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Touhou is an interesting phenomenon. Beginning as a passion project for a game developer, this ostensibly “amateur” shmup in the tradition of R-Type and Ikaruga replaces spaceships with cute girls, introducing a wide variety of characters with distinct yet generally simplistic personalities. This has given fans plenty of room to position and interpret the characters in their own way, using the barest scraps of evidence as the catalyst for imagination. While not the first franchise to encourage this, with Touhou it’s particularly noticeable given its popularity at doujin events and the like, but it’s also interesting to note what has come in a post-Touhou environment. In particular, I feel like Kantai Collection has to be viewed within this lens, and so this post is mainly about a comparison between Touhou and Kantai Collection from an outsider’s perspective.

On a personal level, outside of Magic: The Gathering, the biggest nerd fandom that I’ve barely scratched the surface of is probably Touhou. Sure, I’ve drawn a crossover fanart between Cirno and Esports personality Day[9], and I’m a fan of bkub (particularly his New York Comic Con special featuring “the Deadpool”), but I’ve never played any of the actual games. In fact, the only Touhou game I’ve ever played is the doujin game Mega Mari, which is more of a Mega Man game than anything else. However, I’m well aware of Touhou‘s presence, if only because my surrounding environment is “other geeks,” and inevitably among hardcore anime fans there will be Touhou fans as well.

The same goes for Kantai Collection, a browser-based strategy game where battleships are personified as cute girls, except I arguably know even less about it. I’ve watched a few episodes of the anime, I know which character design I like best (Tenryuu), and I know that the game plays with supply and demand because you have to win a lottery to even get to play it in the first place. I’m also aware that it’s become Touhou‘s rival in terms of popularity, with a big difference being that Kantai Collection actively employs popular and professional artists, whereas Touhou‘s official art is famously lacking in refinement.

The relationship between Touhou and Kantai Collection is therefore a tricky one in terms of how these respective series have prompted fan production that hinges on interpretation in their fanbases (which also have plenty of overlap).  Whenever I see the two, I feel as if Touhou is primarily this product that just had an intentionally simplistic presentation that fans took and expanded into their own world. Kantai Collection, in turn, with its voiced characters, better artwork, and overall presentation invites that sort of activity from fans, and revels in being able to provide that space.

In other words, it’s as if Kantai Collection saw how Touhou inadvertently had its characters transformed into commodities through the efforts of its fans, and actively sought to replicate that through careful planning and razor-sharp marketing. That means actively trying to appeal to what fans want. Whether that’s a good thing or not is personal opinion, of course, and I’m hesitant to label it as “David vs. Goliath” in the traditional sense, especially because the border between an amateur and professional artist in Japanese games, anime, etc. can be so nebulous. However, I feel like perhaps part of what made Touhou appealing to its fans in the first place is that “amateur” environment, even if it’s indeed populated by professionals. There’s a rawness to it, a kind of unregulated frontier that’s continuously re-shaped compared to Kantai Collection with its carefully measured attributes, that makes more room for the fan to be in a sense also a creator.

 

I wrote a brief post thinking through the idea of E3 and the notion of trying to be cool while also appealing to your very serious investors.

seo

I wrote a post about my favorite anime and manga characters from New York City. You’ll notice that many of them are orphans or something like that.

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Lolita fashion has made quite a few appearances in Pokemon, so I decided to write about them. If I were to allow more of my personal taste in though, it’d mostly be a post about how Valerie/Mache is the best Kalos Gym Leader.

Large bug eyes and elaborate “Wa Lolita” outfits are totally my speed.

New York City Anime/Japanese Pop Culture Festival Waku Waku +NYC recently announced the appearance of Inafune Keiji as a special guest, known for his work on Mega Man and Mighty No. 9, and I got the opportunity to write a piece on Inafune.

ALSO IF YOU BUY A VIP PASS BY 11:59PM EST ON JUNE 7TH YOU’LL BE GUARANTEED TO MEET INAFUNE

A lot of people probably know his story already, and if you’ve followed Ogiue Maniax over the years, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Mega Man and Inafune, whether it’s analyzing the sprites in terms of their usage of black pixels, creating my own Robot Masters, or creating a guide on how to use Mega Man in Super Smash Bros. I pledged to the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter almost as soon as I could.

I know it’s not the first time he’s been to the US, but if you’re on the east coast especially, I think it’s worth it to come meet Inafune in person.

A new Super Robot Wars game is coming to the Nintendo 3DS, and at this point people know the drill. A bunch of old favorites come back, a few new series make their debut, and because it’s not on a “main” system they can be a little more daring with their choices in terms of which new anime to bring along.

Returning Series

-Aura Battler Dunbine
-Story of Aura Battler Dunbine
-Zettai Muteki Raijin-Oh
-King of Braves Gaogaigar
-Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
-Mobile Suit Gundam 00 the Movie
-Macross Frontier Movies
-Shin Mazinger (Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!)
-Mazinkaiser SKL
-Martian Successor Nadesico

New Series

-Panzer World Galient
-SD Gundam Gaiden
-Mobile Suit Gundam AGE
-Giant Gorg
-Macross 30

While the new series at a glance might not seem that unusual, I think a second look actually brings home how bizarre the newcomers are. In some cases, it’s because they lend themselves well to the crossover nature of Super Robot Wars. Panzer World Galient and Giant Gorg are two series fans probably thought would never join SRW, yet it’s odd that this would be the case because both of their settings involve disparate levels of technology and a greater dedication to an almost more philosophical sense of science fiction that potentially lets them connect various generations together. Gundam AGE is at this point one of the black sheep of the Gundam franchise, yet its generational story can be the glue that holds similar yet different series together (Shin Mazinger and Mazinkaiser SKL, for example).

On a personal note, I’m looking forward to hearing the instrumental version of the Galient opening.

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Then you have SD Gundam Gaiden, and I think to appreciate its inclusion we have to go back to the beginnings of Super Robot Wars.

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In the early iterations of SRW, the Gundam units took their designs and aesthetics from the popular SD Gundam franchise. This meant mobile suits looked extra cutesy, with large expressive eyes that future pupils. As SRW progressed this changed: pupils disappeared, robots became not quite as squat, and the old-fashioned SD look became a relic of the past. By having a series that actively celebrates that more cartoonish look, it’s almost like a piece of SRW history is returning. It’s all the more notable then that the Unicorn Gundam from Gundam UC is probably the least chibi-looking Gundam in SRW history; its proportions are practically realistic.

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 11.00.20 PM

As for Macross, that franchise is fairly common in Super Robot Wars, but Macross 30 is actually a Playstation 3 game devoted to celebrating the Macross metaseries as a whole. So, in a game dedicated to bringing together multiple giant robot anime, one of their inclusions is a video game all about celebrating decades of one series in particular. Does this mean that all of the Macross characters across history will show up, or is the intention more to focus on the original characters of Macross 30?

So, while it’s not as wild as throwing in Jushin Liger or Iron Leaguer, Super Robot Wars BX might have just enough twists to the formula to make things interesting.

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Ever since the April 1st Nintendo Direct, one of the biggest talking points in the gaming community has been the Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot, which asks everyone who they’d want to see duking it out with the likes of Mario, Pikachu, and Marth. You can tell it’s a big deal when actual video game companies are pushing their own characters explicitly or implicitly, whether that’s Shantae, Sol Badguy, Gunvolt, the Giana Sisters (who began as clones of the Mario Bros), or Banjo-Kazooie. My vote has been cast, and if you’re on the fence as to who might be interesting, I made a few posts last year detailing characters that I think would be cool in Smash Bros. along with their movesets.

King K. Rool

Great Puma

Princess Daisy

Geno

(Or you could vote for NiGHTS).

Readers might find it odd that I’m talking about the Smash Ballot so late after it was first announced, as all of the news sites, blogs, and forums, were on that like white on rice in Hanayo (Love Live! for Smash?! Think about it), but I intentionally delayed my post on it to emphasize one of the most surprising and noteworthy aspects of this poll. Though it began in April, the deadline is October 3rd, which is the anniversary of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. That’s six months for people to make a decision, which means that this isn’t some flash in the pan popularity poll that goes up for a week to gauge interest in that specific moment, but rather a genuine question as to which characters have captivated generations of Nintendo fans in such a way that we want to see them slam plumbers and princesses into the abyss.

Not only that, but it was revealed that Nintendo is willing to take even 3rd-party suggestions, which opens it up to just gamers in general. As crazy and as impossible as it likely is, could someone like Master Chief or Scorpion make it into Smash Bros.?

I think one of the reasons why being in Smash Bros. is such a big deal is not only the idea that your favorite character appears in a crossover fighting game, but that the series as a whole has done such justice to its characters, at least for the most part (seriously, Ganondorf, where are your projectiles?!). Just look at Mega Man, Solid Snake, and Sonic, all of whom are not Nintendo properties but were given so many visual, aural, and gameplay cues that make them feel as if they’d been ripped straight from their original games. Mega Man’s crisp movement feels almost just like the NES, Snake’s explosives made him a unique experience in Brawl, and Sonic drives people nuts with his spinning hit-and-run style that makes every person feel as if they were shouting, “I HATE THAT HEDGEHOG!”

Not to say that other crossover games and the like don’t give characters their due. In fact, Mortal Kombat X probably has the best portrayal of Jason in any video game ever (not that there’s much competition). However, I think what Smash Bros. epitomizes above all else is just deep respect for the characters involved. To become a Smash Bros. character is to know you’re something special, or perhaps a time-saving clone, but it’s an honor unlike any other, and if video game characters were real it’d probably be like winning an Oscar.

Upon hearing Mewtwo in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U for the first time, I was convinced that they had brought back the original actor, Ichimura Masachika, from the film Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, it actually turns out to be someone doing an excellent imitation (with the help of a voice filter), and whose acting chops are impressive in their own right. While the new actor Fujiwara Keiji might not have the cred of being an established theater actor like Ichimura is (he’s most famous for playing the titular character in the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera), you might know him for some of the following roles:

Ladd Russo in Baccano!

Nohara Hiroshi in Crayon Shin-chan

Kuzuhara Kinnosuke (Biker Cop) in Durarara!!

Holland Novak in Eureka Seven

Maes Hughes in Full Metal Alchemist (both original and Brotherhood)

Ali-al Saachez in Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Hannes in Attack on Titan

Jake Martinez in Tiger & Bunny

I actually had my suspicions because Mewtwo makes certain sounds in the new Smash Bros. that I don’t recall from Super Smash Bros. Melee, but I chalked it up to my own faulty memory. It’s also a lot more difficult to hear because only the Japanese version has voiced victory quotes. It was the same in Melee, except you could change the language settings there to Japanese, which is how I and a lot of other people learned that Mewtwo had victory quotes in the first place.

Here are videos of the old and new voices for you to compare:

Old (ignore the skins; they’re from a mod)

New

And for fun, here’s a video of Ichimura Masachika as the Phantom of the Opera:

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It’s been six months since Mewtwo was announced as a downloadable character for Smash 4, but it’s felt more like a lifetime. With the vague arrival date of “Spring 2015″ and not a single image beyond a basic character model, information was scarce, and it left Mewtwo fans such as myself starving. Then came the April Nintendo Direct, which not only showed Mewtwo in action and gave an April 28th release date (April 15th for people who registered both games through Club Nintendo), but also revealed the return of Mother 3 hero Lucas as well as a worldwide poll asking who you want in Super Smash Bros. Suffice it to say, it’s been crazy.

(More on the poll in the future. Stay tuned!)

That brings us to today. As one of the many people who bought and registered both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions, I’ve had the privilege of getting early access to Mewtwo, and I’d like to give my impressions. This comes from the perspective  of someone who used the character avidly in Super Smash Bros. Melee (though not so much in a high-level competitive sense), as well as a long-time fan of Mewtwo as a character.

On an aesthetic level, Mewtwo looks so much better than it did in Melee, with body proportions closer to more recent depictions (taller, smaller head, etc.), as well as much more detailed animations. Though all of Mewtwo’s moves are more or less the same as they were back in the Gamecube era, they all have an extra bit of flair that really captures the essence of the character. When Mewtwo does a back throw, it effortlessly lifts the opponent through its telekinesis and, with its eyes closed as if it’s discarded a piece of trash, launches them. The voice, which I know was a bit of a concern for people, is actually just the same as its Melee voice, veteran theater actor Ichimura Masachika. Actually, it’s literally the Melee clips re-used, only that we don’t get the option of changing the game language to Japanese and hearing Mewtwo speak actual lines. I’m not totally against English dubs, but a part of me would have been a bit sad if this had been replaced.

In terms of gameplay, the first thing I want to say is that it actually took me less time to figure out how Mewtwo is supposed to function as a character than it did for me to learn Mega Man, who has been my primary character (the spotlight will now be shared between Blue Bomber and Genetic Pokemon). Once you get a sense of Mewtwo’s attributes, including its attacks, its speed, and its weaknesses, its game plan becomes clear. Mewtwo is a glass cannon, with an overwhelmingly powerful offense contrasted by being one of the lightest characters in the game who’s also one of the largest targets out there.

Especially coming from the perspective of a Mega Man player, Mewtwo’s attacks flow together incredibly well. A lot of its attacks, namely down tilt, up tilt, Side Special (Confusion), and Down Special (Disable) are designed to set opponents up for juggles or follow-ups. There aren’t very many reliable combos from Mewtwo, but a lot of the character is about forcing 50/50 guessing situations that favor you in terms of reward, and you can do things like Confusion -> down tilt, dash attack, forward air, second jump into up air. If you’re not someone who plays and found that a bit confusing, just know that Mega Man by comparison is lucky to get more than 3 hits on an opponent while juggling.

Another feature of Mewtwo’s is that it’s actually much faster on the ground now compared to Melee, and both the range and power of its attacks have been increased. Dash attack in particularly is affected positively by this new-found speed and range, as it’s easy to catch someone landing with it, pop them up in the air, and start a juggle. Mewtwo also now sports some of the most tremendous and reliable kill power in the game. Shadow Ball has more kill power than Samus’s Charge Shot and can be spammed more reliably than Lucario’s Aura Sphere. Up Smash comes out quickly and is absurdly strong, KOing many opponents off the top at about 90%. Forward Smash and Down Smash are slow but powerful, and their weak points can be mitigated through setups such as Confusion and Disable. In particular, if you Disable someone at about 80% and charge a smash attack, they’re almost assuredly going to get taken out.

Mewtwo also eats shields for breakfast, and it’s kind of frightening to see just how effective it is at whittling them down. Many characters have attacks that can either destroy shields or do massive damage to them, but none are quite as reliable and effective as Mewtwo’s Shadow Ball. Its only real weakness is that it takes a while to charge, but once you have it at full power, it has positive effects whether it hits or is blocked, and its erratic trajectory can make it difficult to avoid through dodging. Even if it doesn’t hit anything, Mewtwo can act quickly out of the move allowing follow-ups, and for those characters that love to reflect projectiles, Mewtwo now has a properly-working Confusion that can send it right back for a game of Ocarina of Time-esque volleyball.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Mewtwo without some strong throws, and it sports some of the best around. All of them do significant amounts of damage, somewhere between 9-11%. Back throw is a decent kill move, and up throw is the strongest in its class. With a good amount of rage (in Smash 4, characters become stronger as they take more damage), up throw can KO most opponents between 120-140%. While that might not seem too impressive, and it’s actually weaker when compared to Melee, it’s important to remember that, unlike many other killing throws (which are mostly back throws), Mewtwo’s is reliable at pretty much any point on the stage, instead of requiring you to be closer to one side or the other.

That’s Mewtwo on offense. Mewtwo on defense is another matter, as it is actually one of the lightest characters in the game, even easier to KO than Mr. Game & Watch. Combined with its large frame, it takes attacks easily, and doesn’t have many moves that can keep it from being juggled. Somewhat similar to Mega Man, Mewtwo’s main game plan is to drift towards the edges to avoid follow-ups, and thankfully a combination of excellent air speed, huge jumps, and the best teleport in the game means that it can often escape. However, because Mewtwo is so frail, it sometimes doesn’t matter, as a stiff breeze can send it reeling. In other words, the basic principle of Mewtwo is to deal a crazy amount of damage before the opponent gets the chance to touch you, otherwise you’re probably in trouble. In this way, Mewtwo somewhat resembles Akuma from Street Fighter, another character known for having high damage and low health.

Regardless of how good Mewtwo is as a character in the end, the collective effect of all of this is that Mewtwo feels more representative of the character’s original concept. In the original Pokemon games, Mewtwo is among the strongest in the game, with insanely high offensive stats and relatively good defensive stats. In an effort to promote game balance, the creators of Smash 4 clearly decided to make these aspects more extreme by giving it such terrible defenses, but I think this plays into Mewtwo’s character more than what it had in Melee, which generally amount to having a few decent moves wrapped up in a bunch of terrible qualities. Now, at least those terrible qualities are equally met with terrifying potential on offense. Destroy or be destroyed.

I do find it kind of interesting that the two characters I picked are the ones that are deceptive in terms of size to weight ratios. Mewtwo is very large and extremely light, while Mega Man is much heavier than he looks. It also means that their game plans are also somewhat opposite, as Mewtwo is a very unforgiving character while Mega Man can be afforded more mistakes. Whether they complement each other or succumb to the same issues, only time will tell.

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youkai

The Yo-Kai Watch video game series has been a smash hit in Japan, even managing to outsell Pokemon. Recently there has been news to start bringing the franchise and its accompanying merchandise to English-speaking audiences, and the main character of Yo-Kai Watch, Amano Keita (pictured above, right), has become Nathan Adams. This leads me to speculate on the specific choice made here, and to think about how it compares to the meaning inherent to the original name.

Video games are no stranger to changing characters’ names to make them more culturally accessible, but a question arises as to whether there is any meaning lost (or even gained) in localization of names. For example, a lot of Pokemon characters names gain become much more explicit in terms of wordplay though in a way that has less to do with the inherent meanings of names and more to do with how they sound or have built up associations through culture and history (Lance the Dragon Master, Brock the Rock Gym Leader).

In the case of Amano Keita (which sounds like a fairly typical Japanese name) in Japanese his name references very specific things, and because the name has official kanji it becomes easier to see what it could mean. Amano Keita is 天野景太, where 天 means “sky/heaven,” and 景 means “scenery/view.” The Ama in Amano is on a basic level associated with the Japanese goddess Amaterasu (EDIT: It also might very well refer to Amanojaku, a demon-like creature in Japanese folklore. Thanks to Zack Davisson for informing me!). Thus, Amano Keita’s name basically means “a view of the heavens,” which I think associates him with spirituality and mythology and thus the titular youkai in Yo-Kai Watch.

What about Nathan Adams? Initially, what can’t be ignored is the fact that “Amano” and “Adams” sound somewhat similar. I have little doubt about that.

In terms of basic meaning, a Google search reveals that both Nathan and Adam are Hebrew in origin (Adam being a little more obvious in that regard), so there might very well be a continued connection to heaven and spirituality through the name as well. At the same time it probably won’t earn the ire of those who don’t wish to associate Judeo-Christian beliefs with the Japanese occult, because even though Nathan means “gift from God,” Nathan Adams is also fairly generic-sounding and few truly associate names like “Christopher” with Christ anymore.

However, I’m not sure if this is the actual reasoning, because as explained above, I don’t know the degree to which a localization would actually pursue the deeper origins of names, especially because they don’t have the benefit of kanji to make things explicit. That said, sometimes names are selected because of how they sound, with different kanji used to transform it into a “real” name, similar to English. For example, the female character in Hurricane Polymar is Nanba Teru, or “Number Telephone.”

There is another way in which the English name can be associated with the spiritual and the occult, which is The Addams Family. This, I think is actually more of a likely origin, and while Yo-Kai Watch isn’t focused on the macabre the way The Addams Family is, there’s still that connection with the afterlife, ghosts, and monsters. As for Keita vs. Nathan, I wonder if Nathan was picked because it sounds close to “nature.”

While it’s difficult to draw firm conclusion, I believe that both names spirits and the occult/celestial, though due to cultural differences their exact meanings don’t exactly draw from quite the same concepts. I get the feeling little of this will actually matter in terms of how the character of “Nathan Adams” is perceived, but it was at least fun to explore the potential connotations of his name.

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