All About MikeInJapan
My blog on life and gaming in Tokyo.
It's almost that time of year again - Golden Week!
Golden Week is a string of 3 Japanese national holidays that fall very close to each other. It's become a sort of tradition for Japanese employers to grant their workers a few extra days off to connect the holidays and make an unbroken week of vacation for many.
My employer being extra generous, I've been given 10 straight days of vacation and I'm using it to head back to my old stomping ground, Nagoya.
Since the economy here is in downturn (granted nothing as bad as the States) many employers are offering extra days off to save on labor. A few of my lucky friends get a full two weeks, plus the weekends bookending them for 16 days total.
Anyway, my recent purchase of a Japanese PS3 has left my budget a bit tight this month so instead of taking a trip to Hong Kong like I planned, I'm taking the money saving route of travelling within Japan. If time and money allow I might swing by Kyoto, but in all honesty the place always kind of bored me. Although Japan is known for its natural and ancient beauty, honestly once you've seen one castle and temple you've kind of seen them all.
Nagoya, while not small by any means (it's the fourth largest city in Japan, 3rd largest if you consider Yokohama and Tokyo the same entity) isn't nearly the sprawling Metropolis that Tokyo is, but I've always enjoyed it there. Particularly because I have a huge group of friends there from my college days, and because you can get all the conveniences of a huge, modern Japanese city without the ridiculous crowds of Tokyo.
Speaking of ridiculous crowds, I'm hoping to upload a few pics of the Harajuku shopping arcade and Shibuya crossing; the two places in Japan where you can really get an unbridled feel for how many people there are here.
I anticipate during my stay in Nagoya I should have plenty of downtime, so hopefully those reading can also (finally) anticipate some pics to accompany these blogs.
There's this arcade game I've been playing a lot lately called Lord of Vermillion. If you've ever been to Japan or select few arcades in the west, you may have seen one of these games:
In front of the game screen is an interactive surface on which you place a series of cards with RFID chips in them. The RFID transmits to the system the card type while the surface is able to record the location of the cards.
In this particular game, you play as an anime anti-hero with the ability to summon various beasts and monsters to do your bidding, not unlike a hybrid video-game Magic: The Gathering. You're given so many points to use towards summoning and each creature of course has a different cost. Typically you'll be able to place about 5 or 6 summon cards on the playing surface, although your party can consist of only 3 at a time, plus your player character for a total of 4.
The other two or three summon cards wait in the "stock area" to be called in when you feel the need to switch your playing strategy or when a creature dies - the catch being that you must return to one of three "gates" on your side of the map, enter it, and swap out the creatures.
The point of the game is to destroy your opponent's three "arcana stones" by maneuvering your party within a certain radius and pounding on it, or otherwise deplete your enemy's life force by destroying his or her entire party, which removes a chunk of their overall "arcana gauge". Quick-witted readers may surmise that a good beginning strategy is to meet your enemy's party head-on, destroy them and then attack one of their arcana stones for a double whammy.
Of course, your enemy is also aiming for your arcana stones and this forms the basis for the struggle at hand.
The graphics in the game are cool and pretty detailed. It's been out for about 2 years now and, the Japanese being less graphically obsessed than those in the west, I'd say the graphics are a good pace north of PS2 but a bit south of PS3 or Xbox360. But then you also have the beautifully drawn artwork on the highly collectible cards, which brings a whole new element to the graphics debate. The cards are all brilliantly drawn by many famous artists, notably Todd McFarlane and Yoshitaka Amano (who does the art for a large majority of the FF games).
Getting back to gameplay, adding to the depth of strategy in the game is the fact that, other than arcana stones and your opponent herself, you can also attack a few other things on the map that belong to your enemy:
1) The "search eye" - This is located close to your enemy's gates, past their arcana stones. Destroying it means they can no longer see you on their radar and have to fumble around the map trying to find you when they hear the telltale hammering down of their arcana gauge.
2) The "arcana shield" - This is located near the search eye and destroying it causes all of your enemy's arcana stones to lose a large portion of their defense, making them easier to take out.
3) Gates - Located exactly opposite of your own three gates, destroying one of these means your enemy can no longer use that gate to enter/exit the battlefield. Destroying whichever gate is closest to your one or two remaining arcana stones is a good strategy, or you can destroy all 3 gates, temporarily disabling your enemy from entering the battlefield at all while you pound on his arcana stones. Unlike the search eye and arcana shield which must be manually repaired if you/your enemy wish to use them again, the gates eventually repair themselves.
And that's about all there is to the game. Every arena in the game is laid out exactly the same: 3 gates on either side of the map, the search eye and arcana shield quite close to them, and the 6 arcana stones near the middle of the map, always spaced the same distance apart. While the arenas vary by graphical theme (desert, volcano, palace, etc.), none of them are particularly eye catching and you eventually learn to ignore them entirely - which is all the better given the intensity of every battle.
Of course your summon cards are important and this is the whole crux of the game: you can play story mode and beat the first few levels with your starter pack, but you must continue playing over and over in order to receive more cards (you're given one new one, directly out of the machine, for every continue), in order to put together stronger parties and develop better strategies. Every starter pack contains identical cards and there are no booster packs, so you must continue over and over to get stronger. This system is so addictive, I've heard that Square-Enix has recieved upwards of 4 billion yen in profits from Lord of Vermillion.
The summon cards look complex (especially in Japanese) but they essentially come down to a few basic ideas: The standard HP, attack and defense, their movement speed, a strong element, a weak element, and a special ability.
Furthermore, most summons are particularly adept at destroying either shields, gates, search eyes or arcana stones - although those that are good at destroying arcana stones are also always painfully slow, and since your party always sticks together, you are only as fast as your slowest summon, making these guys a risky choice.
Special abilities also typically fall under one of a few categories: a strong attack against all enemies, a super strong attack against one, buffing your party's stats or weakening those of your enemy, granting invulnerability to certain elements or inducing a weakness to one in your opponent, laying some kind of elemental trap on the battlefield, the rare heal and a few oddballs.
This is actually my biggest complaint with the game: even the rarest cards, while possessing some kind of wicked special, are balanced against even the most common of cards. ie, the super rare war lion, while strong and with a great, unique special, sacrifices HP and Defense, while the super common Cerberos, which comes in everyone's starter pack, has a pretty cool special and a good balance of HP, Defense and Attack. In other words, depending on the situation, despite one being super rare and one being ultra common, both carry the same value in battle.
The other issue is that the relatively small pool of special ability categories means that the strategy is actually fairly shallow. There are only so many types of parties you can put together - Some of the common ones, for example:
1) speed party- A group of summons who all have the highest speed. A typical strategy here is to rush to the enemy's gates and arcana shield, take them out and pound on their arcana stones, hopefully without even having to fight them.
2) Arcana killers- A party of those super slow guys that are good at killing arcana stones. This ability stacks so having 3 of them makes swift work of arcana stones.
3) Elementalists - A party that has the ability to grant elemental immunity while giving the enemy's party a weakness to your party's element of choice.
4) Attack party- Every summon in the group has a super strong physical attack, hopefully making short work of enemies regardless of their element or strength. I preferred this group until I started to lose a lot online.
The best strategy really appears to be going with some kind of mixed party: online you see a lot of players with an arcana breaker, a buffer and a direct attack guy.
One strange element of the game is that not only your player character, but also your summons gain experience. This leads to a weird dynamic: although you collect more and presumably better cards while you play, there are often cases in which it makes more sense to stick with your old cards since they're a higher level. The level information is saved on your save data card and progression is slow. Many online players have extremely high level cards, indicating that they play consistently with the exact same party.
Lord of Vermillion is a really fun game that I think has potential to be really successful stateside, although I can't imagine it being released any time soon. Here in Japan there are already several other arcade card games rising up to overshadow it and it actually seems like Lord of Vermillion only has about a year left before it becomes obsolete.
16Mar 09Reading comments on Gamespot during coverage of the Tokyo game show, I think it's safe to say a lot of readers are really interested in gaming and life in general in Japan.
It's a hell of a lot different.
I moved to Japan for the first time a few years ago and had a blast as an irresponsible college student. But after that first taste, those that want to remain in Japan have to pay a price - they have to get responsible. So I started a job and now I spend my days playing all the newest games in the arcades, eating yakisoba and drinking Asahi Super Dry.
If anyone wants to know any of the specific aspects of life in Japan, just drop me a comment and I'll do my best to take requests. But first, here's an introduction to the housing situation here in Japan: My room is essentially a shoe-box. Here room size is measured in Tatami mats; each tatami mat being roughly 3 x 2 feet. My room is roughly 6 tatami mats. I live in a guest house with a shared kitchen, bathrooms and showers, though hopefully that will change soon. The accommodations are cramped to say the least, so most of Japanese society takes to the streets to blow off some steam. There's a head-spinning variety of shops and services, places to drink, places to eat, places to party. Perhaps to the average gamer, the most important facilities are of course the arcades and game shops, but also the "Manga Kissaten", or Media Cafe, that provides game systems, powerhouse computers, and tons and tons of manga and anime to be used at the customer's discretion while they rent a room at an hourly rate. There are also some other diamonds in the rough like a bar in Shibuya done up to look like the bridge of a Gundam space frigate. But I'll get to all those in good time. Rent is expensive. My tiny place is about a half an hour outside of downtown Tokyo (in other words, half an hour away from anything interesting) and still costs me about 500 dollars a month plus utilities. But thanks to super convenient public transportation, getting in and out of the City is a breeze.. Well... except the rush hour trains in which people pile on like sardines in a can - these can get extremely uncomfortable especially if you get stuck in the middle of a group of salarymen with alcohol on their breath. But sometimes it works the other way around and you get stuck in the middle of a group of giggly Japanese women. Speaking of the City, I'm off there now, so for my first blog I leave you with a selection of pictures: