And we’re back with another year of “mostly non-tech” suggestions from Ron. I’m more of a games and entertainment kind of person anyway, so here’s what you might want to look into if phones, tablets, cars, and televisions aren’t really high on your priority list.
Money is No Object
Once again, I am here to remind you that “getting out” is one of the most important decisions you can make in your life. Break away from your comfort zone. Go somewhere where there is zero chance to speak English. Learn about the way other cultures go about and live their lives from day to day. Heck, why not come to Japan or go to Korea and explore all the tech areas, if that’s your thing?
Then come back to your everyday life and try to apply a few of these lessons.
You can read about other countries from the safety of a tablet or smartphone, but truly, the only way to appreciate the world outside of your own borders is to get out. $2,000 is the base price from New York to Tokyo, but that’s during the high travel season. You can get here much cheaper in the off-season and even the food and local travel will land you better value as well.
Gifts under $2,000
JPY 198,000 ($1,931)
Japan might be lagging behind its foreign counterparts in tablets and smartphones, but robots is still one area that the country still excels. And now, you can buy an affordable one designed for the sole purpose of making you happy! Pepper is quite a star in Japan, appearing in interviews on television shows and in the commercials for its distributor, SoftBank. It is hyped as a robot that can read the emotions of humans through its laser vision and react appropriately to cheer an owner up or make children smile.
Or scream in fright! That’s another result .
Its designers hope to one day evolve Pepper into a housekeeper, but for now, all it can do is acknowledge your presence and reply in pre-programmed responses. And besides, nothing says “I love you” on Christmas morning better than a creepy robot that welcomes you to the breakfast table and asks to play a game on its built in tablet.
Gifts Under $500
I’ve recommended the PlayStation 4 in years past with a bit of apprehension, but now I can finally outright grant approval to Sony’s console. It has come into its own with a lineup of great games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Bloodborne, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The horizon only looks better too with exclusives both on the AAA front like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and No Man’s Sky and the Japanese niche side of gaming with Persona 5 and Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness.
Now that it can cover all fronts, the PlayStation 4 is finally deserving of its title as the best selling console and should be on your wishlist no matter what kind of gamer you are.
Gifts Under $250
The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki
Is legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki retired? Is he working? Who knows, but you can own all of his movies on one slick blu-ray set this holiday season, exclusively from Amazon. This box has all of yours needs covered no matter what genre you’re a fan of. Action (The Castle of Cagliostro), science fiction (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), fantasy (Princess Mononoke), adventure (Castle in the Sky), war (Porco Rosso), children’s films (My Neighbor Totoro), slice of life (Kiki’s Delivery Service), and even the elusive “girl’s coming of age story trapped in a haunted hot spring resort” genre (Spirited Away).
Eleven great movies that challenge and tap into your emotions far more seamlessly than most other manipulative anime and Hollywood animated films out there. Don’t ask which one is my favorite because I don’t know.
However, it leaves me wondering why Disney couldn’t splurge and throw Whisper of the Heart in there. Miyazaki might not have directed that one, but he did write the screenplay. Throw that in your checkout bin as well because it’s just a good as the rest. That should take you to about an even $250.
Well, this is awkward. Everyone is a bit angry about the support the PS Vita has been getting (or lack of) from Sony, but it’s also my most played gaming device these days. Whether it is an indie game I would rather take on the train, a niche title from Japan, or a classic PlayStation JRPG, the PS Vita has a lot of answers that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One simply don’t.
It lacks in the “portable-AAA” department that Sony promised when it first introduced the handheld to to the public, but that’s fine. That’s what I bought a huge TV for.
Gifts Under $100
Magic the Gathering: Battle for Zendikar Booster Box
Now here’s a blast from the past that recently crawled back into my life: Magic the Gathering. I got back into this time sink a few months ago, and it has slowly eaten away at my life like I’m 12 years old all over again. Not to mention, there have been quite a few fellow players who have shared my similar hiatus, claiming that they’ve been out of Magic since the mid 90s but are back in since the game is now totally legit.
Whether you are an old timer looking to get back in or a newcomer, the latest Battle for Zendikar set is a lot of fun.
This expansion has been quite the rejuvenation for me so far. Its mechanics aren’t overly complicated, and it also does a good job of showing how much the game has evolved since the heyday oh-so long ago. With a $100 booster box split six or twelve ways, you can crank out a few solid draft games with friends, crack open a few boosters for a fun sealed deck, or just plain add on top of the Standard decks you already have.
Battle for Zenikdar has its flaws, but overall, it’s just fun to be playing Magic again. Great way to get back in if you’ve sailed under the radar for quite a bit of time.
Yo-kai Watch Nintendo 2DS Bundle
Nintendo wants the next Pokemania to happen this year in North America, and it is placing its bets on Yo-kai Watch, a game series which has Japanese children in a stranglehold and is all about catching monsters to fight alongside you. Yeah, it’s not really one for originality, is it?
But still, Yo-kai Watch has at least won a similarly sized backing in its home country for the time being at least, so who knows how it will do in the States? Why not get ahead of the curb and give it a try. Where else are you going to find a Nintendo 2DS and an infinitely playable monster hunting game for just $99.99. This bundle is the answer!
Gifts Under $50
The Lord of the Rings BBC Dramatization
I love Peter Jackson’s interpretations of Lord of the Ring as much as the next Tolkien-nerd, but as time moves along, I am having a harder and harder time going back to them. Not only are they the genesis for many of the things I don’t like about Hollywood movies today, though it is hardly their fault, I also had a pretty solid image of what “MY” Middle Earth looked like before they came along. And it was quite different.
I grew up on these discs, or cassettes back when I first heard them, and to this day, they remain the definitive way for me to experience Tolkien’s universe. Magnificently voice acted, wonderfully composed. You can put this on at night, shut your eyes, and just let the wonderful narration and production bring you to Middle Earth with the power of your imagination, a far strong force than any 4K television.
Hands down, this the best way to experience Lord of the Rings, and you even get to bring your own visual interpretation into it. This is also the version that people bring up whenever they talk about Ian Holm playing both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins over the course of his career.
The iTunes version break this set up into three parts for $14.95 each. Stick with the CDs since they provide the most authentic introduction and closing on each chapter.
At 30 years old, I know what I like, and I like what I love… Good old fashioned JRPGs.
Nowadays, video games feel like work. Struggling to keep up with swift releases, pushing through games I don’t really like simply for the sake of beating them. Not all that fun. I am most at peace, enjoying my video games when I am on a train traveling through the empty Japanese countryside, playing an old time favorite through the power of my PS Vita or Nintendo 3DS, and just losing myself to sentimentality.
This year saw the release of a solid portable JRPGs like The Legend of Legacy, Yo-kai Watch, and Etrian Odyssey II Untold, but honestly, there really is nothing like the classics. With a $50 budget, you can pick up countless hours of exploration and entertainment, and as an added bonus, take them you anywhere you go. The Nintendo 3DS is decent since you can expensively play Chrono Trigger, but the PlayStation Vita is the best choice you have for these old timey favorites.
See my $50-ish budgetary recommendations below:
$5.99 – $9.99 each