24th Mar2013

How to Import for the PlayStation 3

by Kuro Matsuri

PlayStation 3 with Box

There’s some good news for those who want to import games for the PS3.  For all practical purposes, it is completely region free.  It doesn’t require any modification to play import games.  There are a couple of key exceptions, though.

If you happen to have one that is old enough to be backwards compatible, the PlayStation 2 games are still region locked, as are PS1 games in all PlayStation 3 consoles.  As some additional notes, DVDs are region locked.  Blu-rays are also region locked, but for those in the USA, Japan is considered to be the same region, so it might as well be region free if you’re specifically interested in US and Japan BDs.

The other notable exception is really a technicality.  The PS3 does not support region locking directly, however, it does allow games to see what region the current system is.  As such, there’s nothing from stopping a developer from implementing their own region locking.  So far, only one developer has, and then for only one game: Persona 4 Arena.  As such, P4A is the only region locked PS3 game.

If you would like to play any import game (not just PS3 games) on your PS3, you have two options:

Option 1: Buy a Japanese PS3

As always, the most reliable and the most expensive method is to purchase a Japanese version of the console.  You can find some very interesting Japan-only PS3 models at Play-Asia, but they are on the expensive side, starting at right around $400.  In all honesty, you’re probably better off trying to land yourself an import capable PS2 to go along with a local PS3, partially due to price, and partially due to input lag in backwards compatible PS3 systems, specifically for PS2 games.

Option 2: Install Custom Firmware

There’s lots of risks for this one, it’s considerably less legal, but it also has the benefit of allowing you to play backup titles, assuming you have a Blu-ray burner and don’t mind buying BD-Rs.  It also allows you to have one console to play 3 generations of games on across multiple regions.  It certainly sounds promising.

It does, unfortunately, have the downside that it might lock you out of the PSN and online play.  If that’s something you don’t mind potentially giving up, you can look up the PS3 Jailbreak 4.31 Custom Firmware.  Installation is pretty straightforward: download the custom firmware, put it on a USB stick, and treat it like it’s an official PS3 update.  Keep in mind, though, that you can’t update your PS3 the normal way without undoing the custom firmware or, even worse, possibly breaking your console.

Be sure to thoroughly scan anything you download for viruses.  Unofficial things like this do carry an extra risk of viruses.

Where to Get Games

At this time, import PS3 games are abundantly plentiful.  The go-to source is Play-Asia, but NCSX, Amazon (3rd party), and eBay all have pretty wide selections of Japanese import PlayStation 3 games.

Interesting Game Highlights

For the most part, the most interesting import games on the PS3 are ones that are coming out in the US at some point anyway, such as Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Re MIX.  The biggest exceptions to this are game genres that are unlikely to do well in the US market, like Visual Novels or Dating Sims.  Possibly the most notable example of this is Clannad for PS3 (which was announced in April of 2010).

Enjoy your PlayStation 3 imports!

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Disclaimer: use any of these methods at your own risk. Some of them can damage your console.

Endorsement Policy: while some of the links in this post are affiliate links, others are not, and we strive to provide the best options out there, regardless of affiliate status.

24th Mar2013

How to Import for the PlayStation 2

by Kuro Matsuri

PlayStation 2 with Box

Much like the original PlayStation, the Sony PS2 is completely region locked.  While it is backwards-compatible with PS1 games, those are also region locked on the console. If you only want to play some import PlayStation 1 games, take a look at the guide for How to Import for the PlayStation 1.

Since the PS2 will not play import games by design, you have to find a way around it.  Here’s a layout of the options.

Option 1: Buy a Japanese PlayStation 2

For long-term reliability, and for ease of setup, this is the best option.  It also tends to be the most expensive.  At this time, a Japanese PS2 from Play-Asia runs a hefty $350 plus shipping.  Amazon has some for under $200, but only from third-party sellers.  If you get lucky, you might be able to get a JP PS2 for under $100 from eBay.

If you have some extra money and you like collecting rare things, you can look into the PSX.  Despite American shops labeling PS1 games as PSX games, the PSX is actually a PS2 combined with a DVR and a built-in hard drive.  It looks like this:

Official PSX DESR Model Console

They can typically be identified in online listings by the model number, which always starts with “DESR”, like DESR-5700 or DESR-7000, with the number mostly differentiating between hard drive size (160GB and 250GB respectively, in this case).

You can pick up a DESR PSX for around $400 to $500 from eBay right now, which is definitely expensive.  It’s even more expensive if you are a collector who likes to have the box.

Finally, since the first version of the PS3 was backwards compatible, you could go the route of picking up an import enabled launch PS3.  Check here for more information on How to Import for the PlayStation 3.

Option 2: Install a Mod Chip

This option is very tricky, and requires different mod chips depending on the model of your PlayStation 2.  Overall, I recommend against installing your own mod chip unless you are very good at soldering wires onto tiny points on a motherboard, because that’s exactly what’s required.

What’s worse, it can slightly alter the power traveling through the motherboard and to the laser, which can cause it to burn out early.  Due to the modifications made by the mod chip, it is more difficult to repair as well.  Replacing the burnt-out laser sometimes just causes the new laser to immediately burn out as well.

That being said, when it is working, it is pretty great.  You have one console that plays both local and Japanese games, and you don’t have to think about it.  You just put the game in.  If you really like this idea, and you’re willing to try to install one, you should research all of the currently available mod chips and find highly detailed and picture oriented guides.  If you want these benefits, and you’re willing to risk the long-term reliability of your console, but you don’t have the skills to install it yourself, you can look at Option 3.

Option 3: Buy a Pre-Modded PS2

Most of the usual vendors for this are no longer available, but if you dig deep enough, you should be able to find one.  However, even if you do find a vendor, you’ll likely be dealing with someone shady.  Your best bet is probably to try to find one on eBay or Craigslist, but you’ll have to get lucky even there.

It will be more expensive than picking up a local model PS2, and it will be almost as expensive as buying a Japanese one.  However, if you don’t yet have either, it can be a very economical option overall.

Option 4: Use a Swap Disc

Swap Magic 3.6 Plus

The swap disc of choice is the Swap Magic.  The good news is that Swap Magic is well supported by its creators, and they even have a full Swap Magic guide.  The catch is that you will need to find a way to make your PlayStation 2 think that it has never been opened during the swap process.  How to do this varies based on the model of the PS2, and the Swap Magic guide above helps you select the right tool.  It usually provides more than one option for a given model as well.

Some notes, though: the slide tool for fat PS2s is convenient because it requires very little modification, but it does damage the disc tray motor over time, so it’s honestly not recommended.  For the slim version, however, either option should be fine, as long as it is installed correctly.

If you don’t want to buy directly from Swap Magic because you don’t trust them, Swap Magic discs occasionally show up on Amazon, albeit from 3rd party vendors.  But, at least then you have the buyer protection that Amazon provides.

Where to Get Games

The usual sources apply here.  Play-Asia is the most reliable source in terms of both price and availability, whereas NCSX Shop is a valid US-based alternative, but they tend to be more expensive.  Amazon has some Japanese PS2 games from third part vendors, but very few.  You can always take a shot at finding the JP PlayStation 2 game you want on eBay.

Interesting Game Highlights

Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix Plus

Some of the best games available on the Japanese PlayStation 2 have to be the Final Fantasy International Versions (X, X-2, and XII) and the Kingdom Hearts Final Mix Versions (I and II).  These versions have new systems, new gameplay elements, new items, and new secret bosses added to them, making them an enjoyable play-through, even if you’ve already played the American versions.

Another fantastic game that never made it across the oceans is Namco X Capcom (spoken as “Namco Cross Capcom”), a turn-based tactical RPG in which over 100 characters from lots of different games come together to fight against one another.  It seems that only the fighting game crossovers seem to make it to our shores, but here’s an RPG crossover!  I even have a post about Namco X Capcom as an Interesting Import Only Game from several years back, and it still hasn’t made it out of Japan.

Enjoy your PlayStation 2 imports!

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Disclaimer: use any of these methods at your own risk. Some of them can damage your console.

Endorsement Policy: while some of the links in this post are affiliate links, others are not, and we strive to provide the best options out there, regardless of affiliate status.

16th Feb2013

Xbox 720 / Microsoft Durango Launch Info, Rumors to Final Specs

by Kuro Matsuri

Xbox 720 Durango Rumors and Specs

This is Kuro Matsuri Video Game’s roundup of the rumors surrounding the launch of the Microsoft Durango, commonly known as the Xbox 720.  At this time, there seems to be less information about the Durango than there is about the Orbis, but it will be updated as new information comes out.

The first piece of this rumor is simply about when final official information should be available: and it currently looks to be E3 2013.  It has been confirmed that Microsoft will make a major announcement at this year’s E3.  While they will not confirm that it’s about the next Xbox, many sources think that it’s the most likely time for the next Xbox to be announced.

Now, let’s dive into the available details:

Name: There’s really no consensus about what the name will be.  The codename has been leaked as “Durango”, and the community at large calls it the “Xbox 720″.  No confirmed information is out there at this point. Not confirmed.

Processor: Sources say that the CPU will be a 64-bit 8-core 1.6GHz processor, but the brand is not yet known, though some sources say it will be an AMD like the Orbis is expected to have. Estimated processing power in Flops is not yet available.  Not confirmed.

Graphics Card: It looks like the graphics card will be a Radeon Direct3D-based 800 MHz GPU, with a claimed 1.2 TFlops (1.2 trillion floating-point operations per second) in raw power.  Not confirmed.

Memory: Current leaked specs are showing 8GB of DDR3 RAM, which, compared to the Xbox 360′s 512MB, is a vast improvement.  That memory is shared between the CPU and GPU, but there’s also a small 32MB faster-running cache for the GPU to us.  Not confirmed.

Storage: The Durango is expected to have an HDD of an unknown size, and it seems increasingly likely that it will utilize 50GB Blu-ray discs, read at 6x speeds.  It could go the route that the Wii U did, and have a slightly modified proprietary Blu-ray format, but probably won’t so that it can have Blu-ray playback.  Some sources say that Blu-ray playback will not be available, though, so it’s pretty much up in the air at this point.  Not confirmed, some sources disagree.

Controller: There’s been practically no information on the controller for the Xbox 720.  It’s expected to be practically unchanged.  Not confirmed.

Compatibility: There is not yet any information about backwards compatibility or region protection.  However, it appears that the Kinect will be compatible.  The big news here is that there is information being spread around that states that the console will not be compatible with used games, which most gamers hope is not the case.  Not confirmed, some sources disagree.

Extras: This is where things get exciting, yet still very unconfirmed.  First off, there’s the small chance that Microsoft’s demoed and very impressive IllumiRoom technology could make it to the Xbox.  It will probably be as an add-on, if it’s available at all, but if it is available, it will be very impressive.  See below:

Additionally, some sources are saying that there will be virtual reality and/or augmented reality glasses, currently codenamed Fortaleza, or unofficially known as Kinect Glasses.  These could potentially be even more interesting than the IllumiRoom technology, but appears to be a later add-on, estimated to be launched some time in 2014.  Not confirmed, lots of variations in sources.

Price Point: Completely unknown.  Wild speculation is placing it between $400 and $500.  Not confirmed, practically no sources.

Launch / Release Date: Many sources are putting the release date as late 2013.  That would be a fast turnaround from E3 2013, though.  Not confirmed, but many sources seem to agree.

The information will be monitored and updated over time.  Both the Durango and the PS4 are looking like significant improvements over their predecessors. Feel free to browse our sources:

http://kotaku.com/xbox-720/

http://www.gadgetreview.com/2013/01/microsoft-durango-xbox-720-specs.html

http://www.vgleaks.com/world-exclusive-durango-unveiled-2/

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/121326-Microsoft-Says-Its-On

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/12/the-status-of-microsoft-and-sonys-next-consoles-plus-a-whole-bunch-of-other-gaming-secrets/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57454653-1/kinect-glasses-coming-from-microsoft/

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405922,00.asp

(Last Updated 02/16/2013)

02nd Feb2013

PlayStation 4 / Orbis Launch Info, Rumors to Final Specs

by Kuro Matsuri

PlayStation 4 Orbis Speculation

Kuro Matsuri Video Games will be paying close attention to the details surrounding the launch of the new PlayStation.  The information below, unless otherwise noted, are rumors or supposedly leaked information.  Confirmed information will be tagged as it comes in.

First off, when can we expect official information to start coming out?  It looks like it’s February 20th at 6PM EST when Sony has a conference.  Unofficial sources have confirmed that the PlayStation 4 / Orbis will be announced at that time.  Here’s the teaser trailer (which basically shows nothing):

The conference has occurred! The Playstation 4 is officially announced! (2/20/2014)

Sony has launched a Press Release about the PlayStation 4 specs.  The information from that press release is included below. (2/21/2013)

Jack Tretton has made some statements during an interview with Forbes.  Information from that has been added to this post.  (2/23/2013)

So, here’s the details that are floating around out there right now:

Name: It will be called the PlayStation 4!  Confirmed by PlayStation directly.

Design: The design of the console itself is unknown, but Jack Tretton has stated that we can expect to see the console my E3, or possible sooner.  Approximate time confirmed, design not confirmed.

Processor: Current leaked information states that the processor will be an 8-core AMD processor (Jaguar).  The cores will be split into 2 clusters, simulating a setup with 2 processors that have 4 cores each. Claimed performance: 102.4 GFlops (102 billion floating-point operations per second).  8-core AMD x86 confirmed by Sony Press Release, pictured below.

PS4 Tech Specs

Graphics Card: The graphics card appears to be an AMD R10XX-based card that shares memory with the processor.  It will run at 800MHz and produce an estimated 1.843 TFlops (1.843 trillion floating-point operations per second).  The GPU is on the same die as the GPU.  Confirmed by PlayStation Live Event and Sony Press Release (above).

Memory: Most sources are saying that the PlayStation 4 will have 4GB of RAM, with a 176GB/s transfer rate.  Some sources, though, are saying that Sony wants to try to get 8GB of RAM into the system before it launches.  Compared to the 256MB (system) + 256MB (graphics) that the PlayStation 3 had, either is a vast improvement.  During the PlayStation Event, the RAM was confirmed at a full 8GB of GDDR5 high speed RAM.  Confirmed by PlayStation Event and Sony Press Release.

Storage: Sources say that the PlayStation 4 will have a Blu-ray drive with pretty nice specs, running at around 6x, cmpared to the PS3′s 2x.  That should help with some of load speed issues and required installs that some games have had in the past.  It also looks like at least one SKU will come equipped with a 500GB HDD.  All details confirmed except size of the hard drive.

Controller: It looks like the Dualshock will live on, but it will be modified a bit.  First off, the middle area could be turning into a touch-pad, similar to the one on the back of the PS Vita.  It will include a front-facing speaker, much like the Wii controllers.  The top of the controller will include the PS Move light, allowing you to use the normal controller as a Move controller.  Additionally, Sony has listened to a lot of critics and made the analog sticks a little bit concave, allowing for a better grip.  Here’s a couple of the leaked images for the PS4 controller (keeping in mind that it is a prototype, so it could look a little different at launch):

These are the prototype controllers that were leaked:

ps4 controller prototype

PS Orbis Prototype Controller

Here’s an official picture:

PS4 Controller Back View

It looks like the leaks are true.  The PS4 controller will act as a PS Move controller, as necessary.

Some sources have suggested that there will also be a Share button, but the leaked prototype does not have that button.  It’s not impossible for it to be added, but it seems unlikely.  Confirmed, with Share button, by the PlayStation Event.

Compatibility: The PS4 will remain compatible with Blu-Ray movies, but will not maintain compatibility with PS3 or PS2 games.  However, as a compromise, they have announced some service to announce the live streaming of PS3, PS2, and PS1 games on the PS4.  While they have not announced cost, this appears to be the compromise between PS3 full backwards compatibility, and the limitations of the new system.  PS1, PS2, and PS3 games will be available via streaming.  Depending on the costs associated with streaming, time will tell if it is worthwhile for the consumer.  Additionally, Sony has confirmed that you’ll be able to “suspend” the console at any time and resume gameplay where you left off when you return.

As a bonus: Sony has announced that the PS Vita will support instant cross-platform play with the Vita – did your kids interrupt your play time with Call of Duty?  Immediately switch to the Vita without losing any game time!

Partially Confirmed by PlayStation Event, Real-Time Switching between Home Console and Handheld Console Completely Confirmed.  Gaikai technology will be used to live stream PS1, PS2, and PS3 content, but no details have been released on pricing or whether or not you’ll be able to play the games you already own in this way.

Extras: Confirmed: the system will continuously record your current activities to allow you to share them with friends.  Additionally, some sources are suggesting that the PlayStation 4 will support 4K resolutions, though it’s highly unlikely that games will be anywhere near that even if it does. A new rumor is suggesting that the PlayStation Eye will be upgraded to a dual 720p camera setup with a 4 microphone array, which would significantly upgrde the accuracy and capabilities of the PlayStation Eye and the PlayStation Move.  The system has been confirmed to support automatic recording of live gameplay, as well as sharing of that gameplay through a quick button press to social media networks.  They have also confirmed live gameplay feeds, which can be set up in advance.  The PlayStation Event has confirmed that at least some games will be cross-compatible with common systems like your tablet or your phone; you might be able to plat the next Gran Turismo on your PS4 and your iPad or iPhone, or on your Android phone or tablet!  4k output unconfirmed, sharing and live stream sharing capabilities confirmed, live streaming to more than just the PS4 (including phones and tablets) confirmed, upgraded PlayStation Eye confirmed (but it is not known if it will come with the system or not).

Controller and Playstation 4 Eye Specs

Price Point: A Japanese newspaper (Asahi Shinbum or 朝日新聞), which generally has pretty good info, is pricing the PS4 at 40,000 JPY, which probably means a US price of $400 USD.  The PlayStation Event DID NOT announce the price of the system.  Not confirmed.

Launch / Release Date: A few sources have suggested Christmas 2013 as the release window for the new PlayStation, but only for Japan and USA.  Europe would get it some time the following year. Jack Tretton from Sony has confirmed that it will be released in the holiday season of 2013.  Confirmed through a Jack Tretton interview.

Launch Games: The games that are announced for launch include:

      Knack cute game, reminds me of Trine except that it’s 3D, interesting setting.

      Killzone: Shadow Fall – impressive scale, futuristic environments

      Drive Club – 1st person racing gameplay – can see competitors on the track in real time – certainly has potential as a high end racer

      Infamous: Second Son – political commentary, player on the wrong side of the law, intense

      Witness – Thought-provoking, RPG-like, vague information revealed

      Deep Down, Working Title – looks a lot like Dark Souls, sounds fun

      Watchdogs – be a whistleblower – steal from normal people while you catch the bad guys, without getting caught yourself

      Diablo III  – going to be available on the PS4… and the PS3.  Hopefully it won’t have always online DRM.

Destiny – a new Bungie title, “shared world shooter”, limited information available. Not Sony exclusive, but will have exclusive content.

More info: According to the interview with Jack Tretton, more information will be coming during E3 in California (June 11 – 13), Gamescon in Germany (August 21 – 25), and Tokyo Game Show in Japan (September 19 – 22).  Confirmed.

As a bonus, here’s a series of high-resolution controller pics directly from Sony’s Press Release

Official PS4 Controller 1

Official PlayStation 4 Controller Image 2

Official PlayStation 4 Controller Image 3

Official PlayStation 4 Controller Image 4

Official PlayStation 4 Controller Image 5

There we have it.  The important pieces of information summed up in one place.  To dig in further, feel free to look through some of our sources:

http://www.edge-online.com/news/playstation-4-revealed/

http://kotaku.com/5980781/report-sony-will-indeed-announce-the-next-playstation-on-february-20

http://kotaku.com/5980841/report-the-next-playstation-will-record-gameplay-and-let-you-share-it-online

http://www.vgleaks.com/world-exclusive-orbis-unveiled/

http://www.vgleaks.com/rumors-ps4orbis-touchpad-details-estimated-launch/

http://www.vg247.com/2013/02/08/ps4-could-come-bundled-with-a-dual-camera-playstation-eye-rumor/

http://www.asahi.com/business/update/0207/TKY201302060568.html

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-orbis-dual-shock-4-leak-analysis

https://us.playstation.com/meeting2013/

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=514512

http://www.ustream.tv/PlayStation

(Last updated 2/21/2013)

03rd Apr2010

Clannad for the PS3 Announced

by Kuro Matsuri

Clannad PS3

Clannad is a famous name in an infamous genre. The genre, often referred to as “dating sims”, is usually about meeting people (often girls) and trying to develop positive relationships with them while an interesting story unfolds both as a result of your relationships and sometimes simply as a background story to drive the motivation. The more notorious of the games in this genre tend to reward the player’s efforts towards maintaining good relationships with scenes of a sexual nature, but most of them (especially ones on consoles) do not. Instead, the reward is more story. As a result, the stories tend to be pretty good in this type of game.

Clannad PS3 Gameplay

Clannad has long since been available on the PS2, the PSP, and even the Xbox 360, but this new version has been announced for the PS3. This new version seems to be a retelling of the same story, but with HD visuals and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Fans of the genre should enjoy the upgraded fidelity in both the visuals and the audio. In addition to this, to make the PS3 version more valuable, there will also be a spin-off story available for download on the PSN. Between the current story and the new story, it is reported to take around 200 hours to make it through every branch of the story. And you thought RPGs took a long time to complete!

The Japanese release date has not yet been announced for this title. Also, we are around 99% certain that it’s not going to make it to the US, or any other region outside of Japan.

01st Apr2010

PS3 Region Locked!?

by Kuro Matsuri

Sony has announced that they releasing a new update (they haven’t said when) that is going to make all future game releases completely region locked. No more importing unless you own a Japanese PS3.

As for the current library of region free games, the developers are allowed to release a patch that makes them region locked, but they aren’t required too. However, if they do release such a patch, you will be forced to install the patch if you want to play while your online. So, if you’re heavy into importing and can’t afford to buy a Japanese PS3, you might want to disconnect your PS3 from the internet whenever you play your imports.

Thankfully, Japanese Game Source has a Japanese PS3, so we’re not effected too much. As a result, we’ll be able to continue bringing you reviews on Japanese releases, so you can keep coming back here if you’d like.

Update 4/2/2010: Ok, this was an April Fools joke, just in case you didn’t already guess that by now =P

31st Mar2010

Valkyria Chronicles Live Action Movie! Is It an April Fool’s Joke?

by Kuro Matsuri

Valkyria Chronicles Live Action Movie

So, Famitsu has announced that Valkyria Chronicles will be getting a live action movie. Seriously! The game with art that is intentionally styled as though it was hand painted is going to become a movie with real people and real-looking scenes. Unless they plan to filter it to make it look hand painted, but what would be the point of that?

At any rate, the whole thing looks very official. There’s even a picture of the director and a storyboard image. But, alas, the date on the article clearly says April 1st. Is this the first of today’s looong string of April Fool’s Jokes all over the internet? It seems likely, but only time will tell!

If you want to see the story for yourself, head over to Famitsu (Google translated, for fans who don’t read Japanese).

28th Mar2010

3D Dot Game Heroes Review

by Kuro Matsuri

3D Dot Game Heroes Review
3D Dot Game Heroes is an homage to Zelda. In many ways, it’s also a ripoff and a parody. It’s an interesting and entertaining game that is about as niche as they come. This review will attempt to take a relatively objective look at the real quality of the game to see how good it really is.

Graphics

The graphics are simple, yet flashy. It’s kinda hard to imagine how that can be done until you see it. Hey, just take a look for yourself:


The simple 3D-pixel styling sounds simple, and in many ways it looks simple. It’s actually a lot less simple than it looks or sounds. Add to that some of the effects they put in there, and it comes off actually pretty flashy. Between some of the high dynamic range lighting effects, such as when you come out of a dungeon, and the “particle effects” where a defeated enemy bursts into a bunch of blocks that fly around all over the place, the graphics are actually visually appealing and entertaining to look at.

There are a few problems with the graphics, though. The biggest gripe is more of a style choice than a technical graphical issue, but the way things in the distance blur can get frustrating. It blurs too much too quickly. It’s hard to understand sometimes why something 5 steps ahead of you is blurry. At other times, it can actually have a nice effect, but it would have been better if the blurring was less intense.

You would also think that a game with such a simple graphical style could be run in full 1080p, while it only runs in 720p. However, at 720p, the framerate will occasionally drop. It doesn’t drop all that often, but it is noticeably when it does. So, the graphics must actually be much harder to render than it appears at first glance. Still, this certainly leaves some room for improvement, either in resolution or in framerate.

Graphics Score: 8.5

Story

There’s a story? Yeah, there is. And looked at as a whole, it is fairly amusing. Really, it’s just enough story to give you a reason to go to all the places and do everything. It’s hard to really care about the story, but then again, in order to care about the story, you might need to take the game as a whole seriously. While this game is definitely fun, it is definitely not styled to be taken seriously, so it had quite a challenge ahead of itself in trying to get the player to care about the story. Well, it didn’t make it.

Still, if you go into it expecting a light, amusing satire, the story becomes amusing enough. For example, take a look at the beginning story sequences:

It probably made you chuckle in one or two places, but the story just doesn’t hold up to the rest of the game. Perhaps an homage to a retro game in the story department just doesn’t quite work out all that well.

Story Score: 6.5

Gameplay

The retro gameplay is what really makes or breaks the game for each individual who tries it. If you’ve been dieing for some retro game action with some HD graphics, this is your chance (and possibly your only chance). It plays almost exactly like the original Zelda, with a bit of it’s own unique twist. After you attack, you can manually spin in a circle to do a spin attack. There’s enough time to spin in a complete circle, but only if you’re fast. It quickly becomes a staple move in your arsenal of straightforward 2-frame attacks.

Also, one thing that retro fans will appreciate that might turn off other gamers is the ability to roam anywhere, sometimes without a clear goal. It is possible to miss talking to the right person, and end up roaming around lost for a while. The good news is that roaming will likely let you find some nice goodies that will help you later, and occasionally you can even complete tasks out of order (usually by accident) this way. It makes it interesting, as long as you have the patience to stick with it when you aren’t completely sure what to do.

The dungeons are very similarly styled as well, cycling through a variety of elements from one dungeon to the next. The early dungeons are very easy, while the later dungeons can get surprisingly hard. The bosses are actually a lot of fun with a fair amount of variety, though there is an exploit or two that can be used to make a boss really easy on occasion.

Here’s the first dungeon in it’s entirety. This should give you a good idea of what the gameplay is like.

Part 1:

Part 2:

What is there to say, really, except that the gameplay was good back in the original Zelda era, and it’s still good now. It is, however, a tired gameplay system, so those looking for a truly new experience aren’t going to like it. Then again, someone looking for a truly new experience is probably going to dislike a lot of things about the game. But, if retro-styled is what you’re after, but you still want a good challenge while playing through it, this is where it’s at… well, it is once you get to some of the later dungeons!

Gameplay Score: 8.7

Weapon Growth System

This section is called the weapon growth system for one reason, your weapon will grow more than anything else in the game. To ridiculous proportions. Imagine if your sword in the original Zelda series could get large enough to practically cover the entire screen… and then some. It’s the ultimate in power for a 2D world gone 3D, and it is very amusing and completely satisfying.

On the other hand, upgrading is slow work. You have to collect a sword that can be upgraded to the level you want it to be, then you have to collect lots of money in order to upgrade it all the way… money that could be used for healing items or other one-time use weapons (bombs or arrows, anybody?) Also, getting a sword that can really be upgraded can be difficult too. If you watched the dungeon video above, you saw that you can collect “small blocks”. These blocks are used to purchase new weapons, but small blocks are hard to find, and it can take as many as 20 of them to buy a new weapon. Though, that does make it all that much more satisfying when you get the ultimate weapon of hit everything on the screen at once.

Yeah, it’s essentially just a novelty trick, but in retro games you had to put in cheat codes to get such ridiculously awesome swords. Now you can do it legitimately, and that is awesome.

Weapon Growth System Score: 9.1

Pacing

The pacing is only what you make of it. You are given the freedom to go directly from one dungeon to the next (though that can become rather difficult if you’re not careful), or you can wonder around aimlessly defeating monsters and collecting random stuff for hours on end.

However, even if you do go straight through the game, the story is so thin that the pacing still drags on quite a bit. The vast majority of the game is spent collecting the 6 orbs from a variety of dungeons. No truly new information is presented until right near the end of the game, and even then, there’s not much of a revelation to make it all feel worth it.

The thing is, that’s just how retro games did it. If 3D Dot Game Heroes had a more complex story with high quality cutscenes, it probably wouldn’t have been a true homage/parody/ripoff/whatever. However, a couple complex action cutscenes done in the 3D pixel style could have been truly hilarious. I’d call that a missed opportunity right there.

At any rate, the pacing is slow… very slow. Thankfully, the gameplay makes up for it, but the pacing could easily boot out a few players who were on the edge of enjoying the game to begin with.

Pacing Score: 5.5

Music

The music in 3D Dot Game Heroes is where the game seems to truly scream “homage”. If you weren’t paying attention, you might think the music was actually Zelda music. Upon listening closely, you’ll find that it’s actually full of surprisingly memorable tunes, the majority of which are nice to listen to and do a good job of complimenting the theme of each region. I found myself humming along as I played on more than once occasion.

As for the technical quality of the music, it’s as though the 8-bit music just bumped up its production values or something. The style is distinctively 8-bit, but it puts in high quality sound samples instead of the scratchy 8-bit samples of yore. Chances are that it will get you humming along to it as well.

Music Score: 9.0

Replayability

After spending 30 hours to play through 3D Dot Game Heroes once, and having a good challenge in the process, I discovered that beating the game unlocks a new difficulty. This is not a “new game plus” scenario, when you start a new game, you start over from scratch. While I enjoyed the game, I found myself thinking “ewww…” when confronted with the option to start over from scratch on a harder difficulty level. If anything, I would go back and play some more on the save that was right before the end of the game so I could explore more and collect more stuff. Starting over didn’t sound appealing in the slightest.

There is honestly very little incentive to continue playing this game once you’ve played through it once, provided that you really explore and invest your time into doing as much as you can the first time around. You might want to come back and do a couple more things, but starting over feels like spitting on all of your work up to that point.

In fact, you’re much more likely to want to go back and play the original Zelda after playing all the way through this. That’s not a bad thing, but it is rather unlikely that you’ll want to play this game again at least for a while. It’s not like anything is going to be different the second time through, and the combination of novelty and nostalgia can only go so far before convincing you to just go back and play the original that started it all.

Replayability Score: 5.2

 

Summary:

Graphics Score: 8.5

Story Score: 6.5

Gameplay Score: 8.7

Weapon Growth System Score: 9.1

Pacing Score: 5.5

Music Score: 9.0

Replayability Score: 5.2

 

Total Score: 52.5/70 = 75.0%

 

Import Friendly?

This game is available now in Japan, and it will be available in the US on May 11, 2010, and in Europe on May 14, 2010. How hard is it to play in Japanese if you don’t speak it? Well, most of the game, it’s not too hard. You’ll be able to figure out the dungeons without any knowledge of Japanese at all. There are a couple of parts that will prove difficult since you are occasionally told where you need to go without putting an actual marker on your map. Those 2 or 3 parts might leave you totally lost and confused, but if you don’t mind looking up a guide for a couple of small sections, you can enjoy this game all the way through without knowing any Japanese.

You will, unfortunately, miss out on the story… but there isn’t really much story here. Besides, you can probably guess the story based on the opening video (shown at the top of this review), almost right down to the end. If you can’t wait to get your hands on this game, the language barrier won’t stop you from enjoying 3D Dot Game Hereos.

Import Friendly Score: 8.5/10

27th Mar2010

3D Dot Game Heroes First Dungeon Gameplay English Subtitles

by Kuro Matsuri

3D Dot Game Heroes First Dungeon

3D Dot Game Heroes takes the old school Zelda formula, adds in a touch of humor and self-awareness, and spits out an amusing retro styled game that is surprisingly graphically impressive. You won’t be getting any realism here. But, take a look at the first dungeon in the game. Simple, not too hard… but it gives you an idea of how the game plays. And, trust me, the game gets a lot harder than this in the later dungeons. A couple of the boss fights are particularly brutal, and that’s just on the normal difficulty level. Of course, we have provided English subtitles. Due to the limitations of YouTube, the video has been cut into 2 sections, each one around 8 minutes long. Enjoy!

23rd Mar2010

3D Dot Game Heroes Opening Cinematic And Gameplay Video – English Subtitles

by Kuro Matsuri

3D Dot Game Heroes Opening

3D Dot Game Heroes is an homage to the classic Zelda games (and a few other classic titles at the same time). In many ways it’s a direct ripoff, but it’s self-aware humor makes it a little bit more than that. It’s story involves a strange twist of fate when the King decides to transform the his Kingdom from 2D to 3D, and all the unexpected consequences of that choice. Take a look at the opening scenes that starts the story going for the game, all translated into English and subtitled through annotations:

23rd Mar2010

Nintendo 3DS: Nintendo’s Next Handheld

by Kuro Matsuri

Nintendo 3DS Announcement

Nintendo has announced what their next piece of handheld hardware will be, but with very few details about it. All that is known so far is that:

  • -It’s called the 3DS
  • -It can display 3D without the use of special glasses
  • -It will be backwards compatible with DS and DSi games
  • -It should launch somewhere in the huge window of between April 2010 and March 2011

It is expected, among other things, to:

  • -Have 2 cameras and 2 screens like the DSi
  • -Possibly be launched in Japan before other regions
  • -Be pretty awesome

Rest assured, Kuro Matsuri Video Games will definitely take a close look at the console at launch to see what Japan only games are available.

Source: Kotaku

22nd Mar2010

3D Dot Game Heroes Demo Reel Gameplay Video

by Kuro Matsuri

3D Dot Game Heroes Gameplay Reel

Many games will show a video that shows off a bit of the gameplay when the title screen sits too long. Well, lots of games used to. But, since 3D Dot Game Heroes is essentially a throwback or an homage to certain old video games (largely Zelda, with references to others thrown in), it only makes sense that it would bring back the use of a demo reel. See it in action below!

21st Mar2010

Play-Asia Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Play-Asia Review Screenshot 1024x834

Let me start off by being completely honest. Play-Asia is one of my affiliates. I promise that this does not effect my opinion of them in this review. Also, I would like to include that since this is not a video game review, it doesn’t follow my standard review structure. I will still give it a percentage-based score at the end, though.

Now, let’s get to it. So, Play-Asia has lots of good reviews out there, and a good handful of bad reviews too. But how good are they, really? Let me share my experiences with you.

I have ordered over a dozen things from Play-Asia in the past. They have always arrived in good condition and at reasonable prices. That’s not to say that everything has been perfect, though.

Prices and Shipping

See, here’s the thing. They look like they have the cheapest prices when compared to the other import locations like www.ncsxshop.com or www.japanvideogames.com. But, that’s only true if you use their cheapest shipping. The problem with that is that their cheapest shipping can take up to 10 business days, or two full weeks, to arrive. What’s worse is that this level of shipping doesn’t even include a tracking number, which leaves you hoping that nothing went wrong with the shipping. It’s never gone wrong for me, but it has gone wrong for others, increasing this 2 week shipping time to 2 months or more. This is because they are based in Hong-Kong, so it’s somewhat understandable, but it’s still not good. They do have better shipping options, but if you want to use the better options to get your game quickly or you want tracking, their shipping charges skyrocket, and suddenly their competitors (especially the ones based in your own country) have better deals for the same item shipped at the same speed.

Availability and Selection

That being said, they still have the best selection out of all of their competitors. They have pretty much everything, and it’s rare that they don’t have what I’m looking for unless it’s old and out of print. They also tend to have pre-orders much sooner as well, such as the BlazBlue Pre-order I’ve talked about before, so you can insure that you’ll be getting a copy through them much sooner than anybody else most of the time.

I’ve personally never received bad service from them before. And what’s more, they almost always include a $5 off coupon in every order, which is a nice touch. If you do buy from Play-Asia, I do recommend shipping your games in a box instead of an envelope. It’s only $1 more, and it will give your game a lot more protection for it’s journey half-way around the world.

The Verdict

My Score: 85%

Good service, good prices, but shipping is either slooooow or expensive with no middle ground.

Have you had a good or bad experience with Play-Asia? If so, post it in the comments. I’ll pick a couple of the best and a couple of the worst experiences mentioned below and put them directly into the review up here. Feel free to include your own score in your comment as well.

03rd Mar2010

BlazBlue Continuum Shift Japanese Release Date Announced

by Kuro Matsuri

BlazBlue Continuum Shift Poster

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift now has a release date for Japan! The arcade sequel to the original BlazBlue will receive PS3 and Xbox 360 ports, due to be released on July 1st, 2010. Play-Asia has announced that they will soon have Continuum Shift pre-orders here. After having so much fun with the original, the sequel looks like it will be a lot of fun. From balance tweaks to new characters, there’s nothing not to like about this sequel! Except that it will most likely be a full-priced game… but the prices haven’t officially been announced yet, so perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised. No doubt it will be cheaper than importing Final Fantasy XIII, which costs right around $100!

Update: Pre-orders are now available through Play-Asia for both the normal version and the limited edition version. See all the available versions here.

28th Feb2010

Final Fantasy XIV Closed Beta Release Date Announced

by Kuro Matsuri

Final Fantasy XIV

Yes, the Final Fantasy XIV Beta now has an official launch date. March 11, 2010. This is only the PC Beta, so those who bought Final Fantasy XIII in hopes of getting into the PS3 Beta will have to wait a little longer. This news is straight from Vanafest 2010, so feel free to go check out their website to confirm it for yourself.

Kuro Matsuri Video Games is, of course, in the pool of applicants to get into the FFXIV Beta. If we get in, we will be sure to bring you lots of news and videos about it.

18th Feb2010

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Opening Cutscenes And Gameplay Tutorials With English Subtitles

by Kuro Matsuri

Kingdom Hearts Opening Scenes

This is a series of videos detailing, in English, how to play the game Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep. It also shows the opening cutscenes, again translated to English, so that the early parts of the story can be understood by English speakers. I hope you like it.


Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5

18th Feb2010

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Review

Welcome to the Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Review by Kuro Matsuri Video Games. There’s a small change from the last review this time around. From now on, games on Kuro Matsuri Video Games will be reviewed based on 7 categories; graphics, music or sound, gameplay, growth system or customization, pacing, continuing playability or replayability, and story, though not necessarily in that order. If a particular genre of game doesn’t have one of these elements, something else will be chosen to maintain the total number of 7 categories. Each category gets rated from 0 to 10 with one decimal place. The percentage is then directly calculated from these scores, again, to one decimal place. Also, one final note, the story section will never have any spoilers in it. And, of course, there will always be a separate score for how import friendly a game is. Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, it’s time for the actual review!

Graphics

Considering that this is on a handheld console, there are very few faults to be found in the graphics. In many ways, the graphics in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep was practically equal to the graphical quality of the PS2 entries in the series. In fact, it felt as though I was playing a PS2 game visually. The textures were as sharp as they can be given the lower resolution of the console. However, while very few scenes looked at all awkward, there are a small handful of cutscenes in which a polygon or two seems out of place, usually in the shoulder area of one of the characters. Aqua seemed to have this problem most often, but even then, it was 2, maybe 3 times throughout the entire game. This seemed to be the only flaw in the graphics throughout the entire game.

Graphics Score: 9.6

Music

The quality of the music is superb. Everything sounds crisp and clear, especially through headphones. Even the footsteps of the characters seem to have real presence auditorially. Most of the levels have new music, and most of it is pleasing to the ears. You may personally dislike the music for a world or two, but it is all high quality. However, some points are lost for the lack of originality. The opening theme song is the exact same song as the first Kingdom Hearts. A couple other worlds, namely Olympus Coliseum and Radiant Gardens, have recycled music as well. It makes more sense in those cases since the feel of the world should be consistent between games, but a noticeable tweaking of the music would be more appreciated.

Music Score: 9.3

Story

Much as the rest of Birth By Sleep, the story is of high quality. There are enough twists and turns to keep you interested, especially since it was split into the individual viewpoints of three individuals instead of a straight story from the perspective of one person or one group. This allowed for several “Aha!” moments throughout the story, which made the story very enjoyable. The normal endings for each of the three characters have their own revelations, making it well worth playing through all three characters. There is no real preferred order of playing through them, either. Any order is good. However, it should be noted that Terra’s story has the biggest revelation between the three of them, so depending on your personality, you might want to play him either first or last.

The biggest revelations for the entire story, however, are found in the secret ending, which is actually playable this time around (as opposed to being just a video). It is well worth the time and effort to unlock the secret ending. Unlocking the secret ending takes more work if you play on an easier setting, and is actually impossible to unlock on the easiest setting, so you may want to take that into account when you pick your difficulty level.

All in all, the story entertains and keeps you engaged in the game. As a standalone game, the story is not that complex. However, when tied to aspects of the other games, the story feels very grand and expansive. This is both good and bad. This means that those who haven’t played the other games won’t be overwhelmed by the story in this one, and those that have are really treated. However, it also means that the story in this particular game isn’t as strong as other entries in the series, which have been known to be fairly grand and expansive all on their own.

Story Score: 9.5

Gameplay

This is undoubtedly the highlight of the game. The gameplay is fast, fun, and addictive. It is very reminiscent of the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts II, but with some key (and enjoyable) differences. You equip special attacks called “Deck Commands” that you pick up and create throughout the game. Pressing up and down on the D-pad changes the selected Deck Command, and pressing triangle performs that command. Since you control which commands are equipped, you can change how you fight. Circle does normal attacks and opens chests and the like when applicable. X jumps, and square performs moves like Dodge or Guard. It is extremely easy system to use, and it keeps the fights fresh and exciting all the way through the game.

There are two more aspects to the gameplay, however. The first is “Finishers”. There is a special “Command Gauge” that fills when you successfully hit an opponent. When it fills all the way up, the next attack you perform by hitting circle will be a powerful Finisher attack. The last aspect is “Command Styles”. If you get that Command Gauge to full by using the right Deck Commands, you will change Styles. This is where the fighting can get really exciting. Each character has Styles and Finishers that only they can perform. Ven, for example, is the only one that can use the Command Style “Wing Blade”, as seen below:

Aqua has a unique Style that she can call her own as well. It goes by the name of Ghost Drive:

This system is fast, easy, fun, exciting, and is always changing. It’s hard to ask for much more from an action RPG.

But, there is one MORE aspect to the gameplay. It doesn’t involve the fighting at all. In fact, it’s completely optional, which is good, because it tends to be a little on the boring side. It’s called the Command Board. Rather than explain the entire thing here, I have a translated video for you to watch. This will serve two purposes, one is showing you the minigame, the other is to show you how boring it is when compared to the much more exciting fighting gameplay. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s actually boring, just boring by comparison… well, just watch:

Since it’s an optional part of the gameplay, it can’t hurt the score much. However, since this part isn’t perfectly fun, and you are heavily encouraged throughout the game to try it, it keeps this game (just barely) from reaching a perfect score in this category.

Gameplay Score: 9.9

Growth System

This growth system is unlike any other I have seen in many ways, and exactly like others I have seen in many ways. First, the traditional experience to gain levels is in full effect here. Your character gains experience every time he or she kills an Unversed, and enough experience gains that character a level, which increases a series of stats by a predetermined amount based on the level and the character. Very straightforward. However, there is a whole different layer to it. Your individual moves (Deck Commands) can be leveled as well. Yes, they simply gain experience when you defeat an enemy as long as the Deck Command is currently equipped, and a certain amount of experience levels them. But, you can then combine the leveled Deck Commands into entirely new Deck Commands. The result is that you are constantly upgrading your moveset in unique and interesting ways. This is especially good for a handheld, because you can play for 10 or 15 minutes and make significant progress in your growth by leveling a Deck Command in that amount of time (or several, if you’re lucky). You can even level up your Deck Commands, as well as get new ones, by playing the Command Board minigame.

That’s not the only benefit of leveling your Deck Commands, though. When you combine Deck Commands, you have the option of using a special item that will attach an ability to the newly created Deck Command like Combo Up, which increases your max combo for normal attacks, Fire Up, which increases how much damage your fire based attacks do, or Leaf Veil, which makes it so that you can’t be hit in the middle of a Cure. If you then level this new Deck Command to it’s highest level (anywhere from 3 to 5, depending on the command), you can then continue to use that ability without equipping that command. This gives you a lot of reasons to experiment.

And then there’s the icing on the cake. Your Finishers can also be improved. When you have one Finisher equipped, other Finishers, based on a hierarchical Finisher tree, will gain experience from specific actions (usually involving performing Finishers). If you fill up a Finisher’s experience points, that Finisher is unlocked, giving you even more options in battle.

The only flaw in this growth system is that it’s a lot to keep track of. There will be times when you spend 5 or 10 minutes just combining and equipping different Deck Commands to see what you can get, and that process can start to get cumbersome. In the end, though, it is all worth it.

Growth System Score: 9.7

Pacing

The pacing in this game is excellent (you might see a theme here by now). The story moves along at a brisk (but not rushed) pace. You consistently feel like your making progress in the growth system. There’s really not much to fault here. With each character taking between 10 and 15 hours to beat, depending on how much you rush yourself, there never seems to be a completely dull moment. There’s even a good amount of exploration going on, even though it’s all a little faked. The story progression is almost completely linear, and you must “go here” and “do that” to progress through the story, but you don’t always have to do it right away. There are occasionally branching paths (that go out for more than just a few feet) that will allow you to explore. And since they game gives you a pat on the back for finding all of the treasures in the game, there is some incentive to explore as well.

The pacing only feels like it starts to fall apart after you’ve played all the way through with 2 of the characters, and you’re playing through with the third. Since you’ll likely know the Disney stories, and you’ve seen two thirds of those stories in the game already, you’ll be able to guess fairly well what happens with the last character, and it can make the progression feel a little more sluggish. The game counters this by having a number of smaller revelations throughout the game, which helps keep your mind occupied on things like “oh, so while he was there, she was there!” or “so that’s why she said he did that!”. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting pretty close to it.

One other problem that effects the pacing is the loading times. They are rather long (as you can probably see in the opening video on this page). They are not so long that they destroy the game… IF you do a full install. It cuts down the load times a lot, and it is worth it.

Pacing Score: 9.6

Continuing Playability

Is there a reason to continue playing after you’ve beaten the game with all three characters? Yes. To unlock and beat the secret ending, and unlock the final secret video. Depending on the difficulty level you chose and how thorough you were in playing through the game, this could lead to a 50% increase in total gameplay time by itself… or it could be done in a couple of hours. Once you’ve done this, there’s little incentive to go back and continue playing unless you really are just one of those people that has to really complete a game to be satisfied. The unfortunate thing is, completing absolutely everything in the game does nothing more than put a little stamp in your journal under each category to signify that you’ve done everything. The one redeeming factor is that there is a secret boss to beat, and a rather hard one at that. For many people, a real challenge (instead of “collect everything”) is a much better reason to keep playing. This secret boss does give that challenge, and it will take you a significant amount of time to become powerful enough to beat this boss. So, there are little things here and there to keep you playing after the ending(s), but nothing truly extraordinary.

Continuing Playability Score: 8.7

Review Summary:

Graphics Score: 9.6

Music Score: 9.3

Story Score: 9.5

Gameplay Score: 9.9

Growth System Score: 9.7

Pacing Score: 9.6

Continuing Playability Score: 8.7

Total Review Score: 66.3/70 = 94.7%

Import Friendly?

Since it’s on the PSP, which has no region protection, playing it is not a problem. There is a slight glitch when playing the Japanese version on an American PSP, though. When you’re playing the game normally, it swaps circle and X because that’s just the way Japanese games are. However, when you access the Save or Load menus, it swaps them back. That is, unless you’ve pressed the PS/Home button at any time since you started playing the game. It’s a minor problem, and easy to work around once you know what’s going on, but it can and will cause some confusion if you’re not aware of it ahead of time. As for the story and gameplay, everything is in heavy Japanese. You won’t be able to understand the story without having at least an intermediate level understanding of Japanese. However, for simply playing the game and understanding the Deck Commands and such, you should be able to get by if you only know katakana. If you’re in it for the gameplay, which is the best part anyway, you can learn katakana in just a couple days if you have the will to. In which case, you should Buy Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep at Play-Asia, especially since the game doesn’t yet have a release date for the US yet. However, if what you really want is the story, you might have to keep waiting. That is, of course, unless you know Japanese.

Import Friendly Score: 6.0/10

I hope you enjoyed this Birth By Sleep Review. What do you think? I would be glad to find out. So, please feel free to leave a comment if you would like to say anything, or if you have any questions!

26th Jan2010

Final Fantasy XIII Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Final Fantasy XIII Logo

Welcome to the Kuro Matsuri Video Game review of Final Fantasy XIII. Since this is our first review, let me start by presenting the format of our reviews (you can skip to the first category under this paragraph if you don’t care). First, we select a number of dimensions that are highly relevant to the genre and/or specific game we are reviewing. Then, we rate each one on a 0 to 10 scale, decimals allowed. We sum the scores up and divide it by the total possible in order to give the final score for the game, which will be in terms of percentage (100% being an absolutely perfect game in our eyes). Then, since we review Japanese games for American and European audiences, every one of our reviews includes a part at the end about how “import friendly” the game is. This rating is based on two things, how easy or hard it is for a person with the American or European version of the console to be able to play the game (e.g., can they just put it in and play it, or will they have to modify the console, or even get a new Japanese one?), and how easy or hard is it for someone with little to know Japanese knowledge to play and enjoy the game. This, too, is on a 1 to 10 scale. Alright, here we go. We’ll start with graphics.



Graphics

The graphics are outright impressive, especially when viewed in full 1080p. Most everything looks crisp and pretty. However, it certainly isn’t flawless. Some of the characters’ hair appears to have an odd filter over it, making it appear almost pixelated. Lightning’s hair seems to be have the worst case of it, while Sazh’s hair doesn’t seem to do this at all. Apparently, afros are the way to get around this problem. Ironically, whenever the characters are in motion, this filter makes the hair look very realistic. But, whenever they are standing still, it makes the hair look out of place when compared to the rest of the game. That is, until you get used to it. By the end of the game, it probably won’t bother you anymore. There were also a few cases of lower resolution textures here and there throughout the game, but really not too many. Considering the length of the game, the detail presented through the entire game is certainly something worth admiring.

Graphics Score: 9.5/10


Story

(NO SPOILERS) Full of twists and turns, the story in this game is what you have come to expect from a Final Fantasy game. It might not become one of your favorite stories, but it will not disappoint. It has several sub-plots that emerge as the game progresses, none of which feel pointless. You will have to struggle with whether your group is doing the right thing or the wrong thing, and you later find out for sure which one it is. After Final Fantasy XII, I was worried that the ending might disappoint us much as FFXII’s ending had. I was happy to discover the opposite. The ending was pleasant, but not too pleasant (perfect happy endings are kinda boring), and had everything to do with the characters we had grown attached to through the game. There is no question in my mind that the story is the highlight of the game. That being said, there are sections of the story that wear on a little too long, and some of the twists and turns are very easy to see coming. That’s why FFXIII didn’t get a perfect 10/10 for its story.

Story Score: 9.8/10


Battle Gameplay

In any Final Fantasy game, how the battles are played is something to be considered separately from the rest of the gameplay. In order to complete the game, you’ll have to play through hundreds, if not thousands, of battles. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is fun, but flawed. First, I’ll explain the basics of the battle system. There is no MP, all actions cost one or more sections of your ATB (Active Time Battle) bar. As such, there’s no way to use magic outside of battle, so you’re always automatically healed to full after every battle. You either select your actions manually or use the “attack” button to allow the game to pick the best options based on the enemy you are selecting and the optima you are in (optima will be known as paradigm in the English version). There is a “break” system (known as “stagger” in English) that increases the amount of damage that your attacks do. Every time you hit an enemy, their break percentage increases. This percentage represents how much of your base damage you do to this opponent. So, if the break meter says 500%, you do 5 times your normal damage. If the break bar fills up, the break percentage automatically increases by 100%. Furthermore, when an enemy is in break mode, some of them won’t be able to attack back, and some of them can be knocked into the air and juggled. This is crucial to doing well in battle, as shown below:

In fact, for the Behemoth, if you don’t manage to get them to break before they are half dead, they will transform and become even harder to kill, as shown below:

However, if you do manage to get them to break, they become MUCH easier:

You may have noticed in the above videos that you are given a ranking for how well you did in the fight. The rankings go from 0 to 5 stars, and it’s based solely on how quickly you beat the enemies. The time restrictions get smaller as you get stronger because it attempts to be an accurate judge of how well you did a particular fight. On average it’s a good indicator, but there is one problem. The required time can be manipulated by reducing your max stat. If you have medium high physical attack and magic attack instead of really high physical attack and low magic attack, the time required for a 5 star rating is increased. Which means that there is a reason not to max out one role versus another, and instead it is indirectly encouraging keeping each individual character very balanced as opposed to a balanced team of characters that are each really strong in their own areas. This aspect was a bad move. A battle rating system shouldn’t be able to be manipulated like that.

But the real flaw is that you can only control one character, and you can’t switch which character mid-battle. Furthermore, the best you can do to control the other two characters is to give them a role to play. Basically, you can give one character the general role of “Attacker” (“Commando” in English), and they will use the abilities that come with that role as they please. Same with “Healer” (“Medic”), “Enhancer” (“Synergist”) and the other 3 roles. How the other characters utilize these roles is completely up to the AI, and you have no control over it. The only saving grace is that you can change characters’ roles mid-fight, but you can’t just change one character’s role. You have to pick one of the 6 3 role combinations you made before you entered the fight, meaning you have to change everybody’s role at once, though it is possible to “change” someone’s role to the same role in the process. Just to make matters worse, if the leader of the party dies (the leader is the one you are actually controlling), it’s an immediate game over. This can be particularly frustrating when the leader is low on health, but another character is slightly lower on health, so the AI heals that one first even when the leader is clearly the target of the next attack, resulting in a game over. Granted, that scenario doesn’t happen all that often, but it did happen several times while playing through the game.

Another thing to note is that there is no evasion or accuracy stat. All attacks hit or miss based on straight hit detection. Some enemies move around a lot, and you’ll miss them more often. Other enemies hardly move at all, and you’ll essentially never miss them. That’s all well and good, but that means that there is no way to increase how well you dodge, or how well you aim. Ever. Though, to be honest, I’m overall happy with this aspect. It kinda makes sense when you play it. Except for ONE enemy. The Behemoth. If you break a Behemoth after it has transformed and then knock it into the air, if no one else hits it to force it to reset it’s floating animation, you WILL miss the next 2 hits. The enemy is supposed to be completely helpless and open to attacks, and you automatically miss twice. This is a horrible flaw that, thankfully, only seems to effect one fight, but it is glaringly awful.

Battle Gameplay Score: 7.5/10


Leveling System

The leveling system (called the Crystarium or Crystalium) is always a major part of any Final Fantasy game. As such, it’s a category that simply can’t be ignored in a Final Fantasy review! The leveling system in FFXIII is very reminiscent of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, with a few major differences. One difference is that the characters never become essentially the same. Yes, every character can eventually get to the highest level of every role, but certain characters will never be as good as other characters at a particular role. For example, Lighting is one of the best Attackers in the game, and Hope or Vanille just simply can’t get as good at the role. But, they can be better Blasters than Lightning can. Also, every character has their own special attack that they can use as many times as they want in battle that the other characters can never learn. On the other hand, every role tree is very linear. You’ll rarely go more than 4 slots out from the main path, and never go more than 5 or 6. You also don’t really have a location in the tree, unlike the sphere grid, so you never actually backtrack. As such, there’s less planning involved with leveling. However, there is still some planning in the sense that you need to choose which jobs to prioritize enhancements for, and then you need to match that planning up with the way you’re leveling the weapons and accessories. Yes, you level up your weapons and accessories.

So, how do you level up weapons and accessories? Well, you obtain items that can be spent to increase the experience points of a weapon/accessory. Some items will give the weapon or accessory a multiplier that increases future experience point earnings for that weapon or accessory, while others will give huge boosts but reduce that multiplier. Once you get the weapon/accessory to a high enough level, you can use items with the effect “item change” to change the weapon or accessory to a lower level of a higher tier item. Meaning that you can really invest a lot into a weapon and make it very powerful.

So, with careful management, but without the pain of true micro-managing, the leveling system becomes very enjoyable. It is one of the better (though it’s hard to call it the best) leveling systems in the Final Fantasy franchise.

Leveling System Score: 9.1/10


Pacing And Exploration

This is where much of the buzz on the internet has been coming into play. The pacing of the game is very controlled by being very linear, with the exception of one large, open area that is around 2/3 of the way through the game. I consider this to be both good and bad. On one hand, there are no side quests until you reach the larger, more open area (which I didn’t do until just over 30 hours into the game), so there is no reason to spend extra time in any area unless you plan to run back and forth in a straight line just to kill more enemies for experience. On the other hand, there’s no need to really do that. If you kill every enemy you see and level up wisely, it won’t be impossible by any stretch to beat all the bosses that come up through the game. But, everything changes once you reach the plains-like area. Once you’re there, it would be wise to do many of the missions (though not all of them as some of them are ridiculously hard until you reach much higher stats) so that you can get strong enough to avoid lots of difficulties after you leave the area.

Except that, despite what I just said, not everything changes. Once you’re done with the big open area (which you can return to), the path goes right back to being incredibly linear with almost no exploration whatsoever. I can comfortably say that this is the most linear main Final Fantasy title to date. This doesn’t bother me too much, as before this, FFX was in my top 3 or 4 list of FF titles, and it used to be the most linear of the Final Fantasy games. But exploration is definitely limited, which hurts the score of this category. And a few things simply took too long before they were available. I couldn’t choose my party members at all until just over 25 hours in, for example. There is definitely room for improvement here.

Pacing And Exploration Score: 8.5/10


Continuing Playability

What I mean by continuing playability is this: is there any reason for me to continue playing the game after I’ve finished the story? This is a little different from replay value in that I’m not referring to starting the game over, but rather whether or not you will want to continue to improve your characters and completing optional content once the final boss has beaten. The answer: yes, you will. The last tier of the Crystarium is not unlocked until you’ve beaten the final boss. This sounds odd, but it keeps the final boss from being too easy the first time you fight him, which I feel is a good thing. This last tier gives HUGE boosts to stats. Beyond that, there are 64 optional missions, some of them more difficult than others, and some of them more fun than others. The Jumbo Cactuar (or Sabotender as they are known in the Japanese Final Fantasy games) is an amusing fight that makes you feel rather accomplished once you manage to beat him. About that fight, let me say this. 10,000 Needles is painful.

Even if you beat all of the missions, there are trophies and secret wallpapers to unlock by collecting all the items in the game or beating all of the missions with a 5 star rating. All of this is more than enough to extend the play time to over 100 hours, which is very respectable for a good Final Fantasy. However, there isn’t much else that you can do. No mini-games or other amusing distractions. Thus, a perfect score just can’t quite be justified.

Continuing Playability Score: 9.5/10


Summary:

Graphics Score: 9.5/10

Story Score: 9.8/10

Battle Gameplay Score: 7.5/10

Leveling System Score: 9.1/10

Pacing And Exploration Score: 8.5/10

Continuing Playability Score: 9.5/10


Total Score: 53.9/60 = 89.8%



Import Friendly?

Since this game isn’t available in the US or other regions until March, the only way to play this game at the time of this posting is to A) be in the gaming industry or gaming journalism industry and get an advanced copy or B) import the game from Japan. The good news is that the PS3 version of the game (the only version available in Japan) is completely region free, as are all PS3 games. This means that if you have an American or European PS3, the game will play just fine in your system. This certainly lends it some “import friendliness”. But, since this is an RPG with an involved story, it has LOTS of Japanese text and voices. You will not understand the story and may even get confused as to what you’re supposed to do if you don’t understand a fair amount of Japanese. Can you still get through it and enjoy the gameplay without knowing Japanese? With some experimentation, sure. But you won’t get the story, which I’ve already said is the best part of this release. If you can understand Japanese, though, you should go ahead and Buy Final Fantasy XIII at Play-Asia (maybe even with the FFXIV beta application code, if you can still get a first print copy) especially since the English voice acting isn’t quite as good (minor complaint) and they changed the main theme song (bigger complaint) in the English version of the game. If you can’t understand Japanese, or can’t afford to import (it is more expensive), just wait a couple more months until the game comes out in your own region. It will be worth the wait, even with the unfortunate changes.

Import Friendly Score: 5.0/10

If you have any questions, complaints, hearty agreements, disagreements, rebuttals, etc., please comment below! It will be much appreciated! ^_^

16th Jan2010

Final Fantasy XIII Crystarium Level Up Gameplay Video

by Kuro Matsuri

Final Fantasy XIII Crystarium

This is a video that explains how the level up system in Final Fantay XIII works. This new leveling system, called the Crystarium, uses Crystarium points to travel from node to node. It is certainly reminiscent of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, but the individual characters stay more unique in how they level as compared to FFX. In FFX, everybody could learn every skill (except for a couple special ones) and activate every node on the board. In FFXIII, each person has their own Crystarium different from the others, and it limits how much that particular person can learn. That way, while everybody can still learn just about everything, it’s more difficult for some to learn certain abilities than others, and every character has their individual weaknesses and strengths. You must learn them and utilize them properly to really do well at the game.

So, watch the gameplay video, and learn how to level up in Final Fantasy XIII!

Don’t forget to let me know what you think, ask questions, are tell me what else you would like to see in the comments below!

Have fun playing!

-Kuro Matsuri

11th Jan2010

How To Import for the PlayStation 1

by Kuro Matsuri

Japanese PlayStation 1 Box

Updated March 23, 2013. For the other Sony home consoles, try How to Import for the PlayStation 2 and How to Import for the PlayStation 3.

The original PlayStation is, unfortunately, completely region locked.  By design, a US PS1 cannot play Japanese games.  As a result, importing for the original PlayStation is pretty tricky business, at least if you want to play the imports on an original US console. We’ll start off with the most reliable method, buying a Japanese PS1.

Option 1: Purchase a Japanese PlayStation

Unfortunately, even going the straightforward route and buying a console is tricky due to the age of the console. At the time this guide is being written, Play-Asia, the usual go-to import vendor, doesn’t have any in stock. You can always try an eBay search for a Japanese PlayStation, which will most likely be the cheapest route, but you never know if you’ll get one in good condition or even if there will be one in stock. Lately, the most consistent source to buy a Japanese original PlayStation is on Amazon.

Option 2: Action Replay or Similar Cheat Devices

This option is limited to PlayStation consoles that have the Parallel I/O port, because the cheat device has to be separate from the disc tray. To see if you have one, look on the back of your PlayStation, on the far left. It looks like this when covered:

PlayStation 1 Parellel IO Port Closed

And like this when opened:

PlayStation 1 Parallel IO Port Open

Depending on the cheat device, you also might need to stick something in the lid sensor (the little switch that tells the system whether or not the disc lid is closed) so that it thinks that the lid is always closed.

At this time, the best option I could find is this Power Reply Game Enhancer sold through Amazon, which has a couple of reviews that confirm that it works for backups. In general, if a solution lets you play backups, it will usually let you play imports too, even if it means that you have to create a backup of your import in order to do it (though, usually, you don’t even need to do that).

This method isn’t 100% reliable, but it’s easy to use and works on most of the original PlayStation consoles. It will not work on the later PS One, though.

Option 3: Raw Disc Swap Method

In this method, the only modification required is jamming the lid sensor so that the system thinks the lid is always closed. Unfortunately, it only works on the oldest consoles, so it’s unlikely to work on a random console you happen to have or happen to pick up. However, it’s practically free to attempt it, so it’s very low cost. Here’s the method:

  • Insert an original and local PlayStation disc
  • Turn on the system, leave the tray open
  • Listen carefully to the disc motor – it will start off “slow” at 1x
  • When the disc motor speeds up to 2x, quickly swap it to the disc you want to play
  • The system should then show the black PS screen – if it didn’t, start over
  • It will slow down to 1x, wait longer
  • It will speed up to 2x, wait longer
  • It will slow down again to 1x, swap the disc out for the original and local PlayStation disc
  • It will speed up to 2x once more, swap it back to the disc you want to play
  • If everything was done correctly, AND your console is one that is old enough, it should play the game normally from there. This should also work for backups. At this point, you can close the lid.

On top of being compatible with only a few consoles, there is also the small chance that you can accidentally damage the disc motor during the swaps. Compared to modern consoles, the disc motor spins much slower, so there’s only a low chance of damaging it, but it is a chance you have to be willing to take in order to attempt this method.

Option 4: Install a Mod Chip

If installed correctly, this method becomes very convenient. You will have one console that plays both Japanese and American games just by putting them in, and the mod chip handles it from there. However, installing a mod chip requires some soldering. The original PlayStation is one of the easiest mod chips to install, but you still have to be brave enough to open up your console and try to attach some wires to the motherboard.

If you’re willing to try this method, this guide is below your level. I recommend researching the different mod chip options out there, as well as looking up some guides with images for where to attach the mod chip. Or, alternatively, you could look for a second-hand pre-modded PlayStation on eBay.

Option 5: Acquire an Import-Enabled PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3

All PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 consoles can play PS1 games, so you can generally play import PS1 games. The only exception is games that have “expansion discs” that require swapping, because the PS2 and PS3 behaves differently when you open it, messing with the process. There are very few games like that, though, so it generally won’t be a problem. The Beatmania Append games come to mind, but outside of those, it should be fine. To find out how to get an import-enabled PS2 or PS3, take a look at How to Import for the PlayStation 2 or How to Import for the PlayStation 3.

Where to Get Games

Play-Asia is generally my go-to source for import games, and they do have a decent selection of Japanese PS1 games still available, though most are Ultimate Hits or Legendary Hits versions. They are well-priced, though, particularly compared to most of the Japanese PS1 games available through Amazon sellers. If you’re worried about whether or not Play-Asia is reputable, you can check out the Play-Asia review as well. And, as always, you can always search eBay for some Japanese PS1 games, which is often quite the mixed bag of random selection and random prices.

Interesting Game Highlights

Of course, the Final Fantasy series is a favorite on the original PlayStation, but let’s focus on games that are only available in Japan. Pepsiman is one of the most bizarre and interesting ones, featuring the character from the Japan-only Pepsi commercials, and here’s a quick video of it:

As you can see, it plays a lot like Temple Run, but from a long time before Temple Run ever existed. It’s definitely a great collector’s item. At this time, you can find it on Amazon for around $60-70 used, or for way too much new. ebay seems to have them for around $80 right now.

For a music game experience from way before Guitar Hero, you could check out the Beatmania series, several versions of which are currently available from Amazon and eBay. Just keep in mind that you have to have the original Beatmania first before you can play any of the Append versions, because they actually operate as a swap disc, which also means that only some of the methods listed here will work.

Beatmania DJ Station PRO Controller

Also, for the best experience, you’ll want to pick up the special controller, the best version of which is called the “Beatmania DJ Station PRO Controller” (pictured above), and is currently only available from eBay, and there’s only one left right now.

Enjoy your PlayStation imports!

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Disclaimer: use any of these methods at your own risk. Some of them can damage your console.

Endorsement Policy: while some of the links in this post are affiliate links, others are not, and we strive to provide the best options out there, regardless of affiliate status.

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