There are Japanese games, and then there are Japanese games. This week's selection of games helps cure the August blahs with a healthy dose of the particular brand of quirkiness that only Japanese developers are able to provide.
Way back in 2004, a weird little action/puzzle game called Katamari Damacy became a sleeper hit in both Japan and North America, launching several sequels and a legion of fans for the game's over-the-top mascot, the King of All Cosmos. The premise of the Katamari games is simple: the player character has a little sticky ball called a katamari that picks up objects smaller than itself when it rolls over them. The player must grow the katamari to a specific size within the time limit of the level. As the game goes on, the required size becomes bigger and bigger until the Katamari can be used to roll up entire planets. After the first game, different goals were thrown into many of the levels for variety, but the basic idea of rolling things up with the katamari never changes.
Every level of the Katamari games is chock full of interesting items, people, creatures, and buildings to roll up, and the open nature of most levels means that the player continues to make new discoveries upon replay. With tons of charm, crazy characters, catchy music, and addictive gameplay, the Katamari Damacy games appeal to just about everyone. Anybody who has never tried one should rectify that issue soon, for there are very few people who aren't delighted by Katamari.
Players interested in the series should try Katamari Damacy or We Love Katamari on the PS2, Me & My Katamari on the PSP, or Katamari Forever on the PS3. Avoid Beautiful Katamari on the Xbox 360 due to its short length and various other issues.
In opposition to Katamari Damacy's near-universal appeal, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is a good game for a more limited audience. Part tactical role-playing game, part life/dating simulation, it stars Shinjiro Taiga, a young Japanese samurai in the 1920s who is sent to New York City to help the locals defend against a demon infestation. The elite, all-female squad he's set up with performs a musical revue by day and fights demons in gigantic robots by night. They've got a lot of issues, both personally and as a team, and it's up to Shinjiro to help each squad member come into her own so that they can successfully keep New York City safe.
Players will spend most of the game in "adventure mode," in which Shinjiro explores the city, solves some light puzzles, and makes various decisions that will affect the morale of the troupe and each member's affection for him. This mode is what makes the game worthwhile for anybody who enjoys gleefully campy entertainment and doesn't mind the fact that it's next to impossible to get the "correct" solution to every choice. The other part of the game is the turn-based tactical battles that take place once or twice per chapter, and unfortunately are extremely long. Although they're suitably challenging, they take a ton of patience to get through, making this game recommended only for players who are willing to invest a healthy chunk of time into the battles.
For the right player, Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is a crazy, frequently funny trip through 1920's New York as seen through the eyes of a Japanese game development team. If that description intrigues you and you're a fairly patient gamer, you just might be the right audience for Sakura Wars.
Most gamers have at least heard of Harvest Moon, Japan's venerable farming simulation series in which players plant, mine, fish, and socialize their way through a bucolic simulated life. The Rune Factory series is what happens when dungeons and monsters are added to the mix, and Rune Factory 3 is the best-yet entry in this crazy farming and dungeon crawling hybrid.
The player character in Rune Factory 3 is a young man who secretly harbors the ability to turn into a monster—though the monster is actually an adorable bipedal sheep. I admit, that setup caused me to discount this game until I heard that it was enjoyable from multiple people. I'm very glad I decided to take the plunge. The game has honed the addictive nature of the simulation RPG to a fine point, creating a major case of "one more day" syndrome in its players. There are a plethora of farming and adventuring activities to engage in, a variety of dungeons to conquer, and there's a town full of very colorful characters to get to know. Best of all, there's a quest system for which nearly every quest has an accompanying story that helps the player get to know the townsfolk, become closer to them, and learn their secrets.
If you're always wondered what's up with farming sims but have been reluctant to try one, give Rune Factory 3 a whirl. There's so much more than just farming to do in the game, though of course you can still become an agricultural overlord if you so desire. It's a well-made, interesting, addictive game with a loveable, off-kilter cast of characters and a bit of mystery to boot.
By Becky Cunningham
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*