Saturday, June 27, 2015

Achievement Unlocked: Equality!

It was a great week for equality! 

Would you like some more art with your article? Read this article at DeviantArt!
While the Supreme Court ruling legalized gay marriage, Nintendo also scored points with fans who have been longing for more diversity and representation in games. Earlier this week, Nintendo confirmed that the newest title in their Fire Emblem series will allow for same-sex relationships. While this announcement has made headlines, Fire Emblem will not be the first time that Nintendo has allowed players the option of a same-sex union.


Official artwork for Fire Emblem Fates


In 2005, the Bokujō Monogatari series, Harvest Moon to English speaking players, released a new game titled Bokujō Monogatari: Korobokkuru Sutēshon for Gāru. Outside of Japan, it was known by the much shorter title of Harvest Moon DS: Cute. This farming simulation game featured a female protagonist, and Japanese players had the option to spurn a traditional marriage with the bachelors in Mineral Town and settle down with a female best friend instead.



The best friends system was the Harvest Moon equivalent of a civil union. Becoming best friends had all the same friendship requirements as becoming engaged to an eligible bachelor, and proposing to the chosen female friend triggered a special "friend ceremony" in lieu of a marriage ceremony. After this ceremony, the chosen best friend moved in with the player's character, shared her bed, and players could even unlock an event which would allow them to adopt a baby.

Many fans hoped that this option would continue to appear in future Bokujō games, unfortunately this was not to be. The best friend feature has not appeared in any Bokujō game since, and was removed from the US release of the game entirely. Best friend ceremonies have never been provided as an option for male characters. 


The disappointment did not end there.


The life simulation game, Tomodachi Life, released in North America in June of 2014, drew players in with the promise of being a highly personalized world where anything could happen. The game later made headlines when player outraged sparked over a very specific restriction. In Tomodachi Life, anything could happen... except for gay marriage. Nintendo issued an apology for excluding this segment of its community and promised they would consider offering same-sex marriages in any sequels to Tomodachi Life, and that they would make a deliberate effort to be more inclusive in the future.

One work around is to create a female, but make them look male. These characters will be referred to in the game as 'she,' will wear a dress if the characters get married, and can become pregnant. 


Which brings us back to this week's Fire Emblem announcement. 


Fire Emblem Fates will be released as a pair of games which are scheduled to hit shelves in both US and Europe in 2016. While both games will, as usual, offer a number of opposite-sex characters as potential marriage candidates, these games will also offer one same-sex marriage option each. Those who purchase Fire Emblem Conquest will find one male character which a male protagonist can bond with and potentially marry. Likewise, Fire Emblem Birthright will offer one potential female marriage candidate for female protagonists. A third edition of the game, which will be available as downloadable content, will make both of these characters available in both versions of the game.


Because marriage and family play no small part in the world of Fire Emblem, which has been gathering a fanbase since the first game released in 1990, the inclusion of same-sex marriage does represent an important change to this long-established series. Marriages between same and opposite sex characters will reportedly be handled the same way in game, with the exception of children. Same-sex couples will not be able to have children, but will, instead, receive boosts during combat.

While Fire Emblem is offering an incredibly limited pool of would-be same-sex partners, this is something of a big step for Nintendo, which has not exactly been a beacon of inclusion and diversity. Regardless, if you're looking forward to a same-sex romance in this game, you'd better hope you like your one option!

Many are praising the same-sex marriage option in Fire Emblem as Nintendo's first step towards fulfilling their promise of being more inclusive. Those of a more skeptical nature suggest that this is nothing more than a publicity stunt, and that only the bare minimum has been done in an attempt to recover from some of the bad press of Tomodachi Life.

Is this a first step, or simply an attempt to gain a bit of good publicity? Only time will tell. Your fans are watching, Nintendo. Don't let us down.

What do you  think of about this announcement? 
Do you think this is a genuine effort to be more inclusive, or simply a publicity stunt? 
Will Nintendo continue to offer more same-sex marriage options in future games? 
Do you have a favorite same-sex couple? 
If you could add more diversity to any Nintendo game, which game would it be, and what would you change?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The New Nintendo 3DS


The New Nintendo 3DS is a not terribly new product on the market, but it appears to be an item many potential customers are curious as to if they really need. I recently received a black New Nintendo 3DS XL unit, and after a bit of experimenting and game play, am providing a review for curious gamers.

Overview

While I know reviews are not supposed to start this way, I have to say that there is something about this new unit that just feels good. It's actually quite difficult to qualify; it's also something I wasn't expecting when unboxing my new 3DS.


The new 3DS boasts a glossy outer case with an inlaid, diagonal pinstripe pattern. Information about the unit has been inlaid into the back of the case, which proves to be a much more attractive presentation than Nintendo's earlier methods of simply printing it on the exterior of the shell. This shiny casing  is beautiful, but it does collect fingerprints very easily, and feels slick, almost slippery, in your hands. The top of the case is flat, less 'bubbled,' than the original 3DS which, from a tactile perspective, gives the entire unit a more professional, sturdy feel.

The New 3DS (left) and the original 3DS (right) 

The size difference between the original 3DS XL and the New Nintendo 3DS XL is nonexistent. Both units are the same size and thickness, and both offer LCD screens of the same size, with the same resolution. I was delighted to open the New 3DS to find a textured charcoal gray interior, which is both attractive and not distracting while playing.



The lid opens with a quiet, comforting snap, and the entire hinge feels much more solid than it did on the original 3DS. The New 3DS feels more balanced when open, which makes for a much more enjoyable playing experience. The buttons have a bit of resistance once pressed enough for the action to be registered, which I find very  reassuring when playing. Resistance was also added to the circle pad, and for the first time in my 3DS gaming experience, I can tell when I'm pushing hard enough to make my character run.


The New 3DS has both added and relocated buttons. The home button is now the sole occupant of the space under the touch screen. Start and Select have returned to their classic locations, beneath the now colorful ABXY buttons. A second circle pad, to control camera movement, has been added to the right side of the unit. The volume slider has been relocated to the left side of the lid, mirroring the 3D depth slider. The power button has been banished to the bottom of the unit, and two additional shoulder buttons, ZL and ZR, have also been added. 


Even these shoulder buttons have a soft click when they are pressed. This little indicator is incredibly useful for clearing out those Streetpass game which I love, but which involve so much pointless talking. I'm looking at you, Mr. Mendel. What twisted mind decided to give you so much dialogue? Care and thought has clearly been put into the design of the New 3DS. The hinge even has a dimple to ensure the new circle pad is not pressed when the lid is closed.


Buttons weren't the only things to relocate on the new 3DS. The earphone jack, power jack, cartridge slot and the stylus have also been shifted around. Games are no longer inserted on the top middle of the unit -- oh no, that is now where you plug your unit in to charge. Games are now housed on the lower left side of the unit, with the earphone jack now lives at the middle bottom. The stylus has also moved form the side of the DS to the bottom, sharing the lower right side with the power button.

Top of the unit with charging ports
Bottom of the open 3DS unit

At first I was not thrilled about the new location of the game cartridge. When holding my old 3DS, my little finger would rest against the lower lip of the unit, where the cartridge is now located. However, the balance of the New 3DS seems to have been adjusted to make the unit feel less top heavy. With this change, I naturally changed my finger placement without any real problem.


One change which I am still not fond of is the relocation of the SD card. The New 3DS uses Micro SD, and instead of tucking it into a hidden compartment as before, the SD card is now located inside the 3DS case. Yes, you now have to unscrew and remove the back casing of your 3DS in order to access your SD card. I have found the lip on the stylus, supposedly provided to help you pry the case open, to be entirely unhelpful in this process. I was, however, delighted to discover that a copy of the serial number is included inside the casing. This is useful because it is all too easy to scratch, peal off or otherwise render the serial number sticker on the outside of the unit unreadable.


Eye-Tracking 3D

It's no secret that I have never been a fan of 3D technology, be it in movies or in games. I found the 3D on the original 3DS gimmicky, difficult to use, and both headache and nausea inducing. While I do not plan to use the 3D feature on the New 3Ds while gaming, experimenting with it shows a huge improvement over the original 3DS. The technology works as expected, and very quickly adjusts the 3D to your eyes, rather than requiring you to carefully hold the unit at the right angle in order to get the effect. This technology greatly reduces both headache and nausea, though if you are predisposed to these conditions, will not eliminate them.

Speed

Here we are, the big question most everyone has: Is the New 3DS faster than the original? The short answer is: Yes, but not extraordinary. The New 3DS unit does process things noticeably more quickly, and hang time is reduced, but not drastically. I have found this difference to be most drastic when loading the eShop. That said, this small improvement has a big effect on the human psyche. I've found myself much more likely to switch games or check new notifications than I ever was on my original 3DS.

Speed comparisons between the original 3DS (left) and the New 3DS (right)

Summary

The New Nintendo 3DS is a solid piece of equipment, and it really is, in many ways, everything the original 3DS should have been when it was first released. It feels good in your hands, and you feel confident in holding and playing it. Everything fits well, buttons have an assuring resistance to them, and there have been great and much needed improvements to the 3D technology. If you do not currently own a 3DS, then by all means spend the extra money to purchase the New 3DS rather than a used original 3DS unit. The improvements brought by the New 3DS are more than worth the small price difference for first-time buyers. 

If you are considering an upgrade, you are in for a real treat! That said, the upgrade is not currently necessary, but it certainly is nice. The new 3DS does boast improved processing power, so there is a chance that newer games will want to utilize all of this new power. This will leave such processor-hungry games unable to be played on the older 3DS units. Until such a game emerges on the market, there is no reason to rush out and purchase this new unit... unless, of course, you simply want the shiny New Nintendo 3DS, which was a good enough reason for me!

Have you been able to play the New 3DS yet? 

Do you think you will upgrade soon, or wait until a game which requires an upgrade comes out on the market? Do you feel the improvements offered by the New 3DS are worth the money to upgrade? Please share your thoughts!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Recommended by damphy

Welcome to a special bonus edition of my blog! As it's my birthday, I figured I'd share a few of my favorite things. These are all series which I both love and recommend. Granted, not all of these will appeal to everyone, so I'll leave some brief summaries of why I like them and what might interest people about them. Please take a look and let me know if there's anything here which appeals to you!

BOOKS:

The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks
This is a glorious four-part book series with a not-quite-modern fantasy setting. The characters are great, and most of the technology of this world has been built around a fascinating magic system which uses light to, loosely put, make colors solid. The book contains great banter and Weeks has this incredible ability to make you feel comfortable in the world, feel like you have an understanding of everything, and then he'll just throw out a little fact that changes your perspective on everything. I'm impatiently waiting for the forth and final book, and that wait may well be the death of me!

The Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson
This is the series that got me back into reading fantasy after a very long break. This series has beautiful world building which grows seamlessly with each book. The characters are both strong and interesting while also managing to come across as sympathetic and humanly frustrating at times. This is a great high fantasy, medieval-setting series, and I am very much looking forward to the sequel trilogy, The Ally of Law, which is set 200 years after the events of the first books.

The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
I accidentally stumbled into this series while attempting to fill the void left after finishing the most recent Game of Thrones book. I had such a love affair with Mistborn that I was eager for a good trilogy. Only after I finished the first book did I realize that it was planned to be a ten-book epic. This series features a high fantasy word which is regularly hit by massive storms, and plant and animal life has adjusted accordingly, resulting in some stunningly unique and imaginative creatures. It also features magic-infused weaponry and armor, reminiscent of the over-sized, overly-elaborate gear commonly found in video games. This is a great read with a huge amount of world building and lore, and I cannot wait for more books to come out so I can lose myself in that world once more.

Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi
It's no secret that I love Vampire Hunter D, my screen name of damphyr was inspired by the series! While the movies introduced me to D, it was the novels which kept me fascinated. Not for all, these are horror novels with quick pacing and fascinating, alien settings and creatures. Originally published in Japanese, they have been translated with obvious care, and the artwork of Yoshitaka Amano included in the books are a real treat.

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses 
This anthology combines a collection of short stories along with their first drafts and the writing group discussions which helped shape these stories. All of the stories are interesting on their own, but as a writer, the additional material is invaluable. Seeing the writing processes of others, seeing when the author rage quit the story and started over, and seeing them turn to others for help with the plot is amazing, it's inspiring and it makes for great reading.

SHOWS:

X-Files
One of my oldest obsessions, X-Files has great banter, beautifully composed suspense, aliens and David Duchovny. It was all a teenage damphy could want? Even re-watching, this show stands up well, and seeing practical effects as opposed to the CGI special effects which are now so common is a real treat. This show was very much ahead of its time, even focusing, years before it was accomplished, over mapping the human genome in one episode arc. With a new series of X-Files underway, now is a great time to start or revisit this television classic.

Dead Like Me
I'll be honest, it's not often I find a a show with a female lead that I actually enjoy, but Dead Like Me has just such a leading lady. This show is dark, but it's a happy kind of dark. It sounds strange, but leaves me more able to deal with the darker aspects of the world, having confronted them head on and found something to smile about. Featuring a fascinating set of characters, this show is a real treat... but skip the movie, it strays from the established canon of the show and undoes a lot of the magic of the TV series.

Almost Human
I've never been a big fan of traditional cop shows, but buddy cop? I'm totally into buddy cop. And buddy cops who have amazing chemistry, beautifully written plot arcs and great special effects? Almost Human is possibly my favorite show of all time--and it only got one season. If you like action, banter, sci fi or buddy cop, I strongly recommend this series. Fingers crossed that Fox will come to their series and give us more. In the mean time, if you need a dose of buddy cop banter, you can always check out Mike Ealy's earlier buddy cop series, Common Law.

Silicon Valley
Maybe I love this simply because I work in the tech industry, but the characters and situations in Silicon Valley are so close to what I have experienced in my own life that I have developed a love/hate relationship with this show. The characters are somehow both outrageous and yet entirely believable, and they are terribly entertaining and frustrating as they attempt to navigate their way to becoming a successful startup. It's exaggerated, it's outrageous, and I love and hate every moment of it.

Vikings
History's first scripted show came out of the gates with a dramatic and visually stunning show. The characters are complex, interesting, human and utterly captivating. This show is, at its heart, about a man, his family and a foreigner attempting to adapt to a new life in a new world. It is also incredibly violent, rather shocking and does little to soften the culture shock for the viewer. However, if that is not a deterrent, you are in for a real treat, and a more genuine look at the lives of the Vikings. It's not exactly historically accurate, but there are, at least, no horned hats in sight. I strongly recommend seasons one and two, season three... not so much.

Mozart in the Jungle
While the title is a little confusing, Mozart in the Jungle is about working musicians in New York. It's fast, it's hilarious, it's entirely too real. If you know music or have ever been a working musician, it will either be therapeutic to you, or hit way too close to home. The characters are interesting and very genuine. Amazon knocked it out of the park with this series, and I can't recommend it enough.

Last Week Tonight 
John Oliver is brilliant, what more can I say? I'll keep this summary short and sweet: This show provides a hilarious, accessible and educational look weekly events and larger topics. I dream of being able to communicate in such an effective and brilliant way.

Cowboy Bebop
If you watch only one anime in your life, it should be Bebop. Even for an older show, the animation quality more than stands the test of time. While highly episodic, Bebop still weaves a wonderful story arc and draws you into the world of this group of outer space bounty hunters. Bebop combines great music with all of the fun of Star Wars. See you, space cowboy.

Cosmos
Be it Neil deGrasse Tyson's recent stunner or Carl Sagan's classic series, do your brain a favor and check out Cosmos. While I love fantasy and sci fi as much as anyone, there are so many ways in which science fact is even cooler than fiction. The universe is amazing, and Cosmos has made the wonder of it all accessible. It's more than worth the time.

MOVIES:

Howl's Moving Castle
My favorite Miyazaki film, Howl's Moving Castle is visually stunning and packed with amazing concepts and magic. The slightly slow pace of this movie gives characters room to develop and evolve as individuals. It's charming, with great music and voice acting which is just about as good in English as in the original Japanese!

Intermission
A small film which, I'm willing to bet, most of my American audience has never heard of, Intermission focuses on a couple who are taking a break, and the events which happen during that break. With the talents of actors like Colin Ferrell, Cillian Murphy and Colm Meaney, this movie has unique characters and situations which continue to escalate. A fast paced film packed with dark humor which, ultimately, warm the heart.

Zoolander
This film is my guilty pleasure. Whenever I'm feeling down, I can count on Zoolander to make me laugh. It's stupid, it's funny, it's packed with dozens of cameos, it's shockingly insightful at points, and it will leave you singing Jitterbug for the rest of the day. I simply can't wait for the second movie to come out! Earth to reader, why are you still here? Go watch it!

Games:

Pokemon
Yes, I know. Pokemon? That's still a thing? Pokemon was revolutionary when it came out, and it has more than kept up with the times. From allowing Pokemon trades with anyone, anywhere in the world with a simple tap of a button to creating breeding systems for the ultimate battling monsters, Pokemon is constantly reinventing itself and keeping itself relevant in the gaming world. I wrote a whole article on all the various features Pokemon offers its players. X and Y are my current favorites, but I have also logged too many hours on Alpha Sapphire, and greatly enjoyed the Delta Episode!

Animal Crossing
It is shockingly easy to become entirely obsessed with this game, even though it really has no goals. New Leaf brought in even more customization and even better social elements. If you're traveling to a tropical island with friends, planning the location for your next mayoral project, fishing or just increasing your rapport with your favorite villager, there is a kind of zen associated with playing Animal Crossing which is hard to explain. With no levels and some goals which cannot be reached until after real-time year has passed, this game is meant to be played leisurely and enjoyed.

Fantasy Life
Best described as Animal Crossing meets Zelda, Fantasy Life is an incredibly fun little action RPG game. It offers great character customization, even better than Animal Crossing in many ways, has a cute plot wrapped around a very free form style of play. It also has amazing social elements, bringing people you have street passed into your game, as well as allowing up to three other players to join you in your game and help battle in real time. It can be a little slow, and some find the crafting a touch monotonous, but with an auto crafting feature and 12 different "lives," or job classes, to choose from, Fantasy Life offers hours of gameplay in a cute package.

Bravely Default
If you like old school RPGs, Bravely Default is the game for you. It reminds me of Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. Thanks to its optimized method for entering commands, turn based RPG battles have never been easier or faster to power through. This system allows for strategy as well as quick battles, and has tons of job classes to unlock! While the characters in game are a little more stumpy and chibi than I would like, the game is still visually stunning, has a strong plot, and is beautifully voice acted.

Final Fantasy VII
I know, it's an ancient game--but with a remake announced, no one will have to suffer through the terribly outdated PS1 graphics again in order to enjoy this game. The world offered by FFVII is huge and immersive, and one can only hope the remake will expand it even more. Originally four disks long, there is plenty of story to go around, and all kinds of additional little goodies to be found, as well as Chocobo breeding and racing! Most old school gamers will insist that Final Fantasy III, IV and VI have better plots, I won't even try to argue against this point, but FFVII was the game which really made the Final Fantasy series a household name in America. And besides--you get to dress the lead male up in drag and try to pass him off as a woman in this game! Check out the gorgeous new remake as soon as you are able to--I know I will be!


I obviously have an interest in far more series than are listed here. If I tried to list them all, we'd be here all day and all night. These are simply the ones I feel most of my friends and readers would enjoy. Now that you know my tastes, do you have any suggestions for me, dear reader? Are there any series I mentioned above which you have more questions about? Any you've read/played/seen anything listed here that you loved or hated? Please let me know!

I'd also like to give a special thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes across various social medias. I'm so lucky to live in an era where I can not only communicate with, but befriend such a diverse group of interesting people from all over the world. It's really an amazing thing, and I can't thank any of you enough for your friendship and support. <3

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Why is Winter Coming?

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"Winter is coming." 


Few phrases are more closely associated with the Game of Thrones fandom than this one. We know that winters in Game of Thrones are long, sometimes lasting a decade or more. It is also difficult for people in that world to predict when the seasons will change, the Citadel even has a special, rare breed of white raven they send out to deliver the news of the changing season. While this may just be the way that the seasons in the world of Game of Thrones are, I can't help but wonder what causes these long and unpredictable seasons.

In order to discuss this topic, we're going to have to take a big step back and look at how planets move through space. This is where the world of astrophysics comes in to play, and if you thought Game of Thrones was nerdy enough on its own, hold on to your socks! You're about to enter a place where high fantasy and scientific laws cross streams.


While most assume that seasons are caused by how close or far a planet is from its sun, this is not actually true. 

Seasons are caused by a phenomenon known as axial precession. That's a big word used to talk about how the axis of a rotating body--in our case, a planet--is positioned. Planets spin, and the axis wobbles, or moves in slow circles, like the stem of a spinning top. When the axis of the northern pole points towards the sun, the northern hemisphere of that planet receives more sun and experiences summer. When the axis shifts and the northern pole points away from the sun, the southern hemisphere experiences summer, and the north winter.

The idea is easy to visualize: The more the top of the planet points towards whatever star that planet is orbiting, the longer and warmer the summers will be. If the axis rotates around so that the north part of the planet is pointing away from the star, then the lack of heat, the energy of the star, will cause the weather to be cooler. This cooling trend will trigger an earlier start to winter, and allow winter to last much longer.

This wobble is a natural and normal thing, and each planet has its own angle towards its sun as well as its own rate of wobble; just like each planet rotates at its own speed, and circles the sun at different speeds. Earth has a very slow axial precession, our planet does one complete 'wobble' every 26,000 years or so. This means we have very regular, predictable seasonal patterns and none of us live long enough to notice the change in the orientation of our axis. Most planets are not nearly as stable, so what made us so lucky?


The moon. 

Yes, the moon's gravitational pull not only gives us ocean tides, its pull also helps to keep us relatively stable as we spin our way through space. Without this pull, the Earth's axis would swivel much more, creating seasons which would frequently fluctuate.

Armed with this information, the easiest assumption to make is that Westeros' moon is somehow wildly different from ours. It could be significantly larger or smaller, in an elliptical orbit, or any other number of odd features which could cause its gravity to tug on the planet in a different way than our moon does to the Earth. It's an easy answer, but a reading of the books shows nothing out of place or odd about the moon. It also seems that the TV show has made no real effort to edit, emphasize or change the appearance of Westeros’ moon in any way.

So, if the moon over Westeros appears to be be analogous to our own moon, what else could cause these strange seasonal patterns? We may have been given a hint all the way back in the first book. Doreah, one of  Daenerys' handmaidens when she is first married to Khal Drogo, tells us a fable about Westeros once having not one, but two moons:

"Once there were two moons in the sky, but one wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat. A thousand thousand dragons poured forth, and drank the fire of the sun."

While this story is quickly dismissed by the Dothraki, who have their own stories about the moon, many other characters have also quickly dismissed a host of other fables about Westeros. Fables such as the White Walkers and the existence of dragons are also dismissed as legend and fallacy early in the series, but we have seen the truth in these stories first hand.

A planet which which was previously being held into a stable position by the combined gravity of two moons would find itself very much off balance if it suddenly lost of one of those moons. It would take a long while, even on the cosmic scale, for the planet to stabilize itself once again. This lack of stability would leave the axis of the planet swinging uncontrollably back and forth, causing erratic seasons, while the gravity of its remaining moon slowly works to bring it back into a more stable orbit.

Do you have any other ideas that would explain the long seasons in Game of Thrones? Have you had any wild theories regarding the series that were proved right or wrong as the story progressed? Please share!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Pokémon Boutique LA Opening

While only a few dedicated Pokéfans showed up more than an hour before the opening of the Pokémon Boutique at Japan LA, the line wrapped around the block by the time the doors opened at 6PM. What had started off as a modest line turned into an hours long wait, as hundreds of fans eagerly anticipated getting their hands some unique Pokémon swag.


There was no shortage of Pokemon gear!
The tiny store of Japan LA heavily featured Pokémon items and branded apparel which were a little different from the tees you would normally find on the shelves of retailers. Like the boutique found in Lumiose City, the Pokémon Boutique featured a small selection of clothing, all packed with style. Much of the apparel on sale seemed to slant towards the female fan, with many shirts sporting cute Pokémon in pastel colors on a background of lavender, Misdreavus haunting a black crop, and even a pastel babydoll dress covered in adorable electric Pokémon.







Not to worry, guys, the Boutique has plenty of clothing for you, too! With a a knitted Pokéball patterned sweater, black Gengar hoodies and even a Pokémon letter jacket, there was plenty of stylish apparel for all. Rather than simply pasting clip art images of Pokémon onto standard sizes of tshirts, outfits in the Boutique were clearly crafted with an eye for fashion and design. Shirts had non-standard cuts, and the Pokémon they featured were rendered with bold pops of color, or artsy background features. These little changes added a modern, interesting flare to some of our favorite Poket Monsters. Fans could also pick up more standard Pokémon gear, including heavy duty lanyards, Pikachu banks, Pokéball mugs, smiling Pikachu hats, several kinds of plushies, and backpacks featuring the original starter Pokémon.

There was a bit of bad news for those who came on opening night: The sizes offered were rather limited. More sizes and even more designs are allegedly on their way later this month, great news to those who are still planning on making a trip to the Boutique. For those of you who can't make the trip to LA to purchase that must-have Pokémon item, there is no need to fret! Everything in the Pokémon Boutique will be made available online at the Pokémon Center after the Boutique closes, in July.

One of the most exciting item for many fans was the 14 karat gold Pikachu necklace designed by the Onch Movement. This smiling, glittering Chu hangs from a black link chain, and leans over what appears to be a large pretzel. This pretzel serves as the logo of the Onch Movement. It's a lovely bit of jewelry which carries a $400 price tag. 


On the other end of the scale, these adorable, light up Pikachu watches caught my eye. Costing less than $20, these bright yellow bands don't immediately register as a watch. Only when you press the rubbery watch face do they light up and display the time. A great gift for younger fans! 

Customers who bought $30 worth of items, at least one being Pokémon themed, were able to nab a limited edition Pokémon tote to carry their swag home in. 

Once fans had their fill of shopping, they could wander just a few doors down and into the lounge, where a miniature Pokémon paradise awaited them. In celebration of the Boutique's opening night, the lounge was filled with music, DJ'ed by the beautiful Amy Pham, as Pokémon episodes projected on the wall behind her. Fans of all genders and ages lined up to get custom nail art of Pikachus and Pokéballs. Pikachu himself even made an appearance, showing off his awesome dance moves. And yes, it was a male Pikachu--I checked the tail.


Pokemon themed nail art
The demographic was wide and varied, though it did seem to skew towards an early 20's to mid 30's crowd. Outside of one couple with an infant, there were almost no children among the first to arrive. The varied audience, and the fact that not all attendees are children, is often surprising to those outside the Pokémon fandom, but the appeal of Pokémon is by no means limited to kids. It was an amazing experience to see so many people of different ages, social skills and places of origin all coming together over their shared love of Pokémon. They played DS games together, danced with Pikachu and compared gear and nail art. There were fewer cosplayers than one would expect from a Pokémon event, but fans did not fail to show their love by wearing novelty Pokémon tees, dresses, hats, buttons and more. There was so much excitement over the Boutique that one pair of sisters even flew in from Texas, just for the opening!
A stylish Pikachu appears!

Pikachu shakes hands with a fan


Perhaps the only downside to the evening was the lack of an event Pokémon to download. Because many fans brought their 3DS units with them, many hoping for a downloadable Pokémon, there was a seemingly endless number of characters lining up at my Street Pass gate throughout the night.


A young fan is not entirely sure if she likes Pikachu or not
All in all, the opening night of the Pokémon Boutique was a great night, filled with excited fans, interesting apparel and loads of free boxes of matcha pocky, thanks to the Pocky Truck! Thank you to Pokémon and Japan LA for organizing this fun event! 

Did you attend the opening night of the Pokémon Boutique? If so, what was your favorite part? How long did you wait in line? Have you ever attended any other Pokemon events? Please share your stories! In the mean time, enjoy a dancing Pikachu!



Need more Pokémon? Check out Pokémon is Forever.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Attack of the Friday Monsters! Game Review

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale puts you in the shoes of Sohta (not to be mistaken with shota, big difference!), a young boy who just moved to a tiny town in 1970's Japan. Of course, Sohta didn't move to just any town, Fuji no Hana just happens to be a town where monsters appear and fight on the horizon each Friday! 

Attack of the Friday Monsters! features a lovely, soothing musical score, beautifully rendered scenery and a delightful, childlike whimsy. This little known game is both simple and very innocent, and it is just that childlike simplicity that lends it such charm. Most of the game involves exploring the town and the beautiful countryside around it, and I often found myself wandering more than necessary, just to enjoy the scenery and music.


As the title suggests a major focus of the game is a strange phenomenon of giant monsters which appear and battle each other each Friday. These monsters have drawn a television studio to Fuji no Hana, and each week they film the action and broadcast the battle to the world. The TV studio has created a fan club and even a collectible monster card game in order to capitalize on the monster phenomenon. All the children of the town collect these cards and play the game, which plays out like a slightly glorified version of rock, paper, scissors. You will have to become a master of this game if you want to fit in, and as such a young child, fitting in is very important.

Monster cards can be found while wandering the map, and they appear as gleaming, colored orbs. Collecting and upgrading cards makes your deck more powerful and more versatile, and winning a game means you won't have to fall down whenever the other kids in town cast a spell on you. It's entirely silly, but the characters take the rules of the game seriously that I couldn't help but find myself personally offended when you lost and had to fall down.


The plot of the game quickly takes a turn toward silly, then one more turn into the downright ridiculous; and it manages to do all this in a delightfully entertaining way. The humor is quirky, and the story is written with such childlike logic that you absolutely believe that these are the conclusions reached by a young child. I found myself genuinely wanting more information about the monsters as well as a bigger map to explore.

From pranking your friends by roaring like a monster to staring in wonder over huge dinosaur-like footprints blocking your path, it's easy to get lost in this game and once again experience the kind of wonder which is usually restricted to childhood. Once the story of the game has concluded, you are able to continue playing indefinitely, improving your card collection and asserting your dominance over your card-playing peers. 

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale offers several hours of game play for $8. This is not the kind of game which you beat, it is a game you enjoy. It is packed with charm, which will bring you back for a nice little escape from reality again and again. It inspires the same kind of bliss as the Animal Crossing series. The card game requires very strategy in order to win, and the game takes its time, wandering through the story, rather than rushing through it. It is very good at helping guide you through the plot while still giving you plenty of opportunity to wander through the lovely little world of the game.


If you're looking for for a fast paced or challenging game, this is probably not the game for you. However, if you can appreciate a nostalgic, charming little story and a way to escape reality for a few hours, Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale may prove to be the cutest game you've never heard of! 

Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale was developed by Level 5 Games for the 3DS. It can only be purchased from the Nintendo eShop, and is priced at $8.

Have you played Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale? Do you have a favorite little known but amazing game? Please tell us about it!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

I Worked with a Racist Fish

I entered the work force at the age of 15 years old, spending my summer vacation as an office manager for a tiny medical supply company. When I say tiny, I mean that the entire company consisted of me and two salesmen, crammed into a tiny, two room office. I was given a desk in the front room, facing a small fish tank filled with a very large fish, a tiger oscar name, well, Tiger.

Tiger and I became good buddies, it sounds silly, but it's true. This fish had a huge personality, and we spent a lot of time together that summer. He would jump out of the tank and eat crickets from my fingertips and even developed a little dance to warn me when someone was approaching the office, since his tank had a line of sight to the front door, where my desk did not.

Oscar stock photo by FantasyStock

Everything was great with Tiger, until the day that Randy was hired. Randy was a cheerful salesman with an infectious smile, always chipper quick with a joke. He was also the only person in our tiny office who was not white. Everyone in the office loved Randy... except for Tiger.

The moment Randy would enter the office, Tiger would go into attack mode. He would flare his gills, open his mouth and "get up on the glass," trying to pick a fight with our newest employee. This happened every time Randy came into the office. Tiger simply refused to be nice to Randy, who did all he could to ingratiate himself to the fish. Tiger refused to eat any food Randy offered, ignoring even crickets, his favorite treats, in order to try and challenge Randy to a fight.

After a few weeks, Randy finally threw his hands up in frustration and asked, "Man, why's Tiger hate me?" No one in the office wanted to be the one to tell Randy the truth: Tiger was a racist fish.

Biologically, Tiger's racism can be explained. Tiger Oscars are naturally a dark gray with gold stripes, but when they become angry or aggressive, their scales turn to a deeper shade of black. Tiger had become accustomed to the peach skin of the various white people who frequented our tiny office, so when Randy came in, with his deep coco colored skin, Tiger assumed he was angry, and judged him to be a threat.

Now, please don't assume that I am making excuses for the bigotry of the fish kingdom. On the contrary; we had many talks with Tiger, explaining that Randy could not change the color of his skin like Tiger could his scales, and that he was no threat. Tiger simply did not listen.

Sadly, I do not know how the tale of Tiger and Randy ended. September came around and the sun set on my time at my first job and, probably wisely, the adult men I worked with did not keep in close contact with a 15 year old school girl. I like to think that Tiger came to realize what  great person Randy was, but I'm not optimistic. There is a saying about tiger oscars changing their stripes, after all.

Even if Tiger never learned his lesson, I hope that you, dear reader, will walk away from this little tale with a chuckle, a smile, and the knowledge that nothing is gained by being a racist fish.

Have you ever had an animal create a hostile work environment? Please share your story!