Monday, March 21, 2016

Dragon Quest Café Photo Tour!

Hey there! I've been trying to jump back into the blogging scene and thought I'd finally get back into the swing of things by showcasing some of the photos I took during my past year in Japan!

Given some of the graphics on my Facebook and Twitter pages, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm a huge fan of the Dragon Quest series of games! Additionally, I'm beyond ecstatic that the 3DS ports of Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII were finally announced for English localization. (I'd almost resigned myself to buying Japanese copies!) In honor of these titles coming west I thought I'd post a photo tour of the Dragon Quest themed restaurant, "Luida's Bar," named after the tavern in Dragon Quest III where you recruit party members.


Ever since I read about this paradise for Dragon Quest fans I've been dying to check it out, so I made sure to set aside some time to track this place down during one of my Tokyo visits. Located in the bustling district of Roppongi and tucked away beneath a karaoke establishment, Luida's Bar is located slightly far out from the established nerd and otaku mecca of Akihabara. Additionally, barring some modest signage facing the street and some outward decor, this place easily blends into the main drag of the area and can be missed unless you're actively looking for it.


Some of the super cool decorations inside the bar: a replica of the sword and shield of Roto/Erdrick!


Slime meat buns!  The bar's most iconic food item and quite possibly the most adorable thing I've ever eaten! The white one was a standard pork bun and the blue one had a sweet potato filling. Both were amazing!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Round 2, FIGHT!!

Well, hello there! It’s been awhile since my last post and I wanted to give an update on Gaymer Quest’s return! I recently came back from a full year of studying in Japan. I had intended to post updates during my experience there… unfortunately, full-time school, traveling, side projects, and maintaining social links Persona-style all got in the way of my lofty blogging aspirations.

The good news is now that I have readjusted to the States again, I have a huge backlog of photos and stories to share about LGBT stuff and retro gaming goodness from the Land of the Rising Sun! So I’ll hope you’ll join me again on my continuing gaymer quest! Until then here’s some adorable and delicious slime meat buns from the Dragon Quest Café in Tokyo!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pix'n Love's Mario Goodies Collection

There's no denying the fact that I'm a die-hard Nintendo and Super Mario fan, which is why I was super excited to check out one of Pixn' Love Publishing's Mario Goodies Collection! Pixn' Love Publishing is a French publishing company that specializes in gorgeous and informative retro gaming books which they fortunately have started to translate into English. This particular book offers a rare glimpse into the world's largest collection of Super Mario goods with high quality photos. The insane collection ranges from common items like Mario related video games to the more obscure like a Mario branded teapot!      

This is Mitsugu Kikai, the owner of the collection. He officially has the world's largest assortment of Super Mario related merchandise as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. When he received the title, he had 5,400 items, but that was in 2010 and according to him he has much more in his collection now. He also says he keeps a lot of undocumented pieces as a buffer in case someone else tries to challenge his record. In addition to allowing his collection to be photographed, Kikai also offers personal anecdotes at the end of each chapter about growing up as a Mario fan and how he amassed his collection.

Selection of the Japanese versions of GameBoy titles featuring Mario.

Here are some Mario related Super Famicom games! Kikai mentions that even if a game has the smallest Mario reference, he adds it to his collection. For example, he normally doesn't collect Zelda games, but in some houses in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past there are portraits of Mario hanging on the walls, so that alone is enough to warrant him purchasing it. He's definitely hardcore!

Here's a small selection of Mario related erasers that were available in Japanese capsule machines.  The book notes that these are some of the only merchandise related to Super Mario Land. They're surprisingly well sculpted for erasers and look just like the manual art! I love the quirkiness of Super Mario Land, so I kinda wish they made these into figures! Also, pictured are erasers from Wrecking Crew, Donkey Kong Jr., and Famicom Grand Prix F-1 Race.  

These are Mario plushes made around the release of Super Mario All-Stars!  I love the Frog Suit Mario and the Hammer Bros. Suit Mario ones! Both of those are my favorite power ups!  Although, the Pidjit riding the magic carpet and Birdo ones are pretty adorable too! I think this might be the only official frog suit Mario plush.

Here are some Mario Christmas ornaments and Mario themed phones! I recognize the bottom right phone (I think it came in blue too.) I wanted it when I was a kid but, unfortunately, wasn't allowed to have a phone in my room. The other one I'd never seen before and it talks! Surprisingly, it features specially recorded lines by Charles Martinet.  Here's a video of it in action. As much as I love Mario, the talking phone would probably get annoying really quick!

I love when Mario characters cross over into Japanese cultural designs and themes like the Club Nintendo Hanafuda cards.  Here are some Mario goods that were sold at Japanese PARCO department stores featuring Santa Mario and Mario wearing a formal men's kimono!     

Super Mario themed Karuta cards used to play Iroha Karuta.  Note the Luigi art in the bottom right which is just a palette swap of Mario!  This must have come out a little bit after the original game and before Luigi got his signature look. 

I love the old school Mario art on these otoshidama enevelopes!  Otoshidama is spending money that kids in Japan get from their family members for New Year's and are usually given in special envelopes.     

This is a selection of the Japanese Super Mario World board games.  The Mario UFO Crane game is pretty cool!  I wonder if it was a good method to level up your skills for actual arcade crane games?  Probably not! Also the Super Mario World Ojama Shoot (Super Mario World Block Shot) in the top left is apparently a mix of hockey and pinball, but it looks like there's some Rock'em Sock'em Robots elements too.

According to Kikai, this is one of the bulkiest pieces in his collection. It's the Super Mario World Terebi Denwa (Super Mario World TV Phone) arcade game. (He actually owns two!)  I've never even heard of this game before and can't find any other information on it in English! Although, I did find a low quality movie someone took while playing it, but you can't hear any of the sound. Check it out here!  (You may need to make a Niconico Douga account to watch it.) You play by helping Mario on his adventure by talking to him with the phone and answering questions and choosing where he goes next.  At the end of the game you get a cool hologram card from a set. This game looks pretty cute albeit somewhat simple. I really want to hear Mario talk in Japanese! I'm going to keep an eye out for this game to try when I'm in Japan. Although, I'm sure it's quite rare to see one in the wild at this point! 

All in all this is an awesome book for any Mario fan! One of my only minor gripes with the book is that there are a few grammatical errors in the English descriptions, or places where I could tell the text was matched with the wrong items. However this only happens in a few spots, and really the main focus of the book is the glorious photographs of Kikai's collection. Also, I wanted to mention the anecdotes written by the collection's owner range from genuinely heartwarming to kind of depressing. For example, he mentions that his collecting hobby really takes up all of his free time, and he never goes out to have fun because he spends to much money on Mario goods. He goes on to say that he doesn't eat very much which often makes him get sick because once again he spends all his money on his collection. This kind of snapped me out of the whimsy and made me genuinely both sad and worried for him. Although, Kikai ends the book on a positive note relating that his dream is to open up a Mario themed bar so he can share his collection with other Mario fans around the world.  I hope he can achieve his dream someday!

If you want to pick up a copy of this book for yourself, it's £25 (about $42) over at Pixn' Love's website

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Highlighting Queerness in Games

After reading all the amazing positive buzz for GaymerX2, I wanted to rewatch some of the recorded panels from the original GaymerX that are uploaded on YouTube. While looking through all videos, I came across a really phenomenal talk titled "Something's a Little Queer: How Queerness is Changing Games Media" by the amazing Mattie Brice which I somehow missed while attending the convention. Mattie is a queer activist, game critic, game designer, and all around super smart lady! During her panel she discusses the positive effect minority gaming fans can have on the games media and game publishers. It's a really interesting and empowering discussion and I definitely recommend everyone check it out!    

One of the topics that Mattie mentions is how we as fans can support independent queer writers by just giving them positive comments or by passing along their articles through social media. I know she was mainly speaking about  the realm of writers and bloggers, but this inspired me and to share some information and act as cheerleader for a few awesome LGBTQ games that have come out within the past few years or will be released soon.   

First, I wanted to talk about Mattie's own game called Mainichi which she mentions in her above panel. "Mainichi" is Japanese for "everyday" and this is an autobiographical game dealing with Mattie's everyday experiences as a transgender woman and showcases typical challenges those in the trans community face daily. The game may seem short, but you are encouraged to replay it and make different choices each time. Mainichi is free and available for Windows and Mac. Go here and download it for yourself

Coming Out Simulator is an interactive visual novel style game created by Nicky Case for the #Nar8 Game Jam. Another autobiographical game were you relive the night the creator comes out to his parents as bisexual. This game hits very close to home for me and was hard to play at times, but definitely very poignant and worth a playthrough! Coming Out Simulator is free and can be played in your browser with flash.  Click here to give it a try
Dys4ia is made by game designer Anna Anthropy and chronicles her experiences as a transgender woman undergoing hormone replacement therapy. The game is crafted with beautiful surreal minigames and graphics that harken back to old-school computer programs. It offers a rare window into a difficult experience that many of those in the transgender community go through, but still offers a touch of humor. This game is also free and playable via flash over at Newgrounds. Click here and try this game out for yourself!

My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is a point-and-click Adventure game made by Luke Miller with art by Joe Phillips. This is a queer themed love letter to games like Maniac Mansion and the King's Quest series. In response to gay characters being heavily unrepresented in video games, Luke turned up the queer dial to 11 with this game making almost every character, spaceship, and object completely flaming or full of camp. The game is very lighthearted and worth a playthrough for gay gamers who love the point-and-click Adventure genre. My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant is currently available through Steam for $14.99.   

Read Only Memories is a cyberpunk themed graphical adventure game, made by MidBoss, LLC which consists of some of the rad folks who founded GaymerX! The game definitely draws inspiration from Hideo Kojima's Snatcher as well as various other 90's Sci-fi video games and anime. (Side note: I loved the Shin Megami Tensei II dance club reference!)  In contrast to My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant, the LGBTQ themes are ubiquitous but understated in a really cool way. Near the beginning you are asked to choose your preferred pronoun and many characters in the game casually reference the fact that they are queer through either flirting or a passing mention of their boyfriend/girlfriend. This creates a really colorful and interesting LGBTQ inclusive world which manages to even give depth to NPCs with very small roles. You play as a reporter living in Neo-San Francisco who is tasked with finding the whereabouts of a kidnapped acquaintance. For me, one of the game's highlights is your adorable AI companion, Turing, who acts as both your investigation partner and comedic foil. The game also features really cool well animated pixel art which you especially notice during Turing's adorable facial expressions. The prologue and first chapter are currently free to play on Ouya, but the full game will release soon on Ouya, iOS, Android, Mac, and PC. You can preorder it here for Ouya or Steam here for $9.99. Also, be sure to help the game out by voting for it to be greenlit on steam! Click here to vote!    

The last game I wanted to mention is Fragments of Him which is an upcoming release from Sassybot StudioFragments of Him is an interactive narrative game that tells the story of man whose boyfriend has recently died and the rippling effects it has on his life. This release is actually an updated and expanded version of a free prototype the team created as part of the Ludum Dare Game Jam.  It definitely looks really promising, if not heartbreaking. The game is available for preorder at this link for $12.37 I think until 7/31/14, or if that deal is expired you can preorder it here for $20

I apologize I'm sure I missed mentioning a lot more LGBTQ games that are out there, but I just wanted to to highlight a few titles. Even if none of the games I mentioned look appealing to you, I encourage you to tell others about them and spread the word!

In the current gaming generation having more diverse voices in the development field can only enrich the medium as a whole.  Even if you don't have programming skills, there are resources out there like Twine or RPG Maker that give anyone the power to make a game for themselves.  I look forward to seeing more and more games from the LGBTQ community in the future!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Taking a Look at the Retron 5

I'm a big retro gamer and have been following Hyperkin's highly anticipated wonder console, the Retron 5, for a long time. Hyperkin is known for making what are essentially modern reproductions of classic game systems. This is apparently all legal due to the patents for the technology of these older consoles having expired. Hyperkin has been releasing their line of Retron reproduction consoles for awhile now and the Retron 5 is their newest showing. The system plays NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Master System (with power base converter), GameBoy, GameBoy Color, and GameBoy Advance games from all regions through an HDMI hookup!

One of the problems retro gaming enthusiasts face is how to hook up older consoles to modern TVs.  My main HDTV doesn't have any easy inputs for older retro consoles, and I've tried different signal upscalers with mixed results. Someday I hope to have a room entirely dedicated to gaming, but right now I don't have the space for an extra CRT TV specifically for retro consoles. So, having an easy method for playing all my original games with crystal clear graphics is definitely one of the biggest benefit of the Retron 5 system. 

Now comes the aspect of the Retron 5 that may make hardcore retro gamers grimace, it essentially is an Android based emulation box. After a cartridge is inserted, the Retron 5 performs a quick dump of the ROM to its hard drive which it then plays, so the system isn't technically running off the game cartridges the whole time. However, when a cart is removed, the ROM file is instantly deleted making it necessary to still own the original cartridges in order to play the games. This creates a kind of hardware and emulation hybrid system. Unfortunately, the Retron 5's Android OS has both good and bad points associated with it. I'll start by discussing some of the note-worthy positive aspects the system has to offer.

First up, the Retron 5 outputs at 720p and 60fps. You might think this sounds unnecessary for 8 and 16 bit retro games, but it makes the graphics look incredibly crisp without a hint of blurriness! Additionally, you can apply different graphical filters to the games or apply a scan line effect that mimics CRT displays for a true retro feel. Most of the filters blur or soften the hard edges of the pixels to create a more "painted" look. I honestly prefer playing with no filters, but these are fun to mess around with! Here's some comparison screen shots showcasing a few of the filters using Seiken Densetsu 3 and Sonic 2!

Normal mode without filters:

The sqsx filter:

The hqsx filter:

Normal mode without filters:

Normal mode without filters and scanlines enabled:

Besides just offering clearer graphics, the Retron 5 also has an option that utilizes audio interpolation in order to create clearer music and sound effects. Although, it's hard for me to tell a real noticeable difference.

Another big benefit of the Retron 5 is the ability to save games even if your cartridge has a dead battery. The batteries in retro games usually have a shelf life of around 20 years and when they die, you lose the ability to save your progress. Previously, the only solution was to solder in a new battery. This requires a soldering iron, special security bits, and practice to master. The Retron 5 circumvents this by allowing you to save your games directly to its internal hard drive or an SD card potentially bringing new life to old games with a dead battery. Additionally, the Retron 5 also allows you to transfer your game saves from a cartridge to the hard drive and vice versa. This lets you preserve all your childhood saves for The Legend of Zelda forever without having to worry about losing them to a dead battery.

Another great thing about the system is it gives you the option to plug in original NES, SNES, or Genesis controllers to play the games. As long as the controller has the appropriate amount of buttons, you can also use them to play games from any system. (i.e. using a Genesis controller to play SNES games or a SNES controller to play NES games) Although, none of my original SNES controllers currently work with the system. I checked online an a few people are also having this problem. Apparently some models of the SNES controller just aren't compatible, but hopefully this will get fixed soon with a firmware update.

The Retron 5 also has a built in "cheat code" database which you can download form their website and functions like a Game Genie or Game Shark. Unfortunately, the codes aren't labeled really well, have a lot of duplicates, and aren't available for all games.

Now I want to discuss some of the negative points of the Retron 5.  Mainly the controller!   

I am not a fan of  included the controller at all! It's wireless which is nice, but it has a very boxy design and just feels extremely light and cheap. Rather than having a standard D-pad, the Retron 5 controller uses a micro switch thumb-stick kind of like the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but not nearly as high quality. Also, all the buttons produce annoyingly loud clicks when pressed or moved which can be a pain if you're playing late at night or trying to be quiet. Additionally, the controls feel really imprecise. This isn't a big deal for RPGs, but using it to play platformers or fighting games is really frustrating. Of course you can just use your original controllers instead, but it just seems like a wasted opportunity on Hyperkin's part to create something really great.

I previously mentioned about the save transfer feature, but I want to add, for the time being, use it at your own risk! This feature still has a lot of bugs, and will sometimes just erase the save files from your cartridge. I've had some success with it, but this feature has also erased my Lufia II and Final Fantasy III saves. Both of which had a lot of hours poured into them. But if you don't care about your old saves or you're playing a game for the first time this won't be an issue. 

The last negative point I wanted to mention is that the system is not yet 100% compatible with all games. Hyperkin has been releasing firmware updates every few weeks and with each update more and more games work with the system. Compared to when the console launched, the compatibility has improved a ton. Right now mostly all US released NES and SNES games should work. Similarly, a lot of my Famicom games used to be unplayable, but after the current update the only one that doesn't work for me is the original Dragon Quest which is odd considering 2, 3, and 4 all play fine.  Another thing to mention is that many reproduction and homebrew cartridges don't work either. It seems like those made from original repurposed cartridge parts work a lot more often than those made with entirely new pcb boards. Hyperkin has said they are striving for total 100% game compatibility across all fronts, so hopefully all these issues will also be completely fixed in a future firmware update.     
Here's a recap of all the Retron 5's good an bad points I previously mentioned with a few more added.

  • Combines 10 different consoles in one system
  • Hooks up easily via HDMI with clear graphics (720p & 60 fps)
  • Allows you to save games to the hard drive even if a cartridge's battery is dead 
  • 2 GB of internal hard drive space
  • Allows "save states" for anytime quick saving or loading
  • Allows you to transfer existing save files from game cartridges to the Retron 5 and vice versa
  • Has a "fast forward" button which allows you to speed up gameplay when desired
  • Different graphical filter options available
  • Built in "cheat code" database 
  • Works with FX chip and other specialty chip games like Super Mario RPG and Castlevania III
  • The Japanese version of Castlevania III works and plays the extra sound channels
  • As of the current firmware update, Sonic & Knuckles now works properly with Sonic 2 and Sonic 3
  • Compatible with original NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers
  • Built-in controller is imprecise and makes loud clicking sounds with any button press
  • The save transfer option is still heavily bugged and may erase your save files
  • Doesn't have 100% game compatibility yet
  • Most Japanese Mega Drive games made by Sunsoft don't fit in the system
  • Certain original SNES controllers just don't work with the system at the moment
  • Doesn't work with a lot of reproduction and homebrew cartridges
  • Not compatible with Game Genies or the Super GameBoy
  • Not all of the "cheat codes" seem to work and many are superfluous
  • Allows you to take screenshots but they are tiny
  • Essentially requires an SD card which is not included
  • Updating the firmware isn't very intuitive and may be tough for non-tech savvy people
    So in conclusion, the Retron 5 has the potential to be an amazing system but it's not quite there yet. Even though I mentioned a lot of negative aspects of the system, Hyperkin has been releasing regular firm ware updates which have the potential of fixing most of these issues. But right now, it's hard to completely recommend the Retron 5 and I would suggest waiting a bit longer until more updates roll out. Also, the first shipment of the console seems to be completely sold out and online gougers are trying to sell the system for twice the price so be careful!  The Retron 5 should retail for $140 and comes in either a SNES inspired grey and purple color scheme or a Genesis inspired black option.  I hope this review was helpful to those interested in the system!

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    BioWare's GaymerX2 Panels and LGBTQ Romance in Dragon Age

    Whenever there's a console generation shift I rarely jump on board right away. I'm already a happy Wii U owner, but I haven't yet gone through the looking glass into the magical realm of the PS4/Xbone. For me, what sells a system first and foremost are its games! However, even if no launch titles interest me, there's always that inevitable point when a game comes out that pushes me over the edge to purchase a next gen system. In the current console era for me that game is Dragon Age: Inquisition! I'm a die hard fantasy fan and Dungeons & Dragons player so anything with swords and magic already has my attention, and when you add LGBTQ inclusivity that's done right to that mix I'm instantly sold!

    During, the recent GaymerX2 convention a few of the awesome people at BioWare held two panels relating to the inclusion of LGBTQ elements in Dragon Age: Inquisition and have kindly uploaded the audio from both panels for those of us that couldn't attend!  Both are really interesting and I recommend to give them a listen if you're a Dragon Age fan! 

    The Panelists are:
    • David Gaider (Dragon Age Lead Writer)
    • Jessica Merizan (Community Manager, BioWare)
    • Robyn Theberge (Development Manager, BioWare) 
    • Karin Weekes (Lead Editor for Dragon Age: Inquisition)
    • Patrick Weekes (Dragon Age Writer)
    The "Building a Better Romance" Panel focuses on how character romances are written and developed with a Q&A session at the end.

    "Freaking Out the Neighbors" deals with the reactions of fans who don't understand the reasons for BioWare being inclusive to LGBTQ issues and how they deal with and respond to them a.k.a. how they deal with jerk internet trolls.

    I know this is old news at this point, but I thought I'd do a quick recap of all the LGBTQ romance options known so far!

    Dorian (male mage):

    Dorian is the first male companion that is an exclusive romance option for male player characters.  Sassy undercut and incomparable magical power? Sign me up!

    Sera (female rogue):

    Sera is the first female companion that is an exclusive romance option for female players. She seems really badass! I love an Elven archer!

    Iron Bull (male warrior):

    The Iron Bull is a Qunari warrior and romance option for both male and female characters. He was initially described as being bisexual, but then later clarified to be pansexual. He definitely looks like a cuddler!  #RideTheBull

    Of the eight total planned romances, only six have been revealed so far! It'll be interesting to see how BioWare handles the remaining two characters.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

    Adorable Japanese Toy Overload!

    I got a little personal in my last post, so this time I'm going to counterbalance it by talking about cute Japanese toys that were announced recently!

    First up, the European company, 1UP2P, has some out with some officially licensed Bubble Bobble plush toys of both Bub and Bob that are beyond adorable! I've always loved Bubble Bobble and have fond memories of late night gaming sessions with my friends where we managed to beat the final boss! European residents should be able to nab them soon from 1UP2P's website and those in the US can get them from Unbox Industries. (I guess these plushies aren't technically Japanese but they're licensed from a Japanese company so close enough!)  

    (Via Nintendo Life)

    Next, new EarthBound / Mother 2 figures are coming out in Japan in honor of the game's 20th anniversary! (Oh, god!  Has it really been 20 years??) The figures are of the main cast and Mr. Saturn! I love the Mother series, so I have a feeling I'm going to be trolling gachapon machines in October trying to collect these!

    (Via Akihabara News and apricotsushi)

    Finally, Japanese convenience store chain, Lawson, has teamed up with San-X to make these crazy Rilakkuma vegetable plushies! (Rilakkuma is an adorable relaxation loving teddy bear mascot character whose name is a portmanteau of the English word "relax" and the Japanese word for "bear") I can't take how cute these are especially the eggplant Korilakkuma one!! I've loved Japanese cartoon eggplants ever since playing Kid Icarus and Ice Climber! Sadly, it looks like these are only sold in Lawson convenience stores, so you're out of luck unless you're in Japan.

    That's all for now, but maybe I'll make this a recurring series!