Figure review: figma Akira Yuki and Sarah Bryant from Virtua Fighter

I knew the day would come where I’d be reviewing a figma on this site — Max Factory figmas, along with Bandai’s Tamashii line, are essentially the standard for Japanese pop-culture action figures in terms of size, quality, and price. There are a ton of figmas based on a wide spectrum of anime, manga, games, and the occasional real-life figure, all recreated in 1/12 scale with a good amount of articulation. Of course, not all figmas (figmae? figmata?) are made equally: some are clearly better-made and more interesting than others, but generally, the quality baseline for them is pretty solid — the “bad” figmas aren’t so much poorly-made as they are a bit on the dull side in terms of playing with them.

I was actually expecting the first figma I’d review here to be Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza series, as he was due out in August, but he got hit with a serious delay, pushing him all the way back to a December release… which makes me think that the manufacturer discovered some horrible engineering flaw as they were wrapping up production and they needed to redo the whole thing. It’s okay though, we have something that’s just as blue-blooded Sega as our hot-blooded ex-Yakuza pal: Virtua Fighter figmas!

If you’ve been following the site for a while, you probably remember me being really excited about these back when they were first announced at Wonder Festival a few years back. Hell, I’ve been a VF fan for most of my life, why wouldn’t I lose my mind over VF characters finally getting the figma treatment? Sure, they were the polygonal VF1 models and not the slick, realistic models of VF5, but at least they were something! And let’s face it, there’s something really lovable about that flat-shaded model 1 look.

But enough talk. Let’s review some plastic! Ready… GO!

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Interview: Suda51 of Grasshopper Manufacture

I’ve interviewed a lot of folks over the course of running this here website, but I feel like this man probably needs very little in the way of introduction. Goichi Suda (known as Suda51 – it’s Japanese goroawase, y’see) is an interesting, free-spirited, and somewhat enigmatic individual whose games are delightfully eclectic, mixing Eastern and Western humor, visual styles, and character tropes to create titles that are truly unlike anything else out there.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Suda51 at PAX West this year to talk a bit about The Silver Case, a remake of Grasshopper Manufacture’s very first game that will be launching on Steam next week. I wanted to dig a bit into his development background and how the game came to be — we’ve always had a bit more of a historically-minded slant on this site, and with this game being an important part of Suda51’s history, it only seemed fitting to focus heavily on that. We also go a bit into his wild No More Heroes design sessions and his modern development philosophy.

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The Nintendo 3DS Streetpass Games, ranked from worst to best

As some of you may be aware, I recently attended PAX West to give a panel on kusoge. PAX, along with any other nerd convention in the country, is prime territory for racking up 3DS Streetpass hits. Nintendo, in a move that seemed extremely cognizant of this fact, put out four new purchasable Streetpass Plaza games just before the convention started. I eagerly grabbed them before I went on my whirlwind tour of Seattle and Portland, and spent time not fretting over every tiny detail of the panel and/or playing indie games going through the newest batch of Streetpass stuff.

Then I thought to myself, “Boy, there sure are bunch of these paid Streetpass games now! If you hadn’t bothered with them before, where would you even start? After all, some of them are super good, but others are really not worth time or money at all… I know! I should totally review all of the paid Streetpass stuff, because nobody else seems to be bothering with looking at these games beyond a surface level glance!”

So that’s exactly what I’m doing! I’ve ranked every paid 3DS game here from what I feel are worst to best, categorizing them in five different ranks. (Find Mii 1/2 and Puzzle Swap are excluded since they’re already part of the 3DS package, and technically, you can get either Market Crashers or Slot Car Rivals for free as well.) I tried to go a bit into why I ranked the games why I did, though if there’s not much to a game, I probably have a lot less to say about it than something with meatier mechanics.

DISCLAIMER: If you live someplace like rural North Dakota where you’re not getting Streetpasses regularly, then even the best of these games are tough to recommend. Them’s the breaks, sadly.

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Raimais (Taito, 1988)

(Updated 9-19-16)

Raimais is a special game to me.

A constant throughout my life is loving the hell out of games that few other folks seem to. No, I’m not talking about kusoge, here – I’m talking about games that are actually good, but which are unknown and unpopular. Case in point: my enduring love affair with Fighting Vipers 2.

That’s far from the only obscurity that really stokes the flames of burning game love within me, however. Over the years, I’ve come to have a deep appreciation for Taito’s late-80s and early-90s catalog, with a few titles in particular standing out as treasures that have gone most unrecognized by even devoted retro fans. But while one of my favorite unknown games, Night Striker, has seen a recent resurgence in popularity — well, on the Japan side, anyway — there’s another Taito title that wormed its way into my heart that remains mostly buried in Taito’s sprawling back catalog: Raimais.

Raimais, at first glance, doesn’t seem like the sort of game somebody would develop a deep affection for. It looks like a fairly standard-issue dot collection maze game  — a genre that had mostly fallen out of favor when the game hit in 1988 and seems even more dated now. But there’s a lot about this game that’s interesting, from how it aims to modernize one of the earliest gaming formulas to its rather unusual-for-the-time cutscenes and surprise ending… along with how its tendrils crept into another Taito title we’ve covered on this site. Not to mention its strange console offshoot…

Yeah, there’s a lot to cover here. So much, in fact, that I’ve actually had to separate this into several smaller pages. (Yes, the biggest article on so far is for a Taito obscurity that even Japanese players don’t discuss much. Is that really a surprise?) So, without further ado, let’s brave the labyrinth!


Mspaint Rika and Organizer by Ant. Send me more Rika fanart! I’ll post it here!

Special Thanks to: Zekuu, Ant, Tom James, mauve


The Problems with EVO 2016 (and how it can do better next year)

As you are more than likely aware, EVO happened this month, and it was a pretty big deal! It was undoubtedly the biggest the event’s ever been, both in terms of attendance and presentation, with a split venue of the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday and Saturday and the Mandalay Bay Event Center on Sunday. It was also the first time EVO was broadcast on national TV through ESPN2… well, the Street Fighter V part was, anyway. It was a weird transitional year, as EVO experiences the growing pains of wanting to both serve a grassroots fighting-game community, and dealing with the reality that… well, like it or not, the FGC is #esports now.

And, like any year of transition, there were issues. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at EVO this year! I did a lot of work for Red Bull eSports that I’m really proud of (check out this KoF feature in particular), saw a lot of friends, and watches some really cool stuff go down. Of course, I also didn’t see certain friends for long enough, didn’t get to set up Fighting Vipers 2 and other obscure competitive games I like, and missed a few legendary matches for the ages. But that’s more personal gripes: this year’s EVO had some more pervasive issues that I heard a lot of folks grumbling about. I’d like to get some of those complaints off my chest here. (I know the folks at home had issues with some of the streams, as well, but since I didn’t see many of those until after the fact, I feel it’s better for me to address the issues with physically attending the event.)

As an FYI: This article’s gonna be rather picture-light, mainly because I’m not about to rip off TempusRob’s great pictures like so many others folks like to do. Go visit him if you want rad EVO photos, because we’re here to talk.

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The Gaming Figures of Summer Wonder Festival 2016

While SDCC was happening last weekend, there was another big nerd event going on an ocean away: Wonder Festival, the show for high-end figures, toys, and collectibles by Japanese companies. While half of Wonder Festival is dedicated to limited-run garage kits (which are cool, but exceptionally difficult to obtain and build for all but the most devoted hobbyists), the other half is about figures that, while still limited in run, will be a fair bit easier to get your hands on. Many of these figures are based on games we know and love, so I’m here to chronicle everything cool that was showed off at the event!

I’ll be honest, though: this particular WonFes was disappointing for me. There weren’t any huge surprises like the Virtua Fighter figmas or the Iron Fossil this time, though there were a few retro-themed bits and bobs here and there. I think what got my motor running the most was this assembly-required Night Striker resin kit (see what I did there? Ho HO!) that’s coming from RC Berg:


I suppose having less “shut up and take my money” is good in the long run, and we did get a color version of Iron Fossil and Jet Set Radio Beat, so there’s that. As usual, I’m focusing more on stuff that has a fairly limited figure presence – stuff like Fate/Initials and KanColle and Tony’s Sameface Shining also fall into the “games” category, but have spawned so many high-profile figures that you can see on any other WF roundup that I’m specifically excluding them. Obscurity is part of what this site’s built on, after all! We’re also focusing on stuff that is newly announced has has advanced since it was last shown (i.e. a color prototype), so things you can pre-order are

Anyhow, onto the image galleries! Images are primarily sourced from WHL4U, Figsoku, and Dengeki Hobby. They’re organized by manufacturer, with the exception of Nendoroids and Figmas, which I’ve put in their own categories. Click on any of the small images for a bigger view!

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Why I love short games

Summer Games Done Quick is a thing that’s happening right now, and I can’t help but find a bit of irony in the fact that, in the quest to be able complete games as quickly as possible, a lot of these runners have poured hundreds of hours into individual games. Many of these titles would be considered “short games,” things you’d wrap up nicely in a couple of hours with some adequate gaming skills if you were playing “casually.”1 Being short, however, is often considered a detriment to a game’s quality. Even with our massive backlogs of unplayed Steam Sale acquisitions and potentially ill-advised Amazon purchases Cheap Ass Gamer alerted us to, we still somehow view not getting a long game as a detriment.

But you know what? That way of thinking is wrong. Short games are friggin’ fantastic and I want more of them.

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  1. I kinda hate that “casual” in speedrunning lingo refers to “not playing for speed.” Under that logic, a crazy max-level all-skills-learned RPG run is “casual.” I don’t get it.

Crowdfunding and Expectations, Case file No. 9

As we’re all quite aware, the much-anticipated Mighty No. 9 released this week, and, well, it’s been kind of a mess. The review scores are middling, it’s been raked over the coals all across YouTube and Twitch streams, and everybody who thinks they can make a quick grab for nerd attention by hopping on the trainwreck du jour has been making half-assed (and sometimes shockingly misinformed) digs at the game since its release.

But here’s the thing: there’s a lot more to MN9’s problems than just some angry yellman screaming about how Keiji Inafune scammed people out of four million dollars. I’m not trying to say “you shouldn’t be let down by MN9,” because it’s not my right to police your personal feelings. But I do think it’s important that people understand that there’s a lot to take into account when thinking and talking about this game. There are countless valuable lessons to learn here: about how games are made (and why they sometimes don’t live up to expectations), of keeping hype in check, and why putting money up for anything sight-unseen is a risk you really need to consider carefully.

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Game Music Highlight: Salamander 2

I’ll be real here: I’m not a huge fan of most of Konami’s shooters, mainly because most of the stuff from the Gradius school of design punishes you harshly for any matter of mistake. I do, however, really like the Salamander/Life Force series, mainly because it doesn’t have those checkpoints placed strategically in the areas most impossible to clear when you’re powered down to nothing. (I also dig Gradius V for the same reasons.) Oh, and also because the soundtracks in them are amazing.

Gradius’s release in 1985 came at a time when sound hardware was beginning to evolve to a point where musicians could make songs that were far more musically complex than the 10-second loops ripped off of some public domain ditty. Konami was one of the leaders of this zeitgeist in the arcades alongside Namco, Sega, and Taito, and Gradius was among the first games that made people sit up and take notice of what game music could sound like. Hell, it was impressive from the point where you booted it up and waited for that bubble memory to heat up.

The musical legacy continued throughout the series and into its spin-offs, which brings us to Salamander 2, released in 1996. This was just a couple of years before Konami would begin releasing games like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, and future Bemani maestro Naoki Maeda (along with arranger You Takamine) was already beginning to hone his craft in the game’s many uptempo, synth-heavy tunes. In fact, there’s one tune from Salamander 2 that I’m sure the VJ crowd knows very well, and it’s this one!

This song, “Sensation,” was remixed and later appeared in Keyboardmania 3rd Mix (and the PS2 home port, Keyboardmania II, which contains music from the arcade 2nd and 3rd Mix). This was not done by Maeda, but rather Shinji Hosoe, who has had a long and fruitful career in game music (and is one of the key figures behind game music label SuperSweep).

I’ll be honest: I don’t really like this particular remix. I know, I know, it’s sacrilege to say you don’t like a Shinji Hosoe song… or a piece of Bemani music. But something about it just feels off. Maybe it’s the different instrument samples sounding kinda weird, or maybe because it hits so many of my arranged game music pet peeves (“let’s cut out the backing instruments here, it’ll sound great!”).

But you know what? Sensation isn’t even my favorite Salamander 2 song. It’s this one, from later in the game:

It’s got that same fast tempo and heavy synth, but a very different mood to it: it feels more trepidatious, because now you’re further along in the game and shit has gotten real. If Sensation is all about “HELL YEAH LET’S KICK SOME MID-90S PRERENDERED CG ENEMY ASS,” Speed is like “Well crap, we’re really in this one for the long haul, aren’t we? Hope you’re ready.” There’s also a something kind of big and sweeping about it, especially when you hit that bridge of music before the track loops. Pretty great, if you ask me.

Naoki Maeda, like a lot of key Konami talent, is off doing other things these days: last I heard, he was at Capcom working on an arcade game called Crossbeats Rev. (I don’t remember even seeing this one on my last Japan trip, which leaves me a bit worried as to how it’s faring in the market.) Given that Konami’s keen to piss their valuable IPs away, it’s doubtful we’ll ever get any new music in this style… unless, of course, they make a Salamander pachislot. At least the sound could be nice, right?


Figure Review: Play Arts Kai Fran (Final Fantasy XII)

Holy crap! Did you all see that the long-rumored HD remake of Final Fantasy XII Zodiac Job Version is finally happening?! You all have no idea how excited that makes me! Depending on what day of the week you ask, Final Fantasy XII is my favorite Final Fantasy (alternating with FF5, and hey, the Four Job Fiesta starts soon, so sign up for that!) It’s gonna be so great to revisit FFXII again with all the new additions from the Japanese re-release and spruced up visuals and Fran and Balthier, oh my GOD! Two of the best characters in the whole series!

And, in typical Square-Enix fashion, with the announcement of a new game comes a couple of new figures! They’re making an all-new Balthier and a Judge Gabranth to join Fran, released quite recently in their Play Arts Kai line.

Play Arts Kai, for the unaware, is a “revision” of Square-Enix’s old line of Play Arts figures, which they distributed around the mid-aughts both in Japan and abroad. Said figures mostly had a reputation for being kind of mediocre: hard to pose and stand, with emphasis on looks over function. Kai figures were supposed to fix these problems: they were bigger, more poseable, and featured some incredible detail in the sculpts. Yet the early Play Arts Kai figures also faced harsh criticism: they looked great in their shiny, elaborately designed packaging, but the visual appeal faltered once you got them out and tried to pose them like you saw in the promo pictures.

I’ve mostly avoided Play Arts Kai since the early figures, and since then, plenty of companies have jumped into the market to release well-sculpted, articulated figures geared towards fans and collectors. “Surely, the advancements made by other companies in this market has influenced Square-Enix to improve their own product line!” I thought. And hey, those pictures looked pretty good!

Square certainly seems confident in the quality of its pieces, too – in fact, the official MSRP for Fran in the United States is $120. One hundred and twenty U.S. dollars! That is no chump change, no siree. Of course, I ordered her from Japan at a discount, because I at least attempt to be somewhat frugal with my stupid nerd stuff. I can’t say there wasn’t some hesitation with my preorder… but it’s Fran, and Fran is so rarely recognized, even by her own creators! I waited eagerly for her to grace my doorstep.

Then she arrived. And now I am here to warn you, dear readers: Don’t believe Square-Enix’s lies.

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