Category Archives: PlayStation 4

Inis Is Back!

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Some of the younger people might not remember but back in the middle of the last decade, Inis was bad-ass! Their Nintendo DS games Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2, and the western adaptation of those two, Elite Beat Agents, represented the best and funniest rhythm gaming out there. After these gems, the firm ended up developing notably less interesting karaoke games for the Xbox 360, after which they went mobile. In my heart, I had already bid this once brilliant studio my sad farewell, but now it looks like they’re ready to make one hell of a comeback!

Inis has joined hands with the equally forgotten NanaOn-Sha, who are probably best known for PaRappa the Rapper, the game considered to be the first ever modern rhythm game. I’m still baffled as to why that silly game, lasting only an hour or two, enjoys such a fame as it seemingly does, especially now with a HD remake out and everything. Still, I’ll admit it was pretty neat despite its short length. Whatever the case, these two cult studios are now working on Project Rap Rabbit. At this point, all we know about it is the above teaser video and a Kickstarter page that promises a 2018 story-driven rhythm game for PC and PS4, should the funding be met. I sure hope it does, as I’m actually a little bit surprised how developers of such caliber even need to resort to Kickstarter in the first place.

…and if anyone was left wondering about all this weird Inis worship then come on, surely these were the best rhythm times ever:

Surreal Sleuthing

Being the new guy without a nickname sucks 🙁

The best word to describe this weekend is probably “perplexed.” That’s not because of three-dimensional numeric puzzles, though, but because I decided to complement that game with Goichi Suda’s debut adventure The Silver Case. During these past couple of days this eccentric visual novel dating back to 1999 has been both charming and annoying in that uncompromising way that, by now, has almost like become a trademark for this renowned video game designer. Whoever decides to experience The Silver Case won’t get off easy but just like most of Suda’s brainchildren, it sure is one unique trip.

The adventure takes place in the year of the game’s original release date, set in the fictional Japanese metropolis of 24 Districts. After a lightweight intro of events, the player ends up as a newbie detective in the Heinous Crimes Unit of the city. They’re troubled not by just everyday cases but also by Kamui Uehara, a legendary serial killer from more than 20 years ago, who escapes a psychiatric institution only to restart his deplorable deeds. The official authorities aren’t the only ones having interest in the guy, as a sleazy chain-smoking freelance journalist, Tokio Morishima, is suddenly given a wealthy contract to dig into the very character of that scumbag. So, detective instincts and investigative journalism, here we go!

The Silver Case is a game in name only. Using an extremely awkward command wheel, you choose between moving, exploring hotspots of interest, utilizing items you have, and saving. Navigating through the maps viewed in first perspective is only about moving and turning one square at a time. A couple more buttons have been reserved for looking up or down, but all this is just trivial cosmetics. There are no moments of having to make a choice, and no chance of dying, so the game mechanics are all about making an otherwise passive story into at least a seemingly interactive one.

That might sound boring but as far as visual novels in particular go, it’s the journey itself that matters. In that respect The Silver Case is… …well, at least sporadically brilliant. Even for a remake of a game that is almost 18 years old by now, it’s still pretty darn stylish on whole. The ambient, jazzy soundtrack supports the on-screen events nicely, and the game’s wild and unpredictable visual mixture of still images, CG sequences, anime, and acted FMV clips is pure art. The dialogue is even better. The characters’ lines are terse and notably coarse, but even if the f**s and s**ts fly like never before in gaming, they flow in a remarkably natural fashion. The character chemistry is absolutely stellar, and the best times are often had just following the back and forth between everyday people talking about everyday stuff.

Towards the end, all this charm pretty much falls apart but as I still haven’t finished the game, more about its shortcomings later.

Happiness through forms unearthed!

As a quick status update, I’m most certainly still into Picross 3D. As a pleasant surprise, its normal mode isn’t nearly as punishing as I dreaded it to be. Sure, there have been a couple of moments when I’ve thought about giving up because I’m just too dumb. Still, when giving any puzzle a few more goes, or enjoying a good night’s sleep before retrying something, everything is still very much solvable. That’s only natural, given that most puzzle games are never so much about intelligence than intellect. I’m still having trouble dealing with cubes that need to be separated into three or more segments but I also think the game itself is doing its hardest to teach me that skill. Overall, the game is getting a tad challenging but it’s still fun!

Möst Wöndërfül

First some speed and then a leap into the unknown

The beginning of this Saturday has been quite jovial. I chose to play Type:Rider, which is a French 2D art platformer that was included in this month’s PlayStation Plus pile. It touts itself as a typographical video game, and it stars a happy little umlaut (or perhaps it’s a colon?) that rolls and jumps its way through mankind’s character, font, and printing history ranging from ancient cave paintings to modern day digitization. Along the journey, there are plenty of famous typeface letters to collect, including asterisks that open up really rather interesting little articles about the pioneers and innovations of the printing industry. It’s fun and educational; not bad!

The minimalist, stylishly designed stages are full of woodcuts, lithographs, posters, and typefaces. Traversing them is all about honoring the laws of physics, except when they make you curse physics altogether. The player’s two rolling dots are capable of jumping and rotating in the air but it’s quite tricky to keep them in perfect control. Inertia is your best friend but when it either runs out or there’s too much of it, you usually take a wildly spinning plunge into oblivion. Thankfully there are loads of checkpoints, and the game isn’t that challenging to begin with. Every now and then, there are also lightweight puzzle rooms where you have to free a third dot and then push it to a pedestal that enables you to proceed.

All the collectible letters can be found with relative ease, and even if you go after all of them, the game shouldn’t take longer than about two and a half hours to complete. One hour more, and I even managed to unlock all of its trophies. Those who want more can still improve their automatically tracked completion times or head to a separate speed run track that provides considerably more challenge for competitive gamers. Also, each stage has been split into four sections, each of which can be warped into via the in-game menu. In this game, reliving its best moments or practicing its slightly more challenging parts is remarkably quick and easy.

Even as a little snack, Type:Rider made me smile a lot. It’s original and stylish in a way that many French game developers seem to handle so eerily well. Sure, it’s also short and easy but then again, it never outstays its welcome, and it’s actually quite relaxing to play a game that isn’t constantly trying to make its player lose their cool. What a delightfully entertaining morning this has been!

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.

Feisty Fish

Three arms and a bowl. I’M INVINCIBLE!! Until next stage.

This lazy Sunday has been all about extravagant nothing. My only accomplishment has been grabbing the last few trophies of a two-year-old indie 2D shooter Shütshimi: Seriously Swole. It’s yet another fake retro style release that was given free to PlayStation Plus subscribers a little over a year ago. Back then, its humorous angle was much appreciated but since the game always felt awfully challenging, it ended up being something I played on and off in little bursts over a long period of time. Apparently each session still taught me something, as I finally managed to complete the damn thing. To be precise, I actually finished it last week, triumphed over its boss rush mode last Friday, and spent today cleaning off its remaining few trophies.

Shütshimi’s take on shoot’em ups is amusing and brisk. You play as a totally pissed-off gold fish that defends its home waters against all sorts of maritime nasties, be they laser-shooting sharks or even underwater bears. Each stage only lasts about ten seconds, and between them you get to quickly choose between three random bonuses. Some of them are genuinely useful (say, a protective fish bowl, extra arms for additional damage, or a bouncy castle where everyone plays nice), others mostly cosmetic (a huge pile of hats), and the rest downright nasty (inverted controls, twice the size, or plenty more enemies to kill). You only get a few seconds to choose between these verbosely described bonuses, so it’s either a matter of blind luck or getting good enough to spot the ones that are practical or, in the worst case scenario, at least remotely less annoying.

At first, Shütshimi seems easy and relaxed. Every five enemy waves, a brutal boss appears. You shoot them for as much as the time allows, and if that’s not enough, it’s another five waves to survive to continue from where you left off. Even if no stage lasts longer than those ten seconds, it’s often long enough for the enemy hordes to flatten your stalwart gold-scaled hero and, since the game plays like a dream, you always have no one but yourself to blame. It probably doesn’t take longer than an evening or two to deal with the three main bosses of the game, but when you are then challenged to beat their advanced forms… I haven’t kept track of time spent with this one but as mentioned, it’s a game that has been steadily bugging me for a year or so.

While the indie scene is hopelessly crammed with these pixel-art forays, Shütshimi was a pleasant little surprise. It’s a simple, challenging game that I ended up coming back to over and over again, just like back in my youth when some games were equally brutal and yet somehow inexplicably compelling. I guess that’s the best recommendation I can give.

Just Business

About to get medieval on your ass, you racist little prick!

Not only did this Easter vacation give me a chance to rest my still awfully temperamental hip, it was just enough to complete Mafia III. As a delightful surprise, the story missions towards the end actually involved a bit of handwriting. While they still weren’t anything more than massive firefights, at least they took place in spectacular settings. Since getting to Marcano also required to go through most of his relatives as well, Clay’s vengeful odyssey began to pack some serious assertiveness. When the CIA just spurs you along while a priest watches in horror what the once upright young man is turning into, it’s something you start thinking as a player, too. At least you still get your say in the final decisions, and as I try to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, let’s just say the eventual meeting between Sal Marcano and Lincoln Clay is a small, yet beautiful and memorable piece of storytelling in games.

Before Marcano, I paid a quick visit to the Faster, Baby! DLC, which opens up an entirely new district on the map. Sinclair Parish is a pathetic backwater suburb where the official authorities are essentially nazis and asshole residents proudly don their white bedsheet capes. Together with a hard-boiled afro chick, Roxy, Clay gets to wreak biblical havoc on the local, utterly racist excuse of a sheriff. The best word to describe this DLC is speed. The area is flat and unobstructed, designed around excessive speeds and massive police chases, which is what the add-on is all about with the absurdity meter cranked up to eleven. Using Roxy’s bad-ass pickup, you end up trashing half the neighborhood and jumping through billboards in cinematic fashion that pays homage to every car chase movie ever. It’s a nice, rambunctious break from the main game but then again, it hardly takes more than a couple of hours to experience, including plenty of cutscenes. It also gives you a chance to grow and cultivate cannabis to sell but the darn seedlings took so long to sprout that I ended up passing my chance for the joys of horticulture. Still, there’s supposed to be two more story-focused add-ons released later this year, so perhaps I’ll get back to this come summertime.

As a concluding statement, Mafia III isn’t particularly noteworthy but also not nearly as hopeless as its review scores might imply. It falls short on storytelling, which is strong in the beginning and in the end, but the beef in the middle is just repetitious, meaningless fluff. Still, during my playthrough of 41 hours, I pretty much never felt unsatisfied or annoyed, and the time just flew by. The game might not provide a captivating story but as a 60’s sandbox, it was certainly worth one very merry Easter!

Mojo Working

They didn’t survive…

Easter of sheer gaming continues with Mafia III, and after 34 hours I’m starting to like it for reals! After affiliating himself with a Haitian, an Irish, and an Italian, Clay has managed to take over pretty much all the organized crime of New Bordeaux. The sleazy Sal Marcano is now only protected by his three Capos, and I’m fairly certain to deal with them by tomorrow. Still, there are so many side missions, street races, and miscellaneous collectibles left that the game most likely has quite a bit of mileage left in it, especially as its Collector’s Edition came with a season pass that seems to grant a sizable chunk of DLC. Everything has been pretty much the same, though. Despite occasional tailing, chasing, and grand theft auto, Mafia III is still very much a game in which you just end up killing a bunch of people. When going for the boss of any given district, you might be given a choice between a full frontal assault or a slightly sneakier approach but even then, it’s mostly about how many poor saps end up having to cross their path with Clay.

Despite its notably lazy script and a cast of characters borderlining on tired old stereotypes, Mafia III is fun. New Bordeaux first felt a bit quiet and it still is, but at least its architecture and attention to detail are top-notch. If you, just for once, forget rushing off to the next mission marker and instead choose to cruise around and soak it all in, that’s when the 60’s with its adverts, enterprises, restaurants, and bars begins to work its magic. The superb soundtrack is propped by news that not only cover Clay’s most notable achievements but also address topical issues such as Kennedy and Nixon, racial discrimination, the murder of Martin Luther King, the race to the Moon, foreign relations, and what else! As another delightful feature, the otherwise trivial journey is often intercepted by short documentaries in which a state prosecutor, a CIA agent, and a priest from Clay’s youth look back on what the man achieved, years after it took place.

The best part of Mafia III, however, are its cars. Those chromed showboats of the era might’ve never been that fast or practical but not only do they look cool, driving them is pure joy! After finally getting the speed up, tearing towards an intersection, and hopping on the woefully poor brakes just to realize your tons of metal will irreversibly plough towards the nearest wall and maybe even a pedestrian… That’s truly a time to smile and grimace at the same time. The weight and the handling of the cars is spot on, and even if the big blocks could always sound a bit more throaty and the tires often feel a bit too grippy, they still make a lovely sound both on asphalt and gravel.

After all I’ve experienced so far, I’m actually kinda pleased. Sure, Mafia III is awfully repetitious and as far as its story goes, utterly forgettable. Still, it gives me stuff to collect and whenever there’s a firefight, I’m free to choose my approach. Good enough, works for me!

The Swinging Sixties

Yes, I am hidden (^^;)

Despite just recently getting out of the 80’s, I’ve somehow found myself back in the past once more. As predicted, Mafia III jumped the line and took me to 1968, the year Lincoln Clay returns home from a four year sortie in Vietnam. He’s keen to start living a normal life and get an honest job but his foster family is having a bit of trouble. Haitian ruffians are hampering their lottery racket and they have fallen badly behind in payments to the town’s most prominent mafia family, the Marcanos. Clay, with his special forces expertise, wastes no time dealing with the Haitians and even a ballsy, most lucrative heist of the Federal Reserve Bank goes without a hitch. The money stolen should be more than enough to appease Sal Marcano, yet the ruthless Don prefers to keep it all to himself and get rid of Clay and his friends for good. Clay is the only one to barely survive the ensuing bloodbath, and after recuperating for a few months, it’s time to strike down upon Marcano and his lackeys with great vengeance and furious anger. No style points for originality but it’s still a decent setup for yet another sandbox.

Mafia III takes place in the fictional city of New Bordeaux on the Gulf Coast of the United States. It’s a nicely varied blend of business, industry, and slum districts. There’s plenty of neon, ramshackled shanties, playful alligators, and 60’s classic rock. Heck, when even the main menu song is Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower, you can be certain that the musical aspect of the game, at least, is in good hands. Still, even if the game’s radio stations are full of excellent music and there’s plenty of mighty nice looking screenshots on the internet, New Bordeaux comes off remarkably flat, faded, and muffled. The roads are smooth and wide, there’s a little bit of traffic, and at least a handful of pedestrians who randomly greet Clay or scold him if he bumps into them. Everything you’d expect is present but rather than a bustling metropolis, the city feels more like a subdued ghost town.

As for actual gameplay, Mafia III is equally bland, if perhaps a tad more enjoyable. You go after Marcano by taking over his rackets one by one. By first roughing up informants, you learn what is going down and where. After that, you cause enough economic damage to the racket that its leader has no choice but to come forth. They are then either killed for some quick cash or recruited to Clay’s side for less money but more long-term benefits. For the first seven hours or so nearly all missions have been variations of the theme “go to the given location and deal with everyone there in a way of your choosing.” This is where Mafia III gets unwittingly silly. If you prefer to use firearms, the game regresses into a mundane cover-based shooter. It’s remarkably more fun to sneak from cover to cover and use melee attacks to get rid of the enemies with stealth. They’re dumb as bricks and apparently half blind, too, so every area is essentially just an empowering stealth track where it’s nigh on impossible to screw up. Besides, even if you get discovered, it’s just a matter of whipping out a pistol or a rifle and rain lead on the remaining baddies who either charge you or hide behind cover, waiting for that inevitable headshot. It’s all very unimaginative and unchallenging but, in some perverse fashion, also pretty damn relaxing.

Even if I’ve barely just started the game, it already feels like an antithesis of Mafia II. That one had a great story but was a pointless sandbox whereas this time around the scales tip the other way. Grand Theft Auto this most definitely isn’t but at least it’s awkward in a good, adorable way. It probably was a huge disappointment as a day one AAA behemoth but as a B-class bargain bin find, it’s actually really quite entertaining.

Aw yiss, motha f**kin P5!

As for having to curse like a sailor, there was no need for that, after all. Earlier this week, Atlus’ purportedly stellar Persona 5 finally found itself to my household, accompanied by NIS America’s gloomy puzzle platformer (I guess?) A Rose in the Twilight. While my original plan was to dedicate this four day Easter holiday to the first of those two, I’m making such jolly progress in Mafia III that perhaps a little break from Japanese games is in order. Of course, considering how fast my backlog grows, I’m destined to have projects long into my potential retirement years. Still, can’t really complain; these are exceptionally good times to be a console gamer!

Return to Modern Day Everyday

Don’t ask…

After homecoming and a bit of physiotherapy, my life is falling back into its normal pattern. I even managed to finish my plate of early spring games by finally beating Yakuza 0 from almost a couple of months back, although only by skipping a notable amount of side content. Even after more than 65 hours, my completion percentage was a paltry 60.69%. No can do; all Yakuza games are such huge strawberry cakes that even if they are the most enjoyable thing for quite some time, enough is eventually enough. Still, the main story was brilliant as usual. Towards the memorable, bittersweet conclusion the game really amped up its drama, manly tears were shed, and the families vying for ever more power in the clan got caught up in a storm of treacherous scheming and mutual backstabbing. It wasn’t even a matter of distinctly good and bad guys duking it out more than it was about different shades of gray. Impressive!

I actually planned to complete the game more than a couple of weeks ago. The final confrontations, however, got so punishing even on the easiest difficulty that I respectfully backed down and first finished both Kiryu’s real estate management and Majima’s hostess club side stories. Completing them rewarded both characters with so much income and other goodies that by the time I headed back to the final fray, even the strongest of adversaries were total pushovers. Granted, I also could’ve learned all the intricacies of the surprisingly deep battle system in the very beginning but in this series, it’s deceptively easy to rely on just mindless button mashing and a couple of simple combos that eventually get the job done. Still, it’s only nice that you can enjoy the game as casually or seriously as you prefer.

As for side content, there’s definitely more than enough. Achieving absolutely everything the game has to offer would require two playthroughs and most likely more than double the hours invested. As for myself, I had a great time with all the hilarious social stuff but voluntarily skipped most fighting activities and more than a dozen bar, gambling, and board games that have already been featured throughout the series. Even if comprehensive tutorials are there to teach you even the likes of shogi and mahjong, it’s very much a matter of each to their own. Many of the minigames and other miscellaneous stuff are perhaps a little too plain and repetitious but at least there’s plenty to choose from.

On whole, Yakuza 0 is, at least for now, hands down the most enjoyable gaming experience I’ve had this year. Those of us who have been along the ride since the very first game might already find it a little too familiar at times but the developers always pack so much emotion and warmth to these games that come summer and Yakuza Kiwami, I’ll most likely find myself back in Kamurocho once more.

A lovely haul any other week than this :/

I’m actually quite pleased to have the aforementioned juggernaut out of the way. While I’ve been not-gaming, yet more PS4 releases managed to sneak in. Nier: Automata, praised by both critics and gamers alike, really is most intriguing. Before jumping into it, though, I think its PS3 predecessor, Nier, warrants a replay. Even if I’ve come to understand that Automata is pretty much a sequel in name only, this genre-defying action-JRPG series is so unique that it’ll probably be even better by enjoying both games in succession. Besides, it has been closer to seven years since I last played Nier, so it’s definitely due for another go-round.

In the meantime, by now Square Enix must have made some sort of world record by following up on Kingdom Hearts II with about a gazillion other Kingdom Hearts games that seem connected only by the fact that none of them is Kingdom Hearts III. I’ve only played through the first two games of the main series but now that PS4 got yet another not-KH3, namely Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix, I think that by the time I’ve completed its compilation of six different games, it might be time for the actual third part to be released. Around 2021 or something.

Considering the games I currently have, I’m actually most tempted to dwell into Mafia III, even if it didn’t garner much acclaim back when it was released. However, considering the games I DON’T have, there’s that certain recent Atlus mega-release that in my case seems to enjoy yet another merry weekend in transit (that’s what you get for being a petty cheapskate and importing from across the world). Damn it! Thankfully I was going to be busy this weekend, anyway, so it’s not the end of the world. Still, if that undoubtedly highly mysterious game isn’t by my doorstep come the four-day Easter holiday next week, my cursing will also be heard in the neighboring municipalities. You have been warned.

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.