No Panty Princess

20 05 2012

While I was at a game store picking up some inexpensive retro the other day, I snagged a promo flier for the Nintendo 3DS game Code of Princess.  Interesting thing about CoP… it had a bit of hype behind it, then got middling reviews, and now you don’t see it anywhere.  In fact, not that I think about it, you didn’t see it many places immediately after release, either.  Strange.

Anyway, I picked up this pamphlet flier thingy; but I didn’t look at it until I got home.  Here’s the front:

 

 

Then it folds out once to reveal this:

 

 

And then fold out a third time to reveal this:

 

 

The first thing I noticed about this lovely little mini-poster is that the zombie chick in it is wearing pink panties.  It made me wonder if that was in the game, and if it was how the developer got away with releasing CoP with only a B rating (that’s barely a Teen rating in Japan).  The second thing I noticed was that the afore mentioned princess from the title wasn’t wearing any panties at all.

 

 

That’s right, she’s ノーパン as they say in Japan.

Now, my heart tells me to chock this up to a printing error; but my brain is in minor disagreement.  “What if it’s not a printing or coloring error?”   Well, to be honest, if it’s not an error then my interest in the game rises from “mildly interested” to “must buy”.

Isn’t that sad?





PS3 REVIEW: Tales of Xillia

11 04 2012

Let me preface this review by giving you a little history of myself and games in the Tales series of role-playing games.  I first heard about Tales of Phantasia probably in about 1997 or so, before any of the sequels, when it was available for the Super Famicom.  Back then, games that came on cartridges were much more expensive to import, and I remember it being somewhat hard to get as importers had turned their eyes away from 16-bit systems, and expensive… somewhere in the $125 range.  So I played it on an emulator.  At that time, nothing could emulate the special sound chip that was used to give the game an actual opening theme and voice throughout the game; but never the less I was blown away by the beefy graphics that seemed to hold their own against modern RPGs.  Additionally, I was struck by the attention to detail the programmers had shown, and it had me hooked.  I eagerly imported the limited versions of Tales of Destiny and Tales of Eternia.  Then I took some time off from gaming.  I would pick up with the Tales series four games later, when Tales of Vesperia was released for the Xbox360.  Vesperia, like the previous games, also impressed me.  So when it came time to get a new PlayStation 3, I went searching for the limited edition Tales of Xillia bundle, not only because I liked the design of the console; but because it included a game I planned to enjoy as well.

 

That machine is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Until it gets dusty.

 

The first thing that struck me about Tales of Xillia was the lushly animated eye catch it has.  Very beautiful.  What it does, though, is set your expectations up for a level of quality that ever materializes.  You begin by choosing a main character to play as, Jude, a boy, or Milla, a girl.  I chose Milla.  We’re then treated to a console rendered opening scene where Milla senses the death of a spirit, and travels to right the wrong that’s occurring.  The PS3 is a pretty powerful piece of hardware, and Namco had already set the standard for current-generation Tales  games with Vesperia (Tales of Graces F doesn’t count because it was made for the Wii and then ported over to the PS3).  Gone is the anime look of Vasperia, replaced with shocking low-res textures and jerky movement that had me flashing back to the marionette look of Star Ocean: The Last Hope International.  I really was shocked.  I expected more graphically than what I was given; but I trudged on, and I mean trudged.  For me, there wasn’t a lot to like about the game.  In fact, I’m not even going to give it the benefit of my prose, I’m just going to list what I liked and didn’t like:

 

LIKED

–       You can actually rely on the characters you aren’t controlling to act intelligently in battle and to heal you when you need it.

–       One of the pieces of background music sounds like the Back to the Future theme.

–       The character of Tipo is awesome creepy.

–       You can set all party members to attack automatically, so you don’t actually have to play a lot of the game.

–       One of the characters gets hurt and actually has to go around in a wheelchair for a bit.  That’s new.

 

That little purple bowling pin thingy is made of pure awesome.

 

DIDN’T LIKE

–       Gameplay is boring and repetitive.

–       Characters are beyond cliché, reminding me of hollow copies of characters from the last RPG I beat, Ni no Kuni, and then every RPG before that.

–       There’s no sense of urgency in the entire game.

–       Character customization is unnecessary and, well, dumb.  Why would I want my characters running around dressed as other characters from other games?  Why would I want my characters to have a wolf’s tail or wear bunny ears and funny nose glasses?

–       Areas beyond towns have items that replenish every time you enter that zone, and they’re marked on your map so you can just going back to that place and get more stuff.  Where’s the challenge?

–       Monsters are overpopulated, and advancing becomes a grind fest.  An easy grind fest.

–       Items that you can pick up are shine and are readily identifiable from a distance.  What is this, Resident Evil?

–       Characters movements are jerky and unnatural.  They move their head, pause, move arm, pause, etc.  And when they walk, it doesn’t look like their feet are touching the ground.

–       You can’t go in most of the buildings in the game, and when you can go into one, there’s nothing to do, you’re just in that building.

–       I didn’t die once, and only had to use healing herbs 6 times in the entire game.

–       One of the characters gets hurt and has to go around in a wheelchair.  That’s retarded.

–       The plot is pure cellophane.

 

OK, everybody attack while I go into the kitchen and make a sandwich.

 

I could go on; but I won’t.  Really, this game is just another hollow JRPG; the kind that gives JRPG’s a bad name.  And that’s so sad, because the Tales series and Tales fans deserve so much more than that.

There’s a reason why in Japan the almost three year old Tales of Vesperia still retails for ¥5480 ($68.00) used, while the newer Xillia goes for a much lower ¥1480 ($18.00).  It’s because the ball has completely been dropped by Tales Studios.  Where past entries in the series stood for quality and meticulous design, Xillia feels more like a cash grab.  It feels like Namco just slapped it together, threw it out the door, and said, “Here… now give us your money.” They set the bar so high with their efforts on other systems, Tales fans deserve so much better from the first true outing of the series on the PlayStation 3.  Maybe the next one will be better, or maybe Namco’s just trying to milk you for every penny you’ve got.  If the way they handle their DLC is any example, I’m betting on the latter.

 

 

As a final note, I’d like to mention that I was finally able to pick up an actual copy of the original Tales of Phantasia for the Super Famicom.  It rocks so hard, and what they did with that special sound chip is simply amazing, even 15 years later.  It’s mind blowing to hear a SNES game that actually has an opening theme song that not just bleeps and bloops, but is sung.  If Tales Studios could be half as inventive now as they were then, we’d have another gem in our hands; but as of now, we only have a lump of coal.





The New Old Game Mystery

27 03 2012

Going through various old game stores in Japan, I find a shocking number of unopened titles for the PC Engine (TurboGrafx) and Sega Saturn.  It was pretty cool at first, a little like panning for gold and finding your first little glint that hints toward the big one.  But as I’ve found more and more new copies of games that are 10, 15, and 20 years old… it got me thinking.  Where are these games coming from?

Recently, I stumbled on this listing on Yahoo! Auctions in Japan:

■新品■PCエンジン ロードス島戦記II 10ピース

That translates to “NEW: PC Engine Record of Lodoss War II – 10 pieces”.  The listing was accompanied by this picture:

 

That is a unopened case of of games shipped on December 16, 1994… 18 years ago, and it got me thinking.  I’m no stranger to the Super Potato line of stores, a variable must shop stop for retro gaming in Tokyo.  When you check out a Super Potato, if you look behind the counter, you can see boxes and boxes of games just like this.  Super Potato only carries old games at their retail locations.  That means that there must be hundreds, if not thousands of unopened games sitting in boxes, still waiting to hit store shelves.

I like to say that buying retro in Japan is like watching the ocean: there’s a high tide, and a low tide, and it’s cyclical.  During certain times of the year you can find an abundance of specific old games and old systems at decent prices, and other times they just seem to disappear and the prices for those that you can find being notably higher than before.   Then, a few months later, those systems and games return in abundance and prices return to “normal”.  My theory, and this is only a theory, is that stores collude with one another to control the market.  Working in the video industry in Japan, I know this to be a fact.  I’ve seen it.  So I don’t see why it wouldn’t spill over into video games as well.

 

Some of the new older games I've gotten for the PC Engine and PC-FX. I have more in boxes somewhere.

 

There’s actually quite a bit of old new floating around Japan.  New Famicom Disk Systems, new Famicom Disk games, I even picked up a brand new original copy of Final Fantasy VII once.  It all seems a bit strange to me.  Think about when the last time you saw a new NES or Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) game sitting on a shelf, waiting to be bought.  Did they really over produce that many games in the 1980s and 90s?  It’s hard to imagine they did.  So be careful the next time you’re on eBay or run into a chance to buy a new old import game that seems like a dream purchase.  Odds are, it’s there’s one… there’s bound to be a few hundred more.





Hardoffing: Urawa, Japan

6 01 2012

One of the great things about Japan is that old games come cheap… well, usually.  One of the best places to get used games, from current generation systems to the classics is called Hard Off.  I talked a little bit about them in my post here.

The Hard Off in Urawa, Japan, seems to have good days and bad days.  Some days I walk in and find magic, like a Playstation debugging unit, some days it’s just… meh.  Here’s a little look at the Hard Off in Urawa:

 

Welcome to Hard Off! Where you can get a copy of GTA4 that won't work in your Japanese 360 (it's European)!

 

I think it’s pretty cool that you’re greeted with a mix of newer and older games.  You can see the three Neo Geo cartridges there on the top.  World Heroes 2 Jet is way overpriced at Y2100 ($27).  There’s a so-so PC Engine game, Emerald Dragon, as well as an excellent PC Engine game Xanadu 2 (I bought that new when it came out for $65… guess I should have waited).  In the middle there is Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn, which is a little high at Y1680 ($22).  Below that are a mix of PC Engine, Mega CD, Dreamcast, and GameCube games.

 

If you need Final Fantasy of Dragon Quest, this is the place to go.

 

Here’s a look at their selection of Playstation 2 games.  They’re sorted by genre.  The PS2 was pretty RPG heavy, and you’ll find an abundance of Final Fantasy games everywhere you look.  They’ve priced all their PS2 Final Fantasy games at Y1680 ($22), regardless of title.  It’s not uncommon that a Hard Off will have a random price that they just stick on games… you’ll see a lot of games, both popular and unpopular, for the same exact price; but that price differs from store to store.  It’s like every store has one lazy guy who works there that eventually gets tired of looking at what the correct price should be for things and just canvases everything with a blanket price.  Sometimes that man works in my favor, other times… not so much.

 

Poor PS Vita... someone already gave you the boot.

Who doesn't want a Virtual Boy with things taped to it?

 

Here’s their systems isle.  It’s running a little low at the moment.  In the foreground you can see a Neo Geo CD complete with box, 3 games, and extra controller for Y8400 ($109).  Even with the extra stuff, that’s a little high.  The Virtal Boy price might seem off-putting, but it’s actually not that bad because it comes with four games, one of those being Mario Clash which easily sells for Y3500 ($45) by itself.  That makes the Y12,600 ($163) price tag a little easier to swallow, being that Virtual Boys usually go for around Y10,000 ($130) for the unit alone.  You can also see a boxed Family Basic set (that’s the programming cartridge and keyboard for the Famicom), Some Wiis, a 3DO, and a Mega Drive waaaaay down there at the end.

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for.  Here is a video tour I filmed of the store, mostly focusing on their “junk” section.  That’s usually where you find the good stuff.  Making this taught me a very important lesson: never again will I film a Hardoffing video with my iPhone.  And yes, that means more episode of Hardoffing are to come.  It only get’s better from here, so stay tuned.





Hardoffing: Four For Famicom

28 12 2011

I got lucky!  Now get your mind out of the gutter and follow with me here… there’s a line of “Off” stores in Japan that I like to troll.  There’s Hard Off, Book Off, Off House, Hobby Off and more; but I usually just stick to those four.  I go there because they have retro games and systems that can usually be had for a fair price, if not a steal.  Here’s a good example of that:

Red robots! Pink cavemen! Orange aliens! And black boxers! I won't let you steal my Fami-carts!

I paid a total of 420円 for those four games.  In dollars, that’s about $5.40, or $1.35 a cartridge.  For those of you who can’t read Japanese or are not in the know, the games are Mega Man 2, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!, Urusei Yatsura: Lum’s Wedding Bells, and Adventure Island: Bug te Honey.  Two of the games I’m not really going to get into.  Most people who play games know about the Mega Man series; same goes for Punch Out!  The one thing that did surprise me, though, was that the Japanese version of Punch Out! is entirely in English… it’s a straight port of the American version of the game (the US version of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! came first.  The game was released in Japan before the US version; but it didn’t have Tyson attached to it, instead featuring a generic boxer named Mr. Dream as the end boss).

 

It's called "foreshadowing."

This is Adventure Island: Bug te Honey.  It’s based off of an anime that in turn is based off of the game series Adventure Island.  The series was quite popular in the 1980’s and 90’s and made appearances on the MSX, Famicom (NES), and Super Famicom (Super Nintendo) Systems, as well as being remade for the Playstation 2 and GameCube.  Bug te Honey is a spin-off of sorts, but being that it was made by Hudson Soft, quality is assured… maybe.

Bug te Honey is one of those genre-crossing games.  It’s a platformer crossed with a shooter crossed with Arkanoid.  In some levels you play as a fairy that flies around shooting enemies and buildings hoping to get power-ups and find glowing balls that will take you to the Arkanoid block-breaking sub-levels.  In the sub-levels you control a platform that bounces a ball off objects, breaking blocks which reveal power-ups specific to that level and sometimes causing a letter to drop.  Collect all the letters to spell a certain password, and you can advance to the next stage.  This process repeats until you’ve successfully spelled out the password and uncovered the secret portal to world two.  Wow.

There’s only one problem:  the game doesn’t tell you what the password is, and if you collect a letter that’s not in the password, you die.  Confused?  Watch the video:

I can’t help but think an instruction manual would have helped out with this one.  I can only hope that within it’s pages are the passwords to the levels so that the game doesn’t become a random hit-or-miss spelling adventure.  Without knowing the letters that are in the password, the game gets frustrating, fast.  But it’s also one of those games that is so insane, it passes right through bad and becomes awesome.

If you know the password, please tell me. I'm ready to get stuck on level 2 now.

 

 

Urusei Yatsura: Lum’s Wedding Bells goes right through bad to awesome and then completes an entire revolution back to bad.  And then stays there.  It won’t move.  Based on the popular anime and manga Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi, Wedding Bells has the distinction of being the only Urusei Yatsura game where you actually do anything.  The other four UY games are all digital comics or graphic adventures.    Here, you control Lum as she platforms her way from pre-school to wedded bliss; and she deserves bliss after surviving this steaming pile of a game.  Really, it’s not that bad… OK it is.  It’s hard for me to be completely objective because I’m such a fan of the series.  I recognize the characters from the game and enjoy the chip tune versions of the songs from the anime, but the gameplay… my GOD the gameplay…

Lum's lost in a sea of mediocrity.

 

The game starts you out in a school.  You have to jump over holes in the floor, avoid strange flying goldfish and falling octopi, eventually working your way to the roof to be whisk off by a UFO.  After completing a level, Lum grows up a little and you repeat the process.  The controls are iffy, the collision detection is out of whack, and for some reason every school Lum goes to seems to catch fire after a short time.  It’s the game’s way of saying “hurry up!” but it’s still bizarre.  What gets me is the huge, gaping hole centered in the root of the character based gameplay:  In the comic and anime, Lum can fly- that’s what she does.  In the game, she can’t.  It’s like that Superman game for the Genesis… the one where Supes walks around everywhere because the programmers seem to have forgotten that Superman can fly.  It makes no sense.  Every time I fell to my death in the game (which was quite often), I said to myself “But she can fly…” It’s quite hilarious; take a look.

 

I already knew about the reputations of these games before I bought them, so nothing came as a total shock.  I really can’t complain- they’re so cheap!  That’s one of the great things about going Offhousing, you never know what you’re going to find and what a great deal it’s going to be.  Or not.