Sunday, April 26, 2015

Games in 2015: Spring

Dat Northwest climate. It's in the low 60s, half the days are grey, and every other day is rainy. Perfect gaming weather to balance out the sunny get-out-and-do-something days. I've been adjusting to living in suburban Seattle, but I haven't stopped gaming. We're going to list these by time invested.

This month's star feature is Child of Light for the Xbox One, free via Gold membership . This game is a sidescrolling adventure game with turn-based combat, to use technical terms. In other words, it plays like a freeflowing Metroid, and the battles are like Most Japanese RPGs. There's a twist, though. During combat, your friend and source of rhyme maintenance, Ignicius, is controlled to gove realtime battle effects. He can heal characters, slow enemies, and collect items, among things.

Also, the game looks and sounds classy. The graphics look hand-painted, characters join the party at a quick rate and bring their different abilities and quirks to their party. Did I mention the entire game is spoken in rhyme? This creates some interesting grammar choices, but blends with the game's presentation wonderfully. Also, the score to Child of Light is top-tier. Most music leads you around by piano, until certain times call for a larger orchestra sound. The different battle and boss tracks cause me to venture into more--avoidable, by the way--enemy encounters. 

Aww...c'mon, now. Why you gotta...:(
Also in the cards is Legend of Zelda, which I won through a giveaway on Reddit. This game is 27 years old, and still fun as hell. One thing this series always did was present itself very cinematically, even in it's first iterations. The very first sword you grab is in a dark room, lit by candles, with an old man telling you to take it. The last boss reveals himself to his own short theme and then shifts around the dark room. If you haven't played this game, it's on just about every Nintendo console available, so there are no excuses! There's even a master quest mode, which is one more playthrough with completely different levels and puzzles! This is the game that got me into video games.

Other ventures are more Titanfall, #IDARB, Smash Brothers, Zoo Tycoon and Cyber Defense, which I'll get to next update. Ohh, and Mortal Kombat.

Update: May

This month was the looming dark cloud of all that involves finishing Final Fantasy X2. At 107 hours, I completed fighting every monster in the game, beating the story and replaying a section with different choices, and beat a 100-floor dungeon TWICE. On the night that I finished the story, I had a realization.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mortal Kombat X - *shakes head*

The Getoverhere Spear. Double-ice backfire! Gotcha Grab. The acid spit. Klassic spelling initial c-words with a K. What a hell of a franchise! The latest MK game is a masterpiece. The original kreators have their hands deep in this, and only now do we know just how a graphically-realized peek at imaginative violence looks like, and it's gross. The newest systems have enough power to give the always-realistic kombatants the final anatomical details underneath the skin, which you'll see more often than you think. The...handful (potential pun intended) of fatalities that I've seen are enough for a horrified chuckle. Johnny Cage's default first fatality is one of those.

Then, there's the disgusting stuff, like how Liu Kang rips out his opponent's trachea, and then his LOWER JAW! This is over the top, but you also get to hear the gasping and blood bubbles, which adds a visceral layer to the shock. I'd equate the violence to Game of Thrones, and this might be the first time I've recommended vendors sticking to an M-rating.

As with the kurrent generation of fighters, you have an in-game profile that tracks your stats, and gains experience to show off your prowess. You also join one of 5 factions that come with their own fatalities.

The story mode is awesome. A few minutes of sharp-looking kutscenes that seamlessly blend with gameplay. For easily 10 years, developers have dropped fully-rendered kutscenes in exchange for more efficient ingame ones and no one ever told them that they looked shitty. A few games got away with this, like Uncharted and Last of Us...the majority of games lost their cinematic touch. Remember the FMVs from FFVII compared to the ingame graphics? Yeah. Well, the processing power is high enough that the gap in quality has rapidly shrunken, but Mortal Kombat has something to boast about. It is truly perfect. 90% of the seamless fight the CPU got the first hit because I was expecting loading time or the announcer to say, "FIGHT!"

Kharacter variations and costumes - how klever!
While this is the first game that has actually shocked me in its gruesomeness, the kreators have kicked ass in making MK a legitimate fighting game. The kombat has been tweaked over the last 3 generations, keeping the kharacters' multiple fighting stances, which I thought they would have done away with. I'm glad they stuck with it. The result is a fast-paced game with a deep, polished system, with fully-kustomizeable kontrols in case you don't like the default layout.

Mortal Kombat X, like the two games before it, is the absolute best that Netherrealm Studios has to offer and you should get it...just be ready to kuddle something fuzzy or find something beautiful between sessions.

Update: this game has one of the best presentations I've ever seen. Kharacter kostumes are introduced in kontext of the story, and most things are presented with enough justification that makes me wonder: how long was this game in production? Also, as a note, one of the female kharacters aims for overt sex appeal, and even that's used ironically. Mileena was kreated as a failed hybrid/klone who kept most of Princess Kitana's looks, which she likes to flaunt every once in a while. However, the rest of the femmes are hardkore, grim, humorous and tough as their male kounterparts. I'm trying to say that the writers weren't going to unnecessarily perpetuate female troupes. Good on them!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Finding an apartment in Japan

If you are flying into Japan on a contract you signed back at home, you've probably been offered an apartment. It's nice to have the peace of mind that you'll have a place to stay upon arrival, but a little knowledge about your options will have more of that paycheck going to what you want to do. 
 Your first option is to stay in a guesthouse. When I first heard the term, I pictured a lodge or hostel. They're generally more laid out like dorms, and the units may or may not have a bathroom attached. The two big companies I know of are Oakhouse and Sakura House. These are probably the best options for a few months in Nippon. There is a nonrefundable management fee if you don't catch one of their (ad) campaigns, your base rent, and then a packaged utility fee. The utility fee is usually the only overpriced component of this, but your unit is furnished. Your internet connection, however, may be strictly limited. This means that certain ports may be blocked, preventing your favorite apps and downloads. 
Oak Mansion in Futamatagawa, Yokohama - 65,000
 The total difference for me was still roughly 20,000 yen ($195). Obviously, this depends on your region and distance from the train station. I paid 65,000 ($630) for a tiny room, with a single-element burner, fridge, microwave and bathroom, utilities included. However, it was a 15 minute walk to the station, then 10 minutes away from the main hub by train. 
 It is worth noting that most Japanese companies pay your transportation costs, so if you don't mind standing or bringing a book, you have better control over rent.

Programmable bath with reheat/temp/water level/timer
 Option 2: Urban Renaissance. The name is epic, but this is a service by the Japanese government that tosses the traditional Japanese apartment experience out the window. With UR, you can enter and leave your unit with 2 weeks’ notice, there's no gift money, no required guarantor, and the deposit is only 3 months. 

6jo (6 tatami-mat room) - roughly 12' x 9'
 You may or may not have heard that the regular process for an apartment is gift money (you basically give a month's worth of rent to the manager as a thank you,) key money (up to 6x rent, refundable), and a deposit. Basically, you'll need up to 8x the advertised monthly rent to do it the Japanese way. PLUS a guarantor, which a lot of schools don't actually do. UR cuts that down to 4 months, all refundable, minus a chunk of your deposit (less than 5% in my experience).
Separate toilet room...if you've never, you should.
UR helps both Japanese citizens and foreigners, though getting an agent that speaks English is tricky, even in the second largest city of Yokohama. All of the emergency information, maintenance, comes in Japanese/English manuals, though. You'll need to set up your internet, power, water and gas in Japanese.

Kitchens, hallways - 1LDK was 85,000
What is the tradeoff? UR is the absolute most flexible and cheapest, but your unit is bare, often without even an AC/heater or bedroom ceiling light. The furniture problem is best solved by scanning craigslist for both free furniture and 10,000-20,000 ($100-195) moving truck services. Another choice is to join the Yahoo Group [tokyofreecycle]. You’ll get lists of who is getting rid of what, and where they are giving it away.  It's stressful, but if you're planning to stay in Japan longer than half a year (most contracts are a year), then this is the way to go.

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...