Monday, May 22, 2017

Another foam mascot




The Drops toy store in Tenmokan had a photo op with a foamhead mascot a few weeks back. I don't recognize the character, but it was a big hit with the kids that day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Yamakataya Ad - Hint of Colour




If this is what the cosmetics department thinks is a "hint", I'd hate to see the paint roller they use for regular color applications.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Jump Ultimate Stars 3DS


(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Every few years, Weekly Shonen Jump magazine releases a new fighting game through the konbini (the Japanese version of convenience stores.) These tend to be pricey games when they come out new, and Book Off had Ultimate Stars for 2,000 yen ($19 USD) for several years. I finally found a copy used at about 900 yen and picked it up for the collection. It's pretty much the same as the earlier Superstars, except for the addition of a bunch of main characters from the newer manga.


(Game selection and options screen.)

The idea is simple. The universe is falling apart and can only be saved by the Jump Stars. The Stars land on a nearby planet in order to do combat with evil, and as they reconquer one planet, they go on to the next. If a friend also has a copy of the game, you can play against them. Otherwise, this is just a top scroller with a layout similar to the old Donkey Kong game. You jump up and down between platforms and fight it out against the other Jump manga characters. The first 30 minutes of the game was just tutorial where the enemy was often just a box or a barrel. After that, I had Luffy fighting the other One Piece leads.


(Stage selection screen. After you clear a stage, you can choose to go to the next one, or replay it to try to unlock any bonuses that you missed the first time.)

The problem here is that you've got a fixed timer and you're comparing the number of KOs against what your opponent gets, and if you knock the opponent character off the screen, they just come back again until the clock runs out. It gets repetitious real fast, and it was almost exactly a knock-off of Superstars. I got bored shortly after wading through the overly-dragged out tutorial and never picked up the cartridge again. It's not even worth trying to unlock the new character art.


(Battle screen. As you unlock various bonuses, you pick up more manga characters that let you make your own "deck," including new battle characters, and supporters (for healing or strength boosts.)

Summary: Jump Ultimate Stars is a blatant money grab from the Jump publishers to cash in on the popularity of their bigger manga titles. But, for all the skill and talent the company has at hand, the game itself just isn't very original or interesting. Not recommended.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Legend of Zelda-Ocarina of Time Master Quest


(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Ok, so, I finish Ocarina of Time, and when I restart the 3DS, I'm suddenly presented with two game load screens - one for the normal game, and the other for Master Quest, which originally had been designed as a demo for the GameCube, and was reworked as a port to the 3DS. The walkthrough I was using stated that the main point is that Master Quest is harder because all of the enemies attack for double damage. And I'm thinking, "Do I really want to start this up? I just finished the regular game. Does Master Quest have anything really new I want to investigate?" Naturally the answer is "Does it matter?" I start up a new MQ game just to see how quickly I get killed off, and eventually I'm defeating the first stage boss. So yeah, I keep playing.


(Game load screen. Again, this is at the end of the game, and I have 19 of 20 hearts, and I've finished all 9 of the dungeons leading up to the final boss.)

The world map and town layouts are the same, just mirror reversed left for right. The dungeons are all completely reworked, though, with different layouts, monsters in different locations, and all new switches (like, using cows embedded in the walls instead of crystal switches) and traps, although many of the major puzzles are still largely the same. There are a couple curious changes to some of the mini-games, however...


(When Link meets Zelda, from the closing credits after beating the game.)

Just as a brief refresher if you don't remember much about Zelda. Ocarina is an RPG puzzler. You play the hero, Link, as he tries to save Princess Zelda from the villain Ganon as he attempts to take over the world. Link starts out with a simple sword, a tunic and 3 hearts worth of health meter. As he goes along, he can buy or find two stronger swords, two stronger shields, and various tools that let him solve the puzzles (such as the hookshot, a boomerang, a megaton hammer, a bow and arrows, and some empty bottles). The empty bottles are actually key, because they let you carry things like bugs (used for finding gold skulltulas), fish, red faeries (they provide automatic healing if you fall during battle with 0 hearts), and red and green potions (red manually provides healing, and green replenishes your magic meter). To get one of the bottles, you need to collect 10 "Big Poes" (ghosts that carry around lanterns and occasionally attack you). But, the only way to fight the Big Poes is to be on horseback.



In the regular game, there's a horse ranch on the world map. You go there as a child and learn a song for summoning one of the horses - Epona (called Epona's Song). The game has two parts, where you play as Young Link, and as Adult Link (7 years older). You come back to the ranch as Adult Link and challenge the new owner, Inago, to a race. Beat him twice and he lets you keep Epona, but locks the gates so you can't get out. The solution is to just jump the outer wall of the ranch and ride away. So, I'm in Master Quest and I get to the ranch. And every single time I race Inago, I lose. Nothing I do has any impact on the results of the race. After losing for about the 10th time, I give up and just start wandering around the track, coming in close to 1 minute behind the leader. And the next thing I know, Inago is swearing a blue streak for my beating him. I challenge him to a second race and do the same thing, wandering off the track and coming in late. Inago screams in frustration at my beating him again, and locks the gate on me. I jump the wall and ride off. So, that was weird; the only way to win is to not play. (There wasn't any mention of this in the walkthroughs.)



Another little mini-game change that's not mentioned in the walkthroughs involves getting the last mask from the mask rental shop. The idea is that you pay money to rent a mask, and then you find an NPC that wants to pay you to take it off your hands. The final mask of the trading process is the rabbit ears, and you need to find a guy that's out jogging around on the world map. In the regular game, "running man" can be located easily as he runs around in the afternoon. Just wait for him to take a break and talk to him while wearing the rabbit ears as Young Link (doing so lets you rent the all-important Mask of Truth, which lets you talk to the Gossip Stone statues to receive clues to secret parts of the game). In Master Quest, I couldn't find Running Man anywhere at all. I eventually gave up and went back to just working on cleaning out the dungeons. Just by accident, I happened to be crossing the world map late at night towards the end of the game, and found Running Man sitting on the ground in a secluded part of the map, gasping for breath. I gave him the rabbit ears then, and went back to the rental shop in town to get the Mask of Truth. But, by that point I'd finished most of the game and there was no reason to seek out the gossip stones anymore, other than to just find out what they had to say for curiosity's sake.




It's the reworked dungeons that make MQ feel like a completely different game from the regular Ocarina of Time. There are fewer enemies in some places, putting the emphasis on solving the puzzles and evading the traps. So, in that way, MQ is a bit easier to survive. However, there's the issue of the gold skulltulas... Skulltulas are big spiders with human skulls on their backs. They hang up in the shadows of the ceilings and drop on you when you don't expect it. In the main town, there's a haunted house that's occupied by 6 brothers that have been cursed to spend their lives as skulltulas. The only way to break the curses is to find 100 gold skulltulas, kill them, and return the tokens they leave behind to the haunted house. When you have 10 gold skulltulas you receive a larger wallet (holds 200 rupees, up from the starting maximum of 99 rupees). At 20 tokens you get a dagger that alerts you to secret grottoes (underground caves you have to bomb to obtain extra rupees, healing faeries, or other items). 30 tokens gets you the largest wallet and the ability to carry 500 rupees max. 40 tokens is just some bombchus (mechanical bombs in the shape of mice). 50 is a piece of heart. All 100 is a gold 200 rupee. In Master Quest, some of the most obscure gold skulltulas are hidden in places in the dungeons so hard to reach that even if you have the walkthrough showing you where they are, it's still possible to never get them.

When I first started on Master Quest, I pretty much decided that I would NOT bother getting all 100 gold skulltulas. However, I needed the first 30 just to have the larger wallet for buying potions (50-100 rupees each) from the potion shop, and then I realized that I had to have 34 of the 36 heart pieces for the increased health just to survive the bosses this time, so that meant getting 50 skulltulas for that one heart piece. By that point, I figured I might as well systematically track the skulltulas I found, and to pick up as many as I could when I cleared each dungeon. So, when I finally did reach the end of the game, I had all 100. But, the reveal of the last cursed brother was such a letdown that I would have been satisfied in not having bothered. On the other hand, the quest for all of the skulltulas meant that I was visiting parts of dungeons that I wouldn't have explored otherwise, and that was sort of cool. Ocarina has a very strong Doom, or Quake, vibe that I haven't seen in any of the other Zelda games. The gold skulltula puzzles are the hardest parts of the game (excluding the later boss fights), so if you like difficult Zelda puzzles, and you like Doom, you'll like the gold skulltula challenges in Master Quest.

The stage bosses are pretty much unchanged from the regular game, but it felt like some of them had shorter reaction times, making it much harder to get close to hit them when they were stunned. I had a LOT of trouble with the thieves in the thieves den because they kept knocking me down and imprisoning me over and and over. Also, this was a case of incredible frustration leading to a letdown. After clearing out each of the dungeons leading up to a boss battle, I'd go into it with only 2 healing faeries in bottles, and just get trashed, ending with Game Over. After a couple rounds of this, I'd warp out of the dungeon, make the trek to the main town to buy more healing (or find a secret grotto to bottle faeries for free), then trudge all the way back to the boss chamber only to win the next battle with almost no damage at all. Go figure. Even double-damage Ganon turned out to be easy when I was fully prepared for him. I beat the game on the first try and watched through the closing credits, but they were exactly the same as for the regular game. So, the only reason to play Master Quest is to see what the reworked dungeons look like.

Again, I didn't bother with the fishing mini-game, so I missed getting 2 heart pieces there. I ignored the slingshot mini-game (gives a larger pouch for holding more ammo), and side quests for the deku nut and second bomb bag upgrades. None of which had any impact on my ability to get through the game. What I did find invaluable with Master Quest was: 1) Get the first 3 bottles as quickly as possible (2 are part of the story quests, the third is a reward for finding all 7 chickens in the main town as a mini-game). 2) Pick up all of the heart pieces available with the tools you have as you get them. 3) Get 10 gold skulltulas immediately for the first wallet upgrade. 4) When you become Adult Link, get Epona and find all 10 Big Poes for the 4th bottle. 5) As Adult Link, play the archery mini-game for the first quiver upgrade and the bombchu mini-game for the first bomb bag upgrade. 6) About halfway through the game, you'll have access to 30 gold skulltulas for the final wallet upgrade. 7) Three quarters of the way through, when you get to the thieves den, you should be able to get 34 of the 36 heart pieces (including 50 gold skulltulas), and the second archery mini-game for the final quiver upgrade. Being able to carry 30 bombs, 50 arrows, 500 rupees and 4 bottles makes the remaining part of the game MUCH, MUCH easier. Having a good walkthrough dedicated to Master Quest also helps, but I had to find one in Japanese for that... Anyway, stuff that was kind of optional in the regular game becomes absolutely vital in Master Quest.

Quickly also, the strongest sword in the game is Biggoron, which hits for double damage, but you can't use the shield with it. Which is kind of a toss-up. Your only defense, other than hitting your opponent's weapon with your sword as they attack, is your shield, and that only helps you if you press the R button to block. If you go "turtle", blocking with the shield and then sniping with the sword by repeatedly pressing B to attack, you can take out certain of the stronger enemy this way. Otherwise, you've got no other real defense, and attacking with the Biggoron sword lets you finish battles faster, which usually means taking less damage in the long run. There's a trading game involved in getting the Biggoron sword (finding people that want trinkets each of them gives you), plus a couple challenges where you have to run across the entire world map in 3 or 4 minutes before certain items, like frogs and eye drops, go bad. But you can do this quest any time after becoming adult Link. I held off on getting Biggoron until the last dungeon, but picking it up earlier might have been a better idea. If you do go through the work to get the Biggoron sword, you'll find the only shop that sells blue potions for 100 rupees. These replenish all of your hearts AND the magic meter, which helps a lot only when you're fighting Ganon at the end. For the Ganon battle, I had two red faeries and 2 blue potions, and I won with just one red faery bottle left over.

Summary: If you have Ocarina of Time for the 3DS, you'll also have Master Quest when you clear the first game. If you want an excuse to keep playing Ocarina after defeating Ganon, MQ gives you a lot of replay value that you wouldn't have otherwise. But, does MQ really give you anything that Ocarina doesn't (extra cut scenes, or a new ending)? Not that I saw. However, I'm now done with both versions of Ocarina, and I can see how it fits in with Mask of Majora. I definitely like Mask more, but both games are worth playing if you can get them used cheap.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mihon




"Kochira wa mihon desu."

Generally, "mihon" means "example copy." You see "mihon" used a lot in bookstores for the copies of books that you're allowed to flip through. When you decide to buy one, you get a copy that's plastic wrapped and in pristine condition. I've never seen it used for food... This was taken at a grocery store, and I guess it's supposed to be an example of what you'd get if you ordered a vegetable package to be delivered to your home. With this interpretation, the sign reads "This is an example."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Sand and Flower




There was a sand sculpture and flower show down at Minami Satsuma (south end of Kyushu), and the organizers had a small sculpture exhibit set up near Yamakataya department store in Tenmonkan.



The writing on the sashes are the place names of the event.
The main text just advertises the sand show.





Minami Satsuma is too far away for me to visit unless I stay down there overnight.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Waku Waku Work 2017




The past weekend was actually pretty busy. Along with the Kagoshima Music Fest, we had the Waku Waku Work job search event at Amu Plaza, along with a local foods market, and a music stage at the west side of the train station associated with the food market.





Information desk not getting a lot of attention.



Not a lot of people in the audience. The ones here were only interested in watching the local mascots character show, where the MC was announcing the voting results of the "best character costume."





West Side


While over at the west exit, we had the small stage. The only name I recognized on the schedule is Zosan DX, which is a light pops group. That was at 5 PM, which is when I was celebrating Mother's Day. But, the only reason I was at the station is that I needed to get printer ink, and there was a lull in the music fest at Central Park. I didn't stick around here long to listen to any of the other music.



This probably would have been Dobu Dylan. He was doing acoustic folk songs.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Kagoshima Music Fest 2017, Day 2




The weather was perfect on Sunday, but I did have plans for Mother's Day in the afternoon, so I had to leave at 3:30 PM. Which was a shame because Bon, of ARTS and Bon DX, showed up at about 3 PM to watch Ai-chan, the only commercial artist scheduled for the weekend. She was supposed to go on stage at 7 PM, but a few people commented that they'd seen her sitting on the sidelines incognito. I talked to BON for a few minutes, then it was time for me to leave. I didn't mind missing some of the music though, because most of it was gospel and softer pop. In fact, the only reason I'd come out was that Toshi, one of the other singers I know, was going on stage at 2:40 PM. (Bon told me that his keyboardist for ARTS was in Chi-zou. I would have liked to watch that, but Chi-zou didn't go up until close to 4 PM.)

Above is Kafka. I've seen them before. Mostly soft pops.



Miwa-Man S.B. A bossa nova group.



Space Pirate Captain Herlock. He even had his own plastic saber.



Gold Lush Club Band. They were pretty good, doing 80's rock, like Aerosmith and Pat Benatar. I recorded them, but I know youtube is going to block the videos for copyright. I put this on facebook instead.





Kosha Band. I recorded them last year, and they did the same songs this time. They're a Tatsuro Yamashita tribute band.





Fuuraibou Toshi (Toshi the Wanderer). This is the guy I came to see on Sunday. Very friendly, nice guy who likes to do protest folk.







Toshi's logo.



Mercy Band. Kind of a male lead vocals soft rock group.





Over all a good weekend, but too short.


Direct video link to Gold Lush Club Band


Direct video link to Toshi

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Kagoshima Music Fest 2017, Day 1




I'd been looking forward to the Kagoshima Music Fest for weeks. I couldn't find a schedule, so I was simply hoping that some of my favorite bands would be performing either on Saturday or Sunday this last weekend. Mostly on Sunday, because I was expecting to be completely booked with English lessons at the school on Saturday. Then, as we got closer to May 13, the weather turned ugly and we started getting very heavy thunderstorms. On Friday, I found the schedule online, and discovered the worst - Bon DX (SKA), wasn't scheduled at all, and South Shaker (very heavy metal) plus Tissue (KISS cover band) were set for Saturday evening.



Saturday morning, the rain let up, and I hurried to Central Park at 11 AM to make sure they hadn't cancelled the event in advance - they hadn't. I hung around for a couple sets, then did some shopping for the week (when milk is discounted at the local supermarket), and came back again on my way to the school for the start of the lessons. There weren't that many people in the park at the time. The event itself consisted of a flea market, food booths, a crafts area, and two stages. The bands alternated, one playing on one stage, while the next one set up on the other stage. All told, there were 50 acts over both days, ranging from folk groups to pop, idol dancers (Southern Cross), hard rock, cover bands and gospel. I didn't bother listening much to the softer, slower bands.



As the day wore on, the weather got better and on Sunday, it was perfect. When I got in to the school, I was told that several students might be cancelling their lessons for various reasons, and/or moving them around during the course of the day. At 7 PM, 2 students cancelled at the last minute, and that gave me the rest of the evening free to watch South Shaker and Tissue. It turned out to be a very good day.



Respect did a heavy rock set, but I only caught the last few seconds of the last song.



Part of KMF was sponsored by an electrical utility company, and they'd teamed with the various towns around Kagoshima to bring in the local mascots. There was a big mascot stage event at the end on Sunday that I missed because of other plans for Mother's Day.



Yotsu also did a rock set, which I recorded in the first video below.



Yamamoto here started out with an acoustic version of something he attributed to Beethoven. I used this opportunity to go shopping and change clothes before going to work.



Decopons also did a good rock covers set, which is in video 2 below.



Yasashii Mirai ("Gentle Future", a kind of "Up With People" duo) was way too genki for me.

One of the people I do know, the Ventures-cover artist Nonki, was standing near the entrance to the park when I happened by during a short break at the school, and he told me that he'd just finished his set with another band. I had no idea he was part of that group, and was very bummed at learning I'd missed him.



I've seen 3set (pronounced "sunset") before, and they're ok. A little too heavy on the female lead vocals and soft pop, though.



What I was most excited about was getting to watch South Shaker. What surprised me, though, was that they remembered me from last year, and seemed happy to see me again. I recorded their set in video 3 below. Absolutely fantastic set, but the camera had a lot of trouble with the glare from the stage lights, since it had gotten dark by then. And, youtube flagged at least part of the video as being copyrighted material, so I don't know if anyone is going to be able to see/hear it (I'll try putting it on my facebook page this afternoon). When I was entering the description of the video, I just typed in "South Shaker," and youtube flagged it even before 2% of the file itself had been uploaded. I'm guessing that the band has been identified as a cover band by youtube, and just the name is enough to trigger flags. Sigh. It's a shame, because they're well worth watching for the guitar work alone.





The Bogies did more of a 50's rock and roll set that was a bit campy, but pretty solid.



I took close to 250 photos, and weeded them down to the best 25. It's not easy getting good photos of rock bands in poor lighting conditions with a pocket camera. Most of the final pictures ended up being of Tissue.





I'd seen Tissue last year, too. They'd been celebrating 20 years as a KISS cover band. The vocals are pretty close to sounding like the original band, which is why I didn't try recording them this time - I'd never get it past the youtube filters.





Most of the Tissue photos were uploaded to my Facebook page, so I'm just sampling three of them here. But, check out the videos for the other bands.


Yotsu direct youtube link


Decopons direct youtube link


South Shaker direct youtube link