Category Archives: Bishoujo Gaming

IDOLM@STER 18th Stream, SideM Thoughts

This is just the thoughts from this particular Producer, so take it as you will. Just reacting to some other folks from this morning (evening JP time on July 25) when the 18th anniversary stream dropped its usual payload of news and inter-brand interactions.

I’m lurking in a couple community discord servers for IDOLM@STER. Some SideMs are gnashing teeth. Others are just putting them to perspective. You can see some of that in the Youtube comments. I think perspective is important, as it can highlight the way forward out of this hellish situation. But I think some empathy and compassion is good. More over, these emotions and momentary problems are probably something that will come and pass with time, without us doing a whole lot.

One thing I noticed is that many of these online communities are surrounding the core game product. This is Deresute, MLTD, the Enza Shiny game, and what have you. Players of the console 765Pro games kind of dissolves into the background as old(er) people who bring up obscure data points (see above about perspective) but it’s not tangibly linked to the community. The band of IDOLM@STER branding is not that strong.

I think this is invariably the case when all it takes is a smartphone or emulator, and Qooapp. All these free-to-play games have no doors, effectively, other than being in Japanese. And just like how anime culture in America is a rainbow regurgitation of the same thing in Japan, a lot is lost in the translation. Or more precisely, a lot is missing in the localization of a media mix IP, that wasn’t even localized to begin with. Localization outfits are just publishers, they are not marketing firms with a hand in the media mix pie who want to sell rights to merch or whatever it takes to do SideM Ice Cream.

I would feel way less secure as a SideM P if all I had was the game and not the concerts, the live streams, the music, the anime, the comics, and the fandom at large. I really think this is part of the answer to Bannam dropping the Growing Stars game, but not much of this has come. Anyways, it has been disconcerting for some Ps and things have remained uncomfortable.

I remember seeing the SideM announcement at MOIW 2014 intermission. I was there at my first IM@S concert and still feeling a bit overwhelmed. Yes, even back then, we, collectively (Japan?), know that joseimuke stuff was taking off. Women buying 2D dude merch was a bigger thing than it was ever before. It was a force to tap into, if you are an opportunist. So at some level, SideM joining the fray was already a bit, let’s just say, sus, fundamentally.

At any rate, SideM fits this scheme, and I bemused around then, even, that Bannam was a tad late. But the dice were cast, and we’re in it together. Will IDOLM@STER as a business translate well as joseimuke content and media mix strategy? Despite hindsight being mostly 20/20, I think the answer is still unclear. To some degree, we see where it was successful. We also see the missteps.

I think one clear thing we can say is that Bannam executed the SideM vision with some urgency. Vision 2.0 started with IDOLM@STER 2, which introduced us to Jupiter. These guys are the lynchpins for the SideM franchise and connects us from today back all the way to origin. SideM also provided a home Akizuki Ryo, which we cannot say enough to thank for. Maybe this is at SideM’s cost as a female-pandering franchise, but ultimately it was just one person in a group with 46 or 49 idols. These are, in the big picture of the 18 years of IDOLM@STER, large, franchise-altering moves. They’re on par with Shiny Colors dropping a new unit every year from 2019 to 2022. But I didn’t think Bannam and the SideM team played this up well. Maybe because they were urgently trying to solidify this brand?

I believe urgency was why SideM took the path of Million Live, almost carbon-copy from web game to app game. It was definitely why SideM had a TV anime first, well before Million. But did this urgency pay off? I’m not sure. I can say that the transition to the app game did more to harm it than any other decision for the series, because SideM LIVE ON ST@GE was not up to the quality and standards set by the other games in the series. If rushing was a big factor towards the cause of it, it was just a bad decision.

In 2021 we got SideM GROWING STARS, which is being shut down this month. The circumstances surrounding the shutdown is still a mystery. But we probably got here only because the mistake that was LOS. Still, we should properly credit who credit is due: Bannam needs to own the bad treatment for this franchise at the closing of the game. SideM now does not have a game platform to put all the character content on top of. I think that’s actually okay, but it invites envy and criticism.

Objectively speaking, what SideM is doing is becoming more lean and agile. New character media mix franchises often start this way: announcements, casts, recorded songs and drama. But this is sort of the opposite business strategy for IDOLM@STER, one that hasn’t really happened until the launch of Shiny Colors. It is still a really weird way to see an IDOLM@STER brand exist. How can players be players without an ongoing game? Until this existential issue is resolved, it stands to reason that SideM players and producers are going to have their undies in a knot.

Given this blog and I am very silver-lining oriented, this is the best spin I can put on it. Bannam did what they could, they pushed the franchise and hit all the high notes until the Covid years. There is not much left to execute for SideM in the Vision 2.0 game plan.

So, because I have nothing to lose if I am wrong, you should take the following prediction as far or as close as you want. I suggest that the 6th franchise in IDOLM@STER canon might be also joseimuke. KominoP said it started 5 years ago. What started 5 years ago? So again, I have nothing to lose if I’m wrong, it’s going to be joseimuke, and 2.5D oriented. I mean it makes sense. It’s the one arrow missing in the quiver of the IDOLM@STER franchise. I want real life Haruka tripping on stage, just like how I really enjoyed my time at the Umamusume stage performance. SideM did rodokugeki. Is this why IDOLM@STER was so slow to this punch?

Because, on paper, the only threat to IDOLM@STER is Umamusume. Bang Dream is for kids! D4DJ is … also for kids. IDOLM@STER is for boomers! Love Live is actually just not-iM@S and belongs to Bandai Namco anyways. That’s why the franchise want to expand and add, it needs to grow to replace the warm bodies that will graduate from the series because invariably, as long as SideM or Million or 765Pro continues to exist, Bannam will make mistakes along the way. Rightfully so, it’s okay to quit when these entertainment IPs stop being entertaining.

Except Cinderella Girls–it continues to grow, and Cygames seemed to have hit the winning formula. Doomposting, unvoiced Producers continue to cause chaos and rub people the wrong way as entitled pricks. One person’s bug is another person’s feature, I guess.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive Global Woes

Tribal outfit Yui

This post is really more about me, but I think there’s something to take away for anyone. In short, I’m getting less and less happy about playing Princess Connect! Re:Dive (Priconne for short) Global, and a big part of it is that I also play JP and I also play several other mobile/gacha games out there. You might too, or not. Anyways, in 2022 what is going on in Priconne Global is just irking me, and I’m writing this to get it out of my system.

For background, I played the Japanese version of Princess Connect! AND I am an active player of Japanese version of Princess Connect! Re:Dive, in addition to the Global version. The company managing and developing the game, Cygames, manages its own release in Japan. Cygames also licenses the game for local distribution. Notably, the mainland China release became very popular a few years back (how time flies…). There are also Korean, Taiwan/HK, and Thai releases until the Global/English release about a year ago. Crunchyroll Games handles the Global release.

I really enjoy the game! Enough to play the same game twice. In a nutshell, Priconne is very much a “content” driven RPG where regularly the game updates with events, main story quests, and new characters, all which builds on previous revealed content to tell a story to describe its kind-of mysterious world. Being a player of the OG Priconne game, that predated Re:Dive, it’s pretty natural for me to get drawn in to the setting and the layers of mysterious things around it. I also had more time to take to the wide cast of characters so everything was mostly familiar to me from the get go for Re:Dive. You can read more in my earlier posts.

The various regional localizations of Priconne has to also follow this content release strategy where everything is slow-dripped at a certain pace. Some “down time” that the original release had was cut, but most of that was in the first year and things don’t really slow down after that. For reference, we celebrated Priconne JP’s 4th anniversary just earlier in the month. [You can buy this sandwich press lol.]

Being a popular Japanese game is fine, but it isn’t a chart-topper–more like Priconne’s niche is being easy to play, deep if you want to dig deep, and a lot of top notch QOL-ness come with the game. In a way the best comparison I can make is that Priconne is the Everquest-to-WoW leap from all those painful Asian farm-for-everything-based-off-a-guide mobile games. Even later entries (like, say, Konosuba, which is quite new! Or Kirara Fantasia, etc.) are significantly more painful to play. Priconne remains a standard bearer to make mobile games less of a menu hell, that the UX has to be a key deliverable to keep a game relevant in the 21st century. It is the kind of game that can allow players to play other games, because it takes so little time comparatively.

That said, nobody says you can’t play Priconne based on spreadsheets and spend hours to farm everything–many people do precisely that. When China opened up to the game (noteworthy for having local-only releases of characters based on lol Hashimoto Kanna) this only intensified. In fact it’s probably safe to say the CN player base is larger than the JP player base at this point, especially from an oversea perspective.

I am quite thankful for all the Chinese players who sank their love, hard work, time and money into Priconne! Overall they have enriched the experience with things like the currently-best Arena database and other guides. Some are outright better than pro sites like Gamewith when it comes to meta and dealing with fast-moving or player-based changes.

Unfortunately this also means by the time Global gets its latest content, that stuff has been juiced by every other release that started before Global. Unless you go out of your way to not look up anything, there’s nothing about the “meta” (as opposed to “being what’s popular” but the game on top of the game) that hasn’t been spoiled from start to finish. This is the unfortunate thing about Priconne–it was a game where almost all the hints you need to be successful are in the game by default. There are tons of ways to experiment on your own to figure out the game, and now in English you can read and experience that yourself…but few probably will.

That isn’t really a big problem by itself, if one at all. As someone who plays JP Priconne, I still enjoy playing Global despite having first-person knowledge of everything that’s going to happen in the game. It’s as if I know what the FAQ says, but I didn’t have to follow one. Instead, what I miss is all the things in a game that was constantly honed over 4 years that isn’t in a drip-release game that is the same game 3 years behind. Many of the QOL changes in Priconne JP would be so great in Global, as I am feeling exactly those pains now. Funny thing is, by the same token Priconne JP has evolved on top of those QOL changes that the meta-meta is about different things, so a different pain is setting in.

The best example I can provide is the Clan Battle. Basically clans are guilds, and you and your clanmates have a certain numbers of tries to beat up NPC bosses to rack up the highest cumulative score. A game-wide ranking battle among all clans ensues, once a month. It requires a lot of individual coordination and a fair amount of teamwork to compete in the top 10%. That said, for the rest of us, it still can be gleamed by spreadsheets, but Priconne has this “recommend” feature that builds in the teams you can use right in the game, basically bypassing the need for them for most players. This once-a-month event is really the main reason why a lot of people are hard in, as it is also one of the biggest draw from the OG Princess Connect game (clan versus PVP). One thing you need to do a lot in CB is trying out various teams. In JP, we can use 4x speed. But in JP the game is about finding teams that don’t all use the same meta (in the slang sense) characters, so there’s a lot of jigsaw-puzzle-type sort of matching going on. In Global right now it’s dur-derp given the much fewer combination of characters available to work with, but Global doesn’t have 4x… It doesn’t even have “recommend to select” as a feature yet–it’s not even about knowing who to use (derp), it’s having to pick it out of your character list. Again, trying out teams is arguably the most time-consuming part of CB, and it can be tedious. Why not make this easy already?

Basically, not only Priconne Global is a pre-COVID mobile game showing its age compared to Priconne JP, it’s a pre-COVID mobile game showing its age compared to its contemporaries. I tried Blue Archive JP when it launched and I liked it, but it clearly had a lot of launch problems (and I stopped). A year later now I am playing the Global release, and I am having a blast. In a lot of ways BA is a step down for me compared to Priconne (long story here), but it has a façade that is clearly built in this decade. I don’t know, that should count for something–a whole lot, probably, especially for an gacha galge. And to heap on top of that, Priconne Global has nothing truly new to look forward to, unless you count hand-me-down UX improvements that Global could have had much sooner rather than later? Or having all of its meta and meta-meta game juices squeezed out by millions of Japanese and Chinese players before I can enjoy it in English? I am waiting patiently for my New York Carl memes. Maybe Crunchyroll can self-insert its mascot like Hashimoto Kanna’s characters in Priconne CN, lol.

[That said, BA meta is a PITA too and unlike Priconne, not knowing that meta is almost killer. There are hints to what to do to play the game well, but the gameplay depth just doesn’t get served by the game’s façade, so you really have to engage a community and do external research to get somewhere. Also, BA PVP is utter trash, coming from Priconne. You can tell the creators of Shadowverse at least knows how to apply basic rock-paper-scissors balance tricks to a gacha game architecture. I can go on, but BA is basically superior despite its many shortcomings–largely due to that façade.]

As I said, this is more a “me” problem than a general problem. If I bothered to love Priconne’s commu (ugh) I probably would play Global to enjoy its fun translations alone. And they are fun. I just can’t stand how Priconne dialog UX insists to animate no matter how fast you click on it, so it’s really slow (relatively) to scroll through a bunch of one-liners, sound effects, or one-worders. I still have countless reasons to love the game–this is why I play it in Japanese despite being unable to navigate it well in a foreign language in the very first place. It also happens to turns out that, the reason to not play Priconne Global is because a superior version exists, and that’s the Japanese release.

Maybe this is also reflective of an information asymmetry. Maybe unlike AAA vidya discourse, there isn’t something like this holding together all the Asian gacha mobile games in English. Or rather, people (often self-professed “gamers” lol) are too busy complaining about censorship and lootboxes to talk about things that are actually important to players? If Priconne JP is not available to you or you refuse to deal with its barriers, so be it. Knowing the forbidden knowledge in this way may worsen your experience if you only play Global. But in a way these gacha games live in ghettos, and that’s messed up. Most players don’t engage in a whole lot of it. Maybe people in the QooApp community (or similar) can speak to this, but that audience is really skewed a certain way due to race and geography (and not available on IOS). If people came away with a bad impression of Priconne Global because it’s not as good as its contemporaries, I understand it, but it is also a form of injustice because Priconne is a much better game than Priconne Global.

There, I’ve had my say. Maybe it’s finally time to hang it up and reclaim my average of 15-20 minutes a day of playtime.

PS. If you’ve been enjoying S2 of the anime in the past couple weeks, this is basically the heart of the setting that carried me from OG to Re:Dive, early on. I hope they explore also more the OG universe, but I doubt the anime will get anywhere close even if 4 more cours were added. The whole lead up to the end of “Act 1” of the main story is a lot of fun. Possibly magic they may not fully recapture ever again…speaking as someone who wasn’t too allured by Act 2.

Million Live Theater Days Closet, Round 2

Just want to talk about the now-ongoing voting for the next round of outfit SR cards for Theater Days. Happy Christmas, New Years, and cheers to another day commemorating the late civil rights leader.

Million Live Closet Reburn logo

For background and recap, the mobile-rhythm-idol-gacha game IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE: Theater Days (MLTD hence) has an election where players can earn ballots and vote for one of the 5 choices of outfits to be available (in gacha, but at least it’s not impossible to get for free) to be implemented in game later on. The second election has started today featuring the same 5 outfit choices from last election in 2019. Like last time, the voting is separated by each idol, but the choices are the same: a spring “one-piece” dress, a “china outfit” dress, some kind of swimsuit, a waitress or “maid” outfit, and whatever “sexy spy” meant. Spirited debate between players did occur in 2019 and will occur again, although every character now only as 4 choices as 1 of them have been implemented. Overall it took about a year for everyone’s Closet SR to be added to the game, although some were faster than others. It took about another year for the Closet cards to be added to the medal pool (free to play pool). There has been like 3 support tickets since in which you could have picked it up, so I don’t think it’s particularly egregious, given that the voting itself is part of the fun.

Unlike 2019’s election, we now actually know what the outfits look like and what the card art looks like, as well as the gist of the commu you get from pulling the card. This has further lowered the stakes of the Closet voting “game,” but the long wait time since 2019 means there’s still some significant incentive for Producers to rally up behind their ideal outfits. To me, a core aspect of IDOLM@STER game series is collecting the various outfits, so this event keeps being relevant to many players, yet still in a way that is “gloves on” versus, say, the annual Cinderella Elections. No P loses out on anything important in the end.

Thanks to Fleur from one of the MLTD discords I can read some tea leaves after the initial hours of voting, and give my own opinions on all of them. I will also highlight some meta undercurrents, as they say. This is super early impressions, so things will change!

The 2019 election breakdown was:
Spring One-Piece: 14
China Dress: 21
Swimsuit: 2
Maid“: 10
Spy: 5

For one, there were some close battles from the first election that will leave the losing team seek re-election. I think most of them will end up winning, especially the second place outfits that were, as I put it, “on the right side of history.” Not every character’s Spring Dress or China Outfit looked good, I think that’s the big lesson learned. Only two idols selected the swimsuit, and waitress was significantly under-elected given people didn’t know what it really was. Both of those outfit categories can run a wide range, but now we know what they are. That being said, I’m still not sure if anyone else would look as good in that specific swimsuit as Karen.

To sum it up, though, the overall trend this year will be Maid versus One Piece. This would be the default template to break out of, whatever the P-hiveminds decide for each idol. Part of it is the aforementioned dynamics from 2019, but part of it is just math, as the possible choices are reduced.

I will walk the rest through one by one, with my favorite pick for each, plus what I project the eventual winner is using the very limited, unreliable, current data. Disclaimer: this is extremely preliminary data from less than a day’s worth of voting. Things will definitely change for some of these, especially ones projecting for One Piece dress.

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IM@S 16, Anime Update

Seeing the VOY@GER MMXXI trailer on this past Sunday morning was something, to say the least. Goripon is back to do another project with the IM@S content that he is still purportedly a fan of is definitely a sight for sore eyes. The studio Khara link is curious, and the most important “Animas team” tease is a seriously strong dose of hopium.

What is worth also noting is that on the 15th anniversary, July 27 2020, we were not only in the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we saw the Million Live anime teaser. That means in the gap of a year we saw 2 anime teasers, but the only anime since were some Cinderella Girls Gekijo stuff? I might have missed something but that is it, right? Oh, there was this.

We did get an update from WakachikoP last month with the annual Million Live Theater Days anniversary issue of Famitsu. So I can say that at least this is the minimum fans deserve–even an update that they need more time is needed for a fandom this engaged.

As an aside, even if a big project like Theater Days are run by a big team with a lot of people working on it, with planning that span years, having Hazama-san in charge feels like the product and franchise is just in a better place than KominoP as we had in the past when he took over the role during WakachikoP’s leave.

Back on topic: What is there to expect about VOY@GER MMXXI? I don’t think it’s anything more than just another extended trailer, similar to the one they released 5 years ago to celebrate the 4th year of Million Live. (By the way, I guess this is worth watching if you care about new folks doing research and not knowing about the team Anim@s connection.) If we’re lucky, it might stretch beyond the 10-minute mark, but since it has been referred to as a concept movie or promotional video, I won’t bet on it. It’s suppose to come out soon, so given the neck-breaking pace that Goripon had to deal with regarding the latest Eva movie, that only means there has been about half a year of actual production time when staff can actively create the animation, at the most. Depending on how many people are actually working on the project, of course, it could mean a variety of things, but there has been enough time past since the last time team Anim@s has done anything.

At the same time, we still don’t have a release date for the video, but the song will be out soon in mid-August. The cast has yet record for the work, if the announcement stream reactions were genuine, although they of course have already recorded the song. I don’t think it’s good to dwell too much on it, other than to celebrate the first animated anything for the 3 Shinymas characters, and the other characters who were left out of their respective anime previously.

If I were to actually speculate, VOY@GER was suppose to be a project launched along with the 15th anniversary festivities. On the music side, VOY@GER turned into the same release format as Nandodemo Waraou which seems like a logical thing they will want to do every year going forward. But IDOLM@STER Five Stars songs probably had 6-12 months of lead time, similar to a new mobile game event/content drop for MLTD or CGSS. If we take the cancelled Theater Days PSTour event as a measuring stick, it took them about 9 months to redo it as it’s scheduled for early October. There are other factors affecting these so we can only take that number with a healthy amount of salt, but +/-3 months seems reasonable.

Predicting anime production schedule during COVID seems like a foolish thing to do, so maybe guessing about staff is more productive. If you are good you can probably guess staff from the cast list, because, as MingosP mentioned on the livestream, of course Makoto is in this project because Goripon is a MakotoP. Maybe you can find the biggest Derem@s animator stans for Minami as the next one up.

In summary, it’s like what they say, it’s just more IM@S. MillionPs have been through this before, but this time we’ll have the newbies from Theater Days along for the ride. For CG folks, they know how Spin-Off is like. For the other old timers though, this is all gravy.

Umamusume Observations: April 2021

Just jotting down some thoughts about the game. Take it as you will. A hint of a spoiler for S2 of the anime down there but it’s not much of one.

Also this is one of those annoying articles with an image. in. between. every. paragraph.

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