Thursday, October 30, 2014

Deco 39

There's yet another Vocaloid promo going on at Family Mart, with Vocaloid chips, candies and trading cards. Some of them have a Halloween theme. This one, part of the Deco 39 series, is a clear plastic card packaged with a tasteless dry chocolate wafer cookie, for $1.35 USD. I don't recognize the character, but I would have preferred to get Miku (to go along with the Pocket Miku synth).

To make the card show up better, I scanned it with a piece of orange paper as background.

The ads promoting "Trick or Miku" at the front of Family Mart, including the slogan "Miku loves Famima".

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


On the weekend of Oct. 11, Kagoshima had another of its annual milk promotion events. This stage show was held in Tenmonkan, next to the 7-11, and looks a lot like the show from last year. Here, Bones the Pirate is quizzing one of the audience members on the benefits of milk. A nearby table was handing out free milk samples, mainly to kids and their parents.

Bones reads from the script. The poster in the back reads "Milk-man".

Also nearby was a booth offering free bone density testing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tenmonkan Crafts

On Sunday, Oct. 26th, the walkway through Tenmonkan, in front of the 7-11, had tables up for various activities, and apparently to promote certain types of jobs for children.

Here, we've got a group with rubber stamps. I'm guessing that they have blank post cards and you can decorate them as you like. Another table let you glue ceramic tiles to a wood sheet.

The angle's bad, but children could pretend to be operating the backhoe.

A simulation of culvert designs, and how each design does or doesn't stand up to rock and mudslides.

This booth was actually sponsored by a colored pencil company, and children could sit and color in pages of Yokai Watch (Monster Watch) characters.

A completely unattended booth telling people to read more newspapers. The characters on the page at the right of the whiteboard are the mascots for Kagoshima.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kagoshima 150 Year Furusato

From Oct. 23 to the first week in November, the city of Kagoshima is celebrating a 150 year anniversary with a small renfest in the park along the Kotsuki river, near the main train station. While the event will include some small stage activities, and maybe have one or two booths selling shochu and souvenir foods during the week, the real action is on Saturdays and Sundays when they also have ramen shops and tables selling arts and crafts, along with actors dressed up in Meiji-era costumes for photo ops.

I generally prefer to be behind the camera, but everyone kept on insisting on posing with me.

The actor in the top hat is portraying Toshimichi, a local samurai who went on to become a key politician and statesman in the new Meiji government. I also saw Takamori Saigo, but he was busy drinking and walking his dog so there wasn't a chance to get his photo.

We had a major thunderstorm Sunday morning, the 27th, and it lasted until around 2 PM. The sky cleared up later in the afternoon, so I went out to do some food shopping. Only by accident did I see a poster on the neighborhood announcement board advertising the event. Since the park is less than a 10 minute walk away, I went up there to see if the event had been rained out or not. In fact, it was just winding down, because I arrived at 4:40, and it was scheduled to wrap up for the night at 5 PM. I had to work all Monday, so I'll try checking it out again later this week to see if I can catch the stage events. I probably won't be able to get back up there on Saturday, and Sunday is Ohara Matsuri, the big dance festival along Tram Street. I might be able to combine Ohara with Furusato then...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Small Adventure #36

I recently decided that I needed a paper shredder. Now, if I were in the U.S., I'd just run down to Office Max or Depot or whatever and grab something cheap. In and out in a few minutes. Well, here in Kagoshima, there really isn't anything like an office supplies store within walking distance of the main train station. There is Bic Camera, an electronics and toy superstore, at the west side of the station. They have some shredders, but they're mostly tiny desktop units that take 5 minutes to cross-cut one sheet of paper and have hoppers that fill up with just that sheet. The more conveniently-sized shredders were in the $100 range, which is more than I wanted to spend. There was one unit that looked about right for $50 - desktop-sized, roughly 8 inches to a side, but the salesclerk told me that that model was sold out.

We used to have two Best Denki stores, but they were bought out by Edion, and the Tenmonkan Edion outlet went out of business a few months ago. Edion mostly specializes in cell phones, so that source of electronics (Best Denki) is gone now.

The Daiei department store across the street from the main train station has home and office electrics on the 5th floor, but they don't carry shredders.

My two remaining options were to order off of and pay extra for shipping, or to walk out to Yamada Denki, 15 minutes the opposite direction from the train station along the Kotsuki river. The first time I made the trek to Yamada, I forgot to hit an ATM in advance, and didn't have much money in pocket. I searched the store for a while, mainly because they'd completely relaid-out the floor plan and I didn't know where anything was anymore, before locating one tiny set of shelves with a small selection of shredders. One model, a shredder unit set on top of a small wastebasket, seemed to be what I wanted, and only cost $35, plus tax. Figuring that that was as cheap as I could reasonably expect, I went back home and ate dinner.

The next day, I returned to Yamada, with enough money, and went back to that shelf. Unfortunately, there weren't any boxed up shredders right there next to the display units, and no stack of model slips to grab to show a floor clerk. Instead, I pulled the label off the shelf and left to hunt for a sales rep.

The closest store person was in the washer and dryer department. In broken Japanese, I tried asking him if he could find me someone appropriate to ask if the shredder I wanted was in stock. He took the shelf label from me, scanned it with a pocket barcode reader, and talked to someone over his headset. He then turned to me and told me to wait a couple of minutes before taking off. I waited, and then a second clerk came up, asking if I was the one that wanted the shredder. I said "yes". He scanned the shelf label, talked to someone on his headset, told me that it was in stock, and asked me to wait a couple of minutes before taking off. Pretty soon, the first guy returned, carrying a box with a handle tied to it, verified that it was the model I wanted, and handed it over to me.

Yamada is very diversified. Along with computers, video games and consoles, TVs and stereos, and washers and dryers, the front section of the store also carries cosmetics, snack foods and beverages. After getting my shredder, I went to get a package of 5 boxes of tissues, and something to snack on during my walk back home. Because of the changed layout, it took a bit of searching to find the tissue aisle, and as I was looking, the guy in charge of the over-the-counter drugs section kept looking at me. Finally, he approached to ask in English what I was looking for to try to help me out. Since I had several goals (the tissues, some Oreo cookie clones and a can of coffee), I just replied that I was "just looking". He was a bit surprised that I could speak Japanese, then used the opportunity to practice English on me by telling me why his favorite boxer is Sugar Ray Leonard.

After apologizing for his bad English, the drug counter guy left and I headed for the cash register to pay for everything. Suddenly, the second store rep came running frantically up to me to give me my paper shredder, all tied up and prepped with a carrying handle identical to what I already had. He was surprised to see that I had the exact same thing in my hand, and was left shaking his head as I walked out the building.

Turns out, it's a nice little shredder for an apartment for the price.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Blue Dragon Plus game review

According to the wiki entry, Blue Dragon was originally created as a video game by Mistwalker and Artoon studios for release on the Microsoft XBox 360 in 2006. Story design was by Final Fantasy series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, his first title at the Mistwalker start-up after leaving Square Enix. Akira Toriyama supplied the character designs. The game was followed by 2 separate manga, (Blue Dragon: Secret Trick (Monthly Shonen Jump, 2006), and Blue Dragon Ral Grad (Weekly Shonen Jump, 2007). Ral Grad was drawn by the two artists that worked on Death Note, Tsuneo Takano and Takeshi Obata.) A TV anime series ran for 2 seasons from 2007. In the original game, three kids, Shuu, Kluke and Jiro, go up against Nene, an evil leader of an apparently alien race. In order to defeat Nene, the three swallow strange spheres of light that turn their shadows into fighting monsters (a shadow cat, shadow dragon, etc.) The game ends with Nene's defeat.

(All images used for review purposes only.)

Blue Dragon Plus (2008), Grade: B-
BD Plus was the first of two sequels released for the Gameboy DS (the other is probably Awakened Shadow (2010).) I found a copy used at Sofmap for 750 yen ($8 USD), which is a reasonable price for this game. The plot picks up where the first game left off, with the heroes exploring their world following the supposed death of Nene. The universe here is a bit difficult to describe. The planet looks like Earth after it was cut in half at the equator, and the two halves pulled apart for a big cube (an atomic reactor) to sit in between them. Shuu, Kluke, Jiro and Zola meet up at the top of the Cube, with the mercenary Zola working as King Jibral's scout to determine if the Cube is a threat to the kingdom. The group is attacked by mecha, apparently under Nene's orders, and someone, or something, is planting bombs at the bottom of the Cube to destroy it and the surrounding planet. Jibral joins Shuu in the attempt to stop the bombers and defeat Nene again. Along, the way, we learn Nene's backstory, as the last remaining member of his race, who had been put into suspended animation by his lover, Himiko, hundreds of years ago. Himiko's sleep chamber is found, but both of them are suffering memory loss. Through his attraction to Himiko, Nene seems to turn into a good guy and joins Shuu's party to put a halt to the robots trying to kill him off.

(Main turn menu.)

The gameplay is unusual in that as you go, you pick up party members (you can have up to 10 people in one party, 3 of whom are hidden and easily missed), and at one point you have 4 separate parties that you have to switch between as you advance the story. Some of the members are attached to a specific leader, while the others can move freely between teams prior to that team's move. Initially, enemy bomber squads regenerate every 3-4 turns, and start advancing up the Cube, one floor per turn. If they reach the top floor, they blow the Cube up and it's Game Over (towards the end of the game, you destroy the bomb factory, eliminating any new bomber squads, and you can reunite your party members to have just one team). In the storyline, Shuu and Zola head their own teams to advance down through the Cube one floor at a time, from two different routes, while Jibral performs a holding function to block bomber squads entering the Cube from a mid-level floor. Initially, Zola is the only one that can teleport to any shop (4 shops total) in the Cube, making her kind of an emergency backup to block enemies near the top floor, as well as the one buying new supplies.

(Cross-section of the Cube. The orange boxes are all of the rooms that you can visit. The light blue spots are shops. The darker blue spot is the party's current location. The brown spot at the bottom of the Cube is the last remaining enemy location, and represents the final boss fight. Earlier in the game, you can have 3 or 4 parties, and up to 2 wandering monster bomber groups on the map, each taking turns to move and/or attack.)

The map is just a cross section of the Cube. There are 25 story chapters, representing about 20 individual rooms. Once you finish a chapter, you can choose to revisit that room to unlock any treasure chests you may have missed, or to fight specific monsters to complete the side quests. The chests are color-coded and most of them require the associated colored key to open. Meaning that once you get a new key, you have to go back to all the rooms again. Most of the keys are located in chests, while one comes from one of the side quests. I've beaten the game twice (there's no New Game+ here) completed all of the quests, opened all the chests I know of and collected all of the monsters, but the game tells me that I only have 83% of the available chests/items. I'm thinking that what's still missing are items dropped by monsters, which are completely unnecessary to completing the game.

(Shuu: "Let's completely beat them all!")

BD Plus is turn-based when your parties are moving between levels in the Cube (move, stay, fight, shop, reform party). During the battles, it's more of a strategic RPG free-for-all. Both your party members and the enemies attack based on internal move timers, and they do so in real time. There's no weapons or armor per se; instead, your attack and defense stats are boosted by equip-able accessories (wrist bands, necklaces, rings). Each character has 10 command slots, which you pre-assign to use either a healing item, an explosive gem, or a skill you get via your Shadow. As you go up in rank, you get more skills, and caskets in the battle rooms contain monsters you defeat to obtain "prisms" that give you other Shadow skills. These include healing, flare sword, poison, sleep, etc. One of the last casket monsters has the Blue Dragon - an awesome attack skill that delivers massive area damage but can only be used once per battle. Once you use a regular item or skill, there's a recharge period before being able to issue orders to that character again. In general, most of the items, accessories and skills are useless. I just concentrated on having the best healing herbs I could get from each shop, and used healing and cure skills from two of the characters, and Guard Down, Attack Up, Flare, Shine and Regenerate Health from the others. Most of the time, I just aimed the entire party at the closest enemy group and let the AIs fight it out amongst themselves.

(One of the two healers using his Shadow to heal the party.)

One interesting feature of the game is that you can make your own mecha to add to your party. In fact, treasure dropped by the monsters during fights is almost 75% mecha parts. One of the rooms is a robotics plant, where you can choose to activate up to 6 mecha, and then upgrade them. Unfortunately, I never figured out how to boost the number of new parts that could be added to a mecha, and the entire process seemed to just be a big waste of time. I used the base mecha to fill out the parties, and that was good enough in all battles (each party can have up to 10 members, and having more members means being able to speed up the battles). At the end of the game, when your teammates reform into one big party, you'll have a full complement of 10 PCs (if you found all of the unlockable optional party members) and you'll lose the option of using any mecha you created. I think that making the customizable mecha irrelevant to the endgame is bad game design.

(One of the mini-bosses is the Poo Snake...)

Speaking of unlockable characters, you have the option of obtaining Toripo, a mecha designed to look like Akira Toriyama's manga alter ego. So, that's fun, sending Toripo to his death every battle (he's not one of the stronger members of the team). Then, there's the quests. One of the shops has the Quest board, which gives you up to 4 quests at a time, initially. Most quests are along the lines of "bring back 10 pieces of monster meat, or "keep me alive for 5 minutes during an infinitely-long battle". After completing the first 15 quests, the remaining ones fall into the pattern of "bring back specific items dropped by certain monsters that can only be found in one room". Almost all of the quests require repeating the same fight over and over again, and some of them can take hours to complete since item and meat drops are random and may not happen at all during a given fight. Almost none of the quests give you rewards worth the time and effort required (a little money, or a handful of mecha upgrade parts). The main reason for doing the quests is that they ultimately unlock the strongest boss fight of the game, the Spark Dragon. Even with the party at an average level of 85, and equipped with the best accessories in my inventory, Sparky managed to wipe out most of my party before he fell.

(Battle map showing party and monster locations within the current room.)

Overall, the room designs look good, but the floor layouts are intended to slow down character movement. The character icons during battles are too tiny and it's easy to get them confused during melee battles. The monsters are imaginative, but with 150 names listed in the monster book, most of them are just color variations on a theme. The music is great, though, as are the Shadows. One of the party members is the poo snake, an animated unchi, which is good for a few minutes' worth of potty humor. The dungeon layout is a bit too simple, and the menu command system is too complex for the few commands really needed to win the game. The CG sequences are gorgeous, which is a good thing, but there's no New Game+ option for replaying the game with your current Shadows, levels and items once you defeat the final boss, which is a major strike against it. Blue Dragon Plus isn't really a bad game, but it could have been a lot better. It's worth getting used if you like Toriyama's character designs.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dragon Ball: Origins review

There are currently two chains that sell used games in Kagoshima - Book-Off and the Softmap located in Bic Camera. What's interesting is how inconsistent their pricing is. Within the chain, every shop sells the same title for the same price, meaning that they have a central database that controls pricing. But Softmap and Book-Off have differing valuations of the same title. As an example, Blue Dragon Plus is 1,500 yen at Book-Off, and 750 yen at Softmap, while Radiant Historia is about 1,000 yen cheaper at Book-Off. And, of course since these are recycled games, there's no guarantee what you'll find at each of the 3 Book-Off outlets here. So, I've been visiting various shops to try to find stuff that I want to get, at the lowest price. I'll wait for Puyo Puyo Anniversary to get below 1,000 yen, and I'm trying to decide if I want Blue Dragon Plus (I may get it because the designs are by Akira Toriyama.

(Images used for review purposes only.)

Dragon Ball: Origins (2008), Grade: B
Origins on the Gameboy DS is a fairly accurate retelling of the first couple of volumes of Toriyama's Dragonball manga. Unlike most DB games, this one isn't a Street Fighter-style one-on-one combat game. Instead, it's an RPG similar to Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (same kind of use of tools for puzzle solving). You control the hero, Son Goku, as he encounters Bulma for the first time, and the two of them set out to find the 7 Dragon Balls in order to make a wish. Along the way, they encounter Oolong, Yamcha, Kamesennin, Chichi, and ultimately get into the great battle ring to fight against Jackie Chun. In general, games based on manga tend to have a problem with lesser "filler character" enemies, in that to have something to populate the dungeons and fields, the designers run out of monsters to use from the manga, and start adding their own creations, like snakes, lizards and so on. That's the case here, where Goku has to wade his way through cowboy skeletons, fire-breathing lizards and rabbit gangsters to get to the next boss. While these add-ins don't belong to the manga, they do at least provide some variety to the things you have to fight all the time.

(Opening CG.)

It is kind of ironic that DB was turned into an RPG like this, since the original manga was designed around the idea of "find the treasure" video arcade games, with the possible intent of spinning it off as a game at some point (which obviously has happened multiple times now). In this iteration, the story is divided up into chapters and sub-chapters (1.1-1.6, 2.1-2.7, etc.) In most sub-chapters you have to run through a field or dungeon to get to the exit, while solving certain puzzles or fighting various enemies along the way. Puzzles include pushing large blocks into a river to dam it up, pushing buttons to open doors, riding conveyor belts through a maze, and spinning mirrors to open doors of the same color. Defeating enemies can give you money, skill points or items. Breaking rocks and barrels can net you the same things, plus figurines and jigsaw pieces. You can spend money within your inventory menu shop to get items (healing, power ups or guard ups), weapons for Bulma (machine guns) and some random figurines. There are 200 unlockable figurines within the game, which are simply screenshots of Gokuu, Bulma and the other characters in various poses (after finishing the game, I've still only got about 80 of them). They're useless and add nothing to the game; they're only there for people that like to collect stuff for bragging rights. As for the jigsaw pieces, both Goku and Bulma have "health" and "energy" (ki) pictures, which get filled in with each jigsaw piece (15 pieces for each of the 4 pictures). I didn't notice any obvious changes when the pictures were completed.

(Typical dungeon. Fight the enemies - laser robot - without Bulma getting killed by accident.)

Each sub-chapter gives you a rating when you finish it, from D to A, then S, the faster the better. Getting an A or S rating gives you a rare or super-rare figurine. Again, since the figurines don't do anything, the only reason for replaying a chapter is to find all the treasure chests to get the remaining jigsaw pieces, or to get all S ranks because you're obsessive-compulsive. The fourth sub-chapter in each chapter (1-4, 2-4, 3-4, etc.) generally gives you the boss fight at the end. Subsequent sub-chapters are just subquests, which can be played in any order. Again, the sub-quests are there to give you more figurines.

(Bulma's Health and Energy screen, with both pictures completed.)

The game uses the stylus a lot, mainly for combat. Goku has two weapons, his fists and the expanding staff. Tapping Goku and then tapping the enemy can give you one kind of attack, depending on the weapon. Tapping and then dragging the stylus gives another, and drawing a circle around Gokuu gives a third. You learn new attacks as you go through the story, with Kamehame-ha showing up in chapter 5.1. It's an easy attack to initiate, but it takes about 5-10 seconds to charge, making it bad against the faster enemies (leveling it up does cut down on the power-up time). Mainly, it's good for destroying certain obstacles in the mazes. You can power up Gokuu's attacks by spending skill points on them in the inventory menu, up to level 3 per technique.

(Goku goes were-monkey.)

Overall, it's a good game for anyone that likes the original manga. The designers do take some liberties with the storyline, but the main elements are there, and the sukebe scenes involving Oolong and Kamesennin have been included as cut scenes (you know which ones I'm talking about). Nothing really graphic, but it's still not appropriate for young children or anyone easily offended. The artwork's good, as is the music and most of the character designs. Some of the puzzles can be frustrating, and I don't like the mini-games where you control Kintoen, the flying cloud, in what is essentially a linear "don't hit anything chase". Otherwise, the main point of the game is to get to the big tournament and then fight your way up to face Jackie Chun. Everything else is just filler. Not too bad for 950 yen ($10 USD). There is one complete walkthrough on IGN, and a couple others that are absurdly incomplete and useless (on Gamefaqs). So, it is possible to get all the jigsaw pieces with the help of the walkthrough, but the decision as to whether to race through a chapter to get S rank just to pick up one more figurine is something left completely up to the player (so in my case, the answer is, "not interested").

(Figurines screens. Basically, it's just 200 separate character screen shots. They don't contribute to the game in any way, and many of them aren't good poses.)