The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In America

Every Friday afternoon, the staff of Xseed Games have a meeting. They sit in a conference room, break out the booze, and talk about video games. They talk about what games might be fun to make, what games might be fun to play, and what sort of strange Japanese titles they should work on next.

It's a much-needed moment of respite for the gang of talented multi-taskers, heroes to any American gamer desperate for someone to drag overlooked Japanese games across the Pacific for us to play, who work long hours translating, marketing, and bringing Eastern games to life in the United States. They have to work hard: there are only nine of them. Nine people. At the entire company.

But while the bigger guys—giant game publishers like EA and Activision—duke it out over who can sell the most millions, Xseed is happy to stay small. They're happy to focus on quirky Japanese games. And they're happy to stick within their niche, even knowing that it won't make them nearly as much money as they might make chasing after shooters and dubstep.

It's not easy. Big retailers want nothing to do with them, passionate fans can be a little bit too passionate, and everyone in the company has to wear multiple hats every day. But Xseed keeps going. And to people who like Japanese games—games like Half-Minute Hero, The Last Story, and Valhalla Knights—Xseed has become one of the most beloved companies on the planet.

Niche of a Niche of a Niche

"How do you pick the games you localize?" I asked Xseed. I was sitting in their conference room, chatting with vice president Ken Berry, editor Jessica Chavez, translator Tom Lipschultz, and marketing manager Jimmy Soga.

"I would say usually games are found either by somebody contacting us, like the Japanese developer team or publisher contacting us and saying, ‘Hey, we have this title, are you interested in publishing it in North America?'" Berry said, "or us just hearing about a title, whether it be reading about it in Famitsu, or seeing it a trade show, or seeing it covered on the Internet."

"Then we'll take all that feedback, sit down together as a group, and then say 'Okay, here's what I like about the game, and here's what I didn't like about the game,'"

When they're interested in a game, they'll approach the Japanese developers or publishers and ask about the North American rights. If a deal is possible, Xseed will ask for a playable build of the game so the whole team can check it out. Everyone at Xseed will spend a week or so playing the game and filling out internal assessment forms to figure out whether it's good or bad.

"Then we'll take all that feedback, sit down together as a group, and then say ‘Okay, here's what I like about the game, and here's what I didn't like about the game,'" Berry said. "And then based on that feedback, we'd have to come up with some kind of basic sales estimate—how much we think the title can sell. And then based on that we would have to put in a proposal to the original developer team or publisher in Japan."

Xseed will make a specific offer, pitching an upfront minimum guarantee ("You will definitely make $XXX") and a royalty rate ("You will make X% of every sale") based on how many copies they think the game will move. At this point, that Japanese team might also be taking bids from some of Xseed's competitors—other niche publishers like Nippon Ichi, Atlus, or Aksys might be interested in the game as well. So the bid is very important.

"What if you found a game that you really, really loved, but you just couldn't justify publishing it because you wouldn't sell enough copies?" I asked.

"That's every single game that Tom likes," Berry said, laughing.

"The one that I really pushed for, actually," Lipschultz said, "was the Hatsune Miku minigame that came in the first expansion pack for Project Diva, called Hello Planet, which I thought would make a great PSP Mini. But yeah. Nobody here really thought that was a great idea."

Hatsune Miku, an auto-tuned android that sings Japanese pop songs, is immensely popular in Japan. It's never quite picked up steam here.

"Tell him the premise!" Chavez said.

"Well it's a game based on an actual Miku song," Lipschultz said, as Chavez giggled uncontrollably next to him. "Basically it's an 8-bit style platformer that is in like a post-apocalyptic world. World War 3 happened. Humanity's been wiped out. But Miku's like an android that was like awoken automatically after a long sleepcycle. You play as Miku trying to find your master. Eventually you find his grave and, like, die at the side of his grave."

(Chavez still couldn't stop laughing.)

"You get to read all these emails about what happened," Lipschultz said. "And hear about, like, the end of the world. And it's billed as like the last love song of the planet. It's a very sentimental, very sappy sort of game, but it's really genuinely touching, and really fun... I thought it'd be a good choice but I couldn't convince anybody."

"A niche of a niche of a niche," Chavez said.

The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In AmericaXseed's office is small, cluttered, and full of personality.

So yes, sometimes games are even too smalltime for a small publisher like Xseed. And their biggest regret, Berry said, is that they can't bring over the sequels to games that didn't sell well, like Retro Game Challenge or Half-Minute Hero.

"I mean, we take so much flack from our fans," he told me, "because they say they bought it and they loved the first one, and why can't we bring over the second one? Well... Half-Minute Hero was probably one of our worst-selling games."

I asked how many copies they sold.

"Just imagine our hypothetical threshold and then cut that by five," Chavez said.

Berry laughed. "Look on VGChartz and then take like 1/5 of that and that's probably it."

Fleeing Square Enix

Xseed started with an exodus.

It was 2004. Just a year before, two big Japanese companies called Squaresoft and Enix had merged to form one bigger Japanese company called Square Enix. And although the merger had gone smoothly for Square's U.S. offices, some of their big American executives were starting to disagree with their Japanese counterparts on how to grow business in the United States. Eventually, Square Enix U.S.A. president Jun Iwasaki stepped down. So did a few other executives, including business development manager Ken Berry.

"A couple months after, he called us all together and said he wanted to start up a new company," Berry told me during a meeting at Xseed's office earlier this month.

There were six of them: Iwasaki, Berry, Square sales manager Sean Montgomery, marketing manager Kenji Mimur, CFO Kenzo Nogimura, and PR head Kyoko Yamashita. Iwasaki gave them all the pitch: first, using his contacts at Square Enix, they'd do some marketing work on a freelance basis. Once they'd gotten off the ground, they'd transition into publishing their own games.

From there, Xseed was born.

"We actually did all the sales and PR and marketing for Kingdom Hearts II even though we weren't a part of Square anymore."

"We actually did all the sales and PR and marketing for Kingdom Hearts II even though we weren't a part of Square anymore," Berry said. "We also pitched in quite a bit for Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus, and the movie, Advent Children."

Iwasaki was close with Tetsuya Nomura, one of Square Enix's most powerful producers and the man behind Kingdom Hearts. While at Square, Iwasaki had recognized just how appealing a Disney/Final Fantasy crossover could be, and he'd launched a big marketing campaign for the game. It became a massive hit in the U.S. Nomura was always grateful for that, so even when Iwasaki had left Square, Nomura worked to get him onto their projects.

The newly-formed Xseed also did some marketing research for Namco-Bandai, helping run focus groups during Comic Con to take a look at the Gundam series. But the folks at Xseed didn't just want to do marketing. They wanted to sell their own video games. They wanted to be a full-fledged publisher.

Towards the end of 2005, Iwasaki found out through some Japanese contacts that Sony of America was going to pass on localizing the Wild Arms 4—the fourth game in the popular RPG series that blends giant robots with wild western themes—and the folks behind it were looking for a new publisher. Around the same time, Berry suggested that they go after another RPG: Shadow Hearts: From The New World, a game with a bizarre plot and a fascinatingly intricate combat system.

They got both games. They brought on a company called 8-4 to help with translation, while they handled everything else: sales, PR, production, distribution, licensing, and all of the other fiddly little things that need to be done before a game can be brought to life. They also got funding from a Japanese company named AQ Interactive (a company that, later, would go on to become their majority shareholder).

Xseed Games had become a publisher.


The first thing you notice, when walking into Xseed's office in Torrance, California, is the big white shelf full of video games in the entryway. Some of the games are in English, but most are Japanese imports: weird-looking games with titles you've never seen before. One cursory look at the shelf might lead you to a fishing game, or maybe an anime-style girlfriend simulator. It's fascinating.

Over the past six years, Xseed has brought a number of Japanese games to the West. Some you might recognize, like The Last Story, a Wii RPG helmed by the creator of Final Fantasy. Others might be less familiar, like KORG DS-10, a synthesizer application that lets you make music on your DS. Xseed has a large, eclectic library of games, from remakes of old classics to RPGs based on fairy tales.

Today, Xseed looks much different than they did in 2004. Of the founding members, only Ken Berry is left. And they no longer do marketing work for Square Enix. Now, they partner with a number of Japanese developers and publishers in order to get Eastern games to the West. For hardcore fans of Japanese games—of which there are quite a few in the U.S.—companies like Xseed are a lifesaver.

Xseed works on the ground floor of a black building not far from the freeway and walking distance from a number of Japanese restaurants and convenience stores: perfect for stocking up on the staff's two main vices—ramen and beer. Their office, which I visited earlier this month, leads right out into the parking lot. While walking around the floor space, which is small and well-decorated, full of dolls and action figures of all sorts, I found a closed door towards the back of the main room. I asked localization editor Jessica Chavez what was inside.

"That's where we keep the interns' bodies," she said.

It's that bizarre sense of humor that characterizes many of the translations in Xseed's games, and it's one of the reasons fans have grown so fond of this ragtag group over the years.

The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In AmericaSeen in the entryway to Xseed's office: this collection of interesting goodies.

If you play video games, you've probably played something that came out of Japan. Many of gaming's biggest and brightest series—Mario, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil—were developed by Eastern companies, then translated and programmed for North American or European machines.

But for every Japanese game you've seen on U.S. store shelves, there are 10 more that never made it over here. Two particularly infamous examples are Nintendo's Mother 3 and Square Enix's Final Fantasy Type-0. The list goes on and on.

So why do so many games seem to slip through the cracks? While it's tempting to imagine a world where one finger snap can turn a Japanese game English, the process of bringing a Japanese game to the West—a process known as localization—is timely and expensive. Not only do games have to be translated, they often have to be rewritten entirely for English cadence and Western sensibilities. The best translators are creative writers as well, adding a dash of their own humor and charm to replace all the Japanese puns that might get lost in translation.

Once translators are done with the script, the game has to be programmed for localization. Then there's voice acting, quality assurance, ESRB approval, printing, shipping, and all of the other random factors that can cause hurdles and delays during the process.

In other words, localizing Japanese games is an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. For many big companies, the costs just aren't worth it—especially for RPGs, which tend to be unwieldy, massive games with limited appeal. That's bad news if you're a Western fan of Eastern games. More than a few hardcore gamers have taught themselves Japanese just to play all the games they wouldn't be able to play otherwise.

The rest of us have to rely on companies like Xseed.

'Do As I Say, Not As I Do'

One big advantage of being a small company is that you can kind of do whatever you want—and indeed, everyone at Xseed wears multiple hats: Chavez does editing and licensing; Lipschultz translates and dabbles in programming; Soga handles marketing as well as IT for the whole company; and Berry not only handles business deals, he runs the online store (by printing out orders and shipping the games by hand alongside their assistant production manager, Brittany—"We are the online store," he told me).

But when you're owned by a big corporation—Xseed is now owned by a company called AQ Interactive—even the smallest move can have a giant ripple effect.

Last year, Berry was talking to fans on Xseed's Facebook page. One person had asked if they would bring over a certain title—an anime game called Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Battle of Aces—and Berry responded by saying that retailers in the U.S. tend to dislike anime covers that aren't Dragon Ball Z or Naruto, so it'd be a hard sell.

The next day, Berry found a story on Siliconera, a blog devoted to Japanese games: Retailers "Refuse" To Carry Anime Games. The story was based on Xseed's Facebook post.

"Then the next day we get an e-mail from our parent company AQ interactive," Berry said. The Japanese version of Yahoo Finance had picked up Siliconera's story, but something was lost in translation. Yahoo reported that AQ Interactive's subsidiary, Xseed, was struggling in the United States. Because "games from Japan don't sell in America."

AQ Interactive's stock went down. Because of that Yahoo article, which was based on a Siliconera article, which was based on an Xseed Facebook post.

"We got an angry letter from Japan saying, ‘What's going on over there?'" Soga said.

Berry's innocuous Facebook comment had been blown way out of proportion, and now they had to deal with the fallout. It's the sort of incident that might lead a bigger publisher to demand that employees never use Facebook again. It's also the sort of incident that leaves companies like Xseed rather paranoid about exactly what they say to whom.

"[Ken] sent an e-mail to us," Lipschultz said, laughing. "The subject was, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.'"

The Big Deal

In 2010, Xseed struck a deal with a respected Japanese developer named Falcom. The folks at Falcom were well-known in Japan but significantly less popular in the United States, where they had released a number of games with several different publishers. By working together, both companies could build up their individual brands.

"They really liked that idea of us handling multiple titles," Berry said, "and really just pushing the Falcom name and brand awareness here in the U.S."

Xseed published a number of Ys action-role-playing games: first Ys Seven, Ys I & II: Chronicles, and Ys: The Oath in Felghana on PSP, then Felghana and Ys Origins on Steam. Xseed also localized and published Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, a game so huge and time-consuming that it still gives localization editor Jessica Chavez fits to think about. (By Chavez's count, Trails had 1.5 million Japanese characters to be translated. It took them close to a year.)

The unfortunate thing about Trails in the Sky—a well-written fantasy RPG that ranks among my personal favorite games—is that it ends on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. This is part one of a trilogy—a trilogy whose second and third parts may never even make it to the United States.

"Falcom realized after the first Trails in the Sky what a huge effort that was, to do the localization programming. I think they're a bit more hesitant to take on such a huge project again."

"Yeah, we haven't really officially confirmed that it's coming at all in a while," Berry said when I asked about the second game in the Trails in the Sky trilogy. "We sort of missed our window a while back I guess. We're still in talks with Falcom..."

Missed their window?

"In terms of Falcom doing the localization programming, and also UMDs [PSP discs] still being a viable format," he said. "For one, Falcom realized after the first Trails in the Sky what a huge effort that was, to do the localization programming. I think they're a bit more hesitant to take on such a huge project again. And also, it's been quite some time since the first one came out, when the PSP market was still somewhat alive... we have a combination of much bigger effort to get the game done and potentially much smaller sales, so that makes it pretty tough to justify."

Not great news for Trails fans eager to see what will happen next. Still, Berry says there's always a chance that they could release the game digitally on some other platform or combination of platforms.

"Both us and Falcom don't want to leave [fans] hanging," Berry said. "So we'll both continue to try to come up with a way to make it work without either one of us losing a ton of money while trying to please the fans."

Not Quite The Last Story

Last month, Xseed announced that The Last Story was the company's most successful game to date.

But The Last Story almost never made it here in the first place. Before Xseed approached Nintendo about possible localization rights, Berry had to convince their own marketing team that selling a $50 Wii game in 2012 was somehow viable.

I asked the folks at Xseed if they'd give us a tease for one of their upcoming games. In response, localization editor Jessica Chavez walked up to the white board in their conference room and wrote: "If you build it, they will come."

"It was a constant fight even within our own organization," Berry said. "To our external sales reps, we'd be saying, ‘No, like you guys don't understand. There's tons of fans out there that are asking for this. There's a huge fan movement.' I mean, so yeah. In the end, I think we were right."

Xseed's sales reps were surprised at how well The Last Story sold on a "dead platform," but Berry knew that it'd be a hit. Preorders were great, hardcore fans were desperate for a new console RPG in a rather dry year, and the game received a load of free publicity in 2011, when a fan-driven campaign called Operation Rainfall made headlines by asking Nintendo to bring The Last Story—and two other big Japanese Wii games—to the United States.

Can't hurt that it's a really good game.

"We're eternally grateful to the fan community out there," Berry said. "They really stepped up their game and put their actions and their wallets where their mouths were earlier. They backed up their talk."

The Chicken Or The Egg

Not every story has ended well for the small publisher. While it's easy for them to sell games online or get them into GameStop, Xseed has found it impossible to convince the big-box retailers—like Walmart and Target—to carry their games. That makes it very difficult for many of their games to reach wide audiences, Berry said.

"It's sort of the chicken or the egg," he said. "We can't tell Walmart that we have a $3 million TV budget behind this title unless they tell us that they're gonna bring in hundreds of thousands of units of it. So do we wait for them to commit and then commit to a huge marketing spend, or do we commit to the huge marketing spend first and just believe that they're gonna bring it in? That's the tough part."

Even their games that could have widespread appeal—like Victorious Boxer, a boxing game released for the Wii back in 2007, when the system was flying off store shelves—couldn't make it to Walmart and Target. Without the budget—or the track record—of bigger publishers like EA and Activision, Xseed can't compete.

The Game Savers: How A Tiny Company Gives Neglected Japanese Games New Life In AmericaLocalization editor Jessica Chavez shows off the deadline board that runs her life.

Sometimes, outside factors can prevent Xseed from getting the rights to a game in the first place, even if that game never makes it to the U.S. anyway.

"Most of the big names that people keep requesting from us over the years, we've been in talks on," Berry said. "There's a couple that we were right there... like one that would've pretty much shocked the industry if we could've announced it. But for whatever reason, at the very end, maybe some executives at the company just realized that this brand is too important to their company to license out to another company. Even if their U.S. branch isn't going to publish it, they can't let anyone else publish it."

I asked what game, but Berry said he couldn't tell me. Part of dealing with Japanese companies means dealing with secrecy.

"Anything you can hint at?" I asked.

Berry laughed. "I think I already hinted too much."

They've all got their dream projects—Berry says he'd love to publish Valkyria Chronicles 3, for example—and they're all fans of the games that they release: it's not uncommon to find Lipschultz and Chavez chatting about games on message boards like NeoGAF and GameFAQs, or even on Kotaku.

And Berry's optimistic about Xseed's future. "I would say we're in the best position we've been in in years," he said. They've got big plans for next year, too: Berry said they're planning to announce most of their 2013 lineup in mid-January, and it includes "a pretty big announcement" for a game that isn't even out in Japan yet.

"In an industry where the big guys are almost exclusively going after blockbusters and the smaller games don't seem to make much money, how does a company like Xseed survive?" I asked.

"No office snacks," Chavez joked.

"I think it's because we're small," Soga said. "We can live off the crumbs—what falls off the table. To them, it's nothing. To us, it's enough to stay fed."

Berry chimed in. "Plus, I mean, we know not to take those guys head on. We're not gonna put out any first-person shooters. A big part of our competitive advantage is, we're willing to work on RPGs, mainly from Japan, that those big guys won't... We're talking huge cost, time commitment for relatively small sales. But we thrive in that environment."


You're* Pen is a Mighty Sword in The Grading GameIf your like me, you hate being corrected. Readers know how fast I loose my temper when mistake's are pointed out. Its not that I think I'm always right, I just hate someone telling me when I'm wrong.

The Grading Game, for iOS (iPad recommended), turn's the tables by letting you vent all that nitpicky rage back on some truely hopeless college kid's, marking up (or down, as it is) there papers as the T.A. for a extremeley unpleasant professor. If grade inflation is a porblem on campus, Dr. Arthur Snerpus, whose as nasty and antisocial as his last name implys, aims to fix it by flunking everyone out.

In The Grading Game (buy developer Mode of Expression) your presented with a serious of papers to "grade" by touching there errors with you're fingertip. Misteaks like double words misspelling missing punctuation the ineffably irritating you're/your and its/it's confusion and even runon sentences all await your mercyless pen. Its you're job to give each paper as low a grade as possible, idealy failing ever single one.

If that sound's boring, the grading game's delightful humour makes each task an enjoyable challenge. Snerpus is an implacable bastard, and begin's each grading assignment with a private memo profiling the upcoming target, or that is student, who's work must be failed. The memos contain a snippet of something stupid they said on Tiwtter, (making it clear they have a mutually hatefull relationship) plus an extremely pedantic lecture on basic writing competencys everyone should know.

Needless, to say, I was fired up to give all of these poor bastard's Fs. In Quick Play, the more you flunk, the more money you shave off you're $200,000 dollars student debt. Quickplay ends when you fail to, uh, fail a student (or grade there paper below the target, Usually a C.) Each mission in career mode requires you to catch all errors, and if you dont, you start over.

Grading papers can be tough. You're given 30 seconds per paper in Quick Play and I never caught every error in that mode though i did catch the lions share. The challenge is worth it, just to hear what nasty thing Dr. Snerpus has to to say about the next student.

The Grading Game takes what by all rites should be a boring concept and makes it both amusing and playable. Alot of thought went into this, and as this review might suggest, creating paper's deliberately rife with errors is harder than it sounds. At ninety-nine cents its worth a look, and worth a laugh. May you're pen be a mighty sword.

The Grading Game [iTunes, $0.99]


TegraZone Looks So Much Sexier in Windows RTI'm so used to writing about Tegra-powered Android devices that I'd completely overlooked Windows tablets and laptops powered by Nvidia's game-enhancing mobile processor. The blocky Windows RT TegraZone app is here to remind me.

Along with adopting Microsoft's deep abiding love for squares and rectangles, the TegraZone app of Windows RT collects a number of games enhanced for play with the quad core Tegra 3 processor in one easy-to-navigate app. Judge Dredd vs Zombies, Pinball FX 2, Reckless Racing Ultimate, Riptide GP, Soulcraft, Space Ark, Sprinkle and Vendetta Online and more are available for purchase and play within the TegraZone, making it an excellent place for new Windows RT device owners to find game that push their fresh tech to its limits.

It's also an indicator that I'm going to have to add a Windows RT tablet to my arsenal to keep up with this growing segment of the mobile gaming scene. Thanks a lot, Nvidia.

KotakuMobile is your one-stop shop for all of Kotaku's Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 game coverage. Follow @KotakuMobile on Twitter and stalk us on Facebook.

I've always favored cats over dogs. Cats clean themselves. Cats do not require action on my part in order to use the bathroom. Cats have an intelligent look about them, so when they do stupid things it's even more hilarious. I feel cats are superior to dogs in all ways but one—dogs make better detectives. That's why Relaxed Focus Games' Detective Dogs gets a pass.

A pair of questionably-lovable cartoon hounds find themselves embroiled in a sinister plot hatched by the mysterious C.L.A.W., an organization that might have something to do with cats; I've not gotten that far, and frankly I'm not looking forward to the potential conflict of interest.

What I am looking forward to is 80 chapters of dog-based match 3 variants. The dogs dig. The dogs search. The dogs follow. The dogs fight. It's not the most dynamic match 3 gameplay—I'm used to more bells and whistles, but that would probably have scared the dogs. Stupid skittish dogs.

I'm also looking forward to the bit I won't see—a variable difficulty level that adjusts to players from five-years-old to really old but still able to operate a mobile game.

Dog Detectives is available now on iTunes and Google Play in both free trial and paid versions. Play it before your stupid dog eats your iPhone.

Detective Dogs — $.99 [iTunes]

Detective Dogs — $.99 [Google Play]

KotakuMobile is your one-stop shop for all of Kotaku's Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 game coverage. Follow @KotakuMobile on Twitter and stalk us on Facebook.

The Best Games for Your Sony Gaming Device Something from Sony's video game hardware offerings found its way into your life this week. Maybe it's a hand-me-down PSP, a brand-new Vita or a skinnier-than-ever PlayStation 3. Whichever it is, you can look at the games we think are the best available on each system.

The Best Games for Your Sony Gaming Device

The 12 Best Games For the PlayStation 3

Count yourself fortunate if you have a PlayStation 3. You're in for a good time.
Sony's home console hasn't enjoyed the same kind of sales dominance as the Xbox 360 or the Wii during its life cycle, but it's home to great exclusive titles generated by what's arguably the best development studio... More »

The Best Games for Your Sony Gaming Device

The 12 Best Games on PSP

Sony's first handheld gaming system is retailing for the lowest price ever now. You—being a patient person—have taken advantage of this turn of events. More »

The Best Games for Your Sony Gaming Device

The 12 Best Games For the PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Vita is the $250 handheld that either the world desperately needed or needed not at all. It could go either way in this era of rampant cell phone gaming, where many games are played with nary the press of a button or flick of a stick. More »


Sadly, This BioShock And Metroid LEGO Is UnofficialOtherwise this post would be about pre-order information, high-fives and strong hugs, not lustful gazes and dreams of commission builds.

These amazing models are the work of Pate-keetongu, with plenty more to see on their personal site here.

Pate-keetongu's photostream [Flickr, via Super Punch]

Sadly, This BioShock And Metroid LEGO Is Unofficial Sadly, This BioShock And Metroid LEGO Is Unofficial Sadly, This BioShock And Metroid LEGO Is Unofficial Sadly, This BioShock And Metroid LEGO Is Unofficial Sadly, This BioShock And Metroid LEGO Is Unofficial Sadly, This BioShock And Metroid LEGO Is Unofficial

Btooom! is an Explosion-Filled Cross Between Hunger Games and The Last Star FighterThis year, anime that focus on games and game-related culture have been quite numerous. One of these, Btooom! (the onomatopoeic sound effect for a bomb exploding) ended its television run last week in Japan. Like Hunger Games and Battle Royale, Btooom! follows a group of people stranded away from civilization and forced to fight in a death game. And in a twist straight out of the The Last Star Fighter, the death game they are playing is based on the world's most popular game—in this case "Btooom!"a first-person bomber." But is this just another story of video game skills being used to save the day, or is there something deeper being done within this framework? [*Note: Minor spoilers ahead.]

Good — Realistic Use of Game Skills in the Real World

Ryota sakamoto, the main character, is an unemployed, college-aged slacker who lives with his parents and does nothing but play games all day in his room. His game of choice is "Btooom!" and he is one of the top players in the world. So, of course, when he is suddenly kidnapped and stranded on an island and forced to play Btooom! for real, this turns out to be an amazing advantage—but only in the mental sense.

Btooom! is an Explosion-Filled Cross Between Hunger Games and The Last Star FighterWhile he is a master of Btooom! in game, on the island he is limited by his physical skills. His aim is not as perfect nor is he as strong as his in-game avatar. His advantage is his knowledge of the tactics of the game—as well as his knowledge of the types of bombs and their strengths and weaknesses. Of course, his greatest weakness is that bombs are far from the only way to kill another person on the island.

Good — A Deeper Look and the Dark Side of Being Human

One of the key points of Btooom! is why these people are on the island in the first place. Players of the game are chosen by someone—usually a close friend or family member—writing the player's name on a form that promises to make the chosen person "disappear." This in turn means that everyone on the island has a dark secret that has sent them to the death game—and Btooom! is an Explosion-Filled Cross Between Hunger Games and The Last Star Fighterthey may not even be aware of what it is. This not only makes for interesting characters and great drama but also causes one to ask, "Have I ever done something that would make someone hate me enough to want to send me to my almost certain death?"

Of course, this is not the only dark question the anime explores. It also looks at the themes of murder and betrayal—and asks, "How long could you stick to your normal morals and values in a situation like the death game?"

Mixed — Has Been Done Before

Of course, as pointed out in the headline, Btooom! is far from the most original of stories. "Boy becomes hero due to game skills" and "kids enter a death game" are far from novel ideas in this day and age. And in a year where Hunger Games swept the world, it seems even less so in comparison.

But while the setting and most basic narrative have been done before (and better), the way Btooom! uses these well-known framing devices to explore our darker emotions is really where the show succeeds—well, for the most part anyway.

Bad — Man's First Instinct is to Rape

Rape is a constant theme in Btooom!—to an insulting degree. The other main character, Himiko, seems unable to escape it. Nearly every single man she encounters on the island tries to rape her at some point (or at least implies that such a rape is coming). Even Ryota is no exception.

Btooom! is an Explosion-Filled Cross Between Hunger Games and The Last Star FighterAfter their first (explosion-filled) encounter leaves her unconscious, he actually has to stop and convince himself not to rape her right then and there. I found the implication that "all men want to rape women/will rape women if given the chance" to be insulting, to say the least. It takes an otherwise complex cast of characters, and makes the entire male gender completely one dimensional when it comes to their interactions with the opposite sex.

Final Thoughts

Btooom! is an odd anime. On one level it can just be looked at as a derivative knock off of other works of "death game" fiction. On the other, it does an adequate job of exploring how the darker side in all of us can come to the forefront in crisis situations. This means that in a lot of ways Btooom! is not really an "enjoyable" anime to watch—because after all, how easy is it to enjoy something that constantly bludgeons you with the dark side of human nature—but it is, nonetheless, an interesting one. So in the end, if you are interested in the themes it explores, or are just a fan of "death game" stories in general, this one is certainly worth a watch.

Btooom! aired every Thursday night on Tokyo MX. It can be watched in the U.S. for free and subtitled in English on Crunchyroll.

A Chinese Toy Company That Specializes In Making American SoldiersToys coming out of China have long had a bad rap. There's often talk of lead paint, dangerous and sometimes exploding parts, but the overall argument against Chinese toys is that they're boring and low quality (not Western branded toys made in China). Despite all it had going against it, a small Chinese toy company has "made it", and for the past three years has been churning out some of the coolest toys available.

The almost appropriately named Dam Toys company, based out of Hong Kong, makes toys you wouldn't expect from Chinese company; they specialize in 1/6 scale action figures of the US Army. That's right, a Chinese company making US Army-themed toys.

Many of the figures produced by Dam Toys are based on different soldiers, everything from regular infantry to marines, but they also make their own line of gangster figures, which are relatively new to their catalog. These gangster figures look almost as if they've stepped out of a Rockstar game.

Perhaps the most awesome thing about these toys is that they're so detailed. For instance, the 12-inch US navy seal corpsman has a medical supply set in its backpack, which opens up. In the medical supply set, there are miniature bandages and tools—the scissors actually work!

While they're currently focusing their toy lines on the US military, Dam Toys says they're looking into expanding their gangster line, as well as designing a Chinese military figure.

Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

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Your SNES Carts Might Be In Trouble. This is How You Can Save Them.Old Nintendo hardware and cartridges may last forever, but the batteries inside some games (used to save progress) do not. With an expected lifespan of only ten years (though they can last much longer), we're obviously well past the point where you can expect all save games to work for a console like the SNES.

So if you're still dabbling with older consoles, you'll need a fix. And this handy guide at Motherboard is just that. With handy pictures and practical tips, it shows you how to crack open a SNES game and replace the watch battery that powers the cart's ability to save games.

While the cart in question is Link to the Past, it should work for just about any SNES game that needs a tune-up.

Note that swapping out the battery won't salvage your old save games; once that battery is gone, they're gone. But with a dead battery you can't save at all, so this fix lets you get back in the game. Well, back in a new game, which you can then save.

How to Replace an SNES Cartridge's Save Game Battery [Motherboard]


You've seen Grand Theft Auto V's real trailer, starring Grand Theft Auto V's real characters.

Now see Grand Theft Auto V's trailer starring Grand Theft Auto IV's characters. And yes, there's a point. The point being, comedy.

GTA V Trailer with Niko Luis and Johnny [Jantsuu, thanks Adrian!]

Click here to visit our Grand Theft Auto V timeline!