Tag Archives: The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars

The Luck of the Underachiever

No need to feel down; none of this matters!

Gaming year 2018 continues under fair winds as the eternity topic of this blog, The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars, is now thoroughly done! Against ridiculously small odds, one random gold present was finally kind enough to contain the very last costume I was still missing. About two seconds later, the game disc left the console for never to return. Although I had already considered the game beaten after raising all idols to S rank, I now have its elusive platinum trophy as well. This utterly insane challenge ended up taking over 303 hours. While such a number would make the game easily the longest I have ever played, the truth isn’t quite so straightforward.

Somewhere around 200 hours, I realized that the game doesn’t actually care about its player at all. For each live, the amount and content of eventual gifts has been drawn even before the first note, so it makes no difference whether the song is played at all. As pathetic as that is, it turned out to be a blessing of sorts. Mindless repetition was no longer an issue as it was possible to just mute the TV, start the live, and go do something else entirely. Granted, it was still necessary to skip all post-live cutscenes and start a new round every few minutes but that was thankfully all the attention the game required. Ironically enough, this kind of non-playing is even a little faster way to make progress as it does away with cutscenes related to successful performances.

All the goodwill I might have had for this otherwise really quite proficient rhythm game during its first 20-30 hours went down the drain as months went by. In the end, Project iM@S and Bandai Namco only succeeded to display incredible nihilism by imagining that a game that is noticeably light in content would somehow feel more full-bodied by pitting the player against a sadistic random number generator for hundreds of hours. The game doesn’t have even a trifle of respect for its players’ time, and it would be even more ruthless towards their wallets, should anyone be foolish enough to drop hundreds of euros for additional overpriced songs, costumes, and potentially grind-lessening gifts. It’s almost insulting how little the company thinks of its customers but I suppose even a grossly cynical approach like this is somehow worth it to them.

For those willing to treat Platinum Stars as nothing more than a simple little snack for an evening or two, it’s not half bad. For completionists, however, the journey is mind-numbingly long, boring, and unrewarding. Just last December, Bandai Namco released The Idolm@ster: Stella Stage, which looks pretty much the same for its rhythm part, at least. Still, if its career mode has been ruined in a similar fashion, it’s one to pass. I’ll be damned to go through this kind of madness ever again.

Loot Math

The grim reality as boring bars

Now that EA and Star Wars Battlefront II with its microtransactions and loot boxes has gotten pretty much everyone riled up, I decided to do a bit of investigative journalism. As everyone is probably aware already, loot boxes could be considered a game mechanic but that is only a disguise to skin children and imbeciles of whatever money they might have left after buying the game itself. This questionable practice involves random rewards in random boxes with odds so low that impatient players might very well be tempted to get them with money rather than by playing.

Massive corporation greed isn’t exclusive to EA, though. Bandai Namco, too, is well-versed in this unholy dark art of leeching. As a demonstration, I’ll use The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars, which many will probably remember from last summer’s blog entries. After considerable grinding, I left the game missing just one stage costume. Sadly, it’s one that is hidden away in a random loot box. Luckily, however, it serves as a perfect way of highlighting what the recent fuss about loot boxes is all about.

The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars is based on live performances that reward not just money and experience, but also random presents. A single live takes about four minutes to complete, and after I had done a statistically nice amount of them, 200 to be exact, I got a much better understanding of what odds are involved in trying to get that one last costume into the wardrobe.

The graph in this article shows the madness of the scheme. Each bar represents ten lives and the presents I got out of them. 67% of the lives go unrewarded altogether, 18% result in a bronze present, 14% a silver present, and mere 1% a gold present. No points for guessing which kind of those hold the costume I’m missing. It get considerably more tragicomic when you consider there are ten different gold presents. So, should I get lucky enough to even bump into one, I still have only a 10% chance of actually scoring what I want. Or, to turn it around, every four minutes I have a 99.9% chance of not getting the costume. No wonder that I haven’t seen it despite 200 hours and 1800 lives played.

Now, if I was peeved AND enjoyed both loose money and a full frontal lobotomy, I’d probably just go to the marketplace to buy my way to happiness. One present costs 100 yen but a hundred of them go for as “low” as 8000 yen. At today’s exchange rates, that’s a price range from a bit under one euro to 60 euros. It took me about 13 hours to play those 200 lives and amass 66 presents in the process. Converted into cash, that means about 40 euros. If I was a corporate-loved whale who went with the most expensive hundred present deal, the odds involved would mean it contains maybe 3-4 gold presents. Or, in other words, sixty euros for four chances of guessing a number between one and ten. Yay!

Naturally, I’m such a stingy gamer that I rarely buy even an entire game digitally, let alone downloadable content or, heaven forbid, loot boxes. Still, these numbers probably explain why the business model works. It takes a special kind of stupidity both to pay and choosing not to pay. I suppose I’ll eventually play my way to that last costume simply out of sheer tenacity but hopefully this at least works as a cautionary example of the kind of cancer loot boxes represent.


Thank you, Bandai Namco. Never EVER again.

Yawn… Another week, another post about The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars. Still, this shall be the last of its kind, as listening to cutesy Japanese pop music for six weeks straight is probably enough to drive anyone insane. During this weekend, I briefly felt like I would be able to bid it farewell with grace, dignity, and feeling good. That brief moment of happiness, however, was just the game’s dastardly ploy to remind me that it’s still very much the same sadistic psychopath it has been these past few weeks. Here’s how it ended:

  • 141 hours: Everyone has seven million fans. I wander in the darkness. Nothing matters anymore.
  • 153 hours: Everyone has eight million fans. All is well in grind hell. Carry on.
  • 158 hours: Everyone has nine million fans. I spent all money earned from lives so far to publicity photo shoots. They helped me reach this point almost seven hours early. This producer is now not just tired but also very much broke.
  • 168 hours: Everyone has ten million fans! Could this truly be the glorious end of a long journey?
  • 171 hours: All idols have reached the platinum S rank! It took a while as everyone had to pass a rank up live consisting of three full songs, but it was still good times! Elation and tears of happiness for all! Since the game’s subhead is Platinum Stars, I now feel like I’ve bested it properly.
  • 174 hours: Ooh! Everyone in S rank has a solo live that unlocks a new costume! After almost a hundred hours, the long and dry clothing season ends with a flood of 13 new costumes. However, one costume still remains locked. Because irony.
  • 175 hours: All 20 songs have reached Legend status. In theory, this would have required playing each of them 200 times but at least the game is kind enough to (very) occasionally gift music magazines that shave off 10-30 repetitions. Even then, one probably has to be a bit of a masochist to get this far.
  • 176 hours: All S rank lives thoroughly completed. Since there’s basically nothing to achieve anymore, surely that one last costume would be a fine reward? No? Well sod off then.

Even if I now have plenty of platinum stars, getting the platinum trophy would still require that last costume. I also still need a bunch of vouchers for the local tailor, even if they’re total dicks and only accept them in bundles of five. All this stuff can only be obtained from gift packages that are occasional, random rewards after a live. Even getting a present comes down to luck, and for how it has been for a long time already, they’re almost guaranteed to contain nothing but useless items or duplicate costumes. Since some unlucky players have apparently spent over 500 hours to overcome this last ordeal, I call this farce off on my behalf. Never again shall I meddle with games designed around microtransactions, especially when they’re not even free but full retail.

Triple oasis of refreshment!

Hours spent on that time-waster were all the more agonizing as more interesting games kept popping up in the background. Everybody’s Golf is bound to feature familiar but entertaining casual golfing, Knack 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by being a game that every critic seems to love ridiculing (in itself a good enough reason to buy it), and Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is still very much a mystery to me. Based on hearsay, it’s supposedly some sort of soulmate to Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, but one that doesn’t require you to sink hundreds of hours into it. Especially after my last escapade, that part in particular sounds awfully nice.

The Eternal Oatmeal

Others still have energy, Miki Hoshii does not. Running out myself.

The streaming experiment of this weekend is done. It didn’t take long before I realized that it’s really unpleasant to sit with headphones on all the time, that it’s quite irritating to try and find a good balance between game audio and your own voice, and especially that it’s incredibly awkward to do small talk. I also remembered that whenever I want to see gameplay, I explicitly try to find a source without commentary. Thus, it was no wonder that my headset soon ended up on the shelf of the TV stand where it shall lie forevermore, waiting for better times. I’ll still stream, though, given how easy it is to switch broadcasting on, and the console is still kind enough to notify should anyone have something to say in the chat. Still, social interactivity is definitely something for talented extroverts only.

Then again, this weekend hasn’t been anything more than another utterly unsurprising The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars grindfest. Key moments have been few and far in between, and even classifying them as such takes a pretty nihilistic temper:

  • 103 hours: Producer-san levels up to 18. Such is life.
  • 114 hours: Producer-san levels up to 19. Yup, that really was another 11 hours spent without anything worthwhile happening. Not that this milestone wouldn’t have been anything else than a number, either.
  • 119 hours: All idols now have five million fans. Midway point reached. I’ve already decided that the finishing line to platinum stardom will be crossed in unison. This whole journey has already turned into such a joke that it isn’t worthy of a “I platinized one star and quit” punchline.
  • 127 hours: Producer-san levels up to 20. That’s the maximum, so I got a gold trophy out of it. Not bad, given that it has been 36 hours since the last one. I’m kinda wistful, though, as this means there probably won’t be anything happening even at ten hour intervals now.
  • 130 hours: My whole idol front has reached six million fans. Based on quick math, I might actually start dreaming of platinum stars in 40-50 hours. Don’t give up, go go go! I will actually push on, as this has long since turned into a story mode that is just too rueful to drop out of.

As the most observant readers might have noticed already, the 14 costumes locked since the last status update still remain locked. In fact, it has now been 49 hours since the last new costume. I’m already quite certain that the remaining ones won’t start unlocking with reasonable odds until someone goes platinum. Or something. If that’s not the case and I truly am this unlucky, it would probably take thousands of hours to get them all. While I’m not that self-destructive, I’m still stubborn enough to keep this tragicomedy rolling all September, if that’s what it takes. All hope has been lost, so anything goes.

Well Look Who’s Back Again

Pretty much how I feel, too

As much as I try to move on to more stimulating games, the subconscious just won’t shut up about the importance of finishing what you once start. That annoying bugger is right, too, so I’ve returned to The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars. Not that anything of note would’ve taken place. I used to grind on a stage that rewarded five idols each with 5,460 fans per song whereas I’m now grinding on a stage that gives 13,200 to three. That currently feels like the most efficient way to make progress, even if efficient is hardly a word to describe this purgatory. Since one in-game year lasts about three hours, that time translates to 801,600 fans for three idols and 168,000 for the remaining ten, thanks to quarterly joint shows. Feel free to calculate just how long it will take for all 13 idols to reach their ten million fans required for platinum stardom. As the game already turned into a bit of a chore after 30 hours, maintaining sanity these days requires finding joy in little things, for example:

  • 63 hours: Received Valentine’s chocolate from everyone. No impact on anything but serves as a checkpoint.
  • 65 hours: Producer-san levels up to 15, effectively unlocking the last song. The entire soundtrack is now playable. Yay.
  • 79 hours: Producer-san levels up to 16. Since all songs are now unlocked, this is only good for a fuzzy feeling, if that.
  • 82 hours: An after-show present had a new costume! Since it has been more than 30 hours since the last one, this is technically a major deal even if the costume itself is rubbish stats-wise and will end up in the back of the wardrobe to serve as a moth bait.
  • 86 hours: Omfgrblrbl, another new costume! Even after this one, 14 out of 40 are still locked. If unlocking all of them is based purely on luck, this will be an even bigger headache than turning everyone into platinum stars.
  • 87 hours: All girls’ affection meters maxed out. Pure, innocent, platonic love, all you shameless perverts!
  • 91 hours: Producer-san levels up to 17. Worth a glorious bronze trophy. Meh.
  • 100 hours: All girls have reached at least level 70. Nothing consequential,  just a nice round number.

I’ve now pretty much both cleared and extremely cleared (getting enough points to max out the audience fervor meter rather than just going over the clear line) every show available. Now nothing even pretentiously new is in the horizon, apart from a list of DLC lives promising plenty of new experiences. A real pity, considering all my idols are still hovering around 3-5 million fans each. In practice, this has long since turned into a standoff between two extremely cynical and stubborn parties; a game that makes perfectly clear that without ponying up extra cash, the mindless grind will continue and probably gets worse, and yours truly, who double-bird flips such extortion and apathetically trudges on with the content initially provided. At this point, I’m no longer even mad at Platinum Stars. It’s still a technically wonderful rhythm game but also an excellent example of a game that will guarantee consumers like me will skip any and all future releases by the developer. Sigh… The hoops I jump through just to prove myself something trifling.

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.

Whole Lotta Nothing

This is going to take ages…

I no longer wonder in the slightest why The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars rolled its credits when it did. After them, the game nonchalantly steps on the brakes and progress of any kind becomes a massive chore. While my original trio is now A rank, most of the others have barely half a million fans each, so I’d wager absolutely nothing of any interest will happen during the next few dozen hours. New lives have score limits that require an insane amount of grinding, leveling up characters is mind-numbingly slow, and new costumes are already but a fleeting dream. The random gifts now comprise mostly of duplicates. Money earned from the lives can be given to a local tailor who’ll combine two identical pieces of gear into one that has slightly better stats. Still, a lousy garment remains a lousy garment even if there were a dozen of them. I have now regressed into playing the same quintet live over and over again in drowsy stupor, often without even bothering to change the song. Granted, the end credits also unlock the songs’ hardest Master mode, should the player already be tired of achieving full note chains on Pro. The hardest mode isn’t impossible at all, but resorts to so many notes to hit with the d-pad that the songs soon feel more like work than play.

…and then we sell ’em additional songs for ¥1800 a pop!

But why has making progress been made so incredibly slow and the number of songs so limited? Why, micro-transactions, of course! Or, in this case, macro-transactions. Should the player happen to have an extra three hundred dollars or so (!) in their pocket, they could go to the PSN Store and invest it on 18 new songs and a bunch of new costumes and accessories. Any loose cash left after that could be spent on item packs aimed to make grinding a wee bit more efficient, priced at around 8-80 dollars each. Such shameless exploitation wouldn’t be quite as annoying if the base game wasn’t deliberately crippled to support it. With the chosen approach, Platinum Stars is still a decent rhythm game but one that leaves a shitty aftertaste. Sure, game industry ain’t charity but greediness has its limits.

Even if I’m still inclined to see everything through without spending a single yen, this blog will most likely start to move onto greener pastures; this project is one that will probably take several months, if not years.


Failure is no longer an option!

Less surprisingly good evening from The Idolm@aster: Platinum Stars news. I’m actually starting to feel a little sorry for its idol girls, as they definitely haven’t deserved a gaijin producer. Every now and then they ask something from the player, giving three options to choose from in five seconds. For those of us not understanding the language, the only option is to pick something and then determine from the body language if the response was even remotely proper. Usually it isn’t. To make things even more awkward, the girls should occasionally be touched somewhere around their bodies. Shoulders or top of the head seem like safe choices to avoid any sekuhara allegations. Oh well, no biggie; their affection meters will slowly rise with successful gigs, and it’s also possible to just take someone away to spend a relaxing day in town.

I’m hardly a credible manager also because it wasn’t until today that I figured out why the score limits of some live performances were rather tough to reach. The problem originates from 40 costumes and 48 head, neck, wrist, and ankle accessories. Those are random rewards from occasional gift boxes or successful performances, and they also have a rank from F to S. I spent quite some time believing that a higher grade apparel is always better. For accessories, this is mostly true but some gigs require a certain type of costume. Using one easily yields almost twice as many points as usual, making it much more easier to perform well. Some of the accessories also provide a bonus that makes all three performers join the high-scoring burst mode rather than just the leader of the trio.

Once my first idol reached 200,000 fans and was thus eligible for B rank, things heated up considerably. At that point, the game unlocks quintet lives that make leveling up everyone slightly more efficient. It’s also when an extreme live is unlocked. It’s a performance where all 13 idols first perform a joint medley before the chosen leader does a solo performance. Success is rewarded with tears of joy to be wiped, high fives to hand out, or just random chatter before the end credits roll. After that, it’s back to business as usual. Even after ranking everyone up to B and thus witnessing the end credits 13 times straight, I refuse to consider this game played through. A couple of songs are still locked and damned if I won’t raise at least one idol to the coveted S rank. I’m probably going to regret that as even if today’s progress might sound efficient, the true grind probably starts here. Even A rank requires a million fans and by hearsay, S rank takes ten million. After almost 30 hours, I only have one idol at A, and even she has been part of my default setup pretty much throughout the game. Yay.


At least it looks and plays nice…

After four consecutive JRPGs I suppose it’s due time to change the genre. That’s not to say I would leave Japan, though, as the next game in line turned out to be Bandai Namco’s idolful (yup, that shall be a word) The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars. As per tradition in the series, the player once again becomes Producer-san, tasked with turning thirteen young girls into music entertainment superstars. Many of the Idolm@ster games are hardcore management sims that are hardly suitable for us without fluency in Japanese. Thankfully Platinum Stars handles management with simple mini-games that don’t take anything away from the game being a proper Hatsune Miku -esque rhythm experience.

Apparently Producer-san isn’t a very trustworthy person. At first, the player is only given custody of three idols and half a dozen songs. More of each are slowly unlocked by leveling up managerial skills. Depending on the viewpoint, Platinum Stars is either a heaven or hell for grinders. Not only do the player and the girls have a character level, each of the latter also has an idol level, affection meter, number of fans, and three different attributes related to the number of points earned by playing through songs. If that wasn’t enough, the songs themselves have a level as well, so there certainly is plenty of meters in play.

The most obvious way to make progress is to play through live shows. Three idols go on a stage together and complete either a single song or three in a row. Notes make their way towards the hit zone at the bottom of the screen, and comprise of the usual selection of those that have to be hit, those that have to be held down, and those that require a synchronized press on the d-pad. In addition, each song has a segment that requires stroking the DualShock touch pad, and a single note towards the end that has to be nailed by clicking the pad. That invokes an euphoric Extreme Burst mode, which is just a fancy way of saying that all subsequent notes reward a lot more points as long as they aren’t missed. The gig is a success if a predetermined score is met. If not, even with a perfect performance, it’s back to the earlier challenges to level up.

The level of challenge is most moderate. Even the game itself is ashamed to suggest its easiest difficulty mode by default, and normal mode is usually good for just one go per song to unlock its Pro mode. Even on that, perfect note chains quickly become a second nature. The reason for this, though, is devious. The game only features 20 songs about two minutes in length. All of them are familiar to anyone who has ever played an Idolm@ster game on PSP or Vita. Even those who haven’t will soon get more than used to them. Raising all idols from their scrubby F level to bona fide S-class platinum stars will take a small eternity. For example, it took me just shy of 18 hours just to unlock every character for playing. Some of the songs are still behind lock and key, and no one is even near the fabled S-class. According to the internet, unlocking absolutely everything would be a gargantuan effort of around 200-300 hours. This, coupled with the fact that there’s only about of 40 minutes of music, is so tragicomic that I’m actually inclined to see just how far I can go before my brain self-destructs. A penchant for girly pop is a must, given that you can easily play through each song dozens of times in a row without making any notable progress. I’m not entirely sure if Bandai Namco wanted to hug Idolm@ster fans or give them a corporative middle finger but whoever either designs or completes games like these… Phew… Mankind never ceases to amaze me.

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.