Category Archives: Nintendo 3DS

Fart Art

We probably shouldn’t be here…

Any plans I might have had for this weekend were instantly rewritten on Friday, when the postman delivered my copy of South Park: The Fractured But Whole a few days in advance of its official street date of next Tuesday. As it has already been over three years since the really quite splendid The Stick of Truth, I immediately felt like taking the sequel for a spin. Now, after more than 20 hours and a playthrough, I’m happy to state that the humor of Trey Parker and Matt Stone remains as fresh as ever. That’s not to say The Fractured But Whole would have a particularly novel story, though. While the kids of South Park are still in the middle of their fantasy play from the last game, Eric Cartman suddenly decides that superheroes are the newest, coolest thing ever. And sure enough, in an instant everyone has come up with their own secret superhero identity and chosen their side in a battle between two feuding factions. As simple as that, all of South Park once again transforms into a battlefield limited only by imagination.

As before, the player is known simply as The New Kid, an unvoiced hero (or heroine) who joins Cartman’s faction, wielding the power of – you guessed it – flatulence. It’s a questionable skill but as the adventure goes on, wee little squeaks eventually evolve into massive discharges capable of ripping the very fabric of time itself. In other words, anyone playing the game should go in expecting a huge amount of deliberately crass fart, poop, and pee humor. Still, amid all this vulgarity, the youngsters of South Park once again teach the player to laugh at the incorrigible idiocy of the humankind in all of its forms. Brutally pertinent social criticism leaves no one unscathed, be it racists, bigots, or just people suffering from moral superiority and finding offense in the smallest of things. This wanton but intelligent anarchy is what the game (and South Park on whole) is all about, and once again it works wonders!

Story missions are strewn around town, tackled by a team of four superheroes. During the adventure, the player befriends up to ten familiar South Park characters donning an alter ego, each having one awesome special move and three slightly less formidable ones. The same goes for the player, too. At first, it is only possible to choose from a small handful of character classes but as the game goes on, all skills of ten different character classes become available for mixing and matching freely. As per role-playing standards, there’s moves for doing brutal damage up close and from afar, various healing skills, and a miscellaneous bunch of actions causing buffs or debuffs. Given an eventual pool of 40 different moves, it’s quite easy to find those four that best complement one’s playing style.

Turn-based battles are fought on relatively small grids where everyone tries to position themselves to both dish out damage and avoid taking it. Even more important is to maneuver so that after a character’s turn ends, the next one won’t be blocked from carrying out their actions. Since nothing is sacred, enemies include not just the kids of the opposing faction but also parents, senior citizens, Catholic priests, crooked cops, bums, prostitutes, Korean ninjas, crab people, etc. Those with enough confidence can even challenge Morgan Freeman himself.

Collection fans are pampered with countless ever-so-popular selfie opportunities with the various citizens of South Park. As typical for this age of vanity, they are instantly posted onto the game’s social media, Coonstagram, where the aim is naturally to become the one with the highest follower count in all of South Park. There’s also plenty of yaoi fan art of the series’ beloved boy couple, Tweek and Craig, as well as dozens of costumes, hair styles, scars, masks, accessories, and whatnot. The customization options are so plentiful that anyone should be able to create a South Park look of their dreams. Furthermore, miscellaneous junk picked up from pretty much everywhere is used to craft new costumes, various healing items, and artefacts that enhance the player’s stats.

In broad terms, The Fractured But Whole is kind of predictable but still rather excellent. It holds together not just because of its delightfully prickly humor but also because – and I’m technically contradicting myself here – it never ceases to surprise. Hilarious minigames and totally unexpected scenarios pop up at a breathtaking pace, making it nigh on impossible to get bored at any point. Even if it pretty much just re-invents the wheel of The Stick of Truth, at least that’s a recipe that has already proven itself; after a break of a few years, coming back to South Park was nothing but refreshing!

Other new acquisitions this past week include Culdcept Revolt and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. The former is presumably some sort of JRPG slash card game slash Monopoly hybrid whereas the latter is probably a tough as nails strategy-JRPG. All in all, the harvest season of this year’s gaming crop is so bountiful that my wallet has been weeping for quite some time already, and I really wish that I, too, could fart myself more time. Oh well, at least this is a positive problem.

Warming Up

Hey, it’s the participation that counts :P

If Everybody’s Golf sounded a bit drab the last time around, things are slowly starting to look up. At least right now, it feels like it surreptitiously conforms to its player’s mood swings. When approached with indifference, shots end up all over the place and even a humbling bogey can quickly escalate into a +5 catastrophe. With even a little bit of genuine effort, the RNG gods start smiling upon the player, ensuring that even a clumsy swing can turn into something not entirely hopeless. It’s nigh on impossible to pull off a perfect shot due to having to factor in wind, aim, course profile, spin, ground, timing, and luck, but on whole it really feels like the game is more than happy to complement an earnest attempt. Thanks to ever-improving clubs, birdies have become the new norm, and I’m already capable of scoring occasional eagles, too.

The game still has trouble entertaining for more than those 30-60 minutes at a time, but even that is enough to make good progress. One can usually choose between a round of either nine or 18 holes, which last around 10-20 minutes. In single player, the most important reward is experience, which unlocks new VS adversaries. Online, it’s a matter of seeing how well you fare against others both globally and within an automatically selected peer group of nine others. The best players are already beating me by a good 10-15 shots but even if I’m usually near the bottom of any leaderboard, at least there’s a daily challenge course with a participation reward of more avatar customization items.

As a new curio, one beaten VS adversary taught my avatar how to fish, so if golfing gets dull, one can always head to the nearest beach or pond to catch some seafood. Still, even this activity is nothing but mashing a button after getting a bite, so it’s hardly any more interesting than riding golf carts or swimming; they’re all goofy side activities that could theoretically be considered new features but that don’t seem to serve any practical purpose.

Whatever the case, Everybody’s Golf remains a reasonably entertaining title that is easy to visit on a daily basis. Still, it probably works better as a side dish for some slightly more full-bodied gaming experience. Nevertheless, I’m happy to trundle on, if only to some day score that fabled hole-in-one.

Gloomy and rainy autumn weekends are pretty much perfect for staying strictly indoors with a good video game or two. This week saw yet another bunch of hopeful entrants joining the collection. Back in June, I was mildly entertained by Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, which got a sequel, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, just this month. Jolly good release schedule, as it’s always more fun to finish incomplete stories while still remembering something about them. Then again, Mask of Deception was definitely heavy on reading, so for now I think I’ll spend a bit more time indulging in something that has more gameplay.

On Nintendo 3DS, it never ceases to amaze me just how many releases almost manage to fly under my radar. The JRPG duo, 7th Dragon III: Code: VFD and The Legend of Legacy, is a good example, and even if I don’t yet know practically anything about either of them, I have great trust in both Atlus and Sega. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a bit more familiar and rather old by now, but I totally forgot that it got a physical release as well. Thankfully these titles can still be salvaged from here and there to complement my archive of personally interesting games.

Witch Tuning 101

Does just the usual stuff but with surprising grace

All right, enough with the sulking already! Stella Glow, which I started this weekend, has effortlessly returned my temporarily fleeting faith in games. Even if it is preciously little else than just a very conventional strategy-JRPG, it still manages to entertain in a solid fashion. The game takes place in a world whose petty god has decided to punish his apathetic followers by stripping  away the ability to sing. Now that skill is only possessed by a small handful of witches who use songs to wield powerful magic. In a small hamlet of Mithra, childhood friends Alto and Lisette experience this power in the worst possible way, as the Witch of Destruction, Hilda, one day appears in the village with her cohorts, turning it and its inhabitants into crystals. Alto and Lisette escape this gruesome fate only because Lisette – much to even her own surprise – awakens as the Witch of Water while Alto discovers that he is the fabled Conductor; someone with the ability to enter witches’ hearts to tune their feelings and unlock their latent powers. While that is certainly a lovely turn of events, it sadly takes four good witches to rise against one that is evil. Luckily the rulers of the kingdom have at least some idea where Alto and Lisette could find the remaining three witches. As the armed forces of the nation’s capital, Lambert, can spare a whopping three knights to assist them, another team of world saviors is ready to depart.

Okay, that’s not much of a story but at least it’s one that rolls gracefully. Lambert acts as the operational headquarters from which the team embarks to the world map, traveling from point to point to reach the next story mission. The battles are faithful to the genre; very traditional skirmishes fought on isometric maps where units take turns to move and act, trying to take advantage of various types of terrain and high ground. The battle system doesn’t really feature anything new or innovative, but its chibi-style attack animations are cute, and the level of challenge is quite pleasing. Even the characters’ strongest special attacks rarely take out an enemy in one hit, so working as a team and isolating hard-hitting foes from one another is paramount. Stella Glow isn’t particularly difficult but survival definitely requires at least a little bit of constant thought. Each story battle has a recommended character level, but should one lack in faith or skill, the world map has plenty of optional encounters to grind with.

Every now and then, story missions are interrupted with limited free time that Alto can use to socialize with his companions, work part-time jobs, or go on exploration trips. Those last two would apparently reward with money, items, and gear, but so far I’ve always spent excess time chatting up my team members. Not only is this a good way to get to know everyone better, it also provides them with new skills and passive bonuses to be used on the battlefield. Unfortunately free time between missions is limited to just three activities, so establishing a thorough emotional bond with everyone is most likely going to take quite some time.

Aside from the stinginess of spare time, the pacing of the game in general is commendable. The storytelling cutscenes are hardly ever exceedingly lengthy, the usual talking portraits are sometimes replaced by proper anime clips, and battles follow one another on a brisk pace. To put the tempo into perspective, it has taken me only a little over 11 hours to recruit both the Witch of Wind and the Witch of Fire, and my happy entourage is already nine members strong. It already seems like merely gathering a four witch ensemble won’t solve everything but let’s get back to that after locating the Witch of Earth. For now, though, this journey is turning out to be an upbeat one!

Groundhog Century

So nice, if only it would end :'(

If my gaming is in a slump due to everyday drudge once more replacing glorious vacation days, The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars does its damnedest to keep it that way. As surmised, I’ve now given it around 58 hours but pretty much nothing of any interest has happened. Going through horribly monotonic motions increases the idols’ experience and number of fans, but progress is so laughably slow that the game has regressed into nothing more than a weary battle of attrition. Should a new gig show up, you can rest assured that it’s something that won’t be even remotely beatable until 10-20 hours later. Perfect performances mean jack shit as if your characters aren’t on a high enough level, the required score limit is just plain impossible to reach. End of discussion. So, I’ve entertained myself playing through the same challenge over and over again for a couple of hundred of times, grinding slow and steady. Such wow. Much joy. Surely a few paid helper items from the store would do the trick, eh? F**k you, Project iM@S.

In a rueful fashion, the game follows a virtual year cycle advancing on a weekly basis. Skipping every possible cutscene, it’s possible to truncate one in-game year into a three hour real-time marathon covering 48 ordinary shows and four specials involving the entire cast of idols. If this cycle was realistic, these 13-21-year-old heroines would be at the peak of their careers around the ripe age of 90, and even that might take an incarnation or two. Thankfully, they’re effectively ageless. Still, at this point minor observations like that are crucial to endure the whole ordeal. You could, for example, set a daily goal of going through one in-game year (even if a quarter is already starting to feel repulsive). On Valentine’s Day, the chosen leader gives out complimentary chocolate, so that’s another potential goal to spend 39 hours or so. The pitiful selection of songs can also be raised to Legend status, which requires them to be completed 200 times each. The biggest reward of doing so is most likely that you’re never ever going to choose them again. Still, repeatedly playing the same song over and over again means that you quickly figure out that exact note when your current crew hits maximum audience zeal. Since missed notes carry no penalty, that’s when the song can be left to play itself while the player can just as well go to the fridge, take a piss, have a smoke, or spend a serious moment contemplating why they’re voluntarily submitting to this level of self-inflicted torture. Oh, and those 20 songs featured in the game? One is still locked. It’ll probably become available after 60-70 hours or something. Jesus.

All this is especially maddening as Platinum Stars is a proper rhythm game, even if awfully lightweight in content. If it would’ve rolled its ending credits after 15-20 hours and shown all that it genuinely has by 30-50 hours, it would’ve left the stage as a celebrated winner. Now it has turned into that person. You know, the one you meet by chance and who’s awfully jovial and remarkably pleasant for a while until you realize that they’re nothing more than an absolute asshole and you’re inadvertently stuck with them for life with the only way of escape probably involving a sharp ax and a manslaughter charge. I’ll continue my rhythmical journey, although it has already turned into a macabre social study of what it actually takes to finish a game that has obviously been designed around nothing else than skimming its players off hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Bloody cynical.

Moving on would be a trigger pull away…

Ditching a game once started is always la petite mort of sorts but should that (once again) happen, at least intensive care would be close by. Mind-numbing repetition could easily be replaced either by the backlog or the five new JRPGs joining the fray; Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Nights of Azure, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls (dual releases be forever damned), but especially Stella Glow. That one might actually feature that strategic role-playing bliss I was expecting from Utawarerumono, which kind of failed to deliver.

The Forgotten Ones

Uh-oh… The dunce is back.

This household is now living a quiet era of post-excellence. After Persona 5 left such a wholesome, indelible impression, it will probably take a bit more time for any other game to inspire again. The best I’ve managed is to return to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, even if back in March it wasn’t particularly inspiring either. Still, I totally forgot that I had also bought its separate DLC episode, which provided closer to six hours of at least distant echoes of the series’ better early days.

It’s another murder case, of course, charging a fresh bride who also claims to be able to travel through time. Despite such a wild premise, this turns out to be an ordinary case in which logical thinking debunks the impossible. It’s a delightful change of pace in comparison to the supernatural gimmicks of the main game. It’s also a nice blast to the past as the case is being prosecuted by good old Miles Edgeworth. Even Larry Butz, the lively childhood friend of our attorneys who was last seen in the original game trilogy makes a comeback, confounding the case in his typical fashion.

Even if this sixth Spirit of Justice case is a minor step towards the better, it’s still only semi-entertaining fan service at best. The humor suffers from many characters acting a bit too unrestrained for their own good, and the asinine “…………” lines that were seriously overused in the main game make an unwelcome return. Also, those paying attention will probably figure out some of the surprises way too early, which makes addressing the wrong assumptions a bit monotonous to follow. Especially after such a long break from the main game, the episode was still decent enough to play through but it failed to leave any kind of lasting impression. A solid case but also one that manages to emphasize just how stale this once glorious series has gotten.

Meh… Meh… Meh…

While trying to find that next game that would steal my heart, I’ve sampled a bunch without bumping into anything remarkable. There was a couple month’s worth of PlayStation Plus freebies but none (of the ones that were new to me) managed to engage. As for physical releases, Little Nightmares turned out to be a gloomy Limbo clone in which a mute girl dressed in a yellow raincoat 2D-leaps her way through distressing areas while dying in many gruesome ways. I managed to stay interested for about 15 minutes, after which she plummeted into a pit of gigantic leeches that devoured her over and over again. Too macabre and depressing to be enjoyed right now, so it shall return to the backlog.

The indie darling Stardew Valley, in turn, is all about colorful and jolly everyday life in a tiny rural town. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, it provides plenty of activities from farming and fishing to slaying monsters in mines and befriending other townsfolk. After 11 hours, however, I realized that it’s one of those incredibly repetitious games that make use of pathetically small incentives to lengthen the overall experience into a marathon of hundreds of meaningless hours. It is ambitious, sure, but I’ve played enough similar games to know that everything will eventually lead to just growing tired of it all. Could be fun but not right now.

My foray into AAA didn’t go much better. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a hauntingly beautiful third-person post-apocalyptic sandbox full of robotic animals and humans, who have regressed into spear and bow wielding hunter-gatherers. Even if the science fiction overtones work wondrously and the game skillfully combines Witcher, Uncharted, and Tomb Raider, it somehow failed to captivate. I guess the first five hours just had too many similarly looking NPCs spouting mythical nonsense or something. There’s plenty of potential, though, so this one (too) certainly deserves another go when the time is right.

Two Note Wonder

So adorable in stills, so brutal in motion

After an additional five hours or so, I’ve completed all songs of Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure on Normal. 59 of them with a full combo, 11 others in a less-stellar fashion. There might still be a few more hidden songs but I think I’ll let them remain hidden. The song selection was, once again, a delightful mixture of all sorts of stuff, even if nothing was exceptionally memorable. As for game songs, the Kirby and Ace Attorney medleys were nice, and some of the Namco original tracks were just as silly as they were awesome. The jpop and anime picks, however, came off surprisingly generic. Then again, we all have our own taste in music, so the game still deserves praise for its diversity.

On whole, Dokodon! Mystery Adventure is probably just as comfy and familiar to hardcore fans of the series as it remains slightly more unconventional for the rest of us. The video above sums it up quite nicely. If you truly want to excel in Taiko games, you need A) a flat surface, B) willingness to embrace the touch screen , C) two styluses, and D) the soul of a drummer. If you prefer the casual, traditional way of holding the console in your hands and using your thumbs and index fingers to hit the notes, it’s a perfectly viable style on Easy and Normal but not so much on the two harder difficulties. The series is simply designed to be experienced in a way that is eventually way too fast for finger reflexes alone.

That’s actually both the main strength and weakness of the whole series. Taiko games require a unique playstyle. Eventually mastering it is probably highly rewarding but unless you dream of becoming a drummer, or are willing to dedicate your life to master a single series, it’s not even remotely as exciting. Each to their own, of course, but I still prefer an everyday eight button Hatsune Miku experience to pure two note divinity, even if the latter is bloody impressive when showcased by a skilled professional. As such, this is a game that can easily provide hundreds of hours of entertainment but it’s also a game that can be experienced in a jiffy, still appreciating its songs, replaying at least some of them just because they’re fun, and finding nothing genuinely wrong with the gameplay, either. For the sake of diversity, though, I’ll now take my 17 hours and, having once again satisfied my hunger for rhythm, rush towards new experiences.

Hooray for physical!

The game flood of early 2017 is starting to recede but while I was busy with one, two others still managed to sneak their way in. Of those, The Silver Case is a remake of a PS1 adventure from 1999. The reason for its comeback is undoubtedly its delightfully strange writer and designer, Goichi Suda. The Silver Case was his debut into the gaming industry, so it’s rather interesting to see just how eccentric it is. If I had to wager, I’d say extremely. The other game, Stardew Valley, is more or less about a single person as well. Eric Barone developed this Harvest Moon -esque agriculture RPG all by himself, and it has received nothing but praise from multiple sources. Since it was finally deemed worthy of a physical release, too, I’m definitely excited to give it a go.

Let’s Try That One Part Again, Boys!

Me on the left: smile, sweat, and act like you understand

Bugger me! Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure ended up being a surprisingly full-bodied JRPG. Whereas the previous (handheld) games in the series haven’t had a story mode at all, or it has been nothing more than a brief distraction lasting just a few hours, the story of this one took closer to 12 hours to complete. It probably would’ve taken even longer if I could understand what its characters were continuously blabbing about. Thankfully the language barrier never got hopelessly high. The dungeons were short and straightforward, and even if the story occasionally came to a standstill, wandering around towns and conversing with the residents usually kicked it back in motion.

The biggest hurdles were the countless, delightfully challenging boss fights, in which each of the baddies did their very best to hamper an otherwise rhythmical performance with plenty of FU-scale dirty tricks such as obstructing the note line, switching note colors at the last possible moment, flinging notes to the hit window in chaotic arcs, and scattering loads of damaging bombs among them. Despite all this, Don and Katsu have an ace up their sleeve, too. Each note successfully hit s-l-o-w-l-y raises a Taiko power meter which, once full, can be activated by tapping the 3DS’ touch screen. That’s when, for a woefully brief moment, the game takes over the song being played and hits every note perfectly. Even if I had trouble following the torrent of notes flowing in, at least I still got an aural clue of what kind of rhythm was required. I rarely ever beat a boss on my first try but the countless retries never felt cheap. Listen, learn, remember, try again. Harsh but fair.

I guess I could already toss this one to the pile of finished games but since it’s all about the music, I’ll instead head off to experience its complete song list. I doubt all of them even played during the adventure mode, and it’s all about principle and self-respect to complete everything on at least normal difficulty. In the meantime, the game already gets a cautious thumbs up. Even if Miku and her gang have already conquered the 3DS rhythm game genre with the Project Mirai games, the Taiko series is still a commendable alternative and of those, Dokodon! Mystery Adventure is definitely the most ambitious so far.

Drums Like John Bonham

Hit the notes, hope for the best (^^;)

Actually, no. Not in the slightest. I suppose it’s due time to dig into the recent haul from Japan, and I’m already deep into Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure. The games in this series aren’t particularly interesting to write about as they’re essentially just A) an up-to-date summary of Japan’s pop, anime, and game music at any given time, and B) means to eventually barrage any gamer of any skill level with such ruthless note sequences that you probably have to be an innate rhythm virtuoso, then die, and then resurrect to have any chance of beating them.

Although the game’s selection of more than 70 songs is alluring, I first chose to experience its story mode. This time around, the ever-so-familiar taiko drums Don and Katsu end up helping out a priestess called Tia and her monkey sidekick against a coalition of villains headed by a whimsical pink-haired witch brat. Or something very roughly along those lines, as the language barrier in this one is nigh on insurmountable. Thankfully, this lightweight JRPG journey follows the standard town-dungeon-boss cycle, so I’m making headway without really understanding anything.

Despite the story mode, the game is still very much all about rhythm, and all random encounters in the dungeons are handled in a good old Taiko no Tatsujin style. A song starts playing, followed up by blue notes that you hit with shoulder buttons and red notes that you hit with pretty much any other button. Big notes require two buttons, and long notes are all about hitting buttons as fast as possible. Missed notes deal damage to your own party, and it also counts as a loss if you fail to beat the opposing party by the end of the song. After you win a battle, some adversaries might even plead to join your own party, which seems to hold up to nine members. They are then leveled up, improved via items, or nonchalantly chucked into an alchemy bin to turn a bunch of weaklings into one slightly more adept individual. Or, once again, something like that, as I honestly have very little clue about what is going on.

After about four hours, I’m now banging my head against a sturdy wall of an incredibly cranky boss dragon. Even if he keeps on wiping me out, at least every failed attempt is still rewarded with experience points, so thanks to the holy blessing of mindless grinding, he’ll eventually succumb. Ability to read might make things easier but what the heck, this isn’t entirely hopeless. Granted, rhythm games don’t really even need stories like these but as long as it’s there, I’m going to see it through, even if just as a weird little appetizer before the actual musical steak.

Fun Sans Sakura

This blog has been hibernating for yet another week but at least this time I have a vaguely defensible reason for that. I’ve spent the past seven days the same way it always seems to go around this time of year, i.e. enjoying the ever-so-lovely Japan. The past few years have always been either about Tokyo or Osaka. This year, I wanted a little variation and decided to check out what Nagoya has to offer. Some have described this manufacturing powerhouse of Japan as the country’s most boring city that isn’t even appreciated by its own denizens. Even if my trip wasn’t a complete success, the city’s hardly to blame. So, here’s a compact(-ish) travelogue of my ups and downs throughout the journey.

Getting there was an ordeal, as usual. Since I live in the backwoods, it took two and a half hours on train just to reach the airport. Then a flight of over nine hours with no real chances to get proper sleep, one more hour to reach downtown from Chubu airport, and then killing time until 3PM to be able to check in to the hotel. Since the flight was overbooked, two volunteers were bribed with 300 and 500 euro gift certificates to fly to Nagoya via Seoul. That would’ve “only” meant an extra three hours but the distance between Finland and Japan is bad enough as it is. Also, I’ve pretty much never had a good experience with connecting flights, so even if the offer was a generous one, I stuck to my original plan of a direct flight.

The arrival itself was most pleasant. There are considerably less foreigners arriving in Nagoya when compared to the bigger cities, so the immigration formalities were over in mere fifteen minutes. Chubu airport was delightfully easy to navigate and I had no problems finding my way downtown. For accommodation, I had chosen Nagoya B’s Hotel mostly because of its location and fair prices, but it turned out to be even better than I expected. Sure, the rooms were small even by Japanese standards but on the other hand they had free breakfast, Wi-Fi, gym, spa, vending machines, and even a separate room for us smokers who still prefer non-smoking rooms for themselves. All this was just a fifteen minute walk from Nagoya station, and a five minute walk to the nearest metro station of Fushimi, from where all central metro lines were easily within reach. 10/10, would book again!

Even if jetlag was severe enough to tempt going to bed right after checking in, past trips have proven that it’s better to get adjusted to the new timezone as soon as possible, no matter what it takes. Thus, after unpacking and a quick shower, I lurched my sleep-deprived zombie body outside and headed off to the nearby Kululu Meieki, a superb restaurant serving Nagoya’s famous Cochin breed chicken in all sorts of delectable ways. After a couple of tasty entrées, a kind older lady arrived to cook a lovely bowl of sukiyaki right in front me, and an equally kind bartender taught this baka gaijin to the art of dipping the wonders of that hot pot in whipped raw egg. All in all, it was perhaps my most tasty chicken dinner ever!

After that, I spotted a quaint little festival right next to the river near my hotel. Music was blaring and countless market stalls sold various snacks and, most importantly, sake. Even if the cherry trees on the river bank were not yet blooming, the locals were clearly ready to welcome this year’s hanami season. The atmosphere was pleasantly mellow, and in hindsight I regret not paying more attention to this event. My body was, however, keenly reminding me that I had missed an entire night of sleep.

Since the night was still young and a gamer is a gamer, I ventured a couple blocks further to pay respects to the gaming bar culture of Nagoya. And boy, was it worth it! Critical Hit, hidden downstairs in a secluded alley, instantly became a regular joint for the entire trip. Especially for those of us not speaking Japanese, it’s probably the best representative of its ilk in the entire country. Nice decor, retro music, bar counter with several SNES consoles, loads of games, and reasonable prices (500 yen or one drink per hour) all made me feel cozy the moment I stepped in. The owner of the place, Alex Fraioli, was a most attentive and wonderful host, and this really is a place where you’re free to be just as social or withdrawn as you like. Still, after only a couple of beers I had to admit that I had finally ran out of charge, so back to the hotel to sleep everything off. Whatever the case, this was the best arrival day ever!

The second day was when everything start to go downhill. Even if I managed to triumph over jetlag, it rained throughout the day and the temperature stayed below ten degrees. Granted, I had arrived a little too early this year but come on! The program for the day was mostly indoors, though, so it was up and away to test out the Nagoya subway network. My Pasmo IC card that I got from Tokyo six years ago was still working just fine, and traveling between the clearly marked stations was extremely easy and fast.

The first stop of the day was the aquarium in the harbor area of Nagoya. Of course, I should have known that if a tourist has come up with a nice way to spend a rainy day then about a million others have come to the same conclusion. The line to the ticket booth was almost an hour long and I began to worry if the visit would be as stressful and crowded as it was in Osaka. Thankfully the place was vast enough to cope with the huge number of visitors and it was quite possible to enjoy everything without a fuss. A mighty orca, seals, porpoises, penguins, gazillion sardines, jellyfish, giant tortoises… An aquarium might be just an aquarium but this was still a splendid way to spend the morning.

The quality of the nearby food court was poor. Still, a cheap portion of yakisoba and takoyaki gave me enough energy to keep on going. The second stop of the day was the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park, and it sure was cool! They had more than twenty trains and carriages up for display, ranging from early wooden 20’s models that did a hundred kilometers per hour to the very latest Maglev that does 581 km/h. Winning a lottery would’ve given a chance to try out a virtual simulator of such trains but since the lines were long and it probably would’ve been a bit awkward thanks to the language barrier and all, I enjoyed the action from the sidelines. An authentic cabin and a massive widescreen made it look really neat, though.

Aside from just casual strolling here and there, that’s pretty much all this gray day had to offer. I ended up having a dinner at the local Outback but that one’s a habit I really should get rid off. A proper steak and grilled shrimps were decent, sure, but nothing more than that, and the quality/price ratio is woeful. An ordinary burger probably would’ve sufficed and only the after-dinner Baileys coffee is something that could be recommended.

This vacation had barely started when my hip began to shout loud objections towards plenty of walking. It was a small comfort that my hotel also had automatized massage chairs that sported so many servos, pneumatic cushions, and nodules that I almost expected a tentacle or two to shoot out from somewhere. Didn’t happen, but at least I felt a little better for a while. All in all, however, the day was just cold, wet, and painful, so I went to sleep not in the best of moods.

My third day was reserved for Osu, which is supposed to be the equivalent of Tokyo’s Akihabara and Osaka’s Den-Den Town. In other words, a nerdy day full of anime, manga, and game awsum. The skies were crystal clear once more but that was pretty much the only upside. Osu’s covered shopping streets were idyllic as such but as for gaming, there’s very little to be experienced. Sure, gamers’ local pilgrimage point, Super Potato, is there and a couple of other retro game stores reside in its instant vicinity but the overall feeling of Osu was decidedly “Oh, so this is it?” Taito only has one three-story arcade in the district and even that one mostly focuses on modern games that us westerners have no hope to comprehend. Thankfully the second floor of the massive Phoedra, right across the street, sports enough arcade cabinets both retro and new. Granted, Nagoya is smaller than Tokyo and Osaka but I still expected Osu to be much, much more. No can do; Akihabara is Akihabara and the others come waaaaaaaaay behind.

Not only were my hip and lower back screaming mercy throughout the day, I was further put down by my credit card allegedly not working. In Japan, cash is always king but no matter how big a budget you plan out ahead, there’s always so much enticing stuff to buy that a credit card would come in handy. It was quite mortifying to bring a bunch of games to the cashier only to find out that your card is bust and that most of your cash is (needlessly but just in case) back in the hotel. I begged the clerk to swipe the card a few more times but it just didn’t work. The only option was to apologize profusely and return back to home base to do some math of what is still affordable. No two ways about it, this was another shitty day.

After all this needless punishment, everything thankfully got loads better. The fourth day started with a stroll through the Nagoya castle, and it sure was impressive. The top floor offered nice views throughout the city and there were historical artifacts and dioramas aplenty. It was rather amusing that the castle also featured some weird Star Wars exhibition. Because Japan. Wonder if Ieyasu Tokugawa would have condoned such blatant frivolity…

From there, I headed to Nagoya City Science Museum, which turned out to be a bit of a letdown if you don’t understand Japanese. Children had dozens of interactive points of interest for some hands-down demonstration of physics but as heartwarming as it was to witness their excitement, the place wasn’t anything special. It had a neat mini-tornado and a cold room where you could experience what -30°C feels like but from a Finnish point of view, that’s hardly an experience.

After a quick bite of fried chicken, I paid a visit to the Nagoya station to check out the Midland Square observatory. Even at 250 meters, it was once again impressive how the metropolitan cities just keep on going no matter where you look. Very cool! As the evening fell, I headed to the ever-bustling Sakae to catch a few more glimpses of the city from the 180-meter-high Nagoya TV Tower. The city bathing in neon was truly a sight to behold.

After a pleasant (and budget friendly) day, I ended up in what might be the best steak joint in the city. Midtown BBQ (former Sienna) had received so much praise online that it was a stop on my original itinerary. What came as a most pleasant surprise was that just a week ago, the place had not only renamed but also moved from back of Sakae right to the same block as my hotel. Lucky! After an absolutely heavenly portion of Angus ribeye steak and the crunchiest fries ever, this traveler called it a day with the biggest of smiles on his face.

Day five, and it just kept on getting better. After breakfast, I decided to see if the nearby 7-Eleven ATM would recognize my credit card and, lo and behold, it did. Yay! With money woes behind me, I took a little side trip to the outskirts of Nagoya to visit Toyota Automobile Museum. It took half an hour of traveling but the place is well worth it. There are more than 160 cars on display, ranging from the very first times of automotive history to the very present. As a bonus, there’s even an amusing annex exhibit of a wide range of utility articles from the 60’s to the 80’s.

By the early afternoon, I finally located Nagoya’s only owl cafe, Fukuro no Iru Mori, which I had already hunted for a couple of days. Hidden in the fourth floor of a nondescript office building, it was a truly charming experience. For an hour, you get to admire and photograph over a dozen owls and once you’re done, you can pose with the one of your choice. Compared to other owl cafes in the country, this one was the most serene. Even if it’s questionable whether an urban environment is good for owls, the local residents seemed quite pleased with themselves.

From there, it was back to Osu to resume shopping before another enjoyable dinner at Midtown BBQ. For once in my life, I celebrated Japan with a proper 10oz steak of wagyu, the caviar of beef. As Vincent Vega might say, I don’t know if it’s worth its price but it was pretty effing good steak! I spent the rest of the night with more beer and video games back in Critical Hit and ended another day on a high note.

The final day went the exact same way it always goes when in Japan: ditching all modesty and burning through the remaining travel budget. As the temperature reached 18°C for the first time during the trip, I also visited the nearby Tsurumai park to see if there would already be even a hint of sakura. Unfortunately I had to admit that I was in Japan a little too early while the cherry blossoms were a little too late. The park certainly had plenty of market stalls and people enjoying a sunny day but the explosion of pink still hadn’t quite started. Oh well, I’ve experienced it before so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Lousy timing had its benefits, though. The return flight wasn’t even half full, and with no one sitting next to me, being able to lower the seat without annoying anyone sitting behind me, and not having to wait to use the loo all meant that the ten hour flight was a breeze. Aside from those couple of crappy days this year’s trip was definitely a success. Granted, it’s questionable whether Nagoya is worth an entire week but vacations are at their best when you never have a single day planned out hour by hour. I had a great, stress-free time just chilling and wandering about. Now that I’ve come to know the city, though, it could probably be squeezed into a compact 2-3 day side visit on some longer trip. After all, I have a feeling this still wasn’t my last trip to Japan, provided I get my back in better shape for future travels.

So what about the loot? It was a joyful pile striking balance between retro and new. My GBA collection grew with the quintet of Crayon Shin-chan: Densetsu o Yobu Omake no To Shukkugaan! (or something along those lines), Kuru Kuru Kururin, Gunstar Super Heroes, Klonoa G2: Dream Champ Tournament, and Rhythm Tengoku (I must be a masochist). After pondering it long and hard, I finally gave in and bought the ridiculously expensive but also really quite rare PS1 shooter Harmful Park. As for the more modern stuff, there’s Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure for the 3DS, and a shameless PS4 quartet of pure fan service; Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash, SG/ZH: School Girl Zombie Hunter, The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars, and Musou Stars. That one was delayed from early March but was luckily released on my final day of travel. There’s probably going to be more about these as soon as I get rid of jetlag and back pain.

*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.