Archive for the ‘Anime’ Category

Goodbye Cyber Troopers: Virtual On

February 28, 2015

A brief bit of history, growing up my father was very big on PC games. He played everything from Wolfenstein 3D to the space sims like the long forgotten “The Last Dynasty“. there was no shortage of the types of genres that my sister and I were privy to. We were introduced to almost every genre that was available. I still remember my sister poking around in point and click adventure title called “Robot City” and the hours she and I would spend trying to solve a murder of a scientist in a city ran by robots who all happened to follow the Asimov’s Law (the law of robotics that basically stipulate that a robot can not harm a human being”.

Out of all the genres we experiences, none was as influential in my development as a gamer as the Mech genre did. In the early 90’s, Mech games were a fairly big deal especially on Personal Computers. My Father had several games that ranged from the venerated ‘MechWarrior‘ franchise and it’s expansions to the lesser know just as good ‘EarthSiege‘. I’ve forgotten what age I was but I still vividly remember how much awe and amazement I was in  watching my Dad pilot the lumbering mechanical beasts of destruction.

The sound of the calm A.I. alerting him that his machine and it’s armaments were online, warning him when he was nearly out of ammo on mid combat, my eyes would widen in pure excitement as I watched him calmly cycle through his weapons and tear down his opponents with a hails of missile fire and eviscerate anyone that got in his way with barrages of laser fire that would light up the screen and sound as amazing as it looked. To my young mind, MechWarrior and EarthSiege were in a class of their own, in terms of action that is. The landscapes my father waged war in were usually flat, never-ending plains or deserts  or dark gray canyons, just very drab and depressing but worked perfectly in terms of atmosphere. I mean this was war on a massive scale, you were too busy watching your radar as your Fifteen meter robot slowly marched across alien landscapes. It all made sense, that’s the way Mech games should be right?

                                                                     Doesn’t look much now but this was amazing back in the day

Or so I thought.

It’s several years later and my father had just bought a new Compaq computer. I had just come back from school when he called me to his office. As I neared him, I heard very unfamiliar sound effects along with very unfamiliar music that was unusually cheerful sounding. By the time I had gotten to the corner of my father’s office my curiosity  was in overdrive. It wasn’t until my eyes witnessed what was on his monitor that my young adolescent mind was suddenly blown apart.

On his screen there were two brightly colored  machines jetting around firing off bolts of even more brightly colored  laser beams and projectiles at one another. The arena they battled though tiny in comparison to the maps that were present in MechWarrior, were brightly lit. Despite the arena size you could tell these machines were huge in scale because the obstacles they y dodged behind for cover to escape one another’s onslaught were buildings..

My father had just introduced me to Virtual On  and the the world of Japanese giant robots and inadvertently began my life long obsession with the genre.

The Raiden Unloading some beams on an enemy. This was my Dad's favored machine.

The Raiden Unloading some beams on Temjin. This was my Dad’s favored machine.

After years of watching my old man mow down other slow moving machines, it was absolutely engrossing to witness him fighting a machine one on one while literally flying around an arena non-stop. ‘Virtual On ‘became an integral step in my development and growth as a gamer. It opened me up to an alternative take on a genre for which I was only familiar with on one side.

‘Virtual On’ was an extremely popular arcade game released in Japanese arcades by Sega back in 1995. The game saw subsequent releases for the Sega Saturn and PC several years down the line. The first version of the game, which was ported to PC’s in America and Japan was titled ‘Cyber Troopers Virtual On- Operation Moon Gate’. The plot of ‘VOOM‘ was not unlike the that of the 80’s cult film ‘The Last Starfighter‘.

You, the player is playing an arcade game but is unwittingly  actually controlling their machine. The arcade machine itself was sent from the future to seek out players who were capable of controlling the giant robots or ‘Virtuaroids’ as they were called in game. Virtuaroids came in all sorts of shapes and colors there were some that looked reminiscent of Western Mecha with an emphasis on firepower over speed. Some that were references to other Japanese Mecha like the famous ‘Mobile Suit Gundam’ and what Japanese game would be complete without a school girl themed robot?

The "Fei Yen"

The “Fei Yen” very small, very fast and very cute!

The ‘Virtual On’ series has a storied history that might not get to continue on. Sega’s recent layoffs and refocusing on the PC and Mobile Phone market instead of game consoles and arcades has a long time ‘Virtual On’ fan like myself very worried. I’ve done my best to follow the series through it’s paces. From the awesome sequel “Oratario Tangram” to the not so awesome “Virtual On:Marz“,  even going as far as to import ‘Virtual On: Force’ for the Xbox 360 . As a long time fan, I’ve done my best to keep up with the series and it’s community which is still very active both here and in Japan.

Despite not having a sequel to ‘Force’ in years, ‘Virtual On’ is still celebrated in Japan. The Virtuaroids have had crossovers into other games like the famous Super Robot Wars  series of strategy role playing games that feature different Mecha from different Japanese anime and video-games taking on various enemies from their respective TV shows. In fact Super Robot Wars: UX which is available on the Nintendo 3DS in Japan has a crossover within a crossover in the form of a Hatsune Miku version of the Fei-Yen (the pink mecha pictured above).

                                                                                           Hatsune Miku “Fei-Yen”

With Sega slowly looking like it’s going to close it’s doors on console gaming, I can’t help but worry about what will happen to the games that jump started my love for Japanese giant robots. Like I said earlier, there hasn’t been a new ‘Virtual On’ in nearly a decade, with ‘Force’ being released to arcades in 2001 and receiving a Japan-only Xbox 360 port several years later. Things don’t exactly look well for the series but one could hope that someone at Sega  remembers ‘Cyber Troopers: Virtual On’, because the fans will always remember to “Get Ready”.

virtual-on-cyber-troopers-saturn-00b

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Dissidia Final Fantasy Returns!

February 14, 2015

What a great way to start Valentine’s Day!!! Square Enix has announced that there will be a new Dissidia: Final Fantasy, game coming to arcades in Japan! I sank more hours into both the Japanese and domestic versions of the first Dissidia game than any other handheld title I owned at the time. Originally released to the PlayStation Portable, Dissidia was a arena fighter/crossover title.

Dissidia_012_Main_Cast

It featured every main hero and main antagonist from Final Fantasy I to X, with a few characters like XI’s Shantotto and XII’s Gabranth being unlock-able.  A prequel game called “Dissidia 012” was released with even more characters like FFXIII’s Lightning and FFVII’s  Tifa Lockhart joining the battle. The general plot of both games was that the God’s of Light and Dark wage an eternal war with each other, these wars are fought by the various characters from Final Fantasy. There’s plenty of drama, exposition and interaction with the characters making the game a delight to play for fans of the Final Fantasy franchise.

Anyway, here’s what we know so far,

3 on 3 Battles( as opposed to the one on one set up of the first two games)
It’s a reboot and not a continuation of the last two games
Everything in the trailer is composed of in game assets, no CGI. (source)

Goodbye Origa, you will be missed.

January 18, 2015

The singer known as ‘Origa’ best known for her music that has been featured in notable anime from ‘Ghost in the Shell‘ to ‘Turn ∀ Gundam ‘ passed away January 17th 2015. It’s very heart wrenching to hear this news because she has touched the hearts of so many Japanese anime fans around the globe.My introduction to the singer was through her magnificent vocals in ‘Inner Universe’ the theme to ‘Ghost in The Shell:Stand Alone Complex’ it pains me and so many others that she is no longer with us.

origa

Ol’ga Vital’evna Yakovleva was born October 12, 1970 in Russia, passed away at the age of 44 after she lost her battle with lung cancer. she will be greatly missed by her many fans around the world.

Rest in Peace Ol’ga, may you continue to  sing in better worlds beyond our own.

Via AnimeNewsNetwork

Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi is white washing? I don’t agree.

January 6, 2015

So it’s came to light that actress Scarlett Johansson will be playing the role of Cyborg heroine Motoko Kusanagi in a live action adaptation  of  Masamune Shirow’s anime ‘Ghost In The Shell’.  Besides the obvious, “Why Scarlett Johansson?” line of questioning, some folks on the internet have already started calling out Hollywood for “White Washing” the role of the character, who’s story takes place in Japan and who is of Japanese origin.

First off, I’m not too sure about the casting of Ms. Johansson as ‘The Major’ I honestly feel like the casting director saw her in ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Lucy’  and thought those two characters she portrayed aligned with what American audiences would perceive Motoko as. Which in my honest opinion, would be doing the character a great disservice. Besides that point  there are people calling Johansson’s casting as whitewashing are using ‘Dragonball:Evolution‘ and M.Night shyamalan ‘Avatar‘ as an examples of Hollywood’s need to cast white actors in place of “clearly” Japanese characters. While I do believe whitewashing does exist ( Justin chatwin as Goku?) in Hollyweird, I don’t believe the same ridicule can be applied to a character like Motoko Kusanagi.

I say this simply because of the background and setting of Ghost in the Shell. Which, when you really think about it, could technically take place in any part of the world.Public Security Section 9 (The outfit that the Motoko leads in Ghost In The Shell) is basically an anti-cyber terrorist response group established under the Japanese government at some-point in the future.  Every aspect of that part of the story can be adapted in so many ways that’s it’s almost self-explanatory.Public Security Section 9 can be placed under any nation or this time around, be a multi-national task force with it’s members coming from around the world. If you saw 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow , Hollywood’s adaptation of the Japanese manga ‘All you need is kill’,  you know American adaptations of Japanese works can play out well on the big screen, even if character’s ethnicity’s are changed.

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow

While Motoko’s nationality is Japanese, however she isn’t drawn to look like a Japanese woman.For example in, how she is portrayed in the anime ‘Stand Alone Complex‘ her character looks like a Caucasian woman with goofy colored hair and an athletic build. Honestly, most anime characters are drawn to look Caucasian in the first place, with a few anime deviating from that (‘Paranoia Agent‘ and ‘Bokurano‘ come to mind) where the characters look Japanese.

Motoko as she is drawn in ‘Stand Alone Complex’

The character’s background as a body switching cyborg also helps to drive the point home, since Motoko  can switch to different prosthetic body (which she has done when her original sustains significant damage) she could technically have a different body if the story called for it.Hell at one point in ‘Stand Alone Complex‘ her partner, Batou, asks her why she doesn’t switch out into a male prosthetic body instead of a female one. Implying that she can just as easily be of another gender if she wanted to. So why would her ethnicity matter either?

I don’t agree with the alleged “White Washing” of Motoko Kusanagi, I get some of the outrage but I honestly feel it’s been misplaced this time around. With the recent releases of ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings‘ and the noise THAT casting created, I don’t blame people for being wary of Hollywood’s trickery but in the case of ‘Ghost In The Shell‘, I’m going to look past the actresses ethnicity and  just hope Ms. Johansson will do The Major and ‘Ghost In The Shell‘ justice.

Elite Beat Agents- A gone but not forgotten rythm game.

January 2, 2015

I’ve been feeling very nostalgic lately, I honestly feel that the DS/PSP handheld era was the greatest time to own a handheld console. The staggering amount of games available for both platforms was simply amazing. One of those games was ‘Elite Beat Agents’ for the Nintendo DS

The ‘Elite Beat Agents’

‘Elite Beat Agents’ was a rhythm game that was available for the Nintendo DS, you would tap on onscreen prompts to the beat of a catchy song (ranging from Avril lavigne to Madonna ) As you tapped out the beats, the game would run a cut scene that usually told some kind of story that was not always relevant to the song but was usually pretty humorous.

The accuracy and timing at which you tapped the onscreen prompts played a part in the cut-scene as well. Let’s say you missed a prompt or two,the mess up would eventually translate to failure in the cut-scene(in the case of sk8er Boi) failure would mean that the taxi driver would not be able to get the pregnant lady to the hospital, resulting in a game over. Not only was there a cut-scene, but the eponymous ‘Elite Beat Agents’ provide their own brand of comedy by dancing and posing as you tap along to song.

Gameplay from EBA

The EBA are government agents who are tasked to help people in need, when you start a mission, a scene plays where someone in need and calls out for help prompting the Elite Beat Agents to show up and dance and cheer the player on as they play through the mission.Usually between each cut-scene, you’ll you have see an animation of the agents, dancing,posing or tapping along to the song that’s being played during the course.

What made EBA so much fun was the gameplay. As a kid that grew up playing ‘Stepmania‘ and ‘Dance Dance Revolution‘ playing a rhythm game on a small handheld touchscreen was completely foreign to me. However this didn’t take a from the franticness that I felt while playing the game. On higher difficulties the game would become manic, with many complex patterns that would pop up on screen faster and faster. In EBA and OSU! you can only mess up a total of three times before you were hit with a game over screen. ‘Elite Beat Agents’ was a game that was easy to pick up but difficult to master, especially on higher difficulties in later parts of the game.

The presentation and the fun of it all helped to belay the frustration and was more than enough to make you smile and hum along. The music selection was pretty varied as well, you had covers of aforementioned artists like Madonna and Avril Lavigne to music from the Jackson Five and Destiny’s Child. To my knowledge there was also a multiplayer component that I never got to experience for myself however from the videos I’ve seen on youtube, it’s really no different from the single-player section, the only difference being that there are different agents involved (one of them being a a trio of Charlie’s Angels look alikes)

EBA team2

Elite Beat Agents, in my opinion would be an excellent game to revive in this new era of touch screen capable mobile devices, though I’d be worried about people breaking their screens trying to frantically hit all the on screen prompts! On top of that it would be just plain nice to see ‘Elite Beat Agents’ revived again. From what I remember, EBA is related to a DS rhythm game that was only released in Japan known as ‘ Osu!Tatakae! Ouendan’ (Yeah! Fight! Cheer Squad) which was the same Idea but with music from Japanese artists instead of American ones. The premise for OSU was mostly the same, except instead of Agents, you have ‘Cheerleaders’ (Honestly they looked more like Yakuza if anything). Other than that the games are mostly the same. Osu even has it’s sequel in Japan in comparison to the one ‘Elite Beat Agents’ game that we received stateside.

This era of gaming in general has a dearth of quality rhythm games that are of notable mention. The only games I can think of off the top of my head is Hatsune Miku and The IdolMaster with the former being the more recognizable title that’s seen a deception here in America. We’ll have to see what developers might come up with. However right now? I wouldn’t mind some groovy government agents helping me jam out to ‘Sk8er Boi’!

How Evangelion 64 almost consumed my life

December 28, 2014


I was watching Adult Swim’s presentation of the new (old in Japan) Evangelion movies. While I was watching the combined snore fest of “You (are)not alone” and “You(can) not advance”. I got to reminiscing about Evangelion 64. Via emulation, Eva 64 was my first contact with a game based on the  famous(now infamous) anime. At the time there were no usb controllers at my place and playing through the game on a keyboard made the experiences a bit more difficult than it had to be.However, I thoroughly enjoyed the ability to finally get to play through the events of at the time, one of my favorite giant robot anime.

I had gotten into Neon Genesis Evangelion at a “rough” time in my life. I had just been broken up with  by the supposed “girl of my dreams” and was in the throes of teenage angst and depression. Around that time a close friend of minelent me his DVD boxset of Evangelion (looking back, could I really call him friend after this?). An anime known for it’s depressing characters and even darker themes. It was like a match made in heaven, I smashed my way through each episodes trying to understand the characters, their motivations etc etc.

What many Eva fans (and even non fans) are acutely aware of is that the original Evangelion tv show and movies were rife with religious symbolism and is steeped in it’s own self created lore. This is what captivated me the most, I would spend time at the school library printing up sheets and sheets of information off of different websites (this was a bit before wikipedia, so I had to do some amount of research). I would then take these massive packets of paper and gorge myself on all the information I had sought out. “What are the Angels? where did they come from? why are the named after Judeo-Christian themes?” I was basically a young Fox Mulder, not in some FBI basement but in my bedroom, trying to piece together some kind of grand puzzle.

Around that time that same friend who lent me his Evangelion DVDs, put me on to Nintendo 64 emulation, I had been happily playing Ocarina of time and Majora’s Mask up uuntil that point..that all changed. During one of my fevered search engine snooping I found out that there had been an Neon Genesis Evangelion game released for the Nintendo 64 at some point. My head started spinning “Evangelion 64?” I would think to myself constantly “how could I have not known?. I immediately went about tracking down the rom image of the game, the excitement coursing through my body as the game slowly downloaded to my puny 64MB USB memory stick was as palpable as Emperor Palpatine’s force lightning strikes hitting Luke Skywalker’s reclining body in Return of The Jedi.

I couldn’t wait to get home, both my mother and father were off at work and my sister, who generally didn’t bother to meddle in my affairs wasn’t going to snitch to my folks that I had been playing games instead of doing homework right after school. When I finally got the chance to get home and boot up the game, I couldn’t have been more excited. Looking back, I was also extremely lucky that the game’s menus were in English instead of Japanese. After calibrating the keyboard controls appropriately, my adventures as an Eva pilot begun.

Evangelion 64 followed the plot of the anime and one of the films (I forgot which movie, maybe “End of Evangelion”? I’m not sure) and functioned as a collection of mini games filled with situations where you occasionally fight an Angel as an Eva. The minigames were all varied and were very interesting in how they were implemented in each episode from the anime. One of my favorite minigames happened to be in my favorite episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 9, “Both of you, Dance like you want to win!”. In this episode, The protagonist,Shinji Ikari and one of the other main characters,Asuka langley Soryu, must deal with an enemy that can only be killed if they attacked it as a synchronized unit. The way the game deals with this episode is through a rhythm game not unlike DDR, you pressed the C buttons on the N64 controller in unison to the prompts on screen, which is of course done to the music of that episode. The battle between the Eva and the Angel(s) plays out like a cut-scene where you tap out the button patterns on screen, if you messed up even once, the scene would end and you were defeated.

Another scenario had you play sniper and had to shoot down a giant Angel while under assault, which meant you had to fight with the controls and lock the reticule on the monster and fire before you and your robot were obliterated. I remember getting up to a certain point within the game where pin point accuracy was absolutely  necessary to bring down an enemy, unfortunately due to my being on a keyboard instead of actual Nintendo 64 controller, the level became extremely frustrating, frustrating enough for me to quit the game all together.

What made Evangelion 64 so amazing, was that it was one of the few Nintendo 64 games that had full voice acting. Even though said voices were in Japanese, it still gave the game an atmosphere. The constant chatter of the characters made me feel like I was actually playing through an episode of the anime. For me, at the time it was exactly what I needed to escape the pain of that breakup. For a good several years I remained a devoted fan to Neon Genesis Evangelion and I played several different Evangelion games since Eva 64. However, none captured that same sense of adventure as Evangelion 64 did for me, if you try and play the game today, be prepared. It’s rough looking and dated, if you go through the emulation route, it looks a bit cleaner and runs pretty smooth. Would I suggest that you play this? maybe, if you have patience and a vested interested in the world of the anime than yes, by all means dive right in. Hell if you’re a mecha anime fan and you’re trying to whet your taste for some of the first forays into the genre on the Nintendo 64 console were like, than yes go for it! Hell, you can find some gameplay on youtube thanks to a dedicated few. Either way I hope you, the reader, find the time to check out Neon Genesis Evangelion 64 and if you do, shoot me a message.

Bon voyage!