Monday, February 27, 2012

Taichi Tuesdays: 2/21/12

Chihayafuru Ep. 20: The Cresting Waves Almost Look Like Clouds in the Skies

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a viral theme going around that Tuesday should be called “Taichi Tuesdays” because Chihayafuru airs on Tuesday and many people root for Taichi. So I think I will now call the Weekly Review “Taichi Tuesday” until further notice. Cool?!

Okay so this episode featured a solid amount of content that I will only touch upon briefly. And yeah, it’s because I’m almost a week late with the writing. First and foremost this week’s episode makes it clear that while Karuta is important and all, so is studying! And so Chihaya and Nishida find themselves in the position to possibly fail, and so they must put the card game on hold for a while. Only problem is Chihaya can’t get away from the game completely, exemplified by the fact that she skipped studying to be there for Taichi and his match to make it to Class A. At least she had Tsutomu as her tutor to help teach her the meaning of studying. His message that Taichi’s commitment to his grades being high while also playing Karuta really hit home with Chihaya.

The grand event of the episode was the return of Arata to Karuta… finally! What took so long! But it was Taichi’s acceptance of this fact that was so interesting to watch and dramatic to feel. Taichi lost early in the tournament by the time Chihaya got there to root him on, but Arata was there playing as well. Chihaya was taken by such a strong emotion when seeing him that even Taichi began to tear up. It was a surplus of emotion, and I am very glad for it. I am so fortunate to be able to watch an anime that features such high levels of mastery in drama and storytelling.

The most interesting development occurred between Taichi and Arata, and how Arata gave Taichi the decision to decide whether or not to give Chihaya his phone number and email. This shows Arata is clearly interested, but respectful of the fact that Taichi and Chihaya may actually be going out. Astonishingly enough Taichi says no and plays around with the awkward moment. Come on Taichi! You should have made it clear you were interested in her! Although I have a feeling Arata already knows this.

The next Taichi Tuesday happens… tomorrow! Maybe this time I will get my post up a bit sooner. We’ll see!

-Jared Cyhowski

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kid Icarus: Uprising is Coming Soon

When recently visiting a Gamestop in Manhattan I noticed this display image for the new Kid Icarus: Uprising 3DS title. It’s been getting some great exposure recently, especially with a newly released featurette as presented by the game’s director Masahiro Sakurai himself. If you’re not aware of Sakurai’s previous work, just know that he has been behind all three Smash Bros. games. I have a feeling his new title for the 3DS may have the ability to create a new multiplayer atmosphere that will survive for years.

Kid Icarus: Uprising will be released on the Nintendo 3DS on March 23rd, 2012 at $39.99.

-Jared Cyhowski

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Discussion: Dragon Quest IX - Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Dragon Quest IX – Sentinels of the Starry Skies was released in Japan in July 2009 and in North America a year later. Released to strikingly high praise, the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu gave it a 40/40 and Nintendo pushed its marketing campaign to the roof. I just recently beat this title last weekend, all while starting it back in August of 2011. Yes, it took me five months to get through Dragon Quest IX so I cannot review the game with a fair accuracy. Instead I will be looking back at my experience with the RPG and select to be what I believe is the game’s mix of high and low points.

First I must point out my thoughts on the story. I only thought it was okay. I thought it was boring and too simple throughout the majority of the game. But that’s what gets me. The story is mostly based on the fact that your character needs to collect seven pieces of a mystical fruit that have been scattered around the game’s world. For an RPG on the DS, Dragon Quest IX’s world is admittedly large, but that doesn’t make up for the repetitiveness of the story. Go to a town, learn about something bad that’s happened there, learn it’s because of the fruit, and then go fight whatever consumed the fruit. You save the day and everything’s okay. This happens for over two-thirds of the story until you’re so late in the game that if you’re still playing, then you’re committed to the end. This is where part of my own faults shine through, as I would take long breaks from playing DQIX after retrieving a piece of fruit. Or I was too tired during a school semester, and sometimes it was because I got bored. Thankfully some element of an overall story shines through in the end and really hits home with why you just spent 40 hours collecting pieces of fruit… repetitively.

The gameplay fulfills the Japanese RPG standard for what is expected in a turn-based game. You run into an enemy, a battle screen is initiated, and you take turns fighting the enemy. Dragon Quest IX doesn’t really differ from other RPG’s in its combat, but it does animate the battles in a way that’s fairly entertaining. Some boss battles are challenging, especially near the end, so this is when I found myself grinding through levels the most. Other than battles there really is only one other thing to do, and that’s running around getting to your next destination. I will mention here that yes you can do quests, but no they aren’t very worth it. Why should I go and put time into a quest when the item I receive isn’t necessarily useful? As long as you have money, which is actually hard to collect later in the game, you will be able to purchase equipment that suffices more than enough.

One of the reasons why I am criticizing Dragon Quest IX so much is because it’s clear it was built as a game to be shared with other people. It’s actually a lot more fun that way. I was only able to play DQIX with a friend in multiplayer mode for a short 40 minutes or so, but it was completely worth both it and the hassle it is to get your DS’ to communicate. Dragon Quest IX differs from other games in the series in that your supporting characters are entirely created by you. Their character class, hair, eyes, etc. are all your creation, and thus they are sort of meaningless to the plot of the game. You take them into battle and everything, but they don’t have a single line of dialogue. In multiplayer mode you can either traverse someone else’s world or they can be invited to yours. Then you can play through the story together and fight every enemy with a friend. This just makes the game more enjoyable and I wish I could have played more of it this way. But in the end it takes away from the single player experience in that the game feels somewhat lifeless on your own.

Everything I just touched upon seems to be more negative than positive, but Dragon Quest IX isn’t necessarily a bad game. It just lacks what I find to be of key importance in a JRPG: story. I need something that keeps me entertained and on the toes of my feet. DQIX tends to feel like a shopping list of “here’s what to do next.” As I mentioned it took me months to play through the game for various reasons, but in the last few weeks is when I pushed forward to the end of it. That last quarter of the game is where any hint of real story come to life, and thus my most recent impression isn’t wholly negative. If I played DQIX all the way through right when it came out, or rather, when I started playing the game, I think I would have possibly found the game more enjoyable overall because of its improved ending. But I may have also found it to be an extreme chore to keep collecting fruits. Damn that “fygg” tree for spreading fruit around the world. I can’t help but mention that Inuyasha did the same thing with those damn crystal shards, and for some reason I sat through every episode of that series. Same concept, same persistence on my end to make sure every fruit/shard was collected at last. That’s how I roll.

After beating Dragon Quest IX I learned that there’s actually a ton more stuff to do, but I don’t think I could put myself through more because it features what I didn’t really care for in the game to begin with. Level grinding, gathering items, quests, etc. Sometimes those elements are fun, but not so much unless there’s a great story to go with it! I know in Final Fantasy XII I went a bit overboard with collecting almost everything in the game, and let’s admit it, the story wasn’t exactly the greatest either. So maybe something just didn’t click with me in DQIX.

In the meantime I have purchased Dragon Quest IV and Dragon Quest V on the DS, and Dragon Quest VIII for the PS2. I hear these titles are better than DQIX and they feature actual characters and a more solid story. I will let you know what I think whenever I get to them. Until then, everyone can look forward, or not, to Dragon Quest X Online. We’ll see how that one goes.

Title: Dragon Quest IX – Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Developer: Square-Enix
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
Year: 2009 (Japan), 2010 (North America)
Platform: Nintendo DS (Played on Nintendo 3DS)
Completion: Beat the game in 52 hours on the dot. Earned 23 accolades and completed 5 quests (not many). Spent a little over 40 minutes in multiplayer. Party level was 45/46 at end of game.

-Jared Cyhowski

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weekly Review: 2/13/12

Chihayafuru Ep. 19: As The Years Pass

Episode 19 begins exactly where 18 ends, and so that is why this is a direct continuation of the previous post. Tsutomu and Kanade seem evenly matched until Tsutomu begins to shed his stance in the round. It seems that when he is under pressure he gets nervous and begins to fumble. He made a few faults and Kanade eventually comes around to winning the match. The emotional stress is so much that they both take care of one another in companionship. It’s a truly heartfelt moment to see Tsutomu place his hand on Kanade’s shoulder, and it proves their bond to be realistically strong. Their personalities and play styles differ greatly but it’s obvious that at least Tsutomu is crushing on her. Maybe at the end of the series something will become of it.

The episode dramatically turns tides to Taichi and Nishida’s match, which as you may guess, was extremely close. As soon as Chihaya realizes the match is still going on, she turns to Retro-kun for an update. He is speechless and can’t answer her, mainly because the match is that close. Both Nishida and Taichi have dwindled each other’s cards down to one card. As long as the announcer continues to call dead cards, the match remains in session.

Taichi takes the offensive even though there is only a 50% chance he can win. He puts the pressure on Nishida in that he remembers which cards have been called and those that haven’t. Of course the pressure is also on Taichi, and the animators make this clear by the expression in his face.

Eventually Taichi loses by the hand of luck as we see a slow build up of his comparing of speed to Chihaya and if she is watching him. He wants to advance to Class A so that he can prove to her that he is just as good as Arata. This has always been part of his main conflict and he must continue to struggle in competition with him. Although we don’t know if Chihaya would be swept off her feet by Arata’s potential for a relationship, that doesn’t matter. The main idea that eats Taichi away is losing Chihaya to Arata. It would be great if Arata and Taichi could settle the matter over a Karuta match, but the show is more serious than that. Maybe I am thinking this way because the last handful of episodes have been mostly dedicated to Karuta and not to relationship building. Well it has been in terms of the team playing in tournaments and each person growing individually.

Even after the match Nishida sits with Taichi and announces how glad he is that Taichi is captain of the Karuta club. It’s a heartwarming moment that tells a tale of friendship and not rivalry. Nishida feels at least a little bad that he won to luck, but with a one-card match they were both equal in skill. That can be argued in that Taichi is the one who had a better memory, but you know what I mean.

In an act of kindness on the way back home, Chihaya takes a sleepy Taich and rests his head on her shoulder. This is similar to the seen that I so loved in a recent episode. The only difference is that the nervous Taichi didn’t take the risk to grab her hand, while here she freely grabs him without thinking. It’s a beautiful gesture that then turns into Chihaya stating her wanton to have a team match. Every one of them has grown exponentially and they are coming together in an even more solid group.

There is something to look forward to in the next remaining handful of episodes of Chihayafuru. There may be some devotion to relationship building and the rivalry between Chihaya and the currently reigning Wakamiya Shinobu. And what of the tension that Taichi has created within himself that his pointed him into rivalry with Arata? I wonder if any relationship will bud in the series, as I expect at least something to happen between Tsutomu and Kanade. It’s hard to tell if Chihaya would be with Arata if the potential for such a situation were to occur. If that did happen I think Taichi would back down and never mention his feelings to Chihaya. It would be a turn of events if Chihaya acknowledged his feelings and that she knew all along, but it’s fairly clear that by the definition of her character that she is completely clueless. Oh Chihayafuru, there’s such little time left for you to answer these questions!

See you next week!

-Jared Cyhowski