Hello, Japanese gaming fans. Welcome to the first installment of JPgamer, a weekly roundup of news, impressions, thoughts and opinions on the subject of Japanese games.
Here at USgamer, we know there's a significant proportion of the readership who are interested in the unique experiences Japanese games have to offer. This column is for you.
At the same time, there's also a proportion of USgamer's readership who have little love for Japanese games and would sometimes prefer it if there weren't quite so many of them on the front page. JPgamer, then, is an attempt to provide something that will hopefully make everyone happy -- fans of the quirky, colorful world of Japanese games can tune in at this time each week for a roundup of topics surrounding their favorite games -- particularly those topics that might not have made it to the front page -- while those who have no love for our Eastern friends' cultural output can safely skip past this column without guilt.
This isn't the only regular roundup column we'll be launching, either -- expect similar regular features from all of us on subjects including indie games and iOS games, among others, in the coming weeks. But for now, let's jump in to some discussion and, as ever, feel free to post your own thoughts in the comments and notes.
Let's Talk About That Hatsune Miku Review
Whew. This review by contributor Dustin Quillen upset a few of you, judging by the comments thread, and to be perfectly frank with you I can understand why, as reading it made me a little uncomfortable, too.
The subject of "otaku games" divides opinion significantly behind the scenes on the USgamer team. Both Cassandra and I are fans of this particular aspect of Japanese culture, while Jaz has little love for it. Jeremy, meanwhile, occupies a middle ground whereby he enjoys quintessentially Japanese role-playing games, but draws the line at content that makes him uncomfortable -- particularly material with implied (or, for that matter, explicit) sexuality that he doesn't feel is justified in a narrative context.
None of these opinions are "wrong" as such, and part of mature discussion and debate is acknowledging your views and tastes aren't necessarily the same as everyone else's. This, judging from the comments thread, is where some of you felt Dustin's review let you down a little. Let's highlight a few community comments and talk about them.
Part of mature discussion and debate is acknowledging your views and tastes aren't necessarily the same as everyone else's.
"I'm kind of biased because I'm a big fan of Miku and the Vita version of this game," admits chaosyoshimage (fantastic avatar, by the way!) "I obviously can't speak for the reviewer's tastes, but his insistence on how 'creepy' the whole thing is ad nauseum is really alienating especially considering the site has been very otaku game friendly in the past. It feels like I'm being insulted for liking this sort of thing and I feel the site is better than that. I've always hated 'nerds talking down to other nerds,' like there are sorts of nerddom that are more 'acceptable' than others."
Dustin responded that the things he said "sought to illustrate my point that objectionable content can be justified if a) it serves a purpose and b) the underlying material is worthwhile on its own. For me, personally, Hatsune Miku meets neither of these qualifications" -- key word, "personally." He also highlighted the fact that his comments were not intended as personal attacks, though some of you pointed out that they could be read that way. Chaosyoshimage responded by quite rightly pointing out that whether or not you find Hatsune Miku to be "objectionable content" is very much a subjective matter.
"If you're seriously using the word 'degenerate,' something is wrong," added brionfoulke91, referring to a line that we have since excised from the review. "I think you should appreciate the difference between 'this is not my cup of tea' and 'anyone who enjoys this tea is a bad person.'" This was the key point behind the Hidden Depths of Otaku Games piece from a couple of weeks ago, and something I personally agree with wholeheartedly. High five, brionfoulke91.
"I think you should appreciate the difference between 'this is not my cup of tea' and 'anyone who enjoys this tea is a bad person.'"Community member brionfoulke91
Both Cassandra and I chatted with the rest of the team about our (and your) concerns surrounding this review. The choice of Dustin as a reviewer was due to his relatively neutral background as a fan of rhythm games in general, but also as someone unfamiliar with (and consequently unbiased towards or against) Miku, and was intended as a means of explaining what about the game might appeal -- or not, as the case may be -- to those outside of the core Vocaloid fandom. He went in with no real preconceptions as to what to expect and came out feeling uncomfortable. He's perfectly entitled to that reaction, of course, and I'm not going to try and make anyone like something they find distasteful, but we do acknowledge the tone of the review made some of you uncomfortable, so for that we can only apologize.
Actually, that's not all we can do. Here's what we are going to do. Our review policy prevents us from re-scoring the game once we've posted our initial review for it, but part of what we do here at USgamer is consider our articles as starting points for discussion rather than the definitive word on the matter. To that end, as soon as my own copy of the game arrives -- I'm still waiting on it at the time of writing -- I'll be playing it a bunch myself, and I'll provide my own fresh take on it as a standalone article. Sound good?
All right, let's move on to other matters.
A New Generation of Agarest Players
I have the whole Agarest: Generations of War/Record of Agarest War (the title varies depending on where you got the game from, for some reason) series sitting on my shelf mocking me from amid the rest of my own personal pile of JRPG shame, but I'm yet to even boot any of them up. (I'm fully intending to, mind, just at a time when it's a bit quieter!)
For those unfamiliar with the series, the Agarest games are a series of tactical role-playing games from Idea Factory, Compile Heart and Red Entertainment. Their main distinguishing feature from their rivals is the "generations" system. Here, the protagonist for each generation may pursue one of several female characters in dating sim-style gameplay between battles, with the next generation's protagonist being determined by who their parents are and what their stats were. It's an interesting mechanic that adds some replay value to the game as a whole.
There were rumblings about a PC release of the first game in the series a little while back when someone found mention of it in Steam's files, but it wasn't until this week that its existence was actually confirmed beyond all doubt. See? Proof.
The PC version is brought to us by Ghostlight, which is a name you might not know in the States. Ghostlight has a long history with Agarest and with JRPGs in general, though, since they're the company who has brought a significant number of them to Europe, particularly where developers and publishers like Atlus and Aksys, the latter of whom published Agarest in the States, don't have a prominent European presence.
The game releases officially in two weeks' time, but you can preorder it now. By doing so, you'll get 20% off the normal price along with seven free DLC packs that you'll otherwise have to purchase separately.
Totori and Meruru Go Overtime with Rorona
I only started playing Atelier Rorona recently, but my desire to go any further was somewhat stymied by the announcement of the upcoming New Atelier Rorona, which adds a bunch of new content and improves the graphics so that the 3D models aren't quite so dissonant with their 2D art. It's for this reason I've also held off purchasing the Vita versions of Atelier Totori and Meruru which, by all accounts from people I trust, appear to be very, very good indeed.
Siliconera reports that not only will Totori and Meruru be making cameo appearances in the main campaign of New Atelier Rorona, but that there will also be an "overtime" scenario in which future incarnations of both Totori and Meruru get stuck in the past, and Rorona must help them return to their own time. The new content will include new event images, a new dungeon and additional voiceovers. It also looks like Totori will have access to a "medical dress" costume, though it looks more like an Alice in Wonderland outfit than anything else. Either way, it's very cute.
Boom! Shake, Shake the, err, PSP
Aksys released Sweet Fuse: At Your Side recently, and I reviewed it here. It's entirely possible that you missed it amid the recent flurry of GTA V content, however, hence the link here.
Short version: Sweet Fuse is very much worth your time if you're a visual novel fan, even if your tastes have typically erred more towards the "bishoujo game" end of the spectrum. Playing a game like this from the perspective of a female protagonist is an interesting experience, and the romance subplots very much take a backseat to a surprisingly compelling narrative.
For those unfamiliar with the game, you take on the role of Keiji Inafune's niece Saki as she works together with six very diverse men in an attempt to thwart the machinations of the dastardly Count Hogstein, who is attempting to destroy Inafune's game-inspired theme park. As ridiculous as the premise is, the story actually turns out to be surprisingly interesting, and structured in such a manner that you really need to play through all the possible routes to completely understand what's going on.
What I've Been Playing
I'm still playing both Final Fantasy XIV and Tales of Xillia well after reviewing them both, so both of them must be doing something right somewhere. Xillia in particular is becoming one of those games I'm starting to get worryingly obsessive over seeing everything it has to offer -- thankfully, a second runthrough isn't all that cumbersome due to the ability to unlock massive experience point boosts and other benefits in New Game Plus. Think I may have left it a bit late for that "eat 800 meals" trophy though.
As for Final Fantasy XIV, I haven't quite hit the level cap yet, and the going's got a little slow. The high-level content is also very challenging, which is good to see -- some players had been complaining that the early game is too easy. Dungeons such as the Sunken Temple of Qarn and solo instances such as a fight against Siren's minions ratchet up the challenge factor significantly, though, so don't count on an easy ride all the way through the game.
That's your lot for now, then. If there's anything you'd particularly like to hear more about in future installments of this column -- or any interesting Japanese gaming-related news you've come across yourself and would like to share -- feel free to post it in the comments and notes. Our aim is to build these round-up columns into your go-to places for discussion and news about your favorite types of games, so jump in any time if you've got something to say!
On that note, I'll see you at the same time next Wednesday. Mata ne!