Ni No Kuni: Started Playing the Game

Nov 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last week, I finished the Ni No Kuni DS manual; I’m planning to spend some time going through the book as well, but in the mean time I figured that it was high time for me to start playing the game. Which I did on Saturday!

And my initial reaction on seeing the opening cut scene: wow, there is absolutely no question that Studio Ghibli is involved in this. Their stamp is strongest so far in the cut scenes, but even in the regular game you can see it in the character design.

And you can see Ghibli in the plot: centered on the kids, parents are shoved to the side and need to be rescued. In a particularly bad way this time: the mom is present at the start of the game but has a heart attack or something soon after saving Oliver from drowning, and dies. Oliver will probably be able to save her by defeating the bad guy, but still: really, was that necessary?

And there’s Ghibli in the world building, too: I haven’t yet seen the second world of the game’s title, but the first world has a traditional Ghibli slightly archaic setting, with a whiff of steampunk/machinery focus in it.

As to the language barrier: quite manageable. The cut scenes go by faster than I’m comfortable with, but I can pick up enough to not be completely lost. And when I’m talking to characters outside of cut scenes, I can take all the time I want to look up words. (Which, fortunately, I don’t need to do very often, maybe once per dialogue screen on average?)

The DS’s screen resolution is pretty bad: kanji is legible but could definitely use more pixels, and while there turns out to be barely enough resolution for furigana, those look even less like they’re supposed to. Fortunately, those two inadequate representations cover up each other’s flaws, and there are only so many furigana syllables that I’ll have to get used to, so that’s fine.

The one exception to the language barrier is Shizuku. (The spirit from the second world that is guiding you: he was banished to the first world and turned into a stuffed animal, which Oliver re-animates after crying on him for three days in a row.) Shizuku was rather a surprise: I’d expected Shizuku to be female and gentle (in retrospect, confusing the name with Shizuka), but in fact he’s male and pleasantly gruff. (And perhaps a bit egotistical, unless I’m misunderstanding the implication of his using -sama to refer to himself?)

And his speech patterns are quite unusual: he speaks with an accent, and I’m fairly sure that there are word forms that are from a non-Tokyo dialect as well. I can usually figure out what he’s saying, but not always. If I knew Japanese better, I imagine I could identify what region (or time period?) the dialect is from; as is, it’s half a curiosity, half an annoyance.

I’m a little more than an hour into the game, though much of the time has been spent looking things up in dictionaries: I imagine it would be more like half an hour if I were playing at a normal rate. And I haven’t gotten to where I make any actual gameplay choices. (Incidentally, I was thrown for a loop in the conversation with Shizuku: you’re given choices a few times, but I’m fairly sure that, in all instances, both your choices are different ways of saying the same thing!) Though it will start looking a lot more like an RPG soon, I think: I just got introduced to an RPG-ish menu, and both Oliver and Shizuku showed up on a character screen with hit point and magic point bars.

An auspicious first session of the game, I’m definitely looking forward to playing more of it. In fact, I’m looking forward to that enough that I imagine I’ll start playing mid-week, like I normally do with games, instead of reserving it for my weekend Japanese study times.

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Ni No Kuni: Finished the Manual

Nov 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This week’s Ni No Kuni excitement: I finished the manual! The regular DS manual, as opposed to the “Magic Master” book; though, as it turns out, the first part of the manual that I read this weekend was explaining how to use that book. It went through each of the sections of the book: one on drawing runes, one on crafting items, one on equipment, one on consumables, one on Imagines, one on legends and stories, and one about the various lands in the game. They also pointed out some of the secrets lurking in the book, places where there are extra notes written in an alternate alphabet.

After that, I skimmed the rest of the manual: there was a bit about what to do if you’ve lost your Magic Master, descriptions of the various options for network play, and capsule biographies of various people who worked on the game, from both Ghibli and Level 5. None of which seemed interesting enough for me to want to spend time reading it right now; though I did note that Joe Hisaishi was included in the capsule biographies, so I’m now actively looking forward to the music in the game.

This means that I don’t have much of an excuse to avoid playing the game now! So I’ll definitely start next weekend; though I may also read through some of the Magic Master in parallel. The latter is clearly largely a reference book rather than something designed to be read cover-to-cover; but there are some narrative bits (e.g. the “legends and stories” chapter), and I also want to be comfortable using it as a reference book as necessary. So I imagine that I’ll spend time working on both fronts over the next few weeks, but clearly I should stop messing around and start actually playing.

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Ni No Kuni: Halfway through the Manual

Oct 24 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I’ve made it more than halfway through the manual now, 37 pages out of 65. (And a lot of the stuff at the end is credits, so I’m not too worried about that.) The first part of what I read today was talking about the combat system; seems like fairly standard turn-based RPG combat, with some amount of physical positioning based on a 3×3 grid for your party members.

After that, the manual talked about イマージェン, which seems to be a transliteration of “imagine”? These seem to be sorts of monsters that you capture and control; there are 14 broad types of them (or maybe 22, I’m not sure about a distinction there), and you can also raise them to increase their powers. So, basically, it seems to me like there’s some sort of Pokemon system going on here.

I haven’t gone back and reread earlier information in light of this. I don’t think combat is only done using these “imagine” guys, and I do think you can have human party members. But I could easily be wrong (especially about the former); maybe the Imagines are used for your attacks, maybe you can mix them into your party, maybe something else? This will doubtless all become completely clear once I start actually playing the game.

It looks like the book contains lots of information about it: chapter 5 (pp. 145–264) is all about Imagines. I’m not planning to look at that in depth yet, but good to know the information is there if I want to dive into that aspect of the game.

Incidentally, I put unboxing photos on my main blog, if you haven’t seen that already.

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Ni No Kuni: Starting the Manual

Oct 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

When Level 5 announced that the PS3 version of 二ノ国 (Ni No Kuni) was going to be released in the US, they conspicuously avoided mentioning the DS version. Which I have lusted after ever since it was released (Ghibli! That book!), so I figure: if I’m going to play it, I may have to play the Japanese version. And there’s a decent chance that my Japanese is now good enough to do that, and in fact that playing through the game would be actively helpful for my learning, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The game arrived on Friday; I’ll eventually put unboxing photos on my main blog. (It turns out that the book is even more gorgeous than I expected: really, it’s almost worth it even if you can’t read any Japanese.) But I’m planning to put a diary of my experiences playing through it on this blog, in case anybody else is curious about the game. I’ll tag them all with “ni no kuni“, so you can avoid my endless Rock Band puffery should you prefer.

Rather than actually start the game this week, though, I started reading through the manual. (The regular manual of a sort that comes with any DS game, not the special book.) Partly because, well, that’s the sort of person that I am, but also partly so I could get a feel for the difficulty of the game, maybe get introduced to some of the vocabulary that I’ll need? I made it through 17 pages of the manual this weekend, which I’m actually rather proud of; though, given that the manual is 65 pages long, I would seem to have at least two weeks of manual reading ahead of me. (Nothing but the best, most vibrant blog content for you, my readers, I assure you! Though I may actually start playing the game before I finish the manual.)

It turns out that the manual is written at a level that I can deal with pretty well. There were a fair number of words that I didn’t know, but it also wasn’t a surprise for me to make it through a sentence without having to look up any words, and several of the new words were repeated multiple times. They put furigana readings over all of the kanji, so that helped when I had to look up words; though I’ve memorized enough kanji that almost all of the individual characters were familiar even in compounds that I didn’t know, so I wouldn’t have been completely at sea without the furigana. (Just as well, I assume the screen resolution won’t allow furigana in the game? Though for all I know the game will largely avoid kanji as well.)

The manual starts out by introducing the story. You play a boy named Oliver, living in a city called Hotroit. His mother died recently; and he was visited by a fairy named Shizuku who comes from 二の国. (Which means “second country”, the first country being the normal world where Hotroit is located.) That country is beset by a dark wizard named Jabo, and apparently Oliver can save the country from Jabo, and Oliver’s mother will be restored to life. So: not the best plot in the world; then again, I could describe Spirited Away in a not-too dissimilar fashion, and that’s an amazing movie, so I will remain optimistic.

You apparently will have sidekicks Maru and Gyro; Maru likes to sing, I think Gyro is a thief, but I could be wrong. (And Oliver likes machinery and cars? That makes sense with his Hotroit origins, which is labeled as “The Motor City” in one of the pictures.) There are also pictures of the rulers of some of the kingdoms in 二の国.

After that, it transitions into “how to use your DS” stuff: put the cartridge in the slot, select the appropriate place in the start menu, etc. And an introduction to all the buttons, including their use in menus, in fields, and in battles. Looks like we’ll have standard cities / dungeons / overworlds, there’s a “bag menu” referred to several times that seems like your general inventory screen, and also a separate menu for magic? And I’ll be drawing runes on the lower screen at various times, I guess. Seems like pretty standard RPG stuff; I should learn more about those menus and about the combat system next week.

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Rock Band Status: October 2, 2011

Oct 02 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I spent a decent amount of time in the middle of the week playing through music outside of Rock Band. On the guitar, I continue to try to learn 風の丘, and that continues to be like pulling teeth. But I am doing a slightly better idea at seeing the chords in the piece; I’m also using it as an excuse to learn how to play an E minor scale on the guitar, though that’s not well enough ingrained to have any effect on my playing of the piece yet. And I’ve been playing piano some, mostly the first five parts of Pictures at an Exhibition. Which, it turns out, Miranda rather likes; I’m toying with the idea of trying to learn more of the piece, not sure which way that will go yet.

On Saturday, I decided to go through some of the Yes DLC on Rock Band. I got side-tracked, though, because when I sorted the keyboard songs by artist, the first artist was A-Ha, and I decided to go through Take On Me first. Which turned out to be super fun, albeit slightly frustrating: catchy tune to play on keys, and there’s no individual note in it that I should miss, so why can’t I get five stars on it? I don’t know, and I tried over and over again, but failed; grr, except I had enough fun in the process that I didn’t really mind.

After doing that for most of an hour, I decided to switch over to vocals; also super fun, and it turns out that the top note in the song (which shows up several times) is also the top note in my vocal range. Which, honestly, made me glad nobody else was in the house at the time—to hit it, I really had to belt out the note, and while I was in tune, my timbre was less than wonderful. Still, a nice exercise in stretching my range, I should return to the song and practice it some more. In fact, it turns out that the bottom notes in the song are either right at or right below the bottom of my vocal range, so it’s great for stretching in both directions!

After that, I did move over to Yes, going through I’ve Seen All Good People. Which was also extremely entertaining, on both keys and singing. I did rather better on the keys that time, not making nearly as many stupid mistakes; Liesl was home by then, so we did harmonies when it came time to sing, and I managed to hit harmonies beneath the lead several times, which I’m normally pretty bad at. Not sure if I’m getting better or if the increased separation between the vocal parts helped; I won’t complain either way.

Today was a guitar day. I’d had Modern Love running through my head constantly since last week, so I decided to make it my inaugural Pro Guitar upgrade purchase. And I’m happy with that decision: simple chords coming slowly enough to make the transitions fairly straightforward, but there’s definitely something satisfying in playing a fun piece that I should be able to do well on and actually doing well.

After that, I went back to the on-disc content, going through Viva La Resistance, The Look, Walk of Life, and One-Armed Scissor. All of which but the last I like quite a bit, and even the last one was interesting from a didactic point of view. As were several of the earlier ones: e.g. the repeated notes in Viva La Resistance were a useful thing for me to work on. (Great song that, too.) I played through all but the last of those songs (including Modern Love) plugged into the amp, and they actually all sounded pretty credible: nobody is going to confuse me with a serious rock guitarist yet (not by a long shot!), but at least I didn’t feel that I had to apologize to everybody in earshot for any of those four songs, as happens sometimes.

(The one weird thing about playing unmuted: I’m surprisingly bad at tuning guitars. You’d think that, given that I had a part-time job tuning harpsichords while I was in high school, that I’d be better at that? For whatever reason, though, I have a somewhat hard time hearing the beats when testing a plucked guitar string against the sound of a piano; maybe I’d do better if I plugged the guitar into the amp and skipped the piano?)

Very pleasant week musically; and I strongly suspect that this week’s earworm will be Take On Me, which I’m okay with. (Though I don’t like it as much as Modern Love; hmm, maybe I’ll try to convince my brain to obsess over Viva La Resistance instead?) I should be able to finish the Moderate songs this week; I still have at least a couple of months of Hard Pro Guitar ahead of me, but the end is visible in the hazy distance?

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Rock Band Status, September 25, 2011

Sep 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This week’s VGHVI game was Rock Band 3, with a Billy Joel focus. Four of us were there, and none of us were in the mood to play drums (I would have except for, you know, Billy Joel), so we had to split into two pairs; a real shame that the game doesn’t allow online Guitar + Bass + Keys groupings. I certainly enjoyed playing with Sarah Elmaleh (me on Pro Keys, her on Bass), though! Aside from the pleasure of playing through the music, I had my sights set on achieving score goals by playing through Captain Jack, since it contains a bunch of repetitive chords that it’s easy to get a good multiple on. And achieve score goals we did: we managed to get 1.39 million points, with just the two of us! (Sarah is obviously a quite credible bassist.) Makes me wonder how well we could score on that with a four-person band; I’d have to think 2 million at least, but probably noticeably more.

Eventually, Roger bowed out, and we’d made it through enough Billy Joel, so Jonathan came over to join our band and I switched to vocals. Which was also fun (I’m enjoying singing these days a lot more than I used to); my favorite bit there was that I got 100% for the first time on non-harmony vocals (I do harmonies most of the time), and the song in question was Blondie’s Heart of Glass. Yay for singing in falsetto!

I also spent a fair amount of time this week trying to memorize 風の丘 (from Kiki’s Delivery Service) on the guitar. Which is a lovely song, and I quite enjoy playing it, but it’s like pulling teeth. Enough so that I’ll probably write about it on my main blog, so I won’t go into details here.

On Saturday, Miranda and I went violin shopping: she’s moving up to a full-sized violin. Nice to have an excuse for me to play violin, so she could hear differences between instruments and bows when somebody other than her was playing; I’m a pretty mediocre violinist (though still much better than I am at guitar), but at least I’m good enough to be not completely useless as an example.

On Thursday, I realized that I’d somehow missed playing through three of the Billy Joel songs on Pro Keys; not sure how that happened, but I fixed that lapse on Saturday. Good stuff, as always. And then today I went through three more songs on Hard Pro Guitar; we’re definitely getting to a level where my lack of skills are showing. On two of the three pieces, I only managed two stars on my first playthrough (and this was after spending a good amount of time on training mode); while I got three stars on both eventually, I’m not reliably hitting the chord transitions, especially ones that mix barre and non-barre chords. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lot better at that than I was a few months ago, but there’s clearly room for improvement, and I imagine my progress will slow down further as songs get harder.

Despite my difficulties, those three songs were a lot of fun; I only stopped when I did because we needed to make dinner fairly soon and because each song takes quite a while to go through on training mode and then play it several times. But we had a little bit of time left, so Liesl and I went through five or six songs on Vocal Harmonies. Which was super fun: like I said above, I’m enjoying singing more and more these days, especially when singing with Liesl. My favorite song today was Modern Love, both because I really like it and because I can hit the harmonies pretty solidly on that; the other highlight was trying Expert difficulty and finding that we could actually do fine at that level. In fact, we got gold stars on one of the songs; I think Expert vocals must be easier in this iteration of the game than previous ones, though I’m sure the fact that we were both trying to sing the non-harmony bits helped as well.

Good times; I’m still not sure why I’ve been on a musical binge for most of the last month, but I’m not complaining at all.

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Rock Band Status, September 11, 2011

Sep 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This weekend was an interesting one: I was going through a manic bit, and it expressed itself by making me feel very musical, in a scattered fashion. After the previous weekend, I’d bought some Billy Joel sheet music, so as soon as everybody else was awake I went through that on the piano. (With occasional singing and whistling.) Then, to work off some energy, I switched over to Rock Band drums; I was pleased to be able to make it through the Warmup songs on Expert, and while Killing Loneliness defeated me on the next tier, it has the rhythm pattern that I need to work on (regular yellow notes with red and pedal alternating, the latter on the off-beats). So I’ll probably return to that one the next time I’m in a drumming mood, it’s definitely good practice. Also, inspired by Kirk’s comment on the Experience Points Podcast, I gave Vaseline a try; a pleasant challenge on Hard but not quite as good for me to focus on as Killing Loneliness, and way too hard for me on Expert.

After that, Liesl and I did some vocal harmonies; and I put in my Pro Guitar practice, going through (I think) another four songs there. Also, that evening, we went through some recent DLC (me on non-pro Guitar, Liesl on Bass); mostly Yes, which I wasn’t thrilled by, though I’m hoping I’ll like it more on Pro Keys.

We had friends over on Sunday, so I didn’t play any Rock Band that day; I did find time to bang out some Ghibli music on the piano, though. On which note, later that week the song 風の丘 got stuck in my head via the excellent Brasta Ghibli album; it wasn’t in my piano book, but I found a quite nice guitar version, so I’m trying to learn that now.

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