Friday, 18 April 2014

Shin Megami Tensei (the 1st one) out on iOS

At the moment, I'm playing the first Shin Megami Tensei game. It's out in English on iOS now, available on iTunes.

First there was "Megami Tensei"; it was a 1980s game based on a novel, and I've got (and seen) an OVA related to it - demons come out of computers... btw that OVA wasn't very good.

But based on that idea, some other folks created "Shin Megami Tensei" on the SNES, and it eventually SMT started spawning spin-off series (e.g. Persona) and the franchise became massive.

The key features of the overall series are:

  • Someone will manage to connect to the demon realm by writing computer software
  • There's an epic battle between demons and god, and you represent the humans caught between, and can join one side or the other; or do your own thing.
  • It does branching storyline right. The choices are fairly clear, and the outcome really affects the story in a meaningful way, with really different endings possible.
  • It's set in contemporary Japan turned to chaos, rather than some fantasy world.
  • You can recruit your enemies and have them fight alongside you (they were doing this before Pokemon!)
  • The world will probably end, but shopping mall buildings and underground rail stations will probably remain intact (how depressing, humankind's legacy!)

This iOS version is actually based on the later enhanced Gameboy Advance release of SMT, so it's got little extra features above what's in the SNES English fan-translation. So I get to watch bonus cutscenes... actually, in this first clip, you get to see how a loved one died; is that really such a reward?

Considering how many games there are in the extended series with spin-offs and such, I haven't really played that many of them. I've played quite a long way into SMT III on PS2 (that was a long time ago!), a spin-off called "Demikids" on GBC (that was even longer ago!), I started Persona 3 but never got along with it enough to continue... started an MMORPG called SMT: Imagine (but not for long), and recently played through Devil Survivor Overclocked on 3DS, which seemed to take me about a year - mainly because I took myself down a route that made it a really really tough game. However, Devil Survivor Overclocked is my favourite RPG on 3DS (sorry Pokemon). It's really good!

I'm really enjoying SMT. Every time I play one, it seems so fresh and atmospheric. I love the fact you can have little conversations with the demons to try and recruit them; the way you get a feeling for their personalities, and the way they are so inhuman in their responses and behaviour. Demons are psychologically interesting! I like the way that it's set in Tokyo so the recognisable world is warped - somehow the world of 1990s Japan overrun with demons and full of cults, bars, and fierce weaponry... is more believable than a fantasy world of "normal people".

I also really like the way the hero characters have swords and guns and magic, where swords and guns are different weapon slots with different use, rather than just having "attack" and magic.

I really wish this wasn't on iOS though. For one thing, I'm borrowing an iPad again, then on-screen controls emulating a joypad make my hands feel weird after a while. I wish this had been ported to 3DS (with in-game maps on the lower screen) or on Vita (because the storage capacity on the device is better and there's a better user accounts system on PSN).

Still, I hope this does well enough that they decide to localise the iOS version of SMT II into English.

I just bought myself an American 3DS XL on import (it's a gold Legend of Zelda special edition I found 2nd hand on Amazon.com) so I can eventually play SMT IV - because it seems like it's never coming out in Europe. I already have the special edition of the game which comes in a nice box with strategy guide and CD. It's not set in a contemporary period, but I expect it to be great.

One thing I do worry about a little; as well as playing SMT, I've been playing Disgaea 3, watching Highschool DxD, watched another OVA based on SMT (called Tokyo Revelations) and just got a copy of Tecmo's Deception IV for Vita in the post... perhaps I am spending too much time with demons, I'm tending slightly towards the chaotic...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

TxK is super awesome great

It's just over a week since TxK got released on PS Vita, and I've been playing it at every convenient moment since, finally finishing the game in "classic" mode this evening.
I beat the game and won a lovely cup of tea.
Oops, I missed the edges off my photo. But, I beat it! Yay me!

I really, really got into this game. It's beautiful, mathematics in colour.

It's the latest iteration of Jeff "Yak" Minter's take on Tempest, with nice shiny extras of powerups like the ability to jump, a nice AI Droid to help you out, and mind-bending levels and special effects featuring far more colours than the average rainbow.

The soundtrack adds 1990s rave onto the 1980s arcade visual style, and the Vita is a time-travel device.

I'm 15th best player in the world!
It's nice being so near to the top of the leaderboards for this game, but.... more people should be doing better than me! Is it that not enough people have this game? Are they just not getting so far in it? I suppose there is the possibility... I've been playing this guy's games for so long, rather than these games being perfect for me, it was me that was built to play these games.

Now, Jeff Minter posted some basic gameplay tips on the Playstation EU blog, but they are really basic, so I thought I'd post some tips of my own.

a) Basic Ship Controls

Don't think of moving your ship as going "left" and "right", because you will be running along the rim of objects that go upside-down. Think of it as "clockwise" and "anti-clockwise". And then later, when the game even manages to make that confusing, think of it as "the way I was going" and "the other way". Actually, maybe if you thought the last thing, it works for all cases. :)

b) Accellerometer controls

If you tilt the Vita during a level, you get to slightly tilt your viewpoint. If it comes to you naturally and you need a better viewpoint, use it. I didn't use it much. Noticed it more on the pause screen than during gameplay. But it's cool.

Between levels, as long as you aren't starting a bonus stage, your ship will fly through a series of rings; flying as close as you can to the centre will give you a points bonus. This bonus can become very sizable! I found that playing the game with the Vita near horizontal made the between-stage controls much better. Be gentle.

c) Shooting

I barely ever stopped shooting. On some levels (e.g. #30), I changed from holding down the fire button to a slower pulse with my thumb, as I spun through the level. Mostly I held down the fire button.

d) Smart Bomb (Supertapper)

I usually kept this in reserve for emergencies, but if you are feeling confident, all enemies you kill with the smart bomb give you double points.

The very basic enemies, if they get to the rim where you're standing, can start to drag you off the side. If that starts and you still can, touch the screen to set off the supertapper and rescue yourself. If you have the power-up, the AI Droid can also rescue you, but eh, sometimes it seems like it can't be bothered to. Lazy thing.

e) Power-ups

They come in roughly the same order each level - some yield points, there's a particle laser, but most importantly, there is the jump ability and then AI Droid. There is also a warp triangle, and eventually the dual wield ability - which I don't think is that useful (I only ever seem to get it so late in a level there's nothing left to shoot). Get every power up you can. The later point power-ups are 8000 points each - vital if you are working on your high score.

Jumping is the most important defensive power-up, because it lets you avoid things. But you will get more points the less you jump.

f) 1up power-ups

They look like normal power-ups, except they're pink. When they appear, a sound effect says "extra" then when you collect it, it says "life". Listen out for these! You can have up to 11 extra lives.

g) Strategy : playing to survive vs playing to score points

If you want to play to survive, start out sweeping a level with bullets to get as many enemies as possible, then stick to a small patch (hopefully that doesn't rotate too confusingly). Power-ups only appear from enemies you've killed, so sticking to one patch limits them to appearing only in your little spot, and hopefully you'll get the "jump" ability soon enough you won't be in trouble.

After that, try and get the AI Droid power-up if you can, then jump a lot and keep away from bullets, killing easy enemies and letting your AI Droid kill off the things that are more likely to put up more of a fight.

h) Classic mode

In this mode, when you get Game Over, you can restart the level of your choice with whatever was your best score / number of lives you managed to achieve in the past. Most lives seems to be dominant over most score. As such, when you restart, rather than going to the last level I was on, I tended to go to the level where I last had most lives, and played to survive. Then return to them later and retry for more points.

i) Special enemies

Watch out for flowers. Shoot flower heads when they are either still, or spin slowly. If they are spinning quickly, they have broken free from the stem and are unstoppable, and will kill you if they touch you.

Watch out for the buzzy electric things that light up a whole column. Pay close attention to the light between their prongs; they light up in a certain way just before electrifying a column. If you see it, move or jump! (Electric attacks can't get you when you're in the air!)

The bulls that appear on level 33 are more deadly when they are killed than when they were alive, because their horns spin upwards to get you, and move quite slowly so you might accidentally jump into them. I found that letting bulls come to the top, and bounce down a little way before killing them made them easier.

The little whirlpools that spin the entire stage are more disorientating than they are dangerous. Don't be intimidated by them!

The missile rock things - sometimes it's better to avoid them than try to defeat them, because they can break into pieces. But, points! Score!

The round things that turn into rainbow tubes when you shoot them - I don't think they can be destroyed after they turn into tubes. If I'm wrong, let me know!

The static flowers that give a long "moooooo" sound, that come near the end of the game - the ones that are really tall and sweep across the rim - pay attention to the colour of the stalk. Before you have jump ability, you won't be able to destroy them. It's safe to pass below the flower head as long as the stalk isn't electrified, and they give a visible tell to let you know when they will light up.

The annoying star things that shoot at you from the bottom rim of a stage - they get bigger when they are about to shoot stuff at you, at which point they are vulnerable. But, if you stick around to shoot at them, you are going to die. You really have to take advantage of the length of the stage, so your bullets reach it when you're safely out of the way, but overall, I'd recommend you keep out of the way if you can.

j) Bonus stages

You automatically go to these when you collect 4 warp triangles and end a level. The bonus stage where you fly through rings - the controls are really really sensitive, don't touch anything for the majority of the time. Be ultra gentle. If you're doing ok with these bonus stages, don't read what I'm about to say - but to me, it was like up and down were reversed.

The path bonus stage is far easier, in my opinion. You just go left and right as normal.

Accellerometer controls are disabled for the duration of bonus stages, and you get a 50000 point bonus for finishing each one.

k) Feel your way through the game

This is a game you feel. I've written up what I can, but I'm sure there's more that's just not conscious or I am able to express. Play this game with your eyes and ears and your hands. It's the most tactile geometric shooting game there is. Be glad you aren't playing it with your nose unless you like the scent of ungulates. Have fun. Discover things. :)

--

That's about it, I think that's all I have. Good luck! This is a super awesome great game. But still not as great as Space Giraffe, which is an utter masterpiece. A mad, mad masterpiece. But super awesome great is still super awesome great! I think it's the best game on Vita so far!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Banshee's Last Cry / Kamaitachi no Yoru

An app came out on iOS a few weeks ago called "Banshee's Last Cry", it's published by Aksys and is described as "a thrilling visual novel that takes readers on a deadly thrill ride of murder and deception". It's a free download where you pay £2.49 as an in-app purchase to unlock the full game.

It's actually a localisation of an old game by Chunsoft for the Super Famicom, called "Kamaitachi no yoru", or "Night of the Sickle Weasel". I guess they primarily called it "Banshee's Last Cry" to make it look a little bit related to "Virtue's Last Reward" - well, enough to lure fans into spending their £2.49.

They've changed the location of the original story from a ski lodge in Japan to a ski lodge in Canada, made some technological changes to bring it into 2014, re-recorded the soundtrack (some music is the same, some different - some so it doesn't sound so traditionally Japanese, I suppose), gone to an actual Canadian ski lodge to take pictures to replace all the original background images, changed all the names of the characters, and changed the folk mythology from Japanese to Irish.

I've been reading it, and here's what I have to say:

The story is perhaps more "Choose Your Own Adventure" than you might expect from something described as a visual novel. It's what they used to call a "sound novel" - basically a light novel with atmospheric background images, music and sound effects. No character portraits or voices.

The main story really feels like a murder mystery from the 1990s. The murders and descriptions are really quite gruesome sometimes. The plot actually seems really familiar to me, perhaps similar methods were used in some Kindaichi manga I read, or some Detective Conan anime I watched. As such, it was fairly easy for me to pinpoint the correct suspect and details about the initial murder (though I certainly didn't get it on my first play-through). The main difficulty for me was finding the choices in the story where I could express my thoughts in order to trigger the ending.

Another comment on the 1990s feeling of the game - the attitude of the male protagonist and other characters is pretty much that females in the story only exist to be protected. They're rounded up together, and the way they don't seem to be suspects seems dismissive. Any attempt by them to be useful on their own ends up disastrous. I don't think they really even notice.

After my first play-through, certain new options appeared in the game, which is an interesting way of doing things. Your reasoning in previous play-throughs brings you closer to being able to solve the mystery. However, the player does not know - if I use this option it appears to be a short cut of a few pages, but is that relevant to any in-game path change?

Having said that reasoning brings you closer to the correct mystery ending... it's also the case that some endings completely diverge; one ending you can trigger very early in the story has you leaving before any murders take place - and so in that timeline the murder doesn't take place that night (why is that?). In the very worst ending (which is also the first one I saw), I still don't fully understand who committed all the murders at the end.

After I solved the main murder mystery and the credits rolled, a lot more options open up in the game. They lead to far more light-hearted stories, joke endings, and a lot of puns on the word "banshee". It is clear why they are not present when the game is first started. Two of the new endings also had end credits rolling, so they must be the "Occult" and "Spy" endings mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Kamaitachi no Yoru. One is just funny, the other a secret code message which I managed to decode straight away (but it was still fun to read the story). There's also a path with a reference to Chunsoft's "Mystery Dungeon" line of games. Oh it would have been nice if there really was a roguelike built into the app, hahaha.

Issues I have with the localisation - very few. One comment near the beginning about how silly it is to say "cheese" for photos because people end pulling an "ooh" face only really works if you consider the Japanese pronunciation of "cheese" ("chi-zu-"). There are some errors; in the "Snow Maze" path, there's a mistake where they give the incorrect name for one of the characters, accidentally marrying her to the wrong character ("Colleen Buchanan"). In the end of the path with the secret code, the font size messes up and you're left scrolling the page left and right to read.

It would have been nice to have something telling me which endings I've seen so I know if there's anything left to aim for. It would have been nice if like the original Super Famicon version, we could see silhouettes of each character in order to feed the imagination. It would have been nice to unlock some sort of diagram of branching paths for the after-story so I can see the last few things to do. It would be nice if there was a "clear data" option in the menu so I could compare the options available at the start to the ones available after many play-throughs.

Best of all, it would have been nice if it was on Android so I didn't have to borrow an iPad to read it! (I think that's "coming soon").

But overall, it's been a fun read, it was a good price, and it's been a pleasure to experience this little piece of sound novel history so long after the game originally came out. I hope they decide to bring more visual / sound novels out in English on mobile / tablet devices, because it's a very convenient platform for reading interactive fiction.

Friday, 25 October 2013

My new European Luigi 3DS XL arrived!

Look what arrived in the post today!


It's the special edition Year of Luigi 3DS XL, European version!

I bought it from the UK Nintendo Store. It says the release date is 1st Nov 2013, which means they've broken their own street date by a whole week!

I like Luigi. He's funny and reminds me of my fondness of my own little brother. ^_^

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Some Doujin Indie Game Bundles

The Groupees Doujin Bundle 2: http://groupees.com/doujin2

This bundle includes a bunch of shoot-em-ups, and the VNs "Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni" (it's the Manga Gamer version DRM-free), and "Hatoful Boyfriend" - the pigeon dating sim.

Fan patching means that there is a more complete version of Higurashi out there, with the images and voice work from the PS2 version if you like. Also, this is just Higurashi, so - just the start of the story. But the price is very good.

Hatoful Boyfriend... try it, it may surprise you.

If you really like doujin shmups and want even more than offered in the Groupees bundle, take a look at the Indie Gala October bundle: http://www.indiegala.com/october

It contains some of the Nyu Media lineup, and if you have one spare US dollar, they're worth a look.

So many European special editions!

It's like... special edition season!

Nintendo are releasing two special 3DS XL consoles:

A Year Of Luigi 3DS XL and a Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds 3DS XL.

I've had my eye on the Luigi one since it came out in Japan, and I've been enjoying my DSi XL far too much recently to be satisfied with my regular sized 3DS, so I pre-ordered it as soon as I saw it the other day. Even though it's due out on November 1st, I got an email earlier saying "Okey-dokey! Your order is on it's way!", so it looks like Nintendo are breaking their own street date!

There's a special edition of the upcoming Legend of Zelda game "A Link Between Worlds", which is the sequel to Link To The Past. It comes with a download code for "Link's Awakening DX" (for some reason...) and as demonstrated by Aonuma and Iwata comes with a little chest that goes "da da da daaa~" when you open it. It was priced at £59.99 the other day, the preorder button has been taken down now. Visiting the page earlier today caused the entire website to break, I wrote to them and they told me that preorders are breaking stuff and that's why the "buy" button is missing at the moment. I'm not sure it's worth it anyway. Not to say it's a bad game; I played a bit of it at the Play Expo and it seems like it will be a fun game, I mean that it's way more expensive than the £32.99 people are pricing the regular edition at.

This Tales Of Symphonia Chronicles Collector's Edition looks amazing, it's a remake that's dual language, and has content from both the PS2 and Gamecube versions of the original game. This collector's edition comes with a novel, soundtrack, and 5 cute figures. It comes out at the end of February, so I've suggested to my boyfriend that it would make an excellent birthday present for someone like me. :)

This Bravely Default Deluxe Collector's Edition comes with a figurine, soundtrack CD, artbook and AR cards. It says it's exclusive to shopto.net, which I did not expect.

The Nintendo shop was the only one to have preorders open at this stage! It's like no-one wants to take my money! XD

Oh well, I shouldn't spend much money on myself this time of year, it's coming up to Christmas present shopping time, and I did just spend most of my money on a pinball table. Also, Guided Fate Paradox and the new Ace Attorney games are out this week, I've been looking forward to both of those. :D

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

My Scared Stiff Pinball table

I really love pinball.

I love old pinball tables through the ages that were more like bagatelle with flippers for a bit of a 2nd chance. I love new pinball with ramps, video screens, speech, missions, maybe even holograms. I love video pinball where the ball gets sliced in half or temporarily defies gravity or gets up and walks away.

Video pinball has been what I mostly rely on. I think Zen make the best current pinball games - raptr says I've played 114 hours of Pinball FX2 and that doesn't seem nearly enough. Silverball Studios (formerly Fuse Games) are also really good, the "Crush Pinball" series, Pokemon Pinball (they should make a new one of these!) and I really like Kirby's Pinball on Gameboy.

On the rare occasions I visit an amusement arcade (seaside resorts, shopping malls), the first thing I look for is pinball. Then arcade machines. It's very rare I can see a pinball machine and not decide to play it.

I never really thought I would own a pinball table. It was just one of those things that you think "ah, maybe one day I will own".

And yet...


This is sitting in my house. It's mine! It's mine! There were 4028 of these tables made in the entire world, and this one is mine. And it plays beautifully.

For years now I have thought "if I was going to own a pinball machine, it would be that Elvira one". I had vague fond memories of having played an Elvira table with googly rubber monsters and a spinning feature at the back. I think it was while holidaying at Hemsby, near the back of an arcade called "The Dunes". It's not even called that anymore. It was years later when I could identify this table by name. "Scared Stiff".

This machine has everything I'd want. It is fairly easy to play and do well. It has various missions to complete, so there's progression in the gameplay. The playfield is nice and varied, and the spinner in the back box is a cool feature, and really beautifully executed with 3 layers of artwork surrounding it. It has a sexy / funny theme, doesn't take itself seriously at all, and features full voicing by Elvira. It's got little cheesy monster finger puppets and plastic frogs. All the replacement parts for this machine are still obtainable. It's a good one to own.

Read the story of how we got it by following this "Read More" link:

Jeff Minter demoed his new game TxK at Play-Expo

We went to Play Expo in Manchester on 12th/13th Oct 2013. A big gaming event, full of new games, old games, tournaments and cosplayers. And pinball and pinball and pinball. =D

There demoing a new game was Jeff Minter, the legendary creator of a lot of my favourite old games. :) So as soon as I entered the hall, I made a beeline towards his stand and tried his new game! (it wasn't crowded; he was competing with the PS4, Nintendo, and Oculus Rift after all)

It's called TxK, and is a Tempest-type game for the Playstation Vita.

Despite not being a finished game, it plays pretty solidly; you move along the rim of the field (which may be crazy shaped), shooting forward at the enemies who are coming towards you and firing in various patterns. Sometimes they drop power-ups (always in the same order), and they give you various abilities, one of which is the ability to jump, which is super-handy because it lets you get out of the way and shoot enemies that have made it to the rim.

For this reason, it gets very hard if you miss a power up. My reaction to that is "get better at the game", but I don't know if that makes for a good game mechanic for other players. It's a problem I have with a lot of the old Taito shoot-em-up arcade games from the 80s (Darius? Gradius? I forget...) where you are doing great, but lose a life and since you also lost your power-ups, you're very vulnerable and lose all your other lives very quickly. At least with TxK, the levels are short - it makes it not so hard to recover from a mistake.

There are also (a very limited number of) smart bombs that kill all the enemies at once, which you can activate by touching the screen.

Sometimes, I'm not sure what causes it, but you get a triangle awarded. They appear at the top right of the screen. I eventually collected enough of them (four, I think) and was treated to a bonus stage. In the bonus stage, you had to fly through rings, but I didn't immediately work out the controls so I missed and it ended the bonus stage early.


In this photo, my boyfriend Rich is on the left, Jeff is in the centre and I'm on the right. Jeff's co-programmer Giles very kindly took the photo.

Rich was pouring praise upon Jeff and talking about arcade controls for iPads because they had Gridrunner in a mini iPad arcade running. But at the same time, Rich said that he was afraid to try this new game because Space Giraffe had scared him off, because he's no good at it. Jeff said that TxK's a lot more straightforward and less "out of your head", which it is. So he had a go.

When I eventually got a word in, I let Jeff know that I think Space Giraffe is the best game he ever made. He agreed with me. I told him why; because it's completely different and new kind of shoot-em-up, that you play it with your ears, instead of just your eyes. And he was delighted to meet someone who gets it.

I also told him that TxK might be the game that makes me buy a Vita, that I've been playing his games since I was very young (I found a scorebook in my parents house that documents me beating them at Gridrunner when I was pre-school!), and that his games are probably the reason my boyfriend is convinced I was dropped in a large vat of drugs as a baby. :)

I also told him he should make the 1-ups in TxK look less threatening, because I avoided them twice, thinking they were projectiles. They're pink and say "1-up", but they look like bullets!

Meeting Jeff Minter and playing his new game, that's a super awesome day. But connecting on Space Giraffe, and letting him know what a great game I think it is, I felt like I had just done something to fix the world. Just a little bit. :)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Super-not-an-otaku Shopping Guide part 2 - digital purchases

Buying software or music digitally is a good way to import things, because you get your goods quickly, don't have to worry about bootlegs, and don't have to worry about shipping costs and customs charges.

Music

For music, all I know about as services are iTunes (which I've never used), I've bought a few Japanese MP3 tracks on Amazon UK, but the selection is very limited, same goes for music.google.com. But if you find what you're looking for, go for it!

Of course, there are other things to consider - sometimes CDs come with a DVD, or there's a first press edition that comes with extra bonus items (e.g. a poster, bonus tracks), so don't forget to look out for those.

Console Gaming


First of all - console region restrictions. Work out which you can still use, which you need to buy import consoles in order to play import games.

Nintendo: Wii U, 3DS and a DSi-enhanced DS games are all region restricted. DS wasn't, GBA wasn't. I don't have any modern import Japanese Nintendo consoles, so I don't know whether if you try to connect to the eshop with a Japanese Wii U or 3DS from outside Japan, you get to the Japanese eshop.

Microsoft: About half of all Xbox 360 games are not region restricted, and many people are unaware of this. The shop Play-Asia handily note on the page for each game they sell which games work in which region. You don't have to buy there, use their site for research. Notably, most arcade shmups by Cave are region free specifically because they know they have a worldwide cult following, but not necessarily one big enough to localise for each region. You can create different region accounts for Xbox 360 for the different content, with an American 360 account, we managed to download and play Aegis Wing, which is not available in the European store.

The original Xbox was region restricted. The Xbox One won't be, but don't expect to be importing Japanese Xbox One games.

Sony: This company used to be awful. The PS1 and PS2 were region restricted, then the PSP and PS3 weren't but instead they forced retailers to stop selling goods from Asia to the EU because they wanted to keep prices high. Nowadays, they like having customers. The nuances are going to take a while to explain, so that's why I left this for last.

The PS3, PSP and Vita are all region-free, there is one game I know to be an exception, which is Persona 4 Arena. You can set up one Playstation Network (PSN) account per region - please google how to do this because it's changed since I did it. With different region accounts, you can use the Playstation Store for the corresponding region, and get access to buy games you wouldn't ordinarily see. The PS3 will let you gather together and play all the games you have installed for all regions without any hassle.

The PSP and Vita however... If you are playing games from physical media, they work immediately. For digital games, because each handheld can only be attached to one account at a time, things are more complicated. Unless you own several PSPs/Vitas and dedicate one handheld to each account, you're going to have to do some account switching and memory-stick-switching to go from one game to another.

Another thing to look out for - the PS3 will play PS1 games, but the region restriction of the PS1 applies to physical discs - but oddly enough, not to downloadable games. So for example you can play Japanese PS3 games on a European PS3, that's simple enough. If you have a physical copy of [Tokimeki Memorial] for Japanese PS1 and put it into your European PS3, it won't work. But if you create a Japanese account on your European PS3, and use the Playstation Store with your Japanese account to buy a digital copy of [Tokimeki Memorial] for PS1, you can play that on the European PS3.

Lastly, your DLC must match the version of the game you bought. For example, if you buy an American copy of a game which is also available in Europe (e.g. Disgaea 3), and you want to buy DLC, you must log into an American account and buy the DLC. European DLC will not work on an American copy of the game on a European console.

Weird restrictions, huh?

To top this off, as far as I am aware, if you want to pay by credit card on a PSN account, it has to match the region. I don't care about this, because I don't like to give video games companies my credit card details anyway. The day after the Playstation Network accounts first got hacked, I received a phone call at work from my credit card company asking whether I'd just spent some money in a supermarket in Japan, and we cancelled the card.

I buy PSN wallet top up cards to fund my PSN accounts. I buy US and Japanese ones from Play-Asia because they have the best prices and the redeem codes are instant. I buy UK ones from GAME because I'm collecting loyalty points which eventually add up to free stuff.

The same goes for Nintendo eshop cards - I buy my UK ones from GAME for eventual money off.

For Microsoft points, I'd usually buy UK redemption codes from Amazon or Play.com because you'd get a much better deal there than just buying from Microsoft directly. e.g. 2100 points would cost £16.87 on Amazon whereas it would be £17.99 from Microsoft in the Xbox 360 interface. Now that Microsoft have stopped using points and gone to paying with money... pre-existing points cards are said to still work, but I haven't bought any.

Computer Gaming

Steam is the big platform if you are a PC gamer in "the West". If all you want to do is play ports of console games which are already released in English, install Steam, browse and search for the games you want, add them to your wishlist, and wait for Steam to have a big sale so you can scoop them all up for very little money. They usually have a big sale in mid-summer, a big sale in mid-winter, and smaller sales in between. As well as ports of console games, there are also some Ys games, some doujin shmups, and Recettear - the item-shop haggling / debt-repaying / dungeon crawling game which I've played over and over and would like to once again recommend to everyone.

Steam is nothing in Japan. There's no Japanese interface, they don't sell the big name games in Japanese, as far as I'm aware there are no games on Steam that cross the boundary into pornography, etc etc.

When you say Japanese PC games, I think visual novels, those kind of adventure games. I also think "things they don't allow on consoles (especially since Sega stopped making them)", "touhou", and "small team experimental indie projects".

When it comes to visual novels - there are the official licensed English versions of games, there are the fan-translation patches that you can run against an original Japanese copy of the game to patch it into English, and there are the pre-patched English fan-translations, often of doujin projects where the original author has been asked and doesn't mind a translation.

Official licensed English VN sales:

Jast USA have been selling ero games since... well, since it became possible, back in the mid-1990s, and the focus of the games was pornography with a flimsy story on top. It's probably their fault that we started to call these things "hentai games" rather than "eroge". Nowadays, they also sell VNs that are mostly a good story (they have a lot of Nitroplus licenses), and sell digital copies - but it seems that their internal processes are stuck back in the 1990s, and turnaround between buying a digital copy from them and receiving a link to download from can take a week!

Manga Gamer sell VNs, have a strange way of categorising things whereby "Higurashi no naku koro ni ~ When They Cry" is designated "All Ages" because it doesn't contain sex scenes, though the torture, murder and so on would not make me want to categorise it in the same way. When they started up, I heard that their DRM was intrusive and the quality of their translations very variable, so I haven't bought anything from them.

Desura is a good site for buying downloads of indie games, it has a small selection of non-pornographic MangaGamer VNs and a larger selection of English-language-original VNs too. Eve Burst Error is there through MangaGamer, I'm glad that game is being "kept alive" this way.

DLSite contains tons of doujin material, including English versions of Hatoful Boyfriend (the pigeon dating sim) and other things. Prices are very good - cheap and swift. There's a lot of dodgy material on there, watch out and have fun.

For information about visual novel I might be interested in, I go to vndb.org, look at the tags to see if there's any material in the game which I'd find objectionable, look at the user ratings, and find out where it's available. If it's a game that needs fan patches, it'll be listed under tlwiki.org and there may be a page dedicated to it. Additional information if there are problems is sometimes available at fuwanovel.org.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

My handy dandy online shopping guide for Japan-friendly geeks

I thought I would write a shopping guide. I'm very good at shopping. :)

Research

  1. It's a good idea to research what's available, and what you're trying to buy. e.g. Will it work with what I have? Are there different versions? How do they differ? Will I need anything extra?
  2. When researching a specific item you want to buy, take a note of the catalogue number if there's one available. With differing transliterations and spelling, search by catalogue number can be especially useful.
  3. Despite most of the shops I list in my document below being entirely in English, it's a good idea to learn to read enough Japanese for you to navigate through things, and find the Japanese names of what you want to buy. At least katakana (because you will be able to recognise English words), and hiragana for basic Japanese. At least はい meaning "yes" and いいえ meaning "no". I found http://lrnj.com/ useful, a little RPG game where you defend yourself from things by typing the right thing to match the character on screen.

Stuff you should know

  1. It's a bad idea to call yourself an otaku.
  2. For exchange rates, use http://www.xe.com/
  3. Custom rates are harsh. Here in the UK, if they spot it, they will tax everything valued £16 and above, and the customs fee is £8 handling plus the amount taxable. And they will sometimes kick the box around a bit for fun.
  4. Read up on region restrictions for media - some basics - for DVD, UK is in the same region as Japan and not US, for Blu-Ray US is in the same region as Japan. Video game region territories - depends on the system but usually Japan and Asia are one, Europe and Australasia is one, North America is one.
  5. The price difference between anime bought from the UK/US and from Japan is incredible. Japanese prices are much much higher. Bandai try and sell in the US at Japanese prices and I don't think anyone is biting. Some Japanese anime fans "reverse import" from America because it's cheaper than buying the Japanese version. However, when it comes to DVDs, if there are 2 episodes per disc for the Japanese version and 7 episodes for the US version, the Japanese version is likely to have better video quality because the US version is compressed down to fit.
  6. Places like www.crunchyroll.com/www.viki.com/www.daisuki.net/ and www.crackle.com/ let you legally watch anime streamed, some free of charge, which is the best price of all. If you're in North America, you can use animesols.com/ too.
  7. When it comes to shipping from Japan, your options are often: SAL / registered SAL, Air Mail / registered Air Mail, Fed Ex, EMS. Now, SAL is surface; your package will come to you upon the oceans and seas. This is cheap but takes ages and things go missing, so registered is good. Air Mail is faster. Fed Ex and EMS are fastest of all, most reliable, are most expensive, and are almost certainly going to get caught by customs. In the case of Fed Ex, they will pay the customs fee for you to get the package to you faster, but you have to then pay Fed Ex the customs fee, which might have a mark-up.
  8. Before you think "an art book would be nice", or "some manga would be nice", or "poster-sized calendars would be nice" - watch out, they cost a lot in shipping due to weight, and bulk. But they are so worth it!
  9. If shopping from ebay, Amazon 3rd party or other small seller hiding behind a big name, research how to spot bootlegs before you commit to buy (especially concerning CDs, GBA and DS games).
  10. Obey your local laws. Don't try to import anything that's illegal in your country!

Shops

See:
If I wanted to watch an anime series, I would look for a streaming site. If I wanted to buy an anime series to keep on DVD / Blu-ray, with English dub/sub options, I'd have a look on Amazon, or RightStuf (especially if it was in a Rightstuf sale). 

If it hadn't been released in English and I really really liked it, or there was some other reason I'd rather buy the Japanese version, I would go to Anime Jungle to see if I could get the DVD / Blu-rays 2nd hand but in top condition with possible first-press extras.

If I wanted a brand new regular edition CD / DVD / Blu-ray / console game from Japan or Asia, I would go to Play-Asia.

If I wanted to buy a brand new Blu-ray, DVD or CD direct from Japan, or pre-order, and have a chance of getting bonus first-press items, or a limited edition copy, I would go to CD Japan. I would also go there for calendars and regular editions, if the pricing is good or I have loyalty points to spend. 

If I wanted to buy brand new import console games, I would go to Play-Asia. I don't mind Asia-edition games, they are often slightly cheaper and come with a quick start sheet in English for Hong Kong players. 

If I wanted to buy a second-hand console game or brand new doujin game, I would go to Palet Web. I might also try Japanese Retro Video Games for second hand video games.

IMPORTANT EDIT 11th February 2014: I recently discovered a new favourite importing shop, which I thoroughly recommend. It's Nin Nin Game, they sell games and figures, and a small selection of CDs etc. The reason I like them is because they will ship goods through Amazon France, which guarantees no custom fees. So far I've bought one item from them (an Ika Musume Figma!), and it took a little while to arrive it was worth it.