Hump Day Otaku News Report 03.19.03

Welcome back to the newest, most spectacular event in all of games! Well, 411mania’s Games, anyway. I’m back with the second installment of my Hump Day Otaku News Report. I didn’t get any negative feedback on my previous report (only got a little feedback period), so I guess that means that everybody liked it! So I’ll keep it basically the same from here on out, unless I get sick of the way it is myself.

Before we begin, I’ll explain the title for any of you who may not be familiar with the terms used. I’m sure most of you are aware that Hump Day is another way to say Wednesday, the day this report is posted. The reason for this is that Wednesday is in the middle of the business week, so it’s the hump. And whenever you get past Wednesday, then you’re over the hump. As for Otaku, it’s a Japanese word that basically means überfan, and is used primarily with anime, and I like to consider myself Otaku since I’m a HUGE fan of anime, as I’m sure you’re already aware. There are some Otaku who would NOT consider me to be Otaku, since I don’t watch anime in Japanese with English Subtitled (or subbed). I prefer mine Dubbed with English. I like watching and hearing a show, rather than being distracted by reading text that can sometimes go by too fast. These Otaku wouldn’t consider ME to be Otaku, but they would consider me to be a baka, which means idiot. I’m all down with that, because I am quite often a baka, but I don’t think Hump Day Baka News Report has the same ring to it. Maybe later, I’ll teach you some more Japanese words from my miniscule vocabulary. Now that that’s out of the way, let us get on to the news.

Gaming News
There’s not a whole lot of news that hasn’t already been covered by the others, so I’ll probably throw in a little extra at the end to balance it out.

EA and Eidos Against Xbox Live
While Xbox Live has gotten a lot of praise from developers as well as consumers, there are two companies that have decided not to develop for the first major online business model. EA doesn’t agree with Microsoft on how the online play should be designed, and have decided to side with Nintendo and their ideas of making more games with GC-GBA connectivity. This reasoning is similar to Activision’s reason for making Tony Hawk 4 offline only with the Xbox. Microsoft wanted Activision to conform to their standards with all online games, but Activision would have to rewrite a lot of code to make that happen, so they decided against it.

Eidos also stated that they’d rather not develop for Live since with Microsoft’s business model, “they own the consumer.” They prefer the stance that Sony has taken with the PS2, where the companies can develop the games the way they see fit, and the broadband adapter is just a tool to facilitate the connection. Personally, I can see the benefits of both sides. As with the web, conforming to standards is a good thing, but as with the web again, Microsoft’s version of standards isn’t always a good thing. In addition, with Microsoft’s plan, you not only have to buy the Xbox and the Xbox Live kit, you’d also have to pay a monthly Xbox Live fee, in addition to any fees that the games themselves require. But with Sony’s plan, you buy the broadband adapter for the PS2, and the only other fees are if the game requires them, which many don’t. The biggest compliment I can give Microsoft about Xbox Live is that they definitely had their shit together. It’s the best reason to get an Xbox now, so if they can keep their online momentum going, and get some good developers, they can become a strong second console. Nintendo’s online presence is nonexistent, and likely will remain so at this rate (sorry, I don’t count PSO since it’s on every system, or will be).

Squaresoft Hates Its Fans
The makers of Final Fantasy have proven yet again how much they hate their fans. According to EBGames, Squaresoft is planning on shipping 3 Final Fantasy games in 2 days. On November 3, Final Fantasy X-2 for the PS2 and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube will ship. The following day, they will ship Final Fantasy XI. Keep in mind that games typically ship on Tuesdays, so they will all probably ship on the 4th. Another thing worth mentioning is that this is a long time away, so the games could very well be split up, but since they are so close in ship date, it says to me that they want to make us fans suffer. Then again, EBGames could just be making up the dates. Gamestop has the same date for X-2, but XI they say will be shipped on October 1st. So this may turn into a big unsubstantiated rumor, but I thought I’d throw out the information anyway. It should also be noted that the fourth episode of the .hack series of games is scheduled to be released on November 4th as well. Here’s to hoping I get a raise by then.

Final Fantasy X-2 looks to be the best of the three games, since Square has shipped 1.8 million copies to retailers, of which 1.2 million were sold. This is a very strong number, and I will probably pick this game up mainly to see if it resolved some of the story issues in FFX, as well as the nifty looking dress up system. Crystal Chronicles will be the first Final Fantasy game on the GameCube, and it reportedly requires a GBA to play, which is kind of questionable to me. Not much else about the game is known, except that it’s supposedly an Action RPG rather than traditional, and for some reason, I always think of the dreaded FF: Mystic Quest when I think about Crystal Chronicles. Lastly, we have Final Fantasy XI. While I don’t have a problem with an online game, to name it Final Fantasy and give it a number is just cheap to me. It’s kind of like what they did with Final Fantasy Tactics. While it was a good game, the FF name was put on it just so it would sell copies. FF XI is the same type of deal, but I think the masses won’t be fooled. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the sales in Japan are still pretty low, and hopefully they’ll be low enough in America to where they won’t release any more online only games in the future. Like I said, I wouldn’t have a problem if Squaresoft made an online game and called it whatever, because I would be interested in it since it’s by them. Since they named it Final Fantasy and made it number 11, it turned me off to the game and I likely will break my tradition of buying all Final Fantasy games released on the non-portable consoles (with the exception of Mystic Quest, which I luckily rented beforehand). Add to this the fact that unless something changes from the Japanese version, a hard drive will be needed for the PS2, and that hasn’t even been announced for American release yet.

Chobits Game in Development
If you read my mini-review of Chobits last week, you’d see how fond of the anime I am after just one disc. Well, a company called Broccoli has announced development of a Chobits game for the PS2. From what little is known, it looks like the game will be similar to the anime in that your mission is to teach Chi to be more like a human, and teach her how to talk and stuff. From the concept, this game reminds me a lot of the game that is being developed by Red Company for the Xbox called @N.U.D.E (which stands for Natural Ultimate Digital Experiment, you perverts), which has the same basic premise of raising a cute female robot to “maturity” and teaching her the ways of life. Personally, I LOVE the concept of these games, and I like the graphics for @N.U.D.E a lot. But alas, it’s HIGHLY unlikely that either of these games will ever appear in America. Hopefully the Chobits anime will be very popular and they will release that here, and if it sells well enough, they may release @N.U.D.E as well. Both will be niche titles at best, but there are some niche titles in this same vein (Princess Maker 2 comes to mind) that are very well known among geeks like myself. So there is a definite possibility for an American release, however unlikely it may be.

Some Retail Game Store Clerks are Idiots
This probably isn’t news to most of you, but I had to get it off my chest. I buy a lot of games, and if you want a game and the strategy guide for it (yes, I’m one of THOSE types), you almost always have to go to a specialised mall game store. Now, I’m sure most of you have experienced this as well, but it just needs to be said. First of all, we have several major malls, one with Store A and the other with Store B. I’ll let it be said that these two stores are probably the two most well known stores that specialize in video games. Well, at Store A, most of the clerks aren’t that bad, but there’s one guy that’s always there, so I guess he’s the manager. He has a really snobby attitude that basically says, “I’m above you” even though he’s just a jackass in a store. Back when Skies of Arcadia Legends was about to come out, we called up there to see when it was coming in. He said, “It will be in on Tuesday.” So I got up early on Tuesday, and my wife and I made a trip to the mall to see if it was in. Of course, it wasn’t in, but he said it had shipped that day, and should be in on Thursday. We called on Thursday, and he told us that all of the copies were reserved. Now, this is the main reason I hate Store A. Basically, the only games they get are for pre-orders. Either that, or they make you think that since if you buy a game off the shelf rather than pre-order, then you’re the spawn of Satan. So I called up Store B, they had plenty of copies, so I went in. That’s fine with me, since it’s right down from Suncoast, which is where I buy most of my anime. So now I shop with Store B, but their clerks aren’t much better. There was one time I went in and one of the people there said to someone else, “Don’t buy that game, it sucks!” What the hell is up with that? Most recently, I bought Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter there. The clerk was nice and all, but didn’t have any sort of professionalism and spent 10 minutes talking to the person in front of us, rather than ringing them up and sending them on their way. Granted, he was nice and all, but he just talked way too much. Still, I’d much rather go to Store B than Store A, so I recommend Store B to anyone. Hell, I’d rather get everything online, but waiting for it to ship is a pain, but at least you don’t have to deal with morons, unless they screw up your order.

New Game Releases
* Ship Date – 3/17-18/03
Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire (GBA), MLB Slugfest 2004 (Xbox, PS2, GC), Clock Tower 3 (PS2), WWE Crush Hour (GC, PS2), World Series Baseball 2K3 (PS2), Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus (Xbox)

None of the games this week really interest me at all, with the possible exception of Clock Tower 3. Alex Lucard is big on some of the previous games (which I have yet to play) so this one may be good as well. We also have more baseball games (YAY”¦that’s sarcasm by the way). WWE Crush Hour, which Ron Yip talks about in his column. More Pokemon games, which I may try out, but I’m sure Lucard will cover them since he’s big on those games too. That leaves Tao Feng, which is supposed to be a decently cool fighting game, but I don’t know much about it.

New Anime Releases
* Release Date – 3/18/03
.hack//SIGN Vol. 1 (regular edition), Banner of the Stars Vol. #2, Colorful, Love Hina Spring Movie, Wild Arms Vol. #2

First off is the non-limited edition version of the first disc of .hack, but who wants that when you can get the limited edition version with tons of extras (which came out a few weeks ago). Banner of the Stars is the sequel to the great Crest of the Stars series, so if you liked Crest, Banner is a necessity. Colorful is ADV’s panty fest, so I’m sure there’s some people who would go for that. The Love Hina Spring Movie is the latest special in the fantastic series, leaving only Love Hina Again as the only Love Hina show not released in America. And lastly, Wild Arms is based on the game Wild Arms 2, but has a twist. It’s supposed to be lots of fun.

Mini Anime Reviews
Before I get to the mini reviews, I want to do an ultra quickie review on Steel Angel Kurumi Vol. #5: Encore. It’s a really nice addition to the original series, and tells what happens to the main characters after the conclusion of Vol. #4, which was supposed to be the end, but the characters were so popular, they had to add more. It was well worth it, because the episodes themselves are good, but there is an audio commentary with some of the voice actors of the main characters, as well as the director. The commentary is utterly hilarious, with some of the actors going completely nuts. Steven Foster, the director and producer, made me laugh so hard, especially when he and the actor that were commentating at the time did their own little dub of the show. The unfortunate thing is that they only did a commentary for 3 of the 4 episodes, for some reason. Encore is definitely recommended for Kurumi fans, and for non-Kurumi fans, pick up all 5 discs! There is also a trailer for Steel Angel Kurumi 2, which I hope means they’ll release that here soon as well.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are a couple of reviews. Both are by the same company and feature some of the best characters in my collection. I’m doing these two together in the hopes that they will release their follow-up to the first show I’m reviewing here. I’ll explain better there. Oh, and both of these shows have a fair amount of fan service. There is no explicit nudity, but if you’re offended by gratuitous panty shots, then you may want to avoid these.

This is a somewhat cliché story about a hapless boy who gets a robot maid of his very own, and must deal with the emotions contained with their relationship. Kazuya is a college student who is working on a project involving robotics when his best friend/archrival Nanbara gives him a disc with what was supposed to contain a lot of information on robotics, but actually contains a virus Nanbara programmed to cause Kazuya a lot of problems. What the virus ends up doing, however, is ordering Kazuya a 1/6-scale robot maid named Cyberdoll May. Just when he gets used to having a new mini-maid, another Cyberdoll comes into his life, and then another. He has to learn how to cope with all of these new friends, most of whom want him for their own, including his landlord, who is a sassy young lady.

This show is simply wonderful, because the main part of anime, the animation, is beautiful. The characters are designed so well, and very colorful, and their eyes are so expressive, which is very important. The dub voices fit the characters perfectly and I couldn’t imagine these characters with any other voice. The story is what most people are after, and the story here is great, because although it is cliché, the character interactions are fantastic, especially the big love triangle between Kazuya, May, and Kasumi, the landlady. This is a great show with great characters that all care for each other, and it really shows.

This anime has a very odd name, but has become one of my favorites. It’s by the same people who made Hand Maid May, and the wonderful art from HMM returns with this series. Strawberry Eggs isn’t as cliché though.

The show is about a man named Hibiki who just graduated from college and just moved into a housing complex (more like an apartment than a house though). Right after he moves in, the crazy landlady threatens to turn his dog into dog stew (inu-nabe) if he doesn’t pay up the rent soon. So Hibiki tries to get a job at the nearest school, but it turns out that they only accept female teachers because of the principal’s hatred towards men. So Hibiki and the landlady (who Hibiki calls Ba-chan, which means granny, and she hates) concoct a scheme to stick it to the principal and get Hibiki a job at the school. What it boils down to is dressing Hibiki in drag and giving him a choker that changes his voice to sound like a woman. Hibiki gets the job, and sets out to prove to the principal that men can teach just as well as women.

While the concept may sound odd, the execution is brilliant. The writers really pulled out all the stops and made a heartwarming comedy featuring great characters. The interaction between Hibiki and his students is excellent, and it’s particularly humorous when his students run into him when he’s NOT dressed as a woman. Things really get interesting when one of his students, Fuko, who is a clumsy girl who Hibiki gives a lot of special attention to, starts to have odd feelings for him (who Fuko thinks is a her). This is a comedy, but it is also very much a drama, and the change between the humor and the seriousness is seamless. As I said before, the animation is spectacular, but what really shines this time around is the translation and dubbing. Crispin Freeman, currently my favorite voice actor, was in charge of the dubbing, as well as doing the male voice for Hibiki. The rest of the actors do a fantastic job as well, in particular Carrie Savage in the role of Fuko. Even many of the people over on the forums at AnimeonDVD have said that this show had the best dub of 2002, with Crispin Freeman and Carrie Savage winning Voice Actor/Actress for January. In addition to the shows, the discs contain bonus features, especially introductions to all the characters of the show, which is pseudo ad-libbed by the voice actors. It’s very amusing.

Strawberry Eggs is highly recommended because it’s the type of show that is hard to end, but the ending is pulled off very well, and it not only makes you want more but sets it up for a sequel if they decide to do one (which I REALLY hope they do). It’s a possibility considering that the company is now releasing an OAV (direct to video) series in Japan called Hand Maid Mai. It’s a follow-up to Hand Maid May, and while I don’t know the story, it features some new Cyberdolls that are sisters to Cyberdoll May. Oddly enough, the Cyberdolls are named Ai, Mai, and Mi (like the Strawberry Eggs I My Me). Since it’s just now being released in Japan, it probably won’t be released here for a while, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hope.

Props to my Homies! (aka Plugs)

First of all, I’d like to give a big WELCOME BACK to Alex Lucard. His Retrograding column this week is one of his best. It deals with customer service and how good some of the game companies do in this department. It’s a great read.

Read Joseph Stanley’s Weekend Wipe-up, where he makes a lot of good points on a lot of things, especially on the GBA:SP. Oh, and I completely agree on the two games he listed for the PS2 Network Adapter. Both Auto Modellista and Amplitude look like a lot of fun.

Ron Yip is here every Monday with his SimColumn News Report and deserves a read as usual. This week he gives his first impressions on WWE Crush Hour, which I honestly don’t think I will play. I’ve never been a fan of destruction derby type games, with the exception of Carmageddon for the PC. That game was hella fun.

Likewise, Bebito Jackson is always here on Tuesdays with his Rumor Down-Lo, providing us with rumors on all sorts of games, including Xenosaga Episode 2 and Skies of Arcadia 2, which I was going to report on, but he beat me to the punch. Thanks for the bronze, man. Speaking of things that are regarded as “gay”, I personally think that TLC has the best reality-based shows available. First there was Trading Spaces, where two couples trade houses for 2 days and have professional designers come in and help them redecorate a room for their friends. Then there is While You Were Out, where a person goes out of town for a while, and a friend or loved one gets some people to help them redecorate a room, basically like Trading Spaces. Both are interesting because they have a limited budget to redecorate with. Now, TLC has 2 new shows that are interesting as well. First there’s Faking It, where they take an average person and turn them into a professional something in 3 weeks, and the goal is to fool others into thinking they are a professional. The one where they turned a geek into a cheerleader was classic. Lastly is What Not To Wear, where a person with no style is trained by 2 professionals on how to be stylish, and get $5000 to spend on a whole new wardrobe, while throwing out all of their old clothes. The professionals are BRUTAL, and it’s just so hilarious. And no, I’m not gay.

And how could I forget Bryan Burg (my apologies for misspelling your name last week!) and Chris Pankonin (who we missed last week due to being the busiest guy here on 411Games, and he’s taking a well deserved vacation this week as well).

There were quite a few reviews recently. There’s TNL’s review of the Gamecube oddity Cubivore which sounds like an interesting little game. Then Widro, one of the two big bosses here, reviewed Kung Fu Chaos for the Xbox, which sounds like a fun button masher in the vein of Super Smash Bros. And Michael O’Reilly’s review of Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb for the Xbox is so informative that I know it’s a game I will definitely not play, because while I am a big Indy fan, I will avoid any game that is compared to Tomb Raider.

You should also check out ex-411/current The Next Level’s Jason Masters and his review of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Now this is a game that I’m somewhat apprehensive about, just because I don’t know if I’ll like it or not. I loved Ocarina of Time, but hated Majora’s Mask, so hopefully this game will take Link back in a direction that feels right. Jason used to write the news report for the day I currently occupy, and wrote some great stuff, and this preview is no different.

MechDues has a great preview for Amplitude, which is a game I definitely want to pick up. I’m a fan of the Bemani series (even though my only experience with it is the guitar minigame in Ephemeral Fantasia, which is basically the only reason I still own the game) and I wish they would bring more over here (Guitar Freaks, Beat Mania, Drum Mania, in particular), instead of just releasing more DDR games.

Lastly, by the time you read this, or soon after, there should be a new review up from me on Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. In all honesty, I was pretty brutal, but I feel the game deserves it. Typically, I can find something good about every game and enjoy it for that, but bad things marred every aspect about this game I enjoyed. You may want a second opinion on the game, but I just didn’t find it to be all that enjoyable. Read the review to see exactly why.

BONUS FEATURE: How I Review Games
I just decided to throw this in so you can understand how I look at games when I review them. I tend to be critical on some things and not on others, so maybe my reviews will make more sense after this.

STORY: This is pretty obvious. It’s the premise of the game and the motivation for playing it, in many cases. Many games don’t have stories, but all RPGs do, even if they don’t put much effort into it at times. The story is a very important aspect, and the best games tend to have the best and most interesting stories. This also includes character interaction, which is EXTREMELY important because if you hate the characters that you are playing as, the game can be a big let down.

GAMEPLAY: This is how the game plays. With RPGs, this mainly encompasses the battle system, but includes many other things as well. This is the broadest topic, and also the hardest to rate since there is so much that goes into gameplay.

GRAPHICS: This is how the game looks. This includes the characters that you play, as well as the surrounding environment. With the improvements of graphics in the past few years, my expectations have gone up as well. There is also changing styles, with some games going to a more realistic style, while others go to a more cartoony style. These stylistic choices are taken into account as well.

SOUND: This includes 3 major things: music, voice acting (if applicable) and actual sound effects. Music for games is typically average, with very few games truly standing out. The best game music complements the game, yet could be listened to and enjoyed on its own. Voice Acting has been added to many games lately, and since it is something I am fond of in anime, I tend to be biased here, and overly critical at times. I don’t deduct points for lack of voice acting, but if the acting is poor, then I will say so. It is also important for the voices to be appropriate to the character they portray. Lastly, the sound effects are relatively minor since you don’t usually pay attention to them, and honestly, most games have done very well on this lately. By sound effects, I mean footsteps when walking, water dripping, and even the beeps when you select a menu item. But I haven’t played a game in a long time that hasn’t done at least an average job on this.

FUN FACTOR: This covers a few things. First of all, is the game fun to play? Sure it can be interesting, but is it actually enjoyable? A lot of times, this is where I mention side quests and mini games, because more often than not, these are things that are not integral to the game, but just make the game more fun. Also, I cover if the game is fun enough to replay again, and if there is any benefit to doing so.

RATINGS: For this, I like to look at it like a report card, where a 10 would be A+, a 9 would be A-, 8 would be B, etc. Or to put it in other terms: 10 – Perfect, 9 – Excellent, 8 – Very Good, 7.5 – Good, 7 – Average, 6.5 – Below Average, 6 – Poor, 5 – Awful, 4 to 1 – varying levels of crap. Just as a note, I’ve given out a few 10’s on individual ratings, but will not give a 10 on a final rating unless a game is perfect, which means 10’s on everything else. Likewise, I tend to look for the good over the bad, so if something is bad enough to merit a low score from me, then it’s really bad.

Another week has passed, another column from me filled with game and anime goodness. I’m sorry if you didn’t like the added rant and review bonus, but it was a slow week and I wanted to give you guys plenty to read. As usual, I appreciate any feedback you may have, so click on that little link down there, if you so desire. Enjoy the rest of the week!