Lent 2017, junk food/media

Despite both not being a Christian, and when I was, not being a part of it that did Lent, a friend mentioned she was doing it last year and so I decided to do something too. I think the idea of giving up something for a month or more is a good experience. For Lent 2016 I gave up English media. And I kind of failed miserably, while still succeeding at the core goal of playing/reading way more in Japanese. It was probably one of the best things I did for my Japanese ability.

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A beautiful dying mess, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

I finished Lightning Returns (LR) last year during JRPG July. A year later and it has managed to be a game that stays in my mind.

Lightning Returns is the bizarre ending piece to what I consider maybe the strangest trilogy of games I’ve played. The Final Fantasy XIII saga is generally considered pretty bad by the internet at large, despite scoring fairly well critical. However, XIII represents something that is FF at it’s best, which is taking bold risks, even if sometimes for poor reasons. As a result all three games in the trilogy are deeply interesting and deeply flawed. Lightning Returns might be the most interesting and most flawed game in the series too. Which is somewhat remarkable given the original XIII. While the whole series is worth further discussion, and there is a lot to be learned about game design from the original, I’m just going to talk about its conclusion.

You see, Lightning Returns follows the proud tradition set by the Zelda game everyone loved 10 years after release, Majora’s Mask. With a world that will end and that you must save, within a time limit.  Curiously, both games feature worlds that really are very alive. But unlike Link, there is no loop for Lightning to relive her adventure making slow but sure progress with each loop. Lightning has to succeed within the 6 days allotted to her, which if she can save enough souls (complete enough quests) she will be able to extend up to a total of 14 days.

At the start of the game, this dying and soon to be ended world, actually seems pretty vibrant. You are collecting quests at a somewhat rapid rate and completing them what feels like very quickly once you’ve gotten into the game. However, eventually, the pace slows down… To the point where it’s possible to complete almost every quest the game throws at you without a lot of difficulty. And not only is it possible, it’s likely to happen almost by accident at least in one area. Naturally, the more you accomplish the less there is to do.

This is pretty natural of course, only a limited amount of content, therefore as you progress there is less. But because so little content is gated, it feels limited despite taking a fair amount of actual real world time to do everything.  I managed to finish every quest in the game barring about 4, and it probably took me around 30-35 hours, which is longer than Dragon Age Origins took me. At And despite this, I still have 4 in game days left, and the world… felt very dead. At the start there were new things to see, discover, quests to find! But now, there was nothing, the world had gone from vibrant and exciting to become stagnant and quiet.

And not just quests too, one of the bizarre and surprisingly compelling mechanics in the game is that monsters go extinct. That means limited drops of all those junk items, and of course, lower spawn rates if you remove monsters in a region. Kill all the monsters in the region, and you basically have no encounters, finish all the quests in an area too, and that part of the world has gone within your play time from being a fairly vibrant place to being noticeably desolate.  Killing off monsters doesn’t just net you less encounters though, the last monster is always a powered up version of the creature and rewards you with a cool item.

Outside of rewards though, this ties in surprisingly well mechanically, where Lightning is both savior and end of the world, and since as you play the game the world loses its sense of life, that theme actually plays out surprisingly well mechanically.

Although much like Majora’s Mask despite it being a sad dying world, it is also completely bizarre and silly. With one quest line requiring Lightning to sneak into an performance, and fight for dress required to play the part. Lightning essentially plays straightman to a universe that has given up on taking its plight seriously.

Although, I managed to make all the monsters extinct in this first playthrough too… Which left me in a bizarre situation of having literally consumed all the possible content in the game available to me other than one super boss designed for a character built up over multiple plays. So I literally had to go to an inn, and sleep off the last few days till the end of the world in order to trigger the end series of boss fights.

Lightning Returns is a mess though despite that beautiful mix of theme and mechanics. Combat can seem almost non nonsensical, the difficulty curve is a complete mess, the time mechanics are broken, quests can be far too specific and if you aren’t careful you could waste huge amounts of time on silly things, and if you don’t click with the time system, it can really punish you very hard. Oh and the story itself is a complete mess and nearly approaches self parody.

However, despite all that, it will sit proudly among my favourite PS3 games.

 

Year in Review, 2015-2016

Last year I wrote a number of posts reviewing my year in different ways. This time I’m going to condense it down into a single post. Mostly because I think after a second year of JET there is in many ways less to write about as you are no longer jumping over new hurdles but rather old and slightly worn ones.

I think the first thing to address is my post about this year’s goals, which I foolishly made specific instead of general, with the intention of specific goals are achievable goals. So the goals were to pass the Japanese language proficiency test Level 3, attend 4 fighting game tournaments in Niihama, attend a Dragon Quest X gay game night in Tokyo, hit 3 towns from Yakitate Ja-pan, and finally interview another Japanese developer.

I managed to fail all of these,  but I did keep in the spirit of many of them:

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Let’s learn from Engrish! Owe a favor.

The other day I ran into a bizarre bit of English on a child’s t shirt.

“Always owe a favor”

Which is of course, probably some poor translation of something, or even potentially just a random mix of words pushed together until something that looked like a sentence was born from the abyss.

However, for some reason, this caught my eye. I decided to go from the premise that it was supposed to be positive. Why would you always owe a favor? Probably because you ask for them.

Which means you are always asking for help. Which is something people often don’t do as much as they need to. So this is not a message of constant debt, but simply a request to ask for help.

At least, that’s the story I’m running with.

Conquering past foes: Wind Waker

When I went on exchange 10 years ago, I learned the joys of the Japanese second hand gaming market, I quickly amassed a number of Japanese games, most of which I really couldn’t play due to the language barrior. But my host family had a gamecube, and so when I saw Wind Waker for 1280 yen (about 12US) I couldn’t resist. I booted it up, and very, very slowly tried to work my way through it. It had furigana in it! But… the TV I was playing on wasn’t really high enough quality to actually make them readable. In fact, I didn’t know the original Wind Waker had furigana in it until I did some research!

 

However, through a combination of a terrible TV, extremely basic Japanese skills, and impatience, combined with a physical pocket dictionary designed for everyday use and not things like “ghost ship.” I was ultimately unable to get through the game. Giving up somewhere around the 3rd temple. Later in 2008 or so I would obtain a PAL English version for an Australian Gamecube I was given by a dear friend, and me and a different dear friend worked together to play through a large amount, with the game somehow getting lost before I finished collecting the Tri Force hunt.

With Japanese lent having removed my interest in playing games in English that aren’t systemically very complex or story driven, I’m now in a situation where I may never play a Zelda game in English ever again. The series is so remarkably well designed with visual cues, that even with my skill level 10 years ago I was able to make some good progress despite being functionally illiterate. The Zelda series, until recently, always used it’s visuals and world design to communicate a lot more than you might notice as a literate person. Additionally, with important words highlighted in read, that can also limit language checks a little too.

So, having started it again, how did I do? Did I finally finish it?

Yes I did.

Given how troubled my experience of playing it the first time all those years ago with language constantly getting in my way, ultimately feeling defeated by the fact as good as my language was, it wasn’t enough, it was nice go through it relatively problem free language wise. Not that I understood everything of course, but I was able to nicely follow even a lot of the nuance with the script and characters. That being said, I for all the Japanese games I’ve now played, every game makes me more and more impressed with just how well Nintendo localizes games generally.

Obviously given 10 years, with some extra study in there, it’s not at all surprising I could get through a game that is designed to be somewhat accommodating to children who can barely read. The point here is less my ability to do this, but to defeat something that previously had defeated me. Maybe I should try and read those Full Metal Alchemist manga I bought then too…

Oh and Wind Waker as a game? It’s pretty good. Although… for all its strengths it is a pretty flawed entry in the series.

 

Osamu Tezuka Dairies: Princess Knight/Ribon no Kishi

I am a big fan of Osamu Tezuka, often called the father of manga. I desperately wanted to see the Tezuka museum since finding out it was a thing. And in the spring holidays, I did! I have photos to prove it. While there I really had two main takeways. First, for all I care about Tezuka and have learned from various books and histories, I have read very little of his work. And second, he wrote a lot, so it just seems statistically odd to have dealt with as a little of his work as I have.

I’ve watched pretty much all the Astroboy that exists, some Blackjack, and that is pretty much it in terms of his work. Not until a few weeks ago had I even read any of his manga. Since I’ve somehow always loved his work while consuming barely any of it, I thought I’d try and read what I can. I’ve been told Tezuka’s work is rather hard to read so I’ve been reading it in English.

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Being noticed, the problem of geo location dating and a small town.

I was looking through my drafts recently, and realized I never actually posted this. It’s… almost a year out of date, but I hope you enjoy it.

So… Like many things in life, being in rural area changes up. Combine low amount of people, with being rather visually distinctive and it was inevitable that one day I would just run into someone who recognized me from one of the geo location dating apps, like 9monsters.

Earlier this year it happened. I cycled to Geo, to browse their games. Finding a wonderful ice blue DS Lite in wonderful condition. When I was leaving though, an older man walked up to me and said “… 9monsters?” as if it was some kind of weird secret code…

Which to be fair, it is.

And I knew this day had to come. After all, on 9mon I am the only white man within about 70km of me, maybe more. (although that’s changed now) It was inevitable that I would run into someone nearby who would remember me from the app.  I had mentally prepared for this. And said:

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