Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lemon Coke

One night, I wanted to make a whiskey and cola, so I stopped at 7-11, where I encountered Lemon Coke. I figured that I'd at least try it once. But, I really couldn't taste or smell much in the way of lemon flavor. It mixed with cheap whiskey just fine, which was the point. However, I don't see much reason to ever buy it again.

On a side note, I just saw Orange Coke in the supermarket...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jojorgia Coffee

Jojo teamed up with Georgia Coffee to promote the new Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, The Movie.

The back of the can says that there are 6 designs, but I only saw this one design at Family Mart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Heir Salon

I suppose this is where you go to groom your successor.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dec. 14, 2014

This was another one of those days where I walked around Tenmonkan and Amupla, running into a number of events that would take a full week to cover if I did them one per day. So, I'll just cram them all into one post and get it over with.

The night before, when I was coming out of the school near City Hall, I'd noticed that the seasonal illuminations had finally been put up along the boulevard leading to the bay. I walked the block over to get some photos, and saw some booths set up at the west end of the boulevard, for an event to be held on Sunday. The event schedule showed things running on the small stage from 10 AM to 2:30 PM, so I wanted to come back the next day and check if there was anything to record for the blog. Sunday comes along, and I head out the door at 12:30. I'm cutting through Tenmonkan, and as I get to the Lotteria, I hear really bad rock being played, with the lead singer shouting coarsely into the mike.

Getting closer, I discover there is a university-sponsored event in the plaza across from Lotteria. I took a couple photos, then had to stop because one of the students wanted to talk me into buying food from the various booths (other booths had used clothes and CDs, and the table at the "entrance" was hucking heads of cabbage). Since I'd just had lunch, and was planning on having a family bonenkai (year-end party) at Amupla for dinner, I had to come up with excuses for why I didn't want to spend money. All of the bands scheduled for the early afternoon slots were university amateurs, and the second band up was equally bad, so I wanted to leave as soon as I could. I mentioned the other event at City Hall, and ran off after talking to a couple other people that wanted to practice their English on me.

The second band tried starting out, then spent another 5 minutes adjusting their instruments and sound levels.

The event in front of City Hall turned out to be another promotion for locally-grown produce. Shown here is the mascot for Kagoshima on the left, Guri-buu, and I think the one on the right is supposed to be a goya. Some of the booths sold fruits and vegetables, while others had prepared meals like soba.

And others had children's activities. Here, you could make your own New Year's wreath to take home with you.

I'd arrived just as one chorus group had finished singing and started posing for photos.

The boulevard runs several blocks down to the bay. Since the next stage act wasn't expected to begin playing for a while, I wanted to get some shots of Sakurajima.

Specifically, the snow. I'd seen the "snowcap" on my way from Tenmonkan to City Hall through a break between the buildings, but I couldn't get a clean view right away. During the time that it took to get down here, some of the snow had burned off. But still, there was enough to justify the shot. At sea level, the temps were probably in the 40's. Cold enough for wearing gloves, but not enough to cause snow to fall in the city.

From where I was standing, I could see a big balloon over a small rise in the direction of Dolphin Port. Thinking there might be an event there as well, I walked over. It was a second "local produce" fair, this one sponsored by JA (Japan Agriculture).

They had a stage with a small brass band playing slow classical music. I expect that the instruments weren't that comfortable to hold.

At first, I thought they were school students, but as I got closer they looked more like adults. I didn't see a stage schedule so I don't know if they were an amateur group. Again, the music wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to record.

Back at the City Hall event, Erica + Erika were just going back up for another two songs. The first one was a Christmas song that I didn't recognize. I was at the wrong angle to the sunlight, or otherwise I would have recorded it. The singer was pretty good, and the violinist was very perky.

They were accompanied by a guest keyboardist that I don't have the name for.

I think this is Erika. They finished the Christmas song and started on the opening theme for the "Tonari no Totoro" movie (My Neighbor Totoro). The second the children in the audience recognized it, they rushed the stage to participate in the walking part of the dance. Things were scheduled to wind down from this point, so I headed up to Amupla.

There, they had another local products fair, and stage performances by some high school bands. The plaza was packed, and most of the booths were being ignored in favor of the stage show.

From where I was standing, I could only see the back row of musicians, who alternated between playing percussion instruments, dancing, and holding up the letters for "Chuo Eki" (Central Station).

The second floor balcony was just as crowded, so I took a couple more shots, then went home to prepare for going back out for dinner. (It was a good dinner. Chinese, Japanese style.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hip Hop Kids

On Saturday, I was walking past Tenmonkan at the north end on my way from the school to Maruya Gardens when I heard music coming from one of the smaller walkways. A little ways in, at the intersection in front of the Yamakataya department store, a sound system was set up, playing hip hop for the school kids taking turns to perform. This is probably part of one, or more, of the local dance studios putting on a show for the end of the year season. The kids showed a lot of energy, but the "dances" were largely the standard "walk and pose" technique used by groups like Exile, SMAP and AKB-48. That is, it's not exactly dancing as you see it in the west.

Nice clothes, though.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Final Fantasy: Revenant Wings review

(All images used for review purposes only.)

I like Final Fantasy. I played each one, either on the Super Famicom, PlayStation or PlayStation 2, up to FF 10. When Square Enix announced that they were dropping support for the consoles in favor of a subscription system online for a MMORPG in 2002, I decided it was time to move on to other titles. Afterward, I'd see ads for newer FF titles, but I didn't have a game console at that point. A few weeks ago, I started seeing a few newer FF games for the Gameboy used, at Bic Camera and Book Off, and I began thinking about buying one again. Finally, I located Revenant Wings at the Book Off in Minami Kagoshima for 500 yen ($4.50 USD), and that pretty much settled things for me. (The other games were Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and a fan-made rip-off called End of Time, both in the 800-900 yen range. I may get End of Time fairly soon just for the collector's value, and A2 sometime later.)

(Game select screen.)

Revenant Wings (2007), Grade B+.
Final Fantasy XII came out in 2007 for the PlayStation 2, and featured a boy adventurer named Vaan, and some of his friends in the world of Ivalice. RW was released the same year, for the Gameboy Advance, and picks up with Vaan and his friends one year after the end of FF XII. Vaan has found himself an air ship and is currently working as a space pirate. His crew obtains a strange crystal from an old cliff ruins, which unfortunately triggers an earthquake. His ship falls off the edge of a cliff into a deep valley, and is destroyed. A little later, he sees an ancient artifact being brought into the city - the legendary air ship Beiluge. He and his partner, Penelo, steal the ship to go treasure hunting. But, they encounter Llyud, a member of the winged Aegyl (Eagle) race and decide to help him out. At the end, they discover that the so-called "God" of the Aegyl was a former emperor that had killed off much of the rest of his race to become superhuman. Vaan and crew then have to defeat this god.

(Opening CG.)

While the wiki entry describes RW as an RPG, it's really more of a tactical game. You have five leaders in your team, with anywhere between 10 and 30 assignable minions that can be spread out between them. Each of the leaders and minions have their own AI, and fixed weapons, spells and armor. You control where the team moves to during battles (called "missions"), the targets, and whether to summon more minions. You can also micromanage the leaders by forcing them to use certain attacks or spells, but normally everything runs on autopilot. There are 10 chapters to the story, and most chapters have 5 missions each, plus there are another 36 side missions (subquests) if you want to get more weapons or materials (81 missions total). Each of the story missions has its own battle field, and its own terms for mission success (capture the enemy's base, capture all summons platforms, or defeat all of the enemy or just the enemy leaders). In some cases, there are summons platforms which let you call for replacement minions (referred to as "espers" within the game). Some platforms start out neutral, while others are red (belonging to the enemy) or blue (your platforms). Both sides can convert a platform to their own color. If you own a platform, you can replace espers as much as you like, and having multiple platforms lets you have a few extra espers per platform.

(World map.)

Your characters, plus the espers, are divided into 3 classes: Melee, Ranged and Airborne. They have a ring form of superiority (Melee beats Ranged, Ranged beats Airborne, Airborne beats Melee). Plus, there are 6 elements (earth, water, air, lightning, neutral and holy), with paired opposites. As you go through the game, you get points that can be used to unlock each type of esper, but you can only have 5 types in your party at a time. Espers come in three grades, I, II and III. You can only have one grade III esper at a time, but a mix of I's and II's based on their summoning costs. The grade III's include the classic Final Fantasy super weapons - Bahamut, Shiva, Chaos, Titan, Odin, etc. They're nowhere near as spectacular as in the earlier games, but they are fun to have in the party. For the most part, the enemy has the same espers you do, or slight variants (you get the yellow Chocobo, the enemy gets the black one). Finally, there's Myst (or, Mist). This is planet magic that builds up during the battle. When it maxes out, a yellow circle icon appears next to the leader's name in the menu bar. Choosing Myst Talk, instead of Skill/Magic or Gambit) for that character initiates his or her special. For Vaan, it's an explosive area attack. For the others, it's a status buff (protection against physical or magical attacks, haste, and so on).

(Battle map during a combat mission.)

At the end of each mission you get a reward. In some cases, it's money. Occasionally it's a weapon or a full set of armor. There are no healing or status buff items in this game, but there are books and Materials. Materials (including bones, oils, rocks and metals) are used for synthesizing weapons. There are only 13 books, with about 70 synthesis recipes total. The NPC alchemist on your ship can make any weapon that is sold in the shops, plus some unique ones. Again, materials come in 3 grades - low, average and high. You need three materials to make a weapon, and the higher the grade, the better the final stats. So, it's possible to make weapons that are better than the ones you can buy. The alchemist also asks 3 questions about the character the weapon is for. Depending on how you answer, there can be additional bonuses to the speed and power stats. The problem I have with the game comes in trying to obtain the rarer high grade materials. They are only available in one specific field, they appear randomly, and it may take 10-20 battles to get one unit, when you may need enough for up to 5 different weapons.

(Mission cleared screen. All of the characters have long since maxed out at level 99.)

RW is a fairly quick game. I beat the main story boss in about 28 hours of game play. There is no New Game+, so if you want to finish off any remaining side missions, get the last of the best espers, or synthesize every single one of the weapons, you need to have the second game save slot current up to the third-to-the-last mission (the last couple missions are back-to-back battles that you can save between, but loading them forces you into the next fight in the sequence).

The idea behind the game play is to create your party based on the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. If the enemy has a lot of water-based airborne, then you should make your team of ranged fighters that are immune to water attacks, while using fire attacks. In reality, as long as you're high enough in level, it's just as easy to pick whatever esper types you like looking at at and let them sort things out through sheer numbers. This strategy worked fine up to chapter 8. After that, the enemy made a huge leap in strength, and I had to start thinking about adding healers to the team. But, I leveled up a bit, and the problem went away, until a second big leap occurred in chapter 10.

(Alchemy screens. Bottom screen shows the weapon recipes for a specific book, and the top screen gives the base stats for each weapon, plus the materials needed to make it. Grayed out materials here are extremely rare and hard to find.)

Leveling is problematic. As you level up, so does the enemy. Going back to the field for the first mission in chapter 1, you find the enemy is just slightly weaker than you are, and the experience you get from the mission is only 30-40% less than for the highest chapter you're on. That is, at chapter 8, each party member is getting about 10,000 exp per mission. Going back to the very first battle field, the fights yield 6,000-7,000 exp. If you're trying to find rare materials to synthesize a specific weapon, you may repeat the same battle 4 to 6 times, and you're leveling up almost once per fight. My party was at an average of level 90 when I finished the game the first time, and I maxed out everyone at level 99 while trying to complete the one last remaining subquest (which needed having 55 types of weapons synthesized as a prereq.) The reward for that last mission was the last remaining recipe book. It took several more hours to get 2 Illusion ores so I could make the last 2 remaining weapons.

(Screens for unlocking and selecting espers.)

Revenant Wings has an interesting story, good background art, and great music. The characters are absolutely tiny, which does allow having a lot of them in the battle at the same time without appreciably slowing the animation down, but it makes the character art look really bad. There are a few CG clips between some of the chapters, and those are well done, but there's no way to replay them outside of the story. My main gripes are in the game play. Because this is a TRPG, characters have to walk from one target to the next, and this is REALLY SLOW. Plus, because the enemy levels up the same time you do, all battles take the same amount of time to complete, no matter what chapter they're from, which makes things EVEN SLOWER. One battle can take 5 to 10 minutes. If you're looking for rare materials, you can expect to repeat the same battle MANY, MANY times. I'm finally at the point where I don't care anymore. I only wanted to make the last remaining 2 alchemy weapons to complete the collection. Since there's no artwork for these weapons, just the name and stats on the equipment screen, and the characters only have one weapon design each during the battles, there's no particular reason for being a completist here. And, I've beaten the game once already, so even if I could get a weapon with slightly better stats (which I doubt will happen), it wouldn't really change the final outcome of the last story boss.

More comments: The U.S. version of the game includes an extra 10-level dungeon and the option of having a sword that levels up each time you finish it, until each of the stats max out at 200. Each dungeon level gives you a rare material, too. I wish I had that version of the game, although it is supposedly harder than the Japanese version. Next, money. There's really nothing much to buy in the shops, other than armor, and the more common materials. You can synthesize all of the weapons available in the shops, and you can sell spare materials. There's not much need for money outside of one easter egg; one of the team members puts up "monuments" in the ship's lounge when you reach certain targets, like fighting x number of battles, finishing y number of missions, or clearing n amount of gold. The first few targets for gold were easy to hit, but the last one, 1,000,000 gp, seemed ridiculously out of reach. However, I'm now at 1,500,000 and that's not even including what I'd get by selling off unneeded weapons, armor and materials, all because of my rare materials searches. But, as I said, there's nothing to spend it on. Another small gripe - another monument is for completing 100% of the missions, which isn't available when you can still visit the ship. The last mission immediately flows into the final boss battle, and then the game ends. The last point you can add monuments is at mission 44, when you're 98% done. So, the monument for finishing mission 45 and getting 100% completion is not unlockable. On the other hand, getting 100% for the missions, the unlockable espers, and synthesizing all of the weapons does yield you a second ending animation.

Over all, I'm glad I got this game, and that it only cost me $4.50. It's ok for playing a short time, and it's fine for providing a distraction for a while. But it is unbalanced, which I think is a common flaw in most TRPGs. Recommended only if you like the Ivalice Alliance series, or if you like TRPGs, and if you can get it used cheap.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Soul Eater: Medusa's Conspiracy comments

(Images used for review purposes only.)

Soul Eater, Medusa's Conspiracy
It really says something when there's NO walkthrough or cheatsheet for a Japanese anime-related game...

I really like the Soul Eater manga and anime, but I hesitated to get this game, which is based on the first volume of the books, because the artwork on the back of the jewel case didn't look all that exciting. Then, when I was visiting Book Off and going through the game shelves to kill some time, I couldn't find the copy that had been there and I'd thought someone else had bought it. That's when I got Dragon Quest 2 Morimori Slime 2 (Rocket Slime, in the U.S.) instead. However, as I was playing Morimori, the top screen of my Gameboy DS died.

I spent a few days looking for a used replacement DS, but neither Book Off nor Bic Camera had them in their display cases anymore. I specifically asked about it at Bic, and the clerk told me they only had the 3DS now. So, I began thinking about getting a used 3DS, but the prices are still in the 120,000 to 180,000 yen range ($110-$170 USD), and that's more than I can justify. Besides, none of the used 3DS games are under $25, and there's nothing I'd want to play in any case. There was a second Book Off store a 20-minute walk from my apartment, but that closed a week earlier (I didn't discover this until I made the walk). There is a third Book Off down in Minami Kagoshima, and I was thinking of visiting that when I was in the area the following Friday. However, the wait was getting to me. Finally, I returned to the first Book Off store, and asked the clerk there if they might have a used DS under the counter. That's when he reached under the counter and pulled out a beat-up box, telling me that it had come in recently and hadn't been cleaned yet. It was priced at 2,500 yen, and it still worked, so I told him I'd take it.

As I waited for him to finish cleaning the DS, I went back to the game shelves. This time, I found the copy of Soul Eater again. I probably overlooked it before. When the DS was ready, the clerk pointed out some deep scratches on the back of the case, apologized, and offered to discount the machine to 1,400 yen. Well, since Soul Eater was 950 yen, I figured that I'd treat this as a 2-for-1 purchase, and I got the game along with the game machine for 2,500 yen total.

(Conversation screen, Tsubaki and Black Star.)

After I finished playing Morimori Slime, I fired up Soul Eater. After a couple hours, I put the game away. Sigh.

Soul Eater is a combat-based RPG. You start by controlling Maka, as she wields Soul. You're on a street in the city, but there's only one direction you can go. You're confronted by one kind of low-level ghost that can't hurt you, and the tutorial walks you through each of the attacks. The attacks use the stylus, and you have to draw specific patterns to fire them off. The problem is that the attacks don't work right, or shoot in the wrong direction. Additionally, the instructions use symbols that aren't DS button names, and aren't translated or illustrated in the player's manual. I did manage to clear the first stage, but the presence of only one enemy that can't deal damage was pretty boring.

The second stage featured Black Star, using Tsubaki. And this time, I really struggled to make the stylus patterns right, even knowing what was expected of me (Black Star has similar actions, but uses different weapons and therefore has different attack patterns.) At the end of the stage, I had to face Masamune, Black Star's nemesis in the manga. Nothing I did seriously damaged him, and I got Game Over three times in a row. That's when I gave up.

Bottom line, Soul Eater: Medusa's Conspiracy has decent graphics and good voice acting. But the approach for drawing patterns to launch attacks is messed up, and the game play for the first couple chapters is really boring. Not recommended.

(Side note: The next game I picked up was Final Fantasy Revenant Wings, and that's when I realized that the new Gameboy DS machine's touch screen is misaligned about a 1/4" to the left. I tried recalibrating it in the setup menu, but the machine wouldn't calibrate right. So, part of the problems I faced with Soul Eater are caused by the DS, and aren't inherent in the game itself. But, I still don't like the stylus-based patterns for the attacks, so I'm not going to revisit this game anytime in the near future.)