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Items of Import: Look Ahead! Dragon Quest V

How is Dragon Quest IV holding up for you, dear readers? Did you run out and buy yourselves a copy, and power through the game? Does the whole feel of the title scream "Classic!" or does it reek of archaic sensibilities? Perhaps you were part of the faithful minority in the great debate of RPG fandom, at the beginning of the week. Personally, as a little kid growing up in the halcyon days of the Famicom (and later, Super Famicom) era, the opening track of the Dragon Quest series is more memorable and more emotionally stirring than the Japanese national anthem.

So... You may be knee deep in Dragon Quest IV goodness right now, and enjoying its tale of many heroes and heroines. Once you come to that inevitable conclusion, what have you got to look ahead to? Why, Dragon Quest V, of course. Today in Items of Import, we'll take the opportunity of the recent release of the fourth in the series in the Western markets to see what's to look forward to in the second entry of the Zenithia trilogy.

Continue reading Items of Import: Look Ahead! Dragon Quest V

Items of Import: Let's RPG - More Words To Learn! part 2

3. Ability

Your regular sword slashes and fire magic just ain't cutting it for this fight. Or maybe you just want to pickpocket some gold from the creature in front of you, all stealth-like. Perhaps that jump attack your dragoon knight has will just turn the tide of the battle.

That there above, readers, isn't a blogger's typical spelling error. In J-RPGs, our English word "ability" is morphed into abiriti, a friendlier pronunciation for Japanese tongues. And as I've mentioned in the past, the script for the word is in katakana, specifically designed for foreign words.

Always with this word, you will find that selecting it will take you to a secondary screen, with even more weird and wonderful Japanese words. All this blogger can tell you is: Good luck! With any imported title, part of the fun is figuring things out by trial and error -- it's not the end of the world if your Level 56 Hero of Awesomeness dies in battle because you don't have a clue what to do. Experiment! Click away on all the crazy Japanese words. You'll get there!

4. Experience

For an RPG fanatic, seeing your characters grow and become stronger is nothing short of satisfying. You remember those times when he was just a wee boy, wielding a short sword at Level 5. Look at him now! A grown man, all chiseled and weary, holding a great big battle axe. I remember when you came home crying -- all you had on was some simple leather attire, and all the kids at school wore shiny mithril. And, uh, that's enough of my dreams of being the good wife in the small and peaceful village of Dresnia.

We all know and love experience points. As gamers, we are always on the lookout for when our heroes will go up a level. We want it in chart form. So to sate your appetite for leveling up in a Japanese language RPG, behold the text image above. As I repeatedly point out (to the annoyance of the readers possibly!), the first script is the more complicated kanji form. You will tend to find fairly equal amounts of both variants. Often, it will be between some other words. In this case, the phrase can more than likely be translated as "Experience points needed for next level."

5. Load

In our last lesson with RPGs, we came across the Japanese for "save." Sometimes, however, your progress in the game is halted by some horrible mistake you made on the way. Lucky for you, you had an alternate save slot of an earlier time in the game. Call it "gamer's premonition," if you will. But where is that all important "load" button!?

Oh, yes, it's right there on the, uh, right. How convenient of this newfangled column! In Japanese, "load" is fairly similarly pronounced like the English, except for the extended ending. We're sure you will find this word useful to recognize in-game, when you simply get stuck on something.

Closing Off

So now you're equipped with a good variety of Japanese words in a typical RPG to recognize and press away. It still takes months of keike--, I mean, experience, to completely enjoy an imported title. A lot of people will, of course, want to understand the epic story being told (Note to self: Get to writing a "common narrative words in a Japanese RPG" column one day!). Oh, and by the by, a little something called Blue Dragon Plus was released today in Japan. It's time for me, and you, to place an order after posting this! Good luck, and keep persevering! Or as they say in the Land of the Rising Sun, ganbatte!

Items of Import is a fortnightly column dedicated to titles only out in Japan. With in-depth impressions of games long before localization and knowledgeable language how-tos, it attempts to bridge the gap between the import savvy and import fearing. Come on, now! You, too, can make that giant leap! Yokoso!

Items of Import: Let's RPG - More Words To Learn!

So you've mastered a variety of words to get your import RPG on. You've managed to attack some nefarious evil-doers; cast some magic to heal your party; perhaps you've even worn some new equipment. On top of all that, you were able to save your precious progress!

"Hey, I can do this! Easy peasy Japanesey!" I hear you say. Oh, young grasshopper -- you have much to learn. To be precise, you've another five new words to master. By nature, RPGs are undoubtedly the most text-heavy of all game genres. With its epic narrative detailing a world and its characters, and a menu screen chock full of words describing important stats and what-have-you, there are rarely moments in an RPG one does not look at text.

The challenge of an imported RPG of course comes from the fact that these thousands, if not millions, of words are in Japanese. BUT! Yes, there's a "but." For us as gamers, overcoming challenge is in our blood! And oftentimes, we are used to RPGs in English, so that even in Japanese, we sort of "get it," you know? Nevertheless, knowing what's what for sure always helps, and Items of Import is here for you once again to expand your Japanese RPG vocabulary.

Continue reading Items of Import: Let's RPG - More Words To Learn!

Items of Import: Sigma Harmonics preview part 2

Gameplay Mechanics

In Sigma Harmonics, gameplay is broken up into roughly five segments. Chronologically speaking, the sequences of gameplay are: "toki tsumugi," "tamashii no kage/toki no saien," "kokuon," "chou-suiri," and "battle." Below are some cursory information on all of these, with the Japanese script and attached translations.

Time Spin

"Toki tsumugi" is used by Sigma and Neon when the two characters are in the Hall of the Great Clock. Within this room, they begin the time spin ritual in order to traverse the different times of the game, and find clues to many mysterious events that occur throughout. Once the ritual has begun, the screen changes to the card gameplay, in which Neon's collected cards take the player to different moments of an incident.

Shadow of the Souls/Recapitulation of Time

During your time with the game, you'll find many instances of a black monolith standing in your path. This signifies that some event happened in that location in the past, and is dubbed the "Shadow of the Souls." When a player finds these, he can re-enact what circumstances unfolded, and in another words, have a "recapitulation of the time." Also, the monolith appearing depends on the time during the game, so it is suggested that you adventure in many areas to chance upon one.

A Moment of Sound

These so-called "moments of sound" are visualized by what could be called medals. Essentially, they are items collected throughout the story that give clues to the many different mysteries surrounding the narrative. The more you collect these "moments," the better your chance of success in finding the truth become. These "medals" can be sought from conversations with non-playable characters, or even suspicious looking places on the map.

Hyper Inference

As I previously stated, more medals equal better chance of finding out the truth. This is especially important in the act of inference. By linking different mysteries and connecting the missing dots, so to speak, Sigma either can infer right or wrong. What this means in the long run is that a correct inference will give the player a better chance of winning against battles. And look what we have next?

Items of Import is a weekly column dedicated to titles only out in Japan. With in-depth impressions of games long before localization and knowledgeable language how-tos, it attempts to bridge the gap between the import savvy and import fearing. Come on, now! You, too, can make that giant leap! Yokoso!

Items of Import: Sigma Harmonics preview

So there are those certain types of games that deserve an immediate import -- the language barrier isn't too steep, and the gameplay is universally appealing. A lot of titles, however, require a good ability in Japanese to navigate. But a part of the appeal of this column is not simply being an "importer's guide" on what's easy and import-able, but also to expand upon our readers knowledge of upcoming games out of Japan that may or may not see an overseas release. Said games may be the triplest of A's; or in other cases, it could be an ultra quirk-fest of a game that has no chance of sailing across to the Western shores.

With that in mind, today's Items of Import looks at Sigma Harmonics, a "mystery RPG" developed in-house at Square Enix. Having just released in Japan, this is a title that deserves more of our attention since an original IP from the publisher has been a long time coming. The official website for the game is loaded with content right now, and we can learn much from reading and translating it.

Gallery: Sigma Harmonics

Continue reading Items of Import: Sigma Harmonics preview

Items of Import: Sigma Harmonics preview part 3


As can be seen in the screen above, battles in Sigma Harmonics are played out using Neon's cards. As the Card Wielder, Neon is tasked to fight against the Ouma, while the player as Sigma directs her.

On the left screen of the battle, a radar is shown which gives a directional idea of where the enemies are placed on the field. This is important since when Neon attacks, the player must select the direction of the Ouma as well. In contrast, on the menu screen of the battle, cards are displayed which can be unleashed to wield various attacks and spells.

Also, one can see two bars above the cards -- the "gauge" and the "equalizer." The green gauge is basically a representation of the game's Active Time Battle system -- now a commonplace mechanic in Square Enix's other franchises. Once this turns pink, the player is free to choose between the different cards. The purple "equalizer" bar moves up and down depending on the background music, which is crucial in turning the tide of the battle.

When a player selects to change the music, it is essentially Sigma playing a different tune during the battle. Yes, while Neon is risking her life battling demons, Sigma is setting the right mood for her. What a guy! Music changes the tempo of the equalizer, and as I've mentioned in the last paragraph, it gives the player an advantage in battle.

Last thing of note is "Job Change." When this is chosen during battle, Neon is "possessed" and transforms into different jobs. This allows her to wield different weapons and also changes her stats. It also makes different cards appear in the heat of battle, which might give the player an edge.

Closing Off

As an original creation from Square Enix, Sigma Harmonics is one to keep an eye on. As readers will probably surmise from reading this edition of Items of Import, this title might be something to hold off on importing unless you are well-versed in the Japanese language. Although it has been unannounced for an international release yet, it's definitely something to watch for. With its stylistic pseudo-19th century alternate Tokyo setting and interesting mix of gameplay mechanics of roleplaying and detective work, Sigma Harmonics is a game that's sure to build somewhat of a fanbase. I hope you've enjoyed this preview-tastic edition of Items of Import!

Items of Import is a weekly column dedicated to titles only out in Japan. With in-depth impressions of games long before localization and knowledgeable language how-tos, it attempts to bridge the gap between the import savvy and import fearing. Come on, now! You, too, can make that giant leap! Yokoso!

Items of Import: Rhythm Tengoku Gold part 2

The final gameplay keyword is the one you see above. Possibly the most important mechanic in the game, flicking the stylus across the touchscreen is used so often in most minigames that it must be mentioned here. As I've written in the Japanese, you'll often find different versions of the "flick" verb, depending on the circumstance at hand. Put simply, "hajiku" is "to flick" literally; and "hajiite" is more like a request to flick -- like, "Please flick the stylus" -- and you will often come across this in the genial tutorial.

Here's a handy graphic detailing the three techniques. Number 1 shows "touch," 2 shows "let go" and 3 shows "flick." As can be seen from the flicking image, it's like writing a tick mark quickly. The note for number 3 states: "Flick with a good sense of force. If the flicking distance is short, or there's no momentum, it will not work."

A quick explanation of the other modes present in the game is in order! Apart from the 50-odd minigame challenges, there are two areas where more rhythmic fun can be had. First up is the Medal Corner. Each time you gain a "High Level Medal" in a minigame -- by being a Rhythm God, of course -- you are awarded a medal which can then be used to buy little extras: "endless games" where the goal is to get a high score (or die trying) in simple one-notion minigames; "rhythm toys," and so on.

The second mode is the Coffee House. This is where you can talk to the barista to gain tips, as well as listen to music and read books you've unlocked through accomplishing perfects. This is meant more to be a time to relax and while away the minutes, just as a nice cafe would. Explore these modes at your own leisure, and you'll surely come across hidden gems.

Closing Off

Containing only a handful of Japanese words to learn and navigate, and being one of the most inventive rhythm games on the DS, Rhythm Tengoku Gold is a title any keen importer should consider to be on top of his or her list. Don't let those unusual scribbles scare you away -- dare I say it, but you might as well use this little humble column once in awhile to help you on your way!

Items of Import is a weekly column dedicated to titles only out in Japan. With in-depth impressions of games long before localization and knowledgeable language how-tos, it attempts to bridge the gap between the import savvy and import fearing. Come on, now! You, too, can make that giant leap! Yokoso!

Items of Import: Rhythm Tengoku Gold

No one should have to burden themselves with waiting for Rhythm Tengoku Gold to arrive Stateside. Aside from the fact that Nintendo of America still hasn't announced a specific release schedule for the game (we're looking at you also, Jam With The Band), any title with rhythm as the main focus of the gameplay lends itself perfectly for importing.

Of course, any game you import from Japan has its fair share of unreadable text. From roleplaying games to intense puzzlers, the fear exists that the Japanese language will overwhelm you and make you feel like you wasted precious dollars on an unplayable game. Fear not! For Items of Import is here for you once again -- to guide you through trouble, and to encourage you to start importing.

Rhythm Tengoku Gold was just released last week in Japan. With its catchy Tsunku-produced tunes and zany visuals, the game could be your perfect import choice of the month. Show it to all your FPS-loving gamer friends; show them what those crazy Japanese call games these days. With merely a handful of Japanese to conquer compared to those icky RPGs, you'll be enjoying Rhythm Tengoku in no time. And who's going to help you through it all? Why, look what we have here? -- another edition of Items of Import to share, educate, and encourage you to take that step!

Gallery: Rhythm Tengoku Gold

Continue reading Items of Import: Rhythm Tengoku Gold

Items of Import: Let's Enroleplaying Games! part 2

In this introduction to Items of Import, we'd like to ease you all into import gaming, before we dip our feet deeply into the vast sea of specific titles. Part of the appeal of this column isn't simply reading about the greatest and quirkiest titles being released in Japan. It's also the fact that the feature is about getting through a Japanese-language title, even if the only words you know are teriyaki and katana.

To begin, let's look at getting by in an RPG. Oftentimes, role-playing games are the last to be localized, and they are also the hardest to navigate without some Japanese knowledge. But a part of you wants to try it out -- you need to try it out, before anyone else. Your inner nerd wants to brag. It's okay -- we understand. We've been there, too.

The biggest challenge in an RPG comes not from the story-heavy dialogue. That's just a matter of tapping through it all, right? And in all honesty, we've all seen our fair share of stories with no idea of what was being discussed -- our bygone youth watching badly dubbed kung fu flicks pretty much sums that up. We are all intelligent enough to get at least a grasp on whatever epic melodrama is unfolding.

The challenge comes from the menus. Oh, the menus. How they taunt you with their indecipherable script. Today, we're going to get on top of some of the commonplace menus that most Japanese RPGs possess.
The Five Japanese Words You Can't Live Without

Forget trying to order food in Japan; ignore attempting to catch a train to the right station. There are only five words in Japanese you need to know to get by. Attack, Magic, Items, Equip, and Save -- okay, so we're pushing it slightly, but you all get the idea! If you can read these in a Japanese RPG, you instantly have a firmer grasp of the game than the average Joe Player. This will be the beginning of your beautiful journey through import gaming.

Items of Import: Let's Enroleplaying Games! part 3

Attacking the Language Barrier

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when an import gamer comes across "Attack." Although "tataka-u" (as above) is the most commonly used script for the attack command, it is written in other ways in some cases. Thing is, back in the 8-bit days of yore, videogames as a general rule were something children played, and the old systems could not display the more complex kanji characters. Thus, "attack" was always written this way. However, as time wore on and the children grew up (and the hardware developed) kanji characters could be shown in-game. In other words, the simple hiragana script of "tataka-u" was sometimes written as the more complex kanji script "ko-u-geki.". As the Nintendo DS is a system for all ages, import gamers will find different instances of the word. For example, a series like Dragon Quest has always been played by a variety of age groups, so the franchise always uses the simpler version.

Casting the Bilingual Magic On Our Readers: Equipping You with Japanese

Just as with "attack," these two commands are written differently, depending on the target audience and the type of game. Readers of this column will soon realize that this is the case for a lot of words in Japanese: the differentiation of the simpler hiragana script and the more complex kanji characters. In different scenarios, "maho-o" or "magic" (seen above) can be written with its corresponding kanji characters. Likewise, "so-ubi," (meaning "equip/ment") can be interchanged with its kanji partners, as well.

Words of Import

For those readers who aren't already aware, "item" and "save" (seen on the second page) are written in katakana, a script used for imported words, and these types of words are not interchanged with complex kanji. They are pronounced fairly similarly to the original word. Thus "item" is pronounced "i-temu" and "save" is "se-e-bu."

Closing Off

This is simply the beginning of your journey through import gaming. It takes months and years to have a full grasp of playing a Japanese title. Be sure to take a look at Items of Import, as it will not only be the place for in-depth previews and reviews of games way ahead of localization, but it may also teach you a thing or two along the way.

Items of Import is a weekly column dedicated to titles only out in Japan. With in-depth impressions of games long before localization and knowledgeable language how-tos, it attempts to bridge the gap between the import savvy and import fearing. Come on, now! You, too, can make that giant leap! Yokoso!

Items of Import: Let's Enroleplaying Games!

After a lot of deliberation, Joe Player finally decided to try importing a game from Japan. It was nerve-wracking, clicking through to an online retailer and perusing the list of unusual titles. With fingers poised above the keyboard, he hesitated -- would his credit card information be safe? Should he choose express post? How long would delivery take?

He was worried -- did he make the right choice? Was his Japanese sufficient to play the game? He'd learned hiragana in classes, and picked up some ninja phrases from fansubbed episodes of Naruto. Would it be enough? He would soon find out.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Items of Import, a new weekly feature that will make you feel a little less worried about your import choices. Sometimes playing a game in Japanese can seem like a daunting task. But make no mistake: Items of Import is here to nurture you, guide you, and teach you the ways of Japanese games. Keep checking this space for your dose of import impressions and language lessons.

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