Happy February! Due to some release date announcements I’ve decided to shuffle around the Community Game-Along schedule slightly, making this the month to celebrate all games developed by From Software. I dub thee… Frombruary!
One of my favorite aspects of the Vocaloid phenomenon is how it’s powered by the fan community, with people all over the globe coming together to celebrate the digital idols through music, art, and more. Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comics & Art Volume 2 showcases a wide variety of Vocaloid illustrations from both professional and up-and-coming artists, making it the perfect way to see first-hand just how much talent Hatsune Miku and her friends attract.
The last Vocaloid art book from Udon Entertainment I reviewed focused on official Vocaloid artist Kei’s soft watercolor-like illustrations such as the one on the cover above, but the Hatsune Miku Graphics series is great for those who like Vocaloids but would prefer to see art from a variety of artists. While the quality of illustrations varies from artist to artist, with 128 pages total, there is bound to be an art style that appeals to nearly everyone.
Wasabi’s work is sugary-sweet, and was definitely one of the standout artists for me. I love the mint illustration of Miku with macaron hair ties! For every illustration, there are artist comments detailing where the image first appeared, which can help you track down your favorite piece.
The book also includes three short manga, one drawn by Wasabi featuring Luka. I really enjoyed seeing other Vocaloids represented besides the ever-popular Hatsune Miku.
|More page samples are available on Udon Entertainment’s website|
In addition to the creator galleries, there are also a number of Vocaloid tribute illustrations by famous Japanese artists. Unlike the creator galleries, these illustrations each get a single page, and while I personally found more art I liked in the galleries, fans of artists such as Nanzaki Iku (Queen’s Blade) and Homare (Phantasy Star Portable 2) will undoubtedly be pleased.
Finally, there is a section dedicated to Vocaloid collaborations and other products that, while very interesting for a Vocaloid fan, felt a little out of place in an art book. There are a number of pages on the clothing modules in the Project DIVA series of rhythm games, a small section on a Lucky Star collaboration, as well as a blurb on the Racing Miku collaboration with Good Smile Company.
As a fan of the, well, fan community that has made Vocaloids the huge phenomenon that they are, both in Japan and abroad, Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comics & Art Volume 2 was a complete pleasure to flip through. Though it may not feature everyone’s favorite artist, it’s a great way to find a great new illustrator or introduce a friend to the colorful and varied world of Vocaloids. Even with a couple small sections that might have been better used to spotlight even more artists, Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comics & Art Volume 2 would make a great addition to any Vocaloid fan’s library.
Note: A digital copy of the book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comic & Art Volume 2
Hatsune Miku fans, REJOICE! UDON’s sixth translated artbook featuring Superstar Japanese idol Hatsune Miku is now available! UDON Entertainment is proud to present Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Comic & Art Volume 2, a new collection of illustrations, behind the scenes material, and comics(!) featuring Miku, Rin & Len, Luka, and friends!
In this latest collection, explore the world and phenomenon of Miku and the Vocaloids through illustration, short articles, and comics. Containing official Miku artwork from Kei, tribute artwork from well-known artists and illustrators, as well as album covers, short comic strips, and three exciting manga short stores featuring Miku and friends!
Release date: September 24th, 2014
Price (U.S.): $39.99
Page Count: 128, Partial Color (96 pages)
Size: 8.25″ x 11.75″
Last year, Matt Sainsbury of Digitally Downloaded launched a Kickstarter for a book on game art that, while ultimately unsuccessful, proved that there are a variety of methods to getting a book published. No Starch Press took notice of the project and, as a result, are now publishing the book under the title Game Art: Creative Inspiration, from Indie Games to Blockbusters.
Available to preorder now from No Starch’s site, Game Art is a collection of interviews and concept art from a wide variety of video game developers, from big names in the western gaming scene such as BioWare and Ubisoft to indie studios and Japanese developers. The book even contains an interview with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn producer Naoki Yoshida, which will undoubtedly be a highlight, but interviews with notable individuals from the Dynasty Warriors franchise and Hyperdimension Neptunia series are also included in the comprehensive book for fans of Japanese games. The book features artwork from over 40 console, mobile, and PC games, so there will definitely be something for everyone!
Game Art is priced at $39.99 for a physical book and free digital copy, while just the digital version is $31.95. If you preorder, however, you’ll be able to get the book for 30% off the cover price, which sounds like a great deal for over 300 pages of full color art!
Game Art: Creative Inspiration, from Indie Games to Blockbusters will launch in July 2015. In the meantime, you can read Matt’s work over at Digitally Downloaded.
Now that the RegionThree exploit makes region-free 3DS gaming a reality*, you may be wondering how you should utilize this newfound power. Well, what better way than to import some cool Japan-exclusive 3DS games? Keeping import friendliness in mind for those who know little to no Japanese, I’ve compiled a list of 10 great Japanese 3DS games worth checking out!
Before reading on, head over to the full news post to learn how to use the RegionThree exploit on your 3DS and whether your system is compatible. While this isn’t a complete region-free gaming solution, it’s a great way to try out a few Japanese games before you decide to commit to importing a whole system! Note: RegionThree no longer works, but there are other exploits available for playing region free games on 3DS.
You may have already caught this year’s live holiday podcast special when it aired on my YouTube channel, but if not, here’s a version to listen to on the go! Join me and Elliot Gay (@ryougasaotome) as we discuss the holidays, being home in the US, and our favorite games and anime of 2014!
The first four minutes of us chatting as we waited for viewers to show up has been cut from the podcast version, but otherwise this is exactly what you’d hear if you watched the stream (which you can still do if you’d like to see our smiling faces). It was a lot of fun doing a live stream for the first time!
I hope you have a wonderful holiday, no matter what you celebrate, and Chic Pixel Plus will return, hopefully better than ever, in 2015!
Opening ♫ – Kimi Janakya Dame Mitai – Masayoshi Ōishi
Closing ♫ – database – Man with a Mission feat. Takuma
Back when SEGA released Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F last August, I was amazed to hear that a Vocaloid game would finally be coming out in English. SEGA only brought over the PlayStation 3 version initially, but six months later the PS Vita version followed due to the popularity of the PS3 release. Now, however, the digital idol Hatsune Miku is literally everywhere, from opening for Lady Gaga to performing on Letterman, so it makes much more sense to see Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd in English only eight months after the Japanese release. And this time, buyers have the option to choose between the PS3 and PS Vita versions at launch!
Like its predecessor, Project DIVA F 2nd is a rhythm game featuring a wide range of popular Vocaloid songs. For the unfamiliar, Vocaloids are digital voice banks that can be used to add vocals to music, or voices to cute creatures such as the animated series’ Bee and Puppycat‘s Puppycat. While the heavily synthisized Vocaloid sound won’t appeal to everyone, it’s hard not to enjoy a rhythm game with a catchy beat.
Gameplay is made up of the basic rhythm game formula of pressing buttons in time to symbols appearing on the screen, but Project DIVA is unique in that rather than always appearing in the same place, the symbols will dance around the screen in intricate patterns inspired by the music. This, coupled with flashy music videos playing in the background, means that mastering songs requires an ample amount of concentration. Even music game fans may find the normal difficulty hard (I know I do), but the game does a great job teaching you the ropes in easy mode, so I would suggest starting there if this is your first Project DIVA game. It’s definitely not a cakewalk!
One great addition to the PS Vita version of Project DIVA F 2nd that wasn’t in Project DIVA is the ability to assign the star-shaped “scratch” symbols to the analog sticks in the settings menu. Previously, scratch symbols required you to swipe either the front or rear touch screen and are set to the front screen as a default in Project DIVA F 2nd. I found that I was never able to get the hang of doing touch scratch controls in Project DIVA, so it’s great to see the option to use the analog sticks in Project Diva F 2nd.
Minor improvements include the game’s menus, which much better on the PS Vita now that they’re at native resolution, the option to either show romanji subtitles or the English translations of the songs during videos. SEGA has also provided the option to import save data from the Japanese version of the game in case you bought the game before the English version was announced, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a game before!
With 40 songs, Diva Rooms where you can interact with the Vocaloids, an Edit Mode, and an AR mode, Project DIVA F 2nd is just as packed with content as its predecessor. It’s worth noting, however, that though 20 returning songs from Project DIVA F have been included in addition to the 20 new songs added just for 2nd, not everything made the cut. Some of my personal favorite songs such as “Remote Controller,” “Secret Police,” and “Ashes to Ashes” remain Project DIVA exclusives, which is a shame considering it shouldn’t have been hard to include the full back catalog and add a few new songs to make Project DIVA F 2nd the definitive Project DIVA game. Since unlockables from Project DIVA F can be transferred over to Project DIVA F 2nd, why not have some kind of similar function or unlock for those who already own the previous title in the series?
Outside of the main rhythm game, the Diva Rooms and Edit Mode are two extremely in-depth modes that I honestly haven’t spent much time with in Project DIVA F or its sequel. There’s a Diva Room for each Vocaloid where you can customize its furnishings by spending in-game currency earned by playing the songs to your heart’s content. You can even interact with the Vocaloids in a touching mini game! It may sound inappropriate, but I promise you it isn’t.
|Miku dancing on my counter thanks to the AR concert mode|
The Edit Mode, on the other hand, is a robust song editor that allows you to completely choreograph your own Vocaloid music videos using in-game or imported music and share them with others. Those with the PS Vita version who want to use this mode will have to download it (for free) off PSN, which struck me as a little odd considering it came packaged in with Project DIVA F. I wish I had the patience to make things in Edit Mode, but luckily for lazy people like me it’s possible to download and play other people’s creations! If you’re a fan of creating your own content, you’ll likely sink hours into this mode, let alone the main rhythm game itself.
My qualms with the song carryover from Project DIVA F is a minor gripe for a game that is otherwise highly polished and extremely fun. Regardless of whether or not you like Vocaloids, if you’re a rhythm game fan, Project DIVA F 2nd is a must-play title for the PS Vita. And, while I personally prefer to play rhythm games on handhelds, based on my experience with Project DIVA F on the PS3, I’m sure the PS3 version of Project DIVA F 2nd is just as fun!
Note: A code for the PS Vita version of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. The PlayStation 3 version was not tested, but the games do feature cross-save functionality.
Earlier this year, adventure game/visual novel Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc quickly wormed its way into my heart for being one of the most fun and interesting titles I’ve played in recent memory, let alone this year. While NIS America announced from the get-go that they would release the sequel before the year was out, I had my doubts that it could be anywhere near as good as the original, let alone better, as many assured me. How exactly do you follow up a game that throws fifteen elite high school students into a situation where the only way they can escape is by killing one of their classmates and not getting caught?
Well, if you’re developer Spike Chunsoft, you take the stakes established in the first game and immediately turn them upside-down while making sure to slyly poke fun at the player’s expectations. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair opens with the same basic premise as Danganronpa – a group of students, each so proficient in a specific skill that they’ve been dubbed things such as “ultimate nurse,” and “ultimate chef,” have assembled for their first day at the exclusive private high school Hope’s Peak Academy. Instead of being drugged and waking up in the prison-like school of the first game, however, they’re miraculously teleported to a tropical island, where they’re told to have fun and make friends. But just as the bewildered protagonist Hajime starts to enjoy himself, a very familiar face makes its debut…
To reiterate, I was extremely apprehensive that Spike Chunsoft could pull off even half of the style and pizzaz the first game had in Danganronpa 2. While the gameplay and presentation is all very similar to the original game, down to the same minigames and remixes of the first game’s music (which is surprisingly effective at bringing back certain moods), it was very hard to believe that the game could be as good as I’d heard, especially considering the goofy “island getaway” premise.
By the end of the first chapter, Danganronpa 2 had already proved me wrong. It really is just as good as the original, if not better, depending on which plot points and characters appeal to you more as an individual. While I didn’t grow to like the cast of Danganronpa until very late in the game, I found myself immediately attached to a surprising number of characters in 2 – a number that only increased as the game went on. In addition, though the individual trials of 2 weren’t as memorable as those featured in the first game, the overall narrative completely blew me away in comparison. While some may be tempted to jump into Danganronpa 2 first after hearing that it’s the superior game, I would highly advise against it, as it really is a direct sequel and builds on a lot of things raised at the end of Danganronpa.
Gameplay-wise, Danganronpa 2 features the same general structure as its predecessor. Most of the game is in a visual novel-style format, which means a lot of reading, but the writing is so snappy that I doubt many would find this a detriment. After a killing has taken place, there is an investigation period followed by a trial featuring a number of familiar yet improved mini-games, as well as a couple new ones.
Even in the original Danganronpa, I felt the mini-games were better as pacing elements than actual games. The newly-added Logic Dive was one of the most infuriating culprits, as I continuously found myself having to restart the snowboard-esque mini-game after I’d crashed into one too many obstacles. With the narrative being as good as it was, I often found myself wishing I could just skip the games and continue with the visual novel portions so I could see what would happen next. If the game didn’t have these segments, however, I imagine that I would find the pacing not as effective, so I hope the “fun factor” of the mini-games is something the development team can improve on further for a future release.
It’s not often that a sequel really does what a sequel should, that is, build on the framework of the game before it while improving it at the same time. After thoroughly enjoying Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, however, I’m thrilled to say that Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair delivers all that and then some, making it my favorite game, and subsequently favorite series, on the PS Vita to date. I had doubts going in, but from here on out I will look forward to great things from Spike Chunsoft and the Danganronpa team.