Sunday, November 28, 2021

Waq Waq Nov. 27

The open space in front of Lotteria in Tenmonkan had a Waq Waq (read it as "wakuwaku," the sound of being excited) fair over the weekend. It was advertised as sustainable foods and handicrafts. Basically, local food products, handbags, scarves and the such. I'm looking for a good jar of honey, which is kind of a challenge here. Most honeys go for $10 to $15 for a small squeeze bottle, which I really don't want to pay. They didn't have honey this time, so I just kept walking.

Trying to show how their products are sustainable. I guess the secret ingredient is "hands"...

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Dragon Quest VII

I'd gone close to 9 months without playing a video game, and I was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms. The last game I'd played, Echoes of Time, still had a bit of play-ability left in it, in that I could try beating it at a harder play level. That went ok for a few days, until my 3DS started going wonky. The rubber cover of the thumb direction controller had peeled off a long time ago when the double-sided tape the factory had used to attach it in place had failed. I tried using a cheap glue gun to glue the pad back in place, and that failed after a while, too, so I tried regluing it again. The problem, though, then turned into the direction controller getting "sticky." That is, I'd let go of the thumb controller and the character would keep moving in the last direction they'd been facing. I experimented with the machine for a while, and it was pretty clear the problem was in the electronics somewhere, and not in the contact of the rubber pad cover with the game case.

Eventually, I decided that I'd have to bite the bullet and drop about $100 on a replacement used handheld. The Bookoff used store in Tenmonkan didn't have 3DSs or 2DS LLs, so I tried visiting the store on the other side of the main train station, and in Minami (south) Kagoshima. I don't have a name for the first shop, so I'll just call it the "far Bookoff," because it's at least a 45 minute walk from me, and it's on the far side of the track switchyard. The Minami shop had one used 3DS, but that was priced at over 10,000 yen. The Far shop had used two 2DS LLs, and three 3DSs. One of the 2DS LLs had a Monster Hunter themed skin, and was priced just under 8,000 yen, and that seemed worth trying out. Unfortunately, it wasn't packaged with the power adapter, so I used the one from my old 3DS, as there didn't appear to be a reason not to. At the same time, I bought a used copy of Dragon Quest VII. On my way back home, I stopped at a McDonald's and tried playing the game as I waited for my order to come out. The machine had a charge, which I was counting on. But, it started flashing red almost immediately after I got done with the set-up screens, and powered down on me automatically.

At home, I recharged it with my older 3DS adapter, and the machine held a charge for 2 hours before dying. It would run fine with the adapter plugged in, but after two weeks, it just stopped recharging completely. Along with the battery issues, I didn't like the 2DS LL much because it had a smaller screen, a smaller case and body, and just felt cheaper overall. I knew I had a 30 day return policy on it, so I took it back to the Far shop (always walking each way) thinking through in my head what I was going to say to the salesclerk in Japanese to explain myself. But when I got there, the woman I talked to gave me my money back for the machine with no questions asked. I then pointed to one of the remaining 3DSs, and got that for under 10,000 (about $90 USD) because of cracking of the paint along the right-hand side of the lower case body. I was a little concerned when I got this 3DS home, because the A and B buttons weren't working right. But, after a few hours of game play, they started making connections properly when I pressed them a little harder. Right now, about one month after buying it, it's still working fine, although the cracked paint has been gradually flecking off of both sides with contact with my hands. Not great fabrication work there, Nintendo! (If you're listening...)

Ok, the game. Generally, I don't like paying more than 1,000 yen ($9.75 USD) for used games, and I have been able to find decent used games from Bookoff for as little as 300 yen in the past. But, in the last year, most stores that carry games have pretty much stopped carrying anything for either the 2DS or 3DS, and what little selection they still have is either garbage, or still overpriced. Which means that if I do find something I do want to play (which happens rarely), it's going to be priced at least 2,000 yen, or even as much as 4,500 yen. And we're talking games that first came out over 10 years ago. I don't really understand the mentality of Japanese used shops. Shelf space costs money. If a product on the shelf isn't selling, the shop is losing money by not having something more desirable on the shelf instead. Therefore, it's to the shop's advantage to lower the price on deadweight products until they do sell, or dump the product entirely and claim the losses on the tax forms. Because, yeah, 2DS games designed to help Japanese children learn English, based on TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) test books printed in the year 2000 ARE DEAD WEIGHT. And yet, most of the Bookoffs in the country are still trying to unload them on customers. Anyway, the only two Japanese RPGs that held any interest for me at all were DQ VII and I think DQ IV. I needed a game when I got the 2DS LL, so, after a long debate with myself, I got DQ VII for 2,500 yen (a little under $25 USD).

If you've never played DQ VII, it's a fairly solid J-RPG. The artwork, maps, music and game play are pretty much what you'd expect for the genre. The character designs for the NPCs and monsters are fairly cartoonish, because Akira Toriyama (creator of Doctor Slump and Dragon Ball) designed them for children. But, if you like those kinds of designs, which are emblematic of all of the Dragon Quest games, then you're going to like DQ VII, too.

The English subtitle is "Fragments of the Forgotten Past." The basic idea of the plotline is that in the modern day, the world consists of one fairly largish island floating in the middle of the ocean. Something in the past caused all of the other islands to sink or disappear. Kiefer, the son of the King of this island, is chaffing under the requirements of being a prince, and wants you, the hero (which I'll call TSOJ) to sneak out of the city safe zones with him to find adventures. You, (TSOJ) live in the neighboring village of Fishbell, and are the son of a fishing ship captain and his housewife. Your father comes home with a fragment of a stone tablet and gives it to you. Maribel, the daughter of Fishbell's Mayor, insists on following you and Kiefer around. Kiefer has found a statue in a nearby ruins that is rumored to guard the entrance to a strange temple, and he talks you and Maribel into investigating it. The stone fragment triggers some mechanism in the main shrine building (The Shrine of Mysteries) and the three of you go inside.

After some adventuring, you unlock the main inner shrine doors, which leads to a strange flying guy in a one-piece bodysuit. He's the guardian of the pedestals, and you can tell him which set of pedestals you want to go to. The sets are divided up by color: Yellow (Earth), Red (Fire), Green (Air) and Blue (Water). Each set consists of 4 or 5 pedestals, and each pedestal accepts a full tablet, but the outlines on the pedestals indicate that the tablets have already been broken up into 4 to 7 fragments. Your goal now is to collect all the fragments for all of the tablets for all of the pedestals. When any one tablet is fully reconstructed, that pedestal will teleport you to a different island in the past (each island is associated with one of the 4 elements as specified by the color of the pedestal sets in the Shrine of Mysteries). Each island has its own backstory, and its own reasons for not surviving until the "modern day," so it's your task to defeat the boss monster threatening that island, and help its descendants survive into the future.

Some of the backstories are pretty well-thought-out. One of the best ones is for the town of Engou, at the base of a volcano, which is currently suffering from a drought. Every year, the villagers have a "flaming hat" ceremony, where they party and wear hats in the shapes of little flaming volcanoes. At the end of the night, they all file up the path to the top of the volcano and throw their hats into the pit there. The problem is, at the bottom of the pit, a lava monster has entrapped a water elemental, and the burning hats landing on the water elemental are slowly killing it. When the elemental dies, the town loses its last source of water, and the entire island goes extinct. You're on a timer to defeat the lava monster and save the water elemental from death before the last villager tosses in their hat. (Spoiler, even after killing the lava monster and saving the villagers, they keep performing the flaming hat ceremony anyway.)

Game play is turn based, and generally you have four party members for most of the game. You pick up Gabo, a beast boy raised by wolves, fairly early on, but then Kiefer falls in love with a girl in the past on one of the other islands, and leaves the party. He's replaced by Aira, a sword dancer from the race of "Roamers." At one point, Maribel leaves the group because her father, the Mayor of Fishbell, comes down sick. But, she's eventually replaced by Sir Melvin (or Mervin, depending on how you want to transliterate the name), an ancient knight that had fought on the side of "The Almighty" against the Demon Lord, and had been petrified to let him try to fight the Demon Lord again later (hopefully, successfully this time). Maribel becomes available again towards the end, if you want to swap her in for someone else.

In battle, you can attack, use magic, use specialties, switch weapons (which doesn't take up your turn), use an item in your character's inventory, defend or try to escape. Attack magic is almost completely useless in this game, and I gave up trying to bother with it very early on. Healing magic is good, though. I didn't bother with stat buffs or enemy debuffs partly because it took too long to figure what the Japanese descriptions meant, and with a little bit of churning my party was usually able to easily defeat ANY monster party within 2 or 3 rounds, except for some of the harder bosses, which could take up to 5 or 6 rounds, but I never got a Game Over screen during the entire game. The specialty techniques can be kind of silly, like Gabo's "attack of wolves" or the sheep-based "mutton defense." The only specialty techniques I relied on much at all were a strength-based physical attack (has a 2x to 3x damage multiplier, but would miss about half the time), Miracle Sword (which recovers some of your HP when damaging the enemy), Ultima Sword (a strong holy elemental sword attack) and Giga Zap (a lightning sword attack). Basically, what I'm saying is that almost 100% of the magical attack spells, buff and debuff spells, and attack and defense techniques were a waste of game space. I just used straight physical attacks on all normal enemies; and a couple of the special techniques on the bosses. Plus occasional magical healing. The healing and curative items quickly turned out to be useless as well. As long as you have a character in the party that learned to be a priest at some point, and you have enough MP, you can pretty much heal any character in the party, or resurrect them if they die, during a battle as needed.

The characters can only use certain types of weapons and armor. That is, the hero and Gabo can use boomerangs, and Maribel and Melvin can use whips. The male characters can use heavier armors and helmets, while the female characters can only use certain kinds of lighter robes and armors. This is really only an issue when you try to buy stuff from the town shops. Not all shops carry weapons and armor that can be assigned to all four of the party members at one location. So, Gabo and Maribel might end up having to wait 3 or 4 towns before finding a shop with upgrades for them. Generally, though, having enough money to buy all the available upgrades for all the party members was never a real problem. Monster drops tended to be degrades that could be sold at the stores for cash. Boomerangs are the best weapons against parties containing multiple monsters, because they can hit anything that doesn't evade them.

One of the key parts to the game is the Job system. Maybe 20 hours into the game, you run into something the English version of the game calls The Alltrades Abbey. The priest here can change the job assignments for your characters, from fighter, priest, magic user, thief, entertainer, shepherd, musician, etc. (10 basic jobs in all). Each job requires the character to fight a certain number of battles in order to go to the next level. As you level up in that job you get new skills, techniques or magic spells. Many of these job benefits stay with your character when you change jobs. You master the job at level 8. At that point, certain combinations of mastered jobs (i.e. - sailor and thief, or magic user and priest) will unlock about 7 Advanced jobs (pirate or sage). And, the Advanced jobs can unlock Master jobs (Hero, Champion and Druid). Read below for the monster jobs.

To be honest, most of the lower level jobs didn't really offer any benefits, and just seemed to be there because they're funny. The priest did provide the healing spells, and some of the combat-based jobs did unlock the special techniques I mentioned above for use in battles. Two magic spells I got from the job upgrades did turn out to be useful outside of battles - (in Japanese "Ru-ra" to jump to any town in the present you've already visited, and Riremito, which takes you quickly back to the entrance of a building or dungeon). The best jobs seemed to just be Champion (recovers HP each round) and Hero (best attack technique in the game (Ultima Sword)).

Leveling the jobs is actually a little tricky early on, because each field or dungeon has a "job level cap." That is, if the experience level of your character is 35, and the job level cap for the area you're in is 30, then none of the battles you fight will count to your going to the next job level. But, you'll still be fighting battles there, which will continue to drive your exp. level upward. Later, all of the areas will have a job level cap of 99. Given that there are 20 normal jobs, and the Master jobs require between 210 and 260 battles each, and all of the lower-tier jobs require fighting hundreds of battles, too, THAT's a lot of churn if you want your entire party to master each and every job. Especially since most of the jobs, as I say, aren't very useful. The ones that I did rely on fairly heavily were the Advanced jobs Monster Masher and Pirate. Their techniques for befriending monsters and for stealing drop items never seemed to ever do anything. But their passive skills for increasing the chances of these things happening at the end of the battle did result in one befriended monster, period, and stolen monster items every 10-20 battles.

Ok, befriending monsters. Each field or dungeon has a specific group of monsters that inhabit it, usually between 5 and 8 different monsters total, with some overlap between fields (that is, you can find metal slimes in several different locations across the map). There are 321 monsters total in the game, about 20 of them are bosses and apparently can not be friended. Monsters in battles show up in "groups," where one group can have 1 to 4 of the same kind of monster, depending on their size, and battles can have mixed groups of monsters (that is, you can have one slime; or two slimes in group 1, one slime in group 2, and one dragon in group 3). There is a slight chance that the last monster you defeat in the battle will try to join you. There is also a chance that one of any of the monsters may drop something, or that your pirate or thief may be able to steal something.

About halfway through the game, you'll unlock the Monster Park. This place stores the monster friends you've made, although you have to sleep at the inn at the nearby town to have your latest monsters show up in the lists. And, there are two old men in the park you have to talk to as well. The first one adds your monsters to the lists of the ones you've friended. The second old man lets you make new tablets. You pick three monsters - a leader, and two others. Those three then excavate a tablet you can use in a pedestal on a tiny island called The Haven.

The Haven: There are about 15 NPCs in the game that are unhappy with their current lives and are looking for new places to go to and make new lives for themselves. You find these unhappy souls in the present, in various locations throughout the game. When you talk to them, you're asked if you want to tell them about The Haven. If you say yes, they leave and reappear in Haven. Doing this also causes new buildings to pop up in the village there. Talking to these now-happy souls results in your receiving monster tablets from them. There's an underground cave below the village that has its own pedestal. Putting the monster tablets you receive from the NPCs, or that you excavate in Monster Park, lets you fight the monsters associated with that tablet. The first time through the NPC tablets, you receive super-seeds that bump one of one character's stats up several points as a boss monster item drop. After that, you just get low-level trash. (The boss monster for the excavated tablets will be the one you picked as the leader for the excavation team in Monster Park)

Monster jobs: Certain chests in the fields or dungeons will contain a monster heart. Fighting specific kinds of monsters from the tablets in the Haven pedestal will also result in hearts being dropped at the end of the battle sometimes. If you have these hearts in the inventory of one of your characters at Alltrades Abbey, you can become that monster as a job type. Job-able monsters include slime, chimera, mimic, and goodybag; for 34 monster jobs total. Leveling up the monster jobs works the same as for the normal human jobs, but all of the passive abilities and stat bonuses stay on your character when you change monster jobs. The problem is that the strongest spells and techniques pretty much duplicate those of the human jobs, and don't include the best attacks from Champion, Druid or Hero. But, still, it is fun having one monster in the party.

There are three casinos that show up in the game (one that is in the past and present near Alltrades Abbey, one in the past and present in Haven, and one in the present in a city with the Japanese name Coastal). The past versions of the casinos don't have better prizes than the versions in the present. You need to buy "coins" at the rate of 20gp for 1 coin. These coins can not be converted back into money if you win big at any of the games. The games include poker, lucky panel and slot machines. I never really won anything at poker, and the slot machines were, in the words of a player commenting in the DQ VII forums at Gamefaqs, "a crap shoot." I did win about 50,000 coins at the slots, but I really needed closer to 1,000,000 coins to buy the really good rewards. The only truly important prizes, though, are a fragment of a mysterious tablet (2,000 coins), and a blueprint (5,000 coins) for an enclosure for holding more monsters at Monster Park (if you plan on collecting lots of them for stat bonus farming). Plus two helmets for protecting party members from sleep attacks or instant kills.

The only casino game that I thought was worth spending any time at was Lucky Panel. This is kind of a picture pair matching challenge. You get a 4x5 grid of face-down panels. On your first round, you get to turn over 6 of the panels. If two of them have matching images (two axes, two steel helms or two slime hearts), they stay face up. The rest turn back face down. RECORD THESE as you go. You then get four more rounds to try to get two matching images. If they do match, then they stay face up, and the try counter doesn't decrement. There are two wild cards - one gives you an extra try, the other scrambles the board on you. You REALLY want to find both of these in the first "reveal round," because you can use the extra try panel later, and you REALLY want to avoid picking the scramble panel anytime within the game. If you succeed at matching all of the image panels, you get to keep those items. At the beginning of game play it's worth playing Lucky Panel a few times, and then selling off the stuff you don't want to keep as a way of making money off of the casino. Later, the cost for playing the games goes up, and the games get more expensive if you lose them, and the prizes aren't as good. It's also a way of obtaining some of the better monster hearts.

Player stats: As mentioned above, magic isn't worth much in the game. The main stats for each character are max HP, max MP, strength, defense (Shubi power), magic power, speed, style, and something the Japanese version calls "mi no mamoru. Either Shubi or Mi no mamoru is physical defense, and other other is either defense against magical attacks, or against poison and confusion attacks. I never figured out which is which. Armor contributes to Shubi power, so there is that. The stat values increase as the characters go up in level, in kind of a random number pattern, I think. You can also obtain seeds from chests and monster item drops for bumping individual stats between 1 and 5 points each. So, this is really the reason for befriending monsters and getting them to excavate tablets for use on the Haven pedestal - seed harvesting (and heart harvesting if you want the monster jobs). If you have a thief or pirate in your party, you can occasionally steal strength seeds from Mimics, speed seeds from Blue Dragons, and Mamoru no mi seeds from Slimes. Again, it's about one steal every 10-20 battles, but if you're job leveling every character for every job, you're going to be fighting 2,000-3,000 battles in the Haven pedestal anyway, and the seed boosts add up by the end of the game.

Mini Coins: Along with everything else, you can find mini coins in pots, barrels, chests, and a couple invisible locations in the town maps. There are 110 coins total, although I only found 109 by the end of the game. These can be redeemed at the castle of the Metal King. Some of the rewards he gives you include a mysterious fragment, and a Monster Park enclosure map. The final reward is a Platinum Slime King heart, which is more or less worthless (selling surplus hearts to a weapons shop only gives you 200gp per heart, regardless of the monster it's for). I had Gabo mastering all the monster jobs, and he unlocked Platinum King long before the last mini coin became available. You do want all the mysterious fragments, though.

Once you have all the normal Yellow, Red, Green and Blue tablet fragments, you get the final tower leading to the Demon Lord. Defeating him means that you've won the story portion of the game. After the final credits, you get to save your game as a Star-game. Continuing with the Star-game, you now should have enough mysterious tablet fragments to unlock the first optional dungeon, which contains one of the mini coins, and a fragment for a second mysterious tablet. The first optional dungeon boss is The Almighty, who fights you as a courtesy. Each time you best him, you get the choice of one of 6 items - 3 mysterious fragments, monster food, a Hero heart, and a skimpy nightie for Maribel. You need to best Almighty three times to get the remaining fragments for the second mysterious pedestal (the last two pedestals are in the basement of the Shrine of Mysteries). The second optional dungeon has the final mini coin, and the bosses are the four elementals that you meet when you try to get into the Demon Lord's tower. Beating these four finishes the game, and allows Almighty to relocate to Haven, making him easier to get to if you want to keep fighting him. Additionally, when you best Almighty, you can pick a city to be teleported to, one of the choices being a re-match against the Demon Lord, if you want it.

I've succeeded in making it all the way to the end of the second optional dungeon, meaning I've found ALL the fragments (thanks to the Gamefaqs walkthrough), 109 of the 110 mini coins (again, I don't mind not getting the Platinum Slime King heart, because Gabo had already unlocked the job earlier) and mastered all of the human jobs for TSOJ, Gabo, Aira and Sir Melvin. I've unlocked all of the monster jobs for Gabo, and mastered all of them except for 6 of the Master level ones. Since the Mastered human jobs for Champion, Druid and Hero are better than any of the Mastered monster jobs, there's no real point in Mastering every single one of the monster jobs, especially now that the game is over. TSOJ is at exp. level 88, and has a strength and Max HP of 999 each. The party, when made up of one Hero, two Champions, and any of the mastered master-level monsters (I like Rainbow Peacock, Evil Estark and Death Machine) can easily best Almighty in 10-12 rounds, and only needs to resort to the "full heal of entire party" spell whenever I feel like it (with two Champions that can use this spell, and each at 700 MP, I can use this spell all day).

I put the game away, and was thinking there wasn't anything left to do in it, when I was struck by a silly thought. I have a few monster hearts for different species left over that I didn't need to use on Gabo. Why not give the better ones to the rest of the members and have a party made up of all monsters? I then spent a couple hours in the Haven pedestal fighting metal slimes (1,000 exp each) and liquid metal slimes (10,000 exp. each) to max those job levels, and to bring Gabo up on Dark Bishop. That was pretty funny. I also had 80+ spare mimic hearts, and spent another couple of hours maxing the job levels for an all-mimic party. I like that a lot. And, as I was typing up this blog entry, I started wondering, "why not a party of all slimes? I've got 10 extra slime hearts, and Gabo already has the Platinum King slime job mastered...? I'll put the game back away later.

DQ VII is a huge game, and there are a lot of places to visit, a lot of little sub-stories, and some interesting twists to the plot. If you don't mind a MASSIVE amount of churn in bringing the party members up, which does make this for a very SLOW game, it's not too bad. I've put in over 160 hours so far. That's a pretty good price-to-play time ratio. But, I would have been happier if I'd been able to get the game for under 1,000 yen.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Wakiyaku Studio Poster

Not really sure if voice-over studio Wakiyaku is ripping off the art for Full Metal Alchemist, or not...

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Trombone XMas Chalk

Chalk art "for you" for Trombone coffee shop in Tenmonkan for Christmas in November.


Not sure how wise it is to have hot chocolate that close to the snowman...

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Lalala Rururu

I've walked by this sign before for a children's clinic in an apartment complex, but it's only just now that I've noticed the hiragana for the name is "Rarara", the English name is "La La La", and the hiragana name of the holding corporation is "Rururu."

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Construction Equipment Fair

A week ago, I was walking through Tenmonkan on my way to the school on Saturday, when I discovered a construction equipment show in the main arcade. They even had the smaller front-end loaders and scoop shovels for children to play with (picking up plastic balls and long foam "logs").

Spiders. Gotta love the work they do.

The parade of progress.

"Yes, our machines DO come in pink."

Monday, November 22, 2021

Frog Cuts

Art sign in front of a barber shop in Tenmonkan.
Frog went a-courtin', and decided to get his long hair cut right away.