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Review: Oreshura

Jan 10 // Jeff Chuang
Oreshura [DVD]Studio: A-1 PicturesLicensed by: Aniplex of AmericaRelease Date: December 17, 2013MSRP: $74.98 ($59.98) To me, the million-dollar question is "how do we make the harem concept interesting in 2014?" Oreshura gives it a good try. As with all things harem, one's mileage will vary, but Oreshura builds its house on sold ground, starting with a pleasant visual style and sense of atmosphere; this is a thoroughly modern and spiffy-looking show. As far as a romantic comedies go, Oreshura is definitely on the refined side, one of it's strongest distinguishing characteristics. When we think of refinement in the harem comedy genre, it might remind you of the traditional gender roles, or in this case, girly girls. Oreshura doesn't quite have what you'll find in older shows like Ai Yori Aoshi or even Ah! My Goddess, but in both the art direction characterization, the show focuses on the graceful school of refined, pastel-colored maidens. This may seem contrary to the title about someone who argues a lot, but that's part of the one of the show's main themes; the constant source of tension between the traditional and modern views of femininity. Oreshura begins as the distant-but-beautiful Masuzu transfers into protagonist-teen Eita's high school class, mid-year. Eita's childhood friend Chiwa, who we later learn is suffering from a disabling sports injury that ended her path as a competitive kendo practitioner, learns one day that Masuzu and Eita are going out. However, all is not quite as it seems; neither Eita or Masuzu are interested in romance, and Masuzu is basically blackmailing Eita into doing her bidding in the guise of dating. The charade lasts throughout the entire series, but that isn't important; what does become important is how Eita and Chiwa both mature through Masuzu's intervention. Chiwa and Eita were very close friends even before Chiwa's injury, and closer still now that Chiwa relies on Eita daily to cook for her, rather than relying on her busy parents. Their relationship takes a step further as we learn early in Oreshura that Eita's parents are separated, each deserting the other for new lovers, ultimately abandoning Eita to the care of his aunt. Eita is old enough to live by himself (with Chiwa's family next door), which is good, because his aunt doesn't quite show up until towards the end of the series. Given all of this, Eita takes up the mantle of the responsible adult in his household, and studies hard to the exclusion of almost everything else. Masuzu also has major issues with her parents. At the start of the story, she runs away from her rich family in Europe to join her estranged biological mother in Japan, facilitating her transfer to Eita's schol. It's this opportunity that allows Masuzu the freedom to goof around with Eita, and later on with the other girls in Masuzu's "Self-recreation" club for young maidens. In the club, Masuzu basically has a lot of fun at Chiwa and Eita's expense by putting them up for all kinds of weird scenarios that lampoon popular anime and manga archetypes. The second half of the series follows a similar, openly passive-aggressive pattern as new girls Himeka  and Ai join Masuzu's club, expanding the harem. Himeka, who has one of the most creative character origins in recent memory, is Eita's lover from their past lives-- or so she thinks (it's complicated.) Fan-favorite Ai-chan, on the other hand, is just a very well-acted tsundere character (voiced by Ai Kayano); her hardcore "dere" routines borderline full-on comedic. Much of the humor in Oreshura comes from characters one-upping each other during arguments. It's the way they make these statements that takes on an edge of absurdity, and it's usually funny in that tongue-in-cheek way. Aniplex of America's Oreshura DVD release is competent, simple and to the point. A clear case serves three sub-only discs with clean opening and ending credits, web preview clips (basically longer preview segments), with a reversible cover, inside a slipcase. The only major thing to note (and perhaps separating it from the garden variety anime on DVD) is the liner booklet titled Pachi Lemon which comes with the usual illustrations and show notes describing the premise and the characters. Pachi Lemon also happens to be the fashion rag that Chiwa reads on occasion, and it's great to see that kind of detail reproduced in the physical release. The video and audio come across clearly and cleanly, albeit nothing fancy is going on. While I would have liked a Blu-ray option, Oreshura is not a show that will dazzle you through special effects or powerful animation, despite being stylish from head to toe. The opening animation is something special, making it very clear that this show is about the concept of a girlish lover. And this what-you-see-is-what-you-get quality is consistent throughout the show: It's up front about all its pretenses and clichés, but does mix them with a few interesting things. It's about very girly girls being somewhat passive-aggressive about what they want, and about those somewhat-pure, idealized maiden-y confessions. It's also about the kind of fanservice that appeals more emotionally than fleshly. On the whole, Oreshura is a difficult piece to embrace, outside of those moments that will elicit a good laugh. It's definitely a touch cerebral compared to your average harem show, which may be a turn-off for some fans, but refreshing for others. There are a lot of interesting narrative components and plot comes at a nice clip, but the big picture is not available for the viewers until they're done with the series. (For the record, I've watched it twice now.) Each of the girls gets her day in the sun in the end, so don't expect a very conclusive ending either--although, arguably, Eita does pick somebody. It's a story for people who demand more sophistication in their narratives, but purely as character motifs that come out in word plays, not so much in assumption-shattering twists and deconstructive reversals. I should be fair; the fact that Oreshura touches on the theme of youthful beauty being skin-deep is pretty rare in late-night anime. For those who like subtle character interplay with a good sense of humor (doubly so if you enjoy Jojo's Bizarre Adventure), Oreshura is something worth looking into. I don't know why, but my favorite Oreshura joke has to be when Chiwa, Ai and Masuzu were calling each other by their translated names--Thousand Japan, Love Cloth, and Summer River (Natsukawa). It's the little things that get you laughing when the rest of the show is off doing it's whole harem thing. Thinking back, I probably had more fun dissecting the show now than going through the process of watching it. It's why one might as well go for a run outside instead. 6.0 – Okay. 6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. Oreshura attempted to do something interesting but failed to improve on the major problems most people have with titles like these. It'll probably make great rental fodder or bargain grab.
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Light novel maidens do verbal battle
Oreshura, or Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru, is an elaborate reimagining of a simple idea. Short for "My girlfriend and my childhood friend argue a lot," the shortened name makes marketing and looking up the s...

Review: Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers

Dec 13 // Chris Walden
Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers (PS3)Developer: DimpsPublisher: Namco Bandai GamesRelease date: October 17, 2013 (JP), November 23, 2013 (EU, AU), November 26, 2013 (US)Price: $59.99 Ever wanted to see all of the characters from your favourite shonen series duke it out in a fighting game with lush, cel-shaded visuals? That's what developer Dimps is offering for the Saint Seiya universe, with Brave Soldiers marking its second trip to the PS3 with this particular franchise. The goal seems pretty clear; make a fighting game that existing fans of the series will salivate over, while making it look interesting enough to newcomers who want to learn more about Saint Seiya. So far, so good. Brave Soldiers spans the entirety of the original manga, with a large focus on the three major arcs: The Sanctuary, Poseidon and  Hades arc. You'll have to work your way from start to finish rather than jump into the deep end, but from a story perspective, that's what you want anyway. Fans of the original manga will be satisfied to see it recreated as a beat-'em-up, and newcomers should-- in theory-- get a chance to experience from start to finish what Saint Seiya is all about. Sure, it doesn't seem like the anime spin-off Omega is represented, but there's plenty of content on offer. All of the story is locked up in the 'Saint Chronicles' mode, which sandwiches one-on-one battles between a condensed retelling of the Saint Seiya narrative. This is shown in typical visual novel style, with character dialogue appearing beneath the 3D models of the characters currently speaking. Sometimes, stills from the 1986 anime are even used to show some of the scenes that just can't be reproduced in the game engine. It seems a little lazy, and it's quite hard to grasp the context of certain story elements because of it. In the process of balancing walls of text with gameplay, large portions of the story appear to have been cut. That's perhaps to be expected, but, even early on in this mode, there were sections that didn't make any sense to me. For example, after finishing the fight with Aiolia, there's mention of a character called Cassios; there was no mention of this character previously, and after doing some research, I still have no idea what dropping his name was supposed to accomplish. Now, it's understandable that Dimps didn't want to turn the game into a novel, but this does mean that it's not really a great place for newcomers to catch up on this classic series; you'll certainly get the gist of it, but you're going to be left scratching your head at times. As for the core game, combat is relatively simple to pick up. The face buttons allow you to perform basic attacks, a special attack that's unique to your character, as well as a jump/dash. With the shoulder buttons you can block, charge up your Cosmo Gauge and use that character's "Big Bang Attack," should the Cosmo Gauge be at least three-quarters full. As a boon to players who don't have much experience with fighting games, all of the special moves are activated with a single button press under the correct conditions, rather than with complex button combinations. This not only makes the game instantly accessible for any friends who want to play local multiplayer with you since there's no combinations to memorize, but makes it really simple to see the flashy special moves for all the characters after you unlock them. However, this is also where the combat starts to fall apart. Sure, it's easy to pick up, but it also lacks any depth. It's very easy to just mash one button to instantly perform a combo, occasionally backing off to charge up your Cosmo Gauge until you can use your Big Bang Attack. This turns most of your multiplayer matches into a contest to see who can knock the other player down long enough to charge up their Cosmo Gauge. The Seventh Sense meter, which allows your character to enter a more powerful state for a short period of time, charges up way too slowly to even be usable in most matches. Furthermore, neither the Cosmo Gauge nor The Seventh Sense meter carry over, so it's 'use it or lose it'; you can't use strategy by saving your special attacks for the next round. As a result, gameplay gets awfully repetitive. Aside from the Saint Chronicles mode, there are a few other options on offer. There are versus modes for both local and online multiplayer, as well as the option to fight against AI opponents, which is where you'll be going if you want to see the special moves of the 50+ characters. The Orb menu allows you to customize your character by boosting their stats and adding bonus effects to their attacks; this is great for online play, but you'll probably want to stick to the vanilla characters if you're playing local multiplayer. There is also a plethora of unlockable content, including high-resolution images of cards from the Saint Seiya Crusade collectible card game and the Saint Seiya Myth Cloth figurines. You can see one of these in the image above, and while they don't add much to the overall experience, they're an interesting addition if you like to hunt for collectibles.  The audio is limited to Japanese with subtitles, so if you were anticipating a dub you'll find yourself disappointed. Still, I think most players will be more than happy with having the Japanese voice actors representing Seiya and company; some of the shouts from the cast while using special moves are entertaining. There are also Survival and Galaxy War modes that add some variation to standard combat. Survival is exactly what you think it is; you're tasked with beating as many AI characters as possible in a streak, and your health bar only regenerates a little per enemy defeated. The Galaxy War mode is a knockout tournament, so be sure to load that up if you have a bunch of friends over. Aside from everything else, it's the art that really sets this title apart from similar games. Sure, it uses cel-shading and we've all seen that before, but it looks incredibly crisp even in the midst of battle. Every special move is given due care so that it always looks fantastic, with believable cloth and hair physics; really, the way this game looks is a love letter to the source material. As far as 3D fighting games go, this is as close as you can really expect it to get to the original anime. So while Brave Soldiers as a whole caters incredibly well to existing fans of Saint Seiya, there's more to be desired for those who want to experience it without having to see the anime (or read the manga) first. The aesthetics can't save the gameplay, bumping this down to a party game that's fun enough for you and a few friends, but too repetitive for enjoyable online or competitive play. However, the big problem with selling this as a party game is that the vast majority of characters are locked away in the Saint Chronicles mode, and unlocking them is a lengthy process. If you're not enjoying the combat in single player, you'll still have to slog through it all to add more fighters to the versus mode. There's not even a code to temporarily unlock everyone, which I see as an incredible oversight. Will fans of the show care enough to want to run through an abridged story that they already know? Will newcomers care about this abridged story, and will the combat turn them off before they unlock enough characters to make Brave Soldiers a fun party game? If you're a fan of Saint Seiya, then yes, I wholeheartedly recommend you give this game a go; the stunning visuals and gorgeous special moves will do a lot to make up for the somewhat lacklustre fighting mechanics. If you're curious about the series and want to know more, then you may want to try the anime or manga before you attempt this game, since it won't really give you the full story. 6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.) 
Video Games photo
I was really excited to play Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers, as it seemed like a great way to finally learn all about this famous, zodiac-inspired series. While I had some knowledge of the show from the odd video and passing men...

Review: The Wind Rises

Nov 25 // Jeff Chuang
[embed]30540:3127:0[/embed] The Wind Rises is told from the point of view of Jiro Horikoshi, starting with his childhood during the Meiji era. Scientific and technological breakthroughs were happening at fast pace, and by the 1920s, the world was stepping through the final stages of the industrial era and into the modern age. It is in that context that we see Jiro dreams of flying in the sky with his homemade airplane, launching off the room of his childhood home. Powered by a two-cylinder engine, he would fly his plane through the town and along with the birds, until running into a parade of ominous blimps decorated with Nazi insignia. We see Jiro in many roles: as a dreamer, a pacifist, a husband, and also as a pawn in the global war. And to The Wind Rises's credit, this a film that lends itself to multiple interpretations-- with the caveat that what you bring with you as a viewer makes a huge difference. If you think Miyazaki's works are preachy, then The Wind Rises will do nothing but confirm that. If you think a Japanese point of view as victims of WWII is somehow inappropriate, The Wind Rises is not likely to change your mind. In this sense, I also feel that the film, tackling a very daring theme about war and peace with WWII as its backdrop, is perhaps Studio Ghibli's least preachy film of all. Granted, the film is thoroughly pacifist in its message--but it leaves everything as is, on the table, from Jiro's point of view, and in a way, Miyazaki's own views. Its themes and ideas come across as honest rather than argumentative. The trauma may sometimes be on display, but it is a far cry from the likes of Graves of the Fireflies. And it's easy to sum up Jiro's point of view: He lived through a difficult time in history. He had to fight to spend time with his ailing wife. He had to, in some ways, atone for the weapon of war he has created. Ultimately, his dream was still bottled by the reality of Japan's role in the war, in the same way how Jiro's Italian counterpart was never able to create the reality in his dreams; both of them dreamed to design planes that would carry people, not guns and bombs. Miyazaki's touch for the visually fantastic is as strong with The Wind Rises as with his prior films. It's with these visual cues and styles that we explore the Great Kanto earthquake along with the various attempts of flight that Jiro was tasked with during his tenure at Mitsubishi. As the story twists and turns with increasing seriousness and severity, both as the war advances towards its latter stages and how Jiro's relationship with his eventual wife develops, some of that magical vibrancy goes away to make way for more somber matters. It feels as if that The Wind Rises showcases something from each of Miyazaki's major films: from the earth-shaking, Ponyo-like visuals to the stern stares out of Princess Mononoke, and scenes of Jiro's college days that could  have come out of From Up on Poppy Hill. My favorite aspect has to be the indulgent flight scenes, torn straight out of Porco Rosso. And as the creator of Porco Rosso, Hayao Miyazaki couldn't squeeze out all the humor and romance out of this film despite its somber nature; The Wind Rises still maintains a whimsical touch throughout. My favorite moment is the shotgun wedding between Jiro and Naoko, a ceremony put together in a night using spare household items. At times a warm, organic whimsy manages to punch through the serious subject matter at hand. As this review is based on the subtitled version of the film, I was able to ascertain that Hideaki Anno (the famed director of Evangelion) was probably unharmed in the making of this movie. Having him voice the main character was definitely not a typical choice, and I'm honestly not sure even now what Anno brought to the film. Simply put, Anno's not an actor by trade, and it shows. On the flip side, the voice work of Anno might be a close mirror to what a real-life Jiro Horikoshi might have sounded like, since both are men who have the capacity to be completely consumed by their craft. Otherwise, the rest of the voice acting from the Japanese cast is on par with what you would expect. Typical of Ghibli's works, the production of the film is handled perfectly. Composer Joe Hisaishi handed in not just his usual brilliant work, but a superb soundtrack that tracks the wide mood swings within the film. In a similar manner, the visuals for the movie go through a wide spectrum of styles. Waves of earth shaking, merging men, women, stones and railroad tracks; air-pressed canvas rippling through the sky on the wings of WWI-era planes; and aluminum rivets have never been so coolly animated. The seriousness of a test flight is reduced to cartoony proportions when failed projects crash in mid air, all signaled with just a deployed parachute. The ideologies of war and peace come in the form of a salad-eating foreigner, enjoying some peace and quiet; pushy Gestapo officers are seen mobbing an unknown victim in the thick of the night, like gremlins working for Spirited Away's Yubaba. Both in Jiro's dreams and throughout his travels, The Wind Rises paces us not only through a flurry of landscapes, but of visual canvases, color themes, and moods. Ultimately, however, the story of Jiro Hirokoshi is still rooted in reality: this was the creator of one of the most deadly weapons in WWII, no matter how he is humanized. While this isn't a film about mushroom clouds or kamikaze bombers, the shadow of these things cast a cloud of doubt throughout the final segment of the film and arguably provoke deeper, subtler questions about Jiro's struggles. The film, to the dismay of some, is not the summer blockbuster-y type of adventure that many like out of Studio Ghibli. This contemplative movie has its share of light-hearted moments, but it's mature (if self-indulgently so) and is a much more complicated beast. That's not to say that kids won't enjoy it, but it's unlikely that this film was created with children in mind. Rather, rather than entertain children, it would seem the hope of this movie is to spare them the same sort of tribulations that world experienced in the 1930s and 1940s. At Japanator, we write to the otaku-minded. For those of us willing to take the next step with Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises will take you somewhere Studio Ghibli rarely goes: a place unquestionably for adults. Unfortunately, it also means leaving behind the mass audience appeal that has allowed Ghibli's films to cross cultural and generational gaps for the last several decades. It is a film unabashedly Japanese, but also perhaps one truest to Miyazaki's world: the world based on the life that he has experienced. It's amazing to see one of the greatest animators of all times do something like this, even if this may be the one Studio Ghibli movie that you probably should think twice about before recommending to parents with children. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of The Wind Rises is that for once, a Miyazaki film cannot be an automatic recommendation for audiences of all ages, despite its quality. The Wind Rises will hit American theaters in February 21st, 2014. 10.0 – Legendary. The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki's most competent film. While it may also be his most indulging film and surely will not make everyone's favorite list, it is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys animation.
The Wind Rises photo
Let Miyazaki indulge in his greatest filmmaking moment
Hayao Miyazaki's latest movie, The Wind Rises, is a story about a historic person: the project lead on the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane. It's decidedly unlike the imaginative, family-friendly adventures that Studio Ghibl...

Review: High School DxD Season 1

Nov 08 // Jeff Chuang
High School DxD Season 1 (Blu-ray/DVD) Studio: TNKLicensed by: FUNimationRelease Date: August 20, 2013MSRP: 64.98 Well, not so fast; how can we, for a review of High School DxD, skip over the fanservice? I think if you enjoy sexy dynamite bodies, lacking a better term, you will like this honest and straightforward boobs anime. The Japanese promo material on the second disc, available as bonus content, says as much--it's a boobie anime. If you like them knockers, this thing has it. I would even go so far as to complement on Rias Gremory's design in general--both dressed and undressed, she has a really well-done character design. It happens when the character's silhouette works so well that the shape of her hair draws your attention to her fierce, but perfect face (and on down). It's good that she's a well-designed character, since High School DxD features Rias an awful lot--both in terms of marketing material and also how the anime puts her in some pretty cool still shots. Alongside her are Akeno, the Japanese, Yamato Nadeshiko-type; Asia, the innocent sister; and Koneko, the smooth-and-flat representative of the bunch. There are others, but not as important (well, save for fellow club member/demon brother-in-arm Yuuto). While I can't hurl as many complements to the rest of the gang purely on a visual level, I think the group rounds out the fanservice elements sufficiently. For me, the lead male character often makes or breaks any kind of a harem setting. In High School DxD, I think Issei gets a pass. He's earnest and hard to dislike. The guy is humble enough and knows to play it like a shy boy when it's appropriate, on occasion borrowing the best attributes from classic playboy heroes like Kintaro Oe. For better or worse, however, High School DxD sets him in a “must get stronger” sort of story where Issei has to step up and pull his weight for the team. It's frankly kind of dull, but the simple vehicle doesn't get in the way of the fanservice, and is inoffensive for the most part. There is a consistent team theme going on throughout the story. The way High School DxD sets up the primary relationships in the first season has to do with how Rias grows her demon family. Like vampires, I guess, the demons in High School DxD can resurrect dead humans and turn them into “reborn” demons. Demons can also give birth to other “pureblood” demons. The demons fight against angels, fallen angels (who may team up with other agents, such as human demon hunters and combat priests), and among themselves, in a three-way balance of power. While season one of High School DxD doesn't get into the setting too much, one thing we do learn is that humans are randomly bestowed with "sacred gears," and all these faction fight over humans with good ones. As you've probably already guessed, our protagonist happens to have an extremely powerful sacred gear. The story focuses on how Rias establishes her family, and also Rias's own role in the society of demons, including the whole Rating Game business where fellow demons compete for societal status in a game of human (demon?) chess. By bringing in Asia and Issei into her family, Rias establishes herself not only in a way that is meaningful to her position, but also in a way that meets her emotional needs. In turn, Rias's guidance and vulnerability complement Issei and Asia's needs too. As the only romantic triangle in the first season, this is a subtly interesting angle to present. And maybe it's for the best. Unlike most harem anime, there are little reasons for High School DxD to spend time with awkward social situations between a dense protagonist and a hot haremette in order to exploit that fanservice element as a slapstick joke. Akeno and Rias simply jget naked on their own, sometimes for no good reason, and all the anime has to do is to show it. This leaves Issei focused on getting stronger (and tearing clothes off Asia). The show is probably at its weakest when Issei, along with his male classmates, sexually harasses the girls at school. We get the point that Issei's mind is full of naughty girl parts, let's move on. Actually, there is another thing that bugged me--the whole nipples-visible-through-the-clothes visual effect. It's just not my thing, especially when it happens to Rias and Akeno while they are wearing their normal school uniforms. It's also kind of random; on occasion you will see their nipples through their outfits, sometimes not. Maybe it's supposed to indicate that they don't wear bras? In any case, I feel like it cheapens the show (as if it wasn't cheap enough), and more importantly, it distracts you from enjoying the alluring character designs. As for production values, High School DxD is competent. The home video release is uncensored, as it should be. The animation quality is okay, although there has to be some praises heaped upon the ending animation. “Study x Study” is a catchy StylipS song, but, those pole dancing moves are definitely animated with more frames then usual, right? They look pretty nice. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes with a good amount of on-disc bonuses. For one, the English dub cast provides commentary tracks for episodes 1 and 7. The aforementioned promo materials are available (subbed only) as well as the original Japanese bonus featurettes, in case you want to see more boobs (or tentacle udon noodles). FUNimation's own ads as well as the original Japanese ads are present, and also the credit-free OP/ED videos. For your information, this review is based on the Blu-ray disc contents, although the screencaps are from DVDs. The voice acting on High School DxD is kind of a mixed bag. The Japanese dub did a decent job of portraying Rias as a cool beauty, and so did the English dub, although the latter came across a little too matter-of-factly. The English Issei is terrific, though. The rest of the gallery sounds about what you would expect from a typical FUNimation dub, although there are a few first-timers in this cast. It's probably worth noting that the Japanese versions of Akeno and Asia sound about as exaggerated as their English counterparts. If you look a little deeper at High School DxD, you might actually find some interesting themes. The one I latched on is how Asia's feeling for Issei serves as a foil for Rias's feeling for Issei; they are drastically different yet surprisingly similar. It's exactly this kind of thing that you miss out if you write off High School DxD as a pure boobs show. Make no mistake, it still is a pure boobs show; but the boobs aren't the only thing the series has to offer. The point I realized that something else might be happening with this series was during an early moment, when Issei got into a debate about Dragon Ball Z: FUNimation's famous bumper is "You Should Be Watching." I wondered at first: should anyone actually be watching High School DXD, with its nipple protrusions? Is this really a good way to spend your time and money? And in true otaku anime fashion, the answer is “yes, but.” If you're willing to look past the surface for some deeper themes, you may be surprised to actually find some here. However, for a lot of viewers, the fanservice is all they will see, and that's okay as long as that's what you want. If nothing else, you could just watch the ED on loop for a while. 6.0 – Okay. 6's are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles (say "titles" ten times fast) may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.
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Devil's chess with fanservice
Sometimes, companies like FUNimation license certain titles that meet a certain kind of demand. And there’s no beating around the bush for these shows: sex sells. Although these fanservice-heavy anime rarely feature act...

Review: Rising from the Ashes by Dr Akiko Mikamo

Nov 05 // Kristina Pino
Rising from the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness from HiroshimaDr. Akiko MikamoLulu Publishing Released September 4, 2013MSRP: US$14.99 PB [BUY] US$9.99 eBook [BUY] Rising from the Ashes is a quick read. At only 206 pages, it doesn't take long to physically get through. By the time you're done though, you might feel like much more time has gone by. Though the story is penned by Dr. Mikamo, the words are all a recollection from the perspective of her father, Shinji Mikamo. It was he who was standing on the rooftop of his home, getting some work done with his father, when suddenly the world turned upside down. He then recounts in meticulous detail the grueling days that followed, what his father (Dr. Makimo's grandfather) did to ensure his survival, and his life after the disaster. Besides the details of his personal experiences, Shinji sets the scene for Japan during that period of history. He talks about the political situation, what the public was led to believe opposed to what was really going on, the various restrictions that were in place, and the aftermath. His story continues all the way into the present. Though the material in the story is heavy and the writing a little somber, it isn't the sort of book that you'll feel depressed reading. Shinji pours plenty of heart and substance into his words, and emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and looking more at the big picture. Of course, he also went to great lengths to instill his philosophy in his children, including the author, who is the president of  San Diego WISH and a practicing psychologist. Shinji's story is absolutely incredible, and if you can't get yourself to Hiroshima for a visit in the foreseeable future, then this is the easiest way to teleport there. This is a book I recommend even if you have visited the Memorial Peace Park and Museum. You'll definitely learn some history as recounted from a different perspective (a first-hand one), and you'll also learn the origin of some cultural aspects of Japan that are still intact (at least somewhat) today. The only mild lament I have about this book is I wish it had been a little longer, if only because I am interested in learning more. [9.5 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. You'll find few memoirs as important or insightful as this one.]
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'A survivor's message of love and the power of forgiveness'
One of the very best experiences I've ever had traveling in Japan was visiting Hiroshima. It is one of the most peaceful places on the planet, and the message that beautiful city conveys to all who pass through is one I'll ne...

Review: Godannar Complete DVD Collection

Oct 07 // Pedro Cortes
Godannar Complete DVD Collection [DVD]Studio: OLM Incorporated / Anime International Company Inc.Licensed by: Sentai FilmworksRelease Date: 10/01/13MSRP: $64.98 [Amazon | Rightstuf] Set in the future, monsters known as Mimetic Beasts have attacked humanity, forcing man to create giant robots in their image, as they're wont to due in this kind of situation. While Tokyo is destroyed by a particularly difficult to kill baddie, a pilot named Goh Saruwatari manages to save his boss's young daughter, Anna Aoi, while killing the monster in the midst of all the rubble and trashed robots. Five years later, Goh and Anna are set to get married, only to be interrupted by the reemergence of the Mimetic Beasts. Goh jumps back into his mech, the Dannar, while Anna unseals an old mech and joins her fiancee on the battlefield to help save humanity. The two regularly combine mechs on the field of battle as they also struggle to maintain their relationship in the face of constant interruption from Goh's little brother, petty arguments and the occasional ex-flame. While robots maybe one of Godannar's draws, the real heart of the show is in Anna and Goh's relationship. Separated by 12 years and a ton of life experience, the two regularly have trouble understanding each other. Anna is still in high school, often lacking the maturity to deal with Goh's stubborn nature and his traumatic past. Goh is much older, yet is also emotionally stunted from his participation in the events that open the show. He has trouble getting close to his fiancé and uses his piloting as a way to keep himself from getting hurt again. The two often clash, but there is plenty of genuine love and affection. It's surprisingly touching, and it's not often you see this kind of relationship in anime-- much less in a fanservice-laden giant robot show. It really makes Godannar feel like it's aimed at an older audience. Speaking of fanservice, that is another one of  the show's big draws. Considering the aforementioned older audience, they packed these 26 episodes with as much boob-bouncing, rear angles and crotch shots as possible. In fact, I would've loved to have seen a jiggle counter in the corner slowly ticking up as each episode went on. With as many female characters as this show features, I wouldn't be surprised if that jiggle counter overloaded at several points. I mean, they even included bouncing boobies for the female-shaped robots. It's ridiculous and it kept me amused the entire time, though those rigidly against fanservice will obviously take issue with it and have difficulty enjoying the show as a result. Oh yeah, I almost forgot there were robots in this show. Yeah, giant honkin' robots (without even a casual relationship with reality and/or the laws of physics) leap around and slam their fists and feet into the hideous-looking Mimetic Beasts and, every so often, into each other. Each area of the world that contributes to the war effort has a pair of representatives that pilot a combining robot. Each of these pairs has some sort of messed up romance that is more or less dealt with throughout the series, though they all take a back seat to the Goh/Anna drama. Included is a very busty dominatrix from Russia and her passive manservant, an English playboy and his stepsister with a brother-complex, two women from America that cannot admit their romantic feelings toward one another and the Chinese pilots that should just get married already. Each one of their mecha looks unique and totally off the wall, as well they should on a show like this. Besides the pilots, there are the usual wacko engineers and servicemen at the Godannar base. They provide a fair amount of comic relief while occasionally providing moments of poignancy after certain events. One of my favorite episodes focuses just on the mechanics and their daily routines in keeping the robots functioning. It's a nice touch, since so many comparable shows have side characters just like this and invariably forget to do anything with them. No such missed opportunity here. The show looks and sounds good. While it isn't GAINAX or BONES level of animation, everything is solid. Some may not like the ridiculous female character designs, but considering how bizarre the hot-blooded male pilots and mechanics look, I felt the style was consistent overall. The soundtrack sounds sufficiently like an old mecha show, with a pair of cheesy opening songs and an assortment of blood-pumping action tracks. The voice tracks are particularly amusing for me, as the casts in both languages absolutely get the kind of show they're working with. The Japanese tracks has a bunch of great mecha seiyu intentionally overacting and chewing up scenery. My favorite performance is by far Nobuyuki Hiyama (Viral from Gurren Lagann, Gai from GaoGaiGar), who dials up the hot blood as a pilot that somehow manages to survive impossible situations, despite everybody thinking he's dead. I also liked the English voice track; the actors have fun with the cheesiness of the whole production, but know exactly when it to reign it in for the serious parts. In terms of bonuses, Sentai's release has got a decent amount. Inside the case is a booklet with staff and cast interviews, as well as various sexy bikini shots that appeared on the original packaging for Godannar. On the disks, you get the usual clean opening and closing videos, as well as another swimsuit gallery, character and robot files, production sketches, key words and a couple of bonus clips. Despite the slimmed-down packaging from the original DVDs and Thinpak, this has a lot of stuff in it. If you've read a word of what I've written, you can tell that I loved this show. It's fun, looks good and has a lot of heart, hidden behind a lot of heaving mammaries. It's not often that you get a solid, interesting relationship that grows in a show with a lot of giant, flaming robots and half-naked ladies. The only negatives that I could mention would be that I wished we got more development from the other pilots, and parts of the second season can look cheap. Oh, and if you're offended by fanservice, steer way clear. Besides those minor quibbles, mecha fans and people looking for romance would do well in picking up Godannar.   8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.  
Godannar photo
A marriage of robots & boobs
The robot genre has changed in many ways over the years. For one thing, the stories have become more complicated, incorporating social commentary in an effort to appeal to wider audiences beyond children who are impressed wit...

Review: Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of The Titan

Oct 02 // Salvador GRodiles
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (Nintendo 3DS) Developer: Atlus Publisher: Atlus USA (NA), NIS America (EU) Release date: February 26, 2013 (NA), August 30, 2013 (EU) MSRP: $39.99 [Buy] Even though Etrian Odyssey IV is all about dungeon-crawling, there is a story present in the game that will immerse you into the game’s world. As the leader of your own guild, players will have to recruit a party of explorers to travel across Tharsis’ areas to reach Yggdrasil by clearing the labyrinths along the way. During you travels, you will uncover the mysteries behind Yggdrasil as you overcome each new challenge. Of course, your explorers will be the ones to handle the battles, as their abilities will be tailored to the players. Besides picking a class from seven possible choices, you’ll be given the chance to allocate each characters' skill points into the abilities that you think that will suit each class the best. Even if two people pick the same class, chances are that each player will choose a different build. For example, when I trained my Landsnecht (the swordsman class), I chose to focus on her speed and sword skills instead of her elemental abilities. If you mess up on your build, you even have the option to reset your skill points at the price of losing two levels. Personally, I’m glad the game has this feature, as you’ll have to learn to use each class to their full potential to overcome each cave and labyrinth. While I mentioned earlier that the game can be a pain, naturally a well-developed party can make the difference between surviving or facing defeat. Before you run away scared, the first floors of most dungeons will provide you with some enemies that aren’t too tough. In reality, it’s the FOEs that you have to watch out for: strong monsters that are able to wipe out your party with ease. Luckily, you can see the FOEs in each area, so you’ll be given the chance to avoid them while you make your way to the main boss. Later on, after gaining some levels and better gear, you'll be able to come back and take down the FOEs that had you running scared-- and boy, does that feel like an accomplishment when you pull it off. The games' difficulty could scare away some players, but the good thing about the difficulty is that you feel so rewarded when you overcome each new challenge. At the end of the day, getting fulfillment from conquering a tough obstacle is one of the many reasons that I play games, and Etrian Odyssey IV does a phenomenal job in making me feel accomplished. If this still sounds too hard for newcomers, there’s also a casual mode that lets players have a less stressful time of it. Other than combat, the game’s feature that lets you draw your own maps is a bit of a reward in and of itself. In a way, it lets you relive the good ol' days when players had to create their own maps on graph paper. Just like the first three games on the DS, Etrian Odyssey IV still lets people use the bottom screen to draw out each path with different lines, floor tiles, and symbols. Once you get used to the system, it ends up being a surprisingly addictive element to the game. In fact, you’ll be drawing everything as you walk through each new hallway and corridor. The best part is that if you get a game over, the game will actually save your map data-- this way, you don’t have to worry about redrawing maps that you spent your precious hours on, no matter what tough monsters you run into. Despite the straightforward gameplay in Etrian Odyssey IV, there are many features that keep the exploration fresh. FOEs still move around while you’re in the middle of a battle, which means that they can enter any battle that you’re in – including boss fights. Not only that, the main labyrinths are filled with puzzles and traps, so you’ll have to pay close attention to your environments when you step foot into each area. During exploration, you’ll have to worry about dodging giant FOEs – it’s hard to get away from these guys – and tornadoes that can cause your adventure to come to a complete stop. On top of that, there are many other types of dangers that can bar your path. Thankfully, you’ll come across some resources in the form of mammals, birds, fish, and plants, which can buff your characters. Also, if you have food, it can be used to distract most FOEs. Like with many tough RPGs, you’ll have to do a bit of grinding to build up your custom party. But that’s not to say that killing monsters is your only option, as you’ll have access to various side quests that reward you with experience upon completion. Besides the quests available in the game, Etrian Odyssey IV has a QR code scan system that lets you scan certain codes that contain exclusive side quests that can’t be unlocked otherwise, an interesting feature. As an aside, I have to say that Etrian Odyssey IV has one of the best shop systems of any RPG I’ve played, since the shopkeeper actually keeps the materials that you sell in stock. In other words, any material that you sell will be used for crafting new items. The great part about this system is that you don’t have to go through the trouble of saving every rare material that you find just in case you get a quest later on that calls for it. Graphics-wise, the game’s design is very simple. Each area has a similar layout, except that the interiors are filled with different textures to give the proper mood for each environment. A day and night system adds some depth, with changes in the lighting according to the clock. Perhaps the strongest part of Etrian Odyssey IV's design are the monsters themselves. Each monster feels colorful, which reminds me of the monster textures in the Tales of games like Abyss, Graces F, and Xillia. When the 3D is turned on, they manage to pop out even better, which adds more depth to the game’s look. While the human characters are depicted with 2D illustrations, the character artwork deserves some praise as well. From serious looking designs to adorably huggable ones, the adventurers in this game are a memorable bunch. They may not use the most detailed illustrations on the planet, but this simplicity works well with Etrian Odyssey IV’s overall design. In fact, the simple, clean designs could almost deceive people into thinking that they’re in for smooth sailing with this game, but of course we know better. The soundtrack also deserves some praise, since Yuzo Koshiro (composer for the Etrian Odyssey games, the Streets of Rage series, and the Shenmue series) brings a great score to the table. The enemies battle theme has a nice '80s anime feel to it, and the victory theme gives off a pleasant sound that reminds me of a track from Mischief Makers. FOEs have their own jazzy theme, a track that will no doubt send chills up players' spines. Even so, the main boss theme is the one to watch out for, as its orchestrated build-up gets your blood pumping. When you’re not in combat, you’ll be presented with some relaxing town themes to get your mind off of the pressures of the outside world. This title is published by Atus USA, and I have to say that the company aces the localization once again. The interface and menus are easy to read, and the text during the story segments and quests feel good on the eyes. As always, the way each line is worded shows that they put a lot of care into getting it just right. At the end of the day, Etrian Odyssey IV’s goal is to show players that certain gameplay features you might have once found tedious can actually be very addictive if done right. There’s something special about using your own group of custom-made characters to triumph against difficult odds that can only be accomplished by a few games, and Etrian Odyssey IV is one of this select few. With the game’s modern take on a primitive practice used for navigation, Atlus deserves a medal for making it not feel like a chore. As long as you’re open to trying new things, there’s a good chance that Etrian Odyssey IV will pull you into a quest that rewards you for all your hard work and effort. On top of that, you’ll never see the word ‘FOE’ the same way ever again.  9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Etrian Odyssey IV photo
You can't hide from FOEs
On paper, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of The Titan may sound more like a chore than anything else. The concept of having to map out every nook and cranny of a dungeon sounds like something that shouldn’t be a m...

Review: Pandora's Tower

Sep 09 // Salvador GRodiles
Pandora's Tower (Wii)Developer: GanbarionPublisher: XSEED GamesRelease Date: April 16, 2013MSRP: $29.99 [Buy] After being inflicted with a strange curse, our hero’s love interest Elena is slowly losing her humanity with each passing day. With the help of an old lady named Mavda, the main hero Aeron must venture into the Thirteen Towers to extract the flesh from the Masters that reside in the highest areas of each dungeon. Armed with the Oraclos Chains, Aeron is ready to obtain the tasty morsels that are needed to cure Elena’s curse. Too bad for Elena, she has to go against her principles as a vegetarian for the sake of recovery. For an interesting premise, Pandora’s Tower starts off rather slow. While the game’s story has to do with Elena and Aeron’s relationship, I didn’t feel any sort of attachment to the game’s romance themes. It doesn’t help that Aeron isn't that expressive, since his personality gets in the way of the love story's great potential. Thankfully, the story has other great aspects, since part of Pandora’s Tower’s premise has to do with the mystery behind the Thirteen Towers and the strange curse that changes people into beasts. Overall, the plot outside of the romance was the real meat of the game’s storyline. Even though the bond between both characters starts off weak, things do pick up in the later part of the story, as you start to see some strange occurrences after the first half of the game. During your interactions with Elena, players can give her presents to make her happy, which includes items that can change her appearance – such as clothes or jewelry. Depending on your bond, you’ll be able to trigger different events between Elena and Aeron. I will admit that I found them annoying at first, but the exchanges between both characters manage to grow on me after things picked up in the story. As you’re exploring the Thirteen Towers, players have to worry about the state of Elena’s curse, so you’ll have to return to your base to feed her the flesh of regular enemies to keep her from changing. At first, the whole process can be a little tedious, but each area ensures that you can create some shortcuts to lessen the blow of traveling back and forth between locations. Since you’ll have the option to interact with Elena during quest, the motivation to move forward will grow with each passing hour. While you’re working your way to get to each boss, Aeron is capable of using his chains to work his way through the floors of each Tower. The chain have some useful features that include throwing enemies and objects, binding things, and extracting flesh and items from the corpses of your slain foes. Other than combat, the same features with the chains will be used to solve the puzzles in each Tower. If you’re in the mood to get up close and personal, Aeron has access to some melee weapons that can be used to create combos with the A button. When enemies aren’t going down too quick, players will have the ability to do a charge attack to speed things up. However, the chains still play the bigger role, as they are the main weapon against the Masters that dwell in the Towers. Each Master has a core, and it is up to the players to use their wits to exploit each boss’s weakness. In a way, the battles are like a mix of Zelda and Shadow of the Colossus, due to the puzzle-like elements that players must go through to reach the cores. Since the chains play a big role in the game’s system, I found the Wiimote and Nunchuck to be the most effective controller, since it’s easier to aim the chains. While we’re still on the topic of controls, the Z button on the Nunchuck (Or the L or R buttons on the Classic Controller) will allow you to block or dodge attacks from you enemies, which is an important skill to master. Not only do you receive damage from enemy attacks; your items have a chance of breaking in the heat of battle. Despite the slight drawback from this system, the broken items can be repaired at Mavda’s place. While it sounds like a bit of a pain, Pandora’s Tower is a bit forgiving in regards to its checkpoints and death system. As long as you fail in a manner that doesn’t involve Elena changing into a hideous monstrosity, players will be sent back to the last area where a checkpoint was triggered. Before you label the game as being a cakewalk, you’ll actually be grateful for this feature when you realize how useful it is when a certain boss is giving you trouble. With an intense scenario present in Pandora’s Tower, you would think that the game would have a phenomenal soundtrack to go with your adventures. Sadly, the music is very limited in the game, as the level themes for each Tower remains the same, which can get a little repetitive at times. There are even a few times when the stage themes go silent while you’re exploring the Towers. Besides the level themes, the battle themes have a bit of a Jaws vibe, due to the buildup that occurs with each verse. This actually works well with the tone of each fight, since it can inflict a bit of panic to players who are having trouble with certain enemies. Once you reach the boss, you’ll be welcomed by an intense orchestrated theme that has a glorious chanting that will make your spine tingle as you’re trying to figure out the weakness of each boss. This theme is perhaps one of the strongest in the game, and it really sets the mood for the fights against the Tower Masters. You’ll also encounter some soothing tunes when you’re relaxing at the observatory with Elena, which acts as a balance to the songs found in the Tower. Pandora’s Tower may not be pushing the Wii’s limits in the graphics department, but the modeling and texturing found in the game still holds up. The architecture within each Tower goes well with the elemental themes, and the Tower Masters were given some creative designs. Perhaps the only downside is that a good number of the Towers are palette swaps of the previous ones, due to the recurring theme that’s shared between the Masters. While the room placements are different, the puzzles and basic structures are recycled in each swap. Despite the lazy development behind the later Towers, the bosses were at least given their own unique designs and patterns. Despite the fun times that I had with saving Elena from her curse, the North American version of Pandora’s Tower is filled with a few glitches. Other than the freezing glitch that was reported a while back, the game kept freezing when I would select the 11th or 12th Tower from the observatory. Based on the way how the last two Towers work, the glitch might be associated with their design, since I never encountered this issue during my adventures in the previous Towers. At the moment, the closest remedy that I found was to wait a few second between each loading segment in the level select screen, which prevented the issue a good number of times. Luckily, the glitch doesn’t mess with the game’s date, so you won’t lose anything if this problem occurs – unless if you didn’t save beforehand. Putting that glitch aside, Pandora’s Tower is still a good adventure to overcome. You might have to deal with the slow pacing during the early stages of Aeron and Elena’s relationship, but the reward will come to those who put their time into strengthening the bonds. For a game that was developed by a company that worked on games based off of One Piece and Weekly JUMP, Pandora’s Tower is a fine piece as an original title by Ganbarion. The system with the Oraclos Chains plays out in the manner of how a chain should work, and puzzles still manage to give off a sense of accomplishment. As long as you have the patience to deal with the game’s early problems, you’ll be able to exit Pandora’s Tower with a big smile on your face after you achieve the true objective. With that being said, Pandora’s Towers still deserves the rightful title of being the final game to close off the Wii’s excellent lifespan.  7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
Pandora's Tower photo
Sometimes in life, the only way to nurture a relationship is with the power of meat.
Just when you thought that the Wii has sang its last song; the system breaks free from the chains that control its life. Formally known as the last piece of the Triforce in Operation Rainfall’s goal, Pandora’s Tow...

Review: Phi Brain volume 1

Aug 29 // Jeff Chuang
Phi Brain: Puzzle of God Volume 1 (Blu-ray)Studio: SunriseLicensed by: Sentai FilmworksRelease Date: March 26, 2013MSRP: $69.98 Phi-Brain: Puzzle of God is a 2011 TV anime series produced by Sunrise and appeared on NHK. This Sentai Filmworks release covers the first half of the first season, or episodes 1-13. It's got a video game and manga going on at the same time, so this anime is a cleverly crafted new IP launch. Contrary to those expectations, Phi Brain feels solidly like a shounen manga adaptation. The story begins with our protagonist Kaito, who is born to solve puzzles. Joined by his loyal companion with no talents at solving puzzles, Nonoha, the duo slowly "gather crew" in the most traditional ways as his team of "Solvers" battle different "Givers" from a mysterious organization, called POG, dedicated to create elaborate real-life puzzles for Solvers to, well, solve. While this is early in the story, Nonoha is clearly a fix on Kaito, and crew number three, Gammon, plays the third wheel and has a thing for Nonoha. The story expands as more of the backstory come to the fore, including the various branches of this POG organization--also partly the owners of Kaito's current school. It's all very grand and over the top, to say the least, when this mysterious organization has Givers in every trade and ever aspect of life, setting up these diabolical puzzles for years, some even decades. The production value of Phi Brain is rather middle of the road. Again, the artistic direction and animation production feels like a long-running shounen anime, complete with the usual unevenness in the production value. There are occasional bright spots in the animation, music, or design. The puzzles are all fairly creative, and vary from low to high difficulty levels. However on average Phi Brain is not a good looking show, and instead tries to get by through the strength of its plot and characters. As much as Phi Brain feels like a typical anime, some credit is due to the creativity behind the very bizarre pairing of heroes with villains, with the diversity of puzzles it offers every week. In some ways it's well beyond a typical detective show where the protagonists solve a mystery, usually following a formula. Phi Brain takes that and throw a puzzle on top of it, and through the nature of this puzzle, Kaito and his crew can usually derive some more hints to resolve the meta-game puzzle.  It's this clash where the goal isn't to find out who or what, but why, that makes Phi Brain kind of interesting. At the stopping point for volume one, the show has barely scratched the surface of what it can do in terms of "why." There were a handful of episodes where a kind motivation paired with a wicked puzzle gave Kaito and his friends some warm fuzzy feelings, but surely the opposite awaits us as the story continues on in the second volume. Phi Brain is one of the increasing number of shows that Sentai Filmworks is dubbing. The English dub sounds actually pretty much on level as the Japanese dub, so you can probably take your pick in terms of whose voice you like more in order to decide which one to watch. As a regular Japanese dub kind of guy, Phi Brain's Ana Graham features one of my favorite voice actors in Satsuki Yukino, so that made the episodes where Ana is primarily featured easy calls to watch with subs. At the half way point of the first season, it's too early to make the final call on Phi Brain. It's a clever alternative to that page-turning, shounen manga formula, but as a result it might appear too much for the presentation and too weird for the mainstream crowd. For those of us looking to anime beyond Detective Conan, Phi Brain is likely a miss, but maybe this is exactly the kind of show you want to give to a clever pre-teen as a present? 6.0 – Okay. 6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.
Phi Brain photo
A mixed puzzle
Over the years that I've been an avid anime viewer, I ran across my fair share of strange shows. Some of them are very remarkable, in that usual freakish Japanese way that all of us are familiar with. Then there are the plain...

Review: Tales of Xillia

Aug 23 // Chris Walden
Tales of Xillia (PS3)Developer: Namco Tales StudioPublisher: Namco Bandai GamesRelease date: September 8, 2011 (JP), August 6, 2013 (US), August 9, 2013 (EU)Price: $59.99 The game begins with the chance meeting of our twin protagonists; Jude, a young but intelligent medical student, and Milla, a great spirit who has taken a human form in order to destroy a great weapon. After a little bit of drama including the loss of Milla's abilities and Jude not understanding what trouble looks like, they find themselves being pursued by the Rashugal forces, and so their quest begins. If all the cutscenes and conversational dialogue don't offer enough story for your liking, there are plenty of interesting little skits to be seen as your travel around the world. They occur between the characters currently in your party, and are indicated by a small notification asking you to press select to view them. This has been done before in previous Tales of games, but they continue to be a great way of passing on bonus dialogue, which really isn't important to the main story, if you want to hear it. It means I get to see more scenes with Teepo in them, and those of you that don't want to be bogged down in text can just forget about them. The best of both worlds, for sure. Joining Jude and Milla for the ride are a nice, small selection of rather colourful characters. There's Alvin, a cocky but somewhat kind-hearted guy who provides the early party with some much needed muscle. Elize, a young girl with a troubling childhood, functions as an efficient group healer, while her crazy doll Teepo gives her some reasonable damage potential.  Then there's Rowen, a butler-come-military tactician who serves as the primary magic user of the group. The final character is Leia, a childhood friend of Jude with a bubbly personality, which contrasts well with the other, gloomier members of the troupe. She is a very mixed character in battle, being able to heal single targets, use buffs and mess with elements. All in all, a nicely varied cast of characters.  Unfortunately, there are more than a few times where our heroes are let down by some sub-par voice work. For the most part, and I'm talking a good 95% of the time, the voicing is fine. The actors chosen for each character are rather good, each one sounding like a believable representation of their respective personas. However, there are some unfortunate patches of the game where voice actors seem to be excel at reading their lines with no emotion whatsoever. Or, better yet, word by word. I'll reiterate, it's not a problem for the whole game, but it is noticeable, and it is disappointing.  Combat is initiated by walking into enemies out in the field, which in turn takes you to a battlefield with several monsters to dispatch. While battles look 3D, they are, for the most part, taking place on a 2D plane. Your character will target and lock into a particular enemy (which can be changed by pressing R1,) making it easier to guard and dodge attacks from that particular enemy. You can also hold down L2 to be able to move around without being constrained to the 2D plane, allowing you to gang up on another enemy or take advantage by attacking from a blind spot. You can point the left analogue stick in one of four directions and press square to perform different basic attacks, which will also replenish your MP. You can then use the analogue stick and the circle button to launch special attacks, which deplete your MP. It's a good system to ensure you aren't mashing just one attack. An interesting feature of the battle system is the ability to link up with another character in your party. When you do this, they will automatically move to the opposite side of the enemy your are currently fighting, and as you're usually the character providing all of the aggro, your partner will be in a prime position to score bonus damage by attacking them from behind. You also gain access to particular skills only accessible while linking, as well as special abilities and buffs that the linked character can pass on. It is always worth being linked to someone else, and you can change the character you are linked to mid-battle, allowing you to better formulate strategies. If you look to the left of the image above, you'll see a pretty interesting sword-shaped gauge. This is the Overlimit Meter, which builds up as you land combos on enemies. When you hit one of the notches in the meter, you can perform a Link Chain, allowing you to use a stronger attack off the back of a regular arte. If you pull that off, the gauge won't drop below that particular notch on the gauge. If you get that bar all the way to the top (and you can carry this between battles) you'll be able to use your Overlimit, which allows you to Link Chain over and over again until the Overlimit Meter fully depletes, providing you don't repeat the same artes in a single combo. It's a very efficient way to deal out a lot of damage in one go, so it's worth building it up before boss battles. Another mechanic used during battles to prevent attack spam is the TP gauge, which is represented by the purple sword next to the character you're currently controlling, in the battle screen. Every attack you perform will deplete this number, and if it's at zero you won't be able to perform any actions. This will replenish quite quickly so you'll never have to worry about having nothing to do for extended periods of time, as you'll be back in the action quick enough. This, really, is my biggest problem with the battle system. All of these anti-spam measures are ultimately pointless, as this is such an easy game to breeze through with a basic button mashing. Hit square a few times, throw in a few circles for good measure. If you're not willing to pay attention and play as intended, it's very easy for battles to become a Dynasty Warriors-esque experience. Now, don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore the battle system. It's great fun, but there's absolutely no strategy required until you reach certain bosses and the end game. On the flip side, this'll be good for those of you who are coming to Xillia primarily for the story, as you really wont need to fret being stuck on difficult battles. A lot of players have recommended starting on a harder difficulty for this reason, so consider this your warning if you want your ordinary field encounters to feel more meaningful.  There are a few different ways of boosting the stats of your characters. There's your typical level-up system, so you'll want to be making the most of enemy encounters so you can keep on top of hoarding experience points. You can upgrade equipment, but to do so you must first upgrade the shops themselves by donating materials, which are found after fighting monsters and in particular spots in the field. In fact, it's a rather clever way of giving you plenty of incentives to keep battling away, as it largely keeps the equipment you have access to on par with your level and the enemies you're engaging with. The third way is by utilising the Lillium Orb. Upon levelling up, you'll gain a few GP to spend in that particular characters' Lillium Orb. You can purchase nodes on this spider web grid to gain even more stat bonuses, giving you even more advantages in battle. There are even new techniques and skills to be had if you manage to surround them with purchased nodes. It's a system very similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, just without any of that sphere-item nonsense. The bonuses offered here are rather notable, and most times you can tell immediately what kind of a difference they're making.  The equipment shops aren't the only thing you can upgrade with materials, as there are a few other shops that can also be improved. You have your typical potion store that sells restoratives and cures for specific ailments, which you may find yourself in need of when in a pinch. However, the most interesting shop to upgrade is the food vendor, which sells you meals that pass on temporary buffs when consumed. For instance, there's a cheap rice dish that offers a bonus 30% experience for a few encounters. The catch is that you can only carry one of each dish at a time, but it's never much trouble to swing by the vendor when you see one. You'll definitely want to be taking advantage of the EXP and Gald boosting items as soon as you can. All of the major locations in Tales of Xillia look stunning, it's as simple as that. There is a wide range of different aesthetics strewn about the world, but it's really the watercolour wash that really makes primary locales such a joy to be looking at. Areas outside of towns don't quite get the same level of love and attention, but even so, they never look notably terrible or grainy. The characters use their cel-shading to stand out from the scenery, and effectively so. You'd certainly expect it from a JRPG, but Xillia doesn't have to resort to odd hair colours to make their characters stand out from the background. The majority of the music in this game works well, adding to the overall atmosphere and particular moods of the characters and scenes at hand. The ambient music achieves this the best, as it makes exploring the world just that much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, it lets itself down on what I believe to be the most important feature of any encounter-oriented RPG; the battle theme. To its credit, there are two different themes, but I found myself pretty sick of this particular song after a fair few battles (which, it seems, only plays if you choose Milla as your primary character.) It's really uninspiring, and the sudden start and end of the song when you enter/exit a battle doesn't do it any favours. It's a shame, because Jude's music is really quite good. Tales of Xillia sets a high bar for other JRPGs entering the western market, as its combination of likeable characters, rich worlds and an enjoyable battle system prove that there's life in this genre yet. Sure, there are some unfortunate blemishes here and there, but if you want to dive into a good old swords 'n' stats JRPG, this should definitely be one to consider. Hopefully the sequel builds upon the successes of the original, so you can colour me excited for the eventual 2014 release. In the meantime, be sure to dig into this gem in preparation. 8.0 -- Great (A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.)
Review: Tales of Xillia photo
Teepo approved.
The Tales of series has been a rather odd one for me to dip into. From Symphonia to Vesperia, and to some extent the Abyss as well, these games have reeled me in with their gorgeous artwork, interesting premise and quirky bat...

Review: Black Lagoon Roberta's Blood Trail

Aug 12 // Tim Sheehy
Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail OVA (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) Studio: MadhouseLicensed by: FUNimationRelease Date: 8/06/2013MSRP: $39.98 [Buy] Roberta's Blood Trail picks up at the end of season two and centers around -- you guessed it --Roberta, who after escaping a life of war, takes up service as a maid for the Lovelace family, a prominent family in Venezuela. The arc begins with a political assassination, which claims the life of her master, triggering Roberta's desire for retribution against the agents she holds responsible. Following the assassination, she makes way to Roanapur, setting the stage for events to come. Once there she begins a bloody trail of torture and revenge, one which quickly escalates, threatening to engulf the entire city. In an attempt to save her from herself, a young boy named Garcia, the heir to the Lovelace family and her only charge, follows Roberta to Roanapur, where he attempts to hire Rock to assist in stopping Roberta's lust for vengeance. In terms of what to expect, the series remains incredibly violent, with plenty of gun-play to around. The script is often hilarious, albeit vulgar and well-deserving of its mature rating. There's also plenty of fan service and a dash of nudity sprinkled throughout, usually coinciding with a steamy shower scene. Like the previous seasons, you can expect plenty of suggestive dialog and references to drugs, prostitution and pretty much everything else you could imagine taking place in such a den of inequity. One of the more common themes of the show has been the constantly-shifting alliances among the various criminal organizations and assassins who inhabit the cesspool known as Roanapur. True to form, the miniseries continues this dynamic, allowing for some interesting pairings. For example, fan favorites such as the psychotic Sawyer, and knife-toting Shenhua find themselves fighting along side members of the Lagoon company. This time around, they also spend a little more time developing characters like Mister Chang, who despite being a key player, has always remained sort of insular to the series. We're treated to a fair amount of growth between Rock and Revy, but not so much as far as Duke and Benny are concerned -- this is likely due to being relegated to the background for most of the arc. A shame considering they're part of the main cast, but as they're not exactly the most popular characters, I imagine most fans won't mind. Roberta herself comes off as slightly unhinged, which I suppose is par for the course as far as the series is concerned. I often found her penchant for needless exposition irritating, while her interactions with targets -- I hesitate to call any of them victims -- were far more entertaining in a twisted sort of way. You'll come understand more about her as the series progresses and by the end, you may find it easier to sympathize with her methods and actions, no matter how reprehensible they may seem. In regards to presentation, the animation is standard fare for a Madhouse series produced back in 2010, and looks great on both DVD and Blu-ray, although the high definition visuals are noticeably crisper. The English dub comes with a lovely 5.1 surround mix but the original Japanese audio is only available in 2.0 stereo. With the Blu-ray, there are no separate options for subtitles, which may seem confusing at first. Rather, the English subtitles automatically display when the Japanese audio is selected. This may prove inconvenient for some, but I imagine this has more to do with Japan wanting to discourage importation by Japanese consumers -- a serious matter as far as they're concerned. Extras include a text-less version of the new closing theme, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," the U.S. trailer for Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail, as well as a few trailers for other FUNimation. I've grown accustomed to expecting less, so there's really no surprises in that department. Roberta's Blood Trail is an excellent addition to the series. A brutal, yet exhilarating ride from beginning to end that'll leave you craving more. Fans have spent a long time waiting for the retail release, but it's been well worth it. This OVA is definitely not for the faint of heart, and despite the copious amounts of bloodshed, there is just enough depth to keep you hooked throughout. 8.5 – Great. A fine example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest. 
Black Lagoon OVA photo
Sweet, sweet vengeance.
Black Lagoon remains one of my guiltiest pleasures. The series shares so much in common with v-cinema, from its harsh take on the human condition, to its unapologetic depictions of violence, and buried beneath, stories worth ...

Review: Attack on Titan Volume 1-5

Aug 07 // Elliot Gay
Attack on TitanPublished by: Kodansha Comics USATranslated by: Sheldon DrzkaIllustrations/Story by: Hajime IseyamaRelease Date: June 19th, 2012 (volume 01)MSRP: $10.99  One hundred years prior to the beginning of our heroes' story, giant humanoid monsters called Titans appeared on Earth. They devoured humans without mercy or any kind of remorse, and eventually pushed mankind to the brink of extinction. The Titans appear to lack the ability to communicate, and exist solely for the purpose of murdering humans. These strange monsters, seemingly immortal, have but one weak point: the back of their necks. Given that these creatures differ in size (as tall as 15 meters or more), mankind eventually developed the 3-D Maneuver Gear; a system that allows soldiers to shoot wires into buildings, flinging their bodies through the air with crazy speed. The soldiers then use special blades to cut deep into the necks of the Titans. With mankind pushed into a corner, they built a series of massive walls around a huge chunk of land, made cities, and tried to restart. The threat of the Titans outside of the wall never went away, but as time passed, so to did humanity's fear of the outside world. Not everybody is satisfied with this lifestyle though; Eren Jaeger wants to see what's outside the walls. He vows to join the Recon Corps and journey to lands that were once thought to be lost.  Let's get this out of the way right now; Attack on Titan is a dark series. Characters are introduced only to be killed a few chapters later. The world is a bleak place that oftentimes seems overwhelmingly hopeless. The main characters are rarely ever successful; it's much more common to see them incur losses on every mission.  That being said, Attack on Titan is completely and utterly a shonen series despite said dark trappings. All of the tropes are here and in full force, and to expect otherwise would be a mistake. Use of common tropes doesn't automatically equate to low quality however, and Attack on Titan has a lot going for it to make it worth a read. Sadly, Iseyama's art is not one of those things. At least not in the first few volumes. Attack on Titan is the first serialized work by Hajime Iseyama, and it shows. Characters are awkwardly drawn, with unnatural posing and poor line work. It's not a stretch to say that some of the early chapters are simply ugly. Be that as it may, there's something irrevocably terrifying about Iseyama's early art style. The Titans, essentially giant naked people, are that much more striking because of how awkward the art is in the first volume. By the time volume five rolls around, the things have sort of evened itself out, though it's not without problems. Character art can still be pretty hit or miss, but the action is more dynamically laid out, with compositions that do a better job of relaying the speed of the 3-D Gear.  Fear not though; the Titans never stop being creepy. The main story starts off simply enough; mankind fighting giant monsters. Things get more and more complicated as Iseyama introduces new questions that he throws to the back burner for long periods of time. For those of you familiar with the anime adaptation, the order of events in the first five volumes will probably be a point of confusion. At the end of the day though, Attack on Titan works best when it focuses on characters doing cool things in tense/terrifying situations. Fortunately, that's most of the time. Eren is your typical shonen manga lead. He's a young guy with a ton of heart and the desire to get stronger so he can protect his friends and/or save the world. As is the case in most shonen manga, the protagonist is probably the least interesting character in the cast. Armin and Mikasa, his friend and his sister respectively, are both much more engaging characters. The former is the brains of the bunch and while early on he can get somewhat annoying, by the end of the first major battle Iseyama has you throwing your fist in the air for him. Mikasa on the other hand is the kind of character that, while not particularly well developed or written (her obsession with Eren is a bit obnoxious), brings an incredible energy with her whenever she's onscreen. You can rest assured that something cool is going to happen whenever Iseyama throws the spotlight on Mikasa.  As of the end volume five, the rest of the secondary characters are thinly defined by a few basic traits. Given Attack on Titan's nature as a shonen manga, I don't particularly have an issue with this. There's plenty of time for each character to get a chance to shine. Kondansha's translation is competent, though not without the occasionally awkward bit of wording here and there. Otherwise this is a smooth read that stays faithful to the tone of the source material without making any big or abrupt changes. My only complaint about these volumes are the awful covers. The font used for the title is cheap looking, and while Iseyama's early cover art was never particularly great, the cruddy font just makes it look worse. Perhaps that's nitpicking, but it bugged me. Attack on Titan isn't the end all be all of manga. It's not the greatest shonen series ever made, nor is it some instant classic that changes the game. Fortunately, it also doesn't have to be those things. While it frequently succumbs to shonen pitfalls (unanswered questions, poor pacing), it's also an entertaining roller coaster ride that keeps you guessing at every flip of the page. As far as I'm concerned, that's enough of a reason to give it a shot. For all you anime-only watchers out there, I recommend taking a look at the manga for a different kind of experience. It's always fun comparing between mediums. Just prepare to see giant naked people whenever you close your eyes. 7.0 – Good. A decent story, well-drawn, capable of immersing you but lacking in some aspects. Fans of the genre may love it, while others might simply enjoy it and move on.
Review: Attack on Titan photo
It's an attack on your senses
It's nearly impossible to go to any bookstore in Japan without seeing a display of some kind for Hajime Iseyama's Attack on Titan. A break out success, Iseyama's manga series about giant humanoid monsters doing battle with so...

Review: Shakugan No Shana S

Aug 05 // Salvador GRodiles
Shakugan No Shana S (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) Studio: J.C. Staff Licensed by: FUNimation Release Date:  1/22/2013 MSRP: $34.98 [Buy] Instead of focusing on a major battle against the Crimson Denizens, Shakugan No Shana S's premise is about a series of random events that occur during the everyday life of Shana’s cast, with the first episode involving a body swap between Shana and Yuji. Personally, the first episode was the best one out of the four, since the idea of having Yuji in Shana’s body set up for some of the best comedic segments in the entire series. To an extent, it was almost on the same level of the humor from the Shana-tan series. Also, the part where Shana was paranoid of how Yuji was treating her body was very priceless indeed. Too bad it only lasted one episode, since I would’ve wanted to see a short arc dedicated to that fiasco. But alas, the body swapping only happened once. Unfortunately, the other episodes lack the same amount of comedy from the first one; though the Willhemia episode was still enjoyable, due to the way how she was exaggerating the whole situation. The final two episodes focus on a previous Denizen battle before Shana ended up in Misaki City. Compare to the previous two episodes, the final two had a more serious tone, because Shana was a more ruthless Flame Haze back then. Honestly, I didn't think that Shana's previous mission added to her character, since the scenario didn't add anything to Shana's established personality. Hell, I thought that the backstories from the series already gave us a good understanding of Shana's beliefs and motives. If there was one thing that came out of the final arc; it’s that it left us with an important hint that sets up for the show’s final season. While it’s not a necessary piece for viewers, the scene itself will add a neat touch that sets up for Shana III (Final)’s main conflict. With the exception of the last episode, the first three didn’t have any major action scenes, since they the situations were contained within the gang’s everyday life. Nevertheless, it’s doesn’t stop J.C. Staff from putting effort into the colors, artwork, and backgrounds for each scene. In comparison to the previous installments, it’s obvious that the show’s staff has improved. In a way, the animation quality offers a nice taste of what’s to come during the final installment of the Shana series. Despite my preference of picking Shana original voice track over the dub, the cast’s performance was a bit better in this installment. Cherami Leigh’s ‘shut ups’ were better this time around, and her more subtle take on Yuji in Shana’s body was quite entertaining. Since the body swapping episode was still enjoyable with FUNimation's dub, I think that this is a good sign that Shana’s English cast has improved over their performance in Shana: The Movie. Once again, the ultimate extra has returned with a vengeance! That’s right, Shakugan no Shana-tan is back in not one but four installments that will bring ultimate laughter to your joyful existence. Honestly, the Shana-tan episodes that come with Shana S are actually more entertaining than episodes two through four of Shana S. As always, Yoshida continues her winning streak with her devious monologue about winning Yuji over. We even get a skit with pompadours and manly high school brawls as well. At this point in the game, I think I’m going to nominate Shana-tan as the best feature to hit the Shana series. In terms of story, Shakugan No Shana S doesn't add any major plot elements to the Shana series; however, the balance between its humor and backstories can add some extra depth to the relationships between the characters in the series. Even if the serious arc was average, the two comedic ones and the Shana-tan shorts are enough to make Shana S a fun installment for the Shana series. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about this installment is that we’ll never get to see tsundere Yuji again. With that being said, the whole thing was a decent side story for folks that can’t get enough of the Flamed-Haired Hunter.  7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Shakugan No Shana S photo
Less 'shut ups' than usual.
No matter where I go, I just can’t get that Flamed Haired girl off my back! Thankfully, she’s here for a short time, so the ‘shut ups’ won’t be as frequent. Compare to the movie and the TV series...

Review: Dragon's Crown

Jul 31 // Josh Tolentino
Dragon's Crown (PlayStation 3 [tested], PlayStation Vita [reviewed])Developer: Vanillaware / AtlusPublisher: AtlusReleased: August 6, 2013MSRP: $49.99 (PlayStation 3) / $39.99 (PlayStation Vita) From the moment a new game starts in Dragon's Crown, players are surrounded in the game's Dungeons & Dragons-inspired trappings. Each of the six character classes conforms to some fantasy stalwart: the Fighter, Amazon, Dwarf, Elf, Wizard and Sorceress. Even the game's relatively thin story carries the air of a pen-and-paper campaign, as a prim Dungeon Master-like voice narrates your every action in the second-person. The events of the narrative are similarly archetypal. You and your party (AI companions at first, then actual humans a little while later) hack, slash, burn and pierce your way through orc-held fortresses, magical labyrinths, ancient ruins, and pirate coves. You'll recover royal trinkets, get involved in some palace intrigue, and meet a little fairy that can point out secret treasure (don't worry, Navi-haters, she's quiet).  The story and world-building actually end up being the game's weakest components, come across as a mild disappointment, compared to the studio's other work. Odin Sphere constructed a complex, multifaceted story that, when unraveled, played like a fantastic, apocalyptic fantasy-fiction take on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. GrimGrimoire delivered a strange, magical-academy-themed time travel yarn, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade wallowed happily in exoticism, soaked in visual and thematic reference to Japanese folk myth. On paper, Dragon's Crown seems unremarkable and generic. The difference, of course, is in presentation. And what a presentation it is! Vanillaware and lead artist George Kamitani's lush, two-dimensional aesthetic wipes away virtually all the generic fantasy taste, rendering the world and characters of Hydeland in striking, unforgettable style. Characters and environs alike are drawn in vivid color and intricate detail, looking absolutely gorgeous whether you're playing on a massive living room TV (via the PS3 version) or on the Vita's small OLED screen. Of all Vanillaware games released thus far it's Dragon's Crown that seems to get to the heart of the studio's aesthetic. Kamitani's art gives the impression of a classic Boris Vallejo pinup, beamed through the prism of anime styling. Vallejo's art was often described as "hyper-real". Dragon's Crown takes that and pushes it forward into the realm of the surreal. There's nary a character or monster in the game that isn't some primal exaggeration of classic fantasy tropes. Yes, the Sorceress' and Amazon's designs have come under fire recently for their prominent emphasis of boobs and butts, but it's worth pointing out that practically no one in the game is safe from that brush. The Dwarf is a squat boulder of a person, half everyone's height and wider than he is tall. The Fighter is built like a refrigerator, with a head so small it would probably fit in a refrigerator's egg tray. A street beggar isn't just filthy, but also has a skin texture and posture more akin to a piece of driftwood than a person. Strangely enough, only the Wizard and Elf look "normal" compared to everyone else. Ultimately, in Dragon's Crown's case it's a question of style and art direction rather than craven exploitation. Your mileage may vary, and for some, the depictions of characters in the game will ensure a short journey indeed. But is it fun? True, Vanillaware's games have usually looked better than they've played, but I'm glad to report that Dragon's Crown nails the brawler formula like never before. Each of the six classes, despite having common basic controls, plays vastly differently, with a unique rhythm and tempo to each character and player's style. The Fighter excels at defense and melee, using shielding and aerial juggling to hold the line and set up high-flying combos with companions. By comparison, the Dwarf is best used to grab and throw enemies off the walls, and the Amazon by never stopping the combo to activate her damage-boosting berserker mode. The Elf can fire poison and elemental arrows, but is forced to ration her limited ammunition and scavenge from defeated enemies. The Wizard and Sorceress both play similarly on the base level, but differ mainly in spell selection, with the Wizard specializing in offensive spells and the Sorceress having potent support and crowd-control spells. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, since the game's diverse skill system allows for a variety of "builds" and setups to be tested, with an endless stream of loot and equipment to further strengthen your characters and tweak their play style. The game's structure also encourages wide experimentation. Each stage can be completed twice, with unlockable "B-Side" imposing special requirements and new threats. Difficulty settings are tied to level caps, practically demanding that players who want to get to the top run through the stages repeatedly, though the benefits in cash, loot, and joyous violence makes up for the repetition. Smart encounter design, epic bosses, and intriguing level gimmicks also keep things fresh for the veteran player. At the upper tiers of skill, Dragon's Crown evolves into an almost roguelike-esque endurance run, with you and your party seeing how many consecutive dungeon runs they can string together before retreating to town, each run separated by an gorgeous, and hilariously frantic cooking minigame. Nothing beats playing with friends, though, and like the best arcade brawlers, Dragon's Crown supports up to four people playing simultaneously. The PS3 version has local play, and the Vita can run ad hoc connections for shared-room gaming. Both can do online matchmaking, but sadly cross-play isn't supported (though players can move their save data and characters from version to version). Unfortunately for frugal players, the game doesn't support cross-buy either, forcing a Dragon's Crown customer to choose between the couch and the commute when thinking of which platform to buy. For my money, Dragon's Crown feels most at home on the PS Vita. Despite having a slightly lower framerate, the game's controls seem built to incorporate the front touch screen. Using the touch screen, players can order their trusty Rogue friend to unlock doors and chests. They can also gather up loot by poking at it on the touch screen. On the PS3 the cursor needs to be moved using the right analog stick, which feels awkward. Short mission structure and simplistic core mechanics also feel just right for mobile play. The game isn't without fault, either (besides the potentially problematic aesthetic). It can become easy to lose track of your character in all the pretty mayhem, and precision classes like the Elf (and certain builds of Sorceress/Wizard) can have difficulty lining up their shots. It also takes a fairly long while to unlock online play (between four and six hours roughly), though on the other hand that ensures you and anyone you meet will have a baseline level of familiarity with the systems, something that'll be essential when tackling the higher difficulties and more complex encounters. The most chaotic encounters can produce some slowdown on the Vita version, but it's nothing game-breaking. Despite these fumbles, Dragon's Crown is an expertly-crafted brawler that adds depth, nuance, and freshness to an aging formula, and presenting it in a sublime homage to its genre ancestors as well as classic cliches of sword-and-sorcery role-playing. Hail to the king, adventurers! 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Dragon's Crown review photo
You are having an adventure!
Fittingly for a game clearly patterned after classical fantasy role-playing games, Dragon's Crown has walked a long, eventful road towards release. Beginning life as a Dreamcast game and after being punted between m...

Import Review: Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient Chapter 01

Jul 29 // Elliot Gay
Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient Chapter 01 (PC)Developer: Team GrindhousePublisher: Team GrindhouseRelease Date: May 29, 2013Price: 1,800 yen Ayame Itou wakes up on an operating table in a dimly lit hospital room, unsure of how she got there. As it turns out, she's also missing most of her memories too. Alone and afraid, Ayame ventures out into the dark labyrinth of hospital corridors in the hopes of finding out who she is. What awaits her is something worse than she could have ever imagined. Let's get this out of the way: Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient is every bit the Corpse Party sequel that fans are hoping for. Much like the PSP game (a port of a PC remake), players control a super deformed character onscreen and walk them through dark, creepy environments. Unlike the original game however, Dead Patient's locales and characters are all rendered in 3D. Dead Patient isn't going to turn any heads, but it has a very sharp look to it that, while simple, effectively conveys fear. There's something inherently horrifying about watching a cute looking character model have its head eaten clean off. Team Grindhouse also does some fun stuff with lighting, including a brief bit that requires the use of a flashlight. After the visually disappointing Book of Shadows, it feels great coming back to this style. Ayame has a much wider range of movement than the characters in the last game; you're not restricted to only moving in four directions. It seems like a minor change, but being able to direct Ayame without any kind of handicap makes playing the game much less frustrating. She can also run, though she awkwardly pants nonstop while doing so. I recommend playing with headphones on for those of you concerned with that kind of thing. Dead Patient's UI is a step up from the first game, featuring a lot of clean pixel art. Picking up items dumps them in your inventory; a circular menu that shows you everything in your possession. In the original Corpse Party, players could collect name tags off of bodies. In Dead Patient, you now collect patient ID cards which reveal the cause of death, among other bits of information. These cards are viewable at anytime from the main menu in-game.  The Corpse Party series has always had fantastic music, and Dead Patient makes sure to continue that tradition. Nothing here is as blood pumpingly awesome as some of the faster tunes in the original game, but there's a wide variety of spooky themes despite the relatively short length of chapter one. Unfortunately, Dead Patient is not fully voiced. Characters all speak a few lines of dialogue, but for the most part they stay quiet throughout the game. Had this been a console title, I probably would have been more disappointed, but given Dead Patient's status as an indie release, I can certainly see why things turned out this way. Hopefully we see a port somewhere down the line. I sadly can't speak about the quality of the story in too much depth. As the first chapter of an ongoing game, this two hour chunk of Dead Patient introduces a few key members of the cast, throws the player into a big mystery, and then promptly ends just as you think you're starting to figure things out. This is a creepy game, but it's a very different story when compared to the previous Corpse Party narratives. It's bigger in scope, and as the credits to chapter one rolled, I couldn't help but find myself wondering where the hell Dead Patient could possibly go next.  That being said, Corpse Party 2: Dead Patient's first chapter is a great reintroduction to this hellish world. Team Grindhouse might not have made too many big changes to the formula, but the things they have added make the experience that much more enjoyable. Now that they've gotten the introductions out of the way, I have high hopes for chapter two. Either way, it's bound to be one helluva party. 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
Review: Corpse Party 2 photo
Hospitals are scary.
Corpse Party has been on something of a roll lately. With an anime OVA in the works, multiple successful manga series, and a new Vita game scheduled to hit later this year, there looks to be no end in sight for the horror fra...

Review: Class of Heroes 2

Jul 25 // Brad Rice
[embed]29172:2661:0[/embed] Class of Heroes 2Developed by: AcquirePublished by: MonkeyPaw Games and GaijinWorksRelease Date: June 4, 2013MSRP: $24.99 What better school to go to than one where you get to study the fine art of being a hero? At Crostini Academy, that's exactly what you do: work your way up through school by battling monsters, saving damsels in distress, and running all the mindless quests for teachers that you could imagine! As an intrepid group of students at Crostini, you can pick up tasks at the Library's bulletin board, where teachers and students can request work for a hero (such as yourself) to do for them. This serves as the main form of interaction and plot development throughout the game. The quests will range in the requirements, but fall under familiar categories: fetch quests, boss battles, item deliveries, and collecting dropped items. There are others as well, but these are some of the more common tasks. I'll admit early on that I haven't completed the game -- I've logged 40 hours in the game, but it's still just a drop in the bucket compared to getting 100% completion. One of the main reasons for this is that despite a majority of the quests being easy or simple to complete, there are always battles that prove to be major roadblocks unless you've leveled up quite a bit. So, I grind. A lot. Perhaps to an excessive level. But that behavior becomes addicting, as quests will frequently drag you into dungeons that provide serious challenges. Several academies make up a network of schools that serve as landing spots and provide you with quests, a place to rest and recover, and robust shops. If you're into the whole "alchemy" game mechanic -- combining raw items to make gear -- then the schools provide that as well. In between the schools are dungeons and towns. The towns provide small areas of relief, providing an inn to recover at and a shop to buy items in, but little else. The dungeons, meanwhile, are where you spend the bulk of your time. They are square-based maps with random encounters, traps, and treasure. Combat in the dungeon has your party split into two rows of three: fighters up front and long-range fighters and spellcasters in the back. From there? It's turn-based combat. It takes a lot of trial and error to get your party right, but it's worth investing the energy early on into building the right players. The game hands you a variety of races, balanced towards fighters, spellcasters, or right in the middle. Adjust their abilities slightly, and pick their classes. It allows you to gear the party closer towards your fighting style, and have characters that you're slightly more invested in because you created them. Depending on who you are, this is either a big plus or a real roadblock: the game doesn't hold your hand going into it. You are essentially thrown into the game with the expectation that you've either already played Class of Heroes or read through the instruction manual. I did neither, and it took me a few days to realize that Gaijinworks had extensive paperwork on their website. It makes the adventures much less maddening, and turns it into an easily addictive romp. My biggest criticism of the game sits with the plot, because many of the scenes we see throughout the more casual encounters feel like throwaways. The weakling turns to the badass teacher to try and win their respect. The little guy tries all the get-heroic-quick schemes. The evil girl always getting in your way is easily flustered and a push-over. A lot of it falls into familiar tropes, and while the translation of it all is good, it's not enough to keep me reading every line. The more central plot is well-written, and it's clear when that stuff is coming up, but I don't feel as though the plot is something to really attach yourself to with this. The visuals are surprisingly good, coming from a game that originally debuted in 2009. The character drawings are just fine, owing a lot to the fact that that all the battles and cutscenes are done with still images rather than animated sprites or character models. The music is pleasant but far from memorable, and puts you in the right mood for the game. When I sit down to play, I found the hours go by pretty quick. And by the time my battery dies on the Vita? Then it's a real struggle to just set it down, and not pull out the plug and keep playing for JUST another hour or three. The gameplay is great and it makes for the perfect game to while away the hours, but don't expect this to be more than a popcorn game: lots of fun and plenty delicious, but it doesn't carry any real nutrition. If you've got a Vita, and are big into RPGs, then Class of Heroes 2 is a good way to fill a void between big-named titles. You can always put it down and pick it up again in a flash. 6 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)   
Review: Class of Heroes 2 photo
GaijinWorks and MonkeyPaw bring us dungeon crawling
Class of Heroes 2 is a game with a "wouldn't give up" story. Back in 2012, the game failed to meet its Kickstarter goal. Despite all that, MonkeyPaw Games and GaijinWorks promised to continue working on the gam...

Review: The Idolmaster Shiny Festa

Jul 24 // Josh Tolentino
The iDOLM@STER SHINY FESTA: Melodic Disc/Harmonic Score/Rhythmic Record (PSP, iOS [reviewed])Developer: Namco BandaiPublisher: Namco BandaiReleased: April 22, 2013 (NA)MSRP: $54.99 each**As of press time the game is at a promotional price of $26.99 each Josh Tolentino To kick this combination review/discussion off, let's tackle the big question: Is Shiny Festa worth the nearly $55 asking price? And that's just for one version out of three. We bought our copies at personal expense, so that's technically a "yes" in our case, but what's the rationale, both for us, and for the "average" gamer, who's had virtually no exposure to Idolm@ster? What is Shiny Festa, and does it merit the kind of green that might be laid out for a Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed? [embed]28602:2656:0[/embed] Jeff Chuang I'm probably the worst person to answer that question. Nothing happens in a vacuum. It's not like someone put a gun to my head, but after following Idolm@ster for a couple years now, and that this is a legit, English-language localization of a franchise that probably will still never get the full light of day in English-speaking countries, it is a miracle. Unfortunately it is also a miracle fueled by money, and as an import gamer that is something I've already accepted. I really have no idea how someone who is entirely unfamiliar with Idolm@ster at all would even want to play this game, let alone paying for it, if they didn't already know what it is. And maybe that's just the thing, triple-A joints have triple-A marketing, Shiny Festa has just us poor Producers. Even if the game is great, I'm not sure it will make any sort of impression outside the established fan base.  What I want to know is, what made you choose the Harmonic Score edition of Shiny Festa? What...or who is so special about that version? Josh: I'm in something of the same boat regarding motivation. Doing the math, importing the original PSP version from Japan at retail prices would cost me more. And I don't hate iOS, so this is basically the cheapest way for me to get the game, short of me asking a local to buy the game at a secondhand store and mailing it slow, and in that case it still wouldn't be localized. So yes, a miracle indeed. In the end I picked Melodic Disc, which was Groovy Tune, which is the one with Miki Hoshii, Makoto Kikuchi, Takane Shijou and Yukiho Hagiwara. Of the thirteen idols in the core cast, those are the ones I care about (except Yukiho), so that's the version I picked. I'm lucky, actually, since the characters I like are all in just one version, so whoever's in charge of the roster is on the right wavelength. For me. Sorry to people who like, say, just Miki, Chihaya, and the Futami twins or some other wallet-destroying combo.  That said, since the game has a selection of full-group songs that don't just feature my core four, so the character models are in there. I imagine that UMD storage and the like motivated the three-way split on the PSP, but iOS has no theoretical size limit (beyond the device itself), so having the same split active for this port, with all still at full price, feels a bit sleazy. I suppose Namco couldn't be bothered to rejigger the game that much, but again, that price. Even for a fan it stings, you know? Elliot Gay I'm the unique position of living in Japan, therefore I'm used to paying upwards of 7,000 yen ($75.00) for some new releases. Media here is expensive, and even digital copies of games aren't even close to being as cheap as their western counterparts. Indeed, these iOS versions of the Shiny Festa games are actually about the same price as it'd cost me to grab physical copies. That being said, I no longer own a PSP, so downloading games for the Vita is my only option, meaning that the idea of paying full price for an iOS game isn't all that scary to me. I do get that Namco isn't exactly aiming to expand the brand out west, so much as they're testing the waters to get an idea of how far the western fanbase is willing to go. I think somewhere in the $30-40 range would have made more sense, but as both of you said, the iM@S fanbase is one that is likely used to the high cost of importing. That doesn't make the situation any less unfortunate, but I suppose it does add some perspective to things. As for the games themselves? I picked Harmonic Score, featuring Haruki Amami, Chihaya Kisaragi, Azusa Miura, and Ritsuko Akizuki. I thought the track list would be significantly more focused on these four idols, but I too was surprised to find that there are plenty of songs featuring the entire cast. I would suggest folks grab the version that has your favorite characters though, considering the story mode focuses entirely on them.  How are you guys feeling about the game itself? I'm actually really pleased with the mechanics and the song list. The touch controls feel natural, and I've yet to encounter any substantial slow down on my iPhone 4s. I also checked out the "DLC Store" expecting the worst, but all the songs there are free. I'm assuming these were tracks included in the original PSP releases, but taken out of the base game to save space? Josh: As far as I can tell, the iOS version unpacks to a hefty 2.6GB on my iPad 2, which is larger than a UMD can store. Without the actual PSP version to compare I can't tell how much or how little was left out, but I'd like to believe that the songs on there are DLC that's just been made free as opposed to space-based cuts. Personally I figure all three games could have been consolidated into a single app without a substantial increase in size, but I'm no iOS developer, so that's just speculation on my part.  Indeed, the "sweet spot" pricing point - that still ignores App Store psychology, mind - would have been about $40, or about the same as DJMAX Technica Tune on the PS Vita. In fact, DJMAX is an interesting point of comparison for me, as well. Some discussion surrounding that game already balked at the idea of paying $40 for a game on a dedicated gaming handheld, one that offers roughly three times the songs and slightly less fluff (no story mode or real-time dance graphics).  That said, the actual rhythm gameplay so far isn't as complex as a DJMAX game. It's more purely timing-based, and centered around tapping the screen in time, rather than hitting icons ala Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents. That feels a little simpler, and at the lower levels, less satisfying.  Elliot: It's very much like Hatsune Miku: Project Diva in the way it plays, with lower levels being almost deceptively easy, and higher levels being mind numbingly difficult. I've been mostly playing on Master level, and it sometimes feels like my fingers aren't fast enough in the way they respond to my brain. Hah!  As far as the visuals are concerned, I've yet to play on the iPad, but on the iPhone 4s' retina screen, it definitely looks a whole lot better than it did on the PSP or Vita. Since most of the backgrounds are essentially video files, I wouldn't be surprised if the bump in resolution caused a hefty bump in terms of file size. Josh: Speaking of video files, each version of the game comes with a full exclusive episode of the Idolm@ster anime series, animated by A-1 Studios. You can't even miss it, because it starts playing the first time you start the app (at least, that's what it did when I started). As I may have mentioned, Idolm@ster was my favorite anime of 2011, so that would be a big draw for someone who's thinking about watching the show for themselves. From the looks of things each episode is different and stars the cast of the version you bought. My Melodic Disc version naturally starred Miki, Takane, Makoto and Yukiho going off to perform at an island "Shiny Festa" (hint hint) and practically dragooning the Producer into taking them on dates to better understand how to sing love songs. Really.  How did your versions go? Jeff: I picked up the PSP version of Melodic Disc, or Groovy Tunes, as it's known in Japan. Not only I might have to share a waifu with Josh, but that game simply had the best track list and that's why I went for that one. I thought Rhythmic Record (aka Funky Note) has the second best list of songs, which is what I ended up getting on the iPad Mini when the English version came about. The music video for "Kyun! Vampire Girl" is quite hilarious... And my tolerance for Yayoi and the twins has gone up by a magnitude since a year ago, making the dip into the loli version of Shiny Festa a lot more bearable. Any fans of Hibiki walking downstairs around here? Playing on the iPad Mini is rather nice because of its relatively large screen, especially since you could play while holding it up, similarly to how one would play the game on a PSP. Actually, I recommend playing that way if you have a Mini, since if you don't hold on to it, you're likely to push the tablet around while trying to ace some of the high BPM songs. Maybe it's not as bad with a full-size iPad plus a case with grip? The resolution of the videos definitely got a bump versus the PSP version, especially when you compare the anime portions. But on the iPad Mini, you can see some jaggies for the various music videos and the still images during the story mode looks obviously resized to fit the bigger screens. Gameplay-wise, Elliot has summed it up. Shiny Festa is a surprisingly fun game that has a nice and easy learning curve until you hit Pro and Master modes. And unlike most (if any?) rhythm games, getting perfects on your notes is everything. When you want to get that triple-S rank, "Good" is simply not good enough. It's probably the only game of this kind where you can get a full combo and only come away with an A rank (which is scored below 90 percent, making it more like a B?). It's probably also the only game of this kind where you can use helper charms (cheats you can buy with in-game money to make things easier) guilt-free, similar to the mainIdolm@ster games. Shiny Festa is twice the fun if you are already familiar with the songs from the Idolm@ster franchise, like I am. It's too bad that about a third of the songs on each of the games are the same, because I will eventually get all three versions. Granted, those 7 songs are some of the most popular songs from the franchise, so at least I enjoy replaying them over and over again. The two other noteworthy things I would also bring up is that hitting the upper left corner when you're in the middle of a song brings up the in-game menu (which sometimes I hit by accident, since there aren't too many places you can hold up an iPad securely and still hit the screen), and there are still some minor difference between the iOS games and the PSP games, such as what the achievements are, that you can access the iOS Game Center for public rankings and such, and probably some other differences that I haven't run into yet. One other way to have fun with Shiny Festa on an iPad is to set it for loop playback using a random playlist via the music video mode. It feels way less pointless than doing the same thing on a PSP. If you enjoy watching the videos it's a great way to have it play it in the background, setting the iPad on a stand. Elliot: Interestingly enough, the OVA that came with Harmonic Score is significantly different from what you described, Josh. The Producer (who is the player character in the core Idolm@ster games) only appears at the beginning and at the very end of the episode. It mostly centers around the girls discovering how music can connect people who don't speak the same language. The episode essentially serves as the first half of Shiny Festa's story mode, which took me off guard completely. By the way, am I the only one who absolutely adores the new "Music" track? It's ridiculously catchy and probably one of my favorite songs on the playlist.  Jeff: "Music" is a great track. Too bad Columbia or Namco-Bandai feels like taking their time releasing any versions of it other than what we got with the games. "Eden" is probably my favorite new track out of the whole deal, though. [The four Shiny Festa theme songs have been solicited for CD release since time of writing.] Josh: Interesting point on how different your OVA seems from mine. After seeing mine I initially figured each variation would simply be a "branching" style: same events, different characters. That they basically went and made three different original episodes pumps the value for true fans I guess. "Music" is pretty good, though I've still got a soft spot for "READY!!" and "CHANGE!!", which were the opening themes of the anime. As a filthy casual who doesn't even own the core Idolm@ster game yet the anime is my main exposure. Still, after this and once my wallet recovers, I might just be *ahem* LADY for more Idolm@ster. Random Ace Combat skins will no longer be enough. On a tech note, did anyone have trouble with input response? Since unlike DJMAX this thing is more purely tap-rhythm-based I'm wondering if you've encountered situations where, like, you're sure you tapped in time but the note didn't register. I have, and I'm not sure how much blame to assign to hardware or me just sucking at rhythm games. We're all playing on different device models to boot, so checking how it works across "platforms" should be important to note. Jeff: The primary Idolm@ster game is a slippery slope to financial ruin, just to let you know. But at the same time maybe you are READY for it, if you can swallow the price tag of Shiny Festa... I haven't encountered any input problems playing the game on an iPad Mini. Actually there were a few times where I registered a tap by mistake because my finger got too close to the screen. It's a different play experience than the PSP because it's so much ever slightly less precise due to that fact, but at the same time you don't have to wait for the buttons to "bounce back" before you hit the next note, pressing the same spot on the screen. So theoretically you can hit the notes even faster on a touchscreen with just one finger on each side. Josh: So you would say that the increased speed makes up for a comparative lack of diversity in inputs? I know it changes up the appearance of note paths to keep you on your toes, so if it can't change the input itself, it alters the presentation. Jeff: The way the notes flow down the lines is both decorative and can impact gameplay like you said, Josh. I also found that it can help you measure out beats in some cases, such as the "stairs" pattern in some songs where how and when the notes "turn" can give you an idea the beat it will come across when it gets to the center point. Josh Tolentino's score for Melodic Disc: Ultimately, what I keep coming back to is that The Idolm@ster Shiny Festa is a perfectly decent rhythm game, with good iOS implementation and substantial content geared towards preexisting fans. What its music does for you depends on your preferences, but like any proper rhythm game there's enough there to get you into the familiar groove of pushing for the perfect run. The story mode and extra character moments work, to an extent, but again, only in a specific context: that of an Idolm@ster fan. When it comes to writing reviews, I hate having to bring up price or the idea that a game is "for fans", but I'm finding it unavoidable when trying to regard Shiny Festa. That price tag - that triple price tag! - thoroughly narrows the value proposition, and it's hard not to wonder a bit what could have been (or what could be) for the game had Namco Bandai opted for a price point with a wider appeal. As I said, it's a perfectly decent rhythm game, but costs far too much, and for the non-fan, even selecting which variety of the game you want is an exercise in guesswork.  But for fans of Idolm@ster who haven't yet imported Shiny Festa, there's no real reason not to get this, unless they dislike playing games on iOS. And if they don't, they're actually saving money by doing so. Incidentally, Japanator's descriptive text for a score of 7/10 fits how I feel about the game quite well:  Score: 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.) Jeff Chuang's score for Rhythmic Record: The one solid gameplay/design aspect that underpins Shiny Festa is both how shallow and deep the gameplay is. For the casual producer who just like Idolm@ster like a fan of an idol group, he or she can enjoy the game through its 20+ music videos (or 40+ if you count special MVs), the anime it comes with, and the various character interaction and in-jokes baked into the game in the story mode. The game is easy and sufficiently challenging for people who normally don't play rhythm games, in beginner and normal modes. For those who are into rhythm games, Shiny Festa dangles big enough of a carrot on a long enough of a stick that it is still a good effort to achieve all the top accomplishments, and it's a fun ride to get there. Unfortunately that is also why it relies heavily on speed and accuracy to award the top and most difficult accomplishments, versus the wider variety of inputs or tricks many other rhythm games offer.  If you can rationalize spending real money to play games involving your waifu, then these are the games you are looking for. For me, it offers a good balance of effort-versus-reward in addition, making it fun to keep playing and seek out that second (and probably third, eventually) version of Shiny Festa as I slowly conquer the tracks in Master mode. And if you came into Shiny Festa already an owner of Idolm@ster on the PS3 or Xbox, for a couple DLC's worth of money you can have a slice of that dancing magic to go on iOS, in addition to all the extra perks the game comes with. It feels like a no-brainer. It also helps, however slightly, that compared to most iOS games, Shiny Festa just feels well-polished. Even if the character bio page says "HOOBIES."  Score: 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.) Elliot Gay's score for Harmonic Score: Shiny Festa doesn't exactly set the rhythm genre on fire, but it never really tries to. The game was developed as fanservice for fans of the franchise (anime and game alike), and the inclusion of OVA episodes only further pushes that point. It's mechanics are welcoming to newcomers but remain challenging to veteran gamers as well. While the lack of more varied inputs is a bit disappointing, it's an understandable omission considering the platform. The music is catchy, and the entire package is of a substantially higher quality than the majority of games available on the App Store. This was initially a packaged release, and it shows.  If you're a fan who already owns the PS3/360 game and its myriad of DLC, I can't see why you wouldn't bite. Yes, the price is high, but at the end of the day, it's sadly never been cheap to be an Idolm@ster fan. If you were looking to grab a copy of Shiny Festaanyway, I think the iOS versions are the way to go.  Score: 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
Idolmaster Shiny Festa photo
We paid thrice and still feel nice
When it arrived on the App Store in April, The Idolm@ster Shiny Festa made waves among English-speaking gamers, but unfortunately not for the reasons publisher Namco Bandai was hoping.  Rather than celebrating the f...

Review: Shin Megami Tensei IV

Jul 17 // Tim Sheehy
Shin Megami Tensei IV (Nintendo 3DS) Developer: Atlus Publisher: Atlus Release Date: July 16, 2013 MSRP: $49.99 The story starts off in the Kingdom of Mikado, a city surrounding a grand castle with its citizenry divided among two separate social castes, the aristocratic Luxurors, and the lower-class Casualry. Unfortunately, one's caste is determined solely by inheritance. Only one exception is made however as, despite their social status, every citizen who turns 18 years of age must attend the Castle's annual Gauntlet Ritual which determines if one is worthy of becoming a Samurai, thus being elevated in the status. In the past, the ritual would churn out a fair number of Samurai, but as time passed, those numbers dwindled with the process becoming more selective. This year, that pool has been reduced to five candidates. Three Luxurors and a pair of Casuals. The former includes Navarre, a snooty aristocrat who looks upon the Casualry with contempt, Jonathan, a kinder level-headed Luxuror who treats others with respect, and Isabeau, a woman with a strong-will and composure, but a penchant for indecision. The two remaining Samurai consists of Walter, a brash young member of the Casualry who isn't afraid to speak his mind, and last but not least, our protagonist Flynn, a boy who was raised as Casualry, but now finds himself living among the Luxurors as he begins his Samurai training. As the next generation of Samurai, you and the others are tasked with battling hordes of demons who appear to originate from a deep labyrinth beneath the Kingdom known as Naruku. Like previous entries in the series, you'll navigate the world from a third-person perspective with battles shifting to first person turn-based combat.  One you set foot upon the field, you'll note that the Kingdom has a very European aesthetic and despite being labeled a Samurai, many of the items you'll equip match that setting. Oddly, you'll also encounter and use a fair number of "relics" which seem just a bit out of the ordinary. For example, Flynn's journey through Naruku comes with the aid of Burroughs, a mysterious but friendly AI that exists within the Gauntlet. Its origin, along with those of the other relics becomes more clear as the game progresses. Burroughs serves many game play functions in Shin Megami Tensei IV. Her main function is of course the menu screen. Through her, you are able to access the basic RPG staples such as items, equipment, saving, and checking on the status of you and your demons. Every time your character gains a level, you earn what is called "App Points." These points can be applied through Burroughs to unlock new abilities or boosts. While out on the field, Burroughs displays the dungeon map on the bottom screen, which can be navigated with the stylus. On the upper screen, she alerts you to any points of interests that can be investigated. More importantly, if there are any demons heading your way, an indicator appears, letting you know which direction and distance they are heading from. Enemies do appear on the field map, although most often they appear randomly. Using the X button, Flynn can strike the enemy with his equipped weapon for a chance to get first strike in the battle, as well as dishing out some free damage right as the fight begins. As I mentioned earlier, combat takes place in a first person point of view, with the enemy demons displayed with slightly animated, but beautifully detailed sprites, similar to Strange Journey on the Nintendo DS -- a smart move on the developer's choice, providing each enemy with more expression while taking into account the limitations of the Nintendo 3DS platform. Boss battles are actually treated to full, animated body portraits, giving a very menacing and gruesome look to each of them. JRPG fans will find a lot of the menu-based combat familiar with the exception of the new "Smirk" system. Whenever you or one of your demons dish out a great deal of damage, either through a critical hit or by hitting a weak point, there is a chance that they will obtain a temporary "smirk" status. Not only does your party gets an additional turn, but the character's next attack will deal even more damage than before. The same can be accomplished by the opposing side, so it's best to keep in mind that smirks can easily turn the tide in a battle. As a result, you may find yourself forced to save more often -- something that can ruin your experience with the game. Those familiar to the Shin Megami Tensei series know that the biggest draw to the series is the ability to negotiate, recruit, and fuse demons. Its apparent that Atlus has shown extra care in designing this portion of the game. Every demon feature vocal cues and a portrait that's displayed during negotiations, making the experience a bit more personal. As you try to convince them to join your side, they will grunt or giggle at your attempts. Like in previous games, recruiting demons can be a bit tricky. While some can be a simple as just sacrificing a bit of your HP, or answering the right questions, others might just run off with the bribe money you just forked over. Demons you gain are capable of learning new skills through leveling up, while at times even offering to change an ability at random. Further more, they can pass their abilities to Flynn, allowing him to inherit new abilities or power up existing ones through demon whispers. Finally, new demons can be gained through fusing any two or more demons. The game makes this easier by recommending the best combinations available. You are still free to experiment on your own however, and with the Demon Compendium, you are able to summon any past demons you obtained... for a price. While all this may sound fun, it's worth noting that Shin Megami Tensei IV is an incredibly difficult game. It's not quite Demon's Souls, but it's challenging nonetheless. Fortunately, the ability to change its difficulty unlocks after a few hours of play, so those of you having difficulties can crank it down a notch. When your party is annihilated -- and given the random spawning of enemies, and their ability to earn a "smirk" bonus, this will likely happen often -- you are given the opportunity to pay a hefty amount of in-game currency or spend a few 3DS Play Coins to be revived. The only way to avoid this fate is to save often. Seeing as it's a 3DS release, I should mention its 3D effects. This is one of the few games I actually enjoyed playing with a full 3D effect on. There's a lot of menus, and the 3D slider adds a lot of depth, making them surprisingly easy on the eyes. In combat, the enemy demons and effects compliment the polygon rendered backdrops. The sprites and portraits are given a bit more depth of field. This is also the case when conversing with party members or negotiating with demons. So, in general, I feel the 3D improves the visuals rather than distracts. Atlus has presented Shin Megami Tensei fans with another great entry to the series with a fresh new look, while keeping the experience familiar enough to entice them. Newcomers should find an intriguing tale, and a unique role playing experience but may be put off by its difficulty. For the hardcore fans, the games does offer multiple endings, as well as a new game plus. Shin Megami Tensei IV presents a grand story, beautiful art, deep dungeons to explore, and hundreds of demons to meet, all set to an amazing soundtrack -- a must have for role playing fans everywhere. 9 -- Superb (A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Shin Megami Tensei IV photo
A fine addition to the series
The long wait is finally over. With almost a decade since the last official installment, Shin Megami Tensei IV has finally made its way to store shelves and, for the first time in the history of its core series, the pockets o...

Review: Natsume's Book of Friends Season 3

Jul 03 // Jeff Chuang
Natsume's Book of Friends Season 3 Premium Edition Blu-ray/DVDStudio: Brains BaseLicensed by: NIS AmericaRelease Date: October 9, 2012MSRP: $69.99 It's not unusual for the third series of a franchise to take a dip in terms of the intensity and interest. Thankfully for season 3 of Natsume's Book of Friends, the story actually gets better while looking as good as it always does. A big part of season 3's charms belongs to the added cast of human friends around Takashi. From his adoptive guardians to his classmates, we now see the lives of the people around him and how Takashi's youkai-related adventures affect them in a direct way. Some of the youkai that showed up in seasons one and two also returns in season three, giving those of us who stuck with it additional emotional value. The plot also kicks up a notch as Takashi walks further down the road of the modern exorcist. Not only Takashi's celebrity friend slash exorcist Natori is similarly gifted, but he becomes Takashi's connection to a secret society of excorists who use and manipulate the spiritual for their own gains. Thanks to that, season 3 of Natsume's Book of Friends is more exciting, now with real antagonists in the form of selfish and misguided human drama, mixing things up with the usual everyday pieces. Even the everyday pieces improved in season three, I think, because now Takashi doesn't have to carry the spotlight the entire time. Sharing it with the poor sap for two seasons is enough; his new friends break up the monotony for both Takashi and Nyanko-sensei. Tanuma and Taki both get a lot of lines towards the second half of season 3. At least now Taki can join in on the never-ending running joke about Nyanko-sensei's appearance. The NISA's release itself is as you would expect from NISA's premium line. The solid box and artbook continues in the same theme as the seasons 1 and 2 box. The artbook looks similar to the Book of Friends, while containing similarly, a list of monsters along with other key data from the show.  The two thinpaks contain a DVD and a Blu-ray Disc each. For this review only the Blu-ray version is tested, and the first nine episodes are on the first disc. The bonus material and the rest of the series resides on the second. With simple menus, this force-subtitled, Japanese dub-only release does the job; colors looked good and things sounded as you would expect. It's not fancy but this show isn't exactly the most flashy thing. The on-disc bonuses are similar to the first box--just the TV commercials and clean OP/ED sequences. In general, production value for season three of Natsume's Book of Friends meet or exceed seasons one and two. Directionally, however, season three is simply more of the same--and there is no reason why they should change a formula that has worked so well. For more details, please refer to our review of NISA's premium edition release of seasons one and two. The music and visuals remain pleasing and effective, if a bit out of the way from the viewer's attention other than the occasional striking impact shot. What's most notable in season three, besides the amplified drama, is the voice acting. Natsume's Book of Friends already begins with a very solid veteran voice acting cast, but with season three the work is spread around, giving both the old voices more life and room to expand on what was working, and allowing the new voices to simply highlight on what was missing from the first two seasons. At the same time, though, while Natsume's Book of Friends season three avoids some of the really sappy trapping from seasons one and two, Takashi Natsume still feels like a wet rag in terms of his worthiness in advancing the plot. There may be more fujoshi pandering in season three, also--it can be hard to tell given how this show always had that tendency. What I do know is that season three simply has more variety than seasons one and two, despite featuring fewer slices of monster stories. However after three iterations, I'd say the variety is necessary to keep things interesting and fresh. 7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Natsume Review photo
Meet Natsume's new friends
The third season of Natsume Yuujinchou is where the story shifts into the next gear. In similar fashion, NISA's Natsume's Book of Friends Season 3 Premium Edition ups the ante by becoming a Blu-ray/DVD combo release. This NIS...

Review: Natsume's Book of Friends Season 1 & 2

Jul 01 // Jeff Chuang
Natsume's Book of Friends Seasons 1 & 2 Premium Edition DVDStudio: Brains BaseLicensed by: NIS AmericaRelease Date: October 9, 2012MSRP: $69.99 Beginning on air back in 2008, Natsume's Book of Friends is a series that both embodies that everyday life feel plus a compact presentation of "monster of the week." On paper, the series features a coming-of-age theme involving the namesake protagonist, Takashi Natsume, his struggles with a supernatural gift, and how his kindness shines through the difficulties of the realities living in a modern, human world. The first season spends most of the time building up the basis for the series. It introduces us to Nyanko-sensei, a powerful wolf-demon who, lacking anything better to do, decides to be Natsume's bodyguard. Most of the first season is preoccupied with explaining the book of Friends, a notebook containing the names of youkai that Takashi's grandmother, Reiko, subdued in various contests, as Reiko struggled with society while growing up, spending her time playing with demons and wild spirits rather than her human schoolmates. The story at first involves Takashi dealing with his already complicated life as a foster-home-hopping orphan, and the fact that he can see youkai. The Book of Friends adds that additional twist, but also becomes a mixed blessing as he start to learn more about the youkai world and as Takashi encounter the kind spirits that graced his grandmother. Season two shifts gear and becomes a lot more focused on Takashi's internal struggles and his unique outlook on life, his special powers, and the Book. Thematically, the series wears its ideals on its sleeves, as Takashi makes friends with both men and ghosts alike, often at great risk of his own safety. Heart-warming and heart-rending stories, almost fairy tale-like, play out episode after episode in a way that can both be educational but at the same time, repetitive.  The strength of the series is the presentation of the visuals and in the thematic content. Ideas like mono no aware and wabi sabi are often the key elements in the short stories that play out each episode. Between the light-hearted moments and those decisive and dramatic climaxes, the visuals are soft and occasionally painterly. The music is poignant and effective. It certainly works well for a long-running series by not doing too much and doing what it does well. Despite the somewhat serious, if not dour, nature of the series, Nyanko-sensei rises to the challenge and becomes a major part of the show, acting as balance to Takashi's overly naive and way too idealistic point of view. The humor, too, often channels through the monstrous cat-wolf. This becomes kind of an issue as by the end of the second season, as Natsume's Book of Friends has thoroughly explored the dynamics between the two, at least without escalating it via by the promise the two shares, a potential major plot point down the road. It feels as if the running joke has been run to the ground, but thankfully this is something that's remedied in season 3 by the expansion of the regular cast. The Premium Edition DVD set from NISA contains two thinpaks, one for each season. Within each thinpak there are two DVDs covering the entire season. While they are sub-only, the series looks pretty good on my plasma TV, played back on the PS3. The sound is only 2-channel but for a series that isn't action packed, it suffices. The bonus material contains credit-less OP/ED and the TV commercials for the shows, and they're on the second DVDs of both seasons. Natsume's Book of Friends isn't a series that require insane bitrates to capture well, so the DVD version looks quite passable. The best thing about NISA's Premium Edition is how the long-form, hard-cover book that typifies NISA's premium releases looks much like the Book of Friends from the show. As usual, the accompanying book includes some descriptions of the characters, episode guide, promo artwork, and character designs. It vaguely reminds me of a version of Dungeons and Dragon monster manual. In a lot of ways, what NISA has done is to create an appealing package for the fans of the show. If there are any hesitation in recommending Natsume's Book of Friends, it's simply that this is not your typical anime that appeals to your typical anime-viewing crowd. It's somewhat sophisticated, catering to a kind-hearted view of the world, where every soul, even those of monsters, are precious. It's not action packed, but instead, full of emotions. Takashi Natsume is perhaps, too soft. And if you can overcome that urge to face-palm every time Takashi makes a bad decision, maybe this will be the perfect show for you. Lastly, you can take a sneak peek at it from Chris's season four wrap-up, or stream it from Crunchyroll. 7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Natsume Review photo
The best fat cat since Garfield
NIS America has been the go-to guys when it comes to Natsume Yuujinchou, or Natsume's Book of Friends. With season 4 done on the air and the subsequent home video release on the horizon, it's a good time to go back and take a...

Review: Shakugan No Shana: The Movie

Jun 24 // Salvador GRodiles
Shakugan No Shana: The Movie (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo) Studio: J.C. Staff Licensed by: FUNimation Release Date: 1/22/2013 MSRP: $34.98 [Buy] Following in the footsteps of the First Season and the original light novel, Shana: The Movie starts off with the event that setup towards Yuji’s fated encounter with the Flame Haired Burning Eyed Hunter. When Yuji finds out that he has a sacred treasure inside of him, the Flame Haze known as Shana ends up becoming his protector throughout the rest of the story. On top of that, the original Yuji was already dead, and the current Yuji is a temporary replacement, aka a Torch. Whenever a movie that’s supposed to retell a certain part of a series comes out, viewers are expected to relive the same scenes in a slightly higher quality than the preceding material. In most cases, this can be seen as a great privilege, since it gives animators the chance to utilize new techniques that couldn’t be pulled off in the original show. However, there are a few situations where they add a nicer coat of paint to the same shots from the TV series. As for Shana: The Movie’s case, the latter is applied to most of the scenes that occur during the film’s first half. Sure, this can be a bit of a letdown for most viewers, but Shana: The Movie makes it up to its fans by cutting out the side material that went on during the first arc of Shakugan No Shana. In fact, we receive the prime course that delivers the character driven drama and interactions between Yuji and Shana, as they have to work together to overcome Friagne’s evil scheme. While I haven't read the original light novels, the dramatic aspects of Shana: The Movie are around the same level as the ones found in Shakugan No Shana III (Final), which leads me to believe that the tone of the Friagne arc in the film is more faithful to the source material than the TV series’s first season. Once the major battles kick in, Shana: The Movie’s quality takes things up a notch. Shana’s flaming hair lights up the scene and Margery’s attacks in her fox form continue to show us that her ability can do more than look silly. While you don’t see any one get punched in Shana: The Movie’s fight scenes, the cutting animations and magic sequences deliver a nice coat of shininess to the battles inside of the restriction spells. One of the nice treats was how the movie made Friagne more threatening, since he went down very easily in the TV series. Thanks to the power of Blu-ray quality, the action sequences are brighter and crisper than the DVD version. To an extent, it does make up for the early scenes that I felt were unacceptable in terms of movie standards (Such as the weird zoom out shots). For a movie that’s seven years old, Shana: The Movie still holds up decently. Between Funimation’s dub and the original Japanese voice audio, I would have to go with the latter, due to Rie Kugimiya’s (Taiga from Toradora, Koto from Kyousogiga) specialty in putting the ‘tsun’ in tsundere with her role as Shana. Now don’t get me wrong, Cherami Leigh’s (Lucy from Fairy Tail, Kneesocks from Panty and Stocking) work as Shana wasn’t terrible, but she lacks that special tone that brings out Shana’s true character. Honestly, it was the ‘shut up’ line that sealed the deal, since it lacked that right amount of rage and cuteness. Though J. Michael Tatum’s performance as Friagne (Isaac from Bacanno!, Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood) was great with the way how he depicted the Crimson Lord’s weird fascination with dolls. Overall, the cast for FUNi’s dub didn’t do a bad job, it’s that the tone and emotion delivered Shana’s original cast fits better with the story. Of course, the extra to end all extras is included with the movie, since Shakugan No Shana-tan arrives to make fun of the movie’s stories. In case you have never seen Shana-tan, the series basically pokes fun at the story for each installment of the Shana. As always, the Shana-tan version of Yoshida is the best, due to her devious schemes to make sure that Yuji loses interest in Shana. In fact, she is way better than the original Yoshida, who tends to be more reserved. If you liked Rie Kugimiya’s acting, then you’ll laugh at her performance that suits Shana’s chibier form. There are also a few previews for the movie when it was first being advertised, along with a segment where Shana and Yuji talk about the film's terminology. In all honesty, Shana-tan is the supreme extra that thrashes everything on the disk. Even though Shana: The Movie feels a little dated, the story took a great direction that J.C. Staff could’ve taken with the TV series. If there was one huge setback, it’s that they didn’t make any more movies based off of Shana’s other arcs. That said, it's not like the movie leaves you in a cliffhanger, since the rest of the story continues in the TV series. Whether you’re a newcomer or veteran to the Flamed Haired Burning Eyed Hunter’s work, Shana: The Movie is an enjoyable adventure for those who don’t mind Shana’s tsundere attitude.  7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Shana: The Movie  photo
Shut Up, Shut Up, Shut Up!
The moment of truth has arrived, people! It looks like I have crossed path with a certain flame haired hunter that’s been mentioned around these parts in the past. Compare to her previous appearances, she has decided to...

Import Review: Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryoiki no Deja Vu

Jun 09 // Elliot Gay
Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryoiki no Deja Vu (Theatrical release)Studio: White FoxRelease Date: April 20, 2013 (Japan) [Editor's note: This review spoils extremely important elements of the anime series. If you haven't yet watched it, I highly advise you to close this window and turn back before you have the experience ruined.] It's been a year since Okabe Rintaro managed to find his way to the one true world line, and save Makisu Kurisu from certain death. Things have settled back to normal, which means he and the rest of the lab members have returned to making pointless devices. Okabe's still up to his old mad scientist shenanigans, but something isn't right. On occasion, his memories of the other world lines flash before his eyes as though they were reality, reducing him to a paranoid mess. Kurisu is also back in town, and the two lovebirds are secretly looking forward to seeing each other again. Unfortunately, things only continue to grow stranger; a mysterious hooded figure appears in Kurisu's hotel room, urging her to remember the time machine that Okabe used to save the world. Just what exactly is going on? First things first: if you haven't seen the Steins;Gate OVA episode that takes place after the TV series finale, you're probably going to be a wee bit confused at the start of the film. Fuka Ryoiki no Deja Vu assumes that the audience knows why Kurisu is aware of Okabe's time traveling hijinks, and frequently references the events of said episode. With that out of the way, it's important to note what Deja Vu isn't. Fans of the TV series expecting another grand time travel story would do best to temper their expectations. The main character here is Kurisu, and it's her relationship with Okabe that forms the central conflict of the story. This is a smaller, more personal tale about how far someone will go to save the person they love. It almost makes the mistake of repeating moments as well as lessons learned in the TV series, but mercifully backs out by keeping things short and to the point. I was also concerned that the movie would unnecessarily play up Kurisu's tsundere character, though that turned out to be a non-issue. The film acknowledges her relationship with Okabe early on. Once the main narrative kicks into overdrive, there's no room for any of the typical rom-com fluff one might expect. It's do or die, and there are scenes in the middle portion of the film that are heartbreaking.  With a runtime of about 90 minutes, there's very little room for Deja Vu to explore subplots. The supporting cast still gets a fair bit of love though, especially Daru and Mayuri. There are a few nods to future events in the case of the former, and the latter gets some of the sweetest moments in the entirety of the franchise. The rest of the cast also makes appearances, with the time traveling Suzuha playing the most important role as far as the story is concerned. The film functions as a sequel to both the game and anime, so there are even a few references to alternate endings and routes. Deja Vu has pacing issues, and while there is a three act structure, there are chunks of film that feel like they were included just to give characters more screen time. To that end, it feels less like a feature film, and more like an extended TV episode. While I found the narrative to be a gripping and fitting bookend to Kurisu and Okabe's story, I was less than enamored with studio White Fox's artistry. I couldn't help but think that they either forgot, or weren't aware of the fact that they were supposed to be animating a feature film. For better or worse (mostly worse), character animation is generally consistent with the TV series. CG pedestrians in the background look terrible, and the whole thing is visually uninspired despite huke's great character designs. Deja Vu lacks some of the more interesting shot choices of the TV series; I wasn't expecting to be floored by the visuals, but it's nonetheless a disappointment. The soundtrack is fairly ambient, never drawing too much attention to itself. Sadly, there's nothing quite as fantastic as the use of insert songs in the original series. The music is there, and it's functional.   I'm not sure anybody is going to see Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryoiki no Deja Vu for its visuals though. Despite the weak animation and uninspired soundtrack, Deja Vu paints an emotional tale that will have most series fans shedding a few tears. It may not be the grand adventure that some fans might be expecting, but it's a fitting end for two beloved characters.  While Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryoiki no Deja Vu feels like an extra long TV episode, it is a fine epilogue, and a necessary watch for any fan of the franchise. 7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Review: Steins;Gate film photo
An emotional journey through time.
I doubt anybody ever expected 5pb.'s science adventure game, Steins;Gate, to ever reach the level of popularity that it did. While the original game has yet to see an official English release, in Japan it's playable on pretty...

Review: Saya no Uta

May 29 // Chris Walden
Saya no Uta (PC)Developer: NitroplusPublisher: Nitroplus/JAST USARelease date: December 26, 2003 (JP), May 6, 2013 (US, EU)Price: $24.95 from Successful visual novels, for obvious reasons, need a well-written and absorbing story. Visuals and audio also play their parts, but if the story is boring, unbelievable or buried under a complex web of information you just don't care about, you likely won't hear people talk about it long after release. The same is true for video games to some extent. Fortunately for Saya no Uta, they had someone more than capable in control of the story. This was one of Gen Urobuchi's earlier works, having completed only a few titles including Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom beforehand. However, with almost ten years since the release of this visual novel, we've been able to see even more of his works. Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero and even the currently airing Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet have all seen his involvement, so that should give you an idea of what kind of story we're getting into. It's dark, exciting and tragic.  As you can see from the first image, the story starts off in a pretty grim manner. This is how Fuminori Sakisaka sees the world around him. Everything he sees appears as rotting flesh, crawling maggots and gruesome monsters, with the outside world seemingly unaware of his torment. Unfortunately for him, that's not the end of it, as even sounds are muffled into inhuman tones and smells are replaced with the scent of the dead. It's an unfortunate complication from pioneering brain surgery, having needed it to survive the same car accident that claimed his parents. Faced with such a hell on a daily basis, it's a wonder how he manages to put up with it all and not lose his mind. The reason he continues to endure this hell is Saya, the one person that still appears to him as human. He doesn't know exactly why she is the exception, but being able to see her, speak to her and even touch her like a human being gives him enough hope to see the day through. Saya no Uta lets us see how Fuminori is rebuilding his life with the help of Saya, as well as how his condition is affecting his relationships with former friends. Do bear in mind that this visual novel contains a lot of sexual material. If you've given visual novels a go you'll likely have ran into stuff like this before, but do consider this a warning! If you haven't already guessed, Saya no Uta also has plenty of dark content, so if you don't think you can handle themes like murder and rape, or simply do not wish too, this may not be for you.  It's when this questionable content is paired with a superb musical score that scenes really start to strike that much harder. This is very much a fantasy visual novel, but there are some parts in particular that really get your hairs standing on end. In fact, the music does such a great job accentuating parts of the story that the game really made me feel quite ill at parts. Games like Corpse Party have certainly learned a lot from Saya no Uta, that's for sure. For the most part, the art works really well. All of the screens in this review show that a lot of work has been put into the key visuals, which definitely enhances the story as and when they are used. I have a minor gripe with some of the character art that appears near the start, namely the front view of Yoh and her awkward looking chest, but this doesn't appear often enough to be a problem. It's just a little bit of a shame that it appears near the start, as it got me worrying over nothing. There are a few branches in the narrative, giving a few 'bad endings' to hunt out. However, there are only a handful of them, and if you play visual novels like most people and save whenever you're presented with an option, you'll find you've only used three of sixty save slots you're given. The more the merrier I suppose, but it seems like overkill when there just aren't enough endings to use them for. All of the key visuals are viewable from the main menu, so there's no reason to use them for that reason either. Maybe they'll come in handy if you're sharing a computer? Saya no Uta will take you about eight hours to get every bad ending and the true ending, so while it's not that long in comparison to most visual novels, it'll still take you a good amount of reading to make your way through it all. Even if you forget to save at a narrative branch, there is a skip feature that'll take you to the next decision or to new text.  From the very beginning you are absorbed into this story, wanting to know what is going to happen next. It does a fantastic job of building two different sides of the story, and you can't help but feel sympathy towards them both. Terrible things happen in Saya no Uta, and while in any other medium you'd be able to identify the villain and hate them for what they've done, this visual novel provides enough information for you to understand exactly what everyone is thinking and why they choose to perform certain actions. There may be some minor issues holding it back, but this really is worth your time. Saya no Uta is an outstanding example of how visual novels should be constructed, and one that holds up almost ten years after it was first released. It may have taken us this long to get an official English translation, but it was certainly worth the wait. 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Review: Saya no Uta photo
Horrifying. Amazing.
It's not unusual for us to review visual novels, regardless of whether they are family friendly titles like Cherry Tree High School Club, adult-rated stories like Conquering the Queen, or those that remind you that you aren't...

Review: Persona 4 Official Design Works

May 26 // Pedro Cortes
Persona 4: Official Design WorksPublished by: Udon Translated by: M. Kirie HayashiIllustrations by: Shigenori SoejimaRelease Date: September 11, 2012MSRP: $39.99  Released by Udon Entertainment, I knew that I was going to be getting a solid product. While the Design Works is a paperback book, the stock of paper used is excellent. It's thick and strong, you don't have to worry about damaging the pages as long as you aren't an animal. The color pop off the page as well, so all of art director/character designer Shigenori Soejima's illustrations look fantastic. It keeps up the tradition of Udon's excellent art books. When you first open the book, you get an illustration gallery. Here, you can see a bunch of pictures that were used during the promotion of Persona 4, including the box art and some cheesecake shots of Chie and Rise. Following the illustrations, we get into the meat of the book, which are the character breakdowns. Each section begins with an article by Soejima that delves into his thought processes on how he designed each character and why he made certain choices. Following that, you'll get a gallery of character portraits as they appear in the dialog boxes. The section then closes out with preliminary sketches and designs for both the character and their persona, along with notes on what worked and what had to be changed. This sections covers all the playable characters, Nanako and Dojima. The next section covers sub-characters. This includes all of the social links you can make through the game, as well as Adachi, Namatame, the teachers at Yasogami High and some guest characters that appear. This section is much like the character breakdowns, but much more compact. Soejima includes small blurbs about the characters and there are notations around the sketches and preliminary drawings. Following the sub-characters are the Shadow designs. This is where I wish there was a bit more. We get some good looks at each character's Shadow version and the bosses they spawn. Considering how intricate some of these bosses were in-game, I would've liked some more sketches and info on how and why they appear. There's also a gallery of the base type Shadows that you run across in each dungeon. I also could've used a bit more about the enemies, since you spend so much time fighting them. It wasn't until now that I noticed that there is only one creature type per arcana and the verations you see in game are colorways as they get stronger. The more you know. The last section is labeled Extra. Here they cover the different designs for the Yasogami uniforms, the background CGs, the "sets" for the Shadow world, the storyboards for the opening sequence and ideas for the marketing. Once again, I wish there was a little bit more info and art in a couple parts here. In particular, I wish the section detailing the Yasogami uniforms was longer. As those uniforms are a central part to how these characters dress, there had to have been more art not included. I did dig the pages dedicated to the opening sequence, as it gives you additional insight on how a game cinematic is put together. The book closes out with a six page interview with Soejima that goes even more into detail on why he made certain changes between Persona 3 & 4. Fans of the series will really dig this. The Persona 4 Official Design Works is how artbooks should be done. It's sturdy, looks great and is filled with a ton of information that a fan would want. If you're a fan of Persona 4 or good art in general, I'd completely recommend picking up this bad boy. 9.0 - Supreme.  Masterfully crafted, perhaps the best we've seen in years.
Persona 4 Art Book photo
Going from the darkness to the light
The Shin Megami Tensei games are known for their engaging stories, deep gameplay, complex demon fusing/summoning systems, etc. You know that when you play any of these games that you'll get a polished, solid experience. ...

Review: Mikunopolis in Los Angeles

May 22 // Pedro Cortes
Mikunopolis in Los Angeles (Blu-ray & Audio CD)Licensed by AniplexReleased: April 16, 2013MSRP: $74.99   Alright, so before I get started, ask yourself an important question: Do I like Hatsune Miku and/or her music? If you say no to either, you're probably not going to like this flick. Simply put, it's for fans and will not do much to change anybody's mind. However, if you answered yes to both, I'm pretty sure that this'll be your jam. Recorded on July 2nd, 2011 at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, this is the first time that Miku performed for US audiences. How is this possible, you may ask? Well, thanks to some 3D trickery from SEGA, a projection of the teal-haired songstress is projected onto a glass on the stage. Accompanied by a live musicians, Miku scampers around the confines of her screen and dances her little virtual heart out. She even "descends" for "costume changes" and hops back up with a new look for particular songs. There are even a couple of songs with some of the other Vocaloids. There are certain angles and shots that can trick you into thinking that she's actually on the stage. Unfortunately, the illusion is often broken by the shifting camera angels and closeups. I can imagine that it must have looked amazing while sitting in the crowd, but from our seats it's clear that Miku is a mere projection. That's a shame, as the actual cutting is well done, it's just that it doesn't quite work in this unique case.  Since this is a concert flick, most of the entertainment value comes from the set list. Looking here, there isn't a lot that's familiar. I'm sure bigger Vocaloid fanatics would recognize everything, but I only heard a couple of these tracks before I watched Mikunopolis. That said, I quite enjoyed the tracks they chose to play. The live renditions had a ton of energy behind them and the crowd really seemed to dig just about every track. Everything sounds great too, as the mix is pretty solid. It was nice to sit in my room and have the surround system blast the 5.1 mix into my ears and face.  As for extras, you've got a couple to sweeten the pot. On disk, there's a making of feature and the opening act for the concert. In the package is a mini-poster with the track credits on the back and a CD with the entire concert. However, that asking price is stiff for a Blu-ray and an audio CD. If you got the scratch and you want some live action Vocaloids, then Mikunopolis is right up your alley! Score: 7 - Good. (Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.)
Mikunopolis LA Review photo
The best concert films go out of their way to replicate the experience of actually attending the filmed event. While nothing will ever nail what it was like to hear the pounding speakers and experience an event with hundreds ...

Review: Blood-C

May 21 // Pedro Cortes
Blood C: Complete Series (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Studio: Production IGLicensed by FunimationRelease Date: Jan 22, 2012MSRP: $65.98 For detailed descriptions , you can check out the Annotated Anime from the time, as well as my Final Impressions. In short, Blood C is about a high school girl named Saya, who hunts down and kills blood thirsty demons called Aged Ones in her small town. Besides the demon slaying, Saya has to maintain an otherwise normal life. However, things start to not add up, including some Aged Ones that seem to recognize her…and people in the town don't exactly act normal…and people that should be dead reappear. Hmm, conspiracy is a foot!  Rewatching Blood C did little to change my over all opinion of the show. There are still some serious pacing issues and the final surprise seems to come from nowhere. Yeah, it was a great punch in the gut, but it would've been better if the seeds for betrayal sprouted earlier. That said, when Blood C is at it's best, it's a bloody good time. Gory fights with an attractive girl slicing and dicing demons? That's all I really ask from in this world. Oh, and that last episode still makes as big as an impact as it did the first time I saw it. Due to the fact that this release is uncensored, it's worse than before. The squeamish might not enjoy certain parts of this show. While the violence of the last episode still makes an impact, the poor ending also still irritates. To find out what Saya does after she discovers what's going on, you're going to need to watch the Blood C movie.   While Blood C doesn't quite satisfy with its story, it does well enough in a few places. I found the show to look fantastic. The city looks beautiful as Saya walks between her home and school, with tons of bright colors and vibrant life. On top of that, I still feel that CLAMP's character design fits this world and, to a certain extent, adds a certain dissonance with the blood and gore. The music is also suitably gentle while Saya does her day job and tense while she fights the Aged Ones. Of the many problems that exist in Blood C, technical issues are not one of them.  In terms of acting, Blood C isn't a particularly great series for any actor. Nana Mizuki, Saya's seiyuu, has to do most of the heavy lifting and she does a serviceable job. However, the rest of the cast is pretty weak. The only exception is during the final two episodes, where some of the actors get a chance to switch things up. On the dub side of things, the acting is on par, if not better than the original. Fans of either format will be pleased. There are also two commentaries with members of the English cast and crew, one for episode six and the other for episode 12. It's fun to hear their banter during some rather serious moments, though I'd recommend waiting until you've finished the show before listening. Overall, I'd say that Blood C is a good show that gets shackled by pacing issues. While the particular things that get introduced during the slow bits of the show pay off in the end, it makes the whole show drag and feel way too long. However, those with patience will find some good in all of this. Not only that, but the music and animation are well done and make good use of high def set ups. Fans of CLAMP, horror and things of a general messed up nature would likely enjoy Blood C, though be aware that a movie is needed to finish the whole story. Score: 6.5 - Okay. (6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.)
Blood-C Review photo
More claret than your local winery
When I watched Blood C in Summer of 2011, I thought it was a show that had a lot of promise. It started out with the distinct feeling that something wasn't right in an idyllic town that was being pressed upon by nightmarish b...

Review: Kojiki by Keith Yatsuhashi

May 11 // Kristina Pino
KojikiPublished by: Musa PublishingWritten by: Keith YatsuhashiCover art: Kelly ShortenRelease date: April 19, 2013MSRP: US$5.99 [Buy - Musa] [Amazon] [Barnes&Noble] Though we are introduced to Keiko and then Yui as the main heroines, the book is formatted in such a way that each chapter, or section of a chapter, is narrated from the perspective of one (different) character a a time. We get to see a more complete (and complex) story unfold as we read about what's going on with different people around the same time. Keiko and Yui may be the main focus as characters, but I loved that the story is evenly spread out between many players.  Keiko and Yui are young, and have lived their loves very differently. Keiko has enjoyed a fully American lifestyle, far away from Japan and spirits and their kind. Yui is the youngest spirit, and has lived her life being trained for the eventuality of "The Weakening," an event which would herald the return of a once-great spirit who went mad and means to destroy the world. Everything is set in motion years and years before Keiko is born, but both she and Yui become integral parts of the struggle when she accidentally steps through a spiritual boundary in Tokyo and enconters the villain himself. This book was publicized as being inspired by Japanese anime, and I can confirm with absolute certainty that Keith has delivered in that respect. The imagery and descriptions are perfectly suited for it, and in my head everything played out, art-wise, like a cross between the style of Wakfu and Summer Wars. After reading Kojiki, I admittedly spent a little time imagining what an animated adaptation of the story might look like.  There are very few things that hold the book back. There is a heavy assumption being made by the author that his intended audience, presumably anime fans, are familiar with a few daily or commonly used phrases in Japanese. I feel like peppering character dialogue with a foreign language can work, but only if it's apparent to the reader what you are trying to say, regardless of their understanding of the real or made-up language tossed in there. The Japanese words weren't simply brought into dialogue, but also used in the general narrative, including one unnecessary instance of the term "gaijin" rather than sticking to "foreigner" or "non-Japanese."  That being said, it's a given that this book would appeal to fans of anime or enthusiasts of Japan in general. The story is compelling and falls into the realm of fantasy, although it largely takes place in the real world. Just add elemental guardian spirits like huge thunderbirds and fire dragons - basically lots of magic - and you've got the world as written by Keith here. Also, as I said earlier, there are call-backs in this story to the accounts in the original Kojiki, which adds a nice little myth/historical dimension for readers familiar with Japanese legends.  I read this book on Kindle, and you can purchase a copy directly from the publisher for only US$5.99 in any digital format. [8.5 – Great. Beautifully crafted; well-written, with a loving attention to detail. Among the best of its genre.]
Kojiki Review photo
A debut novel inspired by Japanese myth and anime
Kojiki is the title of an old Japanese text which attempts to explain where the islands of Japan came from. Among other things, it recounts the stories of the gods and their part in creating the land. I found that, while read...

Review: 100 YEN: The Japanese Arcade Experience

May 07 // Chris Walden
100 YEN: The Japanese Arcade ExperienceDirector: Brad CrawfordRelease Date: April 29, 2013Rating: NRPrice: $24.99 100 YEN focuses, predominantly, on three main phases of Japanese arcade evolution; shooting games, fighting games and rhythm games. Along the way, we are shown how the big hitting companies and their products affected how arcades were structured, with plenty of facts, examples and opinions to accompany the journey. Towards the end, the film shifts its focus onto US arcades, what they were like and how they have, or haven't, survived since their most popular days.  First and foremost this film hits the right spots, being both intriguing and in-depth enough to teach you some new things. No, this film doesn't spend forever talking about games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders, choosing not to dawdle on one point for too long before moving onto the next interesting nugget of information it has primed and ready. With arcades being such a broad topic it's to be expected, but it's refreshing to not have the film drag it's heels over any particular topic.  The documentary takes up an almost essay-like structure, with the narrator's dialogue being confirmed and built-upon by those that are interviewed. It's great to hear multiple opinions and views on the subject of arcades, and the scope of people interviewed is certainly broad and relevant. However, a minor gripe is that a lot of these opinions come from Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku, and while he certainly seems knowledgeable on the subject, he simply has too many lines in the film. Other guests such as Sega game designer, Tez Okano, and director of corporate planning for Taito, Kiyoshi Ishikawa, do not feature as prominently. There must have been a lot of work involved to secure interviews with these individuals, so it's a shame they don't get more of a chance to speak. It might sound a little odd to say so, but the presentation of the film is simply top notch. Everything from the fonts to the colours look great and in-line with the subject matter, and the partnering 3D scenes used to emphasise the evolution of arcades also works well. The 3D is also used in presenting data on occasion, which certainly beats the stale overuse of bar graphs and pie charts. The narration is also clearly spoken and concise, so the whole package appears exceedingly professional.  One of the greatest features of 100 YEN is that you get to see all kinds of different arcades, from small specialist arcades in Shibuya to the massive arcade hidden away in Takadanobaba (a personal favourite!). There are also a lot of places you will not have seen before, and each of these is mentioned specifically in the credits of the film. It would not be a bad idea for those planning to visit Japan to take a look for some ideas of where to visit, as you'll certainly be spoilt for choice. Doing interviews with one of the arcade owners and his insane bullet-hell-loving regular was also a great decision.  Unfortunately, a lot of the latter half of the film is, as mentioned previously, dedicated to the arcade influence in the US and how it currently exists long after the boom. It's a fascinating topic, that's for sure, but with the film already being rather short at 68 minutes, it's time that I feel should have been spent going further in depth with Japanese arcades. Indeed, there is plenty of material about US arcades and the rise of fighting tournaments like EVO to have its own dedicated documentary, so it was rather disappointing to see such a large portion of 100 YEN focusing on something not Japanese for so long. As related as the topic is, this was meant to be the Japanese Arcade Experience, after all. But honestly, don't let that put you off this documentary, as you'll definitely be missing out on a great experience. 100 YEN is a fascinating look at arcade history and its evolution in Japan, and it never fails to show how much hard work has been put into it at every turn. It certainly left me hungry for more, so I'll be keeping a close eye on Brad Crawford and the rest of the 100 YEN team with hope of similar projects in the future.  8.0 -- Great (A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.)
Review: 100 YEN photo
Worth more than your loose change.
It's saddening to admit that because of my age, the arcade boom in the west was long over before I was playing games. The idea of hanging out in a smoky room filled with bleeps and hums may not be too appealing to most people...

Review: Happy Family Plan

Apr 30 // Salvador GRodiles
Happy Family Plan (DVD)Studio: ShochikuLicensed By: New PeopleRelease Date: September 10, 2012MSRP: $29.99 [Buy] Happy Family Plans takes us into the life of Fujio Kawagiri, a salary man/father that works hard to supports his wife and two kids. Due to a situation that was connected to bribery, Fujio loses his job, which results in him having to relocate with his family to his wife’s parents’ house. The bad luck doesn't stop there, because Fujio gets scammed out of ¥ 2,000,000 when he tried to start a new business with his former boss. In an attempt to turn the family's luck around, Fujio’s son manages to enter him in the game show known as Happy Family Plan. Now Fujio has to complete a challenge that will put his family’s future on the line. While Fujio’s situation was unfortunate, the movie’s execution doesn't leave an emotional impact on its viewers throughout the first half of the film. To be fair, the negative elements in the film were used to symbolize the turmoil that comes from losing your place in the career world; hence the lack of a setup where we are left in tears or rage. Fujio ends up feeling like a useless character before he was given the opportunity to participate in Happy Family Plan, a game show that requires a member of the family to undergo a random challenge. Overall, the entire sequence failed to make me feel remorse for the film’s protagonist. However, there was still enough content to keep me interested in following Fujio's task. During his own dramas, his children are dealing with their own problems, due to the side effects of relocating to a different area. On one side, Fujio’s daughter is ditching school, because of bullying, and his son is having troubles with focusing on becoming good at baseball. Other than these issues, a good number of Happy Family Plan’s characters are overcoming their own demons while Fujio does his best to find the determination to succeed. Even though most of the issues aren't resolved in the movie, the film’s goal was to show you these problems for the sake of strengthening the event where Fuji tests his new skills. There’s also a bit of humor going around, since Fujio’s wife and her father have some of the most exaggerated reaction in the movie. Unlike Fujio, his wife, Yuko, has a strong and initiative side where she takes action to help her family survive. As for her father known as Yoshizo, he is depicted as a man who stays strong to his old fashioned routines. On top of that, there’s something entertaining about the way how he yells out each line in the movie. Even the game show’s host featured some charm to him, since he puts on an enthusiastic face in every scene that he was in. To an extent, the small doses of comedy shown in Happy Family Plan help bring some relief to the main conflicts at hand. For a movie that came out in the year 2000, Happy Family Plan doesn't look too bad. Considering tone and style of the movie, the staff does a great job in using the right camera angles that set the mood for a realistic theme. In a way, the shots are similar to those used in most TV drama, since it allows the viewers to get a good grasp of the character’s emotions and actions. Thanks, to the direction, writing, and skill of the actors, Happy Family Plan’s dialogue between characters In case you aren't familiar with most of the Japanese gestures and forms of etiquette present in the movie, Happy Family Plan comes with a second disk that has a feature about the elements of Japan’s culture that was used in the movie. These segments range from learning basic greetings and sayings, along with information about the food and locations that were featured in the film. As interesting as these features were, the language segment featured an annoying sounding narrator that’s trying too hard to be funny. Anyways, we also get a segment where we get a brief commentary of the movie’s themes through two different people. Last on the agenda, the extra disk features an interview with Happy Family Plan’s director, Tsutomu Aba, which focuses on him talking about the inspiration behind the film’s premise – you know, the usual director interview stuff.   Despite the lack of a good emotion grasp on the characters and premise, Happy Family Plan’s story in seeing Fujio achieve his goal leaves viewers with a sense of relief. The film’s main cast has their moments, and there’s a bit of lighthearted humor to go around. If you are in the mood for a family film that ends in a bittersweet manner, you might want to give Happy Family Plan a shot. And who knows, the story might inspire you to create your own plan to bring happiness to your family.  7.0 – Good. (Films or shows that get this score good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.)
Happy Family Plan photo
Can winning a game show bring true happiness to a troubled family?
Every day, I have counted down the hours until I get the chance to officially review a live-action movie or series for Japanator. All of the sudden, that day has come, and it appears in a form that I did not expect. Using an ...

A Look At: Ahoge Chanbara

Apr 25 // Elliot Gay
Ahoge Chanbara (iOS)Developer: M2Publisher: M2Release Date: March 3, 2013MSRP: Free ($2.99 for the full game) Ahoge Red is a young woman keen to learn the ways of the ahoge. After training long and hard as a disciple of Master Ahoge, she departs on a quest to find true enlightenment. Throughout her journey, she'll encounter ahoge warriors from all walks of life, learning lessons about what it truly means to practice the art of ahoge. What awaits her at the end of her journey? Who is her true enemy?! I suppose it's important to first define what an ahoge actually is. Often seen in anime and manga, ahoge refers to the sprig of hair popping out from the top of a character's head. Ahoge Chanbara plays with this design trait by taking it and morphing it into ridiculous shapes that defy gravity. You haven't lived until you've seen an ahoge that takes the form of a working chainsaw.  Ahoge Chanbara is not a terribly complicated game. By tapping the screen, Ahoge Red will stab her hair out at an opposing enemy. If you hold your finger down on the screen, she'll charge her attack, doing massive damage on impact. If it misses however, her hair gets stuck in the ground, leaving her vulnerable to an enemy's attack. Swiping your finger down the screen makes Ahoge Red dodge out enemy attack range. The combat system is all about reading your opponent's tells and faking them out. It's simple to learn, but by the final few chapters I found myself dying an almost laughable amount of times. Enemies have the same abilities (some stronger) as Ahoge Red, and the last few battles are both a test of endurance and stamina. After defeating an opponent, you're given the opportunity to pluck their ahoge off of their head as a reward for your victory. This simple yet difficult gameplay makes Ahoge Chanbara a perfect fit for iOS. Where Ahoge Chanbara really shines is in its hilarious writing and localization. Characters with giant plants and weapons on their heads spout out ridiculous lines that wouldn't be out of place in a Shonen Jump property. References to all kinds of pop culture favorites are littered throughout the game. Ahoge Chanbara doesn't take itself even remotely seriously, but by pretending to do so, it's all the more funny. I can't even remember the last time I laughed so hard at a video game, never mind an iOS title. Ahoge Chanbara also keeps tabs on which ahoge you've collected through the "Ahoge Workbook." Each ahoge you've obtained has a paragraph-long description that defies all logic and reason (for the better). It's completely worth your time to go through and try to collect all 58 available chunks of hair. Screenshots don't actually do Ahoge Chanbara much justice: it's a surprisingly well animated game. Characters move fluidly and each have their own strange quirks. The ahoge designs are simple but appropriately weird, and the whole shebang is colorful and fun to look at. Much to my surprise, the story mode also features quite a few CG stills as well. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the absolute killer soundtrack, composed by Jaelyn Nisperos (KOKUGA OST Remix track). A mix of high tempo beats and chiptune-esque tunes, I completely understand why the OST is available as a download on the Official Site. Even if you have no interest in Ahoge Chanbara, I recommend you check out the soundtrack. Ahoge Chambara is strange, funny, and a great way to waste time on your phone. It's a charming action game that completely justifies its $2.99 asking price. After spending a great deal of time during bus commutes furiously tapping my iPhone's screen, I feel as though I've come away enlightened. The ahoge is not to be feared, but embraced. Love, peace, and the ahoge way.
Ahoge Chanbara photo
May ahoge toil upon the earth and take root!
Developed for iOS devices by M2, Ahoge Chanbara is a story of justice, love, and the ahoge way. It's a tale of revenge, redemption, and a stirring reminder of what makes us human. It's an experience that pats you lovingly on ...

Review: Ys I & II Chronicles+

Apr 22 // Elliot Gay
Ys I & II Chronicles+ (PC/Steam)Developer: Nihon FalcomPublisher: XSEEDRelease Date: February 14, 2013MSRP: $14.99 Young and fearless adventurer, Adol Christin, finds himself shipwrecked on the mysterious island of Esteria. Surrounded by a wall of storms trapping its citizens within, Esteria has had a bit of a monster problem as of late. With the ominous Darm Tower seemingly active again, Adol takes on the monumental task of uncovering the secret behind the reappearing monsters, and saving the people of Esteria. In the process, he might just find the truth behind the land of Ys, an ancient civilization that mysteriously vanished hundreds of years ago.  Falcom's Ys games aren't known for their engaging or complex stories, and the first two entries in the series are no different. Ys I in particular is a very light experience, with supporting characters who appear only to say a line or two before disappearing entirely. You'll spend a decent amount of time talking to each and every villager in order to figure out what your next objective is, as the game very rarely spells things out for you. The world itself, essentially an open field with some dungeons and a couple of towns, is quite small. As a result, there's a lot of backtracking through familiar areas. Fortunately, Adol moves super quickly, so it never takes too long to get where you need to go. While still beatable, the game becomes extremely difficult if you don't obtain a certain set of items. Ys I expects you to be extremely observant, which is a quality that a lot of recent video games lack.   Ys II however is a much larger game with a bigger cast of characters, more dialogue, and even a few plot twists to boot. It is much clearer about how it directs you, and you'll rarely find yourself lost. Towns are plentiful, and the whole thing is a more impressive experience. Adol is now able to transform into a demon, allowing him to talk with every single enemy monster in the game. It's a ridiculous feature, and even now I'm still blown away by how much optional dialogue there is. These little details help to flesh out the game world, and make for a much more compelling narrative overall. Many characters still only have a few lines each, but the whole shebang is grander. Unlike the more modern Ys games, I & II are remarkably simple games. Save for the use of magic, attacking enemies is as simple as running into them. The bump system that the original Ys games employ can be frustrating at first; receiving damage for slamming straight into an enemy is a mistake many players will make. Once you get the hang of it though, very few things beat the feeling of smashing Adol through a group of enemies, and watching their bodies explode into tiny pieces. Boss battles are tough and plentiful, and the inclusion of the bump system means that you'll constantly be trying to weave in and out of attacks in order to get a hit in. At times, especially in Ys II, it almost feels like you're playing a bullet hell shooter as you try to avoid death in the form of nonstop laser attacks. Visually, Ys I & II are beautiful looking 2D games with some cool little flourishes. The first game struggles with bland environments due to its short length (half the game takes place in a single tower), but its sequel has a wide variety of locations and enemy types. Boss enemies are big and animate well, and the game makes use of scrolling layers to great effect. Chronicles+ also gives players the option to switch back to the character artwork from the older Ys Eternal PC release, for folks who prefer the previous character designs. No, these aren't big budget 3D games, but they don't have to be.  The JDK sound team puts in an A+ effort here, with a soundtrack that will have you cranking up the volume as you smash through enemies left and right. The Chronicles+ soundtrack is unchanged from the PSP release, but given how spectacular it was, that's not exactly a problem. Crazy guitar sounds duel with violins in what is one of my favorite overall video game soundtracks. Fans of the older versions of Ys I & II can switch to the PC88 or Eternal versions at any time as well. There are tons of options here, catering to longtime Falcom fans.  The first two Ys games have seen many releases over the past twenty years. Some good and others terrible, things finally came to a head with the 2009 Japanese release of Ys I & II Chronicles for the PSP. It was a great remake with a host of improvements over its precursors, but as Falcom fans are well aware, the Ys games made the PC their home for a long time. Chronicles would eventually make its way to Japanese PCs, though sadly it was through a shoddy port with a slew of issues, many of which had to do with the fact that it was essentially a straight port of the PSP version. Fortunately, XSEED made some big changes that do a lot to fix those problems. Chronicles+ features a wide variety of screen options, fixing what was the biggest issue with the original PC port. Players can choose from filtered or non-filtered options, the latter for folks who like to see their pixels onscreen. Both options look fantastic, though I actually prefer non-filtered for its rougher look. The game has two distinct display modes, "Complete" and "Chronicles." The latter is essentially the PSP version, widescreen but with a smaller viewing space. The "Complete" version frames the action in some beautiful Ys art, and provides a larger field of view, placing your stats on the bottom of the screen. In my opinion, this is the best way to play the game, and I'm pleased as punch that it was included in this release. It's nice to see that Ys is finally getting the respect it deserves out west. The first two games are true classics that, despite their age, are still a blast to play even now. You might find yourself wondering where to go at times, but these are games that hold up strong against the test of time. With the Ys IV remake, Ys: Memories of Celceta hitting North America later this year, what better place to start catching up than with the first two games?  Ys I & II Chronicles+ is an important piece of gaming history, and anybody with a deep love for action RPGs owes it to themselves to download a copy off of Steam. 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Ys I & II Chronicles+ photo
The definitive version of two beloved classics.
You may not realize this, but Ys I & II are video game classics that the action RPGs of today owe a helluva lot to.  Up until XSEED's partnership with Falcom, the developers of Ys, North America's exposure to th...

Review: Devil Survivor Overclocked

Apr 19 // Chris Walden
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS)Developer: AtlusPublisher: Atlus/GhostlightRelease date: August 23, 2011 (NA), September 1, 2011 (JP), March 29, 2013 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Devil Survivor Overclocked begins with the protagonist, along with his two friends Atsuro and Yuzu, obtaining strange devices known as COMPs from another friend. While they are trying to work out just why they've been given the devices, they discover that they possess the power to summon demons, predict the future and all sorts of other weird things. Most notably, the protagonist notices that everyone has a death clock, meaning he can see how many days they have left to live. After they become trapped within a quarantine zone, they end up having to fight with demons just to stay alive. While the biggest draw for this game is more than likely coming from its series history and publisher, fans of the tactical RPG genre will certainly have their interest piqued. There have been a few tactics games on the 3DS so far, but games like Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars just didn't satisfy the desire for a good Nintendo outing on the new handheld. What is most interesting is not that it’s a competent tactical RPG, but rather that it shakes up the existing formula in such a way to make battles very intense. Playable characters are allowed to take up to two demons into battle, each of which will have their own stats, strengths, weaknesses and skills to offer to the user. These two demons and their human leader form a three-member squad, and you can eventually bring four of these into battle with you. While you'll likely be using duplicates of some demons early on in the game, you'll soon be hunting out the rare ones for their abilities. As there are so many abilities available, having access to as many as possible across different squads will only help your chances. There are some abilities, like the very useful Demon Speed, that effect only the human that possesses the demon that knows the ability. Others, such as the healing spell Charm, can be used on other individuals or whole squads, providing they are within a certain range of the demon using it. You'll likely end up with each squad having access to abilities like Demon Speed, but you can start being more selective with what abilities you choose to bring in to battles if they can affect other squads. Being able to use these abilities regardless of whether you have entered battle or not with that party means that it's always going to be something worth perfecting. You can also learn abilities by defeating certain enemies using the Crack Skill option in battles, so you'll seen have a large catalogue of these to choose from. Demons won't just join your party, rather you must attend an auction and buy them for use in battle. They don't seem to mind fighting other demons for you so long as you give them that initial payment, but always feel kind of mean when I buy the services of a demon just to fuse it with another. I'm sure that there's a morality issue here, but as long as you end up with a kickass monster that outclasses all the enemy monsters, who cares! Outside of battles you'll find yourself hopping between different locations in Tokyo to initiate conversations or to find another battle to fight in. It's very similar to a visual novel in this respect, as you're given plenty of dialogue between art of participating characters, as well as the odd decision to make here and there. The game does a great job of pointing you in the right direction if you just want to race through the story, but you may find yourself struggling if you don't participate in non-story battles every so often. These won't expire either, so you can continue to rack up experience for as long as you feel it is necessary. Repeating the same battles isn't ideal, however, as the monsters won't change until you do some of the story missions. If the monsters don't change, you won't have any new skills to learn via Skill Crack. If you just want pure experience, then sure, why not? The music is certainly an interesting point to comment on, as while some music is fun and catchy, there are also some really terrible tracks that sound like they've been ripped from a MIDI website. It also sounds incredibly compressed, something I believe is a remnant of the original DS version of this game. You would think that the quality could be upped a little with all that space on the 3DS version, but there you go. The battle theme is a really good tune to get you nicely pumped up, but it's probably the worst offender of sounding like a bad quality audio clip. The English dubbing is certainly inoffensive, with characters like Atsuro and Haru having good, believable voices. However, I do find that Yuzu, who is a main character, has a really irritating voice that is typical of most English-voiced female anime characters. It's pretty uninspiring, which is a shame when Atsuro's voice works pretty well. Weirdly, the audio seems a little out of balance. The voicing seems to be of a decent volume, but most of the music, especially during battles, seems way too quiet. One of the most disappointing areas of Devil Survivor Overclocked is with its art, as the absolute mismatch in demon designs really brings the game down. The human characters, clearly designed by Suzuhito Yasuda of Durarara!! and Yozakura Quartet fame, look really good, having had plenty of time dedicated to being perfected and refined. Some of the demons look pretty cool, but it's very obvious that their art was done by several different people. Some are very 3D looking, some are cartoony, and some are just plain confusing to understand. Sure, it won't affect actual gameplay, but you would certainly expect a higher bar of quality for a game in such a popular series. What baffles me about the 3DS re-release is that there is barely any usage of 3DS technology. I've found only a handful of screens will give you 3D when you turn up the slider, meaning it both looks and feels like a regular DS game. Overclocked boasts more demons than the original game, as well as an eighth day (compared to the seven in the original games), so there certainly is some new content locked away in the game cart, but reading that it also has higher resolution art just makes me wonder how it looked originally.  Of course, it wouldn't be a complete review without mentioning some of the unfortunate EU bugs and issues. Some are very minor, in particular that some of the demons still contain underscores between both parts of their names (for example Moh_Shuvuu), where there has been an error pulling the names from the game code. One game breaking bug is completely unavoidable, as it only occurs in the auction and there is no way to see it coming as it involves hidden stats. One of the most irritating involves the Summon skill, which allows you to swap one of your knocked out demons during battle for one in your reserves. Imagine having a 3v3 Pokémon battle with a friend, but you had an ability that let you swap one of your knocked out Pokémon for one in your box, without having to give up your attack. It's an extremely useful ability, and unfortunately the game will freeze up if you try and use it. Luckily it will eventually unfreeze itself, just be prepared for about five minutes of waiting around while resisting the temptation to switch your game off. If you're playing the EU version, be sure to save frequently. There is so much to be desired from the art, the voicing and the music, not to mention getting a patch for all these bugs. Saying the game was rough around the edges earlier on is certainly a nice way of putting it, but don't worry all that much about the negatives if you enjoy this particular genre of games. Hidden beneath these nasties is a really fun and genuinely exciting tactical RPG, just be fully prepared for what is in store. 7.0 -- Good (This game could have been destined for greatness, but it was held back by some unfortunate flaws. While some may not enjoy it, fans of the genre will definitely have a blast.)
Review: Devil Survivor photo
Baka survivor.
Devil Survivor Overclocked has certainly seen a rocky release here in Europe, finally landing in the laps of desperate Atlus fans well over a year after the rest of the world. What's more, the eventual launch was hampered wit...

Review: A Certain Magical Index Season 1

Apr 18 // Salvador GRodiles
A Certain Magical Index Season 1: Part 1 and Part 2 (DVD)Studio: J.C. StaffLicensed by: FUNimationRelease Date: December 11, 2012 MSRP: Part 1: $64.98 [$38.99], Part 2: $59.98 [$35.99]  Welcome to Academy City, a metropolis where people are free to develop their abilities as espers. Based on your level of power each person is given a ranking, with zero being the lowest and five being the highest. In this series based on a light novel by Kazuma Kamachi, we follow the adventures of an unlucky teenage boy that goes by the name of Toma. During his usual routine, he runs into a girl dressed in a nun’s outfit that’s in position that looks like she fell from the sky.  With sorcerers chasing after Toma’s new found hindrance...err friend, his new encounter will put him in a greater heap of trouble than before. Despite Toma’s meeting sounding like the setup to a generic story, Index has the right ingredients in creating a fun filled adventure. In regards to our special nun character known as Index, she’s equipped with the ability to memorize something permanently, which plays an important role in the burden that Toma must shoulder. While her ability sounds very convenient, the higher ups in her group made her memorize 103,000 books that contain every spell in existence. Thus making her the target of every evil sorcerer that wishes to extract her knowledge. Even when you think that Index’s story is going to be a game of cat and mouse, the truth behind Necassarius (The group Index is part of) and our first set of adversaries help cook up some new ways to keep viewers hooked on the recent happenings in Academy City. In fact, Index dives into other strange happenings and events that go beyond Index’s situation (Such as a mysterious experiment to create the strongest epsers and a sorceress that wishes to create a war between Necassarius and the residents of Academy City), which acts as a means to set us up for the next season. And acting as the trump card in each segment is our hero Toma, since his power known as the Imagine Breaker allows him to cancel special abilities with his right hand. Besides his special right hand, Toma is also equipped with the ultimate lecture punch. In all seriousness, the punch may not be a special technique, but there’s something about the timing of it that somehow leaves me at the edge of my seat each time. That said, each arc in the series does a great job in building up towards Toma’s climatic dialogue. However, the real draw to Toma's finisher is the sheer delight that comes from seeing him figure out his opponent's weakness. Other than that, we are also exposed to his everyday antics with Index, which tend to be rather silly. From my experience with J.C. Staff’s works, I rarely have an issue with their animation, since they have a balanced style that can range from decent to good looking. For a show that came out in 2008, Index’s visuals have aged pretty well, thanks to J.C. Staff’s choice with blending their colors and lighting in a decent manner. While the visuals didn't give me the same feeling that I got from watching Waiting in the Summer, Index mostly shines in the timing and effects used for the esper and sorcerer abilities, which manage to show off the sheer effectiveness of each move thrown into battle. I will admit that one of J.C. Staff’s biggest flaws with the animation and artwork is that the animators forgot to erase the eyelashes that are suppose to be covered up by the person's hair. Silly enough, this is a thing that happens frequently throughout the series. All in all, this is only a minor issue that can be overlooked by a good number of viewers.  In regards to the show’s audio, the original Japanese track and FUNimation’s dub are tied in the battle of preferences this time around. Atsushi Abe (Moritaka from Bakuman) and Yuka Iguchi (Tsukihi from Bakemonogatari) both do a good job in fleshing out the relationship between Toma and Index; however, my first impression of Micah Solusod's (Hiraga from Baka and Test) voice work as Toma drove me towards sticking with the show's English dub. Other than Micah’s work, Monica Rial’s (Shiro from Deadman Wonderland) voice is a perfect match for Index’s playful and curious personality. On top of that, Brittney Karbowski’s (Black Star from Soul Eater) work as Misaka won me over when she made the railgun line to Toma during their first encounter. Before I ramble on about my other favorite roles, I felt that FUNimation did a great job with Index's dub, since I was still at the edge of my seat during the show's major moments. As a person that gets emotional over certain pieces of fiction, I think that Index’s dub covers those important grounds. And speaking of which, both sets come with a series of commentary tracks where Micah, Monica, Brittney, Jad Saxton (Komoe Tsukuyomi), Zach Bolton (Index’s English Voice Director), Robert McCollum (Stiyl Magnus), Cole Brown (Heaven Canceller aka Dr. Frog), Austin Tindle (Accelerator), Alexis Tipdon (Hyoka Kazakiri), and Stephanie Young (Sherry Cromwell) talk about their experience with the project. Since that’s one heck of a huge cast for an extra, the commentary tracks are split into four segments – two per set, with each track containing two or more commentators. If you like to hear the show’s team talk about cats, make fun of their own roles, and/or converse about how their fans predicted their roles, then you will have loads of fun with the random conversations shown in the tracks. A Certain Magical Index opens up to a world that features both comedic and dramatic moments in a well written manner. As long as you can roll with the complex terms tossed throughout most episodes, there is a huge chance that you will enjoy Toma's misadventures where his luck gets worse with each passing day. While the story acts as a setup for things to come, Index’s ending still leaves you on a satisfying note, so that you can patiently wait for the next season (Aka the one that's supposed to be convoluted.).   8.0 – Great.  A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
A Certain Magical Index photo
When a problem comes along, you must punch it in the face
Before I took on the task of watching A Certain Magical Index, I was told that the series evolves into one giant convoluted mess. With the exception of a few terms, the show’s first season doesn't feature anyt...

Review: Little Witch Academia

Apr 13 // Elliot Gay
Little Witch AcademiaStudio: TriggerRelease Date: March 2, 2013 (Japan) Akko Kagari is a young witch who has aspired to be like her idol, Shiny Chariot, since she was a small child. Not being born of witch blood, she struggles with learning the same techniques that come so easily to her classmates. One day, the class takes a trip to a dungeon below the school, filled with monsters. Their teacher instructs them to go on a hunt for treasure, with the team that brings back the most being declared the winner. Things get out of hand, and Akko is forced to face her dreams head on. Little Witch Academia is an underdog story that wraps itself up quite nicely within its brief 26 minute runtime. Akko is a stubborn, but hardworking protagonist that's easy to relate to. Everyone has felt like an outsider at some point. We've all had something to prove at one time or another, and Academia's protagonist embodies these traits. In an OVA as short as this one, it's important that the audience is able to lath onto the characters in as little time as possible. In that sense, I think main writer Masahiko Otsuka did a fantastic job of bringing the cast to life.  The supporting characters don't get a whole lot of time to flex their muscle, which means they have to make as big an impact as possible in a very small period of time. Akko's rival, Diana, seems like a typical rich-girl sort of character, but backs up her snobbiness via her legitimate magic skills. She's not stupid, and it makes her a fun character to watch Akko bicker with. Susshy, one of Akko's best friends, doesn't have a wealth of lines, but she makes a strong impression with her terrifying magic and goth personality. Unfortunately, Lotte's just kind of there, serving as the straight character to Akko and Susshy's oddness. A feast for the eyes from beginning to end, Little Witch Academia truly begins to shine when you dissect its shot composition and animation. The opening sequence features a young Akko attending a performance by her witch idol, Shiny Chariot, and functions as both an introduction to the world, and a technical showcase. Shiny Chariot moves about the screen with incredible life, her vibrant magic twisting and spiraling around her. The final set piece, an all out battle, is animated action filmmaking at its finest. With key animation handled by six (sometimes more) animators, there is rarely a moment in Little Witch Academia that fails to impress on a technical level. The art style also manages to impress by neither being overly cute or mature, instead balancing between the two. The end effect is an impressive looking OVA that avoids alienating potential audiences. Director Yoh Yoshinari and his team also avoid resorting to easy fanservice to appeal to viewers. There are multiple points during which I expected panty shots, only for them to never come at all. Given the tone of the production, I would have been disappointed by that kind of needless pandering, so to say I was overjoyed would be an understatement. Quite a few Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann veterans lent their talents to Little Witch Academia, and it shows. Shot choice is refreshing, with careful thought put into foreground and background composition. This is a film-level production at its core, and it shows in the way things are framed. Action sequences also feature great choreography; characters are easy to track, and there's a fantastic sense of energy and movement in every shot.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Michiru Oshima's (Full Metal Alchemist, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.) excellent score. Being a relatively short production, Little Witch Academia doesn't have a huge soundtrack, but what's there is great. The main theme is a stirring and emotional piece that supports the underdog narrative effectively. Oshima doesn't get as much animation work these days as I'd like, so just getting to hear her flex her muscle again is a pleasure. Trigger's Little Witch Academia may be brief, but it's fun, exciting, engaging, and a reminder of the kind of quality OVAs that used to be so common back in the 80s and 90s. It's a simple tale of a young girl trying to overcome a giant wall, told in the grandest of fashions. It's proof that there are some incredibly talented young people in the anime industry, just waiting to get their chance to shine. I can't wait to see what they bring to the table next. Little Witch Academia is an excellent trip worth taking for any fan of animation.  8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Little Witch Academia photo
A fantastic OVA with a wonderful sense of adventure.
The Young Animator Training Project launched in 2010, designed to help push younger animators to stretch their muscles a bit and put their skills on display. This year's program, dubbed Anime Mirai 2013, featured entries from...

Import Review: Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney

Apr 04 // Elliot Gay
Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (Nintendo 3DS)Developer: Level-5, CapcomPublisher: Level-5Release Date: November 29, 2012 (Japan)MSRP: 3,595 Yen ($39.99) It's just another evening at Professor Layton's office, as he and his self proclaimed apprentice Luke prepare to lock up for the night. Just before they head out, a mysterious girl named Mahone comes to their door seeking help. Possessing a strange, allegedly magical book, the girl is being pursued by some otherworldly force.  Elsewhere, Phoenix Wright and his psychic assistant Maya are on their way to England on business. Through a series of unfortunate events, the hapless pair find themselves in court, defending a high school girl named Mahone. Something feels off about the the case though; Mahone is unresponsive, and her guardian requests that Phoenix lose the trial on purpose. Just what exactly is going on?  Despite being a crossover game, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney makes an admirable attempt to tell a compelling story. You see, these kinds of franchise crossovers often come with the caveat that the narrative has to be incomprehensible junk; a simple excuse to bring two or more video game worlds together. Some series don't try or need to provide justification for it (Marvel vs Capcom), but in the case of Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, the entire game sinks or swims based on how well its written. An Ace Attorney title with a poor story or weak characters is nothing more than a disappointment. Similarly, while Professor Layton games focus heavily on the puzzle elements, they have a large fan base that also follows the series for its cast of characters. So how exactly do you satisfy these two groups of fans, while also making a game that stays true to both franchises? Rather than relying on multidimensional portals or hackneyed excuses as to why these two franchises can come together, Shu Takumi (Ace Attorney) and his staff keep it simple. Layton lives in England and Phoenix lives in Japan. There's absolutely no reason why the two of them can't meet, which lends Layton vs AA consistency in terms of its overall narrative. These are the characters you know and love, and it feels surprisingly natural to see them interact and work together on screen. Professor Layton's wisdom and confidence complement Phoenix Wright's goofy underdog personality in ways that play with player expectations. Likewise, Luke and Maya are adorable together, forming something of an older sister/little brother bond. Bringing Shu Takumi, on board was clearly the right decision, as he manages to make these crossover relationships feel natural. Like any good Ace Attorney or Professor Layton game worth its salt, the supporting cast is filled with quirky characters that round out Labyrinth City. In an interesting style choice, the city's inhabitants are mostly of a Layton-esque design. The main witnesses, however, are more along the line of Ace Attorney characters. It's an interesting juxtaposition that works better in practice than it does on paper.  The heroine Mahone is the single biggest disappointment in the cast. She's a mostly generic damsel in distress with a boring personality and a backstory that just isn't all that interesting. Despite much of the narrative revolving around her, Mahone is best used when she isn't actually in the spotlight. Fortunately, the overall narrative is fairly compelling, even if the final act gets pretty crazy. I take my hypothetical hat off to anybody who manages to predict the outcome of the final trial. It jumps the shark, and I can see it leaving people feeling a bit cold. So Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney somehow manages to come together on a narrative level, but what about the gameplay? This is where I think people might need to temper their expectations. The game is divided into two very clear sections: the Layton part, and the Ace Attorney part. The different gameplay in both sections never really comes together in a cohesive way, which is something of a disappointment. When you're outside of the courtroom, exploration and investigation plays out exactly as one would expect from a Professor Layton game. There are plenty of puzzles to solve, though those required to progress through the story are relatively simple. I can see Layton veterans being disappointed with how easy the main puzzles are, though I never really touched the optional or DLC ones. The other half of the game takes place in the courtroom, where things play out like an Ace Attorney game. The only character you'll ever be controlling here is Phoenix, though Layton, Luke, Maya, and a few others appear to help you out from time to time. Since Labyrinth City exists in a world without science, things like DNA, finger printing and the like don't exist. As a result, Phoenix and the others have to play by the rules of the natives, making for some interesting situations in which you're forced to use a magic book in order to deduce how a crime was committed. One of the new elements that Layton vs AA brings to the table are the multi-witness testimonies. Instead of questioning a single person, as many as ten witnesses will testify at the same time. It doesn't change trials too significantly, but it helps to keep things feeling fresh. On the whole, I found the Ace Attorney sections to be the strongest portions of gameplay. Ace Attorney games have never been particularly lavish productions. Much of their visual oomph can be attributed to the combination of smart sound effect usage and dynamic posing. Professor Layton games on the other hand have always benefited from decent sized budgets and Level 5's attention to detail. With much of the proper development handled by Level 5, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney reaps those same benefits; the game is quite the looker. I was skeptical of the switch to 3D character models, and while I still think the Ace Attorney 5 characters animated better, Layton vs AA pulls off the change better than I expected. As an AA fan, it was a real treat seeing courtroom battles unfold in a more lively, animated fashion. The UI, while a bit cluttered, is sprinkled with colorful artwork and an attention to detail rarely afforded to in-game menus. On the bottom screen of the 3DS, little pixel art versions of the characters move around a beautiful map of the city as you travel from place to place. It's those kinds of little details that help the game world come alive. While Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney may be beautiful to look at, it's the soundtrack that really shines. A mix of styles, the score is heavy on orchestral themes that vary depending on which gameplay side players are on. Trials have a more Ace Attorney inspired sound to them, while the Layton puzzles boast themes that should be instantly familiar to series fans. A few musical themes from both game franchises make the jump into Layton vs AA, though the vast majority of music is brand new.  Sadly, the voice acting is a bit more hit or miss. Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, like most Level-5 productions, is not fully voiced. Important story moments and animated cutscenes all contain voiced characters, but trials and investigation segments are for the most part silent. When the cast does start talking however, things begin to fall apart. Level-5 frequently employs actual film and TV actors for their games, which tends to go pretty poorly. In Layton vs AA's case, they brought in Hiroki Narimiya and Mirei Kiritani to play Phoenix and Maya respectively. Both performers also played the same characters in the live action adaptation of Ace Attorney, but neither of them have any real experience as voice actors. Line delivery is stilted, especially in Phoenix's case, and it often clashes with the characters played by veteran voice actors. In retrospect, I would have preferred no voice acting at all, as it was more than enough to pull me out of a dramatic scene. To be honest, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney. Crossover games have always left me feeling cold, and I didn't have any reason to believe this would be any different. I'm always happy to be proven wrong though, and that's exactly what Shu Takumi and the teams at Capcom Level-5 have done. It may not be best in class for either franchise, but Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney serves as a strong reminder as to why people fell in love with these series in the first place.  The wait for Ace Attorney 5 just got a whole lot harder. 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
Layton vs AA review photo
No objections to this crossover.
Even after watching the end credits roll, it's hard to believe that Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney even exists. I don't think anybody could have ever expected Level-5 and Capcom to collaborate on a crossover game featuring ...

Import Review: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

Apr 03 // Elliot Gay
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (Theatrical release)Studio: Toei AnimationRelease Date: March 30, 2013 (Japan) Taking place between the end of the Buu saga (chapter 517) and the final chapter (518) of the original manga, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods tells the story of the ruthless God of Destruction, Bills. Waking from his 39 year slumber, Bills is startled to discover that the diabolical Freeza has been defeated by a mere Saiyan. Before settling into his long rest, he had seen a vision that one day a Super Saiyan God would stand before him in battle. Excited by the prospect of an all-out brawl, Bills sets off for Earth in search of his ultimate rival. Back at Capsule Corp., Bulma is holding a massive birthday party for herself. All of the Z warriors are present save for Goku, who's off training with King Kai. The celebration takes a turn for the worst when Bills and his assistant Wiss arrive in search of the Super Saiyan God. With the Earth's fate in the hands of a fickle God, Vegeta is forced to step in and tend to Bills every request. The clock is counting down, but will Goku be enough to stand against the most powerful being in the universe? To say that Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is light on story would be an understatement. Bills wakes up, goes to a party, eats some food, and then engages in a final battle. The events of the film wrap up in a single day, and because we as viewers know how this story ends, there's absolutely no threat of losing a single character. Battle of Gods lacks any kind of dramatic tension, and doesn't really ever try to create any at all. This new film also makes no effort to try and reintroduce the cast, assuming that at this point everybody and their mother knows who these men, women, and children are. Even the so-called Super Saiyan God is a disappointment, coming off as pointless and lazily designed. The pacing is quite terrible, with long stretches of time devoted to side characters running around trying to steal the Dragon Balls. Despite being a brisk 90 minutes long, Battle of Gods could have easily been trimmed down into a 60 or 70 minute feature. Yet when I walked out of the theater, I was still smiling like an idiot. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods doesn't tell a good story, but it seems like director Masahiro Hosoda never set out to do that in the first place. Battle of Gods is a celebration of Dragon Ball's long history. Every major character makes an appearance and gets at least one chance to take the spotlight. Even Emperor Pilaf and his two cronies are given a sizable chunk of screen time, reminding viewers of DBZ's humble beginnings. Rather than tell a dark and dramatic story, Toei Animation opted to make a light hearted, joke-filled film. The characters bounce off one another well, making references to prior events and acknowledging different moments in the franchise's history.  If you've ever considered yourself a Dragon Ball Z fan, you'll find yourself laughing much more than you probably ever expected you would. The characters are as you remembered them, though Son Goku actually gets fairly little screen time or interaction with the rest of the cast. He spends most of the film training or out of commission, which leaves the burden of being the main protagonist on Vegeta's shoulders for 75% of the movie's runtime. Fortunately, the antihero handles the pressure admirably, and comes out as the most memorable part of Battle of Gods. His attempts to calm Bills' rage are some of the funniest scenes in the film. Sadly, Bills is something of a mixed bag. Despite being billed (no pun intended) as the God of Destruction, he's hardly the evil antagonist DBZ fans are used to. Even when he threatens to destroy the Earth, Bills never comes off as threatening because he spends most of Battle of Gods' runtime eating food and partying with the Z warriors. His overall design leaves much to be desired as well; a skinny purple rabbit isn't exactly how I had envisioned a world destroying God. Sadly,  Battle of Gods is not a looker. Often darting between mediocre and terrible, rarely does the animation quality ever seem remotely close to being film level. There are some flashes of brilliance; watching Goku and Bills engage in a high speed chase through the clouds is exhilarating. Much to my chagrin, these moments are few and far between, replaced with inconsistently drawn characters, unimpressive action sequences, and awkward CG that at times resembles flash animation. One five second scene was so poorly drawn and animated that my friend and I burst out laughing in the theater because it was so out of place. Previous Dragon Ball Z films have done action significantly better than this. The other massive disappointment comes from the soundtrack, composed by Norihito Sumitomo (Asura, Shikabane Hime: Kuro). Battle of Gods' score is bland and generic, with the only recognizable tunes being rearrangements of the original Cha-la Head Cha-la. I find it bewildering that Toei didn't bring back Shunsuke Kikuchi (DBZ), especially considering how iconic his music in the original series was. The film is a celebration of the franchise in a lot of ways, but Toei really missed a golden opportunity here. The new version of Cha-la Head Cha-la by Flow isn't awful, but it can't even begin to compare to the original theme. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is not a good film. I can't in good conscience recommend it to someone who has never enjoyed DBZ. The writing is a mess, the pacing is awful, the animation is subpar, and the soundtrack is a complete disappointment. Even amongst the DBZ films, it doesn't rank very highly. That being said, if you've ever enjoyed the series, Battle of Gods will make you smile and laugh. You'll remember a time when watching a couple of spiky haired guys scream at each other as a planet explodes was the best kind of entertainment out there.  Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is a 90 minute stroll down memory lane that never aspires to be anything more than that. A good friend of mine summed up the experience quite well: "it sucked, but it was awesome." I suppose after a seventeen year hiatus, that's enough for me. 5.0 – Average. This one’s just “okay”. It has many flaws, and just couldn’t follow through on its intentions or had ones that were simply too narrow to warrant consideration. Some will still enjoy it, but should temper their expectations, or perhaps just opt to pass. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.
DBZ Battle of Gods Review photo
A purple rabbit versus a spiky haired macho man!
I spent a good portion of my childhood devouring anything with the Dragon Ball Z brand on it. School would end, and I'd rush home to catch the latest episode of the Cell Saga on Cartoon Network's Toonami block. Everyday ...

Review: Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings - The Last Party

Mar 11 // Salvador GRodiles
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings - The Last Party Blu-ray/DVD Combo (DVD reviewed)Studio: Production IGLicensed by: FUNimationRelease date: November 6, 2012MSPR: $34.98 [Buy] In spite of my risky maneuver, The Last Party starts off with a brief recap that covers the battles against Nobunaga Oda and Hideyoshi, as Date Masamune and Sanada Yukimura play an important role in both wars. Once we move on to the newer content, the story then focuses on Ieyasu Tokugawa’s plan to unite the regions of Japan; however, there is also a sinister group that’s plotting something behind the shadows. On top of that, a swordsman known as Ishida Mitsunari  is on a deadly rampage to avenge the death of Hideyoshi, which is being geared towards Date Masamune. Now that the pieces are put into place, the entire cast is ready to put their guns on for one last party -- see what I did there. I normally find recaps to be a waste of time in any medium, but Last Party’s decision in placing one in the beginning was helpful in getting the gist of the story. Honestly, when it comes to a movie that’s supposed to wrap up the story, the time space should have been filled with content that’s related to the film’s main plot. That said, Sengoku Basara: The Last Party suffers from the condition of misusing its valuable time. While Ieyasu, Date, Sanada, and Ishida were the film’s main focus, it felt that we were missing an important piece that’s supposed to link the major events together.  In all honesty, the ones who suffered the most were the movie’s villains, since they weren’t given enough screen time for viewers to soak in their motives and personalities. One example lies with newcomer Otani Yoshitsugu, whose change of heart in the film felt like it was thrown in for the sake of Ishida’s development. Since both characters are new to this installment, viewers missed out on some important grounds from Samurai Heroes that would have justified Otani's actions. To top it all off, the movie is missing a few key characters from Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, such as the magical girl archer known as Tsuruhime. Then again, the story is meant to be told as a 95 minute long movie, so the removal a few characters is inevitable. If The Last Party was made into third TV season of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings instead, then we might have gotten a well-organized festivity that features a good chunk of Samurai Heroes’s goodness.  If there’s one thing that Last Party gets right, it’s the fact that Production IG lets loose with the dynamic action packed battles and dialogue that manages to do great justice to the source material. As you witness weapons clash, there is a strong feeling of manliness that fills the screen. In fact, Sengoku Basara: The Last Party disregards all logic when you see an important character cross swords with each other, due to the colorful effects and extreme maneuvers that split the heavens themselves. Since Date Masamune is one of my favorite characters in the original games, I was quite satisfied with their execution in giving new life to his lightning based six sword style. But anyways, the action scenes do a phenomenal job in keeping the enjoyment strong, which almost makes up for the film's rushed premise. Johnny Yong Bosch and Robert McCullum did a fine job with handling Yukimura and Date for FUNimations dub. As much as I consider Bosch's voice to be overused in dubs, his hotblooded screams as Yukimura weren't that bad. Even though the English cast did their best to show off Sengoku Basara’s over-the-top setting, it still doesn't come close to the extremity present in the Japanese voice track. Whether you have played the previous games, or have watched the anime’s first two seasons, the Japanese voice cast continues to fill the battlefield with gut pumping enthusiasm in The Last Party. Once again, Kazuya Nakai (Roronoa Zoro from One Piece) does an amazing job as Date, since Masamune brings his own ridiculous sword style to the table. While I was sad that he didn't say his famous "gun" line from the TV series, his acting alone is still entertaining. Another advantage that the Japanese voice actors have is that they are the same cast from the Sengoku Basara games. Thanks to this benefit, the voice actors already know how to party hard! Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings - The Last Party may have suffered from serious pacing issues, but its action sequences, over-the-top characters, and basic story still has a fighting chance in giving viewers a decent celebration.  If you are in the mood for high octane action, then you’ll be ready to put your guns on, as you experience the skirmishes unleashed with flying colors. Otherwise, you are better off with hunting down Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes for the PS3 or the Wii. 6.0 – Okay: 6’s are flawed, but still enjoyable. These titles may not have attempted to do anything special or interesting, but they are nonetheless enjoyable. These typically make great rental fodder or bargain grab.
Sengoku Basara Last Party photo
A rushed spectacle
Under normal circumstances, it’s not advisable for one to jump into a continuing series without experiencing its earlier installments. While I broke this rule with Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings - The Last Party, my...

Review: Mugen Souls

Mar 08 // Chris Walden
Mugen Souls (PS3)Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Nippon Ichi Software AmericaRelease date: March 22, 2012 (JP), September 28, 2012 (EU), October 16, 2012 (NA)MSRP: $59.99 The first thing that you’ll see upon starting a new game will be an idol concert, featuring our protagonist Chou-Chou, her friend Altis and hundreds of glow stick-wielding fans. Nippon Ichi games certainly have a lot of quirks; you only need to look at Disgaea and the Prinny spin-off titles to see that, so it was hardly out of place. In fact, it almost looked like a parody of the Final Fantasy X-2 opening, but perhaps I'm reading a little too much into it. So far so good. The camera then proceeds to provide plenty of close-ups of the idol’s cleavage, followed by a collection of upskirt panty shots. Now, to clarify, this kind of content doesn't bother me in general. What bothered me about this in particular is that the idols, as you might have guessed, appear way too young. Now, it’s not so bad as to go beyond stating that it ruined what could have been a hilarious intro, but let it serve as a warning of things to come. They even make a quick comment a little later about Chou-Chou being “thousands of years old” as a little nod to Disgaea’s Etna, but let’s face it, this ultimately means nothing. At least this isn't the game itself, we can just pretend it didn't happen and move on to the game content. Right after this scene where we see Chou-Chou and Altis bathing naked together. Dammit, Mugen Souls. Benefit of the doubt. Let’s push that entire affair behind us. While there are going to be plenty of people that are fine with these scenes, and more power to them, there are far more people that’ll eventually reach the gameplay with a rather sour taste in their mouth. Anyway, we see that Chou-Chou is being attacked by pirates, and thus we begin the tutorial. These are presented by a Shampuru, a weird creature that features predominantly in Mugen Souls, as will be mentioned in more detail later. It’s time to start some combat! Combat is interesting, and it reminded me of games like Star Ocean at first with its initial appearance. At the beginning of your turn, you are free to move your character around this battle map, limited only by a circular boundary based on your starting position that represents movement range. You can pick where to place your character, and you will need to have an enemy nearby to be able to attack them. You can also place yourself near allies for some bonuses, giving you a better edge in combat. From what was shown in this tutorial, you have two methods of fighting; regular old attacks and “Moe Kills”. The first is self-explanatory, but the second, which is only usable by Chou-Chou, gives you a chance to convert enemies into Shampurus and items by shouting “moe” words at them. You get to choose three words for her to shout, and based on what the enemy likes, the chosen words will vary in strength. You can also fail by shouting the wrong things, frenzying the monster and causing its stats to raise. The regular attack seems absolutely redundant, at least in the first few hours of the game, and as weird as the “Moe” Kills are, it’s an interesting twist on RPG battling. I only have one issue with the combat in general, and this is the absolutely alarming slowdown. It’s almost like playing a PC game on full settings on a sub-par machine, as the game chugs and chugs along. It’s utterly baffling, because the graphics really are not that good at all. They do their job, sure, but this is a game that looks at home on the PS2. Who knows what’s going on behind the scenes, but it isn't good. The combat is playable, but the movement and animations, specifically when an enemy is converted to a Shampuru, looks ugly as sin. Moving on, we are introduced to another to another form of combat. This sees Chou-Chou using her huge airship to try and take down that of an attacker. Attacks are launched between the two ships in a rock-paper-scissors fashion. You can fire a large barrage of shots, a piercing shot that breaks barriers and a fast shot to out-speed the enemy. There are also other options, such as placing up barriers, that mixes this formula up a little. It’s an interesting concept, and while it’s not exactly ground-breaking, it works well enough. No slowdown either! Dropping back out of combat, we see a small in-game cutscene on-board Chou-Chou’s ship, with a lot of small things going on at once. Yes, the slowdown is back, and as infuriating as that is, it’s safe to assume that it’ll only be for a short while longer. We do get to see a proper conversation at this point, which features visual-novel style art of the characters with text beneath them. The art is particularly nice, and interestingly they've synced the mouths to the speech in the audio. It’s quite clearly based on the waveforms rather than having been done by hand as it’s a little jerky at times, but it’s a pretty neat way of making these pictures seem a little more alive without adding further animations. Chou-Chou wants to take over all seven worlds in the universe, so it’s not too long before you’re thrown into the first of these areas. The first, slowdown-ridden, basic-looking world. It’s not hard to sort these issues, Mugen Souls. It was worrying me to the point that I had to load up Ni no Kuni and Disgaea 4 just to make sure that my PS3 wasn't on its way out, but no, this is a Mugen Souls-specific issue. Bear this in mind if you dare to venture into this game. And this is where I took a step back. I stared long and hard at the game that was chugging along on my TV screen, before simply asking myself “am I enjoying this?” The answer, quite simply, is a resounding no. I tried my best by going in with an open mind and disregarding a lot of the problems in order to make decent progress, but no, I couldn’t bring myself to go much further. People frequently make jokes about All The Bravest and its money-making schemes, but right now I feel that asking retail price for this attempt at a game is even more disgusting. Don’t buy this.  3.0 -- Poor (Something went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)
Review: Mugen Souls photo
Mugen Soulless
I've had some great luck when it comes to review material for Japanator, especially within the last few months. Ni no Kuni was a fantastic and memorable RPG that I poured well over seventy hours into, and the recent Naruto Sh...

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3

Mar 05 // Chris Walden
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PS3)Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Namco Bandai GamesRelease date: March 5, 2013 (NA), March 8, 2013 (EU), April 18, 2013 (JP)MSRP: $59.99 [Note: This is a review of the UK version of the game. As far as we're aware there are no differences in content in the North American version.] The game dives straight into the action, choosing to start with Minato, the Fourth Hokage, and his confrontation with the Nine-Tailed Fox and the masked man. After a little bit of scene setting, you are given a choice. Yes, there is some choice making in Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, dubbed "Ultimate Decision Mode", and you must pick whether to be a “Hero” or a “Legend”. Depending on your choice you will gain different bonuses, fights may play out differently and the dialogue will change. In this particular example, choosing “Hero”, rated at 4-star difficulty, allows you to pursue the masked man to try and stop him. Picking “Legend”, rated at 2-star difficulty, has you ignore the masked man to try and stop the Nine-Tails from destroying all of Konoha. The differences between each path are clearly outlined, so you know exactly what you are letting yourself in for. Straight after this, you enter into one of the famously fun fights that has a little quick time event action on the side. You’re playing as the Third Hokage, bouncing off rooftops to fight a raging Nine-Tails, using other ninjas to help suppress the beast. The sequence can get pretty hectic, even suffering from a little slowdown at times, but it proves to be a very satisfying prologue to the games story mode. Unfortunately from here, the pacing takes a dive for the worse. This is where you are given the ability to roam freely around a Konoha that is rebuilding itself from the events of the Pain fight. There is no stunning Konoha map to travel across like in the original Ninja Storm game, but you are given a rather bland environment that really only serves to pad the game out a bit. This was ringing alarm bells for sure, as these Konoha sequences seemed to only serve as something to do in between fights, and this continued on into the Land of Iron and the Island Turtle. These sections do occasionally hold a shopkeeper or two in order to serve some purpose, but more often than not you’ll finish a cutscene, sit through a loading sequence, walk from one end of a small map to the other via waypoint, then enter another loading sequence as the next cutscene starts. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, especially when these games are all about the fights, but the entire process could certainly have been streamlined. You can tell what kind of a fight you are in for as the game is loading up. If you’re going to duke it out without any special events going on, as if you were loading it up in versus mode, the characters will appear as 3D models in the versus screen. If you’re in for a large battle with plenty of quick time event sequences (and to be clear, these are by far the best part of the Ultimate Ninja Storm games), you’ll see the participating characters rendered in 2D art on the versus screen, as well as the name of that particular showdown. This is probably to make it easier to replay, which is nice if you fancy giving it a go again. As you would expect, the versus mode-style fights occur far more regularly than the more adventurous key battles, but I feel that for the most part you are simply playing to get to the next one. It’s not just because they are more exciting, but more so that they have competent enemy AI. The regular battles do not.  Because of this, these common fights are far too easy. At the start of a bout, all you must do is tap the ‘Y’ button twice followed by the ‘B’ button, which will make Naruto launch forward with a rasenshuriken attack. It does a considerable amount of damage to the defending character, who nine times out of ten will not defend against it, and the time they spend bouncing along the floor you can spend charging your chakra to repeat it again. When the toughest of these fights in the game came from my brother in versus mode, who had never played an Ultimate Ninja Storm game and had been briefly taught by myself in one round, you know something is up. It’s a different case with the scripted fights as there is usually a lot more going on, such as dodging attacks or moving around the battlefield, but it’s certainly a concern when most of your time will be spent in fights like this. There is also an alternate fight mode found in the story, where you must fight your way through small groups of 'grunt'-like enemies. It's very reminiscent of Tekken's "Tekken Force" game mode, but with the addition of some instant-kill quicktime abilities and a large focus on trying to get behind enemies in order to do the most damage. It's a neat little aside from the regular battles, and used sparingly enough to not overstay its welcome.  Putting the story mode aside, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is definitely going to be a game worth digging out when you have friends over. The game is simple enough to pick up, and with a roster with over 80 characters, there are plenty of options to suit everyone’s tastes. It is against another human player where the combat really shines, as strategic use of ninja tools, substitutions and special jutsu will help pave your way to victory. You can fight one-on-one, or opt to bring along two assist characters each. Characters chosen for assist roles function in different ways, such as launching a forward strike or healing you a little. There are definitely plenty of characters to experiment with, and there are also 7 unique characters that are assist-only. They’re minor characters for sure, so while there was no way they would be included as fully playable characters, it’s nice to see them in the roster at all. Both sides of the Naruto fandom will find themselves satisfied with the audio, as both Japanese and English audio tracks are present in the game. It is worth noting that the cutscenes were made with the Japanese vocal track in mind, and the mouths don't sync up well at all if you are listening to the English audio. It's pretty much a given with Japanese games these days, and it certainly won't ruin the game for you, but it is worth noting. The soundtrack is also particularly good, especially the battle themes, though it would be nice if there was a little variation in the Konoha village music. You hear it pretty often and it isn't exciting enough to appeal for too long. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is chock full of cutscenes that use the cel-shaded character models and locales from the game. There has quite clearly been a lot of work that has been put into these, as they all look great and run very smoothly. As mentioned before, the characters mouth movements are great for those listening to the Japanese audio, but fans of the English dialogue will no doubt be a little annoyed at how often a character continues to waggle his or her jaw long after the talking stops. Cutscene lengths vary immensely, ranging from less than a minute to a massive one towards the middle of the game that seemed to border TV-episode length! It may be the Metal Gear Solid 4 of Naruto games in this respect, but it’ll depend on the player whether this is an issue or not. While the game is definitely fun to play, you can’t help but wonder what it would be like with just a little extra polish. It’s the little things like the odd spelling mistake, menus that take way too long to appear/disappear and the camera that flicks between being controllable and uncontrollable that make a bigger issue out of things that really shouldn't be a problem. They’re all largely forgettable and minor nitpicks that only start to shine through as they add up. For example: Those of you familiar with the series will know that there is a certain fight that takes place beneath a bridge damaged by a large explosion. In a cutscene after this explosion has happened, the bridge continually changes from pristine to damaged with shifts in the camera angle. There really shouldn't be continuity errors in a video game cutscene, especially one as obvious as this. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is yet another fun excursion into the land of super-powerful ninjas. It's an awful shame that the game, that has obviously had a lot of hard work put into how characters play and how the game looks, would stumble on some of the more simple things that we've come to take for granted. Still, you will already know if you are interested in this game, and fans of the older games or the Naruto series as a whole will definitely enjoy their time with it. The good far outshines the bad, that much is certain, it's just a shame that it didn't have just a few more months in testing to iron out those minor issues. 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
Naruto Ult. Ninja Storm 3 photo
Review no jutsu!
It’s safe to say that the Ultimate Ninja Storm series of Naruto games have been some of the finest games the franchise has received. Sure, Generations may have been a little wobbly in comparison to the prior two install...

Review: Berserk Golden Age Arc III: Descent

Feb 25 // Elliot Gay
Berserk Golden Age Arc III: Descent (Theatrical release)Studio: 4°CRelease Date: February 1, 2013 (Japan) [Spoiler warning. The following review spoilers many major events from the first two films. If you haven't seen them yet or have no familiarity with the manga, I would suggest skipping to the final paragraph] A year has passed since Guts parted ways with Griffith on that snowy day. Led by Casca and constantly on the run from the Midland army, the Band of the Hawks is plotting a rescue mission to save Griffith from his captors. One night, a group of assassins catches them off guard, and a bloody battle for survival begins. Just as things are beginning to look grim for Casca, Guts reappears and saves the day. With the Band of the Hawk in shambles and Casca determined to return things to normal, Guts rejoins his friends and embarks on a mission to save Griffith.  Coming in at a running time of 120 minutes, Descent is the longest of the Golden Age Arc films. Nearly two thirds of the movie is spent on rescuing Griffith and the Hawks' reactions to having their leader back. Most of the major beats are all still here, but if you were expecting a 1:1 adaptation, you'll want to adjust your expectations. Many smaller character arcs were axed in favor of placing the focus on Griffith and the eclipse. Disappointingly, the blood thirsty mercenary, Wyald, has been completely cut from the film, which makes Griffith's rescue that much less harrowing. Though this didn't come as much of a surprise, I was nonetheless disappointed. I understand that it would have been impossible to fit much of this content into Descent, but that doesn't make the edits any less frustrating. The second act suffers from some weird pacing as the it builds toward its crazy climax. On the plus side, this stretch of the film has a lot of really solid character moments, especially for Guts and Casca. In my review of Golden Age Arc II, I noted that the heart of the film was the growing relationship between Guts and Casca. Descent also places them at the center of events, though this romance is soon dirtied by the reality of Griffith's condition and Casca's struggle to let go of her own feelings. Griffith's return is marked with ominous signs that not everything is as it would appear to be. Brief shots of his eyes watching Guts and Casca interact do a good job of expressing his thoughts without actually giving him any real dialogue. Impressively, Griffith's overwhelming silence in the first half of Descent speaks more about his inner thoughts than either of the previous films did. While the supporting cast doesn't get nearly as much screen time as the three leads, they each at least get memorable final scenes. Judea in particular stands out for having a strong overall arc throughout the entire trilogy.  The eclipse sequence is where Golden Age Arc III descends into pure, unadulterated madness. Without spoiling anything specifically, it is essentially nonstop terror all the way up until the end credits. Everything in this series has been building toward this singular, tremendous even, and it doesn't disappoint. Blood is shed, characters are defiled, and extremely upsetting things happen onscreen. This is not a film for the squeamish, though if you've stuck with the films for this long, you already know what you're in for. Descent's climax is dire, hopeless, anger-inducing, and simply depressing. To that end, studio 4°C has a narrative success on their hands. I felt bad for the characters, and it was difficult to watch what fate had in store for them despite my already knowing the outcome. For the record, I caught the R-15 version in theaters, which meant there was some censorship during certain scenes. In terms of violence, it didn't seem like a whole lot had been cut, though human genitals were covered by shadows. Studio 4°C once again utilizes a combination of traditional 2D animation and CG techniques to bring the world of Berserk to life. Unfortunately, it's about as hit or miss as their previous attempts. Typically, the CG work looks fine when used on monsters and characters who are at a distance. Much of the CG in the eclipse sequence is also fairly solid, lending the strange creatures an otherworldly feel. In particular, I found that the blend of 2D and 3D animation to work especially well on the four members of God Hand. Descent's animation quality suffers whenever entire characters are rendered in CG during closeups. This problem is further accentuated when following cuts proceeds to feature hand drawn characters, creating an awkward juxtaposition of styles. The inconsistent aesthetics are constantly clashing with one another. When it works, it works well. When it doesn't, it tears you right out of the experience. On the flip side, the 2D animation is beautiful. Subtle character animations go a long way, especially in Griffith's case. The finale, when not indulging in CG, is strikingly disgusting in how detailed and painfully everything is drawn. There's one particular moment in the last fifteen minutes of the film that was difficult and uncomfortable to watch, largely because of how realistic the 2D animation was.  Veteran composer Shiro Sagisu (Rebuild of Evangelion, Nadia) turns in another strong score in line with the previous two films. Descent is particularly heavy on the dark, heavy, choral themes, which makes sense considering how weighty the whole back half of the film is. I wouldn't necessarily call it memorable, but Sagisu's work on this trilogy has been nothing if not consistent. Fifteen years after the original TV anime adaptation, studio 4°C has nobly tried to bring the Berserk franchise back into the public eye. In retrospect, I don't think anybody will ever make the argument that the Golden Age Arc films did a better job than the TV anime of telling the tale of the Band of the Hawks. That being said, I don't think 4°C ever had to do that in the first place. As a streamlined version of the Berserk tale, you could do a hell of a lot worse than the Golden Age Arc film series. It's a solid way to dip your toes into the franchise before diving head first into the superior manga. Like the first two films in the series, Berserk Golden Age Arc III: Descent is solid entertainment, despite the sometimes awful CG animation that threatens to ruin the experience. Just make sure to go in knowing that there is no happy ending to be had here. Characters will be raped, blood will be shed, and you will feel extremely uncomfortable by the time the end credits roll. 7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.
Review: Berserk III photo
The most horrific animated film you'll see all year.
Based on the arc of the same name in Kentaro Miura's original manga, the Berserk Golden Age Arc films have adapted and streamlined the series, no doubt in an effort to expose more people to the franchise. With a ton of ground...

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