It’s been a little over two weeks since I arrived in Japan and things are going well. I’ve been eating lots of awesome food and gradually expanding my travels as I become more familiar with the unfamiliar.
I’ve been told to amp up the number of photos in these posts, so I’m just gonna put my best foot forward and start there. If you’re at all interested in my thoughts regarding video games in 2013, please stick around for when the words start accumulating once again.
Let’s just go ahead and get the ramen out of the way, because we all know it’s coming:
First up is the best ramen I’ve had since I got here. It’s tonkotsu from Ichiran, which is a somewhat major chain but decent nonetheless. The whole process of ordering is highly mechanical, and ends with you in an individual booth having already payed. Once your steaming bowl of pork fat is done, it’s placed discreetly under an opening in the booth for you to get your grub on. If you’ve ever seen a prison movie where someone was sent to solitary confinement (every prison movie ever) and a tray of different colored pastes was pushed through a slot, it’s very similar to that but much more polite. Anyway, so far this is the only place I’ve gone back to a second time which is saying something.
Next up is some miso veggie tanmen from Kourakuen. Tanmen is like ramen but packed with veggies making it a marginally more healthy option, or so I tell myself. I got a set which included gyoza and a rice bowl. It was a ton of food, but quite affordable. I imagine I will be going back here on days when I don’t want to spend much.
This little guy? Well, a friend of mine asked for a random image from Japan and this is what I went with. I think I did alright?
For my first weekend I decided to go to Yoyogi Koen and get some fresh air. It’s one of the few places in Tokyo where you can hug a tree or put your feet in the grass. Well, you can definitely hug a tree, but the grass is kind of thin from sheer foot traffic. It almost looks like Yoyogi Koen has male pattern baldness. I went there Sunday night and managed to capture a video of the infamous Rockabilly dancers. As I was making my way around the park, I found this sign explaining how to identify the different acorns you can find. The sun was starting to set, so my apologies if the picture is dark.
I’m borrowing a Japanese 3DS, so I decided to take advantage of our time together by nabbing Bravely Default: For the Sequel. I’m really enjoying the game’s old-school JRPG feel: kings, potions, crystals — all that jazz. Plus the game looks amazing.
The end of the year in Japan means people start to unwind in very ritualistic ways. Case in point: bonenkai, or company gatherings with the aim of getting so drunk that you forget the woes of the past year. I was invited to one held each year between some industry dudes living in Japan, and it was held at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — a restaurant that ironically also exists in my hometown (but I could never afford to go to).
Here’s some steak porn for those of you into that kinda thing. The lighting wasn’t great, but if you’ve seen one steak, you’ve probably seen ‘em all.
After eating a rich, expensive steak, it was nijikai time! A nijikai is the party after the party, in which some people head home but the most enthusiastic partiers keep on keepin’ on by heading to a second place for more drinks. We went to a fancy beer place with tons of stuff on tap. The girl in green was an expert at her craft…
In the bathroom there was a map of where several Japanese craft beers are made in the country. Yea, so there are some interesting things in Japanese bathrooms…
Some cool graffiti, no further comment required.
A yakitori place that looks it’s seen the rise and fall of great civilizations. I love buildings like this…
That’s a lot of rubber duckies. I don’t quite remember where I took this, but I think it was probably either a club or a love hotel.
Acid Panda Cafe, best name ever since 2005.
A good friend from college who lives in Japan took me out for some Korean food in Shin-Okubo, well known for being a hot spot for Korean culture (mostly idols with pretty hair, both male and female). I don’t know enough about Korean food to tell you what this was called, but it was all delicious.
Some grilled, marinated pork with pumpkin slices.
Some kimchi bibim guksu — I actually remembered what this one was called! The noodles are incredibly chewy making them a bit of a challenge to eat, but the spices made it all worth it.
My friend and I walked from Shin-Okubo to Shinjuku, where we passed Ramen Jiro! Read more about this mecca for ramen fans in a previous post.
The melding of different cuisines in Japan always entertains me. Here you can get Carbonara Udon, Meat Sauce Udon, and Neapolitan Udon. They love their Italian food here. And Udon, obvs.I ignore most gachapon, but this one caught my eye: it’s classical kaiju meets… well, cats. Kinda kicking myself for not buying one of these.
Thus ends the portion of this post dedicated to life in Japan. Now. Now we talk games.
I feel like now might be a good time for me to talk about the games of 2013 that left an impression on me. There won’t be any top-ten list if that’s what you’re look for, but I will include an hour count, which seems relevant.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate — Playtime: 533:53 (Wii U: 225:31 /3DS: 308:22)
Now that I’ve experienced a Monster Hunter game that can be played both on the go and on my TV, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There was a ton of content in MH3U, and I savored it for hundreds of hours. Online play — a massively important feature in any MH — was way more enjoyable than with Sony’s Ad-Hoc Party. My only complaint is that the addition of a Slime element/status effects created a huge degree of homogeneity in the strategies utilized by players online. (Looking at you, Kelbi Bow)
Animal Crossing: New Leaf — Playtime: 328:46
Animal Crossing: New Leaf, was, and continues to be my second simulated life. Aside from being a game with an incredible number of charming details, it also slowly unlocks features, giving patient players a year’s worth of goals. Nintendo’s surprising decision to utilize a social Image Share feature had me sharing my experiences on Twitter for the world to see. Hell, going through my screenshots is very much a trip down memory lane. Likewise, image share functionality allowed me to see other player’s games, and NOT through grainy cellphone pics. Best of all I played Animal Crossing with a lot of my close friends and made some fucking memories. My only complaints is that Nintendo doesn’t use Image Share for ALL their 3DS games.
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness — Playtime: 90sumthin (don’t have my PS3 in Japan)
Like a few others on my list, Disgaea was also refined heavily in 2013. A number of functions in the game that served merely to pad playtime were done away with, and as a whole everything worth understanding was made easier to understand. The thrill I get from the risk/reward that comes with the Item Sea/World is something that just never seems to fade… Not to say that the series’ classic off-beat stories aren’t another huge selling point, though I will admit D2‘s story fell a bit flat. Read my full review.
Shin Megami Tensei IV — Playtime: 81:05
I was initially bummed that Shin Megami Tensei IV wasn’t for a home console (specifically the PS3), but after playing it I stopped my complaining. Read my full review for more on how SMT4 modernized a lot, and yet not enough. Long story short: it was hard going from Nocture to SMT4 – felt like a step down. Also the characters could have used a bit more development. Still, SMT4 made demon management a breeze and battles were tough but fun, a challenging balance to achieve.
Dragon’s Crown — Playtime: 80sumthin (don’t have my PS3 in Japan)
Side scrolling beat-em-ups generally don’t keep my attention because it’s rare that a game in the genre makes you feel invested for the long haul. Dragon’s Crown’s deep character customization had me losing sleep over how to best spec my character. A healthy level of challenge had me playing with Sarah late into many-a-night which created some of my most memorable gaming moments of the year. My only complaint is that the loot system was a little wonky, and playing online was nowhere near as straightforward as playing multiplayer locally.
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan — Playtime: 73:08
No other game in 2013 had me so heavily debating the cause and effect of a single step. No other game gave me such a sense of pride in the massively efficient party that I put together. Risk and reward? You better believe it. Cute sprites? Super cute. A world map WITH an airship? Hell yeah. Read more about why I loved Etrian Odyssey IV in my full review. Got nothing bad to say about it, thought I sure would like to see MORE of those cute sprites.
Black Rock Shooter: The Game — Playtime: 20ish (Don’t remember, too lazy to look)
Sure, my hour count is nothing impressive. But I feel compelled to include this game because I know it won’t get the attention it deserves. BRS is a great example of simple gaming mechanics used to create some challenging and refreshingly varied experiences for the player. Plus, the world of Black Rock Shooter is super stylish, even if the game’s graphics may feel a touch dated. My only complaint is that this game wasn’t made for the Vita because I may have given it more time, and it probably would have gained more traction.
Looking back at the games I predicted I would buy in 2013, well, I only bought 50% of them. The only game I feel like I really missed out on was The Last of Us — I was still getting shit done in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate when I actually had a borrowed copy in my possession. C’est la vie, I’m sure there will be a GOTY edition soon?
Otherwise 2013 was very enjoyable when it comes to games. There were lots of multiplayer titles that actually resonated with me, which made for some great memories with friends. I need to be more open-minded to multiplayer games…
I spent a ton of time with my beloved pink 3DS, which was definitely the year’s superstar console. Sadly, the little guy is slightly scratched (on the outside, not screen) as a result of heavy use (nearly 800 hours!!!!).
2013 also brought some huge ups and downs for yours truly. I saw some major success with my guides, created some podcasts, and hell… I’m writing this from Japan where I’m making money doing some work that I fucking love. But whatever success I’ve experienced didn’t come without a fair amount of suffering and strife as well. There were days that I couldn’t imagine how things could get much worse, but looking at where I am now I don’t regret a damn thing.
I def want to thank all you readers/podcast/Twitter followers for all your continued support. I look forward to talking games and more with you in 2014!