Sunday, August 31, 2014

Catch-Up Corner: Pondering the New 3DS and Funassyi

Just my luck – the one day I decide to go to bed at the ripe hour of 9 pm, Nintendo decides to hold a major Nintendo Direct! When I woke up the next morning, all the internet was abuzz with news of the New 3DS. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what it's all about... and what's up with that awful name!

new Nintendo 3DS models
Coming to Japan on October 11th!
I know a lot of people were clamoring for an additional thumb stick, so it's great to see Nintendo finally add one in. Apparently it's closer to the GameCube's C-stick than the circle pad that's been on the left hand side of the 3DS since the original model... Honestly, I can't say much about that since I never owned a GameCube and don't have a whole lot of experience with the controller. I'm sure it will function fine for things like the camera in Monster Hunter 4G, but the size and positioning puzzle me a little, as it seems quite close to the command buttons. 

Speaking of those buttons, though, I absolutely love the fact that they're colored like the original SNES buttons. What a neat touch! It looks great on the smaller new 3DS model, but it's a shame they didn't go with the same color scheme on the new 3DS LL/XL models. 

Since there are plenty of sites going into all the juicy details, I won't bore you with all of the specifics of the new models, but other improvements I'm particularly intrigued by are the improved 3D capabilities and enhanced CPU. I hardly ever use the 3D when playing now, but the idea that it can be viewed without holding the 3DS the perfect distance and angle from your face is pretty exciting, and makes using the 3D much more appealing. 

Xenoblade Chronicles art
Yet another game I've been meaning to play... 
All I really understand about the enhanced CPU is that it will allow for more technically robust games to come out on the system, such as the port of Xenoblade Chronicles that was announced in the same Nintendo Direct. Unfortunately, this also means that games developed for the new 3DS will not work on old 3DS models... Which makes one wonder, will Nintendo and 3rd party developers gradually move over to the new system, or will it be somewhat of a flop, like DSi-exclusive games were in the past? 

Though I can't say I was personally hoping for a new 3DS model anytime soon, all of the new features do sound pretty appealing. Unfortunately, I just don't have it in my budget to buy a new one in the near future, and a single exclusive game isn't the push I need to break the bank for it just yet. Most likely, I'll wait until there's a limited edition system and game I'm really excited for. 

Now, I may seem like a person that likes pretty much any and all cute things from Japan. But, believe it or not, there are some things I just don't "get." Case in point: Funassyi (pictured above). The yellow pear character is an unofficial mascot for Funabashi, Chiba, but has still managed to become immensely popular in Japan over the past year or so. I had no idea just how popular it was until I went to Tokyo last month and saw for myself how it's permeated any and all media in the country. In fact, Funassyi even features quite heavily in the promotional material for the arcade game Gunslinger Stratos 2

I understand that the idea of a mascot character speaking and moving around in a crazy manner is rather novel, but I actually find Funassyi really irritating! Is this a sign that I'm getting old? Am I no longer hip? I guess I'll go back to my rocker on the porch and yell at a few kids. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Anne in Japan 2014: Artnia Square Enix Café

For an anime and video game nerds such as myself, there are a near limitless number of themed cafés waiting to be dined at in Japan. Since I usually visit Osaka when I do get the chance to go to the land of the rising sun, I've missed out on all of the exciting themed cafés in Tokyo, of which there are many. One such café is the Artnia Square Enix café, which opened at the end of 2012 in Shinjuku. Now, I can finally say I've made the pilgrimage every Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest fan yearns to take!

Since Artnia is located in Shinjuku, here's a street shot I took that evening to set the scene. While the café is actually located closer to the Higashi (east) Shinjuku station, I had some time to kill before my 8:30 meeting time with Tasmanian Twitter friend Rowan (@link6616), so I walked there from the main Shinjuku station. Did you know Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world, with over 3.6 million people passing through it every day? And with over 200 exits, it's notoriously confusing to navigate!

After making my way to the calmer east side of Shinjuku, I finally located the Shinjuku East Side Tower where the Square Enix main office and Artnia café are located. After looping around the perimeter of the building in search of the egg-shaped café, I finally spotted my destination:

Forgive the poor quality photo, but the café was surprisingly difficult to photograph, and it probably didn't help that I was there at night. Here's the posh lit sign that greeted me on my way in:

After finally meeting up with Rowan and making our way inside, it was time to order some treats! We both decided that we'd stick to dessert... After all, it's usually the desserts that are the most creative in themed cafés.

Here's what it looks like inside! It's not the most flattering picture, but it does give a sense of how big the café is... which is actually surprisingly small! I don't think more thank 15 people could be seated at a time. The red area at the back left is actually a display room for all kind of fancy Square Enix merchandise, from Play Arts figures to prohibitively expensive Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy-inspired jewellery. 

Oh, and before you ask – no, I don't know that white guy in the photo! We just happened to be seated next to trio of foreigners. 

Even though I perused Artnia's menu on their website, I was surprised to see the special The World Ends With You and Dragon Quest menus in addition to their usual fare. While I desperately wanted to try the chocobo pancakes or buster sword parfait, the Dragon Quest limited-time menu caught my eye, as not only did it offer an adorable crème brûlée dessert, but a special gift, as well!

Actually, Rowan was so taken with this dessert special that he ordered the same thing! I think it's safe to say that we were both thrilled by our adorable crème brûlées and the take home slime mugs they came in. The waiter even brought over a bag and box for us to use, and as you can see from the above photo, the crème brûlée itself was in a separate bowl so the cup didn't get dirty.

As you can see, I was quite thrilled to eat the slime-shaped piece of chocolate that adorned the crème brûlée. The whole dessert was very nice, and for only about $15 for the brûlée and cup, I thought it was very reasonable! For those of you who read my recap of the Rilakkuma Café at Tower Records, I was quite unhappy with the quality/quantity of food served, considering how high the price was. While Artnia wasn't exactly cheap, I think their prices were much more reasonable, and I left feeling very satisfied.

Of course, how could I go to the Square Enix café and not try one of their special coffees? Though you're not able to choose what picture you get, they did ask whether I would like a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy design. Why, Final Fantasy, of course! I believe they also do chocobo coffees, but I had no complaints with the moogle design I got. Rowan ordered a juice, and he was treated to his choice of a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy coaster to take home.

After finishing our meal, it was time to get shopping! Please forgive the general lack of photos of inside the café itself – again, the poor lighting combined with my little point-and-shoot camera didn't make for the best photography. Hopefully you can get an idea from the above photo what the layout of the shop was like. Overall, it was very white, modern, and pristine! 

I was slightly disappointed by the selection of the shop, simply because there weren't very many exclusive items, which is what I'm after when I go to a themed café. They did have some amazing keychain replicas of iconic dishes from the café such as the chocobo pancakes, but they were a whopping $18! On one hand, I still regret not buying one, but on the other, $18 is just too much! In the end, I walked away with just one item, this Artnia-exclusive CD as a souvenir for Mr. Sushi: 

The CD is called SE Tracks 99, and as the title states, it consists of 99 tracks. At only $5, I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it turns out it's a collection of in-game creature sound effects, from chocobos to moogles and all oddities in between. Each track is only a second or two, so it's not really something one would listen to for fun, but I still think it was a fun little souvenir!

Finally, it's time to take a look at the slime cup that came with my crème brûlée! Here's the adorable box it came in. As you'll see shortly, the parts of the above design are replicated on the cup itself. 

It was really hard to get a good photo of the outside, but here it is! I just love the little slime border pattern. Check out that smiling slime in the middle! It's such a cute little detail. 

And here's the bottom of the cup! I love when there's a little surprise like that inside. It definitely puts as smile on my face to see the little slime staring up at me when I finish off a good cuppa. 

I think it's probably already pretty clear, but I had an amazing time at Artnia! Though the store lacked in affordable exclusive goods to purchase, it definitely made up for it in the amazing selection at the café. I'd definitely make it a priority to stop by if I'm ever in Tokyo again... I still need to try those pancakes! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Apricotsushi Reviews: MIKUCOLOR: Kei's Hatsune Miku Illustration Works

I may be new to the world of Hatsune Miku art books, but Udon Entertainment certainly isn't. In fact, MIKUCOLOR: Kei's Hatsune Miku Illustration Works is the fifth release in the company's Hatsune Miku art book series! What sets it apart from previews volumes, however, is the fact that MIKUCOLOR is exclusively dedicated to the works of official Vocaloid artist Kei, covering his illustration work for DVD jackets to magazine covers. It's a great opportunity to see so much of Kei's work all in one place, especially considering how difficult it is to source many of the products his work appears on outside of Japan! 

While I personally don't follow Kei very closely, I always recognize his etherial, watercolor-like style when I see it in Vocaloid promotional materials. What I didn't realize, however, is that he doesn't always limit himself to his usual blue palette... 

The image above is from my favorite series in the book, the Comptiq fruits illustrations. Though I certainly can't knock Kei for depicting Miku in her usual blue glory, it was great to see an illustration that had a warmer palette. I particularly like how her hair fades into orange, as well. 
Even when using a blue-centric palette, Kei's work always manages to be cheerful and vibrant. I also really enjoyed the Snow Miku illustration series, as it's nice to see her in something different than her traditional grey and teal outfit.

MIKUCOLOR is a whopping 128 full color pages, grouped into sections based generally around the media that the illustrations originally appear in. Of particular note are the four exclusive illustrations featured at the front of the book – two of Miku, one of Rin and Len, and one of Luka! 

So, while the book most definitely centers on Miku, there are a handful of illustrations of the other Crypton Vocaloids. Rin, Len, and Luka get the most appearances, however, with Kaito and Meiko showing up only very briefly, which is a shame for those who consider the latter two among their favorites. That said, while the other Vocaloid illustrations are certainly appreciated, the book is clearly aimed at covering mostly Kei's Miku works. 

The folks at Udon Entertainment were sent me a PDF version of the book to review, so though I can't comment on the physical quality of the book, I'm confident that MIKUCOLOR will delight Hatsune Miku and Kei fans alike. For more information on the book and where you can purchase a copy yourself, here's the official rundown from Udon Entertainment:

MIKUCOLOR: Kei’s Hatsune Miku Illustration Works
Collecting the artwork of official Vocaloid character illustrator, KEI! Mikucolor collects KEI’s dazzling illustrations of your favorite Vocaloids like Luka, Rin & Len, and of course the supreme musical idol herself – Hatsune Miku! Included are magazine & book illustrations, DVD covers, rare pinups, exclusive new artwork, and much more!
Price (U.S.): $39.99
ISBN: 1-927925-08-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-927925-08-9
Format: Softcover
Page Count: 128, Color
Size: 8.25″ x 11.75″

Monday, August 25, 2014

Catch-Up Corner: FFXIV: A Realm Reborn's birthday and stressing over figure purchases

Happy almost Birthday, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn! I don't play you anymore, but I'm so glad you're still going strong!

art by Junko Watarai (source)
That's right, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn turns one year old on Wednesday, August 27th! It's crazy to think that this time last year I was obsessively leveling my cat boy Chive. While I never expected to enjoy, much less stick with, an MMO, FFXIV: ARR hooked me during the open beta, prompting me to preorder the limited edition and be a paying subscriber for nearly six months! Every time I hear about new content and patches (did you know you can dye your chocobo now?!) I feel a twinge of regret that I let my subscription lapse, but I ultimately felt I just didn't have the time to merit paying the monthly fee... Plus, I have so many other games I want to play!

Still, that doesn't stop me from loving the world of Eorzea and looking forward to hearing about team's plans for the game's future. With over 2 million subscribers, I have a feeling it'll be around for a while! If you're like me and prefer to enjoy the media surrounding FFXIV: ARR without actually playing the game, I highly suggest checking out the awesome anniversary illustration countdown that I took the above image from.

In other news, it's on secret that I've been on a bit of a figure kick lately. While I've mostly been sticking to Nendoroids and am trying to stay far, far away from scaled figures (we'll see how long that lasts), the impending release of the Etrian Odyssey IV sniper gal, pictured above, had me pining over whether or not I was ready and willing to enter the world of plastic models.

Now, plastic models are different from other figures in that you are required to assemble, and often paint, the figure yourself. While I do consider myself relatively crafty, I don't think I'm ready to go full-on plastic model enthusiast and buy all the paints and tools needed to assemble them, which is why I felt so torn about the sniper girl. According to numerous blogs and descriptions on Japanese sites, the sniper girl comes pre-painted, so she's supposed to look relatively good even if you don't want to bother with painting her. Fingers crossed that that's the case, as I eventually broke down and ordered one! The idea of assembling my own figure does sound like a rather neat project, so worst case scenario, it will be a learning experience that ends in an miserably ugly mess of a figure. But it would be pretty great if she ended looking as neat as the above photo, don't you agree?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Anne in Japan 2014: The Game Haul

One of the best things about going to Japan is the chance to go game shopping. Last year I bought a whopping 24 games when I was in Osaka on vacation for three weeks, but this year I had to be slightly more frugal. Still, I think I came back with quite a few goodies, including some rare and very cheap finds! 

If you add it all up, I purchased a total of 13 games this trip, comprised of three PSone games, one PS2 game, one PS3 game, one PSP game, two Vita games, one GBA game, three DS games, and one 3DS game. I'm actually pretty impressed by the relatively even sampling of consoles on display in my haul overall! While I may not have bought quite as many games as I admittedly would have liked, that was largely due to the fact that three of the games purchased were significantly more than the few bucks I usually spend per game while in Japan. 

Funnily enough, one of the first game purchases I made also happens to be the one I'm most proud of! Last year I actually got a copy of The Vision of Escaflowne for about $8, but this year I managed to find the limited edition for only $15 in Akihabara, so even though I already had a copy of the game, I absolutely had to add the LE to my collection. It comes with a tarot card set and extra booklet that I'll definitely be showing off more in-depth in a future post.

I'll actually be giving away my extra copy of the game in my August Chic Pixel supporters giveaway, so if you'd like to be in the running, donate $5 or more to support the site and you'll have the chance to win that and some other nifty stuff! My secretary tells me we only have two entries so far, so your chances of winning might be pretty good...

Since I'm talking about PSone games, here are the other two I picked up. The one on the left, Harukanaru Toki no Naka de, is the first otome game in the series by the same name. It was only $1, so I figured I might as well pick it up! On the right however, is a game that I totally stumbled upon by accident while I was wandering around Super Potato in Ikebukuro. Titled Oujisama Lv1, it claims to have RPG elements while apparently having an entirely male cast that may or may not all have crushes on the protagonist. You guessed it: the main reason I picked this up was due to the shōnen ai vibe! After doing a quick search on, it appears my intuition was correct, as the game originated as BL PC RPG that spawned a fan disc and sequel, as well as a manga. I can't wait to see what it's like!

My lone PS2 purchase was the Harukanaru toki no naka de 2 premium box, which came with some art cards in addition to the game itself. What can I say, I'm a sucker for cheap otome games!

... And then there were the slightly more expensive otome games. Uta no Prince-sama Repeat for the PSP was nearly $40, as many otome games on the PSP don't ever drop significantly in price, but it's one I've been meaning to play for a while. After watching the anime, I know I'll probably enjoy it, even though it's very silly!

Yet another otome game! Do you sense a theme? Beyond the Future: Fix the Time Arrows is one of the few otome games available on the PS3, and though I literally know nothing about it, I quite like the art style. For $15, that was enough to sell me on it!

Believe it or not, these two PS Vita games were my most expensive game purchases of the trip. On the left we have the self-explanatory Puyo Puyo Tetris, which I originally planned on buying for PS3 for the couch co-op but ultimately decided it would be more enjoyable on a handheld. I've played a little of it and so far it has reestablished the fact that I'm awful at both Puyo Puyo and Tetris.

On the right, we have a game that actually came out while I was in Tokyo, Corpse Party: Blood Drive! The Corpse Party series are pretty much the only horror games I've ever gotten into, but after XSEED brought the first two for PSP out in English, I've been hopelessly hooked. I haven't really had a lot of time to dig into this one yet, but it's definitely very high on my list!

It's a sad truth that the above game, Ohanayasan Monogatari GBA, is the only GBA game I bought during my trip, despite my obsession with them. It's getting increasingly more difficult for me to find GBA games within my price range that I don't already own! I'd never heard of this one before running into it during one of my routine GBA section checks (of course I had to meticulously go through all the GBA games in every game store I went to), but the cover art was cute and it seems like Harvest Moon... but with flowers. Apparently there's a DS game in the same series that actually looks cuter, so I guess I need to put that on my list of things to get eventually! 

Speaking of DS games, Pokémon Typing DS is one I've had my eye on for quite a while now but never wanted to spend more than a few bucks on, so I was pretty stocked to find a copy with the bluetooth keyboard (pictured in the first photo) for only $5! The bottom game is Chocobo no Mahō Ehon: Majo to Shōjo to Gonin no Yūsha, which is the Japan-only sequel to Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales game. I honestly didn't have this one on my radar at all, but after seeing it for $5 and initially passing on it, I ended up going back to the same store and grabbing it a few days later.

The final DS game I added to my collection was another spontaneous purchase, Ore ga Omae o Mamoru (bottom). I only knew it as an otome game with some RPG elements, but apparently it's also a Metroidvania side-scroller? I'm definitely intrigued, but I don't remember it getting a very good reception when it came out...

Oresama Kingdom: Ikemen Kareshi o Getto Shiyo! for the 3DS (top) is actually a game I had wanted to pick up last summer, but at over $40, I ended up passing on it. I had completely forgotten about ever wanting it until I randomly ran into it in a bargain bin in Ikebukuro the morning of the day I was returning to Australia... And for only $10, I knew I had to grab it! It's one of the rare 3DS games that requires players to hold the system as if it were a book (think Hotel Dusk on the DS), and, of course, it's an otome game. In the case of Oresama Kingdom, I believe it's based on a manga series aimed at elementary/middle school girls. It's currently going for $24 at Play Asia, which is the cheapest I've seen it available online, if you're interested in checking it out!

Well, there you have it – every single game I bought while I was in Japan! If there's any title you'd like to hear more about sooner rather than later, let me know in the comments and I'll prioritize it!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Alice in the Heart Deserves a Better Localization

The Alice in the Country of Hearts series by QuinRose is otome game series that fans have been clamoring to see released in English since the first game was released in Japan on PC back in 2007. Loosely based on Alice in Wonderland, the series is highly regarded for having sharp writing and a refreshingly spunky protagonist, along with a slightly sadistic yet colorful set of suitors. Largely due to this series, developer QuinRose is now a household name for otome game fans worldwide, and the Alice games have even spawned a number of very successful manga adaptations and spinoffs, many of which have been released in English and frequent the New York Times best seller list for manga.

Needless to say, the series has a well-established western audience that has been eagerly awaiting the release of the Alice in the Country of Hearts game for many years. Why is it, then, that when QuinRose finally brought the game over to their English-speaking fans, they couldn't even grace it with a serviceable localization?

Alice in the Heart ~Wonderful Wonder World~ is an iOS/Android port of the PC/PSP remake of the original Alice in the Country of Hearts ~Wonderful Wonder World~ game, which, most notably, featured a complete art overhaul. The first thing that caused alarms to go off for me when I learned of the Alice in the Heart release was the title. Why would QuinRose choose to localize the title as Alice in the Heart when the series has already been established by a number of publishers from TokyoPop to Yen Press as Alice in the Country of Hearts in English? Immediately, it breaks continuity from the very popular manga, and also gives an extremely poor first impression for just not making any sense.

Luckily, the prologue and episode one of the game are available for free, so people can try it out before committing to buy it. All of the screenshots included in this article are from the prologue, as I honestly couldn't bring myself to play any more. I was prepared for a mangled translation going in, and while at first I felt a combination of amusement and disappointment, as I read on, the amusement faded until I was left feeling nothing but frustrated and sad about the state of Alice in the Heart. While I have the Japanese version of Alice in the Country of Hearts for PS2, I was prepared to purchase the version with Japanese voiceovers for $37.99 (it's $24.99 without voiced audio) just to show my support for this and more otome games being localized. Now, I want to implore anyone thinking of shelling out money for Alice in the Heart not to do so until QuinRose fixes the localization.

While otome games on mobile devices have a reputation for getting subpar localization jobs, Alice in the Heart truly takes the cake. I'm sure I'm not the only one who understands how much work it is to translate the wall of text that is a visual novel, but running the Japanese through Google Translate (I can only imagine this is what they did) to save on time/costs is simply not acceptable. In fact, Jenni Lada over at Technology Tell has already written an article calling the release "heartwrenching" and "one of the worst game localizations I've ever seen," and nearly all of the reviews on both the Android and iTunes pages for the game cite the poor translation and/or a bug that causes the game to freeze during the prologue. It goes to show that in a genre that relies so heavily on reading to advance the narrative, the translation is everything, and fans should and will hold popular otome games like Alice in the Heart to such a standard.

With the huge number of quality freelance translators doing work to bring Japanese games out in English available, combined with the number of people that have been long awaiting an Alice in the Country of Hearts game release, there is simply no excuse for Alice in the Heart's poor localization. If you find yourself amused by the gibberish and want to try the game out for yourself, please consider downloading and playing the free portion of the game and then sending QuinRose an email or writing a review telling them you won't pay for the full product until it is in, at the very least, understandable English. The game, otome game fans, and the localization industry as a whole deserve much, much better.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Japan Envy: Card Captor Sakura Bags by Super Groupies

I've always said that the best kind of nerdy fashion is that which incorporates nerd/geek culture in an interesting yet trendy and not completely obvious way, and this new Card Captor Sakura bag line by the Japanese brand Super Groupies does exactly that. They manage to be adorable and functional without screaming "I'm from an anime/manga series!" but also have lots of details that will most certainly appreciate. Let's take a look!

The largest bag, pictured at the top, is a "roll Boston bag" and priced at ¥7,800, while the smaller shoulder bag is ¥4,800. The small red Clow book pouch is for organizing your things within a larger bag, and is priced at ¥3,800. Both larger bags feature iconic bows similar to those found on Card Captor Sakura's many outfits, but a closer look reveals a lot of cool details: 

The zippers are shaped like Sakura's sealing wand when it's in key form!

The inside of each bag is even patterned with a Card Captor Sakura-style print! 

Here's closer look of the print, as seen in the Clow book pouch. The pattern of Sakura, Kero, Spinel, and various accoutrements is really special.  

Both bags also have a faint embossing that says Card Captor Sakura, along with a cute star pendant hanging from the bow. 

Finally, here's a close up of the Clow book pouch. I really love the design on this one!

Card Captor Sakura-inspired bags aren't the only CCS items Super Groupies is offering, though they're definitely the most exciting.

It's hard to make out the design by the ankle, but there are also these Kero "tattoo" stockings. I'm not actually all that fond of these... I think I'd much prefer a pair of stockings with a full pattern like the one featured inside the bags, even if it is a bit flashy (what can I say, I like flashy stockings).

Super Groupies also offers a number of other anime-inspired items, including some gorgeous Revolutionary Girl Utena shoes. I can't say yet whether or not I'll spring for one of the Card Captor Sakura bags, but I know at the very least that I'll keep this brand on my radar from now on!