Thursday, April 23, 2009


So I've been holding off on buying an Xbox 360 until there's a decent number of games I really want to play on there. Notice I didn't say 'good games', I said 'games I really want to play'. My life doesn't consist solely of sitting around playing video games, however much this 'blog makes it appear that way. No, I pretty much have to be assured of being REALLY into it, in order to buy and spend time playing it.

So up to this point, the Xbox 360 has had about three games I've had lined up to buy right away when I finally knuckled under and got the console. Shutokou Battle X (Import Tuner Challenge), Senko no Ronde (Wartech), and Earth Defense Force. All badass, all truly kvlt.

Anyway, three games do not an expensive console purchase justify. Then the news that a number of STGs originally designed by Cave were going to be ported to this machine. Holy crap, that accelerated my timetable!

But wait. By all accounts, the first Cave port, Dodonpachi Dai Ou Jou EX is utter rubbish! Nooooooo!

Cave ports to consoles have been something of a mixed bag, with only software house Arika really seeming to nail them down to being 'arcade perfect'. BUT. They are all playable. Occasional graphic or slowdown issues aside the games look and play recognisably like their arcade counterparts.

I haven't delved deep enough into the issues surrounding the new Dodonpachi for the Xbox 360, but as I understand it, as soon as you start to play using the deeper mechanics that Cave shooters are known for... that is to say, not just moving and shooting... the whole game falls apart. The company responsible is already online apologising and talking about issuing a patch to fix it. This does not bode well for the future planned ports, which I believe are from this same developer... assuming Cave doesn't pull the license from them for such a botched job.

I'm being a bit of a cock not just buying the Xbox for the three (and probably more) games I want to play. But to play the Cave games I'm looking at an import console, and that ups the price again. I guess in a way I should be grateful I've been spared spending the money since things are a bit tight in my life at the moment!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What the fuck is Alan Moore's problem?

Alan Moore wrote the illustrated versions of the stories V For Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, and Watchmen.

He also wrote Miracleman, some issues of Swamp Thing, and the lavish collection Lost Girls, none of which have been adapted in film.

I just got done watching V For Vendetta on DVD. I saw it the theaters, and liked it but never got around to buying the home version. Not too long after watching the theatrical release I bought the DC/Vertigo graphic novel. This was one of the rare times I've watched a film based on a comic property and was NOT familiar with the source material.

A month or so ago I read the graphic novel, enjoyed that, so was inspired to finally pick up the DVD, especially since I was having trouble, from what I remembered of the film, what Alan Moore's issue was with it could be.

Turns out Alan Moore's problem is a problem founded in principle. Based on his previous experience, true, but also because he's a dick.

Alan Moore was utterly disappointed with the film adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen... which I get. The film was ass. He was also disappointed with From Hell, which I understand less because I'm one of the few people that liked the film, and (as we will see with adaptations of his later work) because I was surprised by how much of his incredibly rich story they actually managed to fit in.

Alan Moore is a great writer. I'm not one of the people who doesn't get it. I don't think the sun shines out his poo-hole like a lot of people do, but I cannot deny his talent. I've enjoyed almost everything of his that I've had the pleasure of running across. He's a master.

Maybe everyone telling him he's a master has not been all that beneficial. He's the ultimate expression of high-caliber talent thumbing his nose at 'commercialism', 'corporations' or something. Now I completely understand all the stanzas in the True Artist's Writ. The lines about not selling out, don't let the suits tell you what art is, don't compromise, don't let the work suffer, the work is your baby... blah blah blah.

DC did not treat Alan Moore all that well. So he left 'em. His prerogative. But he has also dismissed all overtures they've made to make it up to him. They would let him have a lot of money. They would let him do his own projects. They would build him a 50 foot tall baby Jesus made out of chocolate if he wanted it. They'd probably give him a lot of control over film adapatations.

As I understand it, studios have solicited his help on the projects they've done already. But because he didn't like the first two adapatations, he's done the same thing to Hollywood that he's done to the big American comic book company. Turn his back. Just think what Hollywood would offer beyond what DC could if they could get Moore in their camp.

But he won't have it because they don't 'get' him or his work. They'd just water it down, or change shit 'round because the essence is just too deep for the shiny-suited tinseltown types. Sarcastic as this sounds, I sympathise with the root feelings of Moore's disdain. Hollywood can and does schlock the shit out of a lot of properties. Depending on how fanatic a follower you are it might be impossible for Hollywood to do justice to your favorite property. Lord knows the idea of a movie about Elric (a book series whose importance to me is hard to overstate) gives me hives. But being a fundamentally different medium (no matter how cinematic comics are described as being) there is just no way there cannot be, uh, alterations from the source material. Movies are collaborative. While not unheard of for a film to encompass a singular, auteur vision, it is pretty dang rare. Not so in comics. There are generally one or two individuals in American comics responsible for 90% of the work. Moore's vision only has to pass through one person, his artist, on its way to the page. And as controlling as Moore might be it is difficult for me to imagine that SOME of the art didn't turn out differently than what he pictured.

So how dare he forgive his artist for changing his vision. Is every illustrator now some mad hack that was foisted on him? No. So how come the artists get a pass on their interpretation but a filmic treatment with its legions of staff involved gets the finger?

The people working on adaptations of Moore's work probably give their all to stick to the spirit of the work. They may not get it right by Moore's lights, but people want to work on these deep, dense works because they really like them. There is something in his work that makes you consider and feel in a way most writers will never get close to.

It took years for a decent version of Stephen King's work to come out. And that shit is STILL hit or miss. Moore is English, and a wiccan hippie, and despite that he still had good movies coming out for his work by the second or third film!

I've been really surprised (starting with From Hell) in the case of V For Vendetta and Watchmen how much of the story made it in there. With V there was a fair amount of updating and simplifying, but I didn't think A LOT of message was lost. They even kept in a lot of the controversial stuff you'd think Hollywood would be loathe to put up on screen.

And Watchmen. That movie is so spot-on to the graphic novel, the pages are practically the storyboard. Coming out of that movie, I almost felt it was too faithful... which is a really hard thing for me to say considering, as I've labored on about, fidelity is pretty important to me.

But as a fan of both comics and film, I at least have the sense to view each format in its own terms. And in the terms of their respective environments. If you feel like a filmic treatment of your grandiose work needs to show every nuance (and what would be the point of your work still being in print if that was the case), the environment of the entertainment industry posits a miniseries maybe instead of a theatrical release... but of course the budget within which to realize your vision is going to suffer. So what's the lesser evil? Getting look and style close to your work with some simplification? Or the production values suffer (and possibly the number of people that see it), but you leave in more of the intricacies?

I get the feeling Moore wouldn't let Hollywood touch any of his properties no matter what. He isn't the forgiving kind. DC messed up, he doesn't even speak to them anymore. Hollywood fucked up two adaptations, no way can they talk to me about how they could do better on my other stories. While I understand that DC licensed these out because they own the rights, regardless of Moore's wishes... and THAT in itself is a sticking point for Moore, it just seems to me there'd be some merit in Moore trying to involve himself to the degree that he tries to ensure the audience sees as much of what he intended as possible.

No one probably thinks the Harry Potter franchise or the first Twilight movie is a patch on the original works. But those movies are all a damn sight better than they had any right to be considering all the shit Stephen King or Robert E. Howard's work suffered. Not to mention all the horrible comic adaptations. You've got the Batman and SpiderMan movies you've got NOW. They weren't always like that.

If you are an author and you feel 'No way. No way am I going to let Hollywood touch my work.', I respect that. Most authors have no clout with the Hollywood machine and if they sell their work, anything could happen to it. Not so Mister Moore. He has people up to the director level who'd be willing to listen to his points, because he is someone who is universally touted as knowing what the hell he's talking about when it comes to story AND the creative types involved are ON HIS SIDE.

Alan Moore. Alan Smithee. Separated at birth?

Entitlement or Video Gaming as Social Microcosm

There are lots of articles and rants using the word ‘entitlement’ when referring to the youth of today, and their perceived attitude of wanting everything spoon-fed to them. An older generation deriding ‘kids today’ is really a diatribe as old as time. But there’s something a little different these days, an additional aspect to the old discussion. Entitlement has come into it’s own.

For parents of every decade it has always been a tightrope act to give their kids the best they can but still foster a sense of independence and a willingness to work. Work for what they get, work to overcome challenges, and learn to accept that sometimes work results in failure. We want our kids to have the proverbial ‘better lives than we did’ but at the same time it is commonly accepted that difficulties, setbacks, and hardship can be beneficial and a cornerstone of character building.

As a society (and I generally mean Western nations, where I hold a membership card) we have gradually nudged ourselves, throughout the last century and into this one, to have a pervasive caretaker attitude. In schools, government, and much of social discourse we are telling our children they are just as good for trying, or just showing up in many cases, as they are for actually accomplishing. ‘An A for effort’ has become a mantra.

Y’know? That mantra’s bullshit. Dash from Pixar’s The Incredibles was telling it like it is when he said, ‘If everyone is special, then no one is’. There has to be something more for the winner. I’m not saying there is NO merit in effort. I think there is. It is frequently the silver or bronze medallists who become the gold medallists. But when our young people leave the nuturing, A-for-effort, environment of their schools and get out into the real world, it is something of a shock for them to find the workplace actually expects fucking results and not to just have done ‘something, anything’. It is becoming an oft-repeated tale, the manager exasperated by the new hires (or interviewees) who feel ‘entitled’ to the rewards and attaboys, even if they don’t do a good job… like the position itself justifies all the stuff that comes with the job. The problem is becoming endemic so that many workplaces are feeling like they have to have some kind of policy in place to motivate these self-entitled tits. And you can’t just hire a different sort of worker, because it is rapidly becoming apparent that this is about all there is.

With my kids, I’m fighting a neverending battle against the Forces of Mollycoddle, just to have them grow up with some fortitude and a decent work ethic.

Kind of a long rant/backstory to where I really wanted to go with this. I’m not really all that worked up about the topic because the place where I live is so full of general apathy, and other problems related to it, that the entitlement thing is just a drop in the bucket and I’m kind of inured to it, in the real day-to-day world. But it provides some sort of rationale for why the video game world (or at least the video game sphere on the internet) are full of such whiny pricks.

They’ve existed for years. Older gamers invented the term ‘scrub’ to define newbies or rather newbies with bad attitudes, usually in the context of 2D fighting games. These were the kids in the arcades who thought they’d found the invincible character, or the undefendable spam-able super that SHOULD win every fight for them… but would cuss or yell (accompanied by parting swipe at joystick) when one of the arcade’s veterans would hand their ass back to them. Today’s bitchy n00b is a descendant of the old scrub.

It’s too hard.
It has limited continues.
This character sucks.
No one could beat that boss.
The CPU cheats.
The game has rank.
It’s the fucking controls.
You’d have to buy the hint book to figure that out.

On and on the complaints. Not that any of the above issues are never true. I’ve played enough games to where every one of those things on the list have crossed my mind… or rather been shouted at the screen. We all have our good days and our bad days playing. The problem comes in when today’s players let this stuff spill out into the world, which of course is all too easy with access to the Web.

No shit, the CPU cheats. No game AI is going to be able to match the unpredictability, and cleverness of a (good) human player. So they program them to do things YOU cannot pull off. Look up the common trope ‘SNK Boss’ for a good example. I (along with a lot of players) hate rank in my STGs. It just seems like if you play well enough to earn all the powerups and extra ships there should be a commensurate ease with which you continue to blow through the opposition. I’ve run across my share of roadblocks that no reasonable, sane person could be expected to get past without a hint book or a peek at GameFAQs. There are all kinds of methods designers use to inject challenge into a game. The best of them use a gradual curve that follows a reasonable expectation of gained skill. And if it doesn’t, hopefully there is a difficulty setting in there somewhere.

These issues are often a legacy from the position the game companies used to have of sucking the quarters out of you in the arcades. It used to be quite an art to make a game easy enough at the beginning to get you hooked, and then start raping you for your money if you wanted to see further and further into the game. Nowadays, with the arcade model largely outmoded, game companies now build difficulty in to give a game longevity for the dollars you spent outright. If you are paying your ten to sixty bucks, the companies know they need to do better than give you an hour’s challenge… because then the n00bs will complain about THAT. ‘It’s too easy.’, ‘It’s too short.’. ‘It’s for casual gamers’. Cripes, just buy a DVD. You can find more eye candy for less effort that way. Spoon feed your brain and use your hands to hold a bag of Oreos instead of a controller.

There ARE (or have been) games that are too hard. It is sometimes difficult in the confusion of the internet to discern truly expert or hardcore gamers, but when their consensus points out a difficult or problematic instance, chances are they’re right… those damn levering platforms in the first Mega Man or the eagles in the NES Ninja Gaiden come to mind. Can anyone say that actually beating one of these ‘unfair’ situations is not the greatest moment in video game playing?

My own kid sounds kind of n00bish when he complains about the lack of continues in the games I play. But y’know? He’s ten. He also has grown up in a time when video games (of incredible sophistication compared to the old arcade games) are just pouring out of stores and into homes. He can download old arcade games. Find last month’s games at bargain prices. Sees ads for Mario, Sonic, Crash, and whatever mascot they dream up next month, hawking the latest. He doesn’t have a frame of reference from when video games were paid for one grueling quarter at a time, were only available when you made the effort to go there, or had home versions that barely resembled what you were used to playing.

Unfortunately he does have a Dad that trashes him when he’s being a scrub. Actually, that’s a little harsher than reality. But I do try to relate to him the same principle I’m trying to get to in this post:

That the good video game experience, like most things in life, is something that should be worked for… it should be earned.

I won’t tell him (or anyone) to never use a continue. Or a hint book. Sometimes, you just have to. But I’d also say don’t look ahead in the book. Or use the practice option if the game has one. Or go online to look for actual play tips as opposed to cheats. Or set the damn game aside for awhile and come back to it. Learn the game. If it was worth paying thirty bucks for, don’t just dismiss it as too hard or use a cheat to blow through it.

Don’t act fucking spoiled. You are spoiled, bitchy newbie. But stop acting like you are.

Jebus, I’ve been spending the last week looking at my local game stores for the new Samurai Shodown Anthology. If this disc had existed when I was a teen playing SamSho in the arcades I’d have seriously considered digging out my left nut with a rusty spoon if that would’ve obtained it. Now its out (somewhere) for twenty bucks on the PS2, thirty bucks on the Wii. Are you fucking kidding me? These things were arcade games. And if you could afford a NeoGeo they were originally hundreds of dollars per cartridge. Now you’ve got six of ‘em… all able to play on your sixty dollar refurbished PS2. And I’m reading whiny bitch-posts about controller support, graphics filters and whether SSV Special Edition is on there! Those complaints don’t have anything to do with difficulty-whining, but they are indicative of the mentality in the herd.

Occasionally, there comes a game that the level of effort involved in playing it well just doesn’t seem to match up to the reward. I’ve run across those games myself occasionally. This is, of course, related to the ‘crappy ending’ trope, but I’m not going to cast my net quite that wide for this particular ‘blog entry. It is just getting harder and harder for players looking for a really good experience to find it with all the information available… much of it poisoned by whining entitled newbies.
The internet has always been an outlet for people with too much bad to say and too much time on their hands. I sometimes wish these people had to go back in time and play video games the way they used to be played. One quarter at a time, waiting your turn behind some dude who made it look easy. And when you were done, you did NOT have the luxury of firing up the same game at home and playing it to your hearts content. Your next chance to practice wouldn’t come ‘til you went back to the arcade.

My son is catching on. As he’s gotten older, and his reflexes are catching up to his interests, he is putting the casual stuff aside and starting to recognize what the appeal is to the real deal. He’s currently into driving games because that’s where I am, but he’s got his own game he’s working through. He’s starting to feel it is too easy. What’s keeping him in it is that it funnels rewards to the player in pretty rapid succession so he’s eager to see what’s next. But he has his eye on a Shutokou Battle game, where some real challenge lies. He also thinks STGs are the cat’s ass. He sucks at them, but he’s getting better. He understands the greatness.

All in good time. I don’t put video games up there as any kind of gateway to being a better person, but I will really be happy if some of his understanding about challenges and perseverance learned in video games spills out into the rest of his life. If he doesn’t feel entitled in his simple entertainments, then there’s a shot he won’t take anything for granted.
I think that’s the deal with the entitled modern gaming scrub. He won’t put the effort in for the rewarding experience, yet he is inundated with terrible, casual or easy games. Not every young gamer is like this. I’m really dealing in generalities, but the good guys don’t bark nearly as much. They’re too busy enjoying the good games.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Done and done, yo.

Racing Battle: C1 Grand Prix is in the can!

Some background to this momentous event.

(car) Tuner culture over in Japan has a lot of similarities to its counterpart here in the States, but a lot of differences too. One of the key differences is in the very public arena of street racing. In the USA, racing your street car is basically illegal on a public road, and legal on the track. There are almost no exceptions to this, in any state and in any circumstance. You cannot race your car on a public road without risking police entanglements. You also risk ticketing, arrest, and/or impounding of your vehicle if you take part in a street racing ‘meet’ (a la scenes in The Fast & The Furious), even if you aren’t doing any actual racing yourself. Over time, as tuner culture has approached closer to mainstream consciousness, advice even amongst the formerly edgy magazines and shows has been to take the racing to the track. Cities with large car segments have been making track time available specifically to street racer potentials—anyone wanting to drive fast can have access. A lot of official drag racing events have tuner-oriented aspects to them, and a lot of tuner shows include time at a nearby track. American tuners may enjoy the same forms of racing that they do in Japan; time attack, touge, circuit drifting, etc. but the overwhelming preference is for drag racing. A quarter mile drag race can happen quickly (and with a minimum chance of attracting the authorities) as long as any reasonable traffic-free straight stretch of road can be found.

In Japan, street racing is also technically illegal but how the law is enforced differs substantially from America, and can even change month-to-month, year-to-year, depending on what problems and pressures the relevant authorities are feeling at the time. In ‘good times’ the cops generally turn a blind eye or rely on automated ticketing procedures (like cameras) to ticket drivers. So racing will flourish in this environment. In ‘bad times’, not only will they ticket the crap out of you, the police may even set up checkpoints to check any suspicious cars for modifications to their cars not covered by driver paperwork or the law. A lot of the car clubs have members that spend time monitoring the political and social climate around their favorite streets to determine the efficacy of racing without getting into trouble. Races, typically termed ‘battles’, typically take place on the expressways (for highway battles) or on winding mountain roads (touge)… all very late at night when traffic is at a minimum. In the case of highway battles, encountering and evading what little civilian cars there are is all part of the deal. In the mountains, they have team members on cell phones actually giving an all-clear when a stretch of road is free of cars.
Legal circuit racing is very popular in Japan also, with time attack, drifting, road courses all seeing popularity with tuners… drag racing included, but by far the least popular. Gasoline being hugely expensive, and with space and population issues, big powerful cars are not aligned with Japanese society. Their choice of motorsports reflects this with an emphasis on the technical skill, in driving and setting up a car, that road racing and time attack require, as opposed to the raw horsepower on display at the dragstrip.

With all of this in mind, Genki a long time ago decided to tap into Japan’s tuner culture and general love of automobiles with some very unique racing games.

Genki started its Shutokou Battle series, so named for the network of Shuto expressways encircling Tokyo, way back for the Super Famicom (SNES). At that time it included highways, touge, and circuit racing, formats that would all get their own series as time went on. Subsequent chapters of Shutokou Battle concentrated on highway battles, with touge moving over to the Kaido Battle games, and circuit racing picked up by Kattobi Tune and later, Racing Battle: C1 Grand Prix. Common to all these games was the concept of a sort of game world complete with individually identified rivals. In the early games it was just a name, a car, and maybe a picture. The driver might say some trash talk before a race. But as these games have evolved, the rival concept has been expanded to the point it mirrors real-life Japanese underground race culture, though dramatized and simplified in the same way movies or comic books might do it. The rivals now carry through from game to game, consistently driving their recognizable make or model of vehicle. They have individual ‘stickers’ identifying them or the club they belong to. They each have information on their tuning strategies or philosophy along with info about their day jobs. And they communicate with the player through a faux BBS and email system within the game.

This determination to reflect the actual culture, and the details that make it attractive, not only extend to the rivals, but also to the cars. In the beginning, small company that they were, Genki’s ability to get actual sponsorship and licensing went about as far as getting Keichi Tsuchiya (Japan's celebrity Drift King) involved and that’s it. The cars all had to be referred to in the game by their chassis code as opposed to their name, but the games usually had a screen for changing the name to the real one if you wished. Genki stayed hip to what sort of parts tuners bought, and what sort of modifications they made, so the games reflected—with increasing sophistication through the years—what you could find in any nighttime parking area around Japan. Nowadays, with sales and money comes the ability to attract and pay for the real names, so Genki games now are populated with the real car manufacturers, models, and aftermarket parts suppliers.

As described in another previous post, Genki racing games appeal to gamers that want more color or atmosphere. But one of the great things about the game world, besides the cultural details, and the continuing cast of characters, is the type of ‘freedom’ you have. A better word escapes me. This is kind of a hard thing to describe accurately. In many racing games (Gran Turismo most prominently) you just have a list of races or tracks, some starter cars and parts available, and you pretty much just work through the choices, winning as you can, getting more money, buying more cars and parts, tweaking as you go, until you eventually complete the game. At the other end of the spectrum you have those games who hang your progress on a detailed plot (Race Driver Pro for example) and you pretty much need to complete the races and get the cars more-or-less in narrative order, to climb your way to the top of the racing heap.

The Genki games have found a good balance between the two extremes. You have only a minimum plot, usually about ‘the greatest racer’ having disappeared and a power vacuum being created, which you, naturally, are going to try to fill by contending with all the other wannabe racing kings. You can then roam the highways looking for rivals, race as many times as you wish, talk to other racers, or frequent the shops. It is pretty much all done at your own pace. It isn’t the goal of attaining champion that is the fun part, it is the journey.
Some days, you might find yourself in constant white-knuckle races, other days you might do nothing but shop and modify your cars. All at your pace. You’ll have friends and supporters. You’ll have drivers that dislike you for no good reason. You’ll have rivals you hate because game after game they keep giving you trouble. Only the Need For Speed: Underground series and its spinoffs seem to have hit a similar note, but with even more emphasis on real-time free roaming in your car than the Genki games… though NFS: Underground still seems to need to wedge a fairly serious ‘plot’ into the proceedings.

Genki racers are something of an acquired taste. At first glance it may be hard for the average gamer to see what the fuss is all about. But there is a lot of fun, excitement, and drama under the surface. It takes some dedication to see that. These games bring back one of the killer reasons why many people play video games in the first place: anticipation. To see what is next. To complete goals. To finish the game. It isn’t just endless repetition once you start talking to the other drivers, or opening up new tracks. You actually learn to feel dread, hatred, or dismay when you see a familiar sticker from a rival you remember handing your ass to you multiple times in a previous game. Like Cave shooters, or SNK fighting games, Genki racers are a cult phenomenon. Not so easy for the mainstream to crack.

Despite all this street racing emphasis Genki has had some titles take the racing to the track. The very first episode of Shutokou Battle had a circuit aspect to it, and later on during shelf life of the editions for the PSX and the Saturn there was Kattobi Tune, and most recently Racing Battle, the inspiration for this post in the first place, came out in 2005.

As recent as it is, Racing Battle has had the benefit of all the other titles that have come before it, so Genki decided that the rivals, communications, and color of the ‘illegal’ racing titles, in addition to the cars and parts should come over and test their mettle in the new environment. Many of the rivals have gotten sponsors and changed or upgraded their rides to meet the conditions and challenge so different than the highways or mountain roads. In point of fact, they’ve cordoned off some sections of the expressways from Shutokou Battle to make street circuits so now fans get to drive these familiar areas in the daytime. Since cars and rivals from both current Genki series (Shutokou and Kaido Battle) are included, there needed to be several race ‘modes’ to cover the skills on display in those games. Racing Battle includes both racing and drift segments, and all rivals are capable of racing in all modes. Completing the game, in fact, requires you beat everyone at each type of contest. Like most Genki racing games some detail and realism in the graphics has been sacrificed to keep the sense of speed up (Gran Turismo looks like it crawls in comparison) and to budget in all the rivals, parts, background, communications, etc. that are part and parcel of their game world. It won’t win points for beating Gran Turismo or Forza’s realistic cars and tracks, but it does have a much more immersive framework in which to race. The customization level is much higher than almost any other racing game as well, including the ability to place vinyls on the cars that you derive from pictures taken with the EyeToy accessory.

If all of this sounds a lot like the other ‘epic’ motorsports titles like Gran Turismo, Forza, or Enthusia Racing, it is. Only it is Genki’s take on the specific subgenre of circuit racing, and it brings along a lot of what makes their other racing titles so compelling.

So my personal story with this game: I had played numerous Shutokou titles and become a big fan, including buying, playing and completing Japanese versions when it appeared I just wasn’t going to be able to wait for them to release in the USA. When Kaido Battle came out, I waited out the arrival of an English version. But then played it through rapidly, enjoying the different take on the ‘Genki system’. I was all set to skip Kaido Battle 2 (I’d heard it wasn’t different enough from Kaido Battle 1, though it was a better game) and move onto Kaido Battle: Touge no Densetsu, when I saw Racing Battle for sale. In Densetsu, the plot is that Shutokou bosses come out to the mountains to challenge the Kaido racers… kind of a crossover between the two series, so I was really ready to get to that.
The only thing that would’ve stopped me was an even more jaw-droppingly nerdy event in the Genki racing world, but that was exactly what Racing Battle was. A different crossover of rivals from both series battling it out on official circuits, with technical supervision from racer/drifters Orido and Taniguchi… just like in the ancient days when Tsuchiya would advise on Shutokou games. So I put Densetsu on hold, bought Racing Battle till my hands ached. This was not a simple task. Where Shutokou and Kaido Battle games had English versions so one could figure out a subsequent Japanese chapter, those games also tended to have a fair amount of English in the menus and captions. Not so Racing Battle. Very extensive Japanese text, a system dissimilar in a lot of ways to the other series’ AND almost no English language help or players online.

I was alone in my Racing Battle corner of the Genki universe.

Now a site named NTSC-UK does (at the time of this writing) have a guide to the most common menus, and this was absolutely invaluable. They actually used screen shots so the learning process is way quicker than most all-text FAQs you might use to learn a Japanese-heavy game. All props to this site for posting such a professional, useful tool. So with at least the main menus translated, and a lot of determination I worked my way through the game. It was A LOT OF FUN. As I was playing I found I was really missing out on the BBS/email communications… in fact ANY communications or info on the rivals, really, and learning what you gain from all the different items you can buy. The game lets you buy stuff to decorate your in-game garage, wear on your person, or keep with you as you drive… and these items can change certain attributes or gain you advantages, ie wearing the helmet reduces the amount of damage hitting a wall does to your SP bar. By lurking around the very few English threads on this title, I was able to get an idea what some of the items do. None of this stopped me from playing and enjoying the game. And getting good at it.

There comes a time in every Genki racers time with a game when he has to knuckle under and ‘find all the wanderers’. Usually you’ve fought and defeated all the rivals in the main narrative of the game (such as it is), and now there are just the rivals left that have special conditions required to make them available as opponents. The conditions can be as simple as a certain day of the week, or a weather condition. They might require you to be in a certain model of car. Sometimes the requirements can be more difficult, like having defeated certain previous rivals, or owning a certain number of cars. In the English versions of the games, the communications from or about the drivers often give you enough information to get most of these people out. Typically, there will be a last dozen or so, that you just can’t make appear. Or if you are playing a Japanese version it might be many more, since you can’t read the Japanese-language clues. This is where the online guides come in. Most people do not have the patience, or in my case the time, to really sit there and find every last wanderer strictly without help. Although their requirements do fit in with each driver’s background and profile, they are often just too obscure to reason out.

So imagine my difficulty coming to that point in Racing Battle and finding absolutely NO wanderers guide whatsoever. And the game was not popular enough in the English-speaking world to warrant even a regular forum to discuss the matter. Eventually having persevered I got the leftover wanderers down to about twenty, mostly by filling conditions bound to get taken care of if you race enough days and beat enough opponents. I used Genki’s official Racing Battle website to find Japanese fan pages and then ran them through Babelfish. I found two usable wanderer lists, and these got me down to about eight. Unfortunately this was the place where the inaccuracy of the Babelfish facility showed itself. Genki racers are a minority subset of tuner culture which is itself a corner subculture in the much larger universe of automobiles. There are terms unique to automobiles, terms unique to tuners, and terms unique to this family of racing games. So any vagueness was incredibly difficult to decipher. Finally, stymied I had to put the game down for awhile. I’d come back to it and finish it after I’d taken a break from racing games altogether.

A long time passed. In that intervening time, the few English language bits and all the Japanese fan material seemed to dry up. As I was farting around with an STG or learning about the Wii Virtual Console, Racing Battle was becoming more and more obscure. Since Racing Battle had, at the time of its release, topped sales charts in Japan, I had no idea that it was going to fade like this. Partly time got away from me too. I really hadn’t intended to go THAT long without taking another stab at it. In that time also, Densetsu got an English release, making my Japanese copy a non-starter. Fiddling around with Densetsu got me feeling like I had unfinished business with Racing Battle. So before Densetsu hooked me completely, I needed to close that previous chapter. I tried scouring the ‘net for help once again, but found myself to be even more alone than when I first started playing it. Even the Japanese pages were gone. I had made a copy of what seemed to be the best one, so I had my main wanderer help, but it looked like this could be really grueling slog to the finish…a feeling I was starting to remember when I first took my break from the game.

Turns out my fears were unfounded. I don’t know what I was NOT doing earlier but I had no problems following this FAQ and getting the last few wanderers to come out. Actually defeating them was another matter. In the time I’d taken off, my skill had atrophied somewhat. I was okay in the various racing events because racing ability in one game can frequently give you a leg up on another one, and I’ve played a lot of racing games in my life. But the drifting was another matter. Not as many of those played and really only one other Genki one (with its unique physics and system). So the Drift battles were rough. Very rough. Especially the ones requiring the use of cars far outside my preferences or experience… drifting in a front-engine front wheel drive vehicle is an experience I don’t want to repeat too often.

Finally, ‘Wanderers Completed 100%’ flashed across my screen, and when I went into the garage the next day, there was an email. The final boss labeled ‘Unknown’ was calling me out. Now this guy is well known to serial players of the Shutokou Battle games. He is labeled ‘Unknown’ or ‘???’ in all the games he appears in, with his sticker being a horned skull suspended above a hexagram. He is always the last guy you fight, and he typically drives a very innocuous looking 1980’s version of a Nissan/Datsun 240Z colored blue. The appearance is deceiving of course, because it is small, light, and souped up the max. It probably doesn’t corner all that well, but he usually challenges you on the Wangan section of the Tokyo expressways which is miles of straight freeway. So beating him is typically an exercise in maximizing your car’s power while really getting good at dodging freeway traffic.

He’s different in Racing Battle. Japan has a professional race series called Super GT. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda all contribute a lot to the series, including technology and machinery for automobiles. They all have unbelievable versions of street cars on the track and Unknown’s car is basically the Nissan 350Z in its Super GT version, with a tiny nod to his old street ride in the form of the form of his driver side front fender being blue, with an old 240Z style headlight and fender mirror.

To wrap up this very long post, I used my traditional cars to beat him. I typically have in my garage in every Genki racing game a Supra RZ, a Silvia S15 (or a 180SX), and a Lancer Evolution. In the three contests against him all three cars played their part, amongst many others used to bring out the last wanderers.

It was a great game. A very long, drawn out experience, but well worth it in the end. It may not be my favorite Genki racing game (that might be another post) but it is probably the best-quality overall, of all of them. Certainly the most in-depth, though Densetsu looks to rival that. With all the effort required it was still hands-down a better time than Gran Turismo or any other game like that.