Daishi’s Longest Month

How about a game of Spot Ranko?

It seems like early spring lethargy has become a tradition for me. Despite the days getting longer and winter slowly but surely starting to yield, I just don’t seem to get any gaming done. While the pile of sizable games requiring dozens of hours of commitment just keeps on growing, I’d much rather enjoy something more lightweight and fleeting for a change. Thankfully my backlog had something for that itch, too, namely Bandai Namco’s multimedia project from 2014, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day. It’s a peculiar little anime/game hybrid that consists of four short films, about 15 minutes each, and a game. They have been produced by heavyweights such as Katsuhiro Otomo and Goichi Suda, so my expectations were high from the get-go.

The anime half of the release is visually stunning, although really quite random in content. Possessions is a story of a skilled artisan spending a night in a possessed hut while Combustible tells a tragic love story in Edo period Japan. The violent and gory Gambo focuses on a fight between a bear and a demon, whereas A Farewell to Weapons follows a squad battling robotic tanks in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Although these shorties sport impeccable style and animation, they’re mostly just vague concepts; loose, momentary glimpses into various worlds. Even if A Farewell to Weapons, at least, serves a tasty morsel of gallows humor about mankind’s self-destructive tendencies, it feels like these films are not so much about poignant stories than about promoting Japanese animation and what it can be capable of.

As for the game half, Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day isn’t any more full-bodied but at least it opens up all the floodgates of sheer anarchy. Its titular heroine is a 17-year-old high school girl slash assassin, who decides to avenge the death of her mother by killing his father. Ranko’s journey of vengeance is a rapid 2D platformer in which she slices various oncoming monsters with a katana while being chased by spirits that are kept at bay by shooting. The game also features hoverbikes, a dragon the size of a high-rise, one awfully feisty Pomeranian, Mexican professional wrestling, and several utterly bonkers cutscenes realized in pretty much every style imaginable. And all of this compressed into a package that lasts just a little over one hour!

The strength of Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day lies in its comprehensive and unrestrained frolicking. As a game, however, it’s a bit unwieldy. There’s never any breathing room as the aim is to get Ranko up to speed, Sonic style, and then keep the momentum going. Both attacking and bumping into obstacles slow Ranko down, so the game is essentially a stressful reaction test that requires an almost zen-like flow. There aren’t even any checkpoints, so if you die in a 2-3 minute stage, you’re ruthlessly returned back to its beginning. Disposed enemies explode into graphical, onomatopoetic fireworks, so most of the time the screen is full of pure, incomprehensible clutter. The short length of the game is compensated by dozens of presents hidden in its stages, unlocking concept art and additional costumes for Ranko. Of course, there’s also a bunch of trophies that reward exceptionally skillful and speedy gaming. All of that probably means there would be a couple more hours of entertainment to be salvaged. To my liking, though, Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is just a wee bit too hectic and frustrating.

Overall, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is a one evening snack, which justifies its existence mostly as a shrewd curiosity. It’s like a small platter of assorted sushi, demonstrating Japanese entertainment culture in a delightfully compact and versatile way, but in the end that’s pretty much all there is.

Space!

Has space. Is happy.

Ha! Yesterday, PlayStation 4 firmware upgraded itself to version 4.50. I usually couldn’t care less of any such release on any device, but 4.50 added support for external hard drives. The timing couldn’t have been better, as just last month I finally ran out of storage space. I got my PS4 two and a half years ago and the very first thing I did was to replace its 500GB hard drive with a 2TB one. It has served me well for all this time but just like with every console that supports upgradeable storage space, no amount is ever enough. Sure, I could just delete games of the past but as anyone belonging to the species Gamius Sapiens, that’s something you do only to subconsciously regret it five minutes later. Since storage space is cheap, I preferred to spend less than a hundred bucks on a cute little Seagate 2TB USB3 drive. The new firmware instantly recognized it, formatted it as extended storage for PS4, and it now looks like I can spend another 2-3 years without storage woes. Yay!

Either in this life or the next one…

It’s a pity that acquiring more time isn’t as straightforward as acquiring more space. While I’m still head over heels in Yakuza 0, backlog just keeps on growing. I picked up the highly acclaimed Horizon: Zero Dawn mostly to support a totally new big budget IP but as for everything else, I’m just being an annoying trash panda going through bargain bins for my kicks. The Evil Within, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, Watch Dogs 2, Darksiders: Warmastered Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration, and Dragon Quest Builders are all games that struck me as semi-interesting but way too expensive to grab at full price. Thankfully we live in such a hectic world that by the time the mainstream rushes off to devour the next Big Thing, the prices of past such experiences plummet. So, those are games that might be covered in this blog. Eventually.

Tokyo on My Mind

One more month of agonizing waiting and we finally get to enjoy Persona 5! Regarding the game, I’ve deliberately kept myself in the dark as much as possible but what the heck, one fast-paced trailer won’t hurt. I didn’t get into this outstanding and highly creative demon slaying / everyday high school life JRPG series until last year (!) on Vita but on that one, Persona 4 Golden instantly became one of my most beloved games ever. Compared to that, Persona 5 seems very much the same (even including the main characters) but with even more style. One of the only minor flaws in the fourth game was its forced dub, which ate away some of the ambience of such a deeply Japanese experience. The fifth game, however, also features original audio so come April 4th, it might provide an even more authentic virtual Tokyo than Yakuza 0!

Speaking of Tokyo, Spike Chunsoft announced some interesting news this week. Even if it’s not until spring next year, PS4 will be getting a localized version of 428: Shibuya Scramble. It’s some sort of peculiar visual novel that combines text, anime, and live action video clips. In Japan, the game was released on Wii in 2008 and on PS3/PSP in 2009. That’s pretty much all I know but since Spike Chunsoft is a true professional of the genre and since Famitsu awarded the original game a perfect 40/40 score, I’m most certainly picking it up come 2018. It’s delightful to see how even Japanese niche releases are slowly but surely finding a market here in the west, too!

Manager King

Whoa! As much fun as getting sidetracked in Yakuza 0 is, it’s not something you should do at all. The further the story goes, the more the game opens up its absolutely fantastic side content. It’s once again time to bid Kazuma Kiryu farewell with a juicy cliffhanger. Back in Osaka, Goro Majima is still in trouble but I think his money woes, at least, are about to end. While the traditional, pompous cabaret business still brings in money, the future lies in hostess clubs. Thanks to some awfully convenient coincidences, Majima ends up managing one such club that is also fighting for its very existence against five hardcore rivals. If Kiryu’s real estate business was captivating already, this one takes it to another level!

While you can recruit professional staff in various ways, a hostess army alone won’t your market share improve. Majima has to train his employees to be the absolute best in the business, requiring both personal sparring and focusing on everyone’s strengths, be they conversation, partying, wooing, or just plain finesse. Once you’ve settled with the staff you think are capable of handling a day, it’s time to open the doors and jump into a hectic night of entertainment. As customers pour in, you have to quickly assign the best hostess for each, and ensure they all leave happy and – hopefully – broke. As the night goes on, problems and requests arise, all of which a skilled manager handles with style and perception.

Even if I’ve only experienced a single night of this chaos, I’m already totally hooked. Yakuza 0 hides within a full-blown management simulation of such caliber that it’s probably going to be even more of a timesink than all that wonderful real estate hassle of yesterday. No two questions about it; this is a bloody brilliant ride!

Cash King

Money, money, money!

Now that I’ve cleared off all side projects in one way or another, it’s once again time to fully focus on Yakuza 0. And sheesh, does it get ever better as it goes! While Goro Majima seems to have some serious financial woes, Kazuma Kiryu is already knee-deep in real estate business and living the high life. After scoring a company and a perky secretary of his own, Kiryu finds himself pitted against five local billionaires vying for the real estate dominance of Kamurocho. It’s a battle fought district by district, property by property, and even if it’s just an optional side activity alongside the story, it provides hours of captivating content.

You beat your competition by purchasing all the properties on their turf. Their price range varies from a few million yen to hundreds of millions, but even if the initial investment always stings a little, they then produce steady income every few minutes or so. As an absolutely wonderful idea, the people Kiryu meets and helps in side stories eventually end up working for him. Some excel at managing districts’ finances, others at upholding their security, and the rest can be hired as consultants to improve the properties to generate even more revenue. Your rivals aren’t too happy with a newcomer, of course, so every now and then CEO Kiryu has to teach business etiquette the hard way.

This whole real estate management is probably the best Yakuza idea ever! After you assign your staff to their duties, turn on the business cycle, and wait to cash in, you have just enough time to perhaps complete a side story or have some fun in the nightlife of Kamurocho. It’s ridiculously lucrative, too. Even if I’m still spending most of my money on new properties, it’s still a joy to head back to the office every five minutes or so to collect a few hundred million yen. I was once impressed how even an ordinary street brawl was worth almost half a million. Now, that’s chump change. Thankfully some obscenely rich prick I met on a side alley taught me the way of distracting troublemakers by throwing cold hard cash on the streets. When you’re busy making more money, who cares about a measly hundred grand if it saves you time and effort.

That’s not to say I’ve saved any time, though. In real life, this game has already subtly robbed me of 29 hours and as far as the story goes, I’ve probably covered just about a third. Oh well, no reason to keep count when it’s getting better day by day. Gaming year 2017 sure couldn’t have kicked off better than this!

*Gavel Sound*

A common feeling while playing

Seems like it took an entire month (well, a little over 38 hours) but I’ve finally beat Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. After the gargantuan final case, I somewhat reluctantly have to admit that it’s by far the most massive but also the most disappointing entry in the series. On paper, everything probably looked mighty awesome. If pretty much all the main characters of the past five games make a comeback, if half the cases are solved in an exotic location abroad, and if all the murder mysteries are tweaked to be so tricky and surprising that it’ll take not just the usual 20-25 hours but 35-40 hours to solve, then surely all that will contribute to what will be the most stellar Ace Attorney experience ever! Right? Of course it will! It’s going to be huge! It’s going to be mindblowing!

Nope.

It feels like matricide to criticize a series which sports an original trilogy still ever close to my gaming heart. Still, there’s no two ways about it. Spirit of Justice is guilty of blatant overcompensation. Its pacing is all over the place and once it has exhausted the pool of cool logic, it nonchalantly dips into the pool of supernatural to explain any inconvenient contradiction. Granted, Ace Attorney cases have never been shy to teeter on the edge of credibility but Spirit of Justice takes it to another, awkward level.

The inclusive cast of the past wreaks havoc on an emotional level. Many of these characters are those we’ve come to know and love over a long period of time. Now everyone is merely a model quickly making their required turn on the catwalk, and it feels cheap. Stunts like making an assistant the attorney, or switching the positions of a prosecutor and a defense attorney are just desperate cries of a writer totally out of ideas. It’s the same with the script. It’s almost like it was written once but then given to an assistant who had to double its length by any means necessary. Visual novels tend to be text heavy, sure, but this one is blatantly drawn out. The final case in particular is so full of dot-only lines that it’s no longer a sign of drama but perhaps a sign of the writer getting a bit frustrated with excessive fat, too.

Spirit of Justice is still a potent courtroom drama(-comedy) but game by game, I can’t help but feel that it would’ve been better off as a trilogy. Since there’s no competition, even a poor Ace Attorney is still better than nothing but as it stands, it’s an uphill battle against the fans themselves.