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