Friday, May 30, 2008

My Kind of RPG

If there's one thing for which I respect Japanese game publishers to no end, it's that they've got guts. You don't give a game a title that takes longer to say than it does to write unless you're reasonably sure the game will live up to its epic moniker. And in the case of Banpresto's Mugen no Frontier: Super Robot Taisen - OG Saga, the title leaves some awfully big shoes to be filled (WARNING: the above link leads to Banpresto's very noisy Mugen no Frontier website).

Released yesterday in Japan, this game is a spin-off of Super Robot Taisen, a franchise that, in all honesty, didn't interest me in the slightest until they decided to cram it full of sexy android women. The game (whose long, tall title translates as Endless Frontier: Super Robot Wars - OG Saga) makes use of the button-tapping RPG battle system used in Namco x Capcom, a cross-brand fan service orgy unleashed by Mugen no Frontier developer Monolith Soft on PS2 owners in 2005. The result is unmistakably an RPG, but with a reduced dependence on clunky menu navigation during battles. And while the game's simplistic, top-down map wandering is also a hallmark of a boring genre, its in-battle sprite animations are good enough to make a lot of fighting games jealous.

Square Enix could win back my respect if they would put this much artistic flair into one of their Final Fantasy re-re-re-releases. Punishing enemies in Mugen no Frontier becomes a joyful occasion as you chain together one well-timed attack after another, and then hand the assault off to your teammate, occasionally unleashing an aesthetically pleasing super move.

As for the OG in the title, I apparently haven't played long enough to reach the "original gangstas" part of the story yet, but give me some time. I've only had the game in my possession for a day.

Mugen no Frontier: Super Robot Taisen - OG Saga has been rated B for boobs. That bounce. During battle. Here's the promo video, to prove it:

Don't Be So Idiomatic

In 2005 and 2006 I put quite a bit of energy into slamming former White House press secretary Scottie-Scott McClellan. I saw him as a mushy marshmallow of a man whose career hinged on his ability to repeat whatever lies he was fed. And in regard to McClellan's capacity as the president's mouthpiece, I think that was an accurate assessment, "marshmallow" and all. Now, more than two years after his resignation from that post, McClellan has once again exploded onto the political scene with What Happened, his "oh no you di-int" account of the Bush Administration's misbehavior.

I'm not sure how interesting a book whose thesis is "Get this, the Iraq War is built on lies!" could possibly be, but I'm ready to read this book and let Scott McClellan redeem himself in full for all the times I cussed at his image on TV and drew goofy facial hair on his image in the newspaper.

Not everyone is as supportive, however, of McClellan's attempt to turn over a new leaf. Former White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy had this colorful comment about McClellan:

"Here's a guy who rode the president's coattails to the world stage and now is [urinating] on his political grave, all the way to the bank."

Now ignore, for a moment, the fact that the press secretary's job is to stand on the "world stage" in lieu of the president. Ignore the fact that riding the president's coattails is an inevitable side-effect of lying on his behalf. And ignore the fact that "deputy press secretary" sounds like a made-up title you'd bestow on a little girl on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Ignore all that and take a good look at Duffy's maelstrom of idioms. You've got coattails, a stage, a grave and a bank, all in the same sentence! How exactly does one [urinate] to the bank, anyway? If you're [micturating] on a grave (even if it's a political grave), while simultaneously going to the bank, doesn't that make it pretty tough to hit your target?

Maybe I've misunderstood. Maybe McClellan is laughing so hard all the way to the bank, that he's started [whizzing] involuntarily. That happens sometimes, even to grown men.

I hope Trent Duffy writes a book, too. And I hope the whole book reads like that quote.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where Aesthetics Go To Die

One of the ESL textbook series my employers force me to use is called Interchange. It's a cruddy hodge-podge of ill-conceived lessons put together by Jack C. Richards (a man who, in his own words, "is an internationally-recognized authority on English-language acquisition" and, in my own words, "needs a beating"). You may remember an earlier post in which I attacked Jack C. Richards, his slipshod attempts at language education and his arbitrary use of commas. And here's the icing on that health hazard of a cake:

The Interchange books contain some of the worst illustrations I've ever seen. It's as if the publishers went out of their way to find artists whose very raison d'ĂȘtre was to create the ugliest, most nauseating images possible. This image on the right is meant to be a suggestion of what clothing might look like in the future. If this prediction is accurate, they might as well follow this illustration up with a picture of a man strangling himself with his own necktie, as that would be a suggestion of what I would look like in such a future. What exactly happens in the future that causes everyone to start wearing those yellow gloves? Will dish-pan hands surpass cancer and heart disease as the prime killer of Americans? Is the gigantic hat evidence of ever-increasing Mexican influence on our fashion?

Maybe it seems I'm picking a nit here. But it's hard to think so when you're faced with these horrendous examples of first-degree ugliness on a daily basis. What started as amusement gradually morphs into resentment as you increasingly get the feeling that the two hapless dancers (who, at first glance, appear to have been drawn by someone who has never actually seen dancing, but may have read about it once in a book called Dancing: The Devil's Hobby) are actually mocking you.

My only recourse is to let my students in on the joke. Once in a while, I'll say, "Turn to page 78....look at this guy!" in order to lighten the mood of a lesson. Most of the time, however, it's a great enough challenge not to hurl my teacher's edition through a window.

I've got a hundred of these little scans, but I'll restrain myself and just share a few more choice images with you:



Yes and yes.

She's gonna barf!

Indeed. What is your excuse, Mr. Illustrator? And don't give me any garbage about "artistic license." You and I both know that would just be a euphemism for "everything I create makes people want to gouge their own eyes out."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The PSP Needs a Better Fighting Library

Bleach: Heat the Soul 5 for PSP was released today in Japan. It's a shallow 3D fighting game, similar in many ways to Bleach: Heat the Soul 4. And Bleach: Heat the Soul 3.

Why the hell are there so few quality one-on-one fighting titles for the PSP? Ports of Guilty Gear and Tekken have been welcome gestures so far, but the handheld has been out for two and a half years already. Where are the other franchises? I can name about a hundred fighting games I'd like to play on the PSP, but can't because they don't exist.

Marvel vs Capcom 2. Kinnikuman Muscle Gran Prix. Melty Blood. Arcana Heart. The Rumble Fish. Soul Calibur. Rival Schools. Street Fighter III. Any King of Fighters game after 1999.

Whether it's because of legal impossibility or just a misguided assumption that there's no demand for such ports, Sony leaves its fighting fanbase in the dark with idle thumbs and a whole lot of wishing for something good. Instead, we get title after title of ultra-simplified fighting games based on the same manga series.

I started playing the Bleach fighting series, not because I like the manga (in fact, I don't), but because the PSP's library of fighting games is so sparse, I'm increasingly willing to play any old fighting title they throw at me (and because Naruto suffers from a tragic lack of sexy females, a cornerstone of the genre).

Bleach: Heat the Soul 5 came with a free sports towel, but that isn't going to be enough to make me feel good about buying this title unless the gameplay gets better in a hurry.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Kiru Your TV: Aura no Izumi

Just because I stop making Kiru Your TV posts after the first one doesn't mean I stop being sick of Japanese TV. Whether it's a show where people over-react to the taste of okonomiyaki, or a show where people get teary-eyed over goofy dramatizations of real-life medical miracles, Fiancee usually has to crank up the volume in order to hear the show over the sound of my grinding teeth. But if there's one genre of TV show that really annoys me to no end, it's that of "spiritual advice."

TV psychics, baby.

As a representative title for this genre, I'll use TV Asahi's Aura no Izumi (Aura Fountain). This is a show where, basically speaking, a celebrity guest is brought on to speak about his or her insecurities so that a pair of counselors can read the guest's "aura." Manning the emotional baggage claim are spiritual adviser Ehara Hiroyuki (a hefty, effeminate dude in a kimono) and elderly singer/cross-dresser Miwa Akihiro (an old man with bright yellow hair, dressed as a woman). If it sounds a bit strange, then I've described it correctly. Here's what Mr. Miwa looks like:

I've got no problems with a guy who's more comfortable in women's clothes, but somebody was playing a cruel joke on this guy when they convinced him to buy that mane of dandelion fury at the wig shop.

Anyway, after a bit of discussion between the guest and hosts, Ehara produces something called a "Spiritual Message." It's pretty much a flowery haiku, accompanied by maudlin music, designed to make the celebrity guest feel good about himself. And it often prompts the guest to cry tears of ultimate redemption. Meanwhile, viewers like me are crying tears of ultimate exasperation.

Another annoying thing about this show is the condescending, grandmotherly tone in which both hosts speak to the guests. And that is amplified by the guests' tendency to react with fake (but polite) awe and respect. They usually say things like "Heeeeeh, naruhodo! ("Oooooh, I seeee!") in order to properly convey the idea that, yes, Ehara and Miwa really are geniuses who really do have all the answers and really can solve your every problem in life.

You might recall that, in my previous Kiru Your TV about SMAPxSMAP, I complained that the show's main purpose was to entertain the cast rather than the audience. The same troublesome dynamic is at work here in Aura no Izumi, leading me to believe that Japanese TV is suffering from a crippling dependency on celebrity personalities. There has to be a happy medium between that and watching a dozen unlikeable nobodies running obstacle courses and getting diarrhea on a deserted island.

Aura no Izumi airs every Saturday night on TV Asahi at the unlikely time of 7:57. Don't ever watch it.

Friday, May 02, 2008

John McCain and the White Supremacists

It's not just a clever band name.

If you thought there was something fishy about John McCain's "reluctance" to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a legitimate national holiday back in 1983, you'll want to fill up on this intrigue:

McCain has paid $184,000 for the advisorial services a white supremacist named Richard Quinn. Quinn, who made the news less than a decade ago as editor-in-chief of the controversial Confederate periodical Southern Partisan, has written articles in which he describes Martin Luther King Day as "vitriolic and profane," Nelson Mandela as a terrorist (so, thank god Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas, right?) and David Duke as a "maverick."

I've heard "maverick" used to describe another politician who's in the news a lot these days, but I just can't remember who that politician is.

Compare McCain's $184,000 for Quinn to Obama's $22,500 for Reverend Wright, then tell me why we've heard so much news about Wright, yet so little about Quinn. This disproportion of coverage is just one more facet of a tragic, ongoing failure by the mainstream media to sensibly prioritize the information they choose to present to the woefully misinformed American voting public.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I'm in Ur Grand, Theftin' Ur Autoz

It's Golden Week vacation time in Tokyo, and if I fail to leave the house to enjoy the weather, it's probably because I'm playing Grand Theft Auto IV. Happily, the Asian PAL version of the game (which is compatible with the Japanese NTSC Xbox 360, unedited for content and completely in English) was released in select Japanese retail chains just a day after the stateside release.

As a long-time opponent of legislation as a substitute for parenting, let me just say this: Mommas, don't let your babies play GTA4. At least, not if you wouldn't let them watch Scarface or The Sopranos. I've already run into youngsters in the multiplayer mode who sound about 11 years old. I can accept that some parents have viewed the game's content and made the informed decision to let their pre-teens play, but I cannot accept that such cases are the majority. So all you lazy parents, take notice. Your little kid is playing an adult game. He's bugging the hell out of all us grown-ups. And your refusal to take responsibility is creating undo publicity for some self-serving fool.