Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Swooning Over Video Game Nendoroids

Good Smile Company sure knows how to hook me. Since I've sworn not to buy figures for series I'm not a fan of, they just went ahead and announced a bunch of figures for series I'm really into! Not just any series, too – GSC is bringing out a surprising number of video game-related Nendoroids over the next few months, and I'm going to have to be extra careful with my wallet if I want to make it past August with any change left over...

If the general internet's reaction is anything to go by, Nendoroid Link: Wind Waker version is probably the most wanted of all the recent announcements. I'm going to break a few hearts by admitting that though he's adorable, I probably won't be purchasing him since I'm not a huge Zelda fan, and none of his posing options really grab me (let's face it, I'm just making excuses for the sake of my wallet). I love the heart piece accessory, though!

Link's currently available to preorder on Good Smile Company's website, Play Asia, Jlist, and Ami Ami and will be releasing this August. Nintendo fans might also want to check out the Luigi Nendoroid coming out in June, too!

Unfortunately, Rin Ozawa Nendoroid is going to be a little harder to resist! The Touch Detective star comes with her very own Funghi companion, of course, and her design translates really well into Nendoroid form! She looks like she came straight out of the game! Just look at all these posing options:

Rin will be getting an official preview on the Good Smile Company blog on April 30th, where we'll hopefully be seeing more accessories aside from the Funghi. Preorders for the Nendoroid open on May 1st, coinciding with the release of Touch Detective 3 for the 3DS! In the meantime, there are many more photos of Rin, along with a fun promotional video, over at the official Japanese Funghi site.

Now here's the figure that really has me swooning – Aoba from the 18+ BL visual novel Dramatical Murder! His sculpt was first shown at Wonder Festival earlier this year, but they've finally unveiled the color version, and I have to say, he looks amazing! Between him and Gilgamesh, it's really great to see more varied male Nendoroids.

Is it hot in here or is it just me? I can't believe they included a shirtless torso part! If you compare the two photos, you can see that he also has the option to have his headphones on his head or around his neck. What a nice touch! I love the blushing face, too – it'll make him really fun to pose with other Dramatical Murder Nendoroids, if Good Smile Company ever does more. With an anime adaptation coming soon, it's a distinct possibility that they will!

By the way, today is also Aoba's birthday! What better way to celebrate than by preordering the Nendoroid from Ami Ami or Good Smile Company's store? Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until August/September for him to come out, though. I think the fact that most stores don't require payment until the items are in stock is a cruel ploy to get us all to spend more money than we should be on adorable figures!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chic Pixel Plus Episode 18 – Mentally Stable Game Localization

Have you ever wondered, "How can I be as kawaii as Ben Bateman?" Well, today's your lucky day, as the man himself (@benspants) agreed to join me on this little podcast shindig to answer that very question! We even talk about game localization and what it means to be a localization editor, along with Ben's experiences working at Aksys Games, too. In addition to revealing his origins in film (gasp!), Ben agrees to go under the magnifying glass for an onslaught of Twitter questions. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like being in the game localization business, you don't want to miss this one!

After a podcast-length discussion on all things Ben, we then turn to what anime we've been watching (it's a 2.5 hour recording, folks!). Shows discussed include Hunter x Hunter, Chihayafuru, Kill La Kill, and Space Dandy, and Ben also weighs in on Miyazaki's The Wind Rises for good measure.

Note: My audio goes a bit weird around the 50 min mark. Luckily, I was able to fix it, so if it really bothers you just skip a couple of minutes ahead! Sorry about that!

Opening ♫ - Sōkyū no Hikari – Faylan
Closing ♫ - Karuta reading


Monday, April 14, 2014

Interview: HamletMachine on the Starfighter Visual Novel Kickstarter

Time and time again it's been said that women are not a viable market for comic books or video games. Of course, both you and I know that's simply not true, dear reader, but if you're at all like me, you still like to celebrate the times that statement is refuted. And, while the Starfighter: Eclipse Kickstarter isn't explicitly aimed at a female audience, I'm going count it raising over $110,000 at the time of this post (with 11 days left to go!) as one big win for the ladies. 

The Starfighter: Eclipse Kickstarter is helmed by none other than HamletMachine, creator of the original gay erotic sci-fi webcomic Starfighter. If you're not familiar with it, I highly suggest checking it out, but be warned, it's most definitely of the over-18 variety. The comic began in 2008 and has gained a devoted following due to its wonderful fusion of sci-fi drama, sexual tension, and of course, beautiful art. 

As a long-time fan of the series, the announcement of a Starfighter Kickstarter had me at the letter "s," but the niche video game fan in me rejoiced to hear that it would be a visual novel, to boot! While details are being purposefully kept vague, it's clear that Starfighter: Eclipse will be a separate story from the comic, featuring new characters while maintaining the series' original cast. There will alsobe romanceable characters and the same steamy action the comic is known for, making this perhaps the closest to a boys' love visual novel we've ever seen officially in English. But enough about what I have to say on the subject – HamletMachine was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the project, so let's hear what she has to say! 

First, congratulations on the successful funding of the Starfighter: Eclipse Kickstarter! What made you decide to turn your popular webcomic into a visual novel?

Thank you! I think Starfighter's set-up really compliments the visual novel format as far as the comic's focus on character interaction.. it's something I had been thinking on for some time now as I have been making the comic.

You've recently announced that chapter 4 is the last chapter of Starfighter. Do you view the game as a way for fans to get to stay in that world a little longer?

Oh yes, this is a whole game full of new Starfighter content, so hopefully this will be a nice big EU fanfic for everyone to enjoy.

Why did you choose to create Starfighter: Eclipse using Date Nighto's VNengine instead of a more traditional visual novel software such as Ren'Py?

It was really important to me that the game be easily accessible to players and Date Nighto's htmlVN was the perfect solution to deployment details we were considering when we were conceiving our vision for the game!

(there's a great article on Date Nighto and the Starfighter Kickstarter over at Polygon if you're interested in learning more!)

It's clear from your webcomic that homosexual romance is a big theme. Are you inspired by yaoi/BL? Is there a reason you chose not to call Starfighter: Eclipse a "yaoi" VN?

Yes, I am very influenced by these genres; I love the combination of drama, emotional focus, and sexual content. While the Starfighter comic is in many ways a nod to these genres, I hope it's also a bit of a personal departure from it as well. Starfighter: Eclipse isn't directly referred to as yaoi for a few reasons, but also to avoid confusion – "yaoi" is still very much a niche term and not everyone knows what it means, saying something like, "male romance" is more clear about what the game is about!

While you mention in the Kickstarter description that there will be an emphasis on character interaction, there isn't any indication of how many characters will be "pursuable." Are you envisioning multiple endings and romantic possibilities, or is there a specific story you would like to tell?

Oh yes, there is a specific story to tell in Eclipse! I am envisioning multiple endings for different characters but I'm afraid I don't want to spoil too much of the story! You can expect to interact with some of the familiar faces of the Starfighter comic plus some new ones.

Thanks again to HamletMachine for taking the time to chat with me, and a huge congratulations to all involved in the Kickstarter project! I am absolutely thrilled that a project like this is seeing such overwhelming success, and hopefully as a result we'll continue to see more varied game (and comic) endeavours with female interests in mind popping up in Kickstarter or elsewhere. 

But you certainly don't have to be a lady to enjoy Starfighter: Eclipse! If the project sounds up your alley, be sure to read the comic and back the Kickstarter before it closes on the 25th! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Have your cake, and men too, in Tokimeki Restaurant

While there's been a constant stream of otome games, both free and paid, coming out on smartphones in recent years, I've never been drawn to very many of them. My iPhone 4's small screen does not lend itself well to long stints of reading, and one of my favorite aspects of otome games, the voice acting, is often completely absent in smartphone games. But now one game has finally caught my attention... over a year after I originally downloaded it onto my phone!

Tokimeki Restaurant certainly comes from a good pedigree, as it falls into the famous Tokimeki Memorial dating sim series by Konami, specifically the Girls' Side line that is, as the name suggests, aimed at a female audience. But what makes Tokimeki Restaurant different from the official Girls' Side titles that came before it is that it forgoes traditional romance simulation gameplay in favor of restaurant management to get the guy (or, in this case, guys).

The basic premise of Tokimeki Restaurant is that you've landed a job at a cafe that just happens to near a famous talent agency. As such, all the gorgeous idols from the talent agency, specifically the members of two idol groups, stop by the cafe from time to time. Since you act as all but the official owner of said cafe, you can purchase new decor, change the layout, and, of course, decide what food to serve.

Welcome to my little establishment, the busy bee cafe! 
Since Tokimeki Restaurant is a free game with in-app purchases, a familiar stamina gauge rears it ugly head to keep those of us who don't want to pay from playing constantly. All food costs stamina to prepare, with the more labor-intensive dishes requiring a bigger chunk of stamina. You'll need to prepare each dish a certain number of times to level it up, which will often unlock new recipes to try.

I feel a little like the witch in Hansel and Gretel...
Of course, all of this is done to lure in unsuspecting men for you to engage with. It's a strange concept – Tokimeki Restaurant isn't quite a Dinner Dash clone, nor is it a traditional otome game since you're never going down any single character "path" unless you deliberately choose to play that way (and even then, it's very difficult to only romance one guy at a time). Rather, you're simply trying to make your restaurant the best it can be and checking out as many hot guys as frequently as you can in the process!

Because of this, there really isn't much romance per say, and in its absence are quaint little scenes with one or more of the characters that unlock after certain requirements are fulfilled. For example, right now I'm trying to raise my restaurant's proficiency in meat dishes because my one true love Kento has a real "steak tooth," as it were. After five scenes with a character have been unlocked, there will be the opportunity for a thoroughly embarrassing "skinship" scene, which is basically a minigame where you can poke and prod the men to elicit a range of amusing responses. This harkens back to the original Tokimeki Memorial Girls' Side games, but it's really the only thing in the game that is reminiscent of the original series.

Needless to say, I've found myself completely enamoured with this game, but I think it's more for the food than the men! Everything is strangely cute and appetizing at the same time, and since it is free, it's a great guilty pleasure for those few spare moments when I'm caught with nothing else to do (or, more frequently, when I'm multitasking). As it turns out, there were even a couple of pages on the game in the latest issue of B's Log – a clear indication that even over a year later, the game still has many, many fans. The constant new events and merchandise can't hurt, either...

As you can see, there are all sorts of different events, which usually are accomplished by cooking x amount of a certain food. Since I'm all about the deliciously-rendered food items, here are a couple close-ups:

Hina matsuri (girl's day) treats! 

Special sweets for that special someone
I'm not sure how long I'll actually stay with Tokimeki Restaurant due to its highly repetitive nature, but it certainly is adorable and could easily be something I pick up on occasion just to see what new events are going on. Though the game is only available in Japanese, it's easy to make a Japanese iTunes account or download the APK to play the game on Android devices, so don't let that stop you!

If you do intend to check the game out but aren't confident in your Japanese, I highly recommend using these two guides over at Natto Pudding!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Apricotsushi Reviews: Candy Japan

I've always been a little wary of subscription services due to the cost and lack of control over the items one receives, but reviewing my first Japanese snack subscription service, OyatsuBox, a couple of weeks ago has completely changed my mind. As it turns out, it's pretty hard to go wrong with Japanese snacks if you're as big a fan of them as I am! 

Mister Donut now has cronuts! Why are Japanese sweets always so amazing?
After realizing how great a Japanese snack subscription service could be, I really wanted to see how others stacked up. Luckily, the lovely folks at Candy Japan were kind enough to send me a review packet of one of their candy shipments for March. Candy Japan is the same price as OyatsuBox, with a monthly rate of $25 that includes shipping anywhere in the world, but they differ in that they offer not one, but two shipments of candy per month! 

Unfortunately, I was not able to take a picture of the envelope that the items came in due to it getting ruined in a storm (which was totally not Candy Japan's fault, I have a bad mailbox and it just happened to get rained on), but after seeing the items I received, it should be clear that the envelopes aren't all that small! Candy Japan's website specifies that recipients should expect 2-6 candies per month between the two envelopes. They also send a newsletter out a few days after the shipment has been mailed to give some background information on the items. I love how helpful and detailed it is, but if you like the surprise of opening a box and not knowing what's inside, you'll have to be careful not to open the email until after you've received your candy!  

The first item in their 2nd March shipment was an Anpanman chocolate lollipop. It's too adorable! So adorable, in fact, that we need to see it from another angle...

The flavor of the chocolate wasn't anything special, but it was still a tasty and cute treat! I could have sworn I tasted a hint of strawberry in the pink chocolate, but I couldn't see any mention of strawberry in the packaging, so I may have been imagining things... 

I was slightly disappointed that the March OyatsuBox shipment didn't have any "character" snacks, so it was great to see Anpanman candy come from Candy Japan! 

Now this Kracie Popin' Cookin' Kuru kuru takoyaki kit was quite the pleasant surprise! I know these kits are really popular and hard to find overseas, so it was really great to see it included. 

Ok, the back of the packet isn't all that interesting, but it does provide instructions on how to make this takoyaki candy snack. I can't wait to try it out! I'll be filming an Apricotsushi Samples video for this one, so keep an eye out for that! In the meantime, you can watch Candy Japan's how-to video if you're curious to see what it looks like. I think it's great that they included a video in their newsletter showing how to make this kit for those who can't read the instructions.

The last item in the envelope was this bag of sakura mochi Chiroru (aka Tirol) chocolates! The last time I had Chiroru chocolates I was kind of so-so on them, but I am 100% on board anything with mochi in it! I'm not the biggest fan of sakura-flavored things, but if it's mild, it can be very nice. 

But I have to say, I just love these little chocolates! When you bite into them, they have a small amount of mochi in the center. Yum! The sakura flavor was definitely there, making them really unique, but it wasn't strong enough to turn me off. I even had my husband try one, and he gives them a thumbs up, too!

I really enjoyed how fun and varied the items in this Candy Japan shipment were. I suppose if you're not a huge chocolate fan, you might not be as happy with two out of three candies being chocolate-based, but I'm sure Candy Japan has put that into consideration and will follow up with more non-chocolate items in a future envelope.

via Candy Japan

Before I close out this review, I wanted to mention that I found this great 2013 Year in Review post on Candy Japan's website when I was poking around for some information on the company. It's an interesting read for anyone who wants to know more about the inner workings of any kind of subscription service, and I love how transparent the founder Bemmu is with his progress and thought processes. This coupled with his newsletters help give the feeling of a friend sending you some cool Japanese snacks, rather than an impersonal company, which I really appreciate.

If you like the idea of getting two small packages instead of one large one to space out the fun throughout the month, Candy Japan is the perfect Japanese candy subscription service. Their selection of items seems to be really top-notch, though they may be choosing quality over quantity, as some other comparable services may yield a few more candies each month for the same price. They also seem to focus more on candy rather than savory snacks, so if you don't want only sweet items, I might suggest OyatsuBox instead. While you can't go wrong with either service, Candy Japan stands out for their really unique selection of candies and friendly, personalized interactions.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Swooning Over the Monster Hunter 4 Bible and Lagombi Hunter Nendoroid

Anyone who's following me on Twitter is probably well aware that I've gotten in a little, how should I put it, deep into Monster Hunter over the past couple of weeks (I blame MonMonth!). Just how deep, exactly? Well, I ordered this: 

While there are countless in-depth Wikis and guides to Monster Hunter 4 online, I couldn't help but want a physical book that I could refer to for weapon upgrades, monster battling strategies, and, of course, sweet screenshots of all the armour and gear in the game. I was very impressed by the Animal Crossing: New Leaf guide I was gifted a while back, so I figured why not spring for another awesome, comprehensive Japanese game guide?

The full title, by the way, is the Monster Hunter 4 Official Guide Book by Famitsu. I'm told it's the most comprehensive guide available, and it was just released in January of this year. The back cover is simple, yet they manage to pack in quite a bit of info on the obi (extra flap of paper that folds around the bottom)!

The book also comes with these two quick guides for "easy" reference when out in the field, I guess. I've already used the map with gathering point locations a couple of times. Inside the front jacket is a list of key quests, as well. Handy!

And when you take off the slip jacket... an adorable Felyne illustration is revealed! All of the outfits they're wearing are armour sets you can get for your Felyne companions in the game.

The book itself is actually a whopping 1,380 pages, which makes it more than twice as big as my Animal Crossing: New Leaf book! The pages are much thinner, though, so size-wise it's not significantly bigger.

If you buy this book looking for lots of pretty pictures, you're probably going to be sorely disappointed. There are literally pages and pages of stats like the one above! This just shows some weapon upgrade trees and their stats, along with the items required to craft them. Page numbers are provided so it's not hard at all to flip through and find where the items can be obtained.

The chapters, luckily, are broken up with some nice images such as the one above. It's just too bad there aren't more than them! Oh well, I shouldn't have expected an art book.

Ok, I'm going to complain a little bit more (don't worry, I really do love the book!): I wish they had better pictures of the monsters, too! But once again, I can tell they're trying to fit as much information as they possibly can into the book. I love how they detail all of the monster's different attack patterns and how you should fight them. Perfect for the diagram lovers out there!

Now this is a little more exciting for those who don't just want to look at numbers and kanji: armor sets! I always have to check to see how a set looks here before I craft it, because who wants to go into battle donning an ugly set of armour?

And finally, my favourite section – the Felyne armour! I just love checking out all the different outfits! One of my Felyne sidekicks is wearing the Yian Kut-Ku fursuit on the top left corner of the right page. Cute!

I can tell I'm going to be using this book for quite a long time, especially since I've already clocked more than 70 hours into Monster Hunter 4! If you'd like to get your hands on one, they can be ordered for only $23 at CD Japan and other online retailers.

Another Monster Hunter-related item I received just the other day is something I preordered way back last year... the Female Hunter: Lagombi Edition! The Lagombi armour set is undoubtedly my favourite set so far, so as soon as she was announced I scrambled to place a preorder.

I forgot she actually comes with two weapons – a gunlance and a hammer! Since my main weapon is a hammer, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by this revelation. She looks so much like my own character in the game!

Before I get to the real good stuff, I just wanted to note that I think it's a very nice touch that Good Smile Company added a winter mountain scene for the background. It's separate from the box, so you could potentially use it as a backdrop yourself.

Here's what she looks like just out of the box. I absolutely love that they included a Felyne companion along with the two different weapons. I'm not as happy about her facial expressions... It would have been nice if she got one more, or at least something different from her blank main expression and her tearful freaked out face.

The red things are called "action parts" and are supposed to help you simulate battle scenes. I assume one is supposed to be used with the hammer and the other with the gunlance, but I can't help but think they're extremely similar and I could've probably done with just one. Oh well!

And here she is all set up on my shelf with her Felyne companion! I still think her outfit is the best thing about her, but it's a cute Nendoroid all in all. I've done a full video review if you're interested in seeing more:

You can order the Lagombi Hunter Nendoroid at JlistCD Japan, and Ami Ami.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Announcing the Atlus Community Game-Along

I'm having so much fun with MonMonth that I almost don't want to announce the next Community Game-Along, but the show must go on! For April, I've decided to go back to a game developer/publisher, and this time we'll be focusing on Atlus! Atlus has a huge backlog of quality games, including some of the most well-regarded JRPG series around, so there should be plenty of great games to choose from! April is a particularly great time to celebrate Atlus as the company's 28th anniversary is on the 7th, and they will be releasing Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars in English on April 15th!

As always, all you need to do to participate in the month's Community Game-Along is play a game that fits the theme and talk about your experiences using #AtlusApril! Blog posts, podcasts, or anything else where there is discussion of the theme is welcome, and I will round up all of the content created in at least one post for others to check out by the end of the month (if we're lucky and get a lot of participants, I'll do more than one). In the case of Atlus April, I think it would be most interesting to play games developed by Atlus themselves, but if you find that too limiting, there's nothing wrong with choosing a game published by Atlus, as well.

While most of the games that fit this month's theme will inevitably be RPGs, here are a few suggestions of titles to check out:

The Persona series – The Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series is without a doubt Atlus' biggest franchise to date, with the third and forth games spawning both game spinoffs and animated adaptations in Japan. If you're looking to jump in to Persona for the first time, Persona 4 Golden for the PS Vita is a great place to start, as it is considered the most polished game in the series. Other options include Persona 3 Portable (PSP), Persona 3: FES (PS2, PSN), or the fighting game Persona 4 Arena (PS3, Xbox 360). If you want to go back to the very beginning, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is available on PSN, as well.

The Shin Megami Tensei seriesShin Megami Tensei is a little more confusing, as technically nearly all of Atlus' RPGs fall under the Shin Megami Tensei umbrella. Even Persona! But SMT fans are finally able to experience the one that started it all officially in English on iOS, so that's a great place to start if you really want the retro Atlus experience. While not a "mainline" Shin Megami Tensei game, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army is coming to PSN next week, just in time for Atlus month! The game features real-time battles, so if you're looking for something different than your standard RPG, that may be an interesting option.

Perhaps the best mainline SMT game suggestion would be the last year's Shin Megami Tensei IV for the Nintendo 3DS. Since none of the games are directly connected to one another, you'll be fine picking up this entry even with no prior experience with the series. Don't forget, there are also the Devil Survivor titles, too! (Nintendo DS and 3DS)

The Battle B-Daman series –  I don't profess to assume that this would be on anyone's "best of Atlus" list, but for those of you who think you've played everything, here's a goofy little series you may have missed. Both of the Battle B-Daman marble battling games (think Yu-Gi-Oh or Beyblade but with magical marbles) are available brand new on Amazon for less than $10 each, which is quite the feat considering that they're Game Boy Advance games, so if you're looking for something quirky and cheap to pick up for Atlus April, these might be your games!

The Trauma Center series – For those that don't want to play a massive, 100 hour RPG, Trauma Center may be more your speed this April. The notoriously difficult surgeon simulation games will still give you a run for your money, but at least you won't be looking at countless menus and stats. You can get versions of the games for both the Nintendo DS and Wii, but the most recent entry in the series is Trauma Team for the Wii. When are we going to get a new instalment for the 3DS or Wii U, Atlus?!

Catherine (PS3, Xbox 360) – Catherine is an extremely unique game that combines Q*bert-style puzzle games with a surprisingly mature story about a man who finds himself torn between two women and is quickly loosing his grip on reality. This game received great critical acclaim when it came out in 2011, and would be a great pick for Atlus April if you've never had the chance to play it!

Honourable mentions: The Etrian Odyssey series (DS and 3DS), Radiant Historia (DS), Princess Crown (Sega Saturn and PSP, Japanese only).

If you have an questions/suggestions about the Community Game-Along, be sure to leave them in this post! I think I'm finally going to buckle down and start Persona 4 Golden...