English media lent

A little while before lent, one of the other ALTs in my area was talking about what she’d give up for lent. I’ve never done lent in my life. My family are christian, but not a sect that ever really dealt with lent, and I am not really a man of the faith any longer. Despite all that I thought that this year, a year I am in Japan, would be the time to do it.

So, I did. From February 10th to March 26th I attempted “English Media lent.” One of my goals this year was to do much more in Japanese, and so this suited such goal nicely. The rules were simple

No podcasts, videos, books, comics or games in English for the 40 days.

This enabled me to cheat a little with using social media and reading some internet articles. (because giving up social media is an entirely different situation).

Needless to say I failed miserably. But I learned a good bit from the experience. Let’s go through a few things:

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6 Games I already own I am looking forward to playing in 2016

I own a lot of games. Last year I made up a big list of things I wanted to try and finish last year, but it was far too big a list to really accomplish. So here is a list of games I already own, that I want to play more this year, and most of them are RPGs because I hate my time.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt

I’ve been playing this a little late last year. But The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open world game that actually feels like people live might live in it. Recently I’ve gotten involved in the quest “Family Matters,” which tied for first at USgamer’s questline of 2015. And frankly it shows the Witcher at its best. Ultimately The Witcher 3 is at it’s best when it is being a detective game. Which it is happy to spend time doing. It’s combat is not great, there are lots of minor niggles, but every session I give the Witcher 3 always results in a great thing I want to tell someone about. Which I can’t say about many open world games. I probably won’t finish this, but just plug away at it every so often.

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

Bought this on US release date, well before the Australian one that applied to my region. Frankly it’s taken me several goes to get as far as I have, which still isn’t that far. The game has a lot of character, and a lot of characters both in terms of people and just letters. While it might be easy to dismiss Trails in the Sky for being overly talky, it is overly talky, and I love every minute these people speak. Early on though, the game is quite slow and still hasn’t shown it’s true colours. I’m playing it on PSP, although only because I’ve already invested a solid 10 hours into it. Wish me luck.

Dragon Quest VII

Thinking of big RPGs that don’t show off their best points early, Dragon Quest VII, the largest DQ to ever be made, where one of the major points of the remake is that they cut content and quickened up the game considerably. Having recently worked my way through bits of DQX and Slime Mori Mori Dragon Quest  I am hopeful I can get through it in Japanese as part of my resolution to play more in Japanese.

Tokyo Xanadu

Tokyo Xanadu, while not as highly acclaimed as Trails in the Sky, does borrow a lot from the series with a focus on a likable cast. However the combat is classic Ys arcade intensity, which for me is Falcom at their finest. Despite the fact Xseed as almost certain to localize it sooner or later, but I am hopeful I can beat this before they do. Oddly, I wasn’t so keen on this for the longest time pre-release, but when I got to play it at TGS I was hooked by the good action mechanics to it.

Undertale

Finally, something not 50 hours long. I’ve managed to stay pretty ignorant on this title other the basics. And hope to play it before that changes. I know that Undertale plays with it’s story and battles a lot, and am looking forward to being surprised. Although I am concerned that actual play of the title will get in the way of what it does well.

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker

I bought this on a whim so minor I literally forgot I had ordered it until the box arrived and I was puzzled by what could be inside. I’d apparently managed to snag it for under 2000 yen. Which was a pretty good deal. I heard so much good about the game that it was hard to not also want it.

 

What’s in your backlog that you need hope to at least tackle a little this year?

The games that made 2015 for me.

It’s a new year, which means every single gaming blogger has to write about the best stuff they played last year. Like a lot of bloggers, a lot of what I played last year was not games from that year itself. So, let’s go over what was great for me last year in gaming. I played some games other than these that might have been better, but didn’t leave the impact these did.

Tales from the Borderlands (Telltale Games, available on everything pretty much)

It was tempting to also put The Wolf Among Us here, which was also equally excellent. But humour, and twisting the Telltale formula just a little helps a lot. Borderlands has always been a silly world, which has always drawn me too games, but sadly that zaniness is spread too thin across shooters that I frankly don’t enjoy enough to endure. Telltale manages to stay true to the feel of the world, but has you playing what Borderlands would leave to the NPCs. And benefits a lot from it. The game makes a lot of jokes out of the iconic telltale reminders “X will remember that” and other Telltale staples. Unique, and implied by the image above though, is that you play two characters, which when that aspect gets played up, is rather special. It’s hard to talk about the game in much detail as being story driven, and a comedy, surprise is important. But know it actually ends up telling a pretty strong tale that is also funny. This is Telltale in their element, at their finest.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (Square/Tri-Ace, PS3/360/PC)

Lightning Returns is an absolute mess of a game, made by studio well regarded for total messes that work, Tri-Ace. Lightning Returns requires a certain mindset to play, where you play by its rules, not your own. Once you accept this open world game with JRPG combat, quest driven leveling, and limited resources, even on monsters in the world, you’ll find something pretty special. With a very dense open world, Lightning Returns managed to make its environments pretty dense. Unlike a lot of other open world games with more area, you’ll hardly remember it. As you progress in this though, you’ll start to feel right at home in the world, and not in a bad way. Chances are certain quests will make you spot stuff you didn’t notice even though you walked by dozens of times. The story itself is rather terrible, and almost a parody of other Final Fantasy games, but character’s Lightning interacts with are often silly and bizarre, and Lightning Returns is at its best when it is being silly while playing by its own rules. For example, one quest has you sneaking into a castle by playing the leading role in a performance, and overloading the finale with fireworks to cause the destruction needed to get in. The problem? To score the part you need a pretty dress. To get the pretty dress you need to fight through the arena. I loved how silly it was and was one of the games I spent the most time with last year.

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Overly Goal Focused Japanese

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog. A lot of stuff has happened, but let’s key in on something I’ve been building up to, and now finished, the JLPT, which stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I took Level 3, right in the middle, and frankly I didn’t do too well…

But being in the test made me realize one thing, one critical mistake a lot of my Japanese study has had up till now.

I’ve treated it almost entirely as a problem solving skill. Not a pleasure skill. Even though my goal has been for so long to do translation work, most of my Japanese use amounts to things like understanding a meeting, working out where to go next in a game, or to answer a question in a test. Very little of my Japanese gets used for anything not so goal focused.

And in the JLPT, I realized that. Why? Because I noticed the way I was reading, from the start, was simply looking for the bits to answer the questions. Which is fine, it’s a test. It’s supposed to be about that. But then I realized that is how all my Japanese is. It’s finding solutions to problems, and not about just enjoying it the way I enjoy English.

Partially, that’s just a skill issue, I problem solve Japanese rather than pleasure Japanese because I reading and conversation can be a struggle, making it harder to enjoy. And when I first learned Japanese while on exchange, I had to just get things done in the language, no time to actually enjoy it.

Recently though 2 things happened, before the JLPT I saw a film, Bakuman. The film itself isn’t important, but what was important is that it was the first film I watched without subtitles I was able to follow, laugh at, and generally enjoy without assistance. It was kind of a rush to be frank. I was unused to being competent.

Post JLPT though, I was given a really charming little manga, Yotsuba&!. It is a manga about a little girl, and sure, it uses very simple Japanese as expected by children and people talking to children, but it’s the first time I’ve something both interesting to read, but also readable in Japanese. I do enjoy reading, and reading manga specifically  and one of the reasons Japanese was so appealing to me was enjoying the stories without the layer of someone else translating.

It’s a tough thing, finding text to read at your level, that is also just actually interesting. But, I am really glad I’ve reached a point where I can transition from “problem solving Japanese” to “enjoying Japanese.” Although truth be told, I’ve probably been at this point a lot longer, and it was just a case of finding something with the right balance. Here is hopefully to reading a lot more manga in Japanese over the coming months.

 

The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji, Musical Review – Guest writer John

「走れ!夢の新幹線 ~キクとシンジの物語~」

(Full speed ahead! The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji~)

This community musical (hereafter Kiku to Shinji) was the talk of Saijo, our small city in Ehime Prefecture. A collaboration between local residents, the municipal government, and an educational theater group, Kiku to Shinji sold out both its shows, drawing well over 1000 people. In this sense, it was a complete success. More than that, even the toughest local critics were impressed by the quality of the production.

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Kiku to Shinji is about Kiku and Shinji Sogo. Shinji (1884-1981) was the 4th Director of Japanese National Railways and a driving force behind the development of the shinkansen bullet train, completed in 1964. The tireless Shinji was supported by his wife Kiku, a music student he met while studying at Tokyo Imperial University. The play covers their life together in flashbacks narrated by the major characters from the corners of the stage, opening and closing with a catchy musical number called “Never give up on your dreams.”

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Even locally, some don’t understand the connection between Shinji Sogo and Saijo. After all, the shinkansen doesn’t have service on Shikoku. Shinji was born in Nakahagi, a village in between the present-day cities of Niihama and Saijo. As a boy, he walked four hours to-and-from Saijo for school and later served as Saijo’s mayor for nine months immediately after the end of World War II. (His tenure was abruptly ended, the play explained vaguely, as “part of the occupation army’s strategy.”) This is the basis for Saijo’s claim to his legacy, though Niihamans will dismissively tell you that Nakahagi is part of their city. Building on this connection, Saijo is home to Shikoku’s railway museum (which includes the Shinji Sogo Memorial Museum).

The musical covered Kiku and Shinji’s story in a brisk 80 minutes. It featured a lot of fan service for the hometown crowd, including praise of local food and heartfelt lines about the kindness of the people, as well as an anachronistic reference to a PR slogan created just this year. There were plenty of roles for local kids, including three little ballerinas and a high school dance troupe.

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All of these elements created a light atmosphere in spite of the play’s epic historical scope. The musical did spend a long and sober sequence on postwar education reforms, and a scene of teachers explaining why their lessons were wrong and encouraging students to think for themselves reflected current debates about textbooks and teaching history. The audience was gravely quiet during this passage, though the heavy atmosphere soon gave way to an amusing appearance by our own Rowan and a spirited musical number.

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As community theater, Kiku to Shinji struck the right balance between drama and comedy. And most importantly, the music was memorable.

Three people gave brief comments after the performance: the playwright, the author of the manga that the musical was based on, and the mayor of Saijo. The mayor called the Kiku to Shinji “Saijo’s treasure” (西条の宝物) and I strongly agreed with him. The palpable effort and enthusiasm of the performers and organizers, and the support of the city’s residents who turned out in droves, created an intense concentration of positive energy that I believe will encourage stronger community spirit and lead to more activities like this.

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John is a local JET and friend in Saijo City.

 

 

Sailor Moon Musical

I went to see a Sailor Moon Musical.

Impressed enough? This is actually the third in a new series of musicals each one being a modified version of one season of the show. This particular one being based on what is generally considered sailor moon at its best, Sailor Moon S. Which you know as the one that introduces the remaining “outer” planets, Neptune, Uranus and Saturn.

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Princess Play Time, Everybody’s gone to Dance All Night X.

I thought while also starting the e Thankfulness stuff, I might talk a little more often about the games I am tinkering with. Since I tend to play a little outside of the mainstream I might be covering some games you’d been wanting to hear about for a while.

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