About Me

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Virginia Beach, VA, United States
This blog (or 日記 if you will) is intended to chronicle my experience in Japan at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Japan from July to August, 2012. I have always wanted to have a journal, though, so I will try to get into a habit of writing frequently about the things important to me in my life. Besides, I plan on returning to Yamasa to participate in the AIJP after I get out of the Navy! These are the Espelancer Chronicles. Erica is also blogging about the trip, and you should totally check it out. It is The Marvelous Misadventures of Schneewittchen link over on the sidebar.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

二ノ国DS: Sweet, sweet extravagance.

   Well, my blogging project here is already off to a rocky start, as I have not written in over 2 weeks!  I am trying to get into the habit of writing routinely -- after all, I do not want to disappoint my 18 historical pageviews!  Today I am going to talk about a Nintendo DS game that I recently imported.
Ni No Kuni DS's Packaging

   Now, I heard about this game completely by accident.  I am a fan of the JRPG, and usually games like this don't slip under my radar, but this one did.  二ノ国 (Ni No Kuni) is a game co-developed by Level 5 and Studio Ghibli.  You may be familiar with Level 5 if you have ever played Dark Cloud or White Knight Chronicles, but the real name here is Ghibli.  This is the first video game developed by the anime studio famous for cinematic masterpieces such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo, or any of their other 15 films, and there is just as much heart to be found here.

Furigana AND voice acting?  OMG!

   Other than Studio Ghibli being the name behind Ni No Kuni, I was also highly interested in importing this title in order to improve upon my Japanese.  As you can see to the right, the text has furigana.  For those of you not familiar with the Japanese language, furigana are the tiny hiragana (Japanese phonetic characters) written above the kanji (Chinese characters) that enable one to determine how the word is sounded out.  This enables me to be able to look up unfamiliar kanji (of which there are many I do not know) in the dictionary directly, rather than counting the strokes and trying to find the kanji in my kanji reference book.  Also, this game contains a significant amount of voice acting, which enables me to read along with the words as they are spoken.  As you can see, playing video games can be a very effective tool for learning the Japanese language!

   To say Magic Master is the most beautiful book I have ever seen packaged with a video game would be an understatement.  It even trounces Working Design's ace hardcover full-color manuals for games such as Arc the Lad Collection or Lunar: Silver Star.  It isn't just there for looks, either -- you actually need to reference it to play the game.  It contains important things such as the spells you will need to use, a comprehensive bestiary detailing every enemy in the game, an full inventory and description of every item, beautifully detailed world and local maps, local legends and character backstories that breathe life into this vast world, recipes for the cooking system, and many more things.  It has everything a player guide would have except for an actual walkthrough, and it is packaged with the game.  For someone who cares much more about the box and manual than the game itself, Ni No Kuni is a dream come true for me.

   Now, it goes without saying that such an extravagantly produced game is highly unlikely to ever be released in the United States, however that does not mean the game can't come to our shores!  You see, there is also a Playstation 3 version of this game.  It has the exact same story arc, except it was made completely from scratch with its own gameplay and beautiful HD graphics designed to imitate Ghibli's art style.  The good news for anyone who is excited about this game in North America is that Namco Bandai has confirmed that an English version will be released sometime in early 2013.

   Before you get too excited, though, you should know the most ironic thing about the PS3 version:  Magic Master is referenced in-game and does not come as a physical copy.  It is funny that the portable version gets a huge tome whereas the console version is completely digital.

  I will leave you with the DS trailer that sold me on this game, as well as the official English trailer for the PS3 localization.  I also promise to write more frequently -- after all, I really do want to have a quality Yamasa blog when I leave for Japan this summer!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hockey, Football, and JRPG's

With a score of 2 to 1, the Rangers advance in Game 7
    Wow, what a riveting series...  I am of course talking the Eastern Semis between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals.  Like most of their games, it stayed close the entire way through, and the final period was absolutely intense. This marks the end of one of the most exciting series this playoff season, and the Caps sure did give the Rangers a run for their money.  I'm glad they went all the way to game 7.  In a way, a little luck may have had something to do with it, as one of the Ranger's wins was from a goal late in the third overtime (game 2), and another was due to tying the score with only 6 seconds left on the clock, and then finishing the Caps off in overtime with a power play goal (Damn that 4:00 high sticking call!), however the Caps are out and now the Rangers will be advancing on to play the Devils in the Eastern finals.  I can only hope that the Devils and Rangers give us an equally exciting show.

  Really, this entire playoff season has been full of surprises.  For example, the LA Kings have eliminated the #1 seed in 5 games, swept the #2 seed, and is now going on to face the #3 seed in Phoenix (although Phoenix IS only the third seed because they led their division during the regular season).  Phoenix is a bit of an underdog, too, though, as they have not had much playoff success until recently, and have never been to the Stanley Cup finals.  I think the Kings and Coyotes will be a great match-up, too.

   Now, a lot of my friends think that it is strange that I like hockey.  Of all sports, why hockey?  I am not a big fan of football (although I've seen a few Cowboys games), and I think other sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, and especially golf are simply not exciting enough.  Hockey, however, is incredibly fast-paced and action-packed.  If I had to compare football and hockey to video games, I would have to say the football is the Final Fantasy of sports, while hockey is Ys (or perhaps more accurately, a Namco Tales game) of sports.

Tidus Tebow
     So, how is football like Final Fantasy?  Well, for starters football is the most popular sport in America, just as Final Fantasy is the most popular JRPG in America.  In fact, one could argue that Final Fantasy (ahem VII) fanboys have as much fervor for this series as the average football fan.  Now I like Final Fantasy well enough, and I can tolerate football, however I find both to be extremely overrated.
   Until recently, Final Fantasy games have been turn based (albeit with an Active Time Battle), which results in the players and enemies taking turns to attack most of the time.  In football, each team takes turns making drives into the end zone.  This means there are frequent pauses in play throughout the entire game.  There might be a good deal of heavy hitting and rough contact going on, however, play is stopped whenever the ball-carrier goes down or runs out of bounds, even if the clock doesn't always stop.  The ball is typically only in play for about 20 seconds in a down on average
   Modern Final Fantasy games are full of beautiful eye candy with cutscenes that look more and more realistic with each new game.  No other sport intermission can compare to an NFL halftime show, especially during the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
   Interestingly enough, there is an Uncyclopedia entry for Final Fantasy Football.  I think it would actually be a pretty awesome idea.
   There you go, football is a popular turn-based JRPG.

  Now, most of my favorite JRPG's are in fact action RPG's.  I'm a huge fan of the Namco Tales series and the Ys series (as well as just about everything else from Falcom), both of which sport intense and engaging action gameplay in which the tide of the battle can change in literally an instant.
  Well, you see, hockey is very much the same way.  The player can be forced to switch between offense and defense at a moment's notice.  No matter how well a hockey team can keep the puck in their offensive zone, if it comes loose, you may very well see the defensive team manage to drive the puck all the way down the ice and score on the break-away.
     In any match between two great hockey teams, though, most scores happen on rebounds and assists.  When you have 3 guys defending the net and another 3 trying to take control of the puck, most of the time it takes your entire offensive line to get the puck in the net.  Much like Tales of Xillia here, you use your entire party and, while lucky shots do happen, most of the time players need an assist to score a goal.  After all, it isn't easy getting a puck into a 6'x4' area, especially with a pro goaltender in the way.
    The biggest difference here, though, is that there is very little stoppage of play in hockey, just like in many action RPG's there is very little rest between fights.  Sure, you have the occasional icing or offsides, and sometimes the puck goes out of play or a penalty is called, but it is not unheard of for the puck to remain in play for over half of a period (that's 10 minutes for any non-hockey fans).  I'd love to see a single football down last for that long.  This leads to incredibly exciting games and hair-raising moments near the goal, full of action, body checks into the boards, hard open-ice hits, and sometimes even fights.  That is why I love hockey so much, because hockey is an action RPG.  Maybe Namco should make a Tales of Stanley game.  I'd play it.

   Well, that is all for today.  I can't make a hockey post without a hockey video, so I'll leave you with a video of some wicked hockey saves.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why does writing have to be so..... hard?

 I have decided that I want to start writing a blog -- you know, chronicling my experiences and publishing my thoughts on all of the issues that matter to me.   It's not that I expect anyone to read or care about what I have to say, I just want to feel like people read and care about what I say.  This is actually something I have wanted to do for a while, but I have had a hard time getting started.  So, here I am, getting started.

 We'll start with the cool things that have happened in my life recently.  First of all, I have just come back from being underway (at sea) for 3 weeks.  I should have known that being in the Navy would put me out to see more than I would be at home, but I digress.  Two really awesome developments occurred while I was gone, both having to do with Japan. (Well, there was another event as well, but I could not enjoy it until I returned home). 

  Firstly, we had a special visitor on board for about a week.  No, it wasn't George H W Bush -- he will be going underway with us next month.  It was 東野俊英 (Captain Toshihide Higashino) of the Japan Air Self Defense Force.  He is a flight surgeon studying medicine on naval aviation platforms (such as our aircraft carrier) in a kind of personnel exchange program between the United States Navy and Japan.  Now, I wasn't going to let the opportunity to practice conversing in Japanese go to waste, so I paid medical a visit several times to talk with him.  Surprisingly, I was doing alright speaking in Japanese, although I had to say 「もう一度言ってください。」(Please repeat that) and 「もう遅く話してください。」(Please speak more slowly) quite a lot.  I think after studying Japanese at Yamasa, my speaking and listening ability will become significantly better.

Nagoya Castle, which is close to where I will be staying.
   Which brings me to the second event of pure awesome.  My leave request to study at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Japan for 32 days has been approved!  I will be in Japan from July 16 through August 16 to study in the SILAC program (the Short Intensive Language Acquisition Course).  For those of you who do not know about Yamasa, it is an extremely well-reviewed language school in a small town outside of Nagoya, Japan.  You can find out more about it at Yamasa's website or by reading one of the many student blogs out there about the school.  This trip is part of the reason that I wanted to start writing; I want to report my experiences when I finally do go to Japan.

You will be sorry.
   Lastly, while I was gone the season 2 finale for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic aired.  I was upset that I wouldn't get to watch it until returning home, so I was really excited when I finally got to watch the 2-episode special (3 weeks late...).  The finale was absolutely epic, and really showcases the writing and animation talent behind the show.  Most notably, however, was Daniel Ingram's original song "This Day Aria", which was one of the best villain songs I have ever heard.  It is right up there with Scar's song from The Lion King and "Mother Knows Best" from Tangled.  It is no surprise that two of the songs from this season have been nominated for a Daytime Emmy.  I've included the Youtube video for the song, but I wouldn't watch it if you plan on seeing the episode.

    Well, that is all for today.  This is really long for a first post, but I guess the beginning is when most people would have the most to say.