Visual Novel Theatre: Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan

Here’s an odd one.  It’s a Japanese Visual Novel… with westerners as the target audience.  And it’s one that aims to be mostly practical, kind of a virtual tour guide of Japan.  Minimal fantasy here, all just storytelling that will teach you thing.  Edutainment.  From a company that typically makes H-games, no less.  And this is minimally H-y.  Only mild amounts of H here.  And pretty tame H too.  

In any case, I kind of wonder about the conversation that led to this being made.  Something like:

A: “So, I hear there are actually some people who like visual novels in all those heathen Western companies.  They’ve got money, maybe we should make something for them.”

B: “Really? I though visual novels were just a unique Japanese thing that other countries don’t really have the cultural factors and industry inertia to appreciate en masse.  Those Western visual novel fans must all be giant nerds.”

A: “Well, I don’t know about that. There is that Aether guy.  He seems incredibly cool.”

B: “Yeah, of course.  But aside from him.”

A: “Oh yeah.  GIANT nerds.”

B: “That gives me an idea.  If they like visual novels, they must like other aspects of Japanese culture.  Maybe they all want to visit.  So let’s make a visual novel about visiting Japan! And we’ll have the main character be the biggest nerd of all!”

A: “Genius!”

And that’s how Go! Go! Nippon! was born.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ takes you on a virtual tour of the country, with one of the two Misaki sisters as your tour guide-cum-love interest.  You will be introduced to several Japanese landmarks, learn big FACTS about Japanese culture, and see through the eyes of the biggest damn dweeb you could ever possibly imagine.

Yeah.  That’s this visual novel.  I can’t tell whether developer Overdrive is playing a trick on you, or this is what they think the average westerner interested in visiting Japan is like, of if they didn’t realize just how much of a dweebosaurus their viewpoint character is, but this guy.  This guy.  Such a monumental geek.  It’s absolutely cringeworthy at times.  This nerd is you.  You can name him after yourself.  Which is just going to make the subsequent scenes more funny.  For me.  Probably extra cringe for you.  I don’t recommend naming this guy after yourself, is what I’m saying.

So, your guy loves anime and all that Japan pop-culture stuff.  So much that he learned Japanese to a level that he’s fully fluent and hangs out on forums with Japanese citizens, and yet he somehow avoided picking up anything more than a very shallow cultural knowledge about the country.  Which is understandable from a storytelling perspective, given that he has to not know these things so that the Misaki sisters can tell him and, therefore, us, about them, and it wouldn’t be all that notable in a normal story, but combined with this dude’s personality it makes him seem an extra-large dweebenheimer.  So yeah, he met the Misaki sisters on that forum, and they agreed to host him for a week-long visit to Japan, so he saved up his money and flew out there.  But the sisters, Makoto and Akira, have gender-neutral names, and dude spent however many years convinced that they were actually the Misaki brothers, only finding out the truth when he showed up at the airport and started wondering why women were paying any attention to him whatsoever.  Also their parents aren’t home.  The implications are not lost on him.  But this isn’t an H-game, so nothing comes of it.  

So the visual novel runs along two lines.  Most of the time, it spends being remarkably practical, talking about the ins and outs of navigating Japan or introducing major landmarks or cultural features around Tokyo or Kyoto and giving the stories and whatnot around them.  The first three days of your trip, you’ll choose what location in Tokyo to visit, which will determine which of the sisters you’ll spend time with.  Whichever sister you’ve spent more time with by the time you hit the fourth day and the tale gets more linear will, inexplicably, fall for you.  So it’s not just educational.  It’s a love story, too.  

So, you get one side of facts.  One side of characterization.  The facts can be pretty interesting.  They range from taking you through the sort of things you probably already know if you’ve spent a decent amount of time with Japanese-set works (Japan has robot toilets! Hachiko has a story! Japanese houses are made with Tatami mats!) to things that I, at least, didn’t know (How to navigate paying for and entering subways! A whole bunch of cultural landmarks and the history behind them! Japanese bathrooms don’t have locks so don’t try the door without knocking if your sharing the home!).  I’ve never been to Japan, so I can’t say how useful it’d be, but it strikes me as having a bunch of bits that are helpful, but not nearly enough that you can rely on what you learn here alone.  Then again, it’ll be more entertaining than other guides, by virtue of, you know, having anime girls to go along with it.  Plot and characterization are rather shallow.  I won’t say it’s bad, but it’s not deep.  Makoto’s a traditional high-performing princess type.  Akira’s a tsundere.  I hate tsunderes.  Guess which one the game decided to hook me up with?  Your character wets himself regularly.  They do play with it a bit, in that although Makoto is more of what’s considered traditionally “feminine” in character, it’s Akira that has the more “feminine” hobbies.  Honestly, though, there’s not a lot of mileage to get out of that, especially as such distinctions have less and less weight culturally.  Beyond that, the plot just plays it safe.  Nothing with a lot of nuance, nothing that you haven’t seen before, nothing that takes any risks except for the fact that your lead character is such a huge dweebzilla.  I entertained myself quite a bit by screenshotting all the times the lead acted like a total loser (I got 99 pictures!) but I don’t think it’d be all that fun without it.  Like I said, it’s not a bad story, but it’s not good either.  It’s just kind of there.  It’s plain vanilla cake, no frosting.  From a box.  Overall, your enjoyment of this is going to rest on how much you enjoy all the tourism-related learning, more so than the story.  

Visuals are good for the most part.  The characters are decently designed, although I think Akira’s look is probably better in meatspace than it is in anime.  The backgrounds are absolutely excellent.  Very highly detailed, seems like they really capture the atmosphere they’re trying to project, and I’m assuming they’re really good representations of the real life fixtures they’re trying to transmit here.  At the least, they match up really well with photographs I’ve seen of these landmarks, so I’ve been giving them a lot of faith for their accuracy.  The CGs, big old splashes of character activity, are pretty good as well, the few times they come up.  Art is definitely the high point of this visual novel.  Which, I mean, normally they’re an erogame studio, so they’d better be good at their art, but they use it to really good effect here in this game that’s pretty light on the ero.

I lot of the other parts are just fine.  Sound is ok.  Music is forgettable, but not distracting, and matches the mood they’re going for well, generally.  Writing style is mostly fine.  Doesn’t get in the way, but also doesn’t really add to the work.  Plot is inoffensive, maybe trending to the bad.  It’s light on content, character driven, and one of those characters is a tsundere so…. Character conflict occurs late in the story, and at least on Akira’s route, was one of those deals that could have easily been solved if they just agreed to talk like two people who weren’t emotionally crippled for five minutes. But overall, the plot, such as it is, is fine, just running in some very well-worn ruts.  Nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s all safe. Riskless. And in doing so, it doesn’t reach itself toward anything.

Which kind of puts this game in a weird place.  What purpose is this serving?  As a guide for travel to Japan, it’s not content-dense enough to be super useful.  As an entertainment medium, it doesn’t even try to dazzle.  Now, there is definitely something to the fact that you will learn more from something that entertains you, and maybe it holds value there, but otherwise, this has the Red Mage problem.  Doesn’t educate you as well as other things you could get just as easily.  Doesn’t entertain you as well as other things you could get just as easily. Maybe if you’re really curious about Japanese tourism and just starting to dip your toes into it, this could be worthwhile to you.  But otherwise, I’ve completed it once, and I don’t have any urge to do so again.

Project G-Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Alternative Title: The grand finale that wasn’t really the grand finale. OR The one that did the Avengers thing before it was cool.

So, it’s 1967 or whenever this film was being made.  The Godzilla movies were once a big deal, but ticket sales had been sunsetting, and it wasn’t the solid moneymaker it once was.  Toho decided that maybe it was time for a change.  Let’s give the Godzilla film series one big finale, then let’s move it from movies to a cartoon show.  The kids love the cartoons, right?  Except it’ll be anime.  Because we’re Japanese.  That’s what we’ll do!  So they got all the people most responsible for making the Godzilla franchise what it was together, told them to give it a big send off.

Then all these guys, director Ishiro Honda, special effects producer Eiji Tsuburaya (supervising, his protege actually handled the work here, but still), composer Akira Ifukube, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, they were all sitting together, thinking, “You know?  This will be the last Godzilla film.  And even if, by some crazy, insane miracle that nobody can even dream of, something so infinitisemally possible it’s not even worth talking about, it’s not, it’ll still be the last time we’re all working together.  We need to send if off in some great way.  But how do we take this big, dumb series, and give it a finale that will make a proper impact?”

They found an answer.  And that answer is to make it biggest and the dumbest.  And not just of Godzilla.  This is the Avengers of Godzilla films.  The culmination of the kaijuverse.  Godzilla already absorbed monsters from other films, but this one is the king of it.  We don’t just get Godzilla and his rogue’s gallery here. This film is importing Kaiju from a whole bunch of movies in Toho’s shared universe. This is the crisis crossover, the end of this entire universe of stories.

And obviously, it worked.  It wasn’t the highest reviewed at the time, but it resonated really well with the general audience, and brought in enough dough that Tojo shelved their plans to shelve the series, and had them doing a whole bunch of follow up films.  Moreover, time has been far kinder to the film, and it ranks in the list of top Godzilla movies today.  

It’s also a pretty significant turning point for the film.  As previously stated, this is the last time a lot of the key creative minds in the Godzilla franchise all worked on one of its movies together.  This is also, thanks to the big time jump, the final chronological story of the Showa era.  So the handful of movies coming after this all took place beforehand.  Meaning this is the one that gets to have the final say on what this segment of the Godzilla canon is to be.  

So, what’s the Aether take on it?  How does it hold up?  Aether loves big dumb things, but is this the right kind of big and the right kind of dumb?

Let’s explore.

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D&D… on’t Know What I’m Doing but it’s Ok

So, you know how I do that rambly introduction for a couple of paragraphs whenever I’m making a new post? I was set to do one of those here about how I didn’t have the time for any of the larger posts I’ve been wanting to do so here’s a quick bit about what’s been on in my Dungeons and Dragons life. But you know what? That’s not perfectly accurate. It’s true that I haven’t really had the time to do the larger posts I’ve been wanting to do, but honestly, I just want to talk about Dungeons and Dragons today anyway. Even if I had the time, this is what we’d be doing. So let’s do that.

As I mentioned some months ago, I’m a newbie GM with a bunch of much more experienced players. I kind of fell into the role by default, as I was the one to get our group back together after we finished up our last campaign and everyone did their own thing for a while, and nobody else wanted to run the game so it fell to me. But I’ve actually been enjoying it, and I’ve been doing my best to put up a good game. Which has been a bit of a learning process, has required me to pick up a lot of new skills, has seen me through a bunch of missteps, and it takes a good chunk of time, but I think it’s been fulfilling.

I do have a particularly major challenge I’m facing, though. You remember last time we talked about this, how I mentioned that “Your players will follow your lead, easily”? I look at that now. I was such a fool. Such an incredibly sexy, genius fool. How naive was I, then? I imagine any GM with experience was just laughing at me there. What’s the saying, “No plan survives first contact with your players.”? I have been coming to respect that more and more. There was one point that I was thinking on reaching out for help, finding some more experienced GMs and running by them what they think I should do. But as I’m spending more and more time with this, I’m starting to discover, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

The game I run is pretty heavy on the roleplaying aspect. Between having some long scenes of interaction and nonviolent conflict, as well as my habit of not calling for a skill check in social situations if the players just roleplay it well enough and it seems like the sort of thing that would reach their goal, sometimes a few hours will go by without anyone rolling any dice. So, the players are getting really into their characters. At least, I think this is where this is coming from. In any case, I assume, because they’re so into their characters, when tight situations (read: combat) come up, they don’t typically act in the most tactically advantageous manner. This group will split up all the time, with some members going off and doing things that I hadn’t even thought of. Which makes it really hard to plan out content for them.

So, we’re in a fantasy post-apocalyptic world. Our PCs are part of a village that a dragon decided to put together that, as far as anyone knows, is the only large gathering of survivors in the known world. And it gets attacked all the time. The world, whatever is left of it, is ruled by some almost omnipotent jerk that wants to torment everyone in it for his own amusement. Someone in the village falls pregnant, evil overlord sends one of his knights to declare he’s going to be taking that baby once its born and raise it in some faraway location for purposes they don’t understand. That’s just his rules. The village leader doesn’t want that to happen, but knows the town can’t stand against the overlord, so he tracks down an out-of-village survivor that has some information on where the overlord takes the babies, and sends out our heroes to go snoop on the place, get some information on it so that if the village needs to plan a big rescue operation later, they’re prepared to do so. Our party sets off, tracks down a boat, beats some monsters using it, then head off to the island that has the location in question. All as intended.

I was really proud of that island. Put a lot of work into it. It was going to delve into the backstory of one of the player characters quite a bit, had some work that was going to progress a subplot involving another character, and the way to get to the building filled with enemies that were demonstrably too strong to take on directly but also very dense which I had assumed would lead to good opportunities for the more stealth-oriented character to do his thing. I had a couple dozen NPCs there, all with their own little backstories and side plots, and a big old web of how they interacted with each other. Had a number of potential allies they could recruit for the village and build up their community’s long term strength. Set up a few magic items there, too, specifically geared toward increasing one character in combat viability and given him similar narrative resources to what all the others had. I had a lot in there for them.

And everything fell apart. The player of the character that I had the subplot going for could not make any session of that adventure, so that ended up getting canned. The character for whom a lot of his backstory was going to get explored on the island got scared by the enemies there and just completely ran away, leading me to have to ad-lib a whole series of encounters for him for which I had prepared absolutely no material for beforehand. The group found the aforementioned loot, but ended up leading the area guards right to it and abandoning the area before they could pick anything up, so no real improvements in the character’s strengths there. The stealth focused character couldn’t figure out the stealth challenge and so mostly served as a distraction for the one character who was slipping inside. And that character, the one for whom I hadn’t written any material around on this part of the adventure, ended up doing everything single-handedly, but was so direct and violent about it that the group missed out on pretty much all the interwoven plots I had built in there, and only one of the potential allies was willing to go back with them, and he wasn’t willing to stick around them on a permanent basis afterwards. At the end, they didn’t even get enough information for a viable mission into the island later. They survived the adventure, but they failed in about every way possible, and they had nothing to show for their time spent doing so.

At the time, I had worried about that. Thought that meant I was a bad GM running a bad game. The the group would split up to the point that they were all essentially on their own adventures that, thanks to the one guy just straight booking it, didn’t even get back together by the time the chapter was done. It was a bit frustrating to me, as my material didn’t end up telling the story I wanted to tell, and I was worried it was leading to a bad experience for them, as they were going through a lot of content I hadn’t planned for. As I’ve been spending time with this though, building my skills and experiences as a GM, I’m learning that moments like those are really the beauty of this sort of interactive storytelling. I think the reason my group splits apart so much and behaves in ways that are mechanically suboptimal is because they get so into their characters and feel that they have the freedom to do that, both of which are things that we should be aiming for in the GM. And the fact that sometimes they fail, and fail hardcore, even if they survive, is a good thing. Both the story and the game are stronger for it.

And as I get more comfortable as a GM, I’m more aware that it’s not like anything is lost when they screw up. All the important bits that they didn’t see can come back later, if I so choose. They completely missed out on that one character’s backstory? Well, they may coincidentally come across a location that also ties into his backstory in the future, and I can use all that stuff then. They just skip over some enemies or an area that I painstakingly built just for them? That stuff can be reflavored and recycled into later encounters. If I want them to go through something, I can make sure they go through something. Just may not always be when I expect them to go through it.

Moreover, I’m starting to learn that I have the skills to still put together a good time, even when I’m pulling things out of my marvelously toned rear end. At least, I think I am. You’ll have to ask my players to be sure. I’ve got a habit of having at least the story bits of the next couple arcs planned out at any given time, so if someone goes way off the planned path? It’s pretty easy to use it as an opportunity to foreshadow something that’ll be coming down the pipe in the future. Some does something I don’t expect with a character? I’m a case manager. I work with the nature of personalities, values, and choices for a living. I can act out a character appropriately in most any circumstance. If I need to change or create a plot on the fly, I’ve got enough amateur fictioning experience to do that and make it seem rather complete. I spent years being into only roleplay writing, so adapting a story to other PCs is a piece of cake.

It’s gotten to the point that recently, one of the players had made a choice that ended up completely derailing things for about a session and a half, and I was able to just roll with it. The village was invaded by forces way too powerful for any of them to stand up against, so they had to punch their way out and evacuate as many as they could. It was clearly established that going back in was a BAD IDEA. However, one of the characters left his gear in there. He wanted to go back in to get it. He convinced one of the others to help him. So the snuck away from the rest of the party and did so. That set off a whole chain of events leading to one of them being trapped in a burning building, the other disappearing and reappearing under suspicious circumstances, and the other two had to go in and rescue them, leading to things getting even messier to the point that one of the PCs died to give the others the chance to flee. All completely unplanned. But I was able to get it together on the fly using maps I already had, creatures I had already created, and groups I already knew the motivations for. And honestly, I’m pretty proud of it.

In GMing, I am telling a story, yes. But it’s not just my story. And it’s wrong to view the main characters as being out of my control. They’re not intended to be in my control. We’re all telling this story together. And some of the best moments can come from the times where we’re all just barely hanging on.