in Japan. Seems like a pretty simple, quick time killer, similar to the everybody votes channel. It really seems like these little dinky channels should come out 1 every 3 or 4 months or so, rather than the greater part of a year that we waited for this one. Oh well. It's not really that important, or that big of a deal.


Welcome to My Galaxy!

I beat it! Super Mario Galaxy is finished. And it only took me around 25 hours or so. Well, not really. SPOILERS

I played a little more today. For the few people who haven't accidentally read or seen it somewhere, after collecting all 120 stars in the main game, Luigi is unlockable as a playable character. So now my next task is to collect all 120 stars again as Luigi. The best thing is that he controls very differently from Mario. Compared to Mario, Luigi is faster, can jump higher, and also slides around like an idiot after you stop running. His third characteristic is quite annoying. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to not only playing as Luigi, but just playing through the game again. It was a blast. The most plain fun I've had with a game in quite a while. But I'll probably take a break, and only play it occasionally now. I was addicted to it these past 10 days, playing it in all my free time, to the neglect of other games.

So for now, it's back to Tetris DS, Dragon Quest Swords, and maybe a Phoenix Wright 3 case. Also, I feel the itch to start Final Fantasy II on GBA. And usually, when I can't stop thinking about a game, I have to play it. Oh yeah, I was also in the middle of Dragon Quest III when I got Mario. A few of those games will, unfortunately, be neglected in the coming weeks.

Playtime today: 3:13 on Mario Galaxy. And yesterday: 1:44.


Mario Galaxy...The Challenge Finally Arrives

Last night I managed about another hour of Galaxy, and so far tonight I've also played about an hour. This has brought my star count up to 105. Only 15 more to go! Surprisingly, I've run across a couple that are proving quite difficult to get. I even took a break to think them over. Both are purple coin challenges, where you have to collect 100 purple coins, sometimes with a time limit, or sometimes just with the difficulty of finding the well-hidden ones. One of the ones that stopped me the other night was on the Toy Galaxy. Your walking on an image of Luigi, but floor panels keep disappearing or flipping over, and many coins are suspended over a gooey pit of death. I think the secret might be long-jumping across the gaps. I didn't try that, but it should work. The other purple coin challenge is on the Ice Volcano Galaxy, and I'm completely stumped by it. I got a little over 80 coins, all the obvious ones. But there's one on a pillar that just looks like it's too high to reach. And from the very top of the level, I can see a couple of stars far away, on slightly less high peaks, and I have absolutely no idea how to get to them. I guess I'll have to try another time. Maybe I'll play some more later tonight? I don't know.


Wii Gameplay Statistics

I added a few more stars to Galaxy, making my total 95. Only 25 more to go. The stars now are a little longer and more challenging to achieve or find. I spent a while on one of the "Find 100 Purple Coins" challenges just try to track down every last one of them. Not necessarily hard, just more time-consuming. I've noticed that now that I'm not in the middle of a 3 day weekend with tons of time on my hand, I'm able to commit much less time to games. I spent probably close to 4 hours playing Galaxy on each of my weekend days. But yesterday I only managed 1:30, and today I got 5 more stars in 0:53. Less time spent playing is not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

Another thought I had as I work on keeping track of my game playing hours, was that I'd like it if the Wii kept better track of my time for me. In the memo/message section, the Wii keeps track of how long each session is that you play with a particular game. What I would like to see is a better organized system. All I can see right now is a daily report. If I want to know how long I've played Galaxy, I have to go back and look at every single day's report, and add up all the times myself. I want the Wii to allow me to search for a game, and then show me statistics like my total playtime, how long or short individual sessions were, and maybe even be able to compare different games. I know this is a small thing that most people probably wouldn't even care about. Hell, maybe I'm only interested because of this project of mine. It'd still be a nice little touch, though.


Gameplay (Daily) Update

Here's just a quick post about my game playing time for today. I had the day off from work, so I was able to get in a nice big chunk of time with Super Mario Galaxy. Again.
  1. Super Mario Galaxy - 3:39 (over 6 play sessions)
  2. Final Fantasy VI - 0:54
As you can see, I also managed to squeeze in a little time with FF6. I had saved right before facing Kefka for the last time at the end. I just wanted to quickly finish my first playthrough. About 20 minutes of time on it today was actually just the ending sequence and credits. I probably won't do the bonus content just yet. I plan on playing through it again in the not-too-distant future, and trying to collect everything and beat every side quest. Until next time.


The Awesomeness Continues

Since my last post, I've progressed significantly farther into Super Mario Galaxy. It's easily the best game I've purchased in the last year or two. It's beautiful, the galaxies are well designed, the challenges are all unique and interesting, and best of all, it's damn fun to play. I've now gotten 61 out of 120 stars, with the 61st star coming from the final battle. I knew you only needed 60 to beat the game, so I basically sampled all of the levels, built up to 60, and went to the end. I was pretty sure I could keep playing afterwards, and even if I couldn't, it would be a joy to start from the beginning again. Nintendo had previously revealed 6 power-ups (Bee, Ghost, Rainbow, Fire, Ice, and Spring Mario). Bee's probably my favorite so far. Fire's fun too, but it's timed so it doesn't last long. The only one I don't like at this point is Spring Mario. It's one of those power-ups that makes it so you never stop moving. Mario is constantly bouncing back and forth, and it's damn annoying. I've also found a 7th power-up, and I don't know if there's anymore, but I'm inclined to think there's not. I can't wait to get more stars, probably tomorrow.

Galaxy was all I played today, for a grand total of 4 Hours and 5 Minutes.

EDIT: I forgot to add my Saturday Galaxy times: 3:37


23 Stars and Counting

Another day, another couple hours of Super Mario Galaxy. Here's my game playing hours for today. They look surprisingly similar to yesterday's...
  1. Tetris DS - 0:08
  2. Super Mario Galaxy - 0:13, 0:11, 0:51, and 1:06
Grand Total - 2 hours and 29 minutes. Almost all of which was Mario. I'm going to see what posting my game time every day looks like. Probably, it will be just too much of the same thing, so I have a suspicion that I'll end up posting my times once a week. That would give me more of a perspective on how I spend my gaming time, and see exactly what games I'm playing at the moment. Of course for the foreseeable future, Galaxy will probably be about the only thing on my "Now Playing" list.


Super Mario Galaxy Is Finally Here (In Japan at Least)

It's-a-me! Mario!

Mario has such a unique voice, and tonight, he finally welcomed me into the much-anticipated Super Mario Galaxy. And I must say it is quite amazing. The controls are brilliant, and easy to use. The smaller planets are still a little disorienting, what with walking upside down and just generally going pretty much anywhere you can see. Plus, most importantly, it's a ton of of fun. I love it already, and I've already gotten about 10 stars out of the reported 120 total stars. I've played through the Good Egg Galaxy (Egg Planet here in Japan), which is a nice, simple introductory level. I've also played the Honey Bee Galaxy, and Mario just looks very kawaii (cute) in his little bee outfit. The biggest challenge so far is that sting-ray surfing galaxy that's already been previewed. It took me several tries to beat it, although there was a 1UP on the course, so I didn't really lose any lives. One of the nice little things I like so far, that hasn't been touched on much in reviews yet, is the remixed classic Mario songs that frequently play. This is especially true on some of the "bonus" or "extra" galaxies, the smaller ones that only have 1 star to get. It's a nice touch, and I can see Nintendo really pulling on many gamers' nostalgic heartstrings. Last, I don't know if this is in the English version, but after getting a star in the Japanese version the screen proclaims, "Star Get!" Beautiful. I'll post more impressions at another time, while hopefully avoiding any new revelations, since the game isn't even out in the U.S. yet.

On a side note, today I began keeping a log of how much time I spend playing video games. Since I just got Galaxy today, I expect the playtime might be slightly exaggerated, since I'm still itching to play it some more, even though I know I need to go to bed. So, here's what I played today.
  1. Tetris DS - 5 minutes (while waiting to leave for school this morning)
  2. Super Mario Galaxy - 2H30M over 3 play sessions (you'll probably see a lot of this game over the next few days/weeks?
Grand Total: 2H35M, almost all of which was Mario


Game Franchises Part 2

On N'Gai Croal's Level Up blog, they posted the final Vs. section where Croal and Totilo finish talking about Zelda, and I'm still thinking about why I look forward so much to the next installment of Mario or Zelda. Totilo's problem with the Zelda series now is largely this:

And so, you know, clearly where I'm at is at a spot where I'm just saying, "Look, I've played the ideal Zelda." I was able to play it in 1998 when, at the time, it was running on technology that blew my mind so my memory of that Zelda will always be a bit as an ultimate experience.

So for Totilo, Ocarina of Time was as close as Zelda will get to perfection, so the others feel like pale imitations or incomplete versions of that perfect one. I think to some degree he's right, but I've been thinking more about my own feelings towards franchise continuation. Since Ocarina of Time, I think most of the Zelda games I've played have been different enough that they felt fresh and different. I haven't played Majora's Mask, although I want to, but Wind Waker, set in a nearly endless ocean, felt completely different from previous entries. The Minish Cap felt a little similar, but the gameplay and story were extremely tight and well-crafted on the GBA. I think my strongest feeling is that Twilight Princess, which I just completed on the Wii, was overall slightly disappointing because it felt like it was just trying to be Ocarina, which everyone's already played. If that's the case, just update Ocarina with better graphics and a few new elements, rather than making a Zelda game that's pretty similar to a previous one. Although I had a blast playing it, especially with the Wii controls. So I'm super excited about Phantom Hourglass on DS, much like Croal, because of the unique touch controls.

Similarly I can't wait for Mario Galaxy, because it looks like a big departure for the Mario series, while maintaining many of the elements that make Mario so much fun. So maybe for me, that's the difference between movie and Nintendo sequels. Movie sequels are typically the same exact thing, just flashier and louder. Nintendo, though, often puts a great deal of effort into making follow-ups that are unique and different enough from their predecessors. A new Mario game still feels like Mario, but it brings a lot of new stuff to the table too. And it's good that a new game of a major franchise like Mario or Zelda isn't released every single year (mm-hmm, Madden). At any rate, within 1 or 2 days, I'll finally have Mario Galaxy, and will disappear with my Wii for several days.


Video Game Franchises: How Many is Too Many?

A recent post on N'Gai Croal's Level Up blog over at Newsweek made me start thinking about vieo game franchises. The post is an exchange between Croal and Stephen Totilo over at MTV News, both of whom are excellent, intelligent video game writers. Their joint "Vs." post derived from talking about their impressions of the new Zelda game, Phantom Hourglass. Croal had, surprisingly, never played a Zelda game before, while Totilo had played pretty much all of them. Nonetheless, Totilo was a somewhat let down by this newest iteration, and is trying to figure out if he can blame Nintendo. He says:

I would like to blame Nintendo. I would like to blame them for not finding a way to get their wing of the gaming industry in step with the book, music and movie industry. George Lucas doesn't keep making new "Star Wars" movies for me year after year. . . Nintendo got Zelda just right a few times already. More than a few times. Can't they just keep re-releasing the really good ones, polishing them up for new platforms, and make some newer non-Zelda stuff? I've heard all the arguments about limited development resources, but I'm unconvinced that remaking Ocarina wouldn't net Nintendo more money and do a better job of solidifying what is great about the series than routinely iterating sequels. The era of Zelda-as-rough-draft is past.

I really like his analogy to Star Wars, but it made me think even more about the differences between movies and video games. There have been over a dozen Zelda games. Very few movie franchises achieve that number, and of those that do, most of the sequels generally suck. Take for example, Friday the 13th or Halloween. In fact, as something of a critical movie watcher, I generally despise sequels. Most movie sequels are cash-ins by the movie studios trying to make some more money on a popular or new franchise. For example Pirates of the Caribbean. The 2 sequels were basically just the first movie wrapped up in more special effects, longer, and with bigger stunts. Oh, and those three movies are based on a fucking amusement park ride.

But strangely enough, I LOVE looking forward to certain video game franchises. Super Mario Galaxy is released here in Japan on Thursday, and I've hardly been able to contain my enthusiasm for about a month. God only knows how many Mario games there have been, not even counting the innumerable spin-off series. I feel the same way about Zelda, Metroid, and to a lesser extent Castlevania. But Totilo raises an interesting point. Are these endless sequels of the most popular franchises just too much? They come out at least once per system, sometimes more. In fact, of the 3 new consoles, I chose to only own a Wii due to lack of time for video games. But I chose the Wii specifically because I love Nintendo's established franchises. But of course, I also love innovative new games. Why are my feelings so different as compared to movies?

Perhaps it's because some of these games, such as Galaxy or Phantom Hourglass, aren't true sequels so much has more innovative and unique versions of Mario and Zelda. As much as I hate movie sequels that haven't been planned out from the beginning, I will always look forward to the next Mario game. Maybe nostalgia has something to do with it?


Dragon Quest Swords and Tetris DS: My Impressions

As promised, here's a post about my impressions of my 2 new games. First up is Dragon Quest Swords for the Wii. It has the style, visuals, and character of a Dragon Quest game, but the gameplay is very different. I don't know much about the plot, since my Japanese is still pretty crap-tastic, but it looks like you play the role of a typical young hero, trying to save the kingdom with the help of a few like-minded friends. So far, the general pattern of gameplay is walk around the town, talk to everyone, leave town and fight monsters, fight a boss, return to town, and repeat. Granted, I've only beaten the first two areas and bosses. But from the little info I've found online, it looks like this pretty much repeats for the rest of the game. Movement generally resembles an on-rails shooter, with RPG sword-swinging instead of constant shooting. So far, the battles are not challenging at all. You're stopped by a group of enemies at several points, and must figure out which of the few attacks work best on them. For example, Babbles can only be sliced vertically, some enemies attacks must be blocked before they're vulnerable, and some enemies fire projectiles that can actually be hit back at them. While the enemies do sometimes damage my character, I think this is more the result of my inexperience with the mechanics and that I'm still getting used to the enemies patterns. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining game so far, and well worth the cheap price I paid for it.

Second, Tetris DS is a lot of fun, even though I've never been a big fan of it. I see now why so many people have been voting for the L-Block over on the character battle at Gamefaqs. The Standard mode is as fun as ever, with a few new additions. Now you can see an outline of the falling block on the bottom row, so you know exactly where it will land. A related new feature is the ability to press Up and have the block instantly lock into place on the bottom. No more waiting or holding Down for a while. You can also spin and slide a block indefinitely once it's on the bottom row, allowing you to catch your breath and plan out your next move. I was only able to get to level 15, but as I get more used to these new mechanics, I think I can do much better than that. There are also several great new modes added to this classic game. So far, I really like the Metroid-themed Catch mode, in which you control an entire group of blocks, and can rotate the whole bunch of 'em. I also like the Touch puzzles, where you have to slide blocks around to complete a set of directions, as well as a whole Puzzle mode where you must clear the Tetris blocks with only 3 other blocks. But perhaps best of all, even beyond these new modes, is the numerous Nintendo-themed backgrounds. It seems like they've added cameos from many of their best games, including several Mario games, Metroid, Zelda, and even Yoshi's Cookie. It's a great game, and I'm glad I finally picked it up.


Game Surprises

Today accidentally became New Game Sunday for me. My girlfriend and I went shopping, and somehow the idea had crept into my head that I needed to get a new game. Of course, this thought should be pretty nonsensical since I'm planning to buy Super Mario Galaxy on Thursday or Friday. So I hardly need to be buying any new games today. My general hope was that I could find a game I wanted either on sale (which seems to be rare for new games), or a good price on a used copy of something. The first store we went to was Hard Off, which is a Japanese sort-of used goods store, especially regarding video games, CDs, DVDs, guitars, and other electronic stuff. No luck. They only had 2 Wii games, and for some reason, most of their DS games I may have been interested in were new copies, not used. Weird.

Second stop was one of my favorite recycle shops. It's big, has lots of decent clothes, a section of random household goods, and a decent little video game area. Again, no luck. There were quite a few games that looked interesting, but most of the prices were too close to the new price to be worth while. Finally, I was successful at a Hachimonjiya, which is actually a bookstore, but this particular branch has an enormous video game section. After watching some pretty cool videos about both Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 (which just came out in Japan) and Dragon Quest XI, I found one of the games I was thinking about: Tetris DS. I've never really been into Tetris much, but all the additional content on the DS version seemed too good to pass up, especially for under 3,000 yen. I also really dig all the Mario backgrounds on the various Tetris levels. This was all I intended to buy, but as I was browsing, I saw another game that was an even better deal. I found Dragon Quest Swords for the Wii for more than 50% off. This is the first time I've ever seen a used Wii game discounted this much. I never would've bought this game at full price, because I had heard how short and relatively easy it is. But for around 2,500 yen, it looks to be well worth it.

I've played a little bit of both of these, but I'll post my impressions of them both tomorrow. I'm still just waiting for Super Mario Galaxy.


Sin City - Not Vegas

The other night I finally got around to watching Sin City. To sum it up, it was full of bad-assery. It was tough, gritty, and sometimes scarily violent. I really loved the noir-feel of it, where the men were as tough as they come, but in this case, so were most of the women. It featured a stand-out case, such as Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Michael Clarke Duncan, Elijah Wood, and about a million others. Thankfully, most of them didn't stand out as stars, but rather filled the shoes of their characters perfectly. This was a great film, and while I haven't read Frank Miller's original graphic novels, I can easily see how people could call this a beautiful adaptation. It's almost literally a comic book transposed onto a film screen, featuring beautiful black and white shots, with the occasional splashes of color. Especially the color of blood. Lots and lots of blood. Sin City is super violent, but loads of fun. I loved it, and would easily watch it again.


What do you spend your time on?

Recently I've started wondering how much of my time is spent playing video games. Especially after reading this blog post on Japanmanship about one person's obsession with Tetris. Maybe I should start keeping track of my video game time, and see what that aspect of my life amounts to. It's nearly the end of October, so I'll set a date of starting on November 1st. Hopefully I'll remember, but I might not. I would estimate I spend on average about 7-10 hours a week playing video games, but my perception could be totally skewed. In just over 1 week, I'll start the count.


Hooray! It's Over!

After much struggle, I finally conquered The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess today. It only took me nearly 11 months, but I finally did it. I must say, I really enjoyed it. It didn't suffer from a tedious fetch quest like in Wind Waker, and it felt very true to its 3D origins in Ocarina of Time. Best of all, it was long. In a good way. With 9 dungeons, and a gigantic world to explore, I thought it truly felt epic. I don't think that longer length is inherently a virtue in games. Just as many movies are too long and should be cut, so should many games. But this title didn't feel padded out or artificially extended as some games do. On the other hand, it was a little too easy. I'm not sure I died at all. Although I may have. I can't remember since my playtime was spread out over so many months. At any rate, it's a fantastic game, and I'm very glad I bought a Japanese Wii to play it.

Now, I can go back to finishing up Final Fantasy VI Advance. I'm near the end. I think I might just go on to the last dungeon (Kefka's Tower) and finish the main storyline, and probably not do the bonus content. It truly is one of the best RPGs of all time, and I'm eager to go back and play it again, fully exploring every corner of the game world and (hopefully) finding every secret. I'm also well into Dragon Quest III, which is a huge improvement over the first two in terms of storytelling, and just being a lot more fun. Although I can't wait until the later DQs so I can use more user-friendly menus. The menus in the NES DQ games are a pain in the ass when you need to manage several character's inventories. I also want to start the third case of the third Phoenix Wright game, and patiently, patiently await the arrival of Super Mario Galaxy on 11/1. Whew! Too many games, not enough time.


A Wii Cannot Stand Alone

A million and one blogs have posted their comments about Don Reisinger's comments on CNET on the importance of a Famitsu study. In the survey, Famitsu found that 67% of Japanese Wii owners aren't using them much. Is this important? Maybe. Certainly, Nintendo has a huge installed base with the Wii. While the consoles may not be played much now, they're definitely out there, awaiting the next big game that appeals to all gamers, including the new demographic Nintendo is increasingly marketing to. Personally, I barely touched my Wii until a couple weeks ago when I started playing Twilight Princess in order to get ready for Super Mario Galaxy. But this has been the same of almost every console I've ever owned. I get really excited and finally purchase a new console to play just one game; Wii - Twilight Princess, Gamecube - Metroid Prime, XBOX - Halo, PS2 - Final Fantasy X, etc. Then, I play that game for a while, sometimes beating it, sometimes not, until I start to get really excited about another new game. Then I purchase that new game, play it for a little while, then get distracted by another high profile release. My consoles usually don't get constant action, but I do try to keep plugging away at games. Regardless of Japanese Wiis maybe being on a break right now, I think the more important point is simply that they're already out there in people's homes. Waiting.


The Waiting Game

Here in Japan, Super Mario Galaxy comes out exactly 2 weeks from tomorrow! I can't wait. I've been working on finally completing Twilight Princess, only a year late, in order to justify buying a new game. On Zelda, I just finished the 7th temple, I think. It was the sky temple. I really like Zelda, but since I don't know enough Japanese to always know what to do, my tendency has been to follow a guide to get from plot point to plot point, and then do the dungeons completely on my own. It's worked out pretty well so far. Only 2 more dungeons to go, and then it should be about time for MARIO. In playing Zelda this much recently, I've noticed how close together the last few dungeons have been. Going from Snowpeak Ruins, to the Temple of Time, to the Sky Palace place had very few requirements to get to the them. In contrast, I remember there sometimes being hours of game play between the first 2 or 3 dungeons. I also don't know why, but this game is pretty easy. Maybe it's just that Zelda games are rarely difficult anyway, or maybe also that I'm now very used to navigating 3D worlds. It's still a lot of fun, and I love seeing the huge, creative bosses, they're just not that difficult. So, back to waiting for Galaxy, while alternately playing Twilight Princess and Dragon Quest III on the old NES.


The Mysterious Missing Blogs

What is up with all the game series blogs quietly drifting away. Blogging Zelda was taken completely off Blogger, so I can only assume that author is 100% finished with that experience. But my other 2 favorites haven't updated in ages. In Blogging Final Fantasy, the two authors had just started Final Fantasy VI before the updates trickled to a halt. The haven't updated since September 3, which is like a month and a half ago. Where are they? And on Blogging Dragon Quest, Artadius was on Dragon Quest V before he explained about a couple of personal crises that needed to be taken care of. Thanks for the explanation, but the last post was even farther away, on August 7, almost 2.5 months ago. Surely he's settled by now, right? I hope they both return soon. I really enjoyed reading their travels through their respective series. I especially liked the DQ blog. I had never played any of those games, and it actually made me go play and beat DQ I and II, and I just started DQ III. Come back soon.



I wanted to use this blog post to highlight my favorite (albeit only) movie podcast. It's called, simply, Movies You Should See. Basically it's 4 guys and a girl talking about movies. Each week they select one movie, the criteria for the selection differing weekly. They have some loose requirements, such as the movie should (though not always) be above a certain rating on IMDB, or that a majority of the members should agree on the movie. At any rate, their commentary, more than anything else, is funny and entertaining. When taking time out of my week to listen to an hour long podcast, it really needs to be interesting and entertaining. They often go on many tangents, which may or may not agree with you. I personally like the wild places their discussions sometimes end up. It's a fantastic podcast, with a great group of commentators. I highly recommend it. I wish I had seen every movie they talk about, because I only listen to the episodes of movies I've seen, not wanting to spoil anything about an as-yet undiscovered great film.

Also, their website, Simply Syndicated, has several other podcasts that they're involved in. I've never listened to the other podcasts, but I hear they're ok. I think their Star Trek podcast is quite popular, but I have no idea.


Playing the Wii

I've finally gotten back into Zelda: Twilight Princess. By the time I finally beat it, it will have been nearly a year since I bought it. My motivation was purely selfish and personal. While I like this Zelda game, it's pretty near perfect, I want to beat it before Super Mario Galaxy comes out in Japan on November 1. I feel more justified in buying Mario Galaxy if I've beaten one of the Wii games I already have. Of course, I'm going to buy it regardless, but in the past week, I've probably played more Zelda than I have in the past 6 months. I beat the 5th and 6th temples, the ice temple on Snowpeak and the Temple of Time. So I should only have two or three more dungeons to go. I'm not exactly sure of how many there are. I'm also going to do most of the sidequests, or at least as many as I can before 11/1, although I won't feel bad if I don't finish everything. Because Galaxy looks amazing. I wasn't excited about it until a couple weeks ago, as more and more gameplay videos started being released. I can't wait.


Not For Kid's Anymore

Here's something interesting by N'Gai Croal of Newsweek, although it's been extensively posted and reposted all over the Internet. Basically, he appeared on CNN's American Morning. The point of his interview, while talking about Manhunt 2, that I think is important is how Mature games aren't supposed to be sold to minors. It's hardly the videogame industry's responsibility if children get hold of a violent game like Manhunt 2. It's the responsibility of a combination of retailers and parents. Retailers should try to follow the law and not sell to minors, and parents should be supervising and talking to their kids about this.

One thing that's not mentioned is how even though kids aren't supposed to buy these types of games, I think they are largely still marketed to them. Even though Manhunt 2 is extremely brutal, violent, and maybe sadistic, it's supposed to be seen as fun, cool, and outrageous. Regardless, N'Gai makes a great point that many people not familiar with video games thing of them as toys or games for children. Possibly the biggest segment of the market is young men, from say 17 or so to 30ish. That's hardly kid's stuff, although children are a big part of the market too. It's all about the perception.


My Current Favorite Author - Michael Chabon

I just finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which was one of my birthday presents. As the title says, it was amazing. I absolutely loved it. It's Chabon's third novel, and I've read all of them up to that point. K and C is a massive story, told on a grand, epic scale. It's similar in size and scope to novels like The Grapes of Wrath, or Lonesome Dove. The book covers some 20 or so years in the lives of the two title characters (who are cousins), and focuses on the rise of the comic book industry in America. Along the way, you run into famous figures (Houdini, Orson Welles), Nazis and WWII, magic and escape artistry, comic books (of course), and even a fight against the Nazis in the frigid wasteland of Antarctica. It's an absolutely incredible feat of writing, well deserving of the Pulitzer. I can't wait to read it again. Unfortunately, I have many other unopened books sitting on my shelf at this point. One of which is Chabon's book of short stories, titled Werewolves in Their Youth. He's a very talented writer. Highly recommended.


Film Festival Mishaps...and Other Things

I was planning on attending possibly two more documentaries today at the film festival, but ended up making it to none. I missed the first one, around 1:00, because it was a cold, ugly, rainy, day, and the girlfriend and I didn't feel like leaving our comfortable apartment. We tried to meet up with a fried for the second movie, but when we arrived we were told they had standing room only left. So we decided to wait. When our friend arrived, we went back in, but, alas, they were now completely full. Oh well. I don't really care too much. A coffee shop was probably better than the film anyway.

In other, completely unrelated bits of info, I finally played Twilight Princess a little more tonight, after I don't know how long. It was good to get back to it. I'm on the fifth dungeon, the ice one, called something like Snowpeak Fortress or Mansion or whatever. It was a lot of fun, although it took me a while to get used to the controls again, and I only made it a little over halfway through. But I did pick up the ball and chain weapon, which is a lot of fun. It's definitely the best new item so far. I was partly motivated to pick this game again to justify buying
Super Mario Galaxy
in the first week of November. I have 4.5 dungeons left, I think. So if I beat 1 dungeon a week, I should be able to finish this and feel better about the awesomeness of Mario. Of course, I'll end up buying it now matter what, but this just makes me feel a little better.


Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival

As you can see from the title, my city in Japan, Yamagata, is currently in the middle of it's biannual International Documentary Film Festival. It's the first film festival I've ever been to, since there aren't really any near me back in the states, and I'd never really had the desire to go to one before. Although I don't know much about documentaries, having only seen a handful, the two I saw were today were very enjoyable and interesting.

The first one, of which I forgot the title, was about a group of Indians in eastern Canada, Quebec. Basically it was about how they are sort of dying out due to bureaucratic definitions. As more and more Indians married and had children with 'white' people, their grandchildren were coming to be defined as something like 'non-Indian' or 'non-aboriginal.' So part of the film was about how they're trying to get the rights back for their members. There was also a lot just about that culture and community in both Quebec and New England.

The second film was called The Monastery, and was more biographic, about a man named Vig in Denmark who wanted his run-down castle to be used as a monastery by the Russian Orthodox Church. What was most surprising was how absolutely funny parts of this film were. Vig was quite old, and was basically living in this really old castle, trying to fix it up some before some Russian nuns came to evaluate it. It was an incredibly good documentary, and I really enjoyed it.

I'm probably going to see 2 more films tomorrow. Should be a good day. I can't imagine, though, how people (or movie reviewers) can go to film festivals and watch 4 or so movies every day for a week or more. My ass was tired after just two today. Anyway, I feel like I'm really lucky to be here in Japan while such a big film festival is going on.


Deadwood: Another Brilliant HBO Show

I started watching Deadwood tonight. I know the series is over, but I often get around to watching tv shows a little too late. As part of my western kick right now, I really like it. It's gritty, dark, and violent, which makes sense given the town of Deadwood at this point in the show is literally lawless. I also especially like Timothy Oliphant, who I only remembering seeing in The Girl Next Door. He's a good actor, but I like his style and attitude more than anything else. I only watched the first 2 episodes tonight, but I can tell the story is going to be excellent. That's all for tonight. I'm tired, as always.


Books Are Consuming Me

Lately, especially since my birthday, what I've mainly been doing is try to catch up on some reading. I got 4 new books or so for my birthday last Friday, in addition to several others I have sitting around that I haven't read yet. I was most exciting about Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a sprawling epic set during the rise of the American comic book. I also received and am waiting to read a collection of short stories by Chabon, called Werewolves in Their Youth, a collection of short stories by Dan Chaon called Among the Missing, and The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard. There's just not enough time in the day.

I've also seen a few movies in the past couple of weeks. I rewatched High Fidelity, because I had just finished the book and was dying to watch it again. The first time I saw it I was mildly bored and disappointed, but this time was fantastic. It's a very enjoyable, humorous movie. I've also watched The Magnificent Seven (which was disappointing compared to Kurosawa's version), Irma le Deuce, and I've continued watching as season 2 of Heroes begins. I'm just too busy to take in everything I want to. Maybe I can stop sleeping or something.



Usually in Japan, it has felt like the seasons shift very suddenly. It seems like just last week I would be sweating all day at work, before biking home to strip down and sit directly in front of a fan all night. Today, however, I woke up slightly shivery, confused as to what month it was. Unfortunately, the seasons change faster than my brain can adjust, so I'm still wearing summer polos. The mornings are chilly, but the afternoons still promise a dose of bright comfort.

Unrelated to my weather musings, I thought I'd talk a little about my sumo tournament experience a few weeks ago. Surprisingly, a significant number of wrestlers are not Japanese, with the biggest subset being a number of Mongolians. My particular favorite is a Bulgarian, named Kotoushu. Not only is he the tallest wrestler, but he also sports a forest of chest hair. Perhaps I like him best because he's easy to pick out of a group photo.


Phoenix Wright 3 - My Birthday Present

I found it very hard to think of things my girlfriend and family could get me for my birthday this year. One of the few things I thought of was the 3rd Phoenix Wright game, which my girlfriend got for me. I even helped her practice the Japanese pronunciation in the store so she could ask for it.

I just finished the first case, and the game is still as fun and unique as I remember it. However, I was reminded of how the Phoenix Wright games are sometimes a little illogical and frustrating. For example, in the case I just finished, the soon to be exposed killer, Dahlia, is being cross-examined. She lies about being at the courthouse 8 months previously, saying she was doing research, rather than being interviewed about another case by an attorney. So I have to expose her lie and prove that she was there about another case. What's annoying is that something like this would definitely be common knowledge in the actual, current case. You couldn't hide that. I know that the Phoenix Wright games are hardly realistic or believable, but this is stretching things just a bit too far. I like having all the witnesses lie and try to cover things up, but I don't think they should be lying about something that would be in the court record already. It just makes everyone in the game seem extremely stupid.

But I still love the series. Can't wait to start case number 2!


Yay! It's My Birthday!

Today's my birthday! I'm all of 25 years old. It's hard to believe I've really been around for 25 years. I don't feel like an adult at all. I still feel very much like a college student. And this is my second (and possibly last) birthday celebrated in Japan away from home. But it's ok. Cause my girlfriend's here! I've had a great birthday. I had a great Italian dinner, and some wine, and cake. And I got some great presents, including Phoenix Wright 3 on the DS, and several books I'm really excited about. The books include two by Michael Chabon, who is my current favorite write. They are The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (which I'm wet-my-pants excited about) and a collection of short stories called Werewolves in Their Youth. Also, whenever Amazon Japan gets their act together, I'll be receiving some short stories by Dan Chaon, and a collection of western stories by Elmore Leonard. I can't wait! In case you can't tell, I'm a huge nerd when it comes to books and reading. I've got to start my first Phoenix Wright case...


Reviews Part 2 - Are Numbers Important?

One of the central arguments about game reviews seems to be about the importance of review scores. An actual number. My opinion relates to my previous post. I don't think scores should be eliminated, but they also shouldn't be the centerpiece of a review, as they usually are. A number by itself isn't able to tell you whether or not you'll enjoy a given game. For example, Halo 3 is getting many 9.5s and 10s. Reviewers, for the most part, seem to love it. If all I see is that Halo 3 has gotten a perfect 10, does that mean I'll like the game? Not necessarily. What if I don't like FPS games? Or what if I just don't like any games that have lots of fast-paced action? But this doesn't mean the game can't be appreciated. I don't particularly like FPS games myself, but I do believe Halo 3 is probably one of the best shooters around, and I'd definitely play it if I had the chance.

And no, I'm not picking on Halo 3. A good score for a Final Fantasy game doesn't mean much if you don't like RPGs, just like a good score for the latest Madden iteration doesn't mean much if you don't enjoy football games. The same can be said of almost any big, high-profile, well-received game. Very few games are so good that almost anyone enjoy them.

The number only makes sense in the context of the written article. After reading a review, you should then understand the score and how that particular reviewer feels about the game. If the reviewer's beliefs and ideas match up with yours, then you'll probably agree with them. If not, well, you can always complain about it on any number of forums like everyone else. The actual score is just a handy way for the reviewer to summarize his/her thoughts. It's also convenient for the reader to quickly look at a score to get a feel for how the game was received. BUT, this is only useful if the reader also reads the entire review. The words and sentences provide the score with actual meaning, rather than arbitrariness.


The Importance of Reviewing - Part 1

Recently, I have read several articles about the importance of video game reviews. They all seem to have popped up at the same time, with vastly differing opinions. For example, these two articles at Infendo and Intendo. Basically, the Infendo article argues that numerical scores for games should be more marginalized, and the Intendo article is a rant against the writer of the first article, saying he's just a Nintendo fanboy. I thought I'd add a new angle that hasn't been touched on yet.

Specifically, I want to mention the importance of the specific reviewer. It's vital that you know a reviewer's general philosophy and outlook towards games before reading their latest review. Reviewers, no matter how objective and unbiased they're supposed to be, are inevitably inclined to like and enjoy some games better than others. For example, shooters over RPGs, or strategy games over sports games. I personally enjoy RPGs and platformers the best, and absolutely hate sports games.

As one related, but different, example, my favorite movie review website is Reelviews. For the most part, the reviewer, James Berardinelli, and I share similar tastes in movies. So maybe around 85% of the time I trust and agree with his review. But there are some problems with this comparison of movie and game reviews. First, very few game websites can have just one reviewer to provide some continuity to the reviews. Games are always significantly longer than movies and several reviewers are required just to keep up with all the new, lengthy games that come out every week.

Second, I find that individual game reviewers rarely state their background, personal game interests, or reviewing philosophy. This kind of information is important to know where the reviewer is coming from. For example, what constitutes a perfect game for a particular reviewer? Sure, some websites post standards by which their reviewers are supposed to operate, but you can't expect those to be accurately followed by every reviewer in every review.

What's the point here? Try to find out a reviewer's background before getting too involved in their review. It's necessary to understand where they're coming from. Next time - do numerical scores actually matter for reviews?


Unforgiven: A Slightly Different Western

In all my current Western film/fiction fervor, I nearly forgot to post my impressions of Unforgiven, the 1992 western directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. It also features Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman, among many other fine actors. It was simply awe-inspiring. Some people call it one of the last western movies. But with recent releases such as the remake of 3:10 to Yuma and No Country For Old Men, I don't think the western genre is quite dead yet.

Eastwaood, as always, was unforgettable as Bill Munny, the former killer and bandit who now just wants to lead a quiet life on a desolate farm with his two kids. But of course, that simple life is not meant to be. The most interesting thing about this film for me was how Eastwood subtly altered many of the common elements of the western. For example, Munny is ostensibly the 'hero' of the film, despite his storied past. But he's definitely a non-traditional hero. In the beginning, as he leaves his kids, he can't mount his horse without falling down. It takes three attempts. As Munny goes after the reward for killing two whore-abusers, Eastwood raises the question of what is justice? Did these men deserve to die? For Munny, he just needs some more cash.

More importantly, when confronting Little Bill Daggett (Hackman) at the end, Munny completely reverts to his old, tough, heartless self. After killing the 'bad guys' (who aren't really all that evil), Munny has to sneak out of the town like a villian himself, in case someone else tries to take him out. That's hardly the romantic image of the hero we're used to in westerns.

One of the main reasons I love this film is how scary Munny becomes after he reverts to his old self. I rarely remember quotes from movies, but one line near the end has stuck with me since I watched Unforgiven.

As Munny stands over a defeated Little Bill:
Little Bill: I don't deserve this.
Munny: Deserved ain't got nothing to do with it.
And Munny shoots him in the face.
It's incredibly intense, cold, and ruthless. I still vividly remember that scene, and that rarely happens with movies these days. Unforgiven is not just a great western, but a great movie. It deserves to be in anyone's collection. I can't wait to watch it again.

The Magnificent Seven

As part of my Western kick, I watched The Magnificent Seven today. My overall impression is that it simply pales in comparison to Kurosawa's original Seven Samurai. I think by watching these two movies one after the other, you could easily see the difference between a typical Hollywood film, and the more stylish, intelligent source material for that film. On the other hand, I did enjoy it, just not as much as I expected to. I was also pleasantly surprised by a nice little deviation at the end from Kurosawa's version. It was rather nice not seeing the exact same film, just set in Mexico/Texas, instead of Japan.

Several things detracted from this film. First was some terrible, horrible acting by the actors playing the Mexican villagers. I know that acting styles were different in 1960, but this was just a pitiful attempt at acting. It was just completely dead and boring. I suppose overall it just didn't feel as epic as Kurosawa's. Despite the ideas of fighting for money, honor, or the freedom of others, the music and tone remains consistently upbeat. The happy score, even at the end, often seemed really out of place.

The Magnificent Seven was just ok. I was disappointed, probably just because I had set my expectations too high. Now I'll just wait until I can go back to the video store and rent my next western. And, hopefully I'll start Deadwood soon. Exciting!



On the way to and from the nearby city of Sendai, I passed the time by going back to New Super Mario Bros. on the DS. I had forgotten what a great game that is. It's amazing how Nintendo took everything that's great about Mario, added a couple things, and made an awesome, classic game. I had previously beaten it. Well, sort of. I had made it through and beaten the last level, but in my casual initial playthrough, I missed many secrets. I totally didn't find the 2 entire levels that are hidden. That's probably about 16 or 17 stages that I've never even played yet. Plus, I missed many other secret stages, star coins, etc.

What really struck me was how hidden some of these things are. Today, I only managed to add a few more star coins to my cleared save file. I still don't know where the hidden worlds are, or how to access any of the warp cannons. After this second taste of Mario, I'm ready to get back into it and find some of those secrets. Plus it's a nice change of pace from the RPG-goodness that is Final Fantasy VI.


What I'm Up To

First of all, I got back from sumo last weekend, and it was AWESOME! It's an incredibly fun, interesting sport. I'm trying to learn more about it now, but I hope I get a chance to go back before I leave Japan.

Otherwise, I'm really into westerns right now. That includes both fiction and films. I'm an enormous fan of Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove." (yes, we're somehow distantly related) It's an amazing western, both the novel and the TV miniseries, with Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall. I highly recommend. I want to find the time to read it again soon, but I've got about a million other books to read. What ignited my interest in Westerns was a short western story by Elmore Leonard in a collection of genre fiction. To help my current infatuation with westerns, I've watched Unforgiven, ordered Leonard's complete collection of western stories, rented The Magnificent Seven, and am seeking out as much information about the genre as I can.

As far as games, I've actually been playing a lot of Picross lately. I finally finished up the normal puzzles. The last set were all Mario themed, and were easily the best of the bunch. Now I'm on to the 'free' puzzles, which are much harder because it doesn't tell you when you've made a mistake. Super Metroid finally came out on the Virtual Console here in Japan. So with enough time, I can knock that great game off my list of games to play. And I'm trying to get back into playing Final Fantasy VI, because I want to finish it so I can move on to other games.

Lastly, I want to recommend a website. Check out Eyezmaze.com. It's a series of 'grow' games. They're real simple, but very charming and entertaining. You basically see a small world of some sort. Below this world are 8 or so buttons to press. You have to figure out the correct order to press the buttons to fully level up everything. Each button may have some sort of influence on the others. It's easier to just see for yourself. I especially like the RPG grow. Loads of fun.


Off to the Land of Giants

I'm leaving tomorrow for the sumo tournament in Tokyo. We've been watching it on tv every day after school. It looks like it'll be a lot of fun to actually see in person. Can't wait. And, I get to go to used bookstores! In English. And, go to Akihabara and buy some electronics. Well, really just buy some new iPod earbuds and a bigger flashdrive. My puny 128 mb one is just way too small. Anyway, until next week.


Oh, Japan. You're so difficult sometimes.

A brief story of frustration and incomprehension. I'm trying to take some time off from my job around Christmas to head back to America. By that time, it will have been almost 1.5 years since I've seen any of my family or friends. However, I am completely unable to understand my school's attitude. The time I want to take off coincides with the last of week of classes for this time. But, it's so early that I don't have any classes scheduled. So I feel like it's early enough that I won't be missing anything.

However, upon asking, I was told that while it's probably ok, they would 'prefer' if I don't take vacation days on days when school is in session. I just don't understand. This is the first time I've ever asked for days off before the term ends, and it's to see my family for the first time in forever. Why does it matter? No classes have been scheduled for me. I never even know my schedule until, at most, a week before the actual class. As far as I can see, I'm not missing anything that week.

What really bothers me is that this rule is so informal and unofficial. I'm not forbidden to take time off, but they encourage me not to. For a Japanese person, that's as good as including a prohibition in their contract. But for an American such as myself, I see it as a preference that doesn't necessarily have to be followed if, say, I want to go home. Furthermore, this type of informal suggestion just makes me feel like a small child when I have to go ask if I'm 'allowed' to take time off. I'm almost 25, and working in a full-time job. I don't think I should feel so stressed and embarrassed to use my allotted vacation time. This informal suggestion is just so frustrating, and I can't understand why it matters when I try to take time off. At this point in time, it's so early that I'm not missing anything. I should be able to ask for time off in advance, and then teachers can schedule classes around that since I scheduled the vacation first. First come, first served.

At the same time, I really like most of my teachers, and I'm not mad or upset at anyone. It's just a frustrating situation that I find difficult to understand.


Games I'm Waiting For

A gamer inevitably has a list, whether on paper or in their head, of games they're excited about and can't wait to get. My list is way too long, and probably includes more games than I'd ever have time to play at this point in my life. On top of that, my list includes a significant number of old games, far more than yet-to-be-released titles. Further, I don't even bother listing games prior to the Gamecube/PS2 era. Those just sort of stay floating in my head, waiting for a good, incredibly cheap opportunity to pick them up. So, here's my list:

  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones - I love the first FE GBA release, but I have yet to beat it, and I've had it for a couple of years.
  • Riviera: The Promised Land - Just downloaded this. It's very non-traditional, but great fun and strategic. Will still buy it.
  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin - Loved Dawn of Sorrow. This one looks equally awesome.
  • Hotel Dusk - Has a great noir-vibe going for it. And I've always loved a good graphic adventure.
  • Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - From the many movies I've seen of this, I truly believe the importers who say this is the best Zelda game ever. It looks amazing, with a new set of touch-only controls.
  • Final Fantasy III - What can I say? The FF series is great, and this is the last of the early games I need to acquire.
  • Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! - A rhythm-based game of Japanese insanity! A must-get as long as I'm in the country.
PS2 - A huge list of games, quickly.
  • Shadow of the Colossus - Most wanted PS2 title at this point.
  • ICO
  • God of War 2
  • Okami
  • Final Fantasy XII
  • Dragon Quest VIII (and VII on PS1) - I've started playing through the Dragon Quest series for the first time ever. Can't believe I've never touched them before.
  • Psychonauts
  • Indigo Prophecy - Like Hotel Dusk, a graphic adventure that's very rare these days.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3 - Pure awesome sauce!
Gamecube - I was a late adopter, and missed many good games.
  • Fire Emblem - Great strategy series. Like it much better than gathering resources and building units.
  • Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door
  • Skies of Arcadia Legends - RPGs may be my favorite genre.
  • X-Men Legends 1 and 2
  • Prince of Persia
  • Baten Kaitos - Not too sure on this one. Probably will never get it since I don't feel too strongly about it.
  • Killer 7
  • Super Mario Sunshine - Used to own it, but for some reason I sold or lost it. Don't know why/how.
  • Mario Tennis
  • Zelda: Twilight Princess
  • Super Paper Mario
  • Metroid Prime 3
  • Mario Galaxy and Smash Bros. Brawl (when released)
Damn! That's a pretty big list. Although I'm sure it pales in comparison to some people's lists. Plus, these are just the games I really, really want, and feel are mostly the best of the best. There's about a million more games that look really good, but I just missed out on, and don't have the time or money to go back and play. Further, there are a number of PS1 and N64 games I'd like to eventually get (or even finish the ones I have). Any games prior to that generation (I'm looking at you, Super Nintendo), I'm planning to pick up on the Virtual Console. So hopefully, many great games I missed out on as a kid will be released.

The biggest problem is I don't have the time to play half the games on this list. Once college is over, real life and responsibilities have a way of sneaking up on you pretty quickly. I'm just trying to finish a lot of the games I've already bought. And highest on that list is Final Fantasy VI Advance. Nearly done with my first playthrough. Maybe soon I can knock a few games off this list. But only if I also buy a time machine.


Do DVD Pirates Say "Arrrrrrrgh!!!!"

In perusing Time this week, I ran across a short article about two dogs who had been trained to sniff and search for DVDs. That in itself is amazing. Congratulations, dogs! But what really got me thinking was how these dogs were searching for pirated DVDs in Malaysia. While the amount they found was pretty insignificant, and more of a media/political statement than anything, I think it raises important issues.

Specifically, I would like to know how much movie piracy actually hurts the movie industry, especially financially. My instinct tells me that the big movie studios are trying to cause a big scare that DVD pirates and illegal downloaders are ruining the industry and taking away millions from their warehouses of money. That type of rhetoric seems a bit silly and overblown to me. But then again, I have no proof. It's all opinion. Or instinct.

From personal experience of downloading movies, I don't think I cost the movie companies much money. I pretty much only watch movies online that I had no intention of ever, ever seeing in the theater anyway. The worst case scenario is I confirm that it was a crappy movie, and the company doesn't get the $10 I was never going to spend anyway. The best case scenario is that I find the movie is actually quite good, and maybe buy the DVD at a future date. As far as I can see, that sounds like a win-win for the studio, including a bit of free advertising. But again, this is just my personal experience.

I feel like this would be a brilliant topic for a master's thesis, or any sort of professional research paper. Do movie studios actually lose money to pirates? How does downloading/viewing illegal copies of movies affect individual consumption of other movies through legal means? What do average people think is important about downloading movies? As you can see from my questions, I'm actually more interested in the downloading of movies, rather than just purely copying them.

I think this would be a golden opportunity for the movie industry to learn from the mistakes of the music industry. Don't go crazy trying to prosecute every single little violation. Yes, it's technically illegal. But how much is it hurting you? Think about the future, when downloading movies will become more and more prevalent as broadband Internet becomes more advanced and accessible than ever. Maybe the studios should listen to the consumers for once.


Japan: Worthy F*cking Adversary

Attack of the 100-ft. (meter???) Typhoon (Hurricane???)

Japan, particularly around this time of year, is highly susceptible to typhoons. What is a typhoon? I'm not completely sure, but I think it's pretty much the same thing as a hurricane. (Just checked: according to Wikipedia, they're mostly the same, depending on the location and strength of the storm system.) Anyway, a big one came through a few days ago. Up in my part of northern Japan, the typhoon affected me most strongly on Friday morning.

I thought it was like any other rainy Friday morning. I was already not looking forward to going into work, and of course the rain made it even more miserable. So I head off, trying to protect myself as much as possible from the rain with my umbrella. About 7 minutes into my 30 minute walk to school, all hell breaks loose. The wind picks up. I can barely see. And I have to hold the umbrella in front of me like a shield, blocking the Japanese hurricane-demon-monster from attacking me. Unfortunately, one 500 Yen umbrella is not strong enough to withstand typhoon-strength winds. My umbrella was quickly broken. Luckily I held onto it. I think I fared better than some other fellow walkers, whose umbrellas completely blew away. I even dropped the umbrella completely and ran at one point.

Suffice to say, on this rainy, typhoon-morning from hell, Japan easily defeated me. The sensible thing would've been to stay home. But that's not allowed. Congratulations, Japan. Until next time...


This Isn't Donkey Kong

In my last post I talked about Lev Grossman's article in Time about Halo, and how he has a completely skewed perspective on the video game industry. Nintendo is barely mentioned, and only indirectly, and not as one of 3 competitors in the console market. Here's the reference:
It's difficult to explain the story of Halo, but that difficulty is in itself worthy of note. This isn't Donkey Kong. The Master Chief is not an Italian plumber whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a gorilla. His story is rich and complicated in ways that we're not used to in video games.
Yeah. If you haven't played a single game in the 20+ years since Donkey Kong, I'm sure Halo's story seems like fucking Shakespeare or something. It's completely unfair and ridiculous to even think of comparing a current video game with a game that is more than two decades old. Of course plots and character development have gotten more rich and complex since arcades dominated. That's common knowledge. Halo should be compared to current-gen games, and by that standard, I'd have to say it's story is pretty standard. It's not that complicated, difficult to understand, or even that original. In fact, despite his wad-shooting love for Halo's 'complicated' story, Grossman manages to completely explain it in about a paragraph.

This article is completely ridiculous. And don't get me wrong. I loved the first Halo. I bought an XBox at launch just for that game. (Although I soon got rid of it for a Gamecube.) But to discretely disregard Nintendo from a look at the console market is just ignorant and a waste of three pages of a magazine.

In journalism as in life, people should write what they know. And Grossman clearly knows fuck-all about the video game industry.


Video Games in the Media: Where's Nintendo?

A great birthday gift from my mom last year was a subscription to Time magazine. It's nice to be able to catch up on world events, even if the magazine's a little behind the 'times' compared to the Internet. (see what I did there?) But today, I was reading an article about the success of Halo, called "The Man in the Mask," and was inspired to write a new blog post. And I just saw they have the complete article up on Time.com. As you can see from the title of this post, there's no mention at all to Nintendo in this article. (Well, one indirect reference, but I'll get to that later.) I think this article is indicative of the general attitude of mainstream media outlets, and many video game news sources, concerning Nintendo and the Wii.

The article is by Lev Grossman, who is a book critic for Time, and also occasionally writes about technology and other topics for Time. Here's his website. From perusing Grossman's blog, it seems he knows a bit more about technology, and maybe games, than I thought at first. With regard to games, all that's clear is that he spends quality time with a 360. Has he ever played a Wii or PS3? I have no idea. At any rate, on to his article.

My main problem with the article is that Nintendo is completely left out of the picture. Grossman writes that Halo 2 is "Microsoft's weapon of choice in its struggle with Sony for supremacy in the multi-billion dollar game console market." Really? While they are fighting each other fiercely, I think I remember reading that Nintendo has been selling Wiis about as fast as they can make them. In fact, Nintendo recently stripped the title of market share leader from Microsoft. (Here's VGChartz. They might not be perfectly accurate, but I think they give a pretty good estimate of sales data.) I suppose an important question is how to define 'supremacy.' One definition could be market share, which would make Nintendo the current leader. Another definition could be the platform that has the largest number of outstanding, highly ranked games. That would possibly point to Microsoft, largely because it's been available longer. Or perhaps supremacy is originality, and innovation (which would be Nintendo, again)? Or maybe supremacy is the company with the most obsessive fanboys, in which case there would be a 3-way tie. At any rate, the game-console market is not a duel between two companies. The battle is full of hot and heavy 3-way action.

Here's a final quote exemplifying Grossman's ignorance about the current state of the video game market.
At launch, Halo 3 will run only on Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console, lending the Xbox, into which Microsoft has sunk billions, huge credibility in its costly deathmatch with Sony's Playstation 3.
I ask again, Where's Nintendo? What is supremacy? Is it making money on your product? Nintendo is the only one of the big 3 to make a profit on hardware sales. Combined with having the largest market share at the moment, that sounds pretty good.

This has been a pretty long post, so tune in next time for my more general thoughts on Grossman's article, where exactly he made an oblique reference to Nintendo, and possibly, media bias towards games.


Cave Story: Where do all these indie games come from?

As you can tell from the title, I just discovered another indie game today, Cave Story. I ran into the name several months ago, as its popularity was setting fire to the Internet. But I disregarded it. It was created solely by a Japanese guy named Pixel, over the course of about 5 years, I think. I downloaded it, as well as an English patch that was actually authorized by Pixel, and finally checked it out. There are many sites you can download it from, but I got it from this fansite.

I've only played the first little prologue bit, but it's already both charming and addicting. Plus, it brings back fond memories of early Nintendo games, as Pixel's favorite games seem to have been games like Metroid, Castlevania, Zelda, and Mega Man. Cave Story looks amazing for solo indie production, and I can't wait to get further into it.

After Knytt Stories, and now Cave Story, I'm really starting to wonder if things actually come in threes. If so, I might be due for another independent game soon, possibly with the word "Story" in the title. Maybe tomorrow. Who knows? I'm off to the Cave, for now.


Knytt Stories

From the many video game blogs I keep up with, I occasionally see points of convergence, beyond reporting on exactly the same news stories and big events. Recently, I saw several blogs professing their undying love for a little indie game called Knytt Stories, which was recently released. Created by Nifflas, Knytt Stories is quite unique, at least in my experience.

How to describe it...Knytt Stories comes with 1 main story, 4 additional official stories, and several 3rd party stories that have already been created. How have they been created? By the included level editor, of course! The gameplay is very simple. You basically can only run and jump. There are some enemies, but all you can do is avoid them. Knytt Stories is much more focused on exploration, atmosphere, and style, rather than combat or action. Throughout each adventure, you'll run across several power ups, including a double jump, an umbrella to slow your falls, and a holographic projector to distract enemies. Despite the apparent lack of action, this game is extremely addicting. It's very simple, and I think the simplicity really works well with its pick-up-and-play sensibilities. It's too easy to keep wanting to explore just 1 more screen, 1 more screen. And suddenly, an hour has passed, and you forgot to get up and go to the bathroom...

Knytt Stories is quirky, entertaining, and mostly unique. It's well worth the price of admission: FREE. Check it out now. I've finished the first story, and am well into the 2nd. I can't recommend this game highly enough. Just be prepared for a different kind of game experience.


If you were a SuperHero, what would your power be?

Recently, I've started watching Heroes. What a freaking amazing show! Possibly, I mainly love it because I grew with comic books and super hero cartoons, because my girlfriend has absolutely NO interest in the show whatsoever. I heard the buzz about it last year on the Internet, but that was also during my first 3 or 4 months in Japan. So, that was a huge adjustment for me, and I had little access to American TV. Now, however, I can find and watch whatever I want. Anyway, I'm trying to quickly watch season 1 before the 2nd season starts in late September.

This show is awesome. People are slowly discovering they have super powers, and working out what they can do. There's also a mystery involving shady, powerful figures, a big conspiracy, and a serial killer that is apparently a super-super powerful villian. A round of bullets didn't stop him at all. As for powers, there's flying, physical invulnerability, passing through walls, reading minds, predicting the future, adopting the powers of nearby heroes, and some that are not yet fully explained. This show has all the mystery of Lost (and other similar shows), but Heroes already feels like it's answering some of the questions, instead of just wandering around aimlessly. The characters have a real purpose: save the cheerleader, save the world!

I love this show. The only downside so far is there is regular over-dramatic, bad, cliched acting. But that's just a small bump in the road. I particularly love the 2 Japanese characters. They're fantastic. Off to watch more Heroes...


Bioshock: The Art of Reviewing

A week or so ago, I read the review of BioShock on IGN. Most reviews I read seem to be churned out in a cookie-cutter fashion. But this BioShock review by Charles Onyett was one of those rare pieces that has stuck with me since it was published. The question I have to ask is, why?

Of extreme importance is that BioShock was so well-received at IGN. It scored a 9.7. A game that got an average, pathetic, or even just a very good score would surely not lead to such a memorable review. Furthermore, BioShock is one of those rare, 1st class, highly-anticipated original IPs that seems to actually be living up to its hype. It's received solid scores almost across the board.

And I think the IGN review is doing much more than simply heaping piles of hot, steaming praise on the developers of BioShock. They're calling attention to it as a rare example of where the games industry should be heading; towards more unique, innovative, original games and away from derivative sequels, spin-offs, and never-ending streams of the same old shitty games year after year. As Onyett says,

This game is a beacon. It's one of those monumental experiences you'll never forget, and the benchmark against which games for years to come will, and indeed must, be measured. This isn't merely an evolution of System Shock 2, but a wake-up call to the industry at large. Play this, and you'll see why you should demand something more from publishers and developers, more than all those derivative sequels forced down our throats year after year with only minor tweaks in their formulas. It's a shining example of how it's possible to bring together all elements of game design and succeed to the wildest degree.

Furthermore, I just finished reading IGN's Metroid Prime 3 review, which received a 9.5, barely lower than Bioshock. However, the review was identical in scope, and especially tone, to any number of other reviews. I think this could be due to a couple of reasons.
  1. MP3 was reviewed by someone different, Matt Casamassina, who probably has a completely different writing style from Onyett.
  2. More importantly, MP3 is the third part of a trilogy, and admittedly only brings a few new tweaks, features, and adjustments to the Metroid experience. On the other hand, BioShock is completely new, and relatively innovative. According to IGN, it's a giant leap forward in terms of what a gaming experience can (and should) be.
What is the point of this look at a game review that has stuck with me far longer than it should have? The point is that more game reviews should be this memorable and unique. Or, to put it more accurately, more games should be unique and innovative experiences that allow for reviews of the caliber of IGN's BioShock review. It's a shame that more games just aren't worthy of the praise that BioShock has received. And ironically, there's a good chance I'll never even play this game. I don't own a 360.