Friday, March 27, 2015

Which old or new games should I start playing to help me learn Japanese?

Well, there you have it: I'm trying to learn Japanese. Again.

You may remember that I said this very same thing (well, not the "again" part) a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, after memorizing the language's katakana and hiragana syllabaries and then beginning the process of learning actual words and grammar, my studies fell off a cliff. I don't remember what prompted that plumet, but I'm pretty sure it had to do with a deluge of freelance writing assignments.

Dragon Quest (Famicom)

Given the amount of time that has passed since that original, aborted attempt, I basically was forced to go back to the beginning for this second one. I'm already back to where I left off, though, thanks in large part to a couple of handful of apps I added to my phone a couple of weeks ago.

I'm going to keep using those apps, as well as a few new ones and even the GENKI series of textbooks, to continue my studies, but I also want to toss some slightly more entertaining, real-world "lessons" into the mix this time around. Specifically, I want to use Japanese games to bolster what I learn about the language via the above-mentioned applications.

Some of the games I'm currently considering for this endeavor:

Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari (aka Great Greed, GameBoy)
Chocobo no Fushigina Dungeon (WonderSwan)
Dragon Quest (Famicom)
Lunar: Samposuru Gakuen (Game Gear)
Madou Monogatari (Game Gear)
Mother (Famicom)
Pro Tennis: World Court (PC Engine)
SaGa (GameBoy)

I'm not far enough along in my studies to understand all of the Japanese text these games are sure to throw at me, but I should be able to understand the bulk of the katakana that pops up, plus I plan to regularly look up words that make use of hiragana.

Mother (Famicom)

I pretty much pulled the selections above out of thin air, by the way, so if any of you know of other games--I'm especially interested in hearing about any Japanese 3DS, DS, PSP or Vita games that could help me expand my vocabulary--that you think would be useful for this purpose, please share their names in the comments section below.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Manual Stimulation: Awatama (DS)

There's been a whole lot of Awatama chatter around these parts over the last couple of weeks, hasn't there?

First, I published a post about this Japanese DS title's beautiful packaging (seriously, check it out if you haven't done so already), and then, just yesterday, I showcased the game, which is known as Soul Bubbles in other regions, in the latest entry of my still-chugging-along "A Decade of DS" (or #ADecadeofDS) series.

As such, I thought it would be fitting to devote a "Manual Stimulation" post to it as well--despite the fact that Awatama's instruction manual isn't quite as thrilling as its box art or gameplay.



That's not to say this booklet is a complete dud, of course. One look at its front and back covers is all you should need to be convinced of that. (Click on any of these scans if you want to take a closer, and much better, look at them, by the way.)



The art that appears on the right-hand page above is similarly wonderful, if you ask me. Hell, it may be even prettier than the art that's used on the manual's covers.





The next few pages aren't as exciting, I'm sad to say, although the rather tiny illustration on the left-hand page above, which shows Awatama's protagonist snoozing, nearly makes up for it.





One detail that I really like about this instruction manual is how the edges of its pages progress from one color to another in a rather subtly appealing manner.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#ADecadeofDS: Awatama (aka Soul Bubbles)


Amount of time devoted to this game in the last week--Three hours, 11 minutes.

Most recent boss toppled, location reached or milestone achieved--I've finished all of the stages in the first two worlds, Tir Tairngire and Altjeringa (no, those aren't typos), and I've just started tackling those of the third, Tomo-Kahni.

Overall comments on the experience--As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before (either here on this blog or elsewhere), this isn't the first time I've played this Mekensleep-developed DS game. My initial experience with it happened a good number of years ago, although enough days, weeks and months have passed since then that pretty much all I can remember of it is that I enjoyed its unique, stylus-centric gameplay.

That's still the aspect that most stuck out at me during my second playthrough of Awatama (known as Soul Bubbles outside of Japan), but it's far from the only one.

For instance, Awatama is really easy on the eyes, which is especially surprising when you consider it's a DS game. It would be easy to credit that to its designers' decision to focus more on sprites than polygons, which often tend to look a bit rough given the dual-screened handheld's lack of horsepower, but that's only a fraction of the story. The rest of the story, in my opinion: the painterly art style as well as the subtle, natural colors employed while creating its graphics.

Awatama's also easy on the ears, although most people aren't going to proclaim its soundtrack to be akin to the second coming of Nobuo Uematsu, as the music here is more atmospheric than bombastic. Atmospheric is far more fitting for this serene game than bombastic ever would be, though, so don't take that as any sort of negative.

All that said, the gameplay really is the star of this particular show. At its heart, Awatama is a physics-based action game--although "action" implies an experience that is far more harried than what players actually encounter.

How so? Well, for the majority of your playthrough, all you're tasked with is transporting a bubble filled with wisp-like spirits from one end of a cavernous stage to another. This is accomplished by using your stylus to lightly flick at the lower screen of your trusty DS (or 3DS, if you're like me), an exercise that causes the game's grape-coifed protagonist to blow air of varying strengths in whichever direction you happen to swipe.

The best thing about Awatama's gameplay "hook": getting a hang of it takes seconds. That's not to say all you do while making your way through this cart is push around bubbles. No, you also create, split, join, deflate and burst them--using a handful of animal-themed masks that can be accessed with a simple press of the system's directional pad.

Add to that a number of puzzle-solving elements--an example: make a water-filled bubble so that when it pops, it puts out a fiery barrier and allows you and your flock of spirits to continue along their merry way--and you've got yourself portable title that's sure to thrill--or at least soothe--regardless of how much time you put into it.

Will I continue to play this game in the coming days, weeks and maybe even months?--Most assuredly. My goal is to finish all of its levels at least once--although I'm not sure I'll ever feel like returning to the bulk of them after that. Which is completely OK, as I'll likely have put at least five or six hours into the game by the time that comes to pass.

Do I recommend it to others?--Based on all of the above, what do you think? Of course I recommend it to others, Unfortunately, copies of the European and North American versions of the game bear cover art that's far less beautiful than what graces the front side of the Japanese iteration, but everything else is nearly identical (save the design of the protagonist) so I can't really suggest you ignore the former in favor of the latter--unless, of course, you're like me and more than a smidge loony.

Next up--My World, My Way


See also: previous 'A Decade of DS' posts

Monday, March 23, 2015

While we wait for me to get off my lazy butt and begin to play The Legend of Legacy (3DS), let's drool over its lovely packaging

An admission that should shock no one who has been visiting this blog for any length of time: since my copy of The Legend of Legacy arrived on our doorstep a couple of weeks ago, the only "action" it's seen so far has involved me groping and ogling and photographing its packaging--and not necessarily in that order.



All of the groping, ogling and photographing surely make sense, though, right? I mean, just look at the snapshot above, which showcases the art that graces the covers of this Japanese 3DS RPG's game and soundtrack cases.


The interior of The Legend of Legacy's game case is worthy of some meaningful stares, too, thanks to the attractive character art that peeks through its many openings. 



The game's fold-up manual and cart label are lookers, too, as this next shot proves. I especially love the art showcased on the manual's front side, which calls to mind the art that's often been produced to promote Square Enix's wonderfully weird SaGa series over the years.



Unsurprisingly, the interior of The Legend of Legacy's soundtrack slipcase (below) is more of the same--as in, it's equal parts beautiful and SaGa-esque.




The backside of the game's case, and the backside of the soundtrack's slipcase, are nearly as pretty as their fronts. Seriously, the art included here is so SaGa it's almost ridiculous--which of course is why I love it so much. It almost seems inspired by art nouveau, but with a Japanese twist.



With all of that said, have any of you played The Legend of Legacy yet? If so, what do you think of it? 

And if you haven't played the game, what do you think of the box art, cart label, soundtrack and more shown throughout this post?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Which game should I play next as part of my #ADecadeofDS series?

I know they're not the most popular of the many series I've started over the years (a few of which have fallen by the wayside, it pains me to admit), but I'm really having fun digging through my ever-growing stash of European, Japanaese and North American DS games so I can play and write about them in one of my "A Decade of DS" columns.


That said, I'm having a hard time deciding which DS game I should go with for my next such write-up, which will be published in about a week (following the one I publish about Awatama, aka Soul Bubbles).


So, I thought I'd ask all of you to help me choose. I'm not going to ask for you to name random suggestions, though; instead, I'd like you to select one of the following:

Contact
Mr. Driller Drill Spirits
My World, My Way
Pac-Pix

Not that it matters, but the first two DS titles are the European versions of the games, while the third one is the North American release and the fourth is the Japanese iteration.


And what if no one votes, or if some folks vote and there's a tie? In that case, I guess I'll just flip a coin or something.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Guess what? I'm also on Google+

I have a feeling very few of you are on Google+, but if you are, I thought you might like to know that I'm now on sharing links, thoughts and things of a like nature on that oft-ignored social-media site via google.com/+BryanOchalla.

I've actually had a Google+ account for ages now, but I only began using it in the last couple of weeks due to learning that the powers that be at Google apparently give added weight to links and shares and such that come from their social-media offering.


I don't make a dime from this blog at the moment and probably never will, so I'm not sure why that matters to me, but I guess that's a conversation that's best left for another day and another post, wouldn't you agree?

Anyway, if by some chance you do have a Google+ account, I'd of course love it if you'd add me to one or more of your circles, share my links now and then or simply make a comment should you ever feel the itch. Also, let met know your name, username or Google+ handle so I can follow you back and ensure ours isn't simply a one-way social-media relationship.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I know I'm in the minority in wanting this, and I realize Square Enix wouldn't give it to us even if I weren't, but I'd really like to see some sort of follow-up to Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

I've been fascinated by this weird Final Fantasy spin-off title, originally released in North America in 1992 and then released elsewhere the following year, since I first heard of it in the run-up to its launch.


That said, I've never actually owned a copy of the game, which goes by all sorts of other names--like Final Fantasy USA in Japan and Mystic Quest Legend throughout Europe--outside of the U.S., and which was directed by Kouzi Ide (who also had a hand in Rudra no Hiho for the Super Famicom and Final Fantasy Legend III for the GameBoy).

I did put a good amount of time into it over the course of a month or so back when I was a teen, though, courtesy of the local grocery store that rented out movies (VHS tapes, not DVDs) as well as all sorts of video games (systems, too).


I wasn't able to finish the game during that particular foray, although I definitely made it pretty far into its adventure (which exists in some sort of strange middle ground between mainline Final Fantasy titles and the oddball SaGa series), and I've always wanted to go back to it and see how to story wraps up. 

I've also always wanted to see another such game from Square Enix--with a straight-up sequel being preferred, of course, but an "inspired by Mystic Quest" effort also being acceptable.


What do all of you think about this idea? Would you like the same, or is a modern follow-up to Mystic Quest about the last thing you'd like to see from Square Enix at the moment?

While we wait, I'll strongly consider searching for a and picking up a copy of the original. In fact, maybe I'll buy the Japanese version, as I've always liked its rather triumphant box art.