Today is the last day of the month and that means payday, and as this is my first pay day in a long time when I haven’t had a holiday to save up for (although it looks like I might be going back to Japan for the PS3 launch next spring), it was a good excuse to splash out on some new games, backlog be damned. I still have several PS2 games and a pile of handheld stuff from Japan that I either haven’t even opened yet or have barely even touched.

Anyway, I picked up the newly-released Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the DS (out in the US on Tuesday, I believe) which I’ve only played for a few minutes so far since I prefer to play Castlevania games when I’ve got some time to sit down and sink my teeth into them (pun fully intended). What I can say from playing up to the first save point is that it seems as good as any other 2D Castlevanias and graphically makes some nice use of the extra horsepower that the DS has over the GBA, with some little inconsequential effects like steam on the characters’ breath when they’re out on a cold night. The touch screen is used to draw seals to do things like open doors and deal the killing blow on bosses. One fun little touch (sorry, another pun) was how instead of entering your name for your save file you actually sign your name on the touch screen which I haven’t seen done before and thought was pretty cool.

The other game I bought was Fahrenheit on the Xbox, known as Indigo Prophecy in the US for some reason. The UK version is worth getting just because it’s uncut, as the short delay to the release was to excise the sex scene from the US version in the wake of the fallout from the Hot Coffee “scandal”. The game can be a little bit pretentious, as it thinks it’s a movie (the main menu even says “New Movie” as opposed to “New Game”) when it’s actually more like a Shenmue QTE mixed with a “choose your own adventure” novel, but I’m impressed so far. It’s an interesting premise and a fairly unique and occasionally audacious execution (not to mention some impressive visuals), and even though it’s supposed to be a fairly short story there are enough endings that it could make multiple playthroughs worthwhile. I’ll have to play a bit more of it before I can give any deeper impressions but it seems like I’ll have a good time with it.

PSP Downgrader

Wow…writing about something as fast moving as the enthusiast development community and expecting it to remain accurate for any length of time is always going to be folly, but I didn’t expect yesterday’s post to become outdated this fast. In days we’ve gone from a minor buffer overflow being discovered to a fully functional technique to downgrade a 2.00 PSP to the 1.50 firmware, allowing homebrew software to be run on any PSP currently on the market. It’s a deceptively simple technique (the buffer overflow makes it execute a version of an existing version changer which makes the PSP think it’s a 1.00 while still being 2.00, which then means it will run the 1.50 update and overwrite 2.00) but I tried it on my white PSP which shipped with 2.00 and it works perfectly.

I’m sticking with 2.00 on mine for now just because I like the elegant functions of the added features over their homebrew equivalents and I’d prefer a way to run homebrew applications natively on 2.00, but at least now I’m safe in the knowledge that I can drop back to 1.50 in the future if a real homebrew killer app appears. Kudos to the guys who finally made it happen.

PSP 2.00 Homebrew

I’m not really big on the whole PSP homebrew scene and I couldn’t be even if I wanted to because the white PSP ships with 2.00, but I’ve really been blown away with how fast people have started to exploit a small bug in the 2.00 firmware. Looking at PSP Updates, they went from a buffer overflow on Friday evening (link) to the traditional “Hello, world!” on Saturday (link) and through some basic demos on Sunday until some enterprising individual came out with a fully functional version of Pong on Monday evening (link).

Whether you follow the homebrew scene or think of it as a euphemism for piracy that speed of development is seriously impressive, and surely it’s a matter of time before someone makes some kind of loader to run more complex software on it, returning us to the boom when the KXploit for 1.5 was discovered. It seems like every time my RSS reader updates there’s some new development on it.

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan Reviewed

I mentioned in a couple of the Japan posts, but I absolutely love Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS. It’s by far the best DS game that I’ve played which really demonstrates to me what a good system it is, even if it can’t match the power of the PSP and probably isn’t as good at the traditional genres. I’ve reviewed it here (of course, you can find it permanently in the review index), so check it out and then buy it. It really is brilliant.

Japan 2005: The Rest of It

This is basically what happened post Shinjuku, which is the last time that I updated when we were out there.

On the night after we went to Shinjuku we went into Roppongi which is one of the big districts for nightlife, and then visited a bar called Gas Panic. We got there at about 10pm and ended up leaving when it closed at 5am when it was light outside and people were actually starting to go to work. The language barrier wasn’t an issue since it was so loud, and I ended up getting some face/crotch action on the bar with a cute Japanese girl. Jan had a similar experience and got slightly aggressive at the end of the night when he found himself with us instead of a girl, screaming with laughter at himself outside a Yoshinoya restaurant while Eynon and Jude got their second post-drinking food fix, after already buying a kebab from a street vendor outside the club.

Unsurprisingly the best part of the next morning was pretty much a write-off, with us not getting out until the early afternoon. After that we went to Harajuku which is famous for the cosplay fraternity, especially on a Sunday. Also in Harajuku was our first brush with traditional Japanese culture when we visited the Meiji Shrine which consists of a really nice Shinto shrine in some absolutely beautiful surroundings. Heading back into Harajuku, we looked around the shopping area (it’s very much a fashion area, in keeping with the cosplay influence) and grabbed something to eat at a Japanese restaurant before calling it a night.

The Monday was the day we were booked into the Ghibli Museum which was conveniently on the same line that our nearest train station was. We took the train to Mitaka and instead of taking the shuttle bus to the museum from the station we just walked the kilometre which probably ended up losing half our body weight in sweat because it was about 30 degrees and still as humid. It didn’t really get any cooler until we left Japan, either.

The museum was very nice but didn’t allow photography inside the building. We got to see a Ghibli short film which will never be shown outside the museum (I don’t know the name but it was about a small puppy who gets lost) and explore the exhibits before hitting the souvenir shop. I was very good to my wallet and only bought the £10 souvenir book, but Eynon went a bit more wild. He managed to get himself under control and stop before the temptation to buy a £200 Spirited Away cel got too great. A lot of the museum was lost on us without being able to read, but I enjoyed it and it was worth the £5 to get in.

We got back to the hotel from the museum in the mid-afternoon and hung around for a bit before braving the heat again to see Shibuya by night. I was actually disappointed with the famous crossing because it’s smaller than I imagined, but at night the district is very pretty and has some great shops. One of them was about three floors underground but was huge and absolutely full of manga, games, and toys. It made me laugh how you’d have a case of Transformers, a case of Gundam, a case of Dragonball, and then a case of rope bondage figures in the middle as if there was nothing unusual about them. We went up into the Starbucks overlooking the crossing where photography isn’t allowed, but we followed the example of the Lost In Translation film crew and got covert pictures out of the window when the waitress wasn’t looking.

Tuesday was just a chance to head back to Akihabara to pick up more stuff. I’ve lost track of what I bought when but I think this is when I got Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS which is fantastic. It’s a rhythm-action game that’s probably never going to come out outside Japan but seems to be picking up a big cult following, and both me and Eynon ended up getting it and annoying the others with the endless repetition of infectious J-rock songs at full volume. I also got a few more DS games – Electroplankton, Touch! Kirby (Kirby Canvas Curse outside Japan), and Meteos.

On Wednesday we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto which was damn expensive (£150 for a return ticket) but got us the 500-odd kilometres from Tokyo to Kyoto in a little over two hours and, well, it was the bullet train. Considering our trains can barely do 70mph without derailing, this one was an amazingly smooth and comfortable ride for the speed of the thing. A short walk from the station we found the Higashi Honganji Temple which is one of the biggest wooden buildings in the world but is currently undergoing a big restoration (to be completed in 2011). A short subway ride away was the “must see” of Kyoto, Nijo Castle. Some of it was absolutely beautiful and I’d imagine that if you visited when the trees were blossoming it would look unbelievable.

Eynon was adamant that we should visit Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple, so we went to a subway station somewhere nearby. It turned out it wasn’t as nearby as we thought but there were a ton of temples and shrines in the backstreets so we walked it, eventually getting there through a sea of cheap souvenir shops. It was in the hills outside Kyoto and the view back at the city was spectacular, as were views of other temples in the hills. Then we had the choice of subway, taxi, or walking back into central Kyoto and someone had the bright idea of walking it – bearing in mind that it was stupidly hot and this photo illustrates how far it is back to the centre of the city (where the Kyoto Tower is), I think I lost the other half of my body weight.

Back in the city we found a big electronics store that, not being in Tokyo, obviously wasn’t as packed as the ones in the capital. That meant that not only did they have iPod nanos (I abstained in the end) but they also had the Advent Children Pieces, which were utterly sold out in Tokyo, for £120. Eynon and Jude grabbed them both and it looks like Eynon’s has already sold in the shop for £400. I grabbed Street Fighter III: Third Strike on PS2 as well as a sale copy of the PS2 Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution for ¥1,000 (£5). Eynon also got a Panasonic Q for an absolute bargain price.

The last two days were spent just doing any other things that needed doing before the end of the holiday. I can’t remember exactly but I remember hitting Akihabara one last time and going back to Harajuku, and when I saw that I could get there on the JR Line for less than a fiver I was tempted to pay a visit to Yokosuka but was able to bring my Shenmue fanboyism under control before I did. Maybe next year…

And that was it. The morning we left it was raining torrentially, but I still would have stayed if I could. Now I’m completely fed up with typing so you probably won’t hear from me for a few days – I’m off to play Katamari Damacy.

Back From Japan

I’m back from Japan and I’m tired, so I’ll make a big post about it sometime soon. The idea of blogging what was happening every day kind of died when I realised how much time it was taking, but I kept taking photos. I have a couple which I haven’t uploaded that involve the best toilet ever, but that’s for another time.

I got home at about 10:30pm last night after a journey that was decidedly less enjoyable than the one on the way out. After queuing to check in at Narita Jude got told that his luggage was too heavy so he could either pay something like £200 to take it on the plane anyway (you have to wonder why, when they obviously can take it anyway, the charge is so high), about £80-100 to ship it home via EMS, or just repack. He chose to take his backpack out of the suitcase and move some of the heavier stuff into it and carry it on, meaning that he had both his Advent Children Pieces (an absolute steal, but that’s a story for later) and a ton of stuff in his bag as carry-on.

The flight to Paris left a bit late but was fine, and actually went amazingly fast thanks to strategic PSP use. I had my laptop with several movies in PSP format, my 1GB Memory Stick, a spare PSP battery, and a 2-in-1 USB data/power cable which meant that I could run the PSP off the iBook battery to give me more than enough battery life to last the whole flight. I watched Advent Children followed by My Neighbour Totoro, then played some of my Winning Eleven 9 league and a couple of games of Lumines, then watched Sin City and played the rest of the flight out with Virtua Tennis and Lumines.

When we arrived in Paris we found out that our 7:20 flight to London was cancelled, so instead they’d moved us to the 8:00 one which meant waiting a couple of hours and probably missing our bus back to Bournemouth. We sat in the departure lounge thinking of ways to annoy the French as revenge (buying bottles of drink on a credit card because we didn’t have any Euros was eventually chosen) and being crap at Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS (best game ever) until the flight was ready. Less than an hour later we were in London, got our bags, walked through customs with thousands of pounds in games and hardware between us to find it completely unattended, and a brisk walk to the bus station got us there literally right as the bus home arrived.

A happy ending then, except for the fact that I want to go back. Same time next year?