The Amazing, Unrecognized World of Japanese Arcade Quiz Games

Quiz games. They’re one of the most basic forms of game out there, going a long, long way back to the days of game shows on radio and television, persisting to this very day. They’ve also been a part of videogaming from the early days: as soon as ROM chips could feasibly hold a decent amount of text, quiz games started to appear in arcades and on consoles.

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Nowadays, when you think of arcade quiz games, you probably think of something like the multiplayer setups you see at trivia nights in a local bar. This is the direction Western quiz games evolved in: they never really eschewed a game-show/board-game style format, and evolved to implement either real-money gambling mechanics or large-scale multiplayer, competitive functionality.

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In Japan, however, things played out very differently. Arcade quiz games started to appear there in the mid-late 80s, through companies like Sega and Nichibutsu. As the 90s came along, a renaissance of quiz-game development created a unique, fascinating genre with an abundance of different thematic elements.

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The genre first saw significant advancement through games like Adventure Quiz: Capcom World, a trivia game loaded with 80s Capcom fanservice, and Mitchell’s Quiz Sangokushi, which melded the question-and-answer format with strategic, territory-conquering gameplay. These games utilized elements of visual novels and strategy games to make the quiz experience more appealing and engaging. Other games put quiz elements into fun new genres: Taito’s Quiz Chikyuu Boueigun (“Quiz Earth Defense Force,” no relation to the current Earth Defense Force games by D3 Publisher) has you saving the planet in a story that’s chock-full of classic sci-fi parodies, while SNK’s Quiz Daisousasen (“Quiz Big Criminal Investigation”) is a detective story that morphs into a weird sci-fi/horror thing at the end. You still had game-show style quiz games too, but they were quickly losing ground to more ambitious efforts.

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In some cases, publishers adapted existing properties but added a quiz-game twist, hoping the familiar name would draw in customers. This is how we got games like Saurus’s Quiz King of Fighters and Taito’s Quiz HQ, which combined existing game properties with a quiz-game element. As time passed, however, more and more experimentation happened. The mid-late 90s were really a golden age for arcade quiz games, resulting in a stunning variety of thematic and gameplay genres mixing in with traditional quiz elements.

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Interestingly, quiz games tend to be very lengthy, sometimes taking an hour or more to complete from start to finish… which, in theory, goes against the short, focused play experiences arcades want to offer. You want to get people off that machine as quickly as possible, right? However, with these new thematic ideas, players became more committed to seeing the games through to the end. It doesn’t hurt as much to abandon a gameshow you feel like you’re not doing well in, but when you’re in the middle of a story about saving the universe? Hell yes you’re going to brute-force your way through with yen! Add a second player into the mix and watch earnings double!

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Unfortunately, most the appeal of these games is lost on the West. Japanese quiz games might be the most culturally impenetrable games out there: not only do you have to be fluent in the language, you also have to be fluent in a variety of cultural elements. Sure, you might know the multiple readings of thousands and thousands of kanji, but unless you lived in Japan during the early 1990s and remember which popular talent of the time appeared in a specific ad campaign, you’re probably not going to get very far. That is, unless you cheat. Thankfully, emulating most of these games allows you to cheat through the quiz portions, making the games somewhat more accessible… though it does result in the game losing a big part of its inherent charm. (Plus, even if you do cheat, if you don’t speak the language you can find yourself making very poor choices.)

You don’t hear a lot about quiz games nowadays — the genre saw a sharp decline in development and interest after the 1990s. Currently, the big name (and basically the only name) in Japanese quiz games is Konami’s Harry Potter-inspired Quiz Magic Academy, which has a new arcade version releasing soon (along with a mobile version that is no doubt raking in plenty of money). Right now, it’s practically the only arcade quiz game in town, unless your local game center has an older game installed in a cabinet somewhere.

But where does someone who doesn’t know anything about Japanese arcade quiz games go to get a good sampling of what the genre has to offer? Well, that’s why I’ve taken the time to write this. Today, we’re going to take a look at some noteworthy Japanese-style arcade quiz games: One that, against all odds, got a localized release, and three others that showcase some very interesting experiences. Continue reading

Game Music Highlight: Neon-FM

Hello, folks. It’s been a while! I’ve been chronicling some of the issues we’ve been facing here on gaming.moe over the past couple months over on Patreon and a bit on Twitter, but we’re almost, almost in the clear now! Older pieces may be looking strange for a while until I get all the kinks ironed out, but thus far, our move to a different image server is going well. Nothing can put a stop to true gaming love. Nothing!

I have a ton of stuff in the backlog that I’m going to trickle out over the next couple weeks (including one fantastic interview I’m super hyped for), but I feel like the best way to get the ball rolling again is with the kind of utterly weird stuff this site is (somewhat) known for. Brace yourselves, folks — this one’s a doozy.

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The other day, I was chatting with LordBBH about videogaming stuff, as I tend to do. I forget what the subject we were originally on was, but eventually conversation turned to a particular song from a music game called NeonFM.

I actually wasn’t aware of NeonFM until BBH told me about it, but as I’m prone to do once some random game catches my interest, I began to research the hell out of this thing. As it turns out, NeonFM is game with a long and interesting history. See, back in the early 2000s, hype for all things Bemani was at a fever pitch and arcades were overrun with groups of players who loitered around to play whatever versions of Dance Dance Revolution and Pump It Up were available to them. Dance Dance Revolution was the game that would help keep arcades on life support for a few more years: it was a tremendous hit in North America and drove a lot of interest in early music games, even inspiring people to import other Bemani titles that hadn’t been released Stateside.

There was a lull, however, between 2002 and 2006, with no new versions of DDR hitting arcades as Konami’s Bemani team focused on games that were doing better in their Asian markets: Pop’n Music, Beatmania IIDX, and GuitarFreaks/DrumMania.  Seeing an opening in the market for a new arcade dance game, a group of rhythm game fans got together under the name Pop’nko (later changed to Unit-e Technologies), planned out a new dance game called NeonFM, and attracted investors and distributors to help finance and manufacture the game.

Of course, you can’t have a music game without music, can you? Well, the NeonFM team had a few connections throughout the rhythm game community, and they managed to put together a bunch of original songs to feature in the game. There’s one song in particular, however, that I think deserves to be highlighted, because its very existence baffles me.

I’m warning you now, readers: there’s no going back from this point.

If you’re prepared to experience real music gaming tunes, then click below.

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INTERVIEW: Daichi Katagiri of Sega-AM2 (2011)

When I first started gaming.moe, one of the things I wanted to do was republish a bunch of interviews that appeared in foreign-language magazines. That kind of fell by the wayside in favor of the endless fountain of writing ideas that seems to erupt from my brain — republishing old stuff I’d already written kind of felt lazy when there was so much else I wanted to create.

Of course, sometimes circumstances get in the way of actually accomplishing what you want, and that’s exactly what happened this month. So,once again, I find myself going back to the well of interviews to republish.This one, though — this is something I’ve been saving for a special occasion, like a fine wine waiting years to be uncorked. So I say, what better way to top off 2017, a remarkable year for games, than with a 2011 interview with Sega-AM2’s Daichi Katagiri, one of the people I respect most in the industry?

This interview was originally published in IG magazine, a French publication that also ran the IKD interview I posted here a while back. This interview is a little over six years old at this point, so it’s rather amusing to look at some of Katagiri-san’s comments and go “I think I see what he was hinting at there!” So grab some champagne, get your noisemakers ready, and ring in 2018 with one of Sega’s best and brightest.

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A DEFINITIVE, CERTAINLY CORRECT AND INARGUABLE ranking of classic-style Pac-Man games

Guys. GUYS. Did you see that list ranking all of the Mario games? Holy crap! New Super Mario Bros. U at number one, for reals??? Why, clearly this is a horrible judgement that I must take to the internet to express my displeasure over– oh, no, wait, everybody else has already done that. Dangit!

But… hmm. This list has generated a lot of attention and discussion. Clearly, Gaming Dot Moe needs a real kick in the pants, an article that will drive vistors to the site in droves and make them read about Raimais and spur heated debate and conversation! We need to make a ranking list involving a popular, long-running videogame character!

Let’s see… Mario’s been done… Sonic? Oh jeez, that’s a debate I don’t even want to wade into, what with the differences between Classic and Modern Sonic… I mean, hell, even if we just limited it to Modern Sonic, nobody can agree which ones are actually the good games and they will hate you for whatever you say! Megaman? I mean, that’s pretty cut-and-dry, the debate is basically between 2, 3, and X.

Wait… I’ve got it!

Yes! Pac-Man! Nobody’s done a comprehensive list talking about the best Pac-Man games yet! We’re going to have another GAMING DOT MOE EXCLUSIVE on our hands here!

But lay something down first, because there’s a lot of Pac-Man games out there covering different genres. The main rule in this ranking is that the game has to adhere to the basic tenets of classic Pac-Man gameplay, which means roaming mazes while collecting objects. So no, no Pac-Man World, Ghostly Adventures, Pac-Attack, or Pac-Land. Sorry if you’re looking to see if Pac-Man Party is better or worse than Pac-In-Time, but someone else will have to make that list.

That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about a few other Pac-Man games first, though…

Special Mentions

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures

Out of all the games Pac-Man’s ever starred in, this one deviates the furthest from the concepts established in the original, meaning that there’s no way I’d put it on the list with the rules I established. However, it’s worth mentioning because it’s a game you simply have to experience, preferably vicariously.

It feels like somebody at Namco woke up one day and said, “Hey, we have a beloved videogame icon here, but the style of game he pioneered is just too old for the purple-stuff addled kids of the 90s. We need to make something unique and original to make Pac hip and relevant again!”

And the result was… a point and click adventure game. No, scratch that — it’s a point and click adventure game with an added layer of obfuscation. Pac-Man is not under your direct control — instead, you have a slingshot to hit objects (and Pac-Man) with and the ability to yell “LOOK!” in the hopes that you can direct his attention somewhere. Unfortunately, Pac-Man rarely does what you actually want him to do, resulting in amazing moments of frustrating as Pac-Man winds up in stupid, stupid situations that would have been wholly avoidable if you could just tell him what to do. This is where the “smug asshole Pac” meme began, and once you see the game, you’ll understand why.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to play this yourself, but you absolutely should watch somebody else suffer through trying to get Pac-Man to do very simple tasks. It’s a good time for everyone… except the player.

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Pac-Man Battle Royale

This one’s tough to slide into the list just because how much fun you get from it is wholly dependent on how many players you have. If you have a full group of four people, then yes, this is going to be one hell of a time. However, with every player you subtract, Battle Royale becomes noticeably less enjoyable. It doesn’t really seem fair to fault an inherently multiplayer game for being less fun with less players, so I’m going to exclude this one from the ranking.

Anyhow, that’s enough preamble, let’s get to

THE RANKINGS

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Interview: Akihiro Takanami/Hiroaki Fujimoto of h.a.n.d. and System Vision

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been strangely fascinated by Ragnagard. It feels like such an anomaly in the Neo Geo’s massive library of fighting games on numerous levels: the CG visuals, the slow-feeling gameplay, the focus on aerial combos. It’s the sort of game that I’ve felt a compulsion to research, to figure out just how it came into being.

I’m the sort of person who will delve into weird internet rabbit holes over the course of researching stuff and pursuing information, and sometimes that yields incredibly interesting results. One day, when I was out looking for things related to Ragnagard on Japanese sites, I came across a page that had a gorgeous illustration of the game’s main female lead, Benten. But that’s not all that was there: alongside it were numerous anecdotes written by someone who was clearly heavily involved in the game’s development. It turned out this site was run by one Powerudon, an accomplished artist in the game industry who had been one of the driving forces behind Ragnagard’s development.

Looking around his site yielded more interesting tidbits of info, particularly related to a Super Famicom fighting game called The Battle Master. It hadn’t hit me that this and Ragnagard were done by the same developer, as they have a dramatically different feel, but Powerudon had laid out a lot of details about the mechanics and development of these titles on their site — alongside some incredible artwork

I knew I had to talk with Powerudon. One of the reasons I created gaming.moe is to preserve elements of gaming history that might otherwise be lost to time, particularly the words and memories of the people behind games both well-known and obscure. I reached out to Powerudon for an interview, and he agreed, so I emailed him a batch of questions.

A while later, he sent me a massive text file containing replies to all of the questions I had sent. I had asked him to go into as much detail as possible, and he did just that — for which I’m extremely grateful, because he has some really interesting anecdotes and thoughts on game development. So sit back, grab a drink, and enjoy a lengthy interview about System Vision, Battle Master, Ragnagard, and the tumultuous environment of game development in the early/mid-90s.

Special thanks to Tom James and Jason Moses for translation assistance!

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Masaya Nakamura Tribute: Namco arcade classics (that are just as important as Pac-Man)

With the passing of Masaya Nakamura, founder of Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company — better known to everyone as Namco — we’ve lost a man who was a pioneer of the game industry in many ways. When Nakamura bought out Atari Japan’s flagging division back in the 70s (offering far more money than rival Sega), he was spurred to add video game development to the company’s core business of kiddie rides, prize games, and other electromechanical amusements. From there, Namco went on to become one of the Japanese game industry’s arcade powerhouses during the game center boom of the 80s. Their competition with the other heavyweights in the arcade arena at the time — Sega, Taito, and Konami — spurred an incredible era of arcade innovation that helped advance game hardware and game genres to amazing new heights.

But here’s the problem: A lot of people don’t know much about that beyond Pac-Man.

While Namco had a US branch during the 80s, it was mostly a licensing arm until quite late in the decade.1. Games that looked like they’d have strong global appeal were quickly snatched up by the likes of Bally/Midway and Atari, while many others languished as Japanese exclusives, never to be seen outside of the country until MAME and the Namco Museums came about.

As a result, we have plenty of memorials dedicated to Nakamura speaking of him as “The Father of Pac-Man” (a title that really should go to creator Toru Iwatani), treating his legacy as if Pac-Man was the only thing that really mattered. Even without taking into account more modern Namco hits like Tekken, Ridge Racer, and the Tales series, this reductive titling ignores numerous games he helped spearhead into existence that had a tremendous impact on the industry. Sadly, because these games didn’t see much attention in the West, many players don’t know how important they really are. I’ve decided to highlight three very important Namco arcade games here to show just how important Nakamura’s legacy is — there are plenty more examples, but these three titles embody what Namco meant to a generation of Japanese arcadegoers and game creators alike.

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  1. One of my biggest frustrations in studying arcade history is how poorly-documented a lot of dealing between US and Japanese companies during the 80s and early 90s are. Details like when Namco US started to sell their own cabinets are scarce. And furthermore, how did companies like Taito USA decide which games to sell themselves and which to sell out to Romstar?! ARGH

Arcade Road Trip: Anata no Warehouse (Kawasaki Warehouse)

If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably aware that I went to Japan again over the holidays. My trip was a good one: I went to Comiket with a bunch of cool people from Lab Zero, went to the annual Fighting Vipers 2 crew bounenkai, dropped by Osaka to see rad folks and acquire a Raimais PCB, and somehow wound up in two different Sega-themed cafes over the course of my visit. Among other things!

Of course, I made sure to swing by a few arcades in the process. Much to my anger and disappointment, Akihabara HEY stopped selling its most recent round of exclusive merch the day before I got to go there, but I still managed to bring ANN’s Mike Toole inside and inspire a column in the process. TRF in Nakano was another stop, and it’s still as full of beautiful poverty fighting games as it ever was — though they seem to have brought in some Magician’s Dead machines as of late.1 And, of course, I swung by Mikado to do some work there (stay tuned for more on that).

There was one arcade I had to go to this time around, though. Last year, I saw pics a buddy took of a place referred to as the “Kawasaki Warehouse.” What I saw looked incredibly bizarre: an arcade modeled after the infamous Kowloon Walled City of Hong Kong, filled with decaying signs, dim lights, and musty, decrepit structures that appeared to be falling apart. Among all of this was a swath of arcade machines: white cabinets, bright screens, and colorful lights standing out starkly against the tarnished brown and gray of the surroundings. I knew this was something I’d have to see for myself.

That’s exactly what I did. And now, I come back to you with pictures in hand of what might be the coolest “theme” arcade I’ve ever been to, Anata no Warehouse.

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  1. As a friend put it, “Given what gets played at TRF, if Magician’s Dead is there, that means it probably bombed everywhere else.”

Review/Build: Sega Astro City 1/12 cabinet model by WAVE

“Candy cabinets.” It’s a catch-all English term to refer to Japanese-style sit-down arcade cabinets where you can fairly easily switch the games contained within. There seems to be a bit of speculation as to where the term came from… though I’d wager the most obvious source is the Neo Candy cabinets, which commonly housed Neo-Geo MVS units.

There are a lot of different models of “candy cabs” out there, but to many, the de facto candy cabinet is the Sega Astro City, a model you’ll still see around many a Japanese arcade in this day and age. Countless matches of Virtua Fighter 2 were played on these machines back in the day, and their versatility and adaptability have made them a popular choice for retrogaming setups to this day.

Yes, the Astro City is practically synonymous with arcade games to many Japanese arcade fans. Which is why we all exploded with glee when we found out that model maker Wave, who had previously made replicas of modern Vewlix cabinets and the riding Hang-On cabinet, was going to make an Astro City model.  This was gonna be great!

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And yes, it is a pretty spectacular kit! It’s not too tough to build for the beginner, but offers a lot of potential for customization if you really, really want to create the miniature arcade machine of your dreams. In my case, I wanted to put a very particular game inside one of these cabinets. But I wanted to build it together with you, my dear readers – and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today!

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Gamest’s Favorite Character Rankings from 1987 to 1991

Hey guys, it’s almost election day!

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Yeah, that’s more or less my reaction to the shitshow of US politics, too. But instead of depressing ourselves, let’s look at the polls of yesteryear that truly mattered. I am, of course, talking about the favorite character polls published in seminal Japanese arcade gaming journal Gamest from 1987 through 1991.

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Gamest, for those unfamiliar, was an early Japanese game magazine whose focus was almost entirely on the culture of arcade gaming. The magazine was founded in 1986 and enjoyed plenty of success, going from bimonthly to monthly issues fairly quickly thanks to strong fan response. When Street Fighter II rolled around and became a phenomenon, however, the magazine became even bigger, eventually going biweekly at the height of the fighting game boom. Bolstered by the strength of arcades in the mid-90s, the publisher, Shinseisha, expanded briefly into spinoffs like Gamest EX (console games) and Comic Gamest, and even had a store focused on selling arcade game-related merchandise called Marugeya. But everything ended rather abruptly in 1999 with Shinseisha’s bankruptcy, killing off the magazine and other business operations tied to it. (Several former Gamest staff migrated to publisher Enterbrain to create Arcadia magazine as a successor, which would encounter its own abrupt death many years later.)

The magazine had a ton of passionate, talented writers throughout the years: as the Japanese Wikipedia article on the magazine notes, many of Gamest’s early writers came from VG2 and VG3, early arcade gaming doujinshi publications that were the contemporaries of Satoshi Tajiri and his Game Freak doujinshi. Graphic artist Han, who’s best known for his work at Treasure, was part of their writing staff at one point, and artist Mine Yoshizaki cut his teeth doing various art pieces for the magazine.

Amongst all of the strategy guides, interviews, reports, high score tables, and special features, however, every Gamest issue would contain a section called “Gamest Island,” which was dedicated to reader submissions. In early 1992, Gamest collected all of its Island sections up to that point into one giant book, called Gamest Island Mokushiroku.

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One of my current fixations is trying to snag cheap Gamest issues when they pop up for media preservation purposes, as the Japanese arcade scene of the 80s and 90s is a fascinating subculture that the West knows next to nothing about. When I saw this book for a good price, I jumped on it — and when I got it, I wasn’t disappointed in the content. This tome has 500-some pages of reader submissions that give a candid look into the Japanese arcade culture of the late 80s and early 90s from the very people who were the most passionate about it. There’s tons of art, plenty of letters, lots of terrible jokes, a bunch of reader-made “How much of a gamer are you” polls, parody game ideas, and even odd bits like someone’s Night Striker fanfiction. There are early memes and trends that show up, heated opinions (you start seeing some anti-Street Fighter II art and sentiment after the game blows up in popularity), and even in-column conversations between readers: one issue features a woman writing in to complain about men treating her badly at the arcade, the next issue has a guy sending in a drawing he did to support her, and the issue after that has her replying with more art as a thank-you. (It really seems charming and quaint compared to internet interactions today, especially since nobody got called a beta cuck.)

Every year Gamest would also hold reader polls on various subjects — and among them were various “favorite character” polls. From 1987 onwards, Gamest would have a reader-voted “favorite character” poll, along with rotating sub-polls in various other character categories. The results of each of these are also published in this book, and how the votes played out is pretty amusing: there are clear winners, some head-scratchers, and some utterly bizarre picks that appear to be ancient memes and jokes from a bygone era in Japanese gaming. Let’s take a look at how the polls went!

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An overly elaborate and painstakingly detailed account of the events of Arcade Superplay Expo 2016

I first heard rumblings in some of the Discord channels I hang out in that Twitch was planning something interesting in the fall. It was going to be a charity marathon, but with a twist: a focus exclusively on arcade games, a segment of gaming that didn’t really get much exposure outside of a few select streamers and the occasional arcade game run at a GDQ. I received a message from Romscout, Symphony of the Night speedrun superstar and Twitch charity event manager. Was I interested in helping out the event in some way?

I swiftly answered. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. Jeez, you had me from the words “arcade event!”

The idea was a 48-hour marathon to raise money for Save the Children, to be held in October. The event would have players showcasing both classic and newer arcade games, from Donkey Kong and Track and Field to things like Tetris the Grand Master, some modern pinball games, and Beatmania IIDX. I wanted to at least help promote the event and get the word out, but I wondered if there was anything I personally could run at the event…

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Oh, right. There was Raimais, a game I had spent a month writing a novella’s worth of text about. But despite having written extensively about it, I had yet to actually complete a single-credit clear (commonly referred to as a 1CC). There was a little over a month until the event. Could I manage to not only juggle work and site responsibilities, but also route the game and master a path that would take me to the end with as few deaths as possible?

It was a daunting proposition, but after proclaiming so much love towards this obscure little Taito game, I felt like I had to carry its torch at what came to be called Arcade Superplay Expo.

“Put me down for Raimais,” I told Romscout. From that point on, I was officially committed.

It definitely wasn’t an easy task: for the first week or two I was diligently making notes, drawing powerup locations and scribbling level notes in a small Ubisoft notebook I’d been given for being runner-up in PAX West Jeopardy. When Jed from our discord channel showed me a custom Raimais level viewer he had whipped up, I was floored and overjoyed. This was going to make the process so much easier!

Finally, after hours of diligent practice, I got my first Raimais 1CC a week before the event was set to start. Now I had to find a way to try and make it consistent for my run, which had been slotted in at a risky 3:20 AM PST timeslot in the schedule. (It was originally set for around 7 AM, but I felt it would be better to try and stay up late than attempt to wake up early.) The event was fast approaching, and I had a review of a big-name JRPG on my freelance plate at the same time. There was so much going on, so much to do… and I couldn’t have been more excited for what was to come.

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