Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kotaro Yoshida Games

Kotaro Yoshida, best known for his work on Half Minute Hero, is one of my favorite game designers.  His games are japanese-quirky, easy to pick up and play, encourage exploration and experimentation, and have JRPG elements (leveling up, equipment, party members, and killing monsters for gold).  I also like the faux-retro sprite style his games use and although his characters are pretty one dimensional, I think they're fun and I enjoy their banter.  But best of all, every game focuses on a new gameplay mechanic.  He doesn't refine existing ideas, he tries new mechanics (albeit to varying degrees of success.)  The games are simple, but still require some thought; they almost always have a sense of "puzzle" to them.

Anyway, for fans of his, I decided to list out the games he's been heavily involved with.  Since each game is pretty fresh, they're all worth trying for a bit.  He's been doing a lot of mobile games recently that really fit his style, but have no kind of media attention.  They're all really easy to play, even with the occasional language barrier, but maybe I'll do 'Let's Plays' on some of them someday. If I make any links to Japanese pages and you don't understand Japanese, Google Translate is your friend.

Half Minute Hero [Marvelous] - PSP / XBOX Live / PC


This one is in English (among others) and available on many different platforms.

Likely his most well-known game, it's usually described as a JRPG parody.  I'd say its genre was RPG-Puzzle.  You have "30 seconds" (although you can reset the timer) to defeat an Evil Lord in a minuature JRPG.  Each stage features towns, monsters, leveling up, equipment, sidequests, and a boss to defeat.  The story is fun and touches lots of JRPG cliches.  In addition to the RPG mode, there's 30 second shooter, RTS, and action modes.

There are a lot of reviews of this game out there for you (including my own...), so I won't go into anymore depth.  It's unlikely you've found your way to this page without knowing what Half Minute Hero is.  The definitive version of the game is the recent PC Steam release.  You can often get it on sale for 75% off.

Steam Link:

Half Minute Hero 2 [Marvelous] - PSP / PC

This one is Japanese only on PSP, but in English and Japanese on PC via Steam.

It's the sequel to Half Minute Hero and features only the Hero 30 (JRPG) gameplay, although the mode has much more depth this time around.  Where the first felt like a take on 8 Bit Era RPGs, the second feels like a take on 16 Bit Era RPGs.  There's an overworld, global leveling, and a much more involved story.  I did a detailed review of it here.

Steam Link:

Battrix [Opus Studios] - iOS


This one is in English and is free to play, but you almost have to spend $1.99 on it if you want to get to the end.

Based off of one of his PC Game experiments, Battrix is a pure RPG-Puzzle game.  Each tile in the world has either a battle or a town on it.  By winning a battle, in addition to standard JRPG rewards, the adjacent world tiles appear.  So instead of wandering the world, you liberate it into existence.

The battles play on a grid with a particular enemy distribution.  Each enemy attacks after a certain number of turns.  Your weapons can only hit a certain pattern of tiles and use up a certain number of turns per attack.  The goal is to kill all the enemies before you are killed.  You bring 3 weapons into each battle, which you can level up and synthesize into better weapons.

You're guided by a fairy and fighting against an Evil Lord who has stolen all the land in the world. There are towns to discover and tons of secret areas, plus a competetive arena.  You can bring your friends into battle to help you.  It's a fun, unique iOS game, although it can get grindy.  I really recommend this game.

US iTunes Link:
There's a good wiki for this game here:

Run Run Hero [Line/MAQL/Opus] - iOS / Android


This one is in English (among others) and uses a free to play model.

It's an endless runner: You automatically run (left to right), swiping to avoid obstacles, fight monsters, or collect money, until you run out of life.  It's flavored to evoke Half Minute Hero, but it has none of the story elements.  The story is simply that an Evil Lord captured a princess and you have to run through various stages to rescue her. I don't think Yoshida had that much to do with this game (he's listed far down on the credits), but it uses a lot of his concepts.

The features of this game are the Kotaro Yoshida sprites, 5 lanes, fever mode (kill enough enemies and you're invincible for a few seconds), the RPG elements (equipment, leveling, and party members), and the bosses.  The bosses are fun, you need to avoid their attacks and they can only be damaged in a certain lane.

As far as social aspects go, you can compete against your friends and use their avatars in your own runs.  You can also send each other items.

As I write this, the game is six months old.  There has already been one huge update that broke the one endless running stage into several stages.  This helped the game a lot, but the stages still aren't very exciting.  Hopefully we'll see more updates.

But for now, there are issues with the game. The first impression is bad, I didn't start enjoying the game until I got used to playing it with my left hand as playing with the right hand blocks upcoming obstacles. The controls are not nearly as friendly as something like Jetpack Joyride. Also, the game starts to get grindy fast. Once your in-game stamina is high enough, the game does a good job of feeling skill based... it's kind of like playing an old NES game.

My main complaint about the game is that the charm and soul aren't there. There aren't any events, characters, or dialogue... which greatly lower my desire to make it to the end. Maybe it won't bother you, but I would have liked the game a lot more with little story segments the first time you make it to a new stage. On a similar note, unlike most of the other Yoshida involved games, this doesn't feel very unique compared to other games in the same genre. Endless Runner with RPG Elements is a very accurate description of the game.  Maybe I'm just not a big enough Endless Runner fan.

Anyway, please post your LINE ids in the comments so we can help each other out!

Strategy: Sending invites to Line friends gets you useful items, mates, and a ton of money. So add a bunch of "friends" to Line (this is a good list of accounts made just for game invites) to bypass a lot of grinding. Also, don't use gems for money, as this trick makes money pretty easy to get.  Add jediscar on LINE for a strong partner.

US iTunes Link:
US Android Link:

100 Man Hero (Hyaku Nin Hero) - iOS / PC


This one is Japanese language only.  The PC version is free, but the iOS version costs money.

In this game, you play a king trying to defend his castle against an Evil Lord and his cronies.  Instead of running out and fighting, you hire soldiers to do the dirty work for you.  You send them out, they fight monsters, they collect money for the kingdom, they level up, and then they eventually get defeated and return to the castle to be dispatched again.  You can buy items and reequip your heroes before sending them out again.

This app is not free on iOS. IMHO, you're better off just playing the PC version. The iOS version has different difficulties and an infinite mode, but it's not really all that different than the PC version. There is an extra surprise if you beat all the difficulties on iOS, but it's still not worth the effort.  Also, the iOS version has no music at all, which is weird and disappointing.

Strategy: The trick to the later difficulties is that you usually want most of your soldiers the same level. That means frequently shuffling equipment around.

US iTunes Link:
PC Link:

Gun Spirits (GUN SPIRITS) - iOS


This one is Japanese language only and probably the least experimental of all his games so far.  It's not free and it also features in-app purchases (although they're totally not necessary.)

It's a bullet hell shooter consisting of 73+ stages.  You only have 60 seconds to beat each stage.  Every time you beat a stage, you either collect a new weapon, new wings (for defense and movement), or gold.  The gold is used to level up your equipment.  There's a large variety of weapons and some weapons are much better suited to certain levels than others.  Weapons have very different shot patterns.

The levels get a lot harder as you progress.  After about level 65 you'll likely need to grind (or partake in microtransactions) to continue.

In addition to the story mode, there's a Challenge mode where you play through all the stages as one huge stage: No continues, no chances to re-equip, and no health ups.

This game isn't free, but it's quite fun. As a bullet hell game, the CAVE offerings are probably better. But you'll get very good value for your dollar here and it's much better than CAVE games for short bursts of play.

There's a pretty good wiki page for this game here:

US iTunes Link:

Piyo Piyo Quest [ritterz] - iOS


This one is Japanese language only and is an RPG-puzzle game.

The puzzle portion is like collapse, where there is a grid of blocks and touching a block removes it and all neighboring identical blocks.  In this game, destroying blocks causes the hero to do a particular action (attack, use magic, heal, get money, strengthen monsters, or collect a chick).  The monsters attack the hero after a set number of your actions.  Your goal is to collect chicks, which you can then take out on your quests for stat bonuses.

It's a pretty fun game and really easy to play.  It could have benefited with a bit more depth and content.  As it is, there's a fair amount of luck involved.  The game is free, but it has microtransactions that don't actually provide you with much benefit.

There's an interview with Kotaro Yoshida that lists out all the chicks: Page 1, Page 2

Strategy: Take the opportunity to clear out your useless blocks if you know you can survive the next turn.

US iTunes Link:

100 Turn Hero [ritterz] - iOS

This one is Japanese language only.  Although it's playable without knowing Japanese, it requires a lot more patience than his other games, plus there's a fair amount of dialogue you'll be missing out on.  But even without knowing Japanese, it's pretty fun.  It's not free (about a dollar) and it also features in-app purchases (although they're totally not necessary.)  The in-app purchase are for jewels to level up your weapons, but you can quickly get the same amount of jewels through playing stages.

You play as Hero Fundel, who is on a quest to save the world with the ninja Shadow Maru.  You're on a different island full of visible monsters each stage and need to kill the highlighted boss to win.  You have free movement, you level up by killing monsters, and the monsters don't move or attack... but you can only attack a maximum of 100 times before the stage ends.  You bring three weapons with you and switch between them at will.  You'll want to use multiple weapons not only because of their different skills (ex. strong against water monsters or strong against land monsters), but because the weapons hit a different pattern around you.  When you beat a stage, you get jewels and, depending on the number of turns it took you to beat the stage, another weapon.  You can use jewels to upgrade your weapon.  Choosing an efficient path through the stage is important, this game gives you plenty of aha moments that let you shave a lot of turns.

Honestly, I was hoping for more out of this game.  The concept is interesting, but the game doesn't really do as much with it as I had hoped.  The strategy of the game is 10% figuring the right order to kill monsters in and 90% about bringing the right weapons.  Bringing the right weapons requires a fair amount of grinding, which I dislike.  I think the main reason for my disappointment was that I was hoping the game would be more like Half Minute Hero, which attempted to be a JRPG.  I had hoped there'd be more to a stage than just killing monsters.  The stages in 100 Turn Hero could have had multiple paths through it... quests to complete that give you shortcuts to the boss, searching for secrets in a stage, or party members to recruit.  I think it would have be a perfect touch screen based Half Minute Hero, but instead it's much smaller in ambition.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the game and it's definitely worth a dollar.  I hope ritterz decides to localize this game.  But I would have rather paid for a five dollar game with more charm and surprises.

I wrote a mini guide for this game:

US iTunes Link:

Game Experiments

All of these are found on:

    100 Nin Yuusha Touch - PC
    Battrix Touch - PC
    Battrix - PC
    100 Nin Yuusha - PC
    30 Nin Yuusha - PC
    Lionyx (side scroller) - PC


Kotaro Yoshida's Twitter:

His current studio is ritterz:

Lastly, the artist Ayako Suda often collaborates with Yoshida on his games.  Ayako's homepage, with a bunch of art, is here:

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy and that I didn't write this long article for nothing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Delayed Embarassment

This is another page of stories culled from reddit.  Unfortunately, I didn't save the link to post... I'll add in commenters and stuff if someone can find it. I think the topic was "What did you do that you later realized was really embarrassing?"

Warning: Some of these are somewhat inappropriate

Some ingenious bastard bought and installed a clapper (the thing where you clap and the lights turn on/off) and decided that it was too much of a hassle to he recorded himself clapping onto his computer so that he could just do it with a mouse click.

I was curious about man parts when I was young. My stepdad was in the shower, so I knocked on the door, said "It's mom" in my lowest voice, and walked in.

We've never had the same relationship.

I was a little kid on a road trip with the family. My dad had done something to embarrass me in front of all, everyone was laughing at me. I was clearly very upset. He said he was sorry and asked what he could do to make it up to me.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me explain that I thought "family jewels" were actual jewels and treasure that every family was just given by the government when they became a family, or every family had a bunch of jewels passed on throughout their family line.

So, I told my father that to make it up to me, he had to give me his family jewels. I may have even just said "let me hold your family jewels" :(

There was a distinct pause for about 3 seconds, then everyone burst into laughing at me again, with my brother telling me "haha you just asked to hold dads balls!" I was mortified. My dad actually have to pull over because he was laughing too hard to drive.

It's not my story but my old roomates, apparently as a kid he would shower with his dad. And his dad happened to be well hung. One shower, mid washing his hair, his dad looked down to see him drinking the shower water as it streamed off his penis.

I did lots of weird shit. When I was like 9 my friend came over and I made him take a bubble bath with me. He looked uncomfortable. Even when I forgot the bubbles.

An imaginary scenario:
"Haha let's get in the bath!"
"Uh. I don't really think--"
"That wasn't a request, Billy..."

When I was 6 my dad took me hiking in the woods. I had to piss, but there was no bathroom around. So I asked him where a bathroom was, to which he responded "Just pee on a tree. It's okay, you're a boy." so the next week in kindergarten I was at recess and needed to pee, but I didn't want to go all the way back to class. Besides, there was a tree right there on the playground! So I promptly whipped it out and started to piss in front of everyone. I little girl screamed and that got a teacher's attention. Straight to the principal's office. I was understandibly confused. "My dad said it was okay!" Luckily they called my dad and he took responsibility. Unfortunately he still loves to bring that story up whenever the family gets together.

When I was six or so I grabbed my dad's penis and talked into it because I thought it looked like a microphone.

My mom took me and my younger twin sisters to the beach when I was about four (they were two). She had just unpacked the stroller and set up camp when I announced that I had to pee. The bathroom itself was up about eighty concrete stairs, and my mother didn't want to pack everyone back up, so she said "Just pee in the water." I was understandably shocked by this, but she insisted that it was okay, and everyone does it. I was a pretty literal kid, so I walked out into the water (ankle deep) and dropped my shorts and started peeing for all the world to see. My mother was horrified when she realized what was happening but was powerless to stop me. She likes to tell people that had she yelled down to me, it would have just drawn more attention, and I would have just yelled back "YOU TOLD ME TO PEE IN THE WATER" thereby humiliating her further.

She still cringes about it, although I think it's mostly awesome.

My third grade teacher used to say how fat she was at least once a day. She was actually in Decent shape. Eventually I became conditioned into believing it too.

I sent her a Christmas card that said "Sorry that you're fat."

She cried.

Had that board game "Operation" where you take tweezers and gently lift out crap from this board game shaped like a human. If you contact the board and don't gently lift up stuff such as bones, an annoying buzzer would go of and the guy's nose would light bright red.

Well, when I was 5 I had enough shit from this annoying pansy ass who would buzz when you simply took out his femur with tweezers so I twisted the bulb on his nose and simply ate it. Well, after I shat blood a day later, my parents figured out why the light bulb on the nose was gone.

Oh, and the same day I threw sand in my own eyes since I wanted to know how it felt like. Yup, also learned the words "fucking" and "retarded" from my father shortly afterwards.

You were like the new Dog that eats rocks

I was taking a group picture of a bunch of people attending the product school we host at my company. At one point, I was trying to get everyone together and said "Uhh, bald guy, I need you to step to the left". I instantly realized what I said.. and he had a sort of defeated look on his face.

The international sales manager was right next to me as I said it.. and he leaned in and told me his name and that he was a higher up at a subsidiary..

ohgodwhy. I apologized to him later and he was really cool about it, but still..

I masturbated infront of my entire family and several of their friends when I was about 10. I had just discovered that holding the back massager to my penis felt really good if you held it there for long enough, and not knowing that feeling good in that way was meant to be kept private, I decided to do it at a Christmas gathering. I brought the massager downstairs, plugged it into the living room wall, and went on to massage myself on the couch. The worst part was that nobody even cared or said anything; I finished right there in front of everyone and then brought it back upstairs. Later that night, my mom told me not to do it ever again, and I don't remember exactly when, but I remember looking back on that moment years later and cringing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Short Stories

I made a list of (mostly free and online) short stories I enjoyed.  They're all in the science fiction/fantasy/speculative realm of fiction.  I'll try to keep it updated as I find new stuff.  The entries are listed by date added rather than title.  Since they're short stories (and all generally free), you can easily just step in and read without any synopsis.  Enjoy!

Pillowman -
Cambist and Lord Iron -
Impossible Dreams -
Eight Episodes -
Magic For Beginners -
Magic For Beginners -
Faery Handbag -
The Ray Gun: A Love Story -
26 Monkeys -
Exhalation -
Lost Odyssey -
Neal Stephenson -
Great Simolean Caper -
Occupation -
Orson Scott Card Short Stories -
Maps In A Mirror -
Sword of the Yue Maiden -
What's Expected of Us -
Understand -
The Last Question -
Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate -
The Last Wish -
Nanny's Day -

One Shot Manga: HotelIslandKoe no Katachi

Japanese Light Novels: Fate/Zero1/2 PrinceTora DoraHaruhiSpice and Wolf

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Manga In the US

So, I went on a myanimelist bender, obsessively creating manga/anime lists and eventually adding lots of titles to my plan-to-read lists.  So naturally that was followed by a manga reading bender.  It's been a long time since I'd looked for new series to read.  I normally read manga on my desktop computer using MangaMeeya, which nicely opens local archived files.  Nowadays, it's difficult to download manga, especially older chapter releases.  The easiest way to read manga is using an online reader, which I generally dislike because it slows my reading process down.  I use the "All Mangas Reader" plugin for Chrome, which keeps track of new releases and preloads pages.  Preloading lets you read a whole chapter vertically on one webpage instead of relying on paginating.  However, the plugin has recently slowed my browser down considerably, so I uninstalled it.  Even when it wasn't killing my browser, I didn't enjoy long reading sessions using the page down button.

I picked up an old iPad1 my friend wasn't using anymore and decided to try using it to read manga.  Using the safari browser was unpleasant.  So I tried two apps that provide a much nicer interface to online manga readers: Manga Storm and Manga Rock 2.  They were both awesome apps with very nice interfaces and both offered free versions with slightly limited features.  Using these apps really makes reading manga on the iPad easy and pleasant.  The size of an iPad suits manga much better than a smartphone.  I might even enjoy reading on a tablet more than reading an actual book.

The paid versions of those two apps allow you to pre-download chapters, which allows a smooth, internet-less free reading experience later.  Unfortunately, the downloads aren't perfect.  This was a critical problem for Manga Rock 2 because the downloads would often silently fail.  Manga Storm downloads were much more consistently successful and still let me read the successfully downloaded pages for chapters, even if some pages failed to download.  Maybe the problem was due to memory issues from using an iPad 1, but I was disappointed to have spent money on Manga Rock 2.  I recommend Manga Storm, even though its list of available titles is slightly smaller.

I fully expect these apps to be unusable some day.  Either Apple will take the apps down, the apps will cease to be maintained, or the websites these apps scrape will go away, by being shutdown or otherwise made inaccessible to the apps.  Note that neither app supports reading most licensed titles (which I 100% agree with.)  There's still plenty of unlicensed titles to read.

Anyways, this is all besides the point.  Manga is a huge hobby of mine and I prefer it to most other forms of solitary entertainment.  It was exciting to see its popularity surge 2000-2005, but a lot of that excitement seems gone now.  The manga sections in bookstores steadily dwindles and its not surprising to guess why.  Manga is a very niche market targeted largely to people without the money to buy it.  US versions are expensive and manga is easily pirated.  I've always believed in supporting the industries I love.  Manga is harder to support because books take up so much space and I feel really bad throwing a book away.  I've always been on the fence about purchasing manga that I'd never consider lending to someone or reading more than once, even moreso if I think the manga set looks ugly.  But nowadays, legal digital manga is an option and I loudly embrace it.  I think Viz is especially forward thinking.  The Digital Manga reader is nice, downloads are fast, and the prices are at least half of the printed versions.

I recently subscribed to Weekly Shonen Jump, mainly to read Rurouni Kenshin Restoration.  I think they're doing everything right with Jump.  The printed version always seemed wasteful, but the digital version is perfect.  New chapters come out at the same time as the legal release of the Japanese chapters.  There are lots of fun bonus one-shots, series that aren't being scanlated, and interesting interviews, so there's new content even if you prefer illegally obtaining manga.  Last of all, it's really cheap.  The only downside is that there's no way to get back issues. But that's a legal issue, not a technical one.  If you read Shonen comics, you should definitely subscribe.  If you have the money to spare and want to support the industry, you should consider it.

My main concern with Viz's digital manga isn't the quality of translations.  I'm not too anal about liberties taken in translations as long as I feel the spirit is preserved.  I'm concerned about what will happen when Viz either goes out of business or otherwise closes its digital manga division.  Will the things I've bought still be readable?  Or will it go the way of jmanga?  Secondly, I wonder about the fate of printed manga.  I love having hard copies of my favorite manga.  But if they end up being unprofitable, will will printed manga one day cease to exist?  There really aren't enough series I want to dedicate my space to.  Time will tell, but for now, I'm happy to be supporting an industry I love for a cost I find incredibly reasonable.

Lastly, I'd like to end today's meandering rant by providing a link to The History of Scanlation, which I found to be very interesting and personally nostalgic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Katamari Damacy

Katamari Damacy is my favorite video game franchise for mindless gaming.  The concept is really simple: As the early games were quick to point out, it's the video game version of rolling around a snowball.  Instead of collecting snow, you collect whatever you roll over: dirt, rocks, toys, animals, children, houses, continents, planets... The bigger you are, the bigger the items you can roll up.  Although the objective of each stage can vary, you're usually simply given a time limit to reach a certain size.  Each stage's layout is fixed, so the challenge is finding the most efficient path to getting big.  It's not very difficult to reach the target size, so the player is given a lot of freedom in whether they want to relaxing roll or intensely try to reach a huge size.  Lots of collectables, gameplay options (untimed mode, speed up mode), and stage mixups (become as big as possible only collecting 50 items, avoid this item) add a lot of variety.

The second aspect to the series, which in this case is just as important as the gameplay, is the presentation.  The graphics are purposefully blocky, which is probably primarily a performance constraint, but ultimately creates a distinct style.  Katamari Damacy relies on being goofy and absurd.  The story is generally your tiny character's father, the King of All Cosmos, rudely ordering you to do this or that.  The music is relaxing, kind of folksy, video game tunes that are a crucial part of the Katamari Damacy experience to most people.  To quickly sum it up, this is a game that personifies the eccentric, weird side of Japanese pop culture.

For me, I love the feeling of getting big enough to swallow the galaxy while listening to relaxing music in a cartoonish world.  And while the series definitely peaked early on, I still play through each incarnation of the game.  This post is really about providing a quick review each game in the series.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Projects

Well, I wanted an easy place to track all the random things I work on.  I was hoping to use, but it doesn't let me use enough characters.  So I'm just going to plop a full list it all here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Aivi Tran

I've been really enjoying listening to Aivi Tran (youtube channel waltzforluma) recently.  It's not a surprise, I'm a sucker for anyone who does Link's Awakening covers.

She recently released a new album with surasshu.  It's awesome and comes with a pretty comic.

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