By all accounts, the emergence of Panzer Dragoon inferred a higher measure in videogame art direction. With references so powerful as the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Jean Giraud, Team Andromeda - the extinct SEGA studio that authored the original Saturn trilogy of games - envisioned the possibility that an arcade fast-paced shooting game need not be subject to the colorful and undemanding aesthetics that were ubiquitous in its time. With Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei, Team Andromeda refined their knowledge of the system and its deficiencies, obtaining an unseen sense of balance between technology and the expression of artistic values - even when and where they were deemed unnecessary.
In a rare volume entitled Die Welt von Panzer Dragoon Zwei , released in Japan circa 1995, several examples of the uncanny artwork behind the game were demonstrated. The following images consist of a particular chapter of this volume where the guardian creatures, found at the very end of each phase, are described in detail. While observing these giant entities, one is confronted with their ability to honor past traditions, with multiple references to the cultural legacy of previous games; as well as their will to inspire future creations.
Looking back on when the news of SEGA’s financial difficulties first emerged, later culminating with the announcement of severe changes in the company structure ceasing the production of hardware, it is quite surprising to see how the brand once synonymous with the word videogame has survived - and in some instances prospered. Even if there was a noticeable decline in the quantity and quality - or even perhaps the variety - of original game productions, as the internal development studios lost some of the key-figures who sought employment elsewhere, SEGA has been an active and successful game publisher with particular weight in western markets. In Japan, however, the brand is presently associated with a few quality titles like Valkyria Chronicles, Phantasy Star Portable, Project DIVA and none other than Ryu ga Gotoku, the best-selling series now close to a total of seven episodes created during the last five years.
Together with an amusing twist given to the series under the name Ryu ga Gotoku: of the End - soon to be released on the PS3 - the studio spearheaded by Toshihiro Nagoshi has also prepared a different entertainment in close collaboration with syn Sophia (formerly AKI Corporation), a studio widely specialized in the genre of wrestling games. Project K, or Kurohyou: Ryu ga Gotoku Shinshou as it came to be officially known, is a highly experimental title based on the same mechanics of the main series while introducing a generous figure of completely unseen features which I will attempt to describe below. Few, if any other videogame on the console has offered such balance between technical prowess and game depth, no doubt the result of a very attentive study led by the studio in order to create a title that suits the best interests of the system where it is played; as well as offer all new pretexts for the followers of the series to once again explore the virtual streets of Kamurocho from the perspective of an entirely different protagonist.
It is in situations such as these where the great big differences between an insignificant little blog and a sponsored website do manifest themselves in their most evident form: Siliconera has had access to a number of shiny new screenshots depicting a few situations from the upcoming Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4, previously featured here on a few occasions. These few screens show some technical prowess, lifting the veil of a few in-game situations that hint towards what can be expected from this latest episode: although it’s also relevant to witness how the team has kept the ancient tradition of quirky compasses. Most importantly, these charming new images demonstrate that the build is well under way - if not nearing the final stages of development - confirming its release scheduled for some time soon, even if exclusive to Japan for the time being.
Adding a small extra to the spectacular screens, here is another precious HD wallpaper to add to the existing collection, the third one to appear in as many weeks.
Perhaps the first great game devoted to the topic of cooking was Motoko-Chan no Wonder Kitchen. Released as a promotional item for a renowned mayonnaise brand in Japan, its faithful depiction of cooking activities was nothing short of surprising. Today, the creation of such games has become something of a global trend in light of the recent upsurge of casual games, although the complexities of culinary have been portrayed in numerous games in between. In this latest edition of Game Diggin’, a PSN production dedicated to retro games available for download at the PS Store, the usual hosts Teppei and Yatsuka revisit a few of the most mouth-watering examples for the 15 year old console.
The main course of this show is the hilarious Ore no Ryouri, a 1999 game released by SCEJ where players must manage different kinds of traditional Japanese restaurants. Needless to say, before reaching the top spot in the cooking trade, the player begins as an apprentice and eventually needs to demonstrate - by means of his efficiency - that he is capable of outdo his superior. This game was particularly hailed in Japan not only because of its unique sense of humor but also because of the way it made use, in an almost promotional fashion, of the twin analog sticks. While these have become a pattern for many control pads today, the use of two analog knobs was unseen in its day and was, while far from a complete innovation, one of the defining features of the PlayStation history. While going about the slicing of onions, carrots and other such vegetables, serving beer mugs and squatting down cockroaches, the player is invited to perform a number of relatively complex operations under the pressure of time, bearing in mind the satisfaction of the customers demanding food and drinks. While Teppei is an admitted newcomer to Ore no Ryouri, Yatsuka seems to handle the double-analog system with accuracy and gestural bravado.
During the break (at 7:37 in the video), a few other mouth-watering games are also presented, in this precise order: Yakitori Musume, an action adventure game about a shish kebab restaurant; Yakinku Bugyou, a sequel of sorts with a similar approach but this time about a barbecue joint and the handling of tongues to serve the meat in just the right point; and finally, Manpuku!! Nabe Kazoku, an unfair exercise in sukiyaki and syabu-syabu dishes with such care in the depiction of the foodstuff that might yet prove impossible to play before meals - the game’s cover alone is enough to make the stomach go wild. Unfortunately, the great Ramen Hashi game was still not released on the store and was necessarily left out of the selection.
Throughout its four episodes and one (soon to become two) spin-offs, the Ryu ga Gotoku series has characterized itself by the genuine sense of drama in spite of the sporadic humor relief. The team lead by Toshiro Nagoshi has presented nothing but the results of arduous research work causing the series to become known not only as a role model for narrative-driven games, but as one of the finest examples of a drama series in any field of creation - paired by Japanese critics together with their best literature, manga, television series and full-length motion pictures. Indeed it becomes difficult to understand how a team of videogame designers has managed to extend a series in so many episodes - all of which related to one another directly - without losing the essence of the characters they created, the universe in which they inhabited, as well as the shrewd renewal of the plot - as was the cornerstone of the last episode already scheduled for a Western release next year..
Most devoted players of this series will no doubt agree that the Yakuza games have become a part of their lives: their depth as RPG adventures under the guise of an action street brawler drove the players across a number of intense experiences lived on a daily basis, with friendly faces and places inside the virtual city; or the ambiguous sorts that defied Kazuma’s ability to trust the people around him; even the obvious foes whose evil doing compelled our character to step up and perform heroic deeds. From the creator’s perspective, the last few years of their lives were almost entirely invested in these projects. To them, the Ryu ga Gotoku games have an entirely different meaning, one which is born from hard every day work, the long frustrating hours in the office, or the pressure of creating a best selling hit. And because they have been exceptionally earnest and competent in the act of creating this series, they are - by definition - allowed to move on to a project where they may set the final tone of the series as one of the most intelligent and self-referenced parodies that the world of games has ever seen.
One can imagine how amusing this project has been to the developers who now are apparently free to use all the high quality assets from the series, force-feeding B-Movie elements into the story and crowding the streets with disposable zombies in a satirical exercise towards modern gaming trends. If any doubts existed regarding the studio’s capability of making a solid piece of invective comedy, this trailer helps alleviating them all: even a forklift, it seems, can now be driven in the streets of Kamurocho. And, given its fast-paced action tone of mind-numbing zombie slaying and weapons pageant, we might yet be in the presence of the first obligatory Western release of all in this otherwise respectable and upright series.
My apologies for posting a GameTrailers video here; I hoped the GT Exclusive label might provide a plausible justification.
I’ve had a few disappointments of late with videogames. Although I keep my usual routine regarding the daily acquisition of the latest videogame news which may concern me, I have found little disposition to engage in the usual blogging that has characterized this and my other pages. This marks the end of a cycle of my passion for videogames; but this sudden lack of interest has plagued me before. I confess as much before the reader: control pads have not been plentiful in my hands for the last few months. I have, notwithstanding, kept a few games aside from different orders made back in the heyday of Eastern Mind which, I believe, were sufficient to put together another one of these entries - no doubt the most demanding posts of all recurrent features included here.
I hope that going through some of these games and their appealing boxes, trying hard to remind myself of something mildly interest to write about them, will help recover my lost fascination.
In all my years as a videogame player and as an investigator, I’ve had the opportunity to contact many of the designers whose work has inspired me the most. Such fortunate fact of my life has also presented me with an opportunity for an improved understanding of the reality of game creation, particularly in Japan, the Mecca of this intricate specialty which is yet to be widely recognized. Pertaining the Japanese ways of design, I soon came to the conclusion that the truly emblematic works mostly originated from the authors who presented a greater awareness of European culture - mostly its Arts and History - instead of an excessive reverence for a specific post-modern Japanese legacy of references in entertainment. Some of these designers, as was the case of Haruhiko Shono, displayed an uncommon reverence for French culture, especially from a period when France was culturally equivalent - and indeed worthy of rivalry - of the United States.
When we analyze the games of Yoshiro Kimura, though bearing the distinct seal of idiosyncrasy that was originally the cornerstone of Nishi’s Love.de.Lic, we perceive an uncommon cognizance of a blend of different cultures. As a man who has travelled around the world for the sake of gathering small moments of cultural revelation and exchange, Kimura’s games bear many traits intrinsic to different cultures as portrayed in the many characters that form the society of Chulip; or in the Anglo-Saxon references present in Little King’s Story. Although a respected game creator among a small society of videogame enthusiasts, his sphere of interests goes well beyond digital applications, being a confessed admirer of children’s literature - Le Petit Prince, by Saint-Exupéry being his favorite book - and of experimental animation cinema.
The following is a case of when Yoshiro Kimura evaded the game creation channels in order to create, in his own spare time between the production of Chulip and Rule of Rose, a small animated movie made with the participation of a few of his friends. Junko was a project entirely created in the comfort of his own bedroom which, he confesses, was a complete mess during production, with the entire set occupying most of the space. Of the two characters, animated using stop motion, Kimura created the miserable beggar who searches the abandoned town for anything that could mitigate his anguished existence. Kimura explained me how he wished to make this character look indigent by using a few teeth popping out of the mouth, as well as worn out black clothes. On the other hand, the female character representing the unattainable woman was created using a rather confusing Japanese female stereotype: on the one hand, a polite and helping stance; on the other, an figure of a selective and independent woman who, in spite of her appeal, doesn’t welcome a(ny) man into her life.
One among Kimura’s friends participating in this small project was none other than Hirofumi Taniguchi with whom, at first, the director had a few disputes as to the ideal tone for the soundtrack theme. Eventually, Taniguchi got it right and the final result can be heard throughout the picture. In the year of its release, in 2004, Junko was only available for viewing in the website of Dagaya Films. Since this piece of film is extremely rare and of interest to the followers of this ex-Punchline game director, I saw little or no choice to present a small blog post in return for Kimura’s kindness for letting me view this almost private endeavor which, then again, confirms his unusual talents as well as his affinity to French culture and language.
If you don’t recognize these kanji you better: it is very probable that the newly announced PS3 sequel for the cult-series, known as Disaster Report in the great U.S., might never be released outside Japanese borders. There’s a perfectly sane reason for this, however: here in the west, we don’t seem to think much of these games, which reflects in poor sales of both PS2 episodes together with some of the worst review results from those lost years.
Personally, I’ve been mystified by this series from the first episode, named SOS The Final Escape in European territories; its sequel having reached the zenith of the genre, with a narrative so ingenious and well structured it brought shame to many a western RPG adventure. The third episode, a PSP exclusive widely covered here if virtually nowhere else, returned to a comfortable linearity and simplicity that brought the series’ debut to mind. The fourth episode points to another earthquake scenario, even if the development studio is working on numerous new features and improvements.
Other than that, the game will feature a new hygiene meter (the substitute for the thirst/temperature/stress meters used in this precise order throughout the series) as well as more character customization than before. Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4: Summer Memories will also be PS Move compliant, although the precise features are still very much unknown - using the control to point the flashlight is a reasonable supposition. Finally, it is also said that the character will now be able to use crotches to move around when hurt. In effect, this first wallpaper from the game seems to illustrate as much - click for a larger size. Future updates will no doubt be discussed in this space in a timely fashion.