APA recaps the year in Asian American cinema with its third annual top ten.
Our innocent tastes are sometime so, so guilty. But in a year when such luminaries as Vanessa Hudgens, BoA, and Edison Chen make headlines, can you really blame us?
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APA recalls the year's top video games with Asian characters, settings, and themes.
Publisher Atlus, Developer Atlus
Persona 3: FES is a director's cut of what many critics considered the best role playing game of 2007. To get an idea of what the game plays like, mix a high school simulation (including dating sim elements) with a dungeon exploration RPG, and monster collecting elements. The result? A uniquely original and compelling experience. FES adds several new scenes and a new 30 hour epilogue. As noted in my review, the original Persona 3 is easily the most accessible and mainstream game in the underrated Shin Megami Tensei series, despite being a distinctly Japanese game in terms of setting and characters. The localization team at Atlus USA retained all the Japanese elements of the game at the risk of alienating Western gamers. The game's resounding success showed that gamers these days are more than willing to embrace diversity, especially when it comes packaged in an engrossing game.
Publisher Square Enix, Developer Square Enix, Jupiter
Even on the Nintendo DS, with its amazing variety of unique and experimental titles, Square Enix's The World Ends with You stands out as the most compelling and innovative DS release of 2008. In TWEWY, you play apathetic teenager Neku, who gets thrust into a life and death involving death gods. Typical RPGs are set in sprawling, Tolkien-esque fantasy worlds; TWEWY happens within the Japanese hipster fashion district Shibuya. Jupiter made the reclusive district accessible to western gamers by ensuring that Shibuya isn't just a superficial backdrop, but an essential extension of the gameplay, where you eventually manipulate trends and fashion in your favor. The boisterous character designs, hip original tunes, and refreshingly different gameplay gives TWEWY a distinct vibe that transcends comparisons.
Publisher Ubisoft, Developer Grasshopper Manufacture
From the delightfully imaginative mind of video game autuer Goichi Suda, No More Heroes is a hilariously satirical send off of video game and movie clichés. Loosely inspired by the cult classic film El Topo, No More Heroes follows the misadventures of Travis Touchdown, an ordinary guy who finds himself in a struggle to become the #1 assassin in the world by eliminating the ones ranked above him. Travis is crass, crude, and cruel, but is compelling because he's also a total otaku geek. He loves moé, uses a light saber knock-off he bought at an online auction site, and religiously watches pro wrestling. He listens to Genki Rocket's Heavenly Star and works part jobs so he can afford to buy anime themed t-shirts. Not only is No More Heroes one of the best Wii exclusives, it can also boast having the best characters. GameLife's Kohler says it best: "Swinging a knockoff lightsaber, assassinating a crew of wacky killers, and schlepping coconuts around a park for spare change? This isn't just what Wii needs more of -- it's what gaming needs more of."
Publisher Capcom, Developer Clover Studios/Ready at Dawn
Clover Studio's unsung swan song, adventure epic Okami, was retuned for the Wii in May courtesy of American developer Ready at Dawn. As the wolf avatar of Sun Goddess Amaterasu, you use the Celestial Brush to restore a land corrupted by an evil entity. Originally released in 2006 on the PlayStation 2, the adventure game was deemed by critics as a stroke of genius; many pointed out that the game would be ideal on the Wii with its motion control inputs. The game's sprawling, sumi-e-inspired cel-shaded landscapes become a calligrapher's canvas as you use the Wii Remote to paint strokes in the game. Ready At Dawn has, for the most part, faithfully remastered the game, offering 480p widescreen and more vibrant colors. Unfortunately, the gorgeous end credits from the original version were removed as was the traditional, non-Wii Remote control scheme. Regardless, all you folks out there that got Wiis for Christmas should check out Okami if you're craving a deep, Legend of Zelda-style adventure.
Publisher Sega of America, Developer Amusement Vision
Yet another late bloomer on the PlayStation 2, Yakuza 2 was actually released in Japan in 2006, but didn't make its way here until this fall. With a plot written by renowned crime fiction author Hase Sieshu, the action adventure thriller follows the struggles of former Yazuka member Kazuma as he tries to prevent an all-out war between rival gangs, the police, and the Korean mafia. If you ever wonder what's it like to be a Yakuza, this is the next best thing, as you delve deep into Japan's seedy underbelly and beat up a lot of unsavory gentlemen in the process. Fans of another Asian-themed Sega franchise, Shenmue, will enjoy the Yakuza games, too, as they share similar gameplay mechanics. Language purists will be happy to know that the US release only features the original Japanese voice acting. A commercial and critical hit in its native country, Takashi Miike directed a film adaptation (Like a Dragon) of the first Yakuza game in 2007. The third entry in the series is due out this March in Japan with no American release date set.
Publisher Atlus, Developer Atlus
The PlayStation 2 refuses to go away. As long as games like Persona 4 gets released on it, there's no reason why it should. A by-the-book sequel to last year's sleeper hit role playing game Persona 3, Persona 4 improves on its predecessor while retaining the same core gameplay. It's even more distinctly Japanese than its predecessor, this time taking place in a rural town where people are mysteriously murdered on foggy days. With a plot that involves Japanese mythology, cultural idiosyncrasies, and more honorifics and trivia, even the most hardcore Japanophiles will be pleased. Oh, and you can even date a J-pop starlet. Even though the game is essentially Persona 3.5, with a lot of reused graphic and gameplay aspects, the game was a critical hit even amongst the most jaded of gaming publications. Not bad for a game in a supposedly tired genre on an eight year-old console.
Publisher Electronic Arts, Developer EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
DICE's experimental parkour platforming adventure game is set in a first-person perspective that gives a visceral sense of exhilaration as you leap rooftops, scale buildings, and slide down construction cranes. In an industry with all too many games featuring armored space marines and female elves dressed in thongs, Mirror's Edge Eurasian covergirl Faith Conners is refreshingly down to earth...when she's not making death defying leaps off of skyscrapers, that is. She's resourceful, strong, and attractive, but thankfully not simply a sex symbol like so many other female leads. Since the entire game is from a first-person perspective, you only see her actual in-game appearance twice: the beginning and the end. The time in between is when the player literally becomes Faith. While frustrating at times, DICE's first person platforming experiment is astonishingly mesmerizing in its finest moments.
Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars -- Huang Lee
Publisher Take 2, Developer Rockstar Leeds
Due out on the Nintendo DS in March, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars features the first Asian lead protagonist, Huang Lee, in the massively popular crime-action series. As a member of the Triads, Lee was on his way to delivering a family heirloom to his recently deceased father when he was ambushed. Forced to regroup in Liberty City, Lee has to go retrieve the heirloom and of course, avenge his father's death. If Rockstar Leeds can do for Lee what GTAIV did for Niko Bellic, gamers should expect a fully fleshed-out world filled with all sorts of compelling drama and danger for Huang Lee.
Back to APA's Best of 2008 issue
Date Posted: 1/2/2009