Trip Roundup!

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Another year, another trip over, but that just means its time to plan the next one! This trip was planned for the summer holiday season in Japan and it showed, as it was very crowded in most places. Well, Japan is normally crowded, but this is a whole lot more crowded than in years past.

Returning to the REMM Akihabara after a 3 year absence, the last stay being only 2 nights before.  This time though I seemed to have fallen into a bit of an odd room. All the prior times I had stayed in the REMM, the room layout was the same… this time however, the layout swapped and the giant window wall…overlapped the bathroom/shower.

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I thought about opening up the shower briefly, but I could clearly see the diners across the street at ChompChomp, and if I could see them, they could see me. So those blinds remained shut for the majority of the time.

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As for new stores in Akiba itself, there were a few and it seems like more may be opening up soon. The big draw many of the new stores have it seems is used goods. As its possible to find all sorts of items used out there throughout Akiba. Though I would never recommend buying any sort of Retro Game in Akihabara itself, you can take a Train 30 minutes north and find much much better deals. I’m also unaware if the non Kanji initiated tourists are aware they are buying used goods. As some of the new shops the only indicator is written in kanji “中古”.

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Since last year a new restaurant called Yakiniku Like opened up right next to the KFC, This place is awesome as its a Yakiniku restaurant, or Japanese style BBQ, designed for solo eaters and being quick and pretty cheap. I got a full set meal with 200 grams of steak to cook on my little grill, rice and miso for roughly 1200 yen. I was in and out in roughly 15 minutes as well. If I could dine like this in the US for $11, I would never eat fast food again. This does bring me back to the dining scene in Japan in general. I really do feel at home there, whether its hitting up Ichiran Ramen, or small Yakiniku joints like this one, or even Yoshinoya.

One thing I do like to sneak in each year is a movie, while I was a few weeks early for the new Konosuba movie, I was glad to catch Weathering With You by Makoto Shinkai. For anyone considering going to a movie over in Japan. Paying a little extra for the Premium Box seats is kind of nice. Though definitely not recommended for couples. It’s pretty much like a first class seat, with privacy walls, and extra leg room with an extra plush chair.

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No trip would be considered complete without a trek to see the Gundam as well as the Gundam base. Given that Comiket and Odaiba Summer Event were both going on in the near vicinity it would be doom to try to fit in many plans around Odaiba during that time. The best way it seemed to me was to squeeze in some time late night after most events ended on the island. And it always seemed to me at least that the Gundam is much better to be seen at night.

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Unicorn is as cool as ever, though part of me does miss the original RX-78. Though it was super packed, and this was late at night when I had thought most would have been heading back by now. This was actually, easily, the largest crowd that I have seen centered around the Gundam itself. It’s possible others had the same idea as me. I also know I saw some who were still lingering around from Comiket.

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So yeah, tourism is definitely on the increase over the last few years. I do fear what Tokyo is going to become during the Olympics. As I can only imagine a giant cluster of aloof tourists not really knowing about any of the unwritten rules of Japanese Culture. Or how crowded the trains will be, and I know the hotel shortage is become a thing too. Given how many business hotels exist… well.. that’s impressive to fill them up.

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For the first time I did walk through the Diver City mall, as many of the stores and areas were having a special Gundam Festival for the anniversary this year, many restaurants had Gundam themed specials and there were various displays like the one pictured above set up throughout. One thing that did catch my eye is that there are a lot of interesting VR attractions in Diver City, most needed more than 1 person so I was unable to try any of them, but do look forward to possible future visits.

 

 

Starwing Paradox

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One of the more cool and neat games to come out more recently in the Japanese arcade scene is Starwing Paradox from Square Enix. As with many of Squares arcade titles, it’s big and flashy. And does take up a lot of space in an area where space is often at a premium.

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In Akihabara for example, one of the, if not the game center capital of the world, Starwing could be found in only a few locations. The only Sega location with it is Sega Gigo located on the south end of Akihabara, the area which used to be reserved for Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna has been replaced by a heck of a lot of Starwing Paradox, outside of Gigo, Tokyo Leisurland over by Kentucky Fried Chicken also carries a few machines. The cost model is different as well, the first play is 200 yen, the first continue is also 200 yen, but the third continue drops down to 100 yen. After that the game is over and you can either start again, or swap out if it is busy.

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As mentioned, the game is crisp, colorful and a lot of fun. The character displayed on the main screen is fully animated and voiced and there are several to choose from. The one pictured above was celebrating her “Birthday” and there were special bonuses related.

But onto the game itself, Starwing does have a relatively sharp learning curve due to the control mechanics and mech customization parts you can unlock. The controls themselves consist of a left and right joystick, as well as a pair of footpedals. The joysticks each have two buttons as well as a scroll wheel type implement on the right joystick. Not to mention the aside from the gigantic main screen of Starwing, there also exists a sub monitor with touch controls.

The gameplay objectives are fairly straightforward at least and is easy to understand even with no knowledge of Japanese. Each map will have several control points, as well as each team will have their base. When one team controls a set amount of the points, typically half+1, then the base becomes vulnerable to attack. The first team to wipe out the enemy bases health wins. Or if it is a timeout, then it goes to the team with the most health remaining.

All in all the game is a blast to play and learn. It’s popularity seemed to be kind of low however, possibly due to the learning curve itself. Each arcade was handing out flyers with free play coupons as well, so they are really trying to push it. The production values are outstanding and the force feedback and the motion from the cockpit itself is a nice touch. I do hope Starwing hasn’t fizzed out by the time I return to Akihabara, because I do want to play it again. As for prospects on it coming to the US, via RD1. I would say its low to improbable and I don’t think I would want it to come either, knowing how well RD1USA upkeep’s their machines, I fear what would happen to a game with as much motion involved as this one.

Girls and Bombs

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Spending some time at the Tokyo Leisureland in Don Quihote, I decided it was time to spend good yen by trying out Bombergirl. As the name implies, its a waifuized version of the popular Bomberman series from Konami. Complete with clothing damage and MOBA mechanics.

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Theres a decent amount of characters to unlock and each have different classes they fit into such as Bomber, Blocker, Attacker and Shooter. As for what the classes actually do is adjust the stat maximums and minimums you can level up to in a match. For instance the character shown above is a very balanced Bomber type, so she can plant up to 5 bombs and upgrade her size and speed 5 times each.

 

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The battles themselves take place in a large arena filled with blocks, bases and teleporters to capture. The blocks drop powerups and stop normal bombs just as you would expect them to. The Bases are the main objective to attack as destroying them will ultimately win you the game. As your team gains experience through bombing things or other girls. You unlock several skills and than be customized and unlocked.

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If you take enough damage, your clothes eventually get ripped to shreds and a large cut pops up. Originally at release the censor bars were not present, but eventually they were added in, not all characters are of the developed type.

I initially wondered how new characters and items were unlocked, and was thinking there was an exp progression or something as it is not really explained, but then the after match happened and I was treated to a Gacha scene.

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By spending an additional credit, you get a spin at the gacha, 2 pulls with the highest rarity items, the characters, having a 6% chance. I drew a few times and did unlock a new character, so I can see it not being too difficult to unlock more.

The gameplay itself was actually a lot of fun. If this game got a home release, minus the exploding clothes, I feel it would actually do really well as it offers the same kind of short burst fun that Wonderland Wars offers but in a Bomberman format.

Akiba Insights

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Rounding up the first full day here in Japan after a year is always difficult since it’s usally very spread about between exploration and game centers. Awake oddly early due to Jet Lag and having nothing to do for 4 hours, I became acquainted with my Ipad and time killer mobile games before heading out. Day one started off at Sega Gigo with some serious Wonderland Wars action, having been sidelined for roughly a year, it was a harsh start as everything was going poorly at first, but that was expected, and eventually the games started going much much better.

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Always willing to try a new drink or two when in Tokyo, I came across a coke energy drink, it was very small, probably only 5oz, and tasted like Pepsi, but it did pack a serious punch, I don’t know whats in this thing but not too many caffinated drinks give me the jitters. Gigo has moved higher on my list so far as usually its more or less the forgotten arcade. But with the re-concentration of games at the other centers, Gigo gives the more quiet and darker approach. Club Sega is still good however, depending on how rowdy the Fate crowd is at the time.

Moving onto Fate GO, a game that debuted last year and was covered in the blog post, this game is still going super strong, though I am not sure as exactly to why. I suppose the waifu factor definitely plays a part of it, but unless I’m missing something, the gameplay is fairly shallow. Some of the rare and desired character cards can fetch $400-$500, so maybe that is a part of it.

I plan to branch out to some other games that have released like Sword Art Online and Chrono Regalia… though both are pretty much non existent in player base.

Onto Akiba in General, It is really crazy to see the vast increase in tourism that has happened just over the past few years. Back in 2013 the hotel options in Akiba proper were pretty much limited to the REMM and Washington Hotel. Now in addition to those two there is the APA, Hotel Resol, Hotel Mets (Opening Soon literally across the street from a Sega buiding), There’s even a Best Western and more look to be in construction. It also shows from a crowded point of view, as many of the shoppes and restaurants can get very full and difficult to navigate.

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They say Akiba never changes…

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And they would be right, a short little update on the shortened day after arriving in Japan. I made it to the REMM Around 4:30 in the afternoon, so there was a good amount of time to explore or otherwise re-familiarize with the surroundings. Jet Lag was a major issue this time around as it seemed to hit me a bit harder than usual, probably due to lack of sleep the night before.

One thing I was very curious about was the new SEGA building that sprang up recently… I knew beforehand that the majority was crane games, which is true. What I didn’t know however was what the mysterious 4th floor, that my research only listed as “games”, could be… and I was actually surprised for the first time in awhile…. Sega for some reason decided to put in an American themed arcade floor….

It was pretty corny and did remind me of something like Gameworks from the U.S. the only real interesting thing were the pong machines.

After a bit more exploring and Pepper Lunch, I wanted to find Starwing Paradox, a newer mech combat game. It wasn’t in any of the standard arcades I visit, so I thought I would check out Leisureland, since they normally have some odd games here and there. My hunch proved to be correct, and upon discovering the machine, I could more than see why it is not in many locations… The game is frackin massive.

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I sat down… put on the seatbelt (yeah there’s a seatbelt) and popped in my Yen. The game is very sharp looking and modern with very crisp art. I also got to take part in the 30 minute long tutorial. Usually I skip these things, but when faced with a control scheme of two joysticks, 2 foot pedals, a plethora of buttons and a touch screen. I felt it best to take part.

Without going too much into detail, that will probably come in a later post, this game is bananas. It has a very high level of complexity, plus the motion from the chair and force feedback really sold it. My Mech had a Beam Magnum type gun, and every time I fired it, I could really feel the force behind the shot as the entire chair would recoil.

Anyway, that’s all for the Day 0 post. Stay Tuned for more!

Akihabara Thoughts

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The fact that places like Akihabara exist, but are over 6000 miles away is both and exciting and painful one. Existing and constantly evolving through the years Akiba’s place as the worlds greatest anime mecca is certainly well known, but I feel it’s vastly underappreciated by tourists and even those who are on a pilgrimage of sorts to the Otaku Holy Land.

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Countless shops, eateries and other mostly otaku culture themed places sprawled throughout its blocks, yet for most the effort is just not made to discover what it really has in store. From the oblivious tourist who wander the floors of a club sega looking lost and only giving a random game a literal poke. To those whose giant backpacks who block the paths through a store. Their presence is only becoming more pronounced as Japan continues its major up-climb in tourism.

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There’s a massive amount of oddities and charming shops to be found with a little exploration, I discovered down a street I have not really traveled much in this most recent trip, what I could only presume to be the worlds first maid optometrist shop. I would have never guessed that such a thing would exist but there it was. It’s really easy to get lost down the main strip of Akiba, and while there is definite excitement in wandering up the floors of a Sofmap or trying to find something in Yodobashi Camera, coming across a mostly empty retro game store manned by a 90 year old lady is what makes exploring the Akiba area fun.

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And to those who look through the arcades and stop and play a House of the Dead 2 game from the 90’s, give one of the modern titles a try. The rhythm section pretty much requires no Japanese knowledge and any of the modern games will have such a long and complex tutorial when you play for the first time, you will have no problem figuring out out to play after a short while. It sure beats looking rather gloomy and lost when its blazing hot and humid outside.

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To bring this all to a wrap, Akihabara still has all the charm and wonder than it did when I first visited a mere 5 years ago. There are parts that are different, and you can still get flooded by tourist traps and busloads of people at the wrong times. But there’s still so much to be had. As I was wandering about killing time before my flight back home, I came to the realization that there was a small section that I never even though about existing near Suehirocho station and gave it a look and found a few fairly neat stores that I may have bought from had I not been already packed.

 

tldr: Akiba is still awesome.

Ongeki

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The latest in rhythm game crazes to take over the arcades recently is Ongeki from Sega. For those who have been there, the rhythm game culture can be a bit intense as they often fade from existence as soon as they hit their time in the sun. Games like Love Live which used to have lines that extended for day, are now barely noticeable.

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Control wise, the game features 6 face buttons as well as two larger buttons on the side a few inches off the ground, as well as a joystick to control your character movement. The game is ambidextrous and will have at times swapping between left and right handed play and things can get really crazy on later difficulty levels.

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The general gist of the game is that you control your party on screen to dodge enemy attacks as well as navigate a course that you travel down as the song progresses. The notes that you hit on screen are you “attacks” so to speak that take down the enemies health gage. The character movement being controlled directly by the player is a nice touch and adds a level not often seen inside a rhythm game.

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Completing the various levels rewards you with cards! The game features cards you directly unlock in-game via spending currency that you earn though playing. It also has a gacha system at the card printing machine where you can spend credits to roll for super rare cards the easy way. One thing to note, the game is actually a pretty good value on Yen to play time if you avoid spending extra on booster items. Ongeki uses the new style GP system seen in most major titles these days. With a 300yen purchase (if the arcade allows it) easily being enough to cover 30-45 minutes of playtime depending on the song. The downside to this however is that the machines are often crowded with a line forming at every hour but the very early ones.

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Upon finishing a a song, your characters gain exp and relationship points which enhance their stats to various degrees, although only the story characters have the Relationship points. The various collaboration characters only had the standard levels.

All in all I had a blast playing this game, the side buttons do start to hurt your hand after a while and the game does recommend these rather hilarious fingerless gloves that can be found in many stores for a few hundred yen. All of the hardcore players seemed to use them as I found my hands hurting after about 30 minutes of play. Mostly due to the side button use. While I highly doubt we will ever see this game come to the US since it is a Sega developed one, I look forward to playing it again.

 

Odaiba Report

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Heading out to Odaiba to see the new Unicorn Gundam and check out the Gundam Base as well, the weather was kind of gloomy and raining but that wouldn’t be enough to stop a Gundam. Sadly though the ever faithful leisureland in Odaiba closed down with its wacky assortment of attractions and gimmicky games. So It’s hard to justify many trips out here unless you are into shopping malls and shopping malls.

Even so though every fan of Gundam owes it to themselves to make the pilgrimage at least once. While definitely not as iconic as the old RX-78 Gundam that was standing here till last year. They really upped their game with the work involved as the Unicorn Gundam is really rather stunning.

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It features the gimmick of being able to transform into its NT-D mode that is often featured during the Anime, as well as several video synced performances, one of which is pretty much a 5 minute summary of the Unicorn series that could very well serve as a place holder for watching the actual series.

But that is not all that is featured out here in Odaiba for Gundam fans. The Gundam Base has since replaced the Gundam Front, though it is quite a bit different in scope and scale.

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The Gundam Base serves primarily as a museum to all things Gunpla as well as what I would have to think is easily the worlds largest Gunpla store, as well as several other types of merchandise such as clothing and some trinkets. The size of the place is truly impressive, even though it takes up roughly the same space that the old Gundam Front did, the open atmosphere makes it feel gigantic.

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The store features essentially every single Gunpla in existence for sale, and carries on for as far as the eye can see. Many of the model kits are also featured on display so you know what you may be buying if you are unsure.

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Many limited edition exclusive gunpla are here as well such as the RX-0 Diver City version which is a real grade style kit… with two types of internal lighting for both versions of the NT-D that are featured. I can only imagine the difficulty of piecing this kit together matching the hefty price tag of 10,800 JPY. A note to buyers though, aside from the various limited editions that are only sold here, many of the kits can be had in places such as Akihabara for much cheaper.

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While the Gundam Base is neat, I do miss the old attractions that the Gundam Front had, such as the entry video or the Photography section. It does look like the Base has various time limited tie in events. The current one being a Gundam Build Divers event which I have not personally seen, though it looks kind of strange. I could see a main stream event with a UC series being worth seeing.

Soul Reverse

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A newer game to hit the arcades is Sega’s Soul Reverse, using the same cabinet that Fate/GO uses without the card printing ability. The control layout is similar but a little more complex with 4 buttons instead of 2. It’s not bad value wise as everyday you get a free credit to play with, on top of being able to buy more “time.” Time being the system inplace that newer titles have been using such as Kantai Collection and Fate/GO, where you can buy a limited amount of time to play and then that timer ticks down constantly as you play.

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Soul Reverse features a pretty standard console like equipment screen where you can change out your settings and view stats. Your characters appearance dynamically changes as well. I should mention that the character creator is actually pretty good for an arcade title.

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Gameplay plays out on a rather large map with two teams fighting in real time to take over territory and capture objectives. A few bosses exist through out the map for each side as well that are actually quite strong can obliterate you with ease. Throughout the map a few action spots exist where you can mount a raptor or man a cannon, though they didn’t seem to have much use in the early stages.

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As you fight forward you can fill your special Soul gauges which allow you to transform into a several types of heroic legends and you gain some pretty massive bonuses. They seem to be pretty much required to have a chance at killing the enemy’s bosses, at least at the early levels.

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At the end of every match your rewarded with what everyone loves, loot. Your not guranteed loot for your main class, but it also allows you to switch classes whenever you feel like it so that’s not really a bad thing. You can liquidate any excess loot as well for materials to strengthen your equipment as well.

All in all it’s a fairly fun game, but I feel like it’s just short of being awesome. It doesn’t seem very popular currently, but I would like to see it gain some legs, maybe the upcoming Persona collaboration will help.

 

 

Fate/GO Arcade

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Riding off the massive success that is the Mobile Game, it was really only inevitable that an arcade version would be in the works. And it sure is something, Aside from everything being rendered in decently sharp looking anime style 3D as opposed to the 2D sprite based mobile game. It offers rather simple gameplay that even non Japanese speaking players should be able to handle without much difficulty.

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The controls consist of two buttons, the smaller attack button which is mashed and mashed to attack and the larger Noble Phantasm button which unsurprisingly unleashes your current servants Noble Phantasm, aka Super Move, for those who are unfamiliar with the Fate franchise. As well as the fake joystick which is controlled with the smaller joystick on top to move around. I often tried to pull the entire stick. A pretty odd design choice.

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As anyone who has played the mobile version will see, the UI is practically identical with few arcade only exceptions such as the GP meter or card reading button. Thats right, card reading button. Using the same system as Kantai Collection, at the end of every mission you complete you are offered the chance to summon a servant or craft essence for 100 yen. You can also do a 10 pull gacha for, you guessed it, 1000 yen. When you do your summon, you get a rather nice looking card printed off that you can then take with you and use. The downside is the game can be ridiculously expensive if you start pulling after every mission. I would recommend scouting out several card shops in the area and direct purchasing the card you want. On the flip side, once you have everything you need you can play for a long period of time off the 100 or 300 yen buy in.

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Noble Phantasm in action.

I haven’t seen the full card list yet, but It seems like currently a lot of the popular “waifu” class servants are missing in action. I suppose it is smart of them to roll them out slowly so the whales spend hard every so often.

To go back to gameplay, it’s controlled in a full 3D space where you can run around and dodge at will the incoming attacks. You only control one servant at a time as opposed to the three in the mobage, each with their own attacks. The Arts Buster and Quick system also makes a comeback as your attacks are chosen randomly from your servants stock and those effects from the mobage also take place.

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Caesar got the short end of the stick with his character…

Right now I feel as if this game is a bit too shallow in story mode, there is a PVP mode which I have yet to try that seems to be fairly popular that I will need to give a go. For now though, unless your a major fan of the Fate franchise I wouldn’t invest a lot of time in this game, there are simply better out there.