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  • Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

    Posted on December 16th, 2009 keving 5 comments


    Completely out of the blue, I received a preview build of Sakura Wars in the mail the other day. I say “completely out of the blue” because this is the first time I’ve received a preview build of anything since I got laid off from ADV in June of 2008. I honestly didn’t realize that the PR department of NIS America knew my home address. Are they spying on me??!! Wait. Maybe not. If so, they woulda known that my modded PS2 is somewhere in the closet, buried under a bunch of winter clothing, and I have too much work today to dig it out! (I have a vague memory of telling my old PR contacts to send their email blasts to an address I created for that purpose, but man, I haven’t checked it in about a year. Sorry, video-game industry.)

    All I can say today about this game is that it has Gemini Sunrise in it. That’s all that needs to be said, right? Hiroi-ohji made an offhand comment half a decade ago about how this character will serve to introduce the series to overseas audiences — apparently he was looking even further ahead than I ever imagined!

    The ferret gives the bubble wrap 8.2/10.

  • I have strong opinions about “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle”

    Posted on December 11th, 2009 keving 8 comments


    Everyone knows the opening theme from Gilligan’s Island, yeah? I know the mid-’60s sitcom stopped being even a camp sensation about 15 years ago, but I’m reasonably sure the show’s bold depictions of south-seas civilization, animal life, and jungle engineering left a mark on the counterculture movement that still lingers today…right?

    Just in case you need a reminder of how the song goes, here it is:

    I’ve been recording some music for my game/chiptune-only MP3 player and realized that I have not one, not two, but three game-centric covers of this theme at my fingertips — two just ok, and one which hits it out of the park. I figured I’d share them with you:

    Gilligan’s Island (NES, 1990): The title screen jingle from this odd adventure. It’s not bad, but a bit short and melancholy, isn’t it? I wonder if the Japanese developers of this game actually saw the local version of the show any back in the 1960s — the Japan dub, which aired on NTV, has apparently been lost entirely, a victim of wiping. (The vid above was recreated by someone who loved the theme so much that he tape-recorded it off NTV 42 years ago.)

    Gilligan.mod: This was, believe it or not, one of the first Amiga .MOD files I ever listened to after I got a Sound Blaster Pro in 1993. I tracked down the file again a few months back and it’s been in regular rotation since. It’s catchy in that silly Euro-acid way a lot of Amiga tunes were.

    Gilligan’s Island (Williams, 1991): The pinball game, the first one from Williams/Midway to feature a dot-matrix score display. While it fared only average in arcades (only about 4100 machines were manufactured), it’s a personal favorite of mine and I always make a beeline for it at pinball expos and such.

    I firmly believe that some of the best chip-generated music of the late ’80s/early ’90s was bring produced by people like Chris Granner and Jon Hey for Midway’s pinball machines and 16-bit arcade games. In fact, I’d put them right up there with any of the Japanese people working on the PCE or Genesis at the time. What they did with the Yamaha YM2151 (the same sound chip that was in Sharp’s X68000) constantly blows my mind even today…so much so, in fact, that I’ll probably devote another entry to them later.

    But enough about them. Don’t want them stealing the spotlight from the crew of the SS Minnow or anything. Uh-uh.

  • Greatest special edition ever goes for $3400

    Posted on December 10th, 2009 keving 14 comments


    Enemy Zero, a 1997 Sega Saturn release, was a very hard survival-horror game from Kenji Eno’s infamous WARP studio. It was arguably the first 3DCG game to have a nude scene. In Japan it also had what’s unarguably the most hilarious limited-edition box set ever made for a console title.

    Only twenty of these special boxes — or should I say “special crates”? — were produced. They cost a cool 200,000 yen each, and Kenji Eno personally delivered them to each buyer himself on a flatbed truck (really).

    Number 08 hit Yahoo! Auctions in Japan the other day and was sold for 300,000 yen, or about $3414.58.

    What’s in this package? Let’s see:

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Evangelion shows up in Japanese proficiency exam

    Posted on December 6th, 2009 keving 5 comments


    Level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test this year had a listening question which, to say the least, doesn’t involve a lot of of day-to-day vocabulary.

    The humor here is that this little drama is heavily inspired by Eva (even using the names “Asuka” and “Unit 04” and so on) while remaining just different enough to avoid copyright issues. I can’t help but laugh at how hard people wanted to understand this stuff back in the late ’90s without having to rely on subtitles.

    If you know Japanese, why not listen and give it a shot? Transcripts and so on are under the cut.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Deep Blue

    Posted on December 4th, 2009 keving 6 comments

    0940Deep Blue: Kaitei Shinwa

    Maker: Pack-In-Video
    Release Date: 3/31/89
    5300 yen
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Shooting
    PC Engine FAN Score: n/a
    Kōgien: “Your character in this game is a submarine shaped like a fish. The enemies are also fish, and you fend them off with three different weapons, each with three power levels. Your ship’s eye color changes as you take hits, letting you know your current status.”

    Pack-In-Video’s second PCE game is a hell of a lot better than F-1 Pilot was, although I’m not sure by how much. It’s a game that generated a lot of divergent opinion among hardcore folks of the time. Magazines rated it very low — I don’t have PCE FAN’s score at hand, but Shogakukan’s PC Engine Hyper Catalog gave it two out of five stars, a rating reserved for the major stinkers in the library (only a very few titles got one star). In a way, it’s a very early example of how the media can rate a game far differently from gamers themselves.

    The gimmick in Deep Blue is that both the player and all the enemies are aquatic creatures — not in the Darius space-monster manner, but living, breathing fish. Since fish aren’t known for firing bullets, every enemy in the game attacks by bashing into you. Your craft moves pretty slowly (in classic ’80s shooter style), so knowing when to shoot and when to dodge is the key to survival here.

    A lot of the negative press this game got is all a misunderstanding. This is not some sort of Endless Ocean, or even Ecco the Dolphin, new-age undersea voyage (though it sounds like it sometimes). The first time you play, you’ll get hit dozens of times by the waves of creatures (their patterns reminiscent of Activision’s Megamania in my mind) and die before you know what happens. This is exacerbated by how durable all the enemies are, many taking multiple hits with the default weapon. If I can chop them up with a fork on the dinner table, then why are they causing my cyber-aquacraft so much trouble?

    What most people don’t realize (unless they paid the full 5300 yen for the game and felt obligated to stick with it) is that Pack-In-Video didn’t intend for you to shoot everything. That’s why your ship gradually refills energy as long as you don’t shoot — a detail not especially obvious unless you read the manual. This means that finishing the game and getting a high score are almost mutually exclusive goals, because survival is all about keeping your energy high and avoiding getting hit too often instead of getting hit period. Once you realize this, mastering the game isn’t terribly difficult.

    It’s an interesting shooter mechanic, really, and it’s a shame Deep Blue was so misunderstood in its time. (Not that I’d rate it high, either — there’s only four stages and no real ending.)

    Here’s a basic runthrough of the game that employs a mix of shooting and dodging. It’s funny to note that the bosses are easier to dispatch than some of the enemy swarms that precede them.

  • PC Engine rarities

    Posted on December 3rd, 2009 keving 3 comments

    I’ve started adding “Rarity” ratings to PCE games. This is based chiefly off Akihabara prices and the experiences of the assorted collectors I know over in Japan. It’s not meant to be fabulously scientific, but I think it’s interesting to see nonetheless and could generate some discussion.

    My definition of “rarity” is simply how hard a game is to obtain. I don’t factor anything like print runs or how hot or sought-after a title is. My ratings:
    “Common” — You shouldn’t have to pay more than 500 yen for a complete example, if that.
    “Uncommon” — Still cheap but you may have to hunt a little. Expect to pay 1000 yen and up in the collector circuit.
    “Rare” — It’s a good day if you get one of these. Generally expect to pay 4000-5000 yen and up in the collector circuit.
    “Extremely Rare” — Public release games that are impressive finds in the wild and regularly go for over 10,000 yen among collectors.
    “Unbelievably Rare” — Contest prizes or other extremely low-run releases. Japanese collectors need these to complete their libraries and therefore run prices up to the moon and beyond.

  • Willow Soft eliminates the middleman!

    Posted on December 2nd, 2009 keving 7 comments


    Buy the limited-edition box set (on Amazon Japan) for eroge-maker Willow Soft’s Okāsan ga Ippai!! (which means something like “Moms All Over the Place!!”), and in addition to the standard artbook, you will also get a sex toy modeled after the pocketbooks of one of the game’s seven heroines. I think this is a first.

    You also get a CD with tracks of each girl groaning, which you’re meant to tune to accordingly based on whose silicone minge you’re involved with at the moment.

    The game comes out Christmas Day, of course.

    Click onward to see exactly what you’re getting (work safe, more or less).

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Adventures in localization, MW2 edition

    Posted on December 1st, 2009 keving 27 comments


    Hey! Remember this stirring scene from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a game you may’ve heard a thing or two about over the past month or so?

    In the English original, Vladimir Makarov (far left; one of MW2’s chief villains) is telling you “Remember, no Russian” — i.e., “Don’t speak Russian during this topical Fox News-bait sequence we’re about to commit.” In the Japanese version that Square Enix is releasing next week, however, the trademark phrase — according to the above screenshot, anyway — has become “Korose, Roshia-jin da,” “Kill them; they are Russians.”

    Maybe it’s a matter of matching with Makarov’s lip flaps, but isn’t that straying a pretty decent distance away from the original intent? As one 2ch commenter rather rudely put it: “It’s meaningless as Japanese already, but how does ‘No Russian’ translate as this? Is this just some college student using Excite [machine translation], or what?”

    Square Enix came under fire last year for their Japanese localization of the original Modern Warfare, a game whose translation was questionable enough that even Famitsu and other publisher-friendly review sites brought it up as a fault. In addition to a slew of typos and instances where text got corrupted when it was imported into the game, a great deal of military vocabulary was simply mistranslated for the Japanese version. The most noted example in Japan reviews: The word “Marine” (officially kaiheitai (海兵隊) in Japanese) is repeatedly translated as kaigunhei (海軍兵), a term which literally translates to “naval soldier” that doesn’t actually exist in standard Japanese.

    “It’d be one thing if these were obscure details,” Game Watch wrote in their Modern Warfare review, “but considering these things show up within the first 30 minutes of play, I really wish it was possible for QA to cover them more thoroughly. This is something that we could say to all overseas game publishers these days. These are not budget games, but full-price titles you’re expecting people to pay for, and especially with a big-name title like COD4, I wish they could’ve avoided disappointing gamers with issues that aren’t the fault of the game itself.”

    Famitsu gave MW2 39 out of 40 points in its review this week, but news that the game is available only with Japanese voices has touched off nerd rage across the Internet over there, with dozens of gamers swearing they’ll only buy the English-language Asian version instead. We’ll see how the game fares next week. (Between the PS3 and 360, the original Modern Warfare sold about 250,000 copies in Japan.)

    In case you’re curious, here is how MW2 sounds in Japanese:

  • Nightmare Circus (Sega/Funcom, 1996)

    Posted on December 1st, 2009 keving 11 comments

    After nearly 14 years, someone (a Brazilian dude, of course) has finally figured out how to finish Nightmare Circus without cheats and posted the results online. You can probably click on the video to find the remaining parts.

    Serious Genesis collectors probably know about this one. Announced in 1995, the side-scrolling action game (starring a guy who looks a little like John Redcorn) received perfunctory previews in US game magazines but ultimately found official release only from Tec Toy in Brazil. It was reportedly on the Sega Channel for a short time, too, before that service ended in 1998.

    The game, as Tec Toy released it, seems about 95% complete by my estimate. Full debug controls are easily available, there’s no story element or ending (besides the credit roll), and actually trying to work your way through the title is a long trial-and-error process. For most players tooling around with the ROM on an emulator, it takes a while even to figure out the controls — Nightmare Circus is meant to be played with a six-button pad, and Mr. Redcorn moves a lot like he’s a Street Fighter II character, right down to the strong/weak melee moves.

    There are a lot of good things to say about this game — some of the setpieces are pretty, some of the music atmospheric — but it plainly needed another couple months. As is, it’s a depressing journey into the depressed minds of some depressed Scandinavian programmers. And yet I watched the entire walkthrough anyway. I’m incorrigible.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Kyūkyoku Tiger

    Posted on December 1st, 2009 keving 7 comments

    Kyūkyoku Tiger

    Maker: Taito
    Release Date: 3/31/89
    5500 yen
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Shooting
    PC Engine FAN Score: 24.37 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “An arcade port. The screen orientation has changed from vertical to horizontal, but the game is still well balanced. The smart bombs, and the trademark way the enemies take lots of hits to kill, are faithful to the original. The slow speed of your fighter makes things difficult for people who have problems dodging shots.”

    You can tell a Toaplan (東亜プラン)-developed shooter pretty quickly. It doesn’t require a particularly well-trained eye. All you need to look for are slowly-scrolling military landscapes, an enormous, pokey-moving aircraft at your command, and enemies that seem adept at placing bullets exactly where you don’t want them.

    Kyūkyoku Tiger, alongside Flying Shark (both released 1987 in arcades), was the game that put the tiny Tokyo-based developer on the map. Both titles established the direction Japanese shooters would take in the years and decades to come, mixing a robust color-coded powerup system with a worrying large number of enemies flinging themselves upon you every millisecond. Toaplan was a pioneer, for better or for worse, when it came to giving shooters a reputation for being fiendishly difficult — even the aircraft that drop power-ups can be extremely tough to kill, especially when you’ve just died.

    Romstar distributed the arcade original under the name Twin Cobra, and the US version had a few key differences:

    • Two-player simultaneous play instead of turn-taking; another player can join at any time
    • After death, you restart right where you died instead of at an earlier checkpoint (if you and a boss finish each other off simultaneously, you continue straight to the next level, skipping the landing sequence)
    • Your ship’s a little quicker, but you can have only three shots on screen at once (four in the Japanese original)

    These additions largely serve to make the game easier, and Taito’s PCE port of Kyūkyoku Tiger goes a step further by including a few secret codes — you can optionally score guided missiles with the yellow power-up, and if you go to the lower left corner immediately after game start and fire a bomb, you’re rewarded with three extra lives.

    In terms of faithfulness, Taito did an incredible job with this port, easily outclassing the job Namco managed with Dragon Spirit a little while back. There’s next to nothing substantial lost in this port, despite fitting in only two megabits, and the music (ported by Tsukasa Masuko, who we last saw in Dungeon Explorer) actually sounds a little better and less oldschool-FM “tinny” to my ears.

    It’s hard, though. Very hard. There’s a total of ten levels, and I don’t have any hope at all of conquering them. Few shooters demand your constant, unwavering attention as much as Toaplan’s did, and that bit was ported all too well, you know?