['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]


I'm in Japan at the moment, and I'm starting to wish I had more time. I'm not touring the countryside or anything like that; I'm in Tokyo and for the most part I've been catching up with personal/business contacts and the like, but there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day for everything I want to do.

I've had a bit of a chance to go scoping around for old magazines, but so far things haven't been very cheery. The only place I've really found any is at the Super Potato in Akihabara, which had a pretty nice selection of issues from Beep and PC Engine Fan and the like.

Unfortunately, they were asking way too much for my liking -- something like 1500 to 2500 yen per issue, which would be far beyond my budget even if the yen-dollar exchange rate wasn't pushing 15-year lows right now.

I did finally get around to picking up a copy of Dengeki Games, though, and I'm browsing through it this morning as a way of forgetting about my jet lag. As I wrote a bit about in the past, Dengeki Games is a mag that originally started as a mature-oriented Nintendo publication, but eventually became publisher ASCII Media Works' big, fat montly multiplatform book -- spiritually speaking, the only real direct competition Weekly Famitsu has in Japan.

Just browsing through the pages, it's easy to see that Dengeki Games is trying to be the magazine that Famitsu readers (which, even now, tend to skew pretty young) "graduate" to once they grow up. The most obvious way this manifests itself is the fact that Dengeki Games has no strategy guide pages. None at all. They mostly evaporated from the pages of US mags several years ago, yes, but in Japan, such a move is practically unheard of.

Even now, at least 20% or so of Famitsu each week is strategy stuff. I wonder how much readers welcome this move -- I know that I stopped referring to print-based strategy guides years ago, and everything I read on Japanese forums seems to tell me that the same's mostly true over there.

How do they fill up 258 pages a month without packing in the walkthroughs and character stat sheets, then? Mainly, the same way that US mags do it -- i.e., with a lot of previews. The preview section is about half the book by itself, broadly divided into games that are fresh in stores, getting released soon, and coming a few months from now.

They're your typical Japan-style previews, mostly spending the space with character profiles, descriptions of gameplay systems, and maybe a dev interview or two. Dengeki Games also has a ridiculous amount of Monster Hunter series coverage, something that it's earned a positive reputation for among series fans -- 17 pages are devoted to it this issue, even though there hasn't been any particularly big news for it lately.

The review pages are pretty interesting to me. In my opinion, they're a fantastic example of how Famitsu could, and should, update its own section. Each game has two writers on it, both submitting a decent-sized text review and score out of 100. The review text is well-written, more critical, and definitely more in-depth than anything in Famitsu's review pages, but that's not what really struck me here.

What did is an infobox that shows how much time each reviewer played the game they're reviewing, as well as whether they finished the main story mode or not when it applies. All the reviewers seem to devote at least 7 hours to the games they tackle, although the figure's more around 10-15 on the average. (One claimed to have played Square Enix's Lord of Arcana for 30 hours, which I think would exhaust me in and of itself.)

There's been debate in the past on whether explicitly listing play times on reviews is a good idea. Hirokazu Hamamura, former EIC of Famitsu, considered trying it out, but decided against it as he figured it would be too nebulous -- different gamers proceed through their games at far different paces.

However, in an age where nearly all hardcore gamers in Japan (and most in America, for that matter) see Famitsu as too cozy with its advertisers to deliver unbiased coverage, the move is Dengeki's way of saying "hey, we aren't superhuman or nothing; we played this game for a while and here's what we thought about it." A simple move that, again, is remarkably refreshing in the Japanese industry.

I think Dengeki Games devotes too many pages to same-y previews, but otherwise, I think it's one of the highest-quality Japanese game mags out there right now. It's also serving a new and more mature market that publishers are starting to aggressively target. Otona-Fami, an Enterbrain-produced mag that's meant to be "Famitsu for grown-ups," is finally going monthly with its November '10 issue -- it'll be interesting to see how that mag and DG compete with each other.

[Kevin Gifford used to breed ferrets, but now he's busy running Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots of publishers and game companies.]