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My 100th Blog: On my stint as Videogames "Journalist"

It feels like months since I've written anything, and perhaps that's because it has been. Back in January I started taking on a volunteer role for an upcoming videogame website. My Japanese-English bilingual skills, grasp of nuanced videogame critique and general writing skill must have won over quite a few editors because I was almost instantly welcomed by several sites at once.

In the end I narrowed down my choice to one site whose values/angle I liked - it was aiming to be a sort of high-brow site, digital equivalent of the UK's well-known "prententious" rag Edge.

But I wasn't a Games Journalist at this point. I mean sure, I was writing breaking reviews such as the first high quality published review of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD (based on the JPN import version), but I was simply a volunteer excitedly writing to an audience I could never have reached just on my blog. I was finally doing it: Combining my love of writing with my passion for telling people all about my experiences with videogames. The views on my reviews rolled in by the hundreds and people were buzzed to learn about how the HD remasters/Vita-porting held up, even praising my review for being well written. It was a great feeling that I was doing what I'd always done for forumites, but now on a bigger stage. But I wasn't a videogames journalist yet.

Over the next few months I butted heads with the editor over his slash-and-burn editing. I even comically dubbed him "Editor Scissor Hands", not that his name is Edward, but you gotta amuse yourself somehow. One of my first reviews, which I initially posted on my blog "Imported Goodness", had to be redone extensively twice before it was finally given the okay. There was a lot I'd learnt from the process that sticks with me today. Lessons like: Don't assume what your audience knows (spell out the basics: genre, where the game fits into series history), keep things as concise as humanly possible, avoid vague descriptions that can be taken in multiple ways and so on. Around 3 months in the site I was volunteering for became an officially recognised, tax-paying company. I was still a keen volunteer building a portfolio of written material, but I was not a videogames journalist.

After the site was set-up as a company I started getting more responsibilities. Suddenly I was handling review code, getting me access to free digital copies of cool games like Atelier Escha and Logy (which still sits on my PS3 HDD today). I even got to handle preview code for niche, indie-developed PC-games and in one instance was even given a review disc for a AAA console FPS. The latter was extremely stressful to review because I know nothing about FPS games.

And this is probably where the volunteer position began creeping into becoming an uncompensated job. I had to increasingly do mundane "work" such as being available for a couple hours a day to write news. It's often said that "games journalists" simply rehash press releases. And although there's some truth to that I still feel it's a job worth doing as press releases are often so sickening exuburent in playing up the features of an upcoming game that they end up reading confusingly. Have you ever noticed how fake videogame websites sound when reporting news? That's not because their company shills, it's because more often than not the poor bastard penning it knows nothing about the game/series/genre.

Around this time (some 5-ish months in) I was also given quotas and deadlines on what I had to write. I even stayed up for several exhausting days to cover E3 from corner to corner (from my bedroom mind you, but exhausting nontheless). My gaming habits changed to maximise what I could write: Playing 90 hour long JRPGS simply didn't make sense when I had an editor asking me for a review of something (anything) within the week. A short indie game or a random budget title though? Yeah, that I could do. The encroachment on my spare time sucked, but that the position had started turning playing games into a chore really drove it home that I was effectively doing a job.

And it wasn't just the editorship who saw it that way. Those excited comrades in critique, my avatar-rocking netizen brothers, began to see things that way as well. Articles I'd submit online to places like Reddit or N4G were no longer met with the same thankfulness that characterised the response to my earliest reviews. Instead the default position of the readers was to pick apart and doubt the validity of everything I had to say. I had armchair critics harassing me online, telling me that I should be more professional or I wouldn't last "as a journalist". And just like that, at some indeterminate point in time I had become a "videogame journalist" held to exacting ideals of integrity. I'm not sure when it happened, but becoming a "videogame journalist" was never something I aimed to be, I even make a point of not using the term "videogame journalist". After all, most people doing it don't see themsevles as journalists, but excited writers who over time started getting recognition and access that simply being an anonymous forum member could never get them.

In the end I left the site as tensions between myself and the editorship were running too high. I was increasingly aggitated by the profressional expectations placed on me, especially since I'd joined up as a volunteer. And the site was shifting further and further away from the site I'd joined: Suddenly news pieces with discouraging sounding descriptions of publishers were being edited to avoid being blacklisted. I'm not going to talk about the corruption angle as it wasn't like the publisher was paying the site off or anything, but the reality is many sites, especially start-up sites, rely more heavily on good publisher relations than you may realise. So if you think a small no-name site is a better place for ballsy, no-punches-held criticism then you'd be wrong (if that site has any ambitions of striking it big that is).

Today I'm trying to remember what I enjoyed about gaming. About what it was like when I had the time to play anything I wanted, heck, I used to even enjoy playing the same game multiple times. It's been months since I've done that. And to be honest all the new offerings out there be it the new Assassin's Creed or Halo simply don't excite me like they used to. Games simply aren't as experimental or interesting these days, the result of genre standards (there are good ways and bad ways of doing things that are well established) stabilising, creating homogenisation. Even indie games, typically retro-chic games with the added twist of one quirky mechanic, don't ooze experimentative from all their pours. When was the last time a game truly excited me? Or when I was turned on to a whole new world or franchise?

For a little while I'm going to try blindly dipping into retro import gaming, especially for the Sega Saturn as my JPN Saturn is just sitting around unloved. It's going to be great to be surprised again. The games may be good, bad and everything inbetween, but I just hope they can ignite that spark, that ineffable verve I had for videogames in me again. Guess I'll find out later this month when I try out "classics" I've never played such a Lunar Star Story and Shining Force III Scenario I (the first entry into the Shining Force III trilogy, and the only part of which was released outside of Japan). Or maybe it will be the dark-looking RPG Wachenroder that suprises me?

The truth behind flamboyant Japanese hair colouring in videogames.

I've played a lot of Japanese games over the last two decades and have wondered this. I even spent the better part of one of those decades learning the Japanese language so I could play even more of them.

I’ve always wondered why characters that are clearly based on Asian people or even outright stated as being Japanese don’t have black hair like their real life counterparts. It can’t all be the case that all these characters have dyed hair, right?

Over the last few weeks I've noticed a recurring theme in Japanese games that at first I had first thought was just my imagination.

Take a look at the screenshot below:

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[Caption: Black haired boy: Wha...?!]

I dunno about you guys but that guys’ hair looks dark blue to me. Not black. If you aren't convinced take a look at the character art:

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Pretty sure that is darkish blue right there. But the game clearly says it is black. Is this just a case of the script being finalised well in advance of finalised character design? It's a pretty dark blue so I guess someone could mistake it for black at a glance. Or maybe this is just a typo? I didn't really know what to make of this so I ignored it and forgot about it.

Over the next few months I found several other examples like this but didn't (or couldn't) take screens. I wasn't really sure there was anything to say. Some examples that come to mind are:

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[Ever17’s Tsugumi: her hair appears purple haired but the game says her hair as black]

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[Fate/Stay Night’s Rin Tohsaka: her hair appears colour appears in-game as anywhere between shades of grey, silver and even brown. But the game says her hair is black]

But these are all pretty dark colours and for each respective game they might be close enough to black that they can exist as black specifically within the game world.

...and then I saw this:

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[Fate/Stay Night's Sakura Matou: her hair appears a kind of purple/blue but the game says her hair is black]

Now...hold up. Rin and Sakura are from the same series of games here. They even appear side-by-side at times. It can't be the case that Rin's silver simply passes for black within that game world where Sakura's purple also passes for black. And yet the game is telling us that these two completely disparate colours are both supposed to be treated as 'black'.

And this isn't the result of script and art asset differences as Fate/Stay is actually a trilogy. We find out Rin's hair is black in the second instalment as her hair is mentioned quite a bit to emphasize her femininity (she is the romantic interest in the second game). In the third game which came out later we learn about Sakura and there are several references to her hair (Sakura is the romantic interest in the third game). The game is also extremely script heavy (being a visual novel) so inconsistencies like this would have been corrected, if not in the first game in the trilogy, by the last one for sure.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that Japanese/Asian characters in Japanese games do have black hair provided their hair is almost any colour that is remotely dark(ish). Doesn't matter if it is blue, purple or even green. Japanese games simply don't tie what their characters actually look like to the way they are presented.

But here is where it gets bonkers. Even though it is understood that a dark haired character must canonically have black hair, the various hair colours are considered aesthetically pleasing enough that when Japanese people cosplay these characters they don't cosplay them them in a way that is true to the source script!

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[A Japanese cosplayers' take on Sakura Matou: Her hair is purple to match the aesthetic of the character from the source material even though the character, canonically speaking, actually has black hair] a way the hair colour in this cosplay is completely off...*mind blown*

Edit: So to summarise. Japanese videogame characters often DO have black just doesn't look that way because hey, black is more than a colour. Probably for aesthetic reasons.

Edit 2: Title has been altered to be less misleading.

Pretty sure the friendzone is BS. But 'EVIL'?

I honestly don't believe the friendzone exists. I've never been placed in it; you are either in the non-friend category or you are a friend (or a nobody). That is to say I think it is just down to guys misreading a situation and thinking they are being led on when they aren't. The result is they end up being heartbroken.

This comic actually looks at the perspective from the woman's perspective and it's very interesting to see how the friendzone situation can seem from that perspective. I encourage you to take a look:


This comic has been making the rounds between the women on my Facebook feed. Quite frankly I'm not interested in being shouted down or misunderstood and torn apart by people I know over the internet so I decided to bring my thoughts here instead. That I feel I can't voice my own opinion among women who I have known for years as friends is a big topic in and of itself, but I'm going to have to ask you to keep ignoring that elephant for now or this topic will become really bloated.

Anyway, even though I've never experienced the 'friendzone' I couldn't help but feel this comic grossly misconstrues the experience the man is going through. It would have been one thing if it stopped at ridiculing the idea that the woman is leading the man on, but it actually goes as far as to turn the heartbroken victim (victim of his own misunderstanding, sure) into the villain.

That just doesn't sit right with me and seems...I dunno, 'off' somehow.

For example the comic suggests that these men are only pretending to be friends with the woman for sexual gain. But is this really how it plays out? And that they feel 'entitled' to the woman because they are 'nice,' but is that really what the men who find themselves in this situation are so confused/angry about?

I get the feeling that the experience a man goes through during 'friendzoning' isn't what the comic suggests it is at all (at least not universally). Through the incredible powers of empathy I've managed to come up with the following scenario:

My understanding of friendzoning is something like this:

Guy meets girl. They have something in common like videogames and become friends.

The guy values the girls' friendship but at some point his feelings change into romantic ones.

The girl goes out with some asshole and proclaims 'why can't I just find a nice guy who won't take advantage of me. Why do guys always do xyz' etc'

The guy hearing this thinks 'I'm a nice guy, I don't take advantage of you, I don't do xyz. Why is she telling me this instead of her girlfriends? OMG, it sounds like she describing me. Is she giving me a sign?' (no guy, she isn't. But he probably thinks she is).

It's not a sign .

Guy finally having plucked up the courage to ask the girl out after convincing himself that she must like him (because her description of the guy she wants appears to match him exactly) makes his move. He finally asks her out, willing against all hope that he won't be rejected. All because he feels like he has a basis for not being rejected. 'It just makes logical sense' he thinks...completely unaware that he is applying logic to a problem where logic has no place.

The woman rejects him. The guy doesn't understand.

'But I don't take advantage of you...[etc; I'm the guy you've been describing all along. What do you mean you don't like me like that? Why would you say all those things if you didn't mean it? You have to like me because it made sense.]'

The guys confidence in interpreting reality is shattered to the core. He had what he felt was an observable, rational reason for believing the girl liked him. 'It all made sense!' he thinks to himself, unable to comprehend what has just happened. He can't believe he misread the situation so spectacularly. In fact he can't even believe there was scope for misreading at all. He must have been led on. At the very least he certainly feels like his emotions have been toyed with.


For guys that have been friendzoned I have to ask, am I along the right lines here? I have this feeling that I'm not that far of the mark.

How hard was it to give the guy the benefit of the doubt? Took me a just a few minutes to attempt to see it from another perspective other than my own. I wish more people would do the same before jumping to a binary conclusion where someone is either a bitch or a pig.

Final Fantasy X HD Remaster (Vita) out now. Impressions/genuine screenshots!

FFXHD/FFX-2HD are now out in Japan. I opted for the Vita version. I've played around 4 hours. Just made my way through the jungle that separates Kilika from the the nearby shrine.

I was a little worried about the Vita version as SE has been very tight lipped about it (at times making us even question it still existed). After playing for a few hours I can't say that it is perfect, but what I've played shows mostly good news: this is a competent higher resolution conversation of the PS2 game with some sensible design choices having been made along the way and a few niggling issues.

I'm going to show off some screen from the game along with some interesting points I noticed whilst playing.

Launcher Menu

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This is the first thing you see upon starting FFXHD: the dedicated launcher menu from which you can select FFXHD, The Eternal Calm bonus goodies and other bonus extras. You can also check your game saves from here without booting up the game itself. There is no option to get back into the launcher from the game but you can jump back at any time by pressing L+R+Start.

CG Screenshots

These are captured directly from the Vita and should give you some idea of what the CG looks like. There doesn't seem to be any noticeable compression artifacts from what I can tell.

What is also noteworthy is that transition between in-game and CG is really smooth (as is CG playback). There is little in the way of awkward pauses and unlike the PS2 you won't hear your disk drive whirring into action to telegraph a CG sequence.

Tidus Crying Face

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Auron pose

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Auron pose close-up

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Dark Colours Test

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Light Colours Test

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The quality of the conversion here is better than that of the MGS HD Collection. Characters exhibit fewer jaggies upon closer examination and even scenes that zoom out on architecture hold up quite well.

Zanarkand Skyscape

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The character models in this HD remaster version also exhibit extra details not present in the PS2 version such as the leather effect on Tidus's not-quite-overalls. These effects are often cut from Vita ports (the leather/silk textures in games like Hatsune Miku/DOA5+) but are present and well here.

Smell that leather

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The game also appears not to have taken any shortcuts with shadows. All characters (including NPCs) exhibit correctly shaped shadows. There is no pixelation or flickering readily apparent in the shadows either.

Blitzball's cast shadows:CONFIRMED

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The same goes for enemies big and small.

However some of the graphical limitations from the PS2 version are also apparent here. In the PS2 version the VFX layer used for item/spell effects was the same one used for some of the environmental effects. Long story short sometimes environmental effects disappear for a split second whilst the item/spell effect animates. So far I've only noticed this in underwater segments of the game where the water shimmer will disappear for a split second and making the scene look flat and less convincing for little while.

Also almost none of the objects in the world that look like they should be light sources actually illuminate characters as they pass-by (though baked environmental shadows shade correctly). I can't remember if this was the case with the PS2 version or not (and I don't know if the PS3 version includes this). But something to keep in mind.

Generally speaking the game looks clean, sharp and colourful.

With the exception perhaps of one in-game location I've taken to calling 'Shimmering Hill':

Shimmering Hill

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The lack of texture filtering on this scene in the PS2 version made it easily the ugliest spot in the entire game. The shimmering effect is still in the Vita HD version but the smaller screen makes it a little harder to make out.

The pre-rendered sequences in the game also look a little flat (though that was always the case) and not 100% pin-sharp but they don't appear to be a blurry mess either.

Don't go be three-dimensional out there:

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MGSHD was an interesting collection in that it improved the graphics and framerate but the loading times actually increased over the original game (which was near load-less).

FFXHD performs well on the Vita for the most part. The game maintains a solid 30 FPS almost all the time and when coupled with the smooth animations and pretty colours it looks great in motion...99% of the time.

Occasionally the game will hiccup just for a split second whilst it does something new. Sometimes it will be the way 'screen-crack' animation before battles appears to be a little rougher than normal. Once I got a really minor snag when I attempted to summon Valefore. There really isn't any rhyme or reason to it; it happened once under conditions x and I simply couldn't replicate it.

The frame-rate is mostly a smooth 30 but in one scene where there were a lot of NPCs on screen (the scene where Yuna does her first summoning) the game chugged, only to go right back again to a smooth 30 during a close-angle when fewer NPCs were around (and then back to chugging again for a second when it returned to a wide-angle with all the NPCs). I've not seen that happen in any other scene so far and nothing like that during exploration or battle. If you are worried about it being a Jak Trilogy all over again though you can put your fears to rest.

The load times are also universally better than the PS2 version (battle-to-field/indoor-to-outdoor/cutscene-game) and actually some of the snappiest loading I've seen on the system. Even loading and saving save games is pretty much instant.

There is minor grievance. This thing:

The thing I was am grieving over:

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This moving loading screen animation is new to this version of FFX. This animation will appear seemingly at random during scene transitions or when moving between places (never during the field/battle transition). Some of the loads are so fast you'll only see this thing flash up for a split-second and then you are loaded into the next part...making you doubt if you saw it at all. At other times the animating icon will appear during the entirety of the load and at other times it simply won't appear at all and you'll get a graceful black fade-out instead. You can sometimes even pass back and forth between the same doorway having it only appear sometimes but not at others. It is really random. Given how fast the load times are I am not sure why they just didn't stick to a simple (and consistent) fade to black.


FFXHD is based on the International version of FFX (complete with the advanced sphere grid) but has had the Japanese voices added back in. There is no option to change the text or voice language for the JP release of FFXHD. The game is around 3600MB so maybe they felt they couldn't cram in dual-audio. That also means the game has the same uneven presentation as the original, where NPCs sometimes voice but sometimes don't. It would have been nice to see NPCs get voices added at the very least. The English release will likely only have English (unless SE have some DLC planned).

The game also has a reworked soundtrack (with no option for the original) which uses real instruments. It's a mixed bunch but they tend to evoke the right emotions. Parts of the game that didn't hit me the first time I played them (the gunner begging Yuna to allow him to protect Kilika) definitely got me this time around.

There are no options to alter the balance between SE/BGM/Voice but the game seems to have done a good job of balancing them anyway.

Sound effect quality is also mostly good. Even in stereo through headphones it is possible to hear from which direction the deep humming of the podiums in the 'trials' is coming from. Attacks hits such as Tidus's sword attack sounds as convincingly slicey as Yuna's staff swing sounds whimpy. The only sound effect that sounds odd to me so far is the sound of picking up spheres during trials; they make a sound that is a little too high pitched and I detected a bit of cracking.

There is one pretty big fault with the sound though; lip synching. It appears the voice audio and lip synching are ever so slightly out of sync (maybe by a 1/5 of a second with the lip synching animation being the one in the lead and the voice audio trailing behind). It's pretty distracting. This isn't the first game I've experienced this either (Time Travellers) but given no one else has said anything so I'm inclined to believe this is a quirk of playing the game off a memory card (IIRC Vita memory cards read/write is slower than a Vita game card). I hope that a patch is released for this. It does make me worry a bit about the digital only FFX-2HD Vita release for the English speaking markets though. Get it sorted SE!


It's mostly the same...well, mostly. So it is a shame that there is no option to disable or skip tutorials (come to think of it you can't skip cutscenes either. Don't worry, you'll beat Yunalesca first time...probably).

The biggest change is the 'swipe menu'. It hides off the left side of the screen. Swipe the touch screen right and you pull it out. Swipe left and it slides back out of view.


You can summon this menu in the field:

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When used in the field you get two options which allow you to insta-heal your entire party in an automated way (removing the bureaucracy of post-battle healing). You can select to heal using:

1. Healing magic: The game attempts to heal everyone whilst trying to keep from wasting MP.

2. Items: the game prioritises using low quality healing items (potions over hi-potions for example).

After you tap the icon you get a text box in the middle of the screen saying who did the healing (and the MP cost to them) or the items used.

You can also summon this menu mid-battle (screen below) but here it does something different; it lets you toggle between long/short summon animations mid-battle (no skip option unfortunately):


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My favourite part of this conversion has to be the battle UI. Many Vita games simply shrink down the UIs of their console counterparts 1:1 with no regard for legibility. FFXHD Vita does not make this mistake. The Vita game has a jumbo-sized UI that makes everything easily readable without cluttering things too much.

The only gripe I have with the battle UI is that there is a split-second period between moving the cursor between menu items that makes it harder to quickly move through lists. This is only in the battle UI and nowhere else (and doesn't appear to be caused by frame issues). Weird. At the moment it isn't a big deal as I don't have many things to choose from but later on in the game it could be a pain.

The rest of the game UI is not quite as jumbo sized. But given that FFX is not text heavy it isn't as big a deal as it could have been (and the UI isn't super tiny either). You can see the examples of the UI here:

Party Menu

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Pressing Triangle calls/dismisses the party menu smoothly. It doesn't feel like the game is doing something heavy to get the menu to open at all. It's strange that this particular part of the UI is so plucky when the battle UI isn't.

Sphere Grid

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Sphere Grid zoomed-out

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Well, those are my impressions so far. If SE can get the lip-synch issue sorted and give us an option to banish the loading-animation I'd say this would be a pretty close to perfect.

Why ordinary men find Feminism infuriating

Why ordinary men find Feminism infuriating

I remember back in 2003 when I started college. I was the only man in my philosophy class that put my hand up when the teacher asked if we were feminists. I was at the time, puzzled as to why the other guys in the class didn’t raise their hand…I mean, why wouldn’t you be pro-women’s rights? Who doesn’t’ empathise with being treated like dirt over something they have no control over and is a deep part of their identity? But looking back on it now I wonder I actually see something of what those other guys in the class might have been thinking when they didn’t raise their hands.

I’ve been following the feminism debate for a long time now and one thing that always strikes me is how infuriating it is to deal with feminists when you are a man. Now, being annoyed or antagonised by someone who you are fundamentally in opposition to is not all that strange, but what I find is striking about the issue of feminism is that it on principle myself (and many other frustrated men) aren’t fundamentally opposed to the tenets of feminism itself; This is frustration in spite of fundamental agreement.

What is also striking is that the same feelings of frustration from feeling judged and shamed are not something that I feel in response to any other movement. Case in point, my Facebook feed is clogged with weird and wonderful articles on issues facing the gay community, habitual on-going racism experienced by minorities and heart-warming talks that make us reanalyse our views of mental illness, poverty and so on. But none of these videos or articles strike the same nerve with me as feminism. None of them make me feel I am the (even in my ignorance) part of a problem even when I and if I am; instead I leave feeling enlightened and like part of a solution or a potential solution.

As someone who is mentally healthy, straight and well off you’d think I’d be just as incensed by those talks as I am by the kind of comments I see on feminist related posts that many women leave.

So…what is going on here?

So the first question you might be asking is this: If you are fundamentally in agreement why is it that you are in conflict?

See, the thing is whereas I agree with feminism in principle, I don’t agree with many of the off-the-cuff remarks that go unreprimanded that are often made alongside feminist assertions and I don’t agree with them because they vilify behaviours that are otherwise natural for men (but not for women). But in disagreeing with the smaller “problem” I open myself up to attack for being against feminists in everything they say.

For instance, take a look over this video:

For women this seems like a conscious attempt at perverse behaviour and a way for the man to psych the woman out and make her aware of some future attempt to rape her. She might use an expression like like ‘undressing with the eyes’… a uniquely female expression which strikes many man as an amusing alien concept (why would a man waste his time undressing a woman in his imagination when he can fast-forward to the good bits?); The thing is most (straight) men who view this only see fairly ordinary behaviour and they cannot convincingly explain why it is in fact normal (though they can feel it in their gut).

Now the science actually backs up why this is ordinary and for me feel free to read on (though this isn’t the crux of this article).


-We know men decide on whether to look at someone with sexual interest almost immediately as that is the way their brains are wired. This is why they go into sexual look mode almost straight away so they can make a kind of 3D scan of the woman to determine her true body shape. It also explains why men do it considerably more frequently than women (they only need to be around a stranger for a second or so to be compelled to enter this mode and if you are around a lot of strangers…)

-We also know that men’s vision operates like a spot light (which is probably what a man’s gaze feels like) and has a considerably more constricted range of vision than a woman’s gaze. This means that he has to move his head to train his vision on a woman in order to get a clear look. In fact most men will be able to attest that if they hold they hand up in front of their face and move it down (keeping their gaze still) their range of vision simply isn’t good enough to make out anything but a blurry hand shape by the time the hand is at chin level (seriously, I can’t even make out how long my finger nails are…in fact I can’t even differentiate the colour of my nails from my hands!).

-The result is that a man’s gaze is extremely obvious to a woman as he has to crane his head to get a as good a look as she could having just kept her gaze appearing as if it was aimed elsewhere.

-Couple that with the fact that men are pretty dumb about this kind of stuff (men’s brains are not as well attuned as a woman’s’ to catch fine social cues like gaze) and you get the impression that the men who do this are actually massive perverts.

Ever noticed a guy who appears to be looking at you every time you look to check if he is looking? He probably isn’t, in all likelihood he is constantly looking away and ‘stealing’ glances so he can finish the scan of the woman’s body/features that he is compelled to make but can’t because he is afraid of being blasted out for being a massive perv. If there was no stigma to looking he’d just do a detailed once-over and get it out of his system after having made a complete scan (though if he has managed to make a scan and is still staring something else might be up).


Women naturally find all this looking exhausting and normally blame the men involved (who are simply attempting to juggle social expectations that tell them not to look with their natural urges which tell them to ‘finish the damn scan’) and denounce their behaviour as unnatural and perverse. After all, you can’t strike out someone for doing something you acknowledge as natural. Well, not without appearing unsympathetic and irrational.

I think the truth behind the matter is that men’s behaviour was perfectly acceptable in the past when we lived in smaller communities with fewer strangers (which meant considerably less ‘scanning’ as most men would have scanned every woman in the community once and be done with it) and women were able to sustain that amount of looking without being exhausted by it. The problem in my eyes isn’t the men (who are doing what is natural) but the structures of the societies we live in that force us to live in close proximity to dozens, even hundreds of strangers and that in turn means a man is in ‘scanning mode’ a heck of a lot just to keep up.

Now this is the point many men get extremely upset for having what they know in their gut is natural behaviour be vilified. We’ve put up with jealous/insecure partners for generations because they just couldn’t believe it but now what is happening is men aren’t just being told it is uncomfortable (which is the point where most other movements the kind I mentioned earlier would stop) but actually being made out to be evil for having these urges acting as a kind of mental itch on them (an itch which ‘scanning’ alleviates).

What happens next is something that will likely stun and confuse readers a 100 years from now the same way the superstitions that fuelled the Salem Witch Trials leave us flabbergasted today. As if receiving judgement for simply doing what comes naturally wasn’t enough the man then ends up accused of something totally unrelated; being a rapist (or accessory to rape). This is actually quite similar to how women of the time were accused of being evil (and even dangerous) for having abilities that at the time were ill understood (we understand today that women’s seemingly super-powered perception comes about as the result of unique brain wiring) and made people feel uncomfortable; men took their fear of the unexplained and linked it to what seemed like the most rational, sensible evil they could; witchcraft and the devil. At the time the explanations seemed phenomenally convincing…enough so to put women to death. Now I’m not drawing a comparison of cruelty between the situation those women faced and what men face but trying to shock the senses into seeing how we, in the 21st century, are still capable of making massive leaps of logic when confronted with something scary.

I’d like to think that most modern people who view the situation I described above rationally realise that this kind of staring is not one and the same as rape. Nor are the two in either a sequential or causal relationship that is inevitable (or highly likely).

In fact I’ve yet to see a feminist actually join up the dots from ‘staring’ to rape in the way described above despite the two being treated as if they are linked that way. At best you get the blanket term ‘rape culture’ which most men on the receiving end see as a logical smoke-screen. If the man tries to logically reason with the feminist he finds himself accused of being a rapist (or chauvinist) on the basis that he is questioning an a hypothesis where the links are at best tenuous and the only reason he would question it is because, according to his accusers, because of his terrible character.

In other words the man cannot argue any minor points against a feminist because the feminist will often perform a kind of bait and switch; the man thinks they are simply arguing about ‘staring’ and when he looks down he finds the feminist has swapped the topic papers with a bomb emblazoned with the word ‘rape’ on it. Or at least that is what it feels like.

This kind of logical fallacy is one of the most overused and under-recognised around. So much so that I’m going to take the liberty of actually giving it name: The Greater Problem Attribution Fallacy. To understand why this kind of reasoning creates frustration take a look at the skit below:

A: God, I can’t believe people eat other people alive. Cannibalism is so wrong.

B: Uh-huh

A: I mean, think about it, those sick bastards eat people. God, just the idea of people eating meat grosses me out. You’d have to be sick to chew down on meat.

A: Whoa, I know you are a vegetarian and all but eating meat isn’t a sign that someone is messed up. That’s balls.

B: Well, you would say that, you’re fucking cannibal. I bet you eat babies alive you sick ****!

A: Wha?

B: Down with cannibal culture. Down with meat eating!

A: Whoa, now hold on there put the torch down and maybe we can talk about this

B: No, maybe someone like ‘you’ wants to ‘talk’ about it. We all know this is just about you justifying your sick behaviour!


This is the way in which many of the comments sections in feminist articles reach a kind of deadlock where the meat-eater, frustrated and feeling unfairly judged of something only tangentially related to the particular thing he was talking about leaves feeling confused and angry.

But it isn’t just the unfair accusations and logical switcharoos that vilify otherwise neutral statements that are what frustrate men. It’s also the scrutiny under which feminism has placed (and judged) every single behaviour, interaction and word (and even non-behaviours, non-interactions and non-words) and the frequency with which in bombards men with the judgemental conclusions reached.

Why is this a problem you ask? Surely if the micro-behaviours of men reveal a problematic chauvinistic attitude then we should point it out?

Here is where things get messy. Feminism operates under the assumption that deterministic factors in human interactions do not exist…at least not ones that seemingly endanger the feminist message. That is to say, feminism rejects concepts like the domination-submission being a part of natural order (and even human nature) and finds any examples of domination (behaviours which men are naturally drawn to and so if you analyse them closely you will see them everywhere) as abhorrent when done by men….even though women also contribute to the same ‘bigger problem’ (but don’t receive the same scrutiny). This is a shame because these kinds of power dynamics are a natural part of human nature right down to the way it comes across in unconscious body language.

Now don’t get me wrong, are some extensions of this natural dominate-submissive part of human nature extremes that we should draw a line against (rape/power abuse in the corporate world etc)? Absolutely. The problem is that feminists attempt to justify where they draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable by framing the debate in terms of natural (acceptable) and socialised (potentially unacceptable). This would be fine if not for the fact that many of the things they put in the socialised category don’t belong there but are placed so that feminists can use the difference between nature/socialised as a way to give legitimacy to where they draw the line.

The real shame of it is that feminists don’t have to frame the debate in this way at all; it’s not a fight they have to fight (and not one they can win since it is against nature) in order to draw the lines they want to draw. We can accept that men striving for dominance and women striving for submissiveness is both natural (exceptions being precisely that; exceptions) and at the same time draw a line that stipulates what is and is not acceptable based on other criteria that are not only compelling, but grounded in fact. We do after all accept that it is okay for humans to be territorial (we wouldn’t villify people over wanting a home that separates them from others) even though we take issue with what can be seen as the natural consequence when that part of human nature overexerts itself (war). If we can do it there, why not here?

You might be wondering why I am even taking issue with this. If I don’t mind having lines drawn why do I take issue with the way in which they are drawn up? Well, because the current way feminism draws those lines up actually vilifies the natural behaviours even in their benign forms.

Imagine if every move you made, every word you said and every look you looked…in addition to every move you have never made, words you haven’t said and looks you haven’t looked…imagine that all of that was under close scrutiny. Now imagine someone combing over it pouring over it and looking for minute traces of anything that could conceivably be construed as ‘submissive’. Yes, everything. Now imagine that not only are you under close scrutiny, but that every time someone perceives a ‘submissive’ behaviour that you are judged for being part of a wider problem. The fact that you might be doing it unconsciously is irrelevant; you are evil for simply being part of the machine. Now imagine that articles judging you in this way were everywhere on all the websites you visited and all over your FB feed. You try an explain that you walk on the inside of the pavement sometimes (something men originally made women do as an act of chivalry should someone drop waste from the houses above) for reasons x,y and z. In fact you don’t even know why you have to explain this at all nor why you have to explain why you look down when a guy you like catches you looking. You are doing all of this in a benign way, often for no particularly conscious reason at all…heck you might just be shy. So, you try your best to explain this all the while angry that you would not only have to ‘explain’ it but justify it (answer to the angry mob); the people commenting in the articles aren’t having any of it; you walk on that side of the pavement to keep women down, you avert your gaze because you want to not only be raped but see rape proliferate….at least, so say the other commenters. Pretty soon you are in tears and wondering how so many people can be so cruel and so willing to take every minor thing you do and twist it so that you are not only part of a problem, but apparently, the source of the problem.

This frustration of having everything they do looked at looked at under a microscope is what men deal with and quite frankly it doesn’t matter quite how they respond because simply by nature of being human they are in the dominate-submissive power structure and so naturally it shows up to varying degrees in what they do. They can reduce it to its most benign levels (which is the sensible thing to do) but ultimately it will never disappear. That doesn’t mean they are an accessory to rape, it doesn’t mean they are bad people, it doesn’t really mean any of the accusations they have levelled against them; it just means they are a human caught up in…well, being human.

Now I do emphasise again that I feel looking at the power relationships in behaviour to pointing out where it is not benign is a worthwhile exercise. But taking everything that feeds into such a power relationship as equally malignant simply doesn’t make sense. And going one step further and vilifying men for all forms of domination no matter how benign also doesn’t make sense.

This article is a rare piece I was compelled to write because I realised I was unceremoniously gate-crashing feminist posts where feminists just wanted to created solidarity over an issue. Men do this because for men starting the conversation is difficult (we don’t want to do it). Start it rarely gets you much more than deafening silence; men don’t want to debate these issues when they aren’t presented in terms of a conflict as it feels too touchy-feely rather than productive or combative. I also wrote it for my piece of mind so I could get these ideas out of my head.

Having read so many feminist articles at this point I think I am pretty familiar with the issues women face, but how many women are familiar with that exposure to the judgements in feminist articles has on men? I hope this article enlightens people a bit on why ordinary men mind feminism so maddening at times.

Yakuza Kenzan! Review (PS3). Should we be excited for Ishin?

Ryuu ga Gotoku, known as Yakuza in the West, is SEGA's on-going crime saga. And while we are still waiting for news of Yakuza 5's English localisation, Japan has many Yakuza games we still haven't gotten. One of the most interesting, and most 'Japanese' of them is 'Ryuu ga Gotoku: Kenzan!'.

Kenzan was conceived as a stop-gap game; a way to tide over the audience and experiment with the PS3 hardware and a new game engine whilst development on Yakuza 3 was underway.

What came about was an interesting mix of next-gen ideas and technology that was still half rooted in last-gen (PS2) game design. This is very much Yakuza 2.5. And if that was all this game had to offer it would have been a crying shame. Fortunately Kenzan has an interesting setting (The Warring States era Japan in the 1600s) and new characters to go with it (motiffed on characters from the series past). 

The story centres around the legendary figure Miyamoto Musashi; a samurai who started from nothing and rose to be a powerful and influential figure (well, so the legend goes). Musashi, filled with hopes and dreams of becoming a powerful samurai finds himself unable to refuse an invitation to join the military and prove his worth in battle. But things quickly go very wrong and Musashi is forced into hiding. He assumes a new identity and lives his life unassumingly until one day fate intervenes. A girl comes to him with a request; to track down and kill her parents' killer; Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi having no recollection of such a killing takes on the request on and so begins the search for his doppelganger. 

Those who are not well versed in the story of Miyamoto Musashi need not worry as this is a very fantastical take on it. Likewise, those who have never played the Yakuza series before can jump in here quite easily as the game is not attached in any meaningful way to other entries. 

The story builds intrigue well by introducing new characters, plot threads and taking time to illuminate the back stories and motivations of the supporting cast. Sadly, although the game builds intrigue well the final reveal that ties the story threads together comes across as necessary formality to make sense of it all. Intrigue works well when you are given glimpses of something, and when it is finally revealed it was more than you had anticipated. With the reveal here you pretty much get what you saw. It is a shame that the reveal that ties together all of the story threads comes across more like air wheezing out of a deflating balloon than an epic bang. 

The story is based around themes such as male friendship (forged in battle, of course), finding someone stronger and other samurai genre cheese. Most of it comes across believably enough that you can buy into it but there are points where the samurai rationale of doing things is a little too hard empathise with. Granted, there is a culture and generation gap in values but I felt this was one area that the writers could have spent a little more time on to help the audience truly empathise with the characters. By the end of the game I couldn't help but feel that some of the characters' machismo made them come across like caricatures of themselves. 

Before going any further I have to make a confession. I tried to complete this game several times, several months apart. Being well versed in the series I played Hard mode each time and stopped playing a few hours in at more or less the same point. I made a point to force myself to complete this game recently by setting the game to Easy and rushing through without entertaining the side content. As a result I can't speak for all scores of mini-games and sidequests in the game. This is strictly a review of the main story route through the game. I can say that I recommend playing the game on Normal as Hard isn't really particularly more challenging (enemies are massive damage sponges) and Easy is so easy that almost dissuades you from even bothering with the side content. Normal should strike a good balance between being challenging and simply trying your patience.

As mentioned earlier this is game is running on a new engine build for the PS3. The previous Yakuza games had you running over static backgrounds played from various isometric camera angles. Kenzan is the first fully 3D Yakuza game and is done through a behind-the-character 3rd person view. This change makes exploring the several hub-areas in the world a lot more convincing. The game is at its best when it is able to sell you on its' surroundings and get you to buy into the feel of the world; the sense of oppression ordinary people feel from those in higher positions in society, the importance of one's standing, the treatment of women in the red light districts and so on. It is when the game flashes glimpses of the dregs of medieval Japan that it is at its most alluring. 

Although exploring the areas and running into various sidequests is interesting, getting around is inconvenient; you are often made to run back and forth over long distances and although the in-game transport system helps alleviate that a bit, you will still find yourself impatiently running past enemies and ignoring sidequests simply to get at the meat of the game. Having the in-game transport allow you to jump to more locations would have been nice. 

Still, this is a Yakuza game and as such you'd expect plenty of comical hyper-violence. That is all intact here but instead of having a massive pool of different moves you have 4 fighting styles; The fast bare-handed style which leaves you open to sword attacks, the single katana style which is has a good balance of speed and power, the 2 katana style which is quite weak but allows you to block attacks on all sides, and finally the broadsword style which allows you to heft around massive weapons, flattening your enemies. 
You can switch between the different styles on the fly with a press of the d-pad but you will find it quite hard to switch between styles in the middle of combat without creating space specifically to do so; the switch between styles doesn't transition as smoothly as you might think so you won't be mixing things up mid-combo. Still, when I was fighting away with any one style I really appreciated the juicy feel the slicing has to it thanks to the clear hit sound effects and bright orange cut marks that score enemies bodies on contact; you get very clear audio-visual feedback as to whether you are hitting and how hard.

I found that there didn't seem as great a variety of moves as in previous games. In Kenzan you are limited to getting moves from watching NPCs who exhibit 'martial art' like motions and from dojos. The levelling up system in the game doesn't contribute to making you more versatile and is mostly just for decoration; you level up in a linear way and there is no system to assign experience points towards different attributes or skills; you become stronger without becoming more versatile. Because your default character build is almost static (new skills are normally attributed to a particular fighting style rather than the character, and even then they tend to enhance existing skills rather than giving that style more utility) you don't really change up your strategy as you learn new skills, so the combat toward the end can start to feel stale.

The fighting in the game feels simplified overall and has an almost arcade feel to it but that isn't just because of the simplification to levelling up. As with previous games the Heat gauge builds as you kick ass, get it up high enough and you are granted access to some of the bone-crunching ridiculum this franchise does so well. Unlike previous games though you don't have to worry about Heat management as much; tap the square button to do weak attacks and then link a hard attack (triangle) and you pull of an anime-esque enemy crumple (complete with badass pose), hold that triangle button you can hold the pose, during which you will get extra Heat (and a lot of it at that). The combat here is really more for breaking up the pacing and providing a videogame for the story to take place in. It's an accent rather than the attraction.

The main event is the story itself which is for the most part presented beautifully thorough high quality in-game cinemas (using enhanced character models). The game often dips and back and forth between the high quality cinemas and lower quality in-game assets (mostly for dialogue heavy sequences). The result can be a little jarring. Every time there is a major plot revelation you can count on the graphics suddenly scaling back so the characters can natter away about it for a few minutes until they reach some kind of resolution, at which point a high quality cinema will kick in again. This happens constantly, sometimes several times over the course of a single conversation.

It is little presentation blemishes like that make the game feel like it hasn't fully made the jump to the PS3. A majority of the non-story dialogue and ambient dialogue from NPCs is delivered in text. There is no smooth transition between indoor and outdoor locales. And when you do make the transition the camera placement faces the character head on (great for framing the scene, not so much for the player who can't see ahead of themselves). In one part of the game you have to run across a field which is broken down into pitifully small sub-sections (each with loading screen transitions). There are little to no physics in the game; materials like flags which you would expect to be able to walk through impede your progress as if they were made of sheet metal. This is a game is really more of a taste of what Yakuza would be like on the PS3 rather than an out-and-out example. 

Niggling presentation issues and shallow combat bring the game down a bit but this is still a fun romp through medieval Japan. If you are new to the series or simply disillusioned with the annual releases you might find Kenzan is just what you need to respark your interest in the series. It has its shortcomings but at only 18 hours long and a budget price tag it is a small investment of both your time and money.

Review Score: 7/10

More Japanese import games! My Japanese import collection PART 2!!

Okay it is time for Part 2 of my import games collection.  This time we have two well known JRPGs, a visual novel and an oddity in my collection; a survival horror game.


Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht


I got Xenosaga Episode 1 from PlayImport; an imports reseller on Amazon who I've come to trust for having decent delivery times and pricing. It set me back £14.62. 

I am about 25 hours into the game but finding the pacing is incredibly slow.  There was even one part where I was in a dungeon for almost 8 hours.  The combat itself is also slow, and despite being able to see enemies on the map you normally can't run past them as they are often placed at choke points.


Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System

I Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System in almost brand new condition (along with the bonus making of- DVD) for £29.81.  

I found that I had trouble getting into the game because of the slow pace and lack of story.  You can press one of the trigger buttons to initiate a frame-skip which allows you to speed your way through battles but even then you often feel like you are grinding through to the next sliver on unsatisfying character interaction.


Silent Hill 3

Another game courtesy of my friends at PlayImport at Amazon.  This cost me £21.82.

The cool thing about the Japanese version of this game is that it includes dual-language options. 

Fate Stay/Night [Realta Nua]


This one cost me an arm and a leg. I can't quite track down who I bought it from but it came from an Ebay seller.  The game was around £60. Taking into account the exchange rate at the time it was a fair price, but I ended up getting hit with customs charges as well (another £20 or so).

This game is actually 3 games in one. You can play the original Fate Stay story, or the two alternative takes on the story that were originally released as stand alone games.  You can unlock the alternative episodes from the flow-chart menu, but as I had never played the game I went through in order.  

This game is actually huge.  It took me close well over 80 hours to clear the first two stories.  According to the trailers it includes as much as 60 hours of voice acting; I can believe that.  

It also looks absolutely brilliant on the Vita display; very sharp and colourful.  The Vita is truly a brilliant machine for visual novels.

Introducing my Japanese imports collection! Part 1!

Okay, so introducing my Japanese games collection:

EVE burst error PLUS

'EVE burst error PLUS' for the PS2.

Yeah, don't ask me why the Japanese abuse capitalisation like that.

I got this from Amazon Japan (second hand) for ¥860.

It is a crime/thriller visual novel.

This game is actually a remake of a Saturn game (PC before even that?).

It is a crime-thriller/conspiracy story that you play through the perspective of two really interesting characters: A gifted detective who is down on his luck and a pervy undercov
er police officer. 

In the Saturn version you had to change discs to change characters. Here you simply tap the triangle button and you can zap back and forth between them.

A review will probably follow when I get around to finishing it.

Phantom of Inferno


Phantom of Inferno for PS2.

A visual-novel game. It cost ¥1909 from Amazon Japan (incl pnp).

There is also a remake of this game for the X360 and an anime series as well. Not tried either of those though.

 This game is actually pretty dark stuff. The set-up for the plot is that you stumble across an assassination in progress. The assassin belongs to a secret organisation and so you need to 'disappear' to keep it's existence secret. However, it turns out you have a talent for killing, so much so that your would be killers choose to brain-wash you and make you one of their own.

The characters eventually try to break away from the organisation but they can never quite run far enough away.

The game has an exacting, almost pedantic attention to detail to all the nuances of different guns (the developers clearly did their research). 

Sadly the game is slow paced. Not just the narrative but even the voice acting is delivered slowly (and woodenly), with weird pauses between voice samples as the game goes to fetch more data from the disc.

A visual-novel on a technical budget is a tough sell, but the ropey voice acting doesn't help.

I've heard good things about it though so one day I'll fire it up again and force myself to play it until it gets good.



Clannad for the PS2.

¥828 from Amazon Japan (second hand).

I haven't played this much but I think it is a slice-of-life/comedy visual novel game.

Eiyuu Densetsu: Sora no Kiseki The 3rd KAI: HD EDITION


Eiyuu Densetsu: Sora no Kiseki The 3rd: Kai HD EDITION

This was a new copy from ebay seller Wabitosabi. They were happy to part with it for £37.28 (incl. pnp).

This is the 3rd game in the Sora no Kiseki ('Trails in the Sky' in English) trilogy. The game is available for the PC (home platform), PSP and now the PS3.

Funnily enough for an isometric RPG, the game has 3D display support. I don't have a 3D TV though so I can't comment on it either way.

Of note is the CERO B rating. This (and the PSP version it is based on) have some of the darker content from the PC version cut out (at least that is what I've been told).

Note that the screens are all 16:9. Unlike the PC version this game runs in widescreen. However the graphics are not as sharp when placed under close scrutiny. For most people sitting at a comfortable TV viewing distance however this version of the game looks just as good.

The the text has been massively blown up and is sharp and easy to read; much more TV friendly than the monitor-oriented PC version.

However I found the PS3 version has some load time issues. They aren't long but they are pretty much non-existent in the PC version. This is disappointing as the game has a mandatory 3GB+ install.

The PS3 version also runs at around 30FPS (and inconsistently at that) next to the PC versions' super smooth 60FPS (even on old integrated graphics solutions).

The PS3 version does have some bonus goodies though. Themes, wallpapers and most importantly a DRM-free, uncompressed version of the entire game soundtrack.

Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter Review (in English). [spoilers for FC]

Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter (PC)

[Contains FC spoilers]

Takes its sweet time.  That statement would describe the Trails in the Sky games perfectly; from the conversations that run on for several dozen minutes to the incredible localisation effort that must have consumed years of the lives of those committed to it.  Everything about this series demands a slow, deliberate crawl over the dozens of intersecting character ties and attention paid to the various interests at play.  At its best this series captivates the player with the promise of capitalising on these details and at its worst it frustrates the player by flashing the promise of something more but not delivering (at least notyet).  Second Chapter at its best and worst is both of these; the slow pacing of the narrative of the first game was not that important then because the game was constantly showing you new characters, new locations, illuminating chains of command and fealties; introducing you to an attractive stage laid in preparation for the main event.  Now that main event is here in the form of Second Chapter but those who were expecting the game to hit the ground running after the dramatic conclusion of First Chapter are going to be hearing the narrative equivalent of breaks being slammed when they realise that once again the game wants to take a leisurely stroll through its world; all without the common decency to introduce us to much in the way of anything new.  It is no exaggeration to say that the game takes almost 25 hours to get going, but whereas before the game was building intrigue and anticipation in the player, here the emotions the game places on the player, that is to say Estelles burning determination to find Joshua, stands at odds with the pacing during the first third of the game which is seemingly indifferent to her cause; and not in a way that depicts a fascinating conflict of interest for the protagonist (at least not for long).  That is probably the biggest count against Second Chapter.


There is however some very interesting characterisation during the first third of the game, that although doesnt quite make up for the slow pacing, certainly helps alleviate it.  Estelle, distraught without the dependable Joshua (the steady rock of their duo) is left having to continue her duties as a Bracer.  Forcing Estelle to focus on the needs of others more in immediate need of help than her could have worked against her development as a character by effectively distancing the focal point of the narrative away from her.  This has been masterfully avoided.  Through her various quests Estelle, having to examine herself now that Joshua is no longer there to pick up the slack, is able to truly understand her abilities and her limits, and the player gets valuable insight into how Estelle thinks when she isnt just being bright and spunky.  During the formative hours of the game Estelle meets up with a variety of characters from the first game, most of which help her (and us) reaffirm her character in light of the changes to her circumstances.  The most impressive bit is that there is no one clear point during which Estelle matures.  There is no hokey revelatory moment or alignment of fate, and yet the progression of her maturity doesnt sneak up on you from nowhere either.  It is handled at once subtly and believably. It also helps a bit that the game takes this time to introduce the antagonists of the game and their ties to each of the supporting party members; this time around your companions have their own vested interests outside of professional obligation and the game later uses this to create some interesting character drama between them.


I mentioned above that SC takes its time.  The game clocks in around 80 hours (if you stop for most of the side-quests) and can be broken down into 3 major parts:


The first of those parts is the formative beginning hours mentioned above (0-25hrs).  During this section you are introduced to the new Orbment system which allows you to level up Orbment slots to equip higher calibre Quartz and gain access to more powerful Orbal Arts.  In addition there is a co-op attack where you can chain together attacks from each of the party members and unleash them in a single turn; the later in a chain the party member is the larger their bonus to attack, and the harsher the CP requirements to participate.  Neither of these are game changers; this is very much an accent on the FCs battle system rather than an outright evolution. 


Just as with FC this game is tough.  Well, the first half is.  This is especially true of the boss fights for the first 4 chapters of the game which play out like puzzles; a battle against a boss that will viciously attack you if you get to close but conversely reflexively deal massive damage if you get to far becomes a tense battle wherein you jostle to maintain the optimal position to stay out of the dreaded death-zones. 


As in FC, SC also employs an EXP scaling system which applies an EXP multiplier to lower level characters to allow them to catch up quickly.  This is very useful because it eliminates the need to dedicate time to grinding but also avoids the pitfall of automated levelling of non-active party members, where the cathartic experience of seeing your characters get stronger is stripped away.  And you will probably see characters level up a lot as unlike FC which lent you out a new character per chapter, here you have access to a large party almost at all times; someone has to stay on the bench.  You can fight every enemy you see and keep your characters levels topped-up, or do as I did and run past 70% of the enemies, picking select (but difficult) fights with relatively high pay-offs of exp to compensate for having fallen behind in levelling up.  To its credit the game doesnt force you to play it either way.  This isnt a game where seeing enemies on the field is entirely for decoration and you have to grind your way through them anyway.


During the second part of the game (25-55hrs) the plot thickens, character backstories come thick and fast and generally a lot just happens.  It is during this part of the game that the difficulty starts to dampen.  The build-up to the 5th chapter boss is let down by a boss fight that allows you to be surprisingly sloppy and get away with being ill-prepared (for reference, the PC version only has one difficulty setting: normal).  Whats more is this is the start of a trend for many sub-bosses, chest monster mobs and full bosses from that point onwards in the game.  With a few exceptions after that point a majority of the boss fights start to feel like routine encounters with damage sponges.


Finally there is the closing section of the game which is spread over multiple chapters.  Clocking in at 20+ hours (55-80hrs) the end-game here is deceptively long and by the end begins to wear-out some of the goodwill engendered by the epic plot twists that suggest the ending is just around the corner.  These chapters offer an interesting insight into what Liberl is like, and how its people deal with extreme conditions.  In addition the politics of the world that were hinted at start coming into play.  This section of the game is perhaps the weakest in terms of design; each time you think you are near the end you will have another dungeon (and another boss fight) put between you and your destination.  In the end you even end up fighting most of the major antagonists twice. There are some late game character and mechanics inclusions (as well as a torrent of increasingly powerful equipment) that help keep things interesting but you cant help get the feeling that the game should have ended sooner than it did.


The presentation of the game uses the same conservative look as the original game but as before it compensates with almost non-existent loads times and a sharp, distinct, colourful look.  There are also a few more anime type sequences in the game that are used to depict some of the more epic segments that couldnt have been done in-engine.  You will mostly be walking around familiar locales from FC and hearing the same music youve heard before.  Its as pretty looking and sounding as it has ever been.  The one exception to this is the new battle music which simply isnt very good.  It takes the smooth, chilled aspects of FCs music and strips out the building sense of pace that made it feel like battle music (albeit really smooth battle music).  Have a listen for yourself:

Regular Fight BGM

Sub-boss/Mob Fight BGM:


You are going to here this music a lot so it is a shame it is such a mood killer.


All in all Second Chapter takes its sweet time to get going and it takes it sweet time to conclusively come any kind of end.  It does so to its detriment but it does at least offer some interesting game mechanics and characterisation to prove to us that it wasnt just wasting time all the while.  It does however come up a little short trying to explain what it was doing with some of the time that wasnt filled with much of anything.  The difficulty is generally on the sweet side of hard but later gives way to routine humdrum that is counter-balanced somewhat (though not entirely) through the introduction of new skills, abilities and equipment.  But the important thing is that, even though some of its plot threads are left for next time this particular chapter feels resolute; a new beginning that the characters can set off on with renewed vigor rather than a steep fall down a sheer cliff in the middle of the road.


Given that GS has no way for me to officially post this as a review (the game isn't showing up on their database) I've listed this as an editorial.  If I were to give the game a score I would award it an 8/10 (10 point scale).

Would you like to learn how to play JRPG' Japanese?

So how is this for an idea?  I was thinking about writing a guide on how play JRPG's in Japanese.  The idea is to pool together a word list of the most common words and assign them to screenshots of a game.  Most RPGs break down into the following areas Navigation, Battle (incl. Status effects/elements), Battle Results, Menu (incl. stats), Shop so it wouldn't be too hard to write a systematic guide (other than tracking down a game where the menus are fully in Japanese...which is harder than it seems).

I've done a rough look but I'd reckon you could get buy knowing around 40 or so kanji (and then relying on common sense or experience). So, are how does that sound for a plan?