Virtual-On Retrospective: A Certain Magical Virtual-On

Previous: MARZ

Kamachi Kazuma, a novelist for Dengeki Bunko most known for his A Certain Magical Index series was approached by Sega to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Virtual-On series with a novel. Their approach for Kamachi was to do a new sort of Virtual-On instead of just doing what had been done in the past, resulting in a cross-over novel. This was a sort of dream project for Kamachi, and at this point, it’s not longer just a dream, with A Certain Magical Virtual-On game released in early 2018.

A Certain Magical Index‘s first novel was released in April 2004, debuting Kazuma Kamachi as mainstream light novel writer, which also gained a popular animated series in 2008, and gets its third season in 2018. The series mainly takes place in a fictional city called Academy City, west from Tokyo, where science has advanced more than in the outside world. This city is of scientific marvels, making leaps and bounds to every which way. This means the city has constant testing of new technology and designs, including testing such things as weird soda drink flavours. The city is walled all around, protecting the valued assets and data, but also keeps other people out.

The most important project that’s running in Academy City is its espers. The city has around 2.3 million espers, all students who partake in Power Curriculum Program, which aims to attain one’s own Personal Reality in order to awaken esper powers. Personal Reality is essentially one’s own secular view on reality, able to affect the objective reality’s state through their own “power” to the system in microscale. Essentially an esper believes, if you will, that she can control electricity, and so she does. However, the Curriculum requires quite literal rewiring of the person’s brains through use of various drugs in all forms, various forms of hypnosis and suggestions, slight surgical manipulation of the brain, and different sensory deprivation methods. This rewiring effectively separates the students from reality, after which they may develop powers depending on their own reality. All these powers of course are not as potent as others, with some never manifesting any.

However, this is the science side of things, and the main story takes place in the magic side. Sorcerers mostly belong to different sects and religions of the world, and their magical power does not stem from being separated from the world, but rather from idol worship, where a system of rituals are prepared in order to invoke higher powers to grant supernatural effects on reality. This can range from creating golems to controlling wind with a tool. These are fundamentally different kind of power from that of an esper, and due to the sheer difference how the users’ are wired thanks to the Curriculum, an esper can’t use magic without physical trauma. Similarly, a sorcerer does not have access to espers’ powers, as they lack a Personal Reality.

Enter Kamijou Touma, the series’ main protagonist, who has the power to break down supernatural powers with his right hand. He has a rotten luck, which drops him into fights, causes him to lose money, or in one case, meet up with an English nun named Index, who is being chased. Due to circumstances, Touma is made Index’s companion, with the English church allowing him to accompany her despite the clear threat his right hand poses to them. Index is important asset to the world of magicians, as she holds Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a library of 103 000 forbidden books, in her head due to photographic memory and can recollect information from those pages. This places them both in a crossroad of events and situations, where both the world of science and magic collide with each other, often despite of them, sometimes because of their direct actions.

This is, of course, very short and spartan introduction to the A Certain Magical Index series’ world, as we need some context for A Certain Magical Virtual-On.

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Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ

Previous: FORCE

In the early 2000’s, Sega’s plan was to deliver cheaper and more effective arcade hardware for the Japanese market, which of few would see worldwide releases. NAOMI 2 was given the emphasize over the Hikaru, which was phased out in 2002. NAOMI 2 would last to 2008, with Atomiswave, a Sammy developed NAOMI derivative, running by its side. Around the same time in 2001 Sega developed the Triforce with Nintendo and Namco, based on Nintendo’s GameCube. Two years later, Sega would release Chihiro to the arcades, based on Microsoft’s Xbox. All these arcade machines ran different games that Sega was directly involved and developed, like NAOMI 2’s Virtua Fighter 4 series, Triforce running AM2 developed F-Zero AX, Atomiswave running many fishing and fighting games Sega was part developer and publisher, and Chihiro most known for OutRun 2 and House of the Dead III due to their Xbox ports. Later in the 2000’s, Sega’s arcade hardware would be more or less completely home media derivative, based on normal PC architecture, making some of the modern games running on a modified Windows. However, there was no Virtual-On, on any of these systems.

With Virtual-On FORCE generally receiving lukewarm acceptance from the overall audience, regarding Oratorio Tangram the superior game, Hitmaker would develop a console-only sequel for the PlayStation 2; Virtual-On MARZ.

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Virtual-On Retrospective; FORCE

Previous: Oratorio Tangram

Sega often had multiple arcade boards running at the same time and never really dedicated their library and efforts on just one board. For example, while the Model 3 board was developed to replace Model 2 and was introduced in 1995, Model still kept going until 1998 and was phased out only after NAOMI hit the scene. Furthermore, Sega had their System 21 running from 1987 to 1996, while their H1 system was barely a blip on the scene in 1995, with it being their last Super Scaler board and had only two games. Other companies, like SNK with Neo-Geo, emphasized the amount of games on a board for a more economic approach. However, Sega had made good business in the arcades with excellent selection of timeless classics, but as we saw with the Dreamcast’s end, all things must come to an end.

Sega Hikaru hit the scene in 1999, before Model 3 was phased out and after NAOMI was put into public use, the Hikaru is almost a high budget, envelope pushing hardware to NAOMI’s ties to more budget conscious approach. Despite being derivative of NAOMI technology, it was expensive to produce due to its chipset, and it was hard to code for due to its intricacies. It featured a custom build Sega GPU with advanced graphical capabilities, almost a standard for Sega’s flagpole systems, with additional CPU, sound and other custom processors that utilised the expanded bandwidth and memory. All this was partially to enable the Hikaru to do Phong shading, which was the most advanced shading technique of the time, which essentially calculated the needed colour per pixel, making triangles on a model seamless and allowed better specular highlights.

The Hikaru was developed almost exclusively for Brave Firefighters, a 1999 arcade game.

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Music of the Month: 8-Bit Brave

Ah, what a month has it been. If you’ve noticed that the writing has been all over the place for during January, that’s because I’ve had much less time to given any emphasize toward quality (or whatever quality goes into making this blog) and just getting something out. Let’s stretch a bit, as usual for these posts.

We basically skipped the usual robot related design and a review post. The Virtual-On historicals have taken their slot, as they require comparatively a bit more research than what I have time now, especially considering I still need to play the games to give them a proper assessment rather than just going with the flow. I’m also planning an additional post about where VO has appeared outside of its own games, mostly mentioning Valgern-On and MARZ‘s Super Robot Wars entries. There’s quite a lot of to do with these upcoming three, and I can’t even begin to write properly about A Certain Magical Virtual-On as of now. I’ve also added the VO entries into Robot Related Materials you can access in the menu on the top of this page.

With VO posts doing relatively well for a niche topic, I’m considering of doing more of post of their sort. Not necessarily historical entries per se, but more series or franchise comprehensive series. Still, Muv-Luv and Guilty Gear related stuff still reign at the top of most hits, with few mecha and that NES region free post in the mix.

With my new work contract that I’ve gained via career change, I’ll be working a full day-job in five shifts. Whether or not I have time, or simple energy, to write something of worth nothing twice a week may become rather challenging. I’ve decided not to push myself with this, and will allow myself to pass on one of the posts, if deemed necessary. I’ll try to drag A9Doc, who did the neat Digimon post recently to cover my sorry ass, if he manages to come up with a neat topic. You may see more Digimon related posts than usual because of this, but all of them should touch on character designs or the like first and foremost to keep it according to the blog’s theme.

This also means I’ll be breaking the thousand word limit I’ve had for years now. This is to ensure that I can include all the things I’ve wanted to mention rather than splitting some topics. In some cases, I’ll forgive myself if I got well under that golden standard I’ve been living up to. If somebody is wondering why I had such a limit, it was because early on I got some feedback that I tended to write posts that were too long to read. Thus, cutting back and making them more palatable was the goal back then, but that was then.

To help with things overall, I will take last year’s Monthly Threes and combine them into one larger post per topic. Is this cheating, I hear someone ask. It partially is, but these posts have some of the best stuff I’ve done. With some encouragement from a certain Casp O’saurus, I’ll be picking some of my better posts and try to spread them around a bit more.

As for the ixtl/âge stuff, there hasn’t been much I’ve wanted to comment on. I never made any posts about Avex picture’s acquisition, because I never got a good picture what sort of company they are, in the end. There are less good sources to go through, and things being more or less standard Japanese corporate politics says things can go either ways. Either ixtl will stay as they are and be milked to the end, until they’re absorbed fully into avex as a whole, or they’ll manage to do some seriously impressive stuff that will make money. Knowing ixtl’s track record, despite the Kickstarter, things can go either way. At least the translation team has now moved to ixtl’s stables. We’ll just have to sit back and see when everything has been cleared out, as they’ll have to relaunch Muv-Luv on Steam under a new publisher now that Degica is no longer involved.

TSF comparison entries are still planned, but just as with the Guilty Gear comparisons, time is a commodity  that I don’t have too much. I’ll plan one of each for March, as February is still Virtual-On country.

I once said that I’d follow Yo-kai Watch‘s success in the West, but seeing its success was less than expected, it really did drop from my radar. I picked up the first game from sales recently, and I have to admit that I’m liking its semi-automatic battle system. I’ll have to play it a bit more to get a proper feeling, but all things all, I can understand well why the series got such a loud applaud in Japan. Maybe a review is coming out on it at some point, but not anytime soon. I’ll be giving some of the sequels a look too, and how they’re managed to change the formula.

And oh, the reason why Yuusha Oh Tanjou! got the spot this time around is that The King of Braves GaoGaiGar‘s final episode’s 20th anniversary was on the 31st of January.

 

Virtual-On Retrospective: Oratorio Tangram

Previous: Operation Moongate

Virtual-On was a relative success for its time. It saw most of its popularity in Japan due to larger availability of arcades and the Saturn doing better there than anywhere else. For America however, the success was much more limited. Less arcade machines to go around and Saturn’s lukewarm success were the main reasons. The PC version, much like other Sega’s PC releases, was less emphasized over their own console’s port. This lesser success seemed to convince Sega’s European section not to release the Twin Stick controller in the region. Despite how the game is considered a sort of landmark for Sega and mecha games overall among fans, that’s all mostly in retrospect. Its impact didn’t exactly topple any towers, and ultimately met similar niche status as Sega’s other Saturn seller title, Panzer Dragoon.

The decline of arcades, and Sega’s mismanagement of their hardware side (especially during Mega Drive’s later years and Saturn overall) limited Sega’s business success overall, with Sony taking their place as Nintendo’s main rival with the PlayStation. That is not to say that Virtual-On ended up being some sort of sales catastrophe, as Japanese arcade goers took the series close to their hearts. This being Sega, they gave more emphasis on this fact rather than considering the franchise’s world wide success.

Despite Sega Model 2 being a success on its own rights, Sega was always pushing their arcade hardware further. If Nintendo has an obsession to introduce 3D to home hardware, then Sega had an obsession to push the 3D hardware at arcades. Hang-On, OutRun and Space Harrier are all examples of 80’s Sega finding ways around to introduce 3D-like effect to their games, and you could even argue that Sega’s teams became master of sprite scaling in this fashion.

Sega didn’t cut much corners with their arcade hardware, and Sega Model 3 supports this approach, as it was the most powerful arcade system board of its era. As Sega’s last piece produced by their partnership with Lockheed Martin, it contained graphical hardware designed by Real3D and Mitsubishi, which was a spin-off company from Lockheed Martin. However, Real3D only saw success with Sega, and their partnership with Intel and SGI ended up as market failure, and in the end was sold completely to Intel in 1999 due to changed arcade markets.

The reason why Mitsubishi was brought into the partnership was Real3D had a series of delays with their GPU. Originally, the Model 3 was supposed to be released in 1995, but had to be pushed back to 1996, with Yu Suzuki claiming it would deliver the best 3D graphics thus far.


Model 3, of course, ran the latest Virtua Fighter

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: Oratorio Tangram”

Virtual-On Retrospective: Operation Moongate

This post is first in a series of five. You can access all posts in Robot Related Section linked above, or move between sequential post at their beginning and end

Virtual-On is one of Sega’s hallmark game franchises, developed by Sega’s AM3 department. It had everything the arcades required in 1996; 3D graphics that you wouldn’t see at home, unique controls, flashy graphics and fast paced gameplay. When most of the 3D mecha combat games on the market aimed for slow and emphasized on realistic simulation, like Shattered Metal or Mech Warrior 2, Virtual-On hit the arcades with sharp, colourful 3D models in fast paced third-person action with (relatively) easy controls. This is perhaps the best example of East VS. West mentality when it comes to giant robots. Even in arcades, among other blooming 3D games, Virtual-On stood apart with its excellent presentation and unrelenting game play.

 

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Music of the Month; Radio Allergy

Welcome to 2018. I hope you’ll have fun. All things considered, last year wasn’t all that bad.

Looking down the year, and how I failed miserably to keep up a theme during last twelve months, I won’t be doing a monthly themed posts for now. Partially because single posts seem to do so much better when they’re not tied to anything. However, the usual stuff will return in more or less the same shape; Muv-Luv‘s TSF comparisons I’ve yet to cover (there are still few of them on the table), Guilty Gear character design comparisons (those always seem to do rather well) and the occasional mecha design thing, which will have no running theme or the like. Unless someone just pops in and gives me twelve points per theme to talk about. These aren’t New Year’s resolutions, I made none this year, but these are something you can look forwards.

However, looking at the reviews I’ve done, with some feedback from a poll I did a month back or so, it would seem that there is some demand for game reviews. However, these won’t be taking any precedence over other stuff (I still aim to do weird peripheral or other reviews if I can),  but I will review the more esoteric titles that may not see Western releases, like the upcoming A Certain Magical Virtual On. I actually got into the A Certain Magical Index/ Scientific Railgun series because of this upcoming Virtual On crossover, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised on its quality. I had a chance to try and observe how I went from not giving a single damn about the license to actively looking forward how things get combined. That’s a post on its own.

You may have noticed that the Top 5 of 2017 was filled with modern games as opposed to NES or SNES games, and I kinda expect this sort of trend to continue, at least for the first half of the year. There are numerous games coming out this year that I am interested in, and that new VO title really is the one I’m looking for the most. It should give me some material to discuss the differences in the series overall, as I aim to gain the PS2 SEGA Ages release of the first game as well as Virtual On Force. I guess that’s a series of posts on itself, and now that I think about it, I should start writing this series this month, so I can write about A Certain Magical Virtual On right after Oratorio Tangram, as that seems to be the most popular and well-known title in the series. Marz is pretty terrible, but just how terrible? Well, we’ll see.

Which leads to something I’ve been considering doing for a while now; moving slightly away from the writer persona while doing these posts and aiming to do few more personal things… like what I just said about the A Certain X series. That is not to say it’s being abandoned, but long time readers know how I’ve lamented the fact that me and the writer persona have become more or less the same thing. I probably will add a new tag to denote which post has been written from which point of view, but they should be clear. For example, if I were to write how hardback books are superior to paperbacks, that’s a completely subjective view and lacks the writer persona’s view. Whether or not this will cause the quality of the blog drop is another thing entirely, but it’s not like this blog has high standards to begin with, right? Not that these would become the main thing on the blog. Knowing me, I won’t even go through with this at all, but at least its out there.

As for the Digimon design evolution post that was supposed to come up last year, A9Doc hasn’t gotten around finishing it yet, probably due to sheer amount of examples and other stuff that he needs to go over and double-check. I should do one of these as well at some point, the subject is what I should decide on. The Metal Gear  posts are a great example of this sort of thing, so something similar that has a single running object being updated would be great. Something like the design evolution of Pikachu, if it wasn’t something bigger fans have already covered.

As for Muv-Luv, well, there really isn’t anything to go by. With ixtl taking charge of the Kickstarter, backers and fans can only cross their fingers and hope that nothing gets screwed up. I haven’t found enough good sources to comment on whether or not avex pictures acquiring ixtl/âge will be a good thing on the long run, but I’d argue we’ve already seen large shifts within ixtl, with things being rather silent, Kickstarter being taken over (I keep using taken over, because I guarantee you a company like Degica didn’t want to see others meddling in their affairs, even when ixtl is the rights owner) and the lacking news and such. Not that I can blame anyone in charge of these, Japanese corporate politics are such horseshit at times.

As for personal things that might matter for the blog, in some two to three months I’ll be finalising my career change, if all things go as they should. Due to me and my personal life not actually mattering jack shit, all I’ll be saying that depending on the workload and hours I’ll be putting into it, posts may decrease or increase. I keep saying variations of this, because things haven’t been exactly stable for me for number of years now, but maybe this year I’ll be able to have a job that doesn’t require me to screw with the timetables

All that said, have a good one and enjoy your day.