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review

Review: Kizumonogatari

Jan 27 // Anthony Redgrave
Kizumonogatari: Wound TalePublished by: Vertical Inc.Written by: NisiOisiNIllustrated by: VOfanTranslated by: Ko RansomReleased: December 15, 2015MSRP: $14.95 Despite being the third light novel released, Kizumonogatari is effectively the start of the series as a whole. High schooler Araragi Koyomi meets with a vampire during his Golden Week holidays and subsequently joins the legion of the undead. As a bid to get his humanity back he has to serve  his new master or be damned to live in the darkness forever. It's a tale that has been hinted at throughout the TV show so fans will enjoy experiencing it first hand. Once the story gets going, the plot is set to a rigid structure with a few interesting turns keep it from being stale and providing a steady pace from start to finish. At times, the pacing can become slow especially during the first few chapters and in-between set pieces.  Despite the difference in medium, the feeling of a Monogatari story is still present. The mounting supernatural pressures, off-kilter dialogue, and perverse situations all find their way into the novel in at some point. Kizumonogatari keeps your eyes glued to the page by intertwining the normal with the paranormal. Readers of the popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami will feel right at home with the pacing and themes visited in this book.  As usual, the lead is the internally loquacious but externally laconic Araragi Koyomi, a high schooler stumbling through life with no direction. This character archetype is common in Japanese novels rather than Western ones although common strings can be drawn to the everyday reluctant hero with a quick mind and tongue. The cast is kept small and intimate with returning faces from the show making their first appearances in this novel. Araragi's interactions with the supporting cast are great as it explores their initial interactions and helps long time fans understand the basis of their relationship. Character quirks, catch phrases, and snappy dialogue makes it hard to dislike anyone. A personal highlight is Araragi's relationship with Tsubasa and how it evolves. It treads the line between strong friendship and romantic interest in such a way that when it is later followed up in Nekomonogatari Black you know where they stand perfectly.  The story is told entirely in the first-person perspective putting you right into the mind of Araragi. A constant long-running internal dialogue throughout the book. Readers that prefer to have dialogue-heavy novels with little in the ways of the description will enjoy the trimming of the 'adjective fat' in favour of getting to understand Araragi's personality more. This close intimate relationship between the reader and Araragi helps you relate to his plight even if first impressions are bad. In terms of writing style, this could come off as lacking in variety as you are only getting information from one viewpoint. It takes some getting to used to as I had found the first few chapters difficult to read. Odd interruptions, stray words, and abnormal punctuations cause the writing to stop and start mimicking the short snappy thoughts of Araragi that break the flow. Once you get used to this style and the story picks up the rest of the story flows a lot better. For the most part, the English translation of Kizumonogatari does a great job in capturing the tone and style of the original. The characters are still fun, quirky, and just as animated as they were in the show supported by the strong dialogue. Tsubasa's words are sweet with a drizzle of flirtation, Araragi is an over-analytical opportunist and Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade continues to carry a brazenly confident demeanor despite all circumstances. There are some points of the novel that may be very peculiar for readers not versed in the ways of Japanese anime and this could be very hit and miss. I can see where the author was intending with these sections for future use in an anime but in a novel they slowed the pace down considerably or made me feel very uncomfortable to read. They are rare and far between and that is why they could be a deal breaker as they come from the far left field.  Presentation wise, this isn't a normal Western paperback novel. Partly because the cover has paper flaps and the size gives it a nice heavy chunky feel to it. There are a few pictures on the first few pages of the book that look nice and a blurb in the inside of the paper flaps giving it the feel of a hardback book. The book clocks in at 344 pages with a short translated afterword from the author. It's a decent sized book that will keep keen readers busy for a week and casual readers for a little longer.  I've been an active follower of Araragi's adventures on the screen so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of where it all started. After overcoming the initial challenges, I was immersed in familiar territory and enjoying every step. The pacing, dialogue, characters, and feel is pure Monogatari and fans of the series will not be disappointed by the translation. The book comes at an excellent time coinciding with the release of the movie so fans should give this book a flick through if they want to get the full experience. Newcomers, especially those not accustomed to conventional Japanese literature, may experience a culture shock in some of the scenarios visited in the story; however, they may find the charm in the intricacies and storytelling that made this series so appealing to many people from around the world. [This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher] The Art of GrassHopper Manufacture: Complete Collection of SUDA51Published By PIE International + PIE Books (Website)Written By: SUDA51Released: June 2015MSRP: $28.95 (Amazon)ISBN-13: 978-4-7562-4586-1
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Monogatari without Shaft
I don't think I could ever think of the Monogatari series without Shaft's trademark animation and visuals. It would be like eating PB and J sandwiches all my life and then discovering peanut butter could exist on starch witho...

Review: Naruto Gaiden: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring

Jan 16 // Christian Chiok
Although meant as a prologue for the movie, and just a side story, this Gaiden wasn’t really enjoyable for many reasons. To address the elephant in the room, I feel like Cho-cho’s role felt rather forced and added no substance to story. While I understand that she was added for comedic relief, sometimes it was just executed at the wrong times and it just felt rather annoying more than anything. Another big issue was the main antagonist of this Gaiden—Shin Uchiha, who easily is one of the most forgettable villains in the series with a lackluster motive, probably a lot worse than Obito Uchiha.  His goal is to erase peace as he thinks it’s detrimental to human evolution.  The only memorable things about the character are some of his attacks, like his Kamui-like jutsu and his Weapon Manipulation Technique, which I thought it was cool.   I always thought that Kishimoto was great when it came to delivering fights, especially near the end of the series, as well as other fights such as Sasuke vs. Itachi.  Aside from seeing Shin’s Weapon Manipulation Technique, Sakura in action, and some Naruto and Sasuke Teamwork, just like the antagonist, this fight was hardly enjoyable as well. However, this Gaiden does have its highlights that made reading this tolerable, such as seeing Orochimaru, and the jokes that revolve his new body, the early interactions between Boruto and Naruto, the new generation and of course, Sarada reuniting with Sasuke and learning the truth about her family. Like I stated, in my Boruto: Naruto The Movie review, I really like that Sarada wants to follow the path of Hokage, as opposed to Boruto who wants to be more like Sasuke. While I wasn’t expecting too much out of this Gaiden, it was still overall disappointing. I felt like I was reading it for the sake of reading it every time a new chapter came up. I really thought that reading the entire Gaiden in one sitting would make it more enjoyable, but I was wrong.  I was really hoping to see something feature the new generation but maybe next time.
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A Story of Father and Daugther
It’s been a few months since I published my review for Boruto: Naruto The Movie, so make sure to check that out as well.  It is important to note that Naruto Gaiden: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring is the...

Review: Gravity Rush Remastered

Jan 16 // Josh Tolentino
Gravity Rush Remastered (PS4)Developer: SCE Japan Studio and Bluepoint GamesPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Japan and AsiaReleased: December 10, 2015 (Japan/Asia), February 2, 2016 (NA/EU)MSRP: $29.99 [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of the game released in Asian regions on December 10, 2015. We expect that there will be few if any significant differences between this release and the upcoming North America/EU releases.] The most striking part of Bluepoint's work on Gravity Rush Remastered is on the technical side. The game runs at a smooth, uninterrupted 60 frames per second, at a native 1080p resolution. Higher-resolution textures sport additional detail and sharpening while improved lighting and antialiasing brings out the color in the game's unique cel-shaded aesthetic. No one's going to mistake Gravity Rush Remastered for a "native" PS4 game, but it does look much like the way I (fondly) remember the Vita original, which is high praise considering that I can compare the two side-by-side and see just how much work went into the porting job.  While Bluepoint has made some considerable improvements to Gravity Rush Remastered's graphical quality and performance, it was more conservative in terms of content, opting just to add the original's three downloadable content packs as standard, and a gallery mode to check out concept art, character designs, and unlocked cutscenes. This may dilute the game's value proposition somewhat for existing Gravity Rush owners on the fence about double-dipping since the game is identical in content and design to the Vita version. [embed]34700:5357:0[/embed] If there's anything about the game that qualifies as "bad news," it's rooted in the fact that the content itself is unchanged. As such, the criticisms raised by Jim Sterling in his review of the original do stand, to an extent. The game's mission design never really lives up to the sheer joy of its central gravity-shifting mechanic, and no amount of frame rate improvement or antialiasing can change that. Combat and control in stressful situations can still be a little squirrely, though the better "feel" of a DualShock 4 controller, combined with the extra awareness afforded by a larger screen, makes it easier to compensate. Even players who enjoyed the tilt- and touchscreen-based features of Gravity Rush are accommodated, thanks to the DualShock 4's own motion sensing and touch panel (though these can be turned off if desired). The narrative is also much more proficient at establishing atmosphere and personality than at answering the questions it raises, and by the end of the campaign it can feel like has read  an incomplete set of obscure foreign comic books, not knowing when or where the next issue will turn up. That said, I'm of the opinion that these rough edges are not nearly as serious in their impact as some may think, and to players in the right mindset, even add to Gravity Rush's considerable charm. The writing, dialog and story all emphasize Kat's character as a somewhat hapless amateur superhero (think "anime Ms. Marvel with a different power set") just getting started in her crime-fighting career, and she's exactly the kind of person who might whiff on landing a gravity kick and go flying into a pile of boxes. Just in the way that deliberately "slow" controls can improve the atmosphere of a horror game like Amnesia,occasional finickiness and flubs reinforce Gravity Rush Remastered's sense of character (albeit unintentionally). In the end, Bluepoint deserves credit for managing to bring out the best in an already-pretty-good game, allowing PS4 owners the chance to experience the charm of Gravity Rush unhampered by the limitations of its original platform.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] [embed]34700:5357:0[/embed]
Gravity Rush Remastered photo
Falling with style
Gravity Rush is and remains one of the coolest games on the PS Vita, even three years after its original 2012 release. Unfortunately for fans of cool games, the PS Vita didn't get into nearly as many hands as Sony was ho...

Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Jan 15 // Salvador GRodiles
[embed]34698:5355:0[/embed] The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (PlayStation 3 [Reviewed], PlayStation Vita)Developer: Nihon FalcomPublisher: XSEED Games (NA), NIS America (EU)Release Date: December 22, 2015 (NA), January 29, 2016 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 (Regular Edition), $49.99 (Lionheart Edition) Before the game’s main story begins, players are thrown into the middle of a mission you’re storming a military base that’s filled with robots, along with a few tidbits that hint at a major crisis in Erebonia. Then Trails of Cold Steel focuses on Rean Schwarzer's enrollment at the Thors Military Academy, which places him in the newly created class called Class VII. During his new academic life, he’ll have to bond with his classmates as they learn about the reasoning behind their group’s creation, along with encountering a few suspicious scenarios that are happening from behind the scenes. Throughout a good chunk of the adventure, Trails of Cold Steel’s story moves at a very slow place, as it takes a long time for the major events to kick in. Mind you, this isn’t a bad thing, as players are showered with many elements that expand a few great treats, such as the Erebonia region’s historical background, the culture of each location in the territory, and a ton of other stuff that gets people acquainted with the land. This is accomplished through the books that players read throughout the adventure, the characters that they interact with, and the quests (both main and optional) that they undertake. All in all, I was entertained by the title’s presentation since it throws each piece at the player in a steady manner. When it comes to Trails of Cold Steel progression, the whole formula felt similar to titles like Persona 4 and Mana Khemia: Alchemist of Al-Revis since the meat of the game focuses on Rean’s school life and his ordeals with his classmates. You spend most of your time attending classes, spending time with your Class VII buddies, and undertaking different tasks for the Student Council. Then the story takes the group on a field trip where they test their skills in different towns and large environments all over Erebonia. With the group consisting of nobles and commoners with their own problems, the developing chemistry between the party ended up being entertaining. For the most part, the formula doesn’t deviate from this path too much, but that doesn’t stop it from getting dull and/or repetitive as the events and narrative that lead up to each activity holds the entire package together nicely. As players start to see other segments that hint at the real conflicts in the story, the whole segment manages to feel rewarding during each of the game’s chapters. Whether it’s seeing the events unfold through mysterious characters that are up to something huge, political struggles between the top noble classes, or the main cast’s dilemmas, the game's story blends different styles of world-building elements into one tasty treat; thus pleasing those who were pulled in from the beginning. For players who got to play the Trails in the Sky saga, Trails of Cold Steel’s combat system brings back the turn-based benefits and the S-Break mechanic/the ability to use any character's ultimate move during any moment in battle. As an added feature, the game throws in a few mechanics that give off a nice Persona 4 vibe. With the introduction to Link Attacks, this lets players find new ways to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. All in all, this new addition to the game acts as another feature for players to make sure that enemies don’t take advantage of the random battle bonuses (such as dealing critical damage or gaining life). Throw in the ability to switch party members like in Final Fantasy X, and we have ourselves a some good ways to turn each encounter into a fun time. Perhaps the best part out of the team attacks is that their power can be improved through methods outside of spending time with your classmates. Through minigames and using each character in your adventure, players can increase their link levels of their allies very easily— even if some of the social events can only be done on certain days. Best of all, this allows for other party members to support each other in combat. Thanks to these new features, I found myself coming up with various ways to mop the floor with my enemies. The game’s Arts feature, the Trails series’ term for magic-like abilities, feels like an improved version of Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system, which grants players endless possibilities on how they want to tailor their party; therefore resulting in a rewarding experience when a setup works well in battle. Trails of Cold Steel may not have the greatest looking graphics on the PS3 and Vita, but the simplicity and style behind its designs work well in giving the game a nice presentation that's good enough to pull people into Erebonia. At the same time, the Falcom’s 3D models manage to do great justice to Nakae’s lovely character designs, which is one of the benefits of its simple look. As a person who’s been digging the Ys series’ upbeat and fast-paced music, Trails of Cold Steel’s soundtrack lives up to Falcom’s great record of having some amazing tunes in their titles. For example, the boss theme track known as “Tie a Link of Arcus” is a harmonious fusion between electric guitar and violin music that always gets my blood pumping when I’m about to fight a tough adversary. The same can be said about the main battle song “A Glint of Cold Steel,” a tune that somehow creates a wonderful melody that mixes techno, rock, and piano music together. In terms of the area tunes, they all manage to suit the locations theme, such as the Nord Highland’s piece, "Land of Blue Skies," having some soothing panflute segments that feel you’re exploring the mountain regions of Peru. While we’re still on the topic of sound, the game’s English voice cast knocked it out of the ballpark. Sean Chiplock’s (Magi’s Cassim, Danganronpa’s Ishimaru) performance as Rean worked well in conveying the guy's various reaction in his quest to find his place in life, along with his fumbles during the beginning of the story and his serious moments. Also, Carrie Keranen (KILL la KILL’s Satsuki, Madoka Magica’s Mami) was able to convey the Class VII Instructor Sara’s laid-back personality and drunk side wonderfully; thus making her one of my favorite teachers in an RPG. Overall, XSEED Games did a great job in ensuring that each person gave it their all with their roles in Trails of Cold Steel. At the same time, it helped show how well their localization work on the game blended with each performance. In terms of downsides, there were a couple minor issues present in the game. One has to do with two Quartz items called Dragon Vein and Septium Vein. The former’s description says that it’s supposed to regenerate the user’s HP outside of battle; however, it only restores their EP, the points used to cast Arts. As for the latter, it says that it’s supposed to grant players the healing skill Teara, but the ability isn’t available when someone equips in on one of their party members. Nonetheless, this error is very small, as both items are still useful. Most importantly, it doesn’t change the fact that Trails of Cold Steel’s English script flowed nicely throughout the story, which shows how dedicated the team was at making sure that the lines hit us in a positive way. Also, it was neat to see that one of the academy’s students speaks in a Scottish accent. Another problem includes a few instances where Trails of Cold Steel would lag during panning scenes or when the player is navigating through the Orbment section of the menu in Trista, the game's main town. In the end, these problems don’t happen frequently to the point where the whole adventure goes through tons of slowdowns. When they happen, they are very brief, since a majority of the game’s segments ran smoothly. In the end, my time with Trails of Cold Steel was like a great relationship where the problems didn’t get in the way of the strong bond. The title’s slow narrative and world-building aspects benefit the adventure more than hurting it, as it prepares players for the major events in its sequel. While there were a few references to the previous Trails titles, newcomers to the series aren’t exposed to the who, what, and why behind these events, since they’re more of an extra tasty topping to the yummy Teriyaki Chicken Pizza that’s right in front of us. Just like any tasty delight, the reward for savoring every moment makes this game a nice course that'll satisfy anyone who loves to consume RPGs. [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]34698:5355:0[/embed]
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It's time to hit the books!
It’s hard to believe that we live in a world where The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC and Trails of Cold Steel went West during the same year. This outcome has made me believe that Hell has frozen over, as this ...


Review: Sakura Santa

Dec 24 // Josh Tolentino
Sakura Santa (PC)Developer: Winged CloudPublisher: MangaGamerMSRP: $9.95Released: December 21, 2015 The aforementioned solitary souls seem to be situated smack in the target-audience sweet spot for Sakura Santa's story, as it revolves around Koji, an otherwise unremarkable college student whose main claim to fame is that he'll be lonely on Christmas eve. Yeah, that's really about it. Sakura Santa takes advantage of the fact that Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic holiday than a familial one, and kicks off with Koji visiting a nearby shrine to wish for someone to spend Christmas with. His wish is granted in short order, by fateful run-ins with Itsumi, an old childhood friend, Akina, a local fox spirit, and none other than one of Santa Claus' daughters. Then the only question is: Who shall he spend the time with? Now, before anyone gets any ideas, it's worth pointing out that Sakura Santa is not an adult game. The game's Steam store page takes care to stress that it contains "no sexual content." And they're technically right. There is no nudity, nor are there sex scenes in the whole of the game's two to four-hour runtime. There is, however, plenty to ogle in the form of the three girls' character designs and the event scenes from the four available storylines. The art does stand out as the main draw, given that Sakura Santa has little else going for it. It's shorter and possessed of a much more bland premise than Sakura Spirits, and features a smaller cast to boot. Akina and Santa's stories quickly fall into too-similar "magical/alien girlfriend" templates familiar to anime, and though Itsumi's plotline also veers on the generic side, the story of trying to connect with an old flame after years growing apart is, at least, more inherently engaging. Then again, the other girl has fox ears and a short kimono. A dilemma, to be sure. Ultimately, Sakura Santa fails to stand out from the growing crowd of visual novels on Steam and elsewhere, except in the single respect of being a Christmas-themed story, coming out just in time for the holiday. Unfortunately, one would probably have to be as lonely as the game's protagonist to find a compelling reason to play. Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015 Sakura Santa (PC)Developer: Winged CloudPublisher: MangaGamerMSRP: $9.95Released: December 21, 2015 The aforementioned solitary souls seem to be situated smack in the target-audience sweet spot for Sakura Santa's story, as it revolves around Koji, an otherwise unremarkable college student whose main claim to fame is that he'll be lonely on Christmas eve. Yeah, that's really about it. Sakura Santa takes advantage of the fact that Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic holiday than a familial one, and kicks off with Koji visiting a nearby shrine to wish for someone to spend Christmas with. His wish is granted in short order, by fateful run-ins with Itsumi, an old childhood friend, Akina, a local fox spirit, and none other than one of Santa Claus' daughters. Then the only question is: Who shall he spend the time with? Now, before anyone gets any ideas, it's worth pointing out that Sakura Santa is not an adult game. The game's Steam store page takes care to stress that it contains "no sexual content." And they're technically right. There is no nudity, nor are there sex scenes in the whole of the game's two- to four-hour runtime. There is, however, plenty to ogle in the form of the three girls' character designs and the event scenes from the four available storylines. The art does stand out as the main draw, given that Sakura Santa has little else going for it. It's shorter and possessed of a much more bland premise than Sakura Spirits, and features a smaller cast to boot. Akina and Santa's stories quickly fall into too-similar "magical/alien girlfriend" templates familiar to anime, and though Itsumi's plotline also veers on the generic side, the story of trying to connect with an old flame after years growing apart is, at least, more inherently engaging. Then again, the other girl has fox ears and a short kimono. A dilemma, to be sure. Ultimately, Sakura Santa fails to stand out from the growing crowd of visual novels on Steam and elsewhere, except in the single respect of being a Christmas-themed story, coming out just in time for the holiday. Unfortunately, one would probably have to be as lonely as the game's protagonist to find a compelling reason to play. Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015
Sakura Santa photo
A Christmas Miracle for the Solo Set
[This review was originally posted on Destructoid.] When it comes to holiday traditions, Christmas-themed video games aren't as common as Christmas movies or television specials. For whatever reason, be it development times, ...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 7

Dec 22 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 7Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: September 8, 2015MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) I think everyone reading this probably has a good grasp on what Ranma 1/2 is all about, so to give a quick rundown, Ranma Saotome, the heir to the Anything Goes school of martial arts, is promised to tomboy Akane Tendo by their parents. The problem is Ranma is transformed into a female when splashed with cold water. Several characters are in love with male and female Ranma, and many of these characters also undergo transformations of their own, and as you can imagine, much hilarity ensues.Viz Media re-configured the episode sequence for this re-issue, so the traditional "final season" actually started at the end of Set 6, so some will already be familiar with the final opening and closing themes. It was refreshing to hear some new music included in this set for both battle sequences and moments of mystery and intrigue. The stingers that were already in place were perfect, but it's great to hear something new.All of the series standards are here: episodes that focus on grandpa Happosai's underwear addiction, others that hold promise of a "cure" for the curse that afflicts Ranma and the others that never pan out. We also see more affection between Ranma and Akane, but I'm sad to report there's no breakthrough moment or closure in regards to their relationship. So with that, I'll mention some of the standout episodes. An aforementioned "false cure" episode centers around the water pond in the Tendo backyard, which is supposedly connected to Jusenkyo, the Chinese spring where our characters acquired their curses. A ritual is held to remove the curse from those afflicted, but as usual, things go awry. A multi-episode arc focuses on a dual between Ranma and ongoing rival Ryouga Hibiki focusing on a new technique that Ryouga has mastered that becomes increasingly powerful as the martial artist becomes more miserable. Ranma and Ryouga hence focus their efforts on becoming more miserable than the other, which is fun to watch.One of the funniest episodes centers around a recurring dream that Ranma has about dating an old man while in her female form, which results in a real-life encounter with the old man that is both disturbing and hilarious. The season sees more feuding between Ranma and his unscrupulous father and trainer, Genma Saotome, enchanted food that makes characters fall in love with each other (yes, multiple episodes that follow this plot), and even vampires.Another episode sees the Tendo family making friends with the Earthly avatar of a Goddess of the stars as she seeks out her fiance, who's been wrecking havoc on local dojos. An argument between Ranma's classmates Tatewaki and Kodachi Kuno results in scandalous photos of female Ranma being posted all over school, while everyone's favorite punching bag, the black magic-practicing Hikaru Gosunkugi falls in love with a ghost. A huge cast of characters makes an appearance or a beach-side swimsuit contest, which includes the appearance of Tsubasa Kurenai who appeared in Set 2 and who seemed as though they'd be a permanent addition to the cast. The final episodes (a two-episode arc) features the return of Ranma's mother and answers a lot of questions as to why Ranma and Genma are training on their own, but I won't spoil how it all ends. Needless to say, though, there isn't any major progress on Ranma and Akane's relationship, and the series ends with a seemingly tacked-on sequence that will likely raise some eyebrows. I can say in closing that this series certainly withstands the test of time. The visuals, the music, the scenario, and the characters are as lovable today as they were when they were released in the 1990s. While the gender issues that are explored throughout the series are more relevant than ever, Ranma 1/2 only falls into trappings that may be considered sexist on occasion. It certainly could have been a lot worse.We reviewed the limited edition Blu-ray version, which includes different artwork, a postcard, a booklet with episode summaries, and on-disc interviews with cosplayers and anime industry professionals as they share kind words about Ranma 1/2 creator Rumiko Takahashi. It's a nice inclusion, even if it's a bit awkward at times, but it's a shame that Takahashi herself didn't record a message for fans.Here's hoping that Viz Media considers re-issuing the OVA and movies next. I'd very much like to see those again, and don't feel that my appetite for Ranma 1/2 is quite quenched! In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite Ranma 1/2 memories below!Images © Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan  [This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher]
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Goodbye is Bittersweet!
We've finally arrived at the end of Viz Media' re-release of the beloved Ranma 1/2 series. Presenting the final episodes (weighing in at 161 total), this re-issue has been a Godsend, as previous DVD versions were becomin...

Review: Ninja Slayer From Animation

Dec 06 // Josh Tolentino
Ninja Slayer From AnimationStudio: TRIGGERViewed On: ViewsterPremiere date: April 6, 2015 At the time of this review's writing, the International Day of the Ninja has just passed, but there's no recent work that captures the essence of "ninja" more than this, Studio TRIGGER's latest series. Ninja Slayer From Animation makes no attempt to hide its goofy, parodic nature. That should be natural, after all, coming from a show that started life as what was essentially a Twitter prank. "Translated" from nonexistent original sources by a pair of fictional westerners named  "Bradley Bond" and "Philip Ninj@ Morzez", Ninja Slayer accurately portrays ninja culture...as seen by westerners engaged in that second wave of Japonisme that swept the world '80s and early '90s. During that time, the markets were flooded with crass, cheaply-made "ninja exploitation" films like American Ninja, and spiced up by gory, explicit OVAs and films that powered the "Japanimation" boom. Ninja Slayer's cyberpunk dystopia of Neo Saitama reflects the kind of twisted sensibility that resulted from the marriage of genuine enthusiasm and outright ignorance on the part of the outsiders. But Ninja Slayer isn't out to deliver a polemic against cultural appropriation. Bond and Morzez are in on the joke, and know that the best antidote to hotheaded outrage is a tongue planted firmly in cheek. Much to the chagrin of early viewers that didn't realize Ninja Slayer's relation to TRIGGER's own Inferno Cop, the whole thing is played for elaborate, stylized laughs. That's because they know that, played straight, Kenji Fujikido's story of revenge and violence would come across as gravely cliche and unbearably cheesy. That's why Ninja Slayer and his foes constantly introduce themselves to each other like beginning Japanese-language students practicing for a kaiwa test, and why the whole show is in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio. It simultaneously pokes fun at and commiserates with the "Ken-sama" of the world, and smirks back at a time when Ken-sama's type represented what most people knew about Japanese culture. It's also where TRIGGER works in that ninja magic. Deliberate aesthetic choices in Ninja Slayer, like the neon-drenched pallete and aping of old-school cost-cutting techniques recall back the moments of beauty to be found in that awkward time, while at the same time deflating the nostalgic pomposity some older fans may have for the time. It's as if to say "Yep, cartoons were just as stupid then as you think they are now. But they were also awesome!" The show is hardly perfect, though, and the wild differentials between user ratings in various fan fora serve as testament to that fact. Ninja Slayer may be bold and one of the most creatively distinct anime series this year, but there are times when it's just plain ugly-lookin', beyond what could be excused on style alone. TRIGGER's no longer a scrappy underdog of a studio, which makes the frequent forays into Inferno Cop-style 2D cutout puppetry feel less like a fun diversion and more an unnecessary indulgence.  The storytelling also fails to rise above its B-grade inspirations. This isn't to say it's all bad or that every show should strive to elevate, but there is a difference between homage and mere copy, and there are times when Ninja Slayer skirts too close to the wrong side of that distinction.  Then again, for a viewer in the right mindset, Ninja Slayer is a laugh riot and a friendly wink-and-nod, all rolled into a package that never gets boring. And for a show that's very deliberately not accurate to the real-life ninjas of Japanese history, Ninja Slayer certainly gets being surprising down pat. 
Ninja Slayer Review photo
The Ancient YEEART! of Ninjutsu
DOMO, READER-SAN.  I am Reviewer. NINJA must be slain. 

Review: Clannad (PC)

Dec 03 // Christian Chiok
[embed]34545:5224:0[/embed] Clannad (PC [reviewed], PS2, S3G, FOMA, Xbox 360, PSP, PS3, Android, PS Vita)Developers: KeyPublisher: Sekai ProjectReleased: November 23rd, 2015 (NA)Price: $49.99 Clannad follows the story of Tomoya Okazaki, a high school student who tragically lost his mother as a child and now lives with his abusive, alcoholic father, Naoyuki Okazaki. One day, during his third year of high school, he stumbles upon a young girl named Nagisa Furukawa, who he befriends and later helps to revive the defunct drama club at Hikarizaka Private High School. As he helps the club during his spare time, Tomoya grows closer to his peers as he learns about their tough pasts and challenges and does everything to help them overcome it as he slowly grows to become a stronger and more supportive person. You will be able to interact with a set of interesting characters including Kyou Fujibayashi, Kotomi Ichinose, Tomoyo Sakagami, and Fuko Ibuki, as well as Youhei Sunohara, his delinquent who is often the comic relief in this visual novel.  As the game progresses, you will be given various decisions that will have an effect on the direction and outcome of the game depending on how you respond to a specific character or situation. Saving the game at multiple points is highly recommended if you want to redo certain scenarios to avoid a bad ending. Fans of the anime should definitely play the game as you will be able to explore through many of the character’s routes, and even meet characters that were omitted from the anime adaptation.  Being in control of my own Clannad experience was definitely refreshing, especially seeing “Good Endings” that didn’t just involve Nagisa. While I like Nagisa in the anime, she definitely isn’t the best girl in the game. While I did enjoy her overall route, playing through it felt boring at times. For the most part, I did enjoy interacting with a lot of the characters such as Kyou, Youhei, and especially Tomoyo. With characters like Kyou or Youhei around, I can’t say that there wasn’t a time that I didn’t laughed when they were around. It’s really funny how Tomoya picks on Youhei and his weird shenanigans and how Kyou puts Tomoya in weird yet comedic situations. However, Clannad isn’t only great because of its comedy but also how because it’s an emotional ride. Whether it was the Sunohara Siblings route or the Fujibayashi siblings route, there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t feel emotionally involved with their stories. As someone who watched the Clannad anime adaptation while still being in High School, a lot of the character’s issues were somewhat relatable, and experiencing these moments once more via the Visual Novel made me feel the same emotions I felt back then. For a Visual Novel that’s more than a decade old, the art style still looks fresh and it’s very pleasant to look at, not to mention that Sekai Project gave the game an HD improvement making the game look a lot better than it did 10 years ago. Of course, it still has a style that makes it obvious that the game is quite a bit old compared to Key’s newest releases.   As if the soundtrack in Air and Kanon weren’t already great, Key’s composers manage to surpass the soundtracks for Clannad’s predecessors.  It’s just so powerful and it makes the dramatic scenes even more dramatic. My personal favorite has to be Roaring Tides. The Steam version of Clannad will have new features such as Dangopedia, which offers a brief description of words and references used in the game. It also features the same achievements that the console versions of the game had.  The Steam version has also been visually improved and now features a 1280 x 960 resolution. Additionally, user interface has been polished and made easier to use. As a person that never liked or played a single Visual Novel, I really enjoyed playing through Clannad. Being one of my favorite series, I thought it was imperative that I played the original material. For Clannad fans thinking about getting the game but never played a Visual Novel, it’s hard to recommend the game, unless you don't mind going through still images and long dialogues.  I personally don’t mind going through endless dialogues, but I can understand why one would be opposed to play the game, Clannad fan or not.  So unless it’s Tomoyo After, Air, or Kanon, or games that feature visual novel gameplay like the Ace Attorney and Zero Escape series, I don’t see myself playing any other Visual Novel. For a first, Clannad was definitely enjoyable, and I can see myself spending a lot of time playing the game.  [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.] Clannad (PC [reviewed], PS2, S3G, FOMA, Xbox 360, PSP, PS3, Android, PS Vita)Developers: KeyPublisher: Sekai ProjectReleased: November 23rd, 2015 (NA)Price: $49.99
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The Place Where Wishes Come True
For the past 10 years, I’ve been a fan of the (popular) anime adaptations of Key’s various work including Kanon, Air, Clannad, Little Busters, and Angel Beats. Although I was aware that both Kanon and Air started ...

Review: Stella Glow

Nov 17 // Salvador GRodiles
[embed]34498:5177:0[/embed] Stella Glow (3DS)Developer: ImageepochPublisher: AtlusRelease Date: November 17, 2015MSRP: $49.99 Treading into familiar story grounds, Stella Glow focuses on a war caused by a god who was fed up with its people losing faith in it. During this calamity, a legendary hero called Elcrest teamed up with five witches to battle the omnipotent being in its lair, which happens to be the planet’s moon. However, our do-gooder sacrifices his life to save everyone. Afterward, the story focuses on the present as Alto and his childhood friend Lisette’s town is attacked by Hilda the Witch of Destruction, who used her song to crystalize everyone in the vicinity. After the two friends awaken to their own special abilities, they eventually became part of a neighboring kingdom’s elite soldier group called the Regnant Knights, so they could gather the other witches to perform a song that could put an end to Hilda’s curse. With Alto bearing the same powers as Elcrest, his journey will eventually show him the truth behind the events that happened in the past. Throughout the game's first half, Stella Glow’s story doesn’t do much to pull people in. The whole introduction sequence and the quest to find the witches falls into a format that we’ve seen before in many RPGs and anime titles. Sure, we’ve had games like the Tales of series fall into this category, but the main thing that sets it apart is that the characters manage to make the adventure entertaining. Alto’s your typical nice guy and person who fights for justice, which prevents him from winning the audience over. Then Lisette is depicted as the sister-like figure that has a habit of turning everything she cooks into purple delicacies. For the most part, these moments aren’t terrible, but that they don't improve the opening segments too much— at least until the rest of the cast joins the group. Even though the cast grows as you progress through the game’s world, their impact barely improves the main story. Speaking of other characters, the Regnant Knights include Klaus the seemingly perfect leader, Rusty the womanizing character, and Archibald the overly chivalrous knight. To an extent, their superior fighting experience helps keep things at an above average level while the players search for the other three witches. Despite the issues present with the way how the cast affects the plot, the title does its best to flesh out their personalities later on. If there’s one thing that I value dearly in life, it’s that you don’t judge a book by its cover. Surprisingly, Stella Glow does a decent job in following this rule. As the players progress through the story, they will start to learn more about the supporting cast’s inner personalities and connections to the conflict at hand. Whether it involves a scenario with Hilda’s generals, the Harbingers, or a deep issue that plagues one the party members, there are still a few moments that manage to improve the ordeal a bit. Thankfully, things do get better during the second half of the game, which is thanks to a few unexpected twists. Once Stella Glow hits this point, the journey ends up becoming a more meaningful experience. Aside from the typical cast improving a bit, the way how the situation pops in causes people to change their outlook on the state of the world during the first half, which is one of the few aspects that improved the story. From there, the plot's dark elements begin to intensify things more and the purpose behind Alto and the witch’s abilities start to become more relevant in the quest. However, since it takes about 15 to 20 game hours to reach this point, the payoff from this scenario isn’t as big as a tale that keeps the players fully invested from the get-go. In terms of Stella Glow’s gameplay, it plays like your standard strategy RPG; however, the game’s special feature is the system that lets Alto use his powers to tune and conduct the witches that he encounters throughout his journey. With this system, players can explore the inner worlds of the characters they use this power on, which allow them to help the girls overcome their deepest doubts and issues— kind of like the Dive system from the Ar Tonelico series. Usually, this segment is used to recruit the magical girls at the end of their arc, but it’s also used to improve their abilities when you hit a wall while players socialize with them. The other special mechanic is Alto's ability to use a special dagger to cause the witches to perform a song that affects the entire map. These skills can range from fully healing your party or prevent all enemies from being able to attack your units. All in all, these skills are one of the many features that make the title’s battle interesting, since each spell comes with a unique song. On top of that, it acts as a neat ability that can turn the tables on almost any encounter. Despite Alto’s Tuning and Conducting abilities being useful, it doesn’t fix the minor issues with the game’s maps. Based on my experience with tactical RPGs that lack mechanics to grants your units movement-related buffs, most of these titles keep the stage at a medium size, so you can fight your opponents at a normal pace. Unfortunately, Stella Glow’s maps during the later parts of the campaign are unnecessarily huge to the point where it’ll take a while for players to reach their opponents— especially the stages where the terrain limits the party’s steps. If you look at games like the Disgaea series and Chroma Squad, they both utilize systems that let players use their units to throw their allies across the field, which helps speed up the pace of each fight. While the Wind Witch Popo has a song that can help people move farther, this skill can only be used when one manages to increase the song gauge to a certain level. Since the bar only goes up when units damage their enemies, it doesn’t help too much in battle. If there’s one cool thing about Stella Glow’s combat, it’s that the players are treated to flashy animations when they attack their opponents. In a way, the dynamic sequences behind each attack give the game a nice Super Robot Wars vibe. For those who like to gain extra rewards, many missions contain extra objectives that can grant players exclusive items for challenging themselves in battle. The benefits of doing these special tasks felt mostly rewarding, as I found a majority of the spoils to be useful in the stage to follow. Since the game lets players save during battles, players won’t have to worry too much about restarting; therefore relieving the pain of accomplishing these challenges. When you’re not in the middle of a big mission, the game contains a few segments where you’re given the free time to do jobs around the kingdom, or spend time with your party members. Just like Persona 4, the benefits of interacting with your allies is that they gain better abilities their bond with the hero becomes stronger. On top of that, players are allowed to choose an epilogue scene of one of the characters that they spent lots of time with. This system is open to the entire cast, which is a neat option that adds a nice extra layer to the title’s ending. If the players hang out with a certain character, then they could change the way how the main story ends as well. Best of all, this can be accomplished during the first playthrough. Most importantly, you also have the option to date any of the witches with this system. While it’s impossible for people to fully bond with every character, the game’s new game plus option increases the free time limit; thus acting as a great extra for people who like to learn more about the game’s cast. Since it lets players learn more about the party members they’re interested in, this acts as a decent diversion from the game’s underwhelming first half. For a title that was made by a company that went bankrupt, I’d have to say that Imageepoch did a fine job with making sure that it looked nice on the 3DS. The characters during the mission segments are depicted as 3D chibi models, which remind me of the Nendoroid figures. Combined with the game’s simplistic colorful look, its style works great with the overall presentation. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with design choices that make the heroes and villains look cute in battle. In regards to the character illustrations, one of Ideolo’s strengths in his art was the artist’s costume designs for the cast. Each witch wears an outfit that represents their element and hometown (such as Mordimort wearing a dress that gives off a Middle East vibe or Sakuya’s fiery kimono). All in all, the illustrator’s pieces went well with the theme and setting that Stella Glow presents to its audience. Another thing that Stella Glow excels well at is its soundtrack. While a majority of the game's orchestrated tunes are decent, the witches’ songs are on a whole different level from the rest of the music. In total, there are around twenty different vocal tracks, with half of them being full songs. Some of my favorites include Sakuya’s theme, which has a few segments that feel like the Hatsune Miku song, “Senbonzakura,” by Kurousa P. The nice part of about these moments is that Atlus left the Japanese voices intact for these parts. Overall, Yui Sakakibara (the Super Robot War series’ Leona, Chaos;Head’s Ayase) did a great job in turning the Fire Witch’s tune into a hot performance. Other than that, Yukari Tamura’s (the Nanoha series’ Nanoha, KILL la KILL’s Rui) musical performance was another strong part, as she turned the battlefield into a soothing environment. As for the game’s English voice cast, the majority of them weren’t too bad. The people behind the witches manage to choose the right tone to bring out their personality (such as Mortimort talking like she’s lazy and unmotivated). Then the male party members all had decent to fine performances. All in all, the whole group was enjoyable and they even manage to nail the scenes during the free time segments as well, which gave players another incentive to spend time with them. Of course, this was thanks to Atlus' great localization, as the writing helped elevate the performance of the voice acting team. During Imageepoch's last moments, the studio managed to end things on a decent note. Stella Glow may’ve been held back by its weak first half and slight battle-related hindrances, but the team was able to complete an above average product with an enjoyable cast. I guess we also have SEGA to thank since they made this dream possible for them. Perhaps if the team didn’t face the terrible predicament that they did, we might’ve ended up with a more enjoyable title. On the bright side, their final game wasn't the second coming of Time and Eternity, which shows that they did their best to complete this project. Of course, their final Swan Song left us with some catchy songs that'll remain in our heads for a good while. [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]34498:5177:0[/embed]
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How to tune a witch
There’s something sad about seeing a company go under since it means that many hard-working individuals are out of a job. This is the case with the game development company Imageepoch, who filed for bankruptcy in May. W...

Review: Mugen Souls (PC)

Nov 16 // Christian Chiok
Mugen Souls (PC [reviewed], PS3)Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Ghostlight LTDMSRP: $19.99Released: October 22, 2015 [Note: This is a review of the PC version of Mugen Souls. Chris Walden reviewed the PS3 original back in 2013.] Mugen Souls follows the story of Chou-Chou, “The Undisputed God” who plans to conquer the universe by subjugating the seven worlds it comprises, as she thinks the planets look pretty. Traveling from world to world with her trusty companion Altis, and loyal peon Ryuto, Chou-Chou’s goal is to turn the heroes and demon lords of each world into her 'peons' (servants), saving the world from conflict in the process. If you’re looking for a serious story, Mugen Souls is definitely far from that option. While the characters are funny, the game's story revolves around moe and vague sexual themes that are never handled with any kind of maturity. It will keep you entertained for the first couple of hours but it will get old fast. Although the game features a lot of complicated systems, the gameplay is relatively simple. In Mugen Souls, players will explore areas on each planet, traveling to event points marked on the map that continue the story, fighting enemies, and finding occasional treasures. While the areas have a lot of detail and are very colorful, but unlike your average open-world JRPG, there isn’t much to explore, unfortunately. Most of the areas are empty as it doesn’t feature any optional dungeons or towns, so there's little point to exploring beyond finding the odd treasure chest or two. Unfortunately, the camera in the game is quite awful, especially when hitting a dead-end. It just goes all over the place and you have to constantly adjust it to normal. This can definitely affect your experience playing the game as it can sometimes leave you vulnerable to enemies, causing them to attack you first. Like your typical JRPGs, players can press a button to swing at an on-screen enemy to begin combat and get the first attack, while getting hit by the enemy first does the opposite. While the player usually gets the first hit during normal encounters, it is recommended that they attempt to make the first hit. The gameplay mechanics in Mugen Souls are similar to your typical strategy JRPG, like Disgaea or Agarest: Generations of War, minus the grid stages and the characters you control being limited to four. The battle system is based on wait time determined by the turn meter on the top of the screen. Once it’s your character’s turn, you will be able to move them to different parts of the field, with the distance varying per character. Depending on the attack, you will be able to attack enemies from far away or close-range as well. Mugen Souls’ strategic gameplay was unique, but I’m more fun of the traditional style featured in Disgaea, Fire Emblem and such. Even though the game features a lot of gameplay mechanics, a lot of those gameplay mechanics feel useless as the game is extremely easy during the beginning of the game, until you reach the massive difficulty spike. I feel like it really lacks a real strategic feel when choosing where to place your characters, something that is imperative in strategy games. I found myself carelessly placing characters without consequences. Not to mention that you will be able to execute most attacks as long as you’re really close. When two or more characters are placed together, you will be able to perform Link attacks. When executed, you will perform various special attacks which are strong enough to knock out strong enemies with one hit. Naturally, the more characters take part of the Linked attack, the stronger it will be. To navigate through these different planets, Chou-Chou her gang must travel using her spaceship the G-Castle. During these travels, you will encounter spaceship battles that play similarly to rock-paper-scissor type affairs where the player can choose between various kinds of attacks and defenses. What really annoyed me about G-Castle battles was that most of them were luck-based. While you’re given a hint of what could possibly be their next move, sometimes that certain hint could mean multiple things and you end up guessing. The fact that I had to resort to spamming once I leveled up makes matter worse. Aside from making each planet’s hero and demon lord into her Peon, Chou-Chou must also make the planet her Peon it truly conquer it. In order to completely conquer a planet, the player must first conquer its continents. There are three methods to do so —paying in gold, having a certain overall kill count, or utilizing Moe Kills. Using Moe Kill is the same as in battle, except the player is given a hint indicating which of Chou-Chou's forms is most effective. The gold points simply give the name of an item in the game's store, which the player then has to give gold equal to or greater than the cost of the item. Luckily, accomplishing these isn’t so bad. However, the last task, which requires the player to meet a certain amount of defeated enemies, which can get quite tedious. One of the reasons being is that regular battles for the vast majority of the game are incredibly easy and quickly become repetitive, thus  players will start skipping battles and then find they have to grind through a bunch of them to capture these points. Aside from the game’s main quests, you will be able to go through easy battles and events via the Mugen Field. While it shares similarities to Disgaea's random dungeons, unfortunately, this mode doesn't provide nearly the same level of entertainment. The point of this mode is to help the player gain new skills, level up old skills, or add defense item slots among other things. Due to the levels being easy, it mostly serves as a place to grind for levels, and with the game's massive endgame difficulty spike, the player will be spending a lot of time there. While in the game’s main lobby (which is inside the G-Castle), players will be able to create their own characters. Unfortunately, creating a battle-worthy character is so much time consuming that it isn’t worth it. I would just recommend sticking to the original characters and focusing on leveling them up. With the game being on PC, it definitely feels superior compared to its PS3 counterpart. The game is definitely colorful and vivid, making it pleasant to the eyes, especially during battle when performing Link attacks. However, what really seems inconsistent was that during the 3D cutscenes, when the character’s’ mouth didn’t move when speaking. As for the soundtrack, while a lot of it is filled with Disgaea-esque tunes, it is easily forgettable. While I’m usually a fan of the soundtrack when it comes to Compile Heart games, I really didn’t enjoy the tracks found in Mugen Souls. However, what I really liked was that the game offered Japanese voice acting as I found the English dub kind of awful. While I would recommend playing the game with a gamepad, the game certainly allows players to use keyboard and mouse. However, it feels kind of awkward, especially when moving the controlling the camera when moving. Being a PC title, it will accept a variety of gamepads as long as your PC can detect them. Heck, I was able to play with my Injustice Fightstick (although definitely nyo recommendable, but it’s still a good thing that it was able to read it.) If you really enjoyed playing Mugen Souls when it released on PS3, I would definitely recommend the PC version as it performs better. However, for those looking to add to their JRPG library, it’s hard to recommend this game. The story feels forced and gets old fast, the exploration is lacking, and the G-Castle battles makes the game a bit hard to enjoy. While the gameplay can be enjoyable, it is easily forgettable.  [This review is based on a digital retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.] Mugen Souls (PC)Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Ghostlight LTDMSRP: $19.99Released: October 22, 2015
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Conquer the Seven Worlds!!
Since last year, Ghostlight, the UK-based publisher, has been bringing various console-exclusive titles such as the Agarest: Generations of War series and Way of the Samurai 4 to the PC platform. This time around, the publish...

Review: Sword Art Online: Lost Song

Nov 13 // Josh Tolentino
Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4, PS3, PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: ArtdinkPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesMSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (PS4)Released: November 17, 2015 (NA), November 13, 2015 (EU), April 28, 2015 (SEA), March 26, 2015 (JP) [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of Lost Song released in Southeast Asia on April 28, 2015. While there may be some differences between this version and the North American/EU ones, we expect the core experience will be highly similar, if not identical.] Let's not mince words: Like its predecessor Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is meant for existing fans of Sword Art Online (or at least of Hollow Fragment), and few else outside that sphere. In fact, Lost Song's main plot virtually ensures that only those invested Kirito and the gang's adventures and interactions will find fulfillment from the game's narrative.  But first, an aside: When it came to the anime and novels, the reason the ALO-set story arcs felt so weak was the overriding sense that the show was treading water. In contrast to original's grand hook of "dying in the game means death for real", the goal of Kirito playing ALO to search for Asuna carried not nearly as much weight. This was exacerbated in the second season, which followed up an excellent murder mystery plot set in Gun Gale Online with Kirito and his pals literally just doing a raid and some quests in ALO for a nice sword. It came to pass that when ALO was onscreen, Sword Art Online became less about exciting adventures and speculative future game design than essentially watching a bunch of nonexistent Let's Players play a nonexistent game. Lost Song's story falls afoul of ALO's curse as well, with even its central plot afflicted with the same sense of meandering and lack of stakes. Still placed in Hollow Fragment's alternative timeline (which saw the cast stuck in SAO for much longer than in the "canon", and adding characters like Sinon under different circumstances), Lost Song sees Kirito and his posse moving to ALfheim Online right on time for the game to debut "Svart ALfheim", its first expansion, consisting of five massive floating islands. Being the top-class gamers they are, the crew resolves to be the first to burn through it. The quest for "world-first" (a motivation familiar to anyone who's played an MMO) eventually brings them into conflict with Shamrock, a massive guild run by Seven, an idol/scientist (!) who's taking the opportunity run a big social experiment within ALO. If the whole premise of Lost Song's plot sounds like the kind of inter-guild "drama" that plays out on forums and social media feeds for actual games today, one wouldn't be too far off. This puts the bulk of the game's narrative appeal in the interactions between cast members new and old, told via entertaining Tales of-style vignettes, in-game events, and lengthy personal quests, some of which adapt storylines from the canon like the well-received "Mother's Rosario" arc. Those invested in seeing those characters again, sporting ALO-styled redesigns and touting long-running in-jokes, will get their fill, but players seeking epic adventure or the kind of JRPG story that ends with the heroes saving the world will come away disappointed. It doesn't help, either, that Lost Song doesn't work very hard to introduce players to the characters themselves. In some ways that's to be expected, seeing as this is a sequel to Hollow Fragment and mostly features the same faces (with a few more added), but curious folks who just want to know what the fuss over Sword Art Online is all about would be better served by picking up Re: Hollow Fragment (the "Director's Cut" PS4 port of Hollow Fragment), or just watching the anime. Narrative pitfalls aside, Lost Song is at least less of a slog to play, mechanically, bringing some new, entertaining gimmicks to the table. The combat system ditches the auto-attacks, casting times, and menus of Hollow Fragment for a straightforward, directly-controlled action-RPG setup. Players can string together combos of light and heavy attacks, controlling any three of up to seventeen playable characters (they can even replace Kirito as the leader!), each wielding a number of weapons with signature skills and magic. Special moves and magic can be triggered by combining shoulder and face buttons. New attacks, spells, and passive effects can be unlocked by leveling up leveling up their weapon skills through use, and assigning them to preferred button combinations. A Union gauge fills up in battle, and when triggered enables devastating "Switch" attacks involving the whole party. While simpler and arguably less deep than Hollow Fragment, the new system is more engaging and wastes less time. Most low-level foes can be dispatched in seconds, and fighting large bosses rewards mobility and effective use of buffs and debuffs to chop away at their massive, stacked health bars. AI companions fight and support effectively, and need little in the way of handholding unless severely under-leveled. New gear can be found in the field, or bought, identified, and upgraded at Agil and Lisbeth's shops while Side Quests and Extra Quests can be accepted at the hub town's tavern. Side Quests usually fall into the "Kill X number of Y enemy" category, but Extra Quests usually pose an additional challenge, involving big takedowns of one or more boss-class foes for better rewards. And then there's the flying. Being a fairy-themed game, ALO plants wings on all its characters to enable long-distance travel and a level of verticality rarely embraced in the RPG space. Lost Song gladly obliges, featuring huge, open-world maps populated by roaming enemies and dotted with dungeons at varying altitudes. Players can switch from running on the ground to hovering to racing through the air with a flick of the D-pad. While a bit fiddly at first, this mobility quickly becomes second nature and makes a genuine difference when fighting outdoors, as aerial dashes can be used to set up powerful charging attacks, and hovering up high can put safe distances between players and ground-bound foes. Fighting indoors, however, is more of a chore, as most dungeons prohibit flying and often take place against large numbers of enemies spawning in ways that cause the combat camera and lock-on function to freak out unpleasantly. Worse still, the dungeons themselves are so bland and unimaginative that I initially mistook them for being procedurally generated. Having players visit these dungeons in order to progress the story just hammers home the apathetic level design. And there's even multiplayer. Local and online play sessions are available, including a PVP versus mode, and team battles against roided-out versions of the single-player bosses. It's an alright option to have, but there's little compelling reason to engage with it. Players can use custom characters, but the customization options are so limited that anything created just resembles the generic NPC characters littering the hub world. For better or worse, Sword Art Online: Lost Song replicates both the highs and lows of its predecessors. Existing fans of the series will find plenty to like in the further adventures of Kirito and his MMO pals, despite a dull main story. The revamped mechanics also support a steady drip-feed of Sword Art Online fan service mainly by not getting in the way too much. Unfortunately, Lost Song stumbles hardest when trying to engage players outside that sphere of pre-existing investment, and in some ways ends up an even less suitable jumping-off point for newbies who want to get in on enjoying the franchise. My advice to those folks would be to watch the anime or try out Hollow Fragment first. If they're still jonesing for some more of this motley crew of irredeemable MMO nerds when they're done, then Lost Song will be music to their ears. [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015 Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015 Sword Art Online: Lost Song (PS4, PS3, PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: ArtdinkPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesMSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (PS4)Released: November 17, 2015 (NA), November 13, 2015 (EU), April 28, 2015 (SEA), March 26, 2015 (JP) [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of Lost Song released in Southeast Asia on April 28, 2015. While there may be some differences between this version and the North American/EU ones, we expect the core experience will be highly similar, if not identical.] Let's not mince words: Like its predecessor Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, Lost Song is meant for existing fans of Sword Art Online (or at least of Hollow Fragment), and few else outside that sphere. In fact, Lost Song's main plot virtually ensures that only those invested Kirito and the gang's adventures and interactions will find fulfillment from the game's narrative.  But first, an aside: When it came to the anime and novels, the reason the ALO-set story arcs felt so weak was the overriding sense that the show was treading water. In contrast to original, grand hook of "dying in the game kills means death for real", the goal of Kirito playing ALO to search for Asuna carried not nearly as much weight. This was exacerbated in the second season, which followed up an excellent murder mystery plot set in Gun Gale Online with Kirito and his pals literally just doing a raid and some quests in ALO for a nice sword.  Lost Song's story falls afoul of ALO's curse as well, with even its central plot afflicted with the same sense of meandering and lack of stakes. Still placed in Hollow Fragment's alternative timeline (which saw the cast stuck in SAO for much longer than in the "canon", and adding characters like Sinon under different circumstances), Lost Song sees Kirito and his posse moving to ALfheim Online right on time for the game to debut "Svart ALfheim", its first expansion, consisting of five massive floating islands. Being the top-class gamers they are, the crew resolves to be the first to burn through it. [embed]318569:61068:0[/embed] The quest for "world-first" (a motivation familiar to anyone who's played an MMO) eventually brings them into conflict with Shamrock, a massive guild run by Seven, an idol/scientist (!) who's taking the opportunity run a big social experiment within ALO. If the whole premise of Lost Song's plot sounds like the kind of inter-guild "drama" that plays out on forums and social media feeds for actual games today, one wouldn't be too far off. This puts the bulk of the game's narrative appeal in the interactions between cast members new and old, told via entertaining Tales of-style vignettes, in-game events, and lengthy personal quests, some of which adapt storylines from the canon like the well-received "Mother's Rosario" arc. Those invested in seeing those characters again, sporting ALO-styled redesigns and touting long-running in-jokes, will get their fill, but players seeking epic adventure or the kind of JRPG story that ends with the heroes saving the world will come away disappointed. It doesn't help, either, that Lost Song doesn't work very hard to introduce players to the characters themselves. In some ways that's to be expected, seeing as this is a sequel toHollow Fragment and mostly features the same faces (with a few more added), but curious folks who just want to know what the fuss over Sword Art Online is all about would be better served by picking up Re: Hollow Fragment (the "Director's Cut" PS4 port of Hollow Fragment), or just watching the anime. Narrative pitfalls aside, Lost Song is at least less of a slog to play, mechanically, bringing some new, entertaining gimmicks to the table. The combat system ditches the auto-attacks, casting times, and menus of Hollow Fragment for a straightforward, directly-controlled action-RPG style. Players can string together combos of light and heavy attack, controlling any three of up to seventeen playable characters (they can even replace Kirito as the leader!), each wielding a number of weapons with signature skills and magic. Special attacks and magic can be triggered by holding down a shoulder button, and unlock new attacks, spells, and passive effects by leveling up their weapon skills through use. A Union gauge fills up in battle, and when triggered enables devastating "Switch" attacks involving the whole party. While simpler than Hollow Fragment, the new system is more engaging and wastes less time. Most low-level foes can be dispatched in seconds, and fighting large bosses rewards mobility and effective use of buffs and debuffs to chop away at their massive, stacked health bars. AI companions fight and support effectively, and need little in the way of handholding unless severely under-leveled. New gear can be found in the field, or bought, identified, and upgraded at Agil and Lisbeth's shops, while Side Quests and Extra Quests can be accepted at the hub town's tavern. Side Quests usually fall into the "Kill X number of Y enemy" category, but Extra Quests usually pose an additional challenge, involving big takedowns of one or more boss-class foes for better rewards. And then there's the flying. Being a fairy-themed game, ALO plants wings on all its characters. Lost Song gladly obliges, featuring huge, open-world maps populated by roaming enemies and dotted with dungeons. Players can switch from running on the ground to hovering to racing through the air with a flick of the D-pad. While a bit fiddly at first, this mobility quickly becomes second nature and makes a genuine difference when fighting outdoors, as aerial dashes can be used to set up powerful charging attacks, and hovering up high can put distance between you and a ground-bound foe. Fighting indoors, however, is more of a chore, as most dungeons prohibit flying and often take place against large numbers of enemies spawning in such a way as to cause the combat camera and lock-on function to freak out in unpleasant ways. Worse still, the dungeons themselves are so bland and unimaginative that I initially mistook them for being procedurally generated. And with having players visit these dungeons in turn to progress the story just hammers home the apathetic level design all the more. And there's even multiplayer. Local and online play sessions are available, including a PVP versus mode, and team battles against roided-out versions of the single-player bosses. It's an alright option to have, but there's little compelling reason to engage with it. Players can use custom characters, but the customization options are so limited that anything created just resembles the generic NPC characters littering the hub world. For better or worse, Sword Art Online: Lost Song replicates both the highs and lows of its predecessors. Existing fans of the series will find plenty to like in the further adventures of Kirito and his MMO pals, despite a dull story. The revamped mechanics also support a steady dose of Sword Art Online fanservice, mainly by not getting in the way too much. Unfortunately, Lost Song stumbles hardest when trying to engage players outside that sphere of pre-existing investment, and is an even less suitable jumping-off point for newbies who want to get in on enjoying the franchise.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksMSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015
Sword Art Online photo
A Familiar Tune
Ask most folks who watched the Sword Art Online anime series, and they'll likely tell you that the show's weaker moments usually coincided with events set in ALfheim Online (ALO), a fairy-themed virtual re...

Review: Gatchaman Crowds Insight

Nov 12 // Salvador GRodiles
Gatchaman Crowds Insight Studio: Tatsunoko Release Date: July 4, 2015 Format: Streamed via Crunchyroll Taking place right after Gatchaman Crowds, Insight pits Hajime and the other Gatchaman against a group called VAPE, who want to rid the world of the CROWDs. During all of this commotion, the team ended up getting a new team member in the form of Tsubasa, along with having to watch over an alien visitor go goes by the name of Gel Sadra, who happens to share the same name with Leader-X’s top subordinate from Gatchaman II. While the show’s story sounds very simple, things start to take a different turn as political themes begin to take the helm. From day one, the main thing that sets this season from its predecessor is how it takes the pieces that were set into place earlier, and uses them to build a new foundation. At first, it seemed that the story was going to focus on Tsubasa becoming a better hero to overcome VAPE, but the staff did a good job in squeezing in the political themes, as Gel runs for office. While the first series had more of a subtle feeling with hints of Berg Katze plotting something huge, Insight convinces its viewers that things are suspicious from the get-go. This is shown through Gel’s speeches, which invoke the stereotype that many politicians use to present themselves as the person who relates with the middle-class citizens. Honestly, what made the guy’s actions great was that we were made to question whether the alien had ulterior motives or not. Going by the rule of things that are too good to be true, Gel came off as this super kind person who could bring everyone together. Just like the many things that fall into this category, a lot of people were drawn to his personality. Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of this story was the dynamics between Hajime and Tsubasa. Despite Hajime’s role as the girl’s mentor, Insight turned Tsubasa into the person who wishes to stand by Gel’s ideals no matter what; thus conflicting with Hajime’s super enthusiastic free spirit. On one side, you have the person who wishes for people to think on their own, and on the other, you have those who believe that true peace can occur if everyone goes with the flow. This also represents two of the various ways on how people create an atmosphere in their setting. Because of the way how society reacted to this event, this made Insight a personal story that many folks could relate to since it uses the social networking themes that it predecessor established to expand on the environment created by the political aspects. It also helps that the show’s superhero elements continue to sit in the back corner until they’re called for. Sure, there isn’t a consistent group that sends a bunch of bad guys against Hajime and her crew, but the idea that they still interact with other folks is surprisingly more entertaining. Seeing the first series focuses on the team’s rise to fame, another joyous thing about the show was seeing their efforts pay off. Whether it was O.D. showing off his fabulous personality on a live talk show or witnessing Rui using his Gatchaman powers, Insight leaves it viewers with a great sensation for investing their time with its predecessor. On top of that, once Gel’s presence becomes more prominent in the story, we start to see them change gears as they adjust to the changes in society. Thanks to the staff's great work with this story, the way how the heroes resolved the whole situation ended up being a powerful scene. Since the team was still fun to follow, this turned Insight’s closing segments into a very emotional ride. Let’s just say that it involves tears. If there’s one thing that we can always expect from Crowds, it’s the show’s stylish look. Just like the previous installment, Kinako’s stylish character designs continue to grace the screen. For the most part, the colorful looks continue to be a thing in Insight. Hell, Gel’s ability to turn people’s thoughts into speech bubbles was a nice aesthetic that improved the program’s great arsenal of abstract colorful designs. On top of that, Rui and Tsubasa’s Gatchaman suits are a nice addition to the crew’s set of armored heroes. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with a fighter who can transport people to different locations and one who can fight with fireworks. Even though some of the show’s music is recycled from the previous series, the tracks still manage to go well with Insight’s scenes. Whether it’s the catchy electro song that repeats the phrase ‘Gatchaman’ or the subtle ambient track used in the peaceful segments, Taku Iwasaki’s (JoJo 2012 and Gurren Lagann’s Music) stuff continues to push the story in a positive manner again. Just like the rest of the show, it feels like we’re hanging out with the same person who made us smile before. I guess this would count as an amazing encore. As for the new characters, Kana Hanazawa (Durarara!!'s Anri, the Monogatari series' Nadeko) did a fantastic job in making Gel's child form sound playful and innocent, and Tomokazu Sugita (Kamen Rider Gaim's Demushu, Gintama's Gintoki) helped give the alien's adult form a convincing voice as a politician. That, and it was great to see him use a gentle voice throughout the series. In regards to Tsubasa, Kaori Ishihara (Magi's Aladdin, A Lull in the Sea's Sayu) brought out her ambitious personality nicely. She may not be on the same level as Maaya Uchida's (Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger's Hakase, Outbreak Company's Minori) Hajime voice, but she hit the right notes in making her character an overly determined person. Combined with the original cast, the voice actors were able to put on quite a good show.  While a sequel to Gatchaman Crowds could’ve gone either way, the show’s crew stuck to their guns and used them to shoot out greater bullets. The title’s political elements and expansion on its social life aspects gave it another nice zest that sets it apart from many superhero shows. Whether there’s gonna be a third installment or not, Kenji Nakamura (tsuritama and Mononoke's Director) has shown us that his take on Tatsunoko’s classic property is still capable of playing the game. [This review is based on a streamed version of the series viewed by the reviewer at personal expense.]
Gatchaman Crowds Insight photo
Gerururururu!
Whenever an old property gets reinvented, many folks tend to be concerned over the changes that the title goes through. In some cases, it can be a bad thing; however, a new take on a classic could act as a great way to a...

Review: The Art of Grasshopper Manufacture

Nov 12 // Anthony Redgrave
The Art of GrassHopper Manufacture: Complete Collection of SUDA51Published By: PIE International + PIE Books (Website)Written By: SUDA51Released: June 2015MSRP: $28.95 (Amazon)ISBN-13: 978-4-7562-4586-1 First impressions are good. It's filled with pretty pictures with a clean layout for easy browsing and has a good sense of weight in your hands. Grasshopper Manufacture is an eclectic developer never settling on just one style or just one motif and thus this book is filled to the brim with a variety of illustrations and styles. It documents the entire developer's catalogue from the games still in production Let it Die to their first attempts as a developer The Silver Case. Only the absolutely hardcore fans will notice omissions and not all the games have art assets to contribute, either because of licencing issues or otherwise. This isn't a massive downside though as the title has enough original content to keep your visual cortex engaged throughout.  There is a great selection of art on display here. It ranges from concept art to promotional material to art assets seen in-game. There isn't an even distribution of pages per franchise as games that had an international release like Lollipop Chainsaw and No More Heroes take up a lot more pages than smaller titles like Sine Mora and Michigan. However, I never felt like I wanted to see more from one particular game. This book places an emphasis on character and monster design so be prepared to see a lot of humanoid shapes and faces. There are a handful environmental pieces to help readers get a feel for the game's visuals and provide some diversity to the title. Western fans of the Fatal Frame series will be happy to see a small section dedicated to the Japanese only Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. This title tries to cram in as much as possible and goes as far as to include the various renditions of the company logos through the ages.  The text is peppered throughout the book, mainly in Japanese with a fully translated section at the back. It's clear the book wasn't designed to have English text so it had been included all in the back causing a lot of flipping back and forth to connect the two paragraphs together. The formatting of the text is good opting for a clear monochrome sans-serif font, but the size is on the small side requiring piercing stare to decipher. The inclusion of a complete translation is a highly welcome addition allowing westerners to enjoy this book regardless of purchase location.  The book's subtitle: Complete Collection of Suda51 should not be discounted as the book reads like a creative biography. The words guide the reader through each game as Suda51 recounts his experiences, design philosophy, and development insights. I found myself being more and more absorbed into the companies history through his recollections after multiple viewings of this book. They give each game more personality and depth than just looking at the pictures. Skipping over the written portions of this book is missing half the brilliance of the title. I was especially impressed by the way Suda was able to convey his personal struggles as the head of a game company with the creative hardships of matching visuals to game design. It helped me grow more attached to the art as a result and understand the philosophy behind every game this company had produced.  The book is a 224-page softback with a soft sleeve giving it a bit more class than a typical trade paper back. The size is just a bit shy of an A4 sheet, but the pictures are printed big and bold with the pieces showing off the most colour benefitting the most. The front cover is a mess. A collage of black and white art from various Grasshopper games with the uniform book title lined up across the whole thing. The actual title looks like it was formatted on WordArt as the font colour is slightly transparent making it difficult to read. The paper is a thick grainy stock giving the book weight and thankfully doesn't give off an excessive amount of sheen when viewed directly under the light.  Grasshopper Manufacture once had a slogan 'Punk not dead' exclaiming the idea of a punk subculture within the video game industry. Their individual and unique nature towards video games can be seen in their art by never lingering on the same thing and subverting the norm to be uniquely interesting. The Art of Grasshopper Manufacture is a title with lots of character, colour, and creativity. Suda's dialogue through the title injects some human personality amongst the images of monsters, demon hunters, and assassins. If you've ever found yourself being drawn to a Grasshopper Manufacture game then I highly recommended this book. It's a must have for anyone that has been bewitched by the visual callings of a Suda51 game.  [This review is based off a review copy provided by the publisher] Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with Their Creators Published By: No Starch PressWritten By: Matt SainsburyReleased: September 10, 2015MSRP: $39.95ISBN-13: 978-1593276652 enthusiasts
Grasshopper Manufacture photo
Enter the mind of SUDA51
Grasshopper Manufacture, to put it simply, is a Japanese game company. Their games are surreal and weird. Each one looks, sounds, and plays differently. And it's all from the mind of video game auteur Suda51. Art direction pl...

Review: Superbeat XONIC

Nov 11 // Red Veron
[embed]34458:5161:0[/embed] Superbeat XONiC (PS Vita)Developer: PM Studios & NurijoyPublisher: PM Studios & Acttil Released: December 17, 2015 (JP) / November 10, 2015 (US) / November 10, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Superbeat XONiC's overall visual presentation is very slick and stylish, not only with its menus but every bit of the game looks really good with its use of contemporary design language. DJMAX fans will feel right at home when the game starts up. Superbeat XONIC's gameplay is something rather new to audiences that aren't up-to-date with the latest rhythm music games. The music game interface features the notes moving on tracks from the center of the screen outward to the "Gears" on the left and right sides of the screen. As with many music rhythm games, you push the corresponding buttons (or tap/perform the screen button/action) when the the Notes on the track line up with the "Gears" on the sides of the screen. Those who played Persona 4: Dancing All Night earlier this year will be familiar with this game play style.  To get a better idea of how this works, just watch the trailer video above. There are three ways to play Superbeat XONiC; the physical Vita buttons, the Vita's touch screen, and using a Dual Shock 3/4 controller on the Playstation TV. The physical button controls is there for you out there who like to play traditional physical controls. The touchscreen controls feel surprisingly good, I did better with the touch controls with harder songs. The Dual Shock controller also worked really well (though some have reported have experienced input and display delay on Playstation TV). The touch screen controls suggest that we might see this title on mobile and tablet in the future. While you play, the backgrounds provide nice atmosphere to the song much like those song visualizers in your computer's music player applications. Those who are familiar with the DJMAX games will be a bit disappointed that music video styled background videos are not in this game due to the way the game plays but the nice song cover art are still present. Superbeat XONiC offers many modifiers or "Effectors" to the central gameplay. You can choose the Note (Fade in, Fade Mid, and Fade out), Gear (Flicker, Flicker 2, and Ghost), Note chart (mirror and random). You can also change the speed of the note tracks while selecting the song and even while playing the song.  Playing through the songs allow you to gather experience to level up which then unlocks songs and "DJ Icons" which is used for your in-game profile for ranking and grants you bonuses such as experience bonuses, health, shields, etc. The difficulty of this game varies and can be accessible to rhythm music beginners. You can change the difficulty which will allow you to miss more notes on easy, allowing you play through the game more and unlock more of the game. There is a "Health" meter in the game that goes down when you miss a note, there are bonuses that boost your health or help you recharge to keep from failing. Superbeat XONiC's soundtrack will definitely please with its variety and really good quality. Some may see some familiar artists from the DJMAX series and some songs are even from Arc System Works (who published the game in Japan). Songs are just the right length for portable play which makes it so much easier to marathon the games. Genres include electronic, pop, k-pop, rock, metal, RnB, and different fusions of the genres for even more variety. Music game play styles include are in three different styles: 4 Track, 6 Track, 6 Track FX. 4 Track uses four "tracks" in the visual interface on the game screen (two on each side of the screen) and correspond with four physical buttons: left, down, cross, and circle. While 6 Track adds two more tracks (one to each side) that correspond with the up and the triangle buttons. 6 Track FX adds the L and R shoulder buttons. All modes make use of the left and right sticks when using the physical controls. There aren't other modes in the game other than the World Tour mode that features a set goal that gives you a set of songs to play on three different difficulties. These give you an extra challenge to do on the side but isn't required to unlock different parts of the game. Your game performance in the different game types add to your DJ Ranking, which you can compare to other Superbeat XONiC players around the world when you connect to PSN. Superbeat XONiC provides a great core rhythm music game experience, even though it doesn't offer much in the way of bells and whistles like other games in the genre. It doesn't need any of the fluff though, the great music and solid experience is worth the entry alone. DJMAX fans should check out this game, sure it's not the same game but they should feel right at home here once they familiarize themselves with the game. The same goes for those interested in the rhythm music game genre, there are enough features to ease in beginners while keeping genre enthusiasts satisfied.
Review photo
Get into the Beat!
I know I am not the only one who felt crushed when I heard that there wouldn't be any more games of the super fun music rhythm game series DJMAX. I remember seeing the cover art for DJMAX for the first time and being very int...

Review: Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden

Nov 08 // Anthony Redgrave
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS [Reviewed])Developer: Arc System WorksPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: June 11, 2015 (JP) / October 10, 2015 (US) / October 16, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $29.99 Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is a simple fighter that has a few rough edges that, unfortunately, tarnish an otherwise solid game. The title has a limited amount of modes that are initially locked away until playing through the main story mode titled Z Story. After that, you are introduced to What If scenario's which is the same story mode you had just played but with different characters and the adventure mode where most of the unlocking takes place. You can blast through each campaign in about 15 minutes and even shorter if you skip the dialogue. It takes you through the major fights in the series, from the initial conception of the Z Fighters against Raditz up to Goku and Vegeta's final stand against Kid Buu in the Buu saga. It is a heavily cut down and abridged retelling with players unfamiliar with the show's lore and storyline being kept in the dark about the various character dynamics and intricacies the show has. The what if scenario's are misleading as it's just a retread of the same story but through the eyes of another character. Even as Vegeta defeating Goku in the Vegeta Saga will still  result in Vegeta retreating and reuniting with the Z fighters on Namek.  The main mode is Adventure mode as it is here you will be spending the most time unlocking assists to use in the other modes. The story provided is very silly as it involves all the villains being resurrected thanks to the power of the black star Dragon Balls and it's up the Z fighters to set things straight. Both adventure mode and Z story mode follow a dialogue, fight, dialogue progression in each stage is the player can keep count of what is happening and the consequences of each fight. However, the dialogue scenes often take longer than the actual fighting sessions causing a large break in gameplay flow between each fight. I found myself skipping the dialogue just to get to the next fight. This game could have really benefitted from a streamlined arcade mode. Rounding off there is a standard vs. mode against computers or local and a Quest mode involving guild cards. At the point the review I have not been able to use the Quest mode as I did not Street Pass with anyone with the game. It's disappointing to see Dragon Ball Z Extreme Butoden omit standard fighting game modes like a training mode, tutorial, and online play as the gameplay is fast, frantic, and fun.  The game plays similar to Naruto's Ultimate Ninja series. Every character has the same control scheme and button combination to pull off their unique special moves. There is no Street Fighter-esque quarter circle backs or charge moves. Instead, it's repeated button presses and at most two button combinations. My only gripe with this control scheme is that assist characters and tag ins/outs are confined to pressing the bottom screen on the DS which is very difficult in the heat of battle. The story mode will not challenge you in the slightest as you will breeze through Goku's legacy in 15 minutes. The Adventure mode is slightly more challenging, testing you to beat each match under certain conditions for assist unlocks. I found it difficult to obtain an S rank on any of the missions due to my limited grasp on the more advanced tactics and move sets. This is where a training mode would've come in handy so players can practice their combos and come to grips with the finer nuances of the characters.  Easily the best part of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is the presentation. Arc System Works have gone for sprites instead of 3D polygons contrary to the 3D moniker of the 3DS and they made the right choice. While the 3D does look fairly basic putting fighters in the immediate foreground and adding some depth to the background, it's the most impressive when the beam struggles are being fired off. The 3D adds that extra oomph to the scene making the glow of the ki blasts more epic and visually pleasing. This series provides a lot of variety of Dragon Ball characters going as far back as Goku's original aggressors in the Red Army to his modern day antagonists seen in the movies including Golden Frieza and Beerus. Unfortunately, not all of them are playable. They are assists that can be summoned to help out during a battle a la Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes. The actual roster is actually quite small for a Dragon Ball Z title clocking in around 18 (including the 4 forms of Goku you can play as). There are many many assists you can unlock completely dwarfing the playable roster. Unskilled players do have the option of looking up cheat codes if the Adventure Mode prove to be too difficult to obtain S ranks in each mission.  Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is one more the better portable Dragon Ball Z fighters on the market. It's gameplay is great and finding a friend to play local wireless with is a blast. But there is very little growth that comes with this game. Without an in-game tutorial, the download code I was given didn't explain the fancier concepts like executing a reply beam struggle. A lack of a training mode and easy AI opponents means the player cannot find new and better combos to use resorting to either the same combo or button mashing to get the job done. I wanted more to do with this game since I liked the gameplay, but the game got repetitive fairly quickly. Fans of the series may want to pick this up when it's discounted or wait for a sequel.  One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 (PS4 [Reviewed], PS3, PS Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: March 26, 2015 (JP) / August 25, 2015 (US) / August 28, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $59.99
Dragon Ball Z photo
Kamahamahas in my pocket
I think every 90's kid remembers Dragon Ball Z as their first foray into anime and was eagerly anticipating a decent Dragon Ball Z game. We waited, and waited and then sometime during the noughties there was an explosion of y...

Review: One Piece Pirate Warriors 3

Nov 02 // Red Veron
One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 (PS4 [Reviewed], PS3, PS Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: March 26, 2015 (JP) / August 25, 2015 (US) / August 28, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $59.99 From Gundam to Fist of the North Star, the Dynasty Warriors formula works well with anime-styled action and the One Piece series is one of those that excels using that gameplay style. This new entry to the Pirate Warriors series has us playing through some of the official One Piece story arcs from Romance Dawn to the latest Dressrosa Atc, unlike the previous game that had its own original game-exclusive story. Though a "Dream Log" mode is there to satisfy those who would like to play some "what if" scenarios with their favorite characters and/or various team-ups/duels. The Dream Log mode is somewhat similar to Samurai Warriors' Chronicle mode. You get play through a map filled with different points that each have scenarios with certain objectives. These scenarios are short and have different choices to change things up, such as choosing to side with different factions of different characters.   The action in this new Pirate Warriors provides more variety than most Warriors games, each character will play differently whether it is in their speed or strength. Each character will have their own combos and even those who seem to have similar weapons do play differently, which adds plenty of replay value. This is a great way to showcase the uniqueness of the One Piece characters in more than just the way they look, button-mashing isn't going to work here. Another thing that differentiates this title is the use of a dodge button that replaces the jump button, this lets you dodge in any direction on one plane and works well when timed right. Co-op play adds much fun to the game but the online co-op is limited to the Legend and Free logs, while local split-screen co-op works with all modes.The different ways to play against or with characters feed into the way you increase your character's stats. Beating or teaming up with the differing characters gives you access to the specific character's coins. These character coins will upgrade each character's specific stats, adding a loot aspect to the game. Leveling up characters is easy, especially for those who like sticking to one character. You can just boost other characters' level to the highest level character you have using the generously abundant in-game currency. There are more playable characters in this new entry, which is great for local split-screen play and also adds to the new "Kizuna Rush" attack mechanic. The new "Kizuna Rush" system allows your player character to team up with up to three other characters for support that provide more stronger attacks at the end of your combos as you level up your Kizuna gauge. When you max out the Kizuna Gauge, you can perform a Kizuna Rush that obliterates all non-special characters onscreen and deals a good damaged to special characters. This adds more to your combat variety and timing your Kizuna attacks just feels satisfying, especially when clearing out huge mobs quickly.The Kizuna system works with "Hero Powers", filling up the Kizuna gauge beyond level 3 with certain characters allow for map-wide affecting specials which can range from healing your allies to landing attacks that damage all acitve enemies on the map. One thing that kept from enjoying the different Warriors games in the past was the performance and visuals of the games. I am very pleased that this latest Pirate Warriors game on the Playstation 4 runs great (with very rare minor hiccups) and looks great. This game is also on the Playstation Vita which looks good and runs just as well as its console counterparts. Pirate Warriors 3 also features cross-save support which allows you to upload your save to the cloud and lets you continue your progress on any platform. Pirate Warriors 3 being on the Playstation Vita is probably why the levels can be finished in around 10 minutes and have reasonably sized maps, this is great as it keeps you from getting bored in running around a map or dying accidentally and losing a lot of progress like in the mainline Dynasty Warriors game. Levels that have those timed objectives are much more balanced compared to the strict time limits or easily killed allies that end up in mission failure in the previous game. Presentation of the story is pretty but a bit inconsistent. There are nice looking full CG animated scenes adapted from the show but not all parts are presented in this manner, some scenes are done in the minimal animated voiced character models with a text box; then there there are the plain text exposition voiced over by the narrator. It may be confusing to those unfamiliar and the drama that fans love from the anime will be lost on One Piece newcomers since it just doesn't have the impact. There's plenty of content in this game for fans and those just wanting to play some Warriors action. Those wanting a different take on the Warriors formula and die-hard One Piece fans should find something in this new game, it's an improvement over the previous game but those tired with the second game won't find much different here. If you've never played a Pirate Warriors title and want to play a great take on the Warriors formula, Pirate Warriors 3 provides a great fun time.
One Piece photo
King of the Pirates!
As someone who isn't into One Piece, it's always a surprise for me every time I am reminded that the franchise is still wildly popular around the world. Its enduring popularity remains strong especially in its native Japan wi...

Review: Boruto: Naruto the Movie

Oct 22 // Christian Chiok
Boruto: Naruto the Movie Studio: Pierrot Licensed by: Viz Media Release Date: August 8, 2015 (Japan), October 10, 2015 (North America) The movie already starts off with lots of action, featuring Sasuke fighting with both Momoshiki and Kinshiki in the ruins of Kaguya Otsutsuki's palace. From that battle scene alone, you can already tell how well the movie’s animation will be and it’s a great way to get the audience hook to the movie. Just like Kaguya, Momoshiki and Kinshiki Otsutsuki’s goal was to recollect all chakra and create it into a new chakra fruit, which would grant unlimited power, eternal youth, and immortality. However, they don’t have any affiliation with Kaguya as she created the White Zetsu Army in order to fend off against them should they ever attempt to steal her chakra. Throughout the movie, it is easily noticeable that Konoha has evolved technologically as the use of computers is pretty frequent. However, was stood out the most, and what basically was an important part of the movie, was the forearm device called Kote made by Katasuke. Kote allows the wielder to use any jutsu of their choice, without the use of chakra, as long as they had the scroll to use the sealed technique. Kote suggested that he wanted to introduce the device Chunin Exams but Naruto considered it cheating and denied his request. [embed]34393:5113:0[/embed] When Katasuke brought up the device to Boruto, he denied his request and he told him he wasn’t going to be entering the Chunin exams anyway. But after discussing about the Chunin exams with Sarada, and with her convincing him to enter be telling him that it was a way to show off to his father, he decides to enter. Even though Naruto has reached his long-term goal of becoming Hokage, the movie still shows that the character has so much to learn as he continues to prioritize work over family obligations, especially when he sends a shadow clone to his daughter's birthday dinner.  When Boruto finds out, he states that Naruto was luckier than him, reasoning that a dead father is better than one that neglects his children. Later that night, Boruto meets his father’s enteral frenemy and rival Sasuke Uchiha. Boruto being aware of that, he begs Sasuke if he can become his student and hopes he educate him about Naruto's weaknesses. Sasuke stated that he will take Boruto as his student under the condition that he can master the Rasengan, an attack that even Naruto struggled to perfect. Given the condition, Boruto goes to Konohamaru and asks him to teach him the Rasengan, which took Boruto a few long days to learn. When he finally approached Sasuke to tell him he learned the Rasengan, Sasuke notes that it’s far too small then smacks the Rasengan from Boruto’s hands as it slowly flies at a tree and disappears before it can make contact. Boruto storms off the scene with a sad look on his face and headed directly to Katasuke, the creator of Kote. With Katasuke’s initial plan to introduce Kote during the Chunin Exams, He wants Boruto to pass the Chunin Exams using Kote. Even with his father banning the use of Kote during the Chunin Exams, Boruto still decides to use it because he's tired of relying on his teammates and wants to achieve victory by himself. However, during the first round of the Chunin exams, he doesn’t use Kote, but was able to pass the round thanks to his teammates. Naruto later finds out and congratulates his son via e-mail. With Boruto excited after receiving recognition from his father, he decides to use Kote on round two, which he successfully passes and Naruto instead congratulates him in person, Naturally, this makes Boruto extremely happy. Unfortunately during the third round, Naruto catches him using Kote and later confronts his son in front of the entire village, confiscates his forehead protector and states he will never become a Shinobi. When Naruto scolds Boruto and tells him they will talk after the exams, Boruto angrily replies that they will never talk as Naruto is too busy being Hokage anyway. A few moments later, both Momoshiki and Kinshiki arrive to the scene with the goal of extracting the Kurama from Naruto. Unfortunately, Boruto made matters worse by using his Kote since the Otsutsuki absorb chakra-based jutsu. With Momoshiki gaining that power boost, Naruto was forced to sacrifice himself and was pulled into their dimension. After learning that his father is still alive and afraid of what could happen to his father, Boruto regrets all the resentful thought he was towards Naruto and accompanies Sasuke and the visiting Kage into the other dimension to save him, in order to make things right. During the fight in the other dimension, clearly the highlight of that moment was the teamwork between Naruto and Sasuke, especially with the beautiful done animation and the combination of both Perfect Susano’o and Kurama. After an intense battle, Naruto was weakened so Sasuke suggested that Boruto and his father combine their Rasengans. After creating the gigantic Rasengan, with the help of his shadow clone and Sasuke, he obliterates Momoshiki. However, the most important part of that scene to me was when we see Boruto and Naruto smiling at each other while combining their Rasengan. At the end of the movie, Boruto and Naruto reconcile their differences as Boruto respects his father and Naruto spends more time at home. The following morning after the battle, Boruto and Naruto fist-bumped and asked the other to do their best as they left for a mission and for work respectively. That final scene was special as it shows how much their relationship has built up as father and son, especially when they first-bumped. The movie concludes with Boruto, Sarada, Mitsuki, and Konohamaru going on a mission to capture a panda that is running loose in the village. Overall, this movie exceeded my expectations. The story isn’t exactly the best, especially because both the villains and their motivations were boring as they were the same as Kaguya’s. However, I did enjoy the character development shown for Boruto, and the relationship build-up with his father, Naruto, was really heartwarming. After seeing his father battle throughout the movie, and he understands how hard Naruto was worked to become Hokage, not only that but, after learning what Boruto has been through, he learns that Boruto still needs his father. Additionally, I really disliked how Momoshiki wasn’t really a threat and the battle was one sided on Boruto. Even Toneri in The Last put up a bigger fight against Naruto. However, the latter was more of a love-story if anything. In addition to the character development, I would also recommend this movie based on the animation and the fight scenes as well. The fights in the movie easily match those in the Dragon Ball series and watching it in theaters only made the experience even better.  With the new generation of Shinobi, it would great to see more of them in action. Personally, I really want to see Sarada follow the path of Hokage while Boruto follows Sasuke’s path, and protects the Hokage, as stated at the end of the movie. I really appreciated how Kishimoto switched path with their children, how Sarada holds Naruto in a higher pedestal while Boruto holds Sasuke in a higher pedestal. Naturally, both still love their father very much. I would definitely recommend the movie to any Naruto fan. Even though I believe other material related to the franchise may come in the future, the movie was a nice way to wrap up the story of Naruto. [This review is based on a theatrical screening of the film attended by the reviewer.] [embed]34393:5113:0[/embed]
Boruto Narut Review photo
A touching story about father and son
Boruto: Naruto the Movie takes place several years after the Fourth Shinobi World War, in which Naruto has become the Seventh Hokage of Konoha and formed a family of his own. However, even though Naruto has already reach...

Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Oct 03 // Josh Tolentino
[Note: This review will mention certain elements from both Danganronpa games that may be considered spoilers. No major plot developments in Ultra Despair Girls will be discussed but some details that hint to towards the circumstances of the other games are unavoidable.] Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls  (PS Vita [reviewed])Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Spike Chunsoft (JP) / NIS America (EU, US)Released: September 25, 2014 (JP) / September 1, 2015 (US) / September 4, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 The change I'm referring to, of course, is the swapping of the core games' visual novel mechanics with third-person shooting gameplay. Players will use a specialized, bullhorn-shaped "hacking gun" to shoot "truth bullets" with varying effects at the legions of Monokuma, the two-tone robotic death bear that serves as the series' mascot.  The mechanics themselves are serviceable but unremarkable, with the act of shooting resembling nothing so much as a stripped-down version of the laser-sight-guided gunplay of Resident Evil 4 and the like. Different truth bullets have different effects and enable varied tactics against enemies. Knockback bullets send hostiles flying while Dance bullets stun enemies with the power of funky music. Link bullets take control of enemies by remote while the Detect "bullet" is more of a flashlight that highlights puzzle clues, rather than a tool for combat. Ammunition is kept relatively scarce, privileging good aim as players can save on shots by hitting oncoming foes in their weak spots, and enemies come in varying shapes, sizes, and attack patterns. The game also mixes things up with "game rooms", essentially puzzle sections with specific win conditions and restrictions on ammo type. One room might demand that players clear every enemy in a single explosion, or by exploiting both the special functions of the different truth bullets in conjunction with environmental elements. [embed]34161:5059:0[/embed] It's all solid and works fine, for the most part, but Ultra Despair Girls hardly distinguishes itself against any dedicated shooters on the strength of its gameplay. And for the most part, that's not what fans of the Danganronpa series will be playing the game for in any case. Thankfully, the parts of Ultra Despair Girls that Danganronpa fans will be playing the game for - the bizzarro narrative twists, the off-the-wall characters and unpredictable storytelling - are all intact and fully present. Any fears that becoming a shooter would diminish the series' ability to spin an engrossing yarn are quickly proven unfounded. As with the core games, virtually all but the most cursory discussion threatens spoilers, so I'll keep the summary somewhat vague: Players take on the role of Komaru Naegi, sister to Danganronpa protagonist Makoto, as she and a partner fans will find familiar roll through the ruined city of Towa, fighting a group calling themselves "The Warriors of Hope". The narrative is quick to let on that virtually nothing is what it seems at first, and even subverts some of the core games' key themes through its story beats. Fans of the deeper lore will also find plenty of interesting references and callbacks to both Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, as Ultra Despair Girls functions, chronologically, as a bridge of sorts between the two games. Twists and turns aside, Ultra Despair Girls also features good characterization, quickly and effectively establishing its cast in the over-the-top manner unique to the series. The English dub is effective, with key performances from actresses Erin Fitzgerald and Cherami Lee anchoring the project. The quality of the other voices is a bit more variable, but overall it works, and purists have the option of grabbing the original Japanese voice track (which helpfully adds subtitles to the cutscenes) as free DLC on the PSN Store. Side content is also plentiful, as collectible books poke fun at common tropes in Japan's geek-literary scene. Fans who don't mind reading on the Vita's screen can also peruse a tie-in novel included on the game cartridge, starring Danganronpa alumnus Hiro Hagakure.  All this in mind, one can't help but feel that Ultra Despair Girls' greatest flaw isn't that its adoption of shooting gameplay doesn't work - it works fine - but that the game is almost as good without it. Just as some may make the credible argument that the original games' minigame sections were a blemish on an otherwise pristinely entertaining visual novel, here, it's the gameplay portions of this game that are the least remarkable aspect. In the end, though, that's hardly an offense, and everything works well enough that it's quite easy to recommend putting up with mediocre shooting to get to a meaty and substantial entry into the Danganronpa canon.
Danganronpa Review photo
Shot Through The Heart
When it was first announced that Spike Chunsoft's third Danganronpa game wouldn't be a visual novel, a lot of folks, including yours truly, were understandably apprehensive. Trigger Happy Havoc and its fantastic seq...

Review: Attack on Titan Part II: End of the World

Sep 29 // Josh Tolentino
[Spoiler Warning: This review will discuss some plot points from Attack on Titan: Part I, including the ending. Some of these points will be well-known to anyone familiar with the manga or anime, though.] Attack on Titan: End of the WorldDirected By: Shinji HiguchiProduced By: TOHO PicturesPremiere Date: September 19, 2015 (Japan), September 23, 2015 (Philippines), September 30, 2015 (US), October 20, 2015 (Canada)Licensed By FUNimation (NA) Attack on Titan: Part I ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, with the cast now dumbfounded at having discovered that Eren (Haruma Miura) can turn into a Titan himself. End of the World picks up at this point, choosing the opening quarter of the movie to deliver all the exposition and world-building missing from Part I in big, heaping helpings. The truth of the world's history, as well as the nature of the Titans, is revealed in a series of lengthy monologues worthy of a Metal Gear Solid 2 cutscene. Building out a setting as complex as Attack on Titan's isn't an easy task even under ideal circumstances, but the lengthy interlude serves to both ground the movie and act as an albatross around its neck.  For what it's worth, those stretches do include stylistic flourishes that produce some of the film's most interesting visuals, including effective use of Skeeter Davis' "The End of the World", and some great bits of real-world footage edited to have Titans in them. Director Shinji Higuchi's decision to ground the film in the real world's future, in an actual place, starts to make sense at this point. All the more unfortunate, then, that the plot these interludes serve devolves into a traditional, anime-like "teens versus ideologues" setup. It does take stabs at cautioning against both the static control of fascists and the chaos of revolution, but all in all, it's a downer compared to the more primal, gory thrills of the first half. Not to mention that End of the World frequently flashes back footage of Part I, making it all the more evident that there wasn't enough material to fill even a 90-minute movie. I wonder if the whole thing wouldn't be better off edited into single two-hour production, rather than being staggered out in this manner*. If nothing else I wouldn't have had to buy a ticket for it twice. End of the World even fails to adequately capitalize on its own strengths in visuals. Whereas the scenes of creepy-faced Titans eating people and making it rain blood and limbs in Part I gave off a visceral, classic-horror thrill, End of the World is more of a straight action movie, with even the Titans behaving more like pro wrestlers or MMA fighters than the mindless monsters of the last release. This is justified by the plot (and the source), but the shift is definitely less exciting and novel, not to mention that the original Titans barely make an appearance here. Hopes for the cast getting further character growth are also dashed. While the cast manages to shine more thanks to being separated from Eren early on, not much happens to give either the new characters more than one dimension or the older ones like Armin (Kanata Hongo) time to grow into the ones fans know and love. It seems as if Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara)'s victimization at the hands of the film's writers is permanent. Hans (Satomi Ishihara) once again steals every scene she's in by sheer force of personality, but unfortunately there are fewer of those, so even that bright light is diminished. Early in this review I noted that elementally speaking Attack on Titan: End of the World is more of the film the fans demanded, initially. In light of seeing the end product, though, that notion is shown to be as hollow as it is. Given the revelations in End of the World about the true nature of all the things, it feels fitting to end this piece with a quote from The Matrix, as delivered by an Attack on Titan fan who actually enjoyed Part I: "Not like this." [This review is based on a general screening of the film viewed by the reviewer.] *It's worth noting that FUNimation's release of the films in North America will allow viewers to see both Part I and End of the World in quick succession. Whether or not being able to view both movies as a single release (of sorts) will improve the experience remains to be seen.
Attack on Titan 2 Review photo
Why do the birds go on singing?
Broken down, point by point, Attack on Titan: End of the World is far closer to what Attack on Titan fans claimed to want from a live-action adaptation of their beloved manga. It delves deeper into the mysteries beh...

Review: Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with Their Creators

Sep 01 // Anthony Redgrave
Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with Their Creators Published By: No Starch PressWritten By: Matt SainsburyReleased: September 10, 2015MSRP: $39.95ISBN-13: 978-1593276652 Game Art is a compilation of video game artwork based on the thoughts and insights from the developers. There is a great variety of games on display from modern western hits; Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alice: The Madness Returns to Japan's contemporary contributions; Dead or Alive 5 and Hyperdimension Neptunia. This artbook even includes old indie titles like The Path and last generation horror classic Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly to round out the eclectic collection. I never got the impression that it was leaning towards a specific art style, gaming genre, or cultural developer, providing readers with something interesting upon each revisit.  In terms of the type of art on display, Game Art runs the gambit of exhibiting a mixture of in-game screenshots, promotional box art, and concept art. Again there isn't a large focus on anything in particular as each character portraits, background art, or in-game assets serve to compliment the creator's interview. Every piece is a high-quality visual that helps set the tone of the game it is representing. There is a nice selection of double page spreads that, fortunately, avoids the pitfall of losing artwork in the spine thanks to intelligent curation. However, those looking for only video game artwork will be sorely mistaken. This book is driven by the creator interviews and therefore, dictates the pieces presented within.  Game Art is not so much a book filled with video game art as it is a book talking about the "art" in video games. Art is presented in quotations as it describes the broader definition of the word rather than the layman term regarding a picture or visual. And this is also where the book shines. Matt Sainsbury has done a wonderful job collecting the thoughts and design philosophies of many different game creators allowing readers to delve deeper into the craftsmanship of the games they love. The writing is simple, coherent, and concise with any jargon used being immediately explained making it easy for anyone with a passing interest to enjoy. Reading about the history behind a game, inspiration on a style or even the origins of a studio kept me interested long after the ecstasy from the visuals had subsided. Each interview can be read in a quick 5-minute burst, but since each creator comes off as extremely personable that I often found myself binging on chapters at a time. The commentary provided on each game is very satisfying giving readers insight into the games they love.  The copy being reviewed is a hardback with a translucent sleeve that frames the protagonist from the game Contrast on the front cover. It's a nice cover and the pages have a clean layout playing it safe with black lettering on a white background for text and choosing full pictures rather than grouping together several smaller pieces onto one page. As a result, the book feels more educational in tone and more suited sitting next to The Art of Game Design on a wooden bookshelf rather than sharing space with Udon's Art of Capcom Franchise on your coffee table. Counting in at 272 pages there is a lot of content here to keep you reading through a long afternoon or for frequent pickups throughout the week. The hardback binding gives Game Art a good strong feel so you can really get into the pages without fearing for the spine.  As the saying goes regarding books and their covers, Game Art cannot purely be defined as an artbook of video games. There isn't enough art here to satisfy the price tag for a customer wishing for a collection of video game art. I was in the same boat when approaching this title after reading through the whole thing I was pleasantly surprised. I came for the art but stayed for the writing. Game Art provides an insightful window into the mind's of the creators to help supplement the games the reader plays. Those with an interest for game design, visual presentation, or just a love of video games will have an incredibly hard time passing this title up. [This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.] Paperback: 272 pages Publisher: No Starch Press; 1 edition (25 Sept. 2015) Language: English ISBN-10: 1593276656 ISBN-13: 978-1593276652 (The copy being reviewed was provided by the publisher No Starch Press) Game Art is a compilation of video game artwork with thoughts and insights from the people that had created them. There is a great variety of games on display from familiar modern hits; Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alice: The Madness Returns to Japan's contemporary contributions; Dead or Alive 5 and Hyperdimension Neptunia. This artbook even includes old indie titles like The Path and last generation horror classic Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly to round out its eclectic collection. I never got the impression that it was leaning towards a specific art style, gaming genre, or pattern, providing readers with something interesting after every opening. In terms of art on display, Game Art runs the gambit of exhibiting a mixture of in-game screenshots, promotional box art, and concept art. Again there isn't a large focus on character portraits, background art, or in-game assets as each piece is complimenting the creator's interview. Every piece is a high-quality visual that helps set the tone of the game it is representing. There is a nice selection of double page spreads that, fortunately, avoids the pitfall of losing artwork in the spine thanks to intelligent curation. However, those looking for a purely eye candy tome will be sorely mistaken as this book is primarily driven by the creator interviews which also dictate the pieces presented within. Game Art is not so much a book filled with video game art as it is a book talking about the "art" in video games. Art is presented in quotations as it describes the broader definition of the word rather than the layman term regarding a picture or visual. This is also where the book shines. Matt Sainsbury has done a wonderful job in collecting the thoughts and design philosophies of many different game creators allowing readers to delve deeper into the craftsmanship of the games they love. The writing is simple with any jargon being immediately explained making it easy for anyone with a passing interest to enjoy. Reading about the history behind a game, inspiration on a style or even the origins of a studio kept me interested long after the ecstasy from the visuals had subsided. Each interview is succinct enough for quick 5-minute reads, but since each creator is extremely personable that I often found myself binging chapters at a time. The commentary provided on each game is very satisfying to read as it gives readers another perspective on the games they love. The copy being reviewed is a hardback with a translucent sleeve that frames the front cover featuring the protagonist from the game Contrast. It's a nice cover and the insides have a clean layout playing it safe with black lettering on a white background for text and choosing full pictures rather than grouping together several smaller pieces onto one page. The result makes the book feel more educational in tone and more suited sitting next to The Art of Game Design on a bookshelf rather than sandwiched in-between Udon's Capcom volumes and a manga artbook. Counting in at 260 pages there is a lot of content here to keep you reading through a long afternoon or for frequent pickups throughout the week. Game Art cannot purely be defined as an artbook of video games despite its presentation. There isn't enough art in here to satisfy the price tag for a customer wishing for a collection of video game art. Game Art instead, provides a window into the mind's of the creators to help supplement the games the reader plays. Those with an interest for game design, visual presentation, and a love of video games will have an incredibly hard time passing this title up. 9/10
Game Art photo
Words, Play, and Pictures
Video Game art books are often bound by a specific game, game developer, genre or era with rare exceptions being anthology collections. It is rarer still to see both Eastern and Western video game art contained within a singl...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 6

Aug 24 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 6Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: June 2, 2015MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) Thank goodness for a new opening and ending theme that chimes in a few episodes into this set. I found that "Earth Orchestra" was starting to drag, as it was easily the longest-running opening theme from the entire series. This set opens with the rockin' "Don't Cry Anymore" with some fantastic hand-drawn scribbles overlaid on an often-spunky sequence, which was refreshing as we work our way towards the final stretch of the series. We're looking at Set 6 of a planned seven, so things are starting to work towards a conclusion. The melancholy closer, "Positive," is also a nice change of pace.I start by mentioning the opening and closing music because, six sets in, people should know what they're getting themselves into. In case you're considering starting with Set 6 for whatever reason, though, Ranma 1/2 is considered to be one of the best anime series the '90s had to offer, combining comedy, lovable characters, and a gender-bending gimmick that has our hero, Ranma Saotome, turning into a woman when splashed with cold water. Various characters are in love with the male and female Ranma, many of whom are also cursed and turn into various sorts of animals when exposed to cold water. Ranma is the heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, and lives with his father at the Tendo residence, where he is betrothed to the tomboyish Akane Tendo, the object of many of the male characters' affection, hence creating several overlapping love triangles.The series has progressed without any overarching plot or structure, but what I love about this season is that we're really starting to see the affection growing between Ranma and Akane. Whereas in past seasons we've seen the two mostly showing hints of jealousy, but overall seeming not overly thrilled with one another, the jealousy and outright care they demonstrate towards one another is much more apparent. I'd argue that the jump between Set 5 and 6 may even be a little jarring, but with only one more season to go, the growing love between the two characters has been long overdue. Set 6 has a number of memorable episodes that should keep Ranma fans happy as they surpass the 130 episode count. In this season we're introduced to an elderly man who runs a long-abandoned student store hidden within Furinkan High School who is constantly spouting false tales about how Furinkan High School played into historical events like wars in ancient feudal Japan and even World War II. He appears in two episodes and is a great addition. We also get more of the high school loner and voodoo practitioner, Hikaru Gosunkugi, who is still trying to steal Akane away from Ranma, first by imitating Ranma and attacking women around campus to ruin his reputation, and later by placing enchanted paper dolls of Ranma and Akane that are intended to grant his wishes but often have unintended effects.Some of my favorite episodes include one in which Genma Saotome, Ranma's father, is upset that Ranma has stolen his sweets, and decides to disinherit Ranma in favor of his rival, Ryouga Hibiki, leading up to an epic showdown between the two. Another sees monsters from ancient scrolls unleashed, included a scribbled panda bear that is in love with Ranma, and is ridiculously funny. Another two of my favorites feature the perverted grandfather, Happosai, back at his underwear-loving antics in one episode where he's terrorizing a nearby town while hiding in a pot, and another that seems him physically stuck to Ranma's chest when a student-teacher submission pill goes wrong, to comical effect. Lastly, the power-hungry student Tatewaki Kuno becomes even more obnoxious when he becomes substitute principle of Furinkan High.As far as Ranma and Akane's relationship, both two-part episodes featured in this set center around this, with the first featuring Ranma and his companions rescuing Akane from the clutches of a demon in a typical damsel in distress storyline, and the second featuring a promise that Ranma has made to Ukyo, another female character, and how he must get out of that promise to remain with Akane. There's a Christmas episode that sees the two sharing gifts, and another where Akane is injured and Ranma struggles to show his affection.  I really enjoyed many of the episodes from Set 6, and know series fans will too. Towards the end of the set, we get into what acts as the final season of the show (recall that the set order has been reconfigured with this re-release), and we get a peek at new opening and closing themes along with a series-first change in commercial bumpers, which is interesting to see.We reviewed the Blu-ray version, which houses a commemorative post card and episode recap book. There's also some extra footage on the final disc that includes interviews with Viz Media staff about the Ranma series and a blooper reel which are both nice additions.With one set to go, my enjoyment of Ranma 1/2 is still going strong. I'm looking forward to Set 7, but already keeping an ear out to see if Viz Media will consider re-issuing the OVA and three animated films, as I know I'm going to want more when this series is through.In the meantime, if you haven't watched Ranma 1/2, I highly recommend it, and Set 6 is particular is a high point for the series. Feel free to share your favorite Ranma memories below!Images © Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan  [This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher]
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Don't you know? It's love!
Yes, there's still more Ranma 1/2 to be had. Viz Media has graciously re-issued the series on DVD and Blu-ray, which is a real treat because past DVD re-issues were fetching ridiculous prices at conventions and online.Set 6 f...

Review: Attack on Titan: Part I

Aug 22 // Josh Tolentino
Attack on Titan: Part I Directed By: Shinji Higuchi Produced By: TOHO Pictures Premiere Date: August 1, 2015 (Japan), August 17, 2015 (Philippines), September 30, 2015 (US), October 20, 2015 (Canada) Licensed By FUNimation (NA) It's worth pointing out that in making the film, TOHO and Higuchi were given effective carte blanche by Isayama himself create their own thing, with only the barest guidance on how best to respect the world of the manga. That in mind, just how close they came in the final product will largely depend on what Attack on Titan means to each individual viewer. Fans of the manga's intricate world-building and the layers of mystery and culture surrounding the history of the world and the nature of the Titans themselves will find the movie sorely wanting in that respect. Gone is the vaguely German setting of the original, replaced by the Japan of some indeterminate future. Ruined Japanese tower blocks dot the pastoral landscape, hemmed in by walls constructed by human artifice, littered with wrecked helicopters and other modern contrivances. Little is said about the Titans' mysterious nature, the strange rules regarding how to fight them and why they do what they do (eat people) are waved away with the narrative equivalent of a disinterested shrug. The plot is also kept simple in this first part: The Titans breach the wall, and a year later, Eren, Armin, Sasha, Jean, and a handful of new characters join the Scouting Corps on a mission to recover Japan's last explosives, in order to use them to seal the wall and reclaim precious farmlands.  Against this straightforward narrative backdrop, Higuchi opts to have the Titans speak through their actions, and such action it is. The film takes the implacable violence already in the source and ramps it up to a grotesque extreme. Showers of gore and streams of blood accompany every Titan kill, the camera only cutting away at the bare minimum needed to keep the movie from being banned outright. By that virtue, and thanks to the fact that few scenes linger long enough for it things to get truly uncomfortable, it's not quite at the level of gratuitousness in true shock-horror, or, say, the finale of Blood-C, but it definitely goes farther than the original. The squeamish should consider themselves advised. The creepy resemblance Titans have to regular people is also emphasized, as most of the Titans are represented by TOHO's venerable specialty: People in suits. As a result, the sight of a horrific people-eating giant monster that looks exactly like the kind of old biddy one might imagine running a vegetable stand in some rural Japanese shopping arcade lends the film, yet still unsettling, tone. In its way, Attack on Titan is an alternative take, not just on TOHO's classic kaiju filmography (and a genre in which Higuchi is a celebrated veteran), but also on the days when a giant creature flick was considered a "horror" film. Attack on Titan takes more modern conventions of horror and scales them up to make once again contemporary the style of movies like Them! and The Day The World Ended. It's an impressive achievement considering that these days most viewers aren't scared by monsters they can see. Attack on Titan also succeeds on the action front as well. Though the scenes featuring the  Omnidirectional Maneuver Gear look a bit cheap to eyes that have seen five mega-budget Spider-Man movies, the action is at its best towards the back quarter, when the Titan suit actors really get to cut loose against a few more sizeable targets.  Unfortunately, other, less welcome traits of classical horror films also manifest in Attack on Titan, like paper-thin characterization and hoary old "sex-is-death" tropes. The original manga's cast was heavy on stereotype in the beginning, as well, but Eren and company at least had space to grow and develop as the chapters went on. 98 minutes simply isn't enough to do anything more than draw in the broadest of strokes. Worse still, some of the more substantial changes from the source are unproductive, and in the case of Mikasa, practically amount to character assassination. Attack on Titan was always unusually strong for its field when it came to having compelling female characters, and Mikasa was one of the best. To see her reduced so in the film is disappointing, to say the least. On the other hand, Satomi Ishihara gives a standout performance as Hans (aka Hanji), who's so close to her manga and anime counterpart she almost feels out-of-place. Of course, there's always the chance that the next scheduled film, Attack on Titan: End of the World, will pay off more, now that the setup has been properly delivered here. That's the hope, at least, for fans who still believe the movie can hew closer to the source in time. At the same time, though, Higuchi's effort does a passable job as its own thing. I guess the issue at this point is wondering how much better it could be if it weren't.
Attack on Titan Movie photo
Giant-sized
Attack on Titan is not much like Attack on Titan. Less confusingly, Shinji Higuchi's live-action adaptation of Hajime Isayama's smash hit manga is not a very faithful one. Though there are superficial similarities,  in m...

Review: The IDOLM@STER Cindrella Girls Season 1

Jul 12 // Jeff Chuang
The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls Season 1 Studio: A-1 Pictures Format: Streaming via Daisuki/YouTube Release Date: January 10, 2015 The idea behind Cinderella Girls as the next iteration of the franchise is that by opening the gates with a large swath and wide variety of characters, each player (or viewer in the anime's case) will invariably find somebody they like. It works for AKB48, so why wouldn't it work for anything else? I guess the question sits at the center of the Cinderella Girls experience. But that's in reference to the whole of Cinderella Girls, which, beyond the anime, holds itself as one of the pioneering and successful mobile games in Japan. It's not too different than, say, how thanks to the Rage of Bahamut mobile games, we got an sword-buckling adventure anime to go with. Where these two franchises diverge is the way how Cinderella Girls is just one head of a multi-headed hydra that makes up the IDOLM@STER franchise. Beyond the anime and the mobile game, we're talking about a mix of media, besides obviously the anime on home video. It includes also live events, radio shows, and the sub-unit CDs that the anime sells in an almost-direct way. When you watch each episode of the anime as an invested fan, there's a lot more to it than sitting back and enjoying the story. Of course, like any other type of fans, everyone gets on social media and chat about the latest episode as soon as possible (and thanks to Daisuki's prompt simulcast even I can do that to a degree). Easter eggs and other nods to the rest of the IM@S franchise often are the biggest cues for discussion among fans. What's more, new announcements and reveals relevant to the entire franchises sometimes happens within the latest episode of the anime. To take the last episode in the first half as an example, do you know Triad Primus? Just that scene between Nao and Karen sent some into frenzy, only because it's one of the more popular sub-groups within the game that was quietly done away with after New Generations was initially announced from the first Cinderella Girls anime promo. That's not even include more obvious ties like the weekly bonus audio drama in-game, or the freebie SR cards and other loot that go live in the proper Cinderella Girls game right after you finish watching the week's episode. The Japanese broadcast even reinforces its full-force consumer message through its self-sponsored commercials in the CM breaks of its own anime. That's a view from deep inside the rabbit hole. I think most of us out west don't care for it, at least at first. A lot of us out likely found out about the IDOLM@STER franchise first via the 2011 TV series, curio news reported from oversea fan being silly, or various MAD videos featuring IM@S. The line of games had been in the purview of hardcore importers, or people willing to think differently about iOS apps by paying the asking price on Shiny Festa. There may be an underground group of English-speaking, mobile game types that cling to the three major IM@S social games, but nowhere is that visible above the surface of the world wide web, so to speak. You had to dig down to find these Producers. When Bandai-Namco focused its mainline 765Pro IM@S products and events to point to and collaborate with the two social game platforms, some fans worried--the original characters (and their voice actresses) are not getting any younger--will this bring about a drastic change to the franchise? At the same time many Producers are simply getting familiar and are welcoming the Cinderella Girls. Under that context, our 346 Production idols are in a battle of their lives to find longer-term acceptance within this multi-head hydra of a family that is the IDOLM@STER. That road is not particularly complicated, thankfully. In the context of the Cinderella Girls anime, well, it's idol anime, where the audience come to enjoy cute girls singing catchy songs while doing cool dances. We also see at times how these girls fail and then overcome various obstacles, personal or otherwise. I think that really sums up the core idol anime experience. Of course, your mileage may vary, but everyone seems to have the best time together when the experience come together, each part of the idol concept firing on all cylinders. In the shadow of these daunting questions, I can safely say that is exactly the IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls that we got. But for those of us who are watching the show for what it is--A-1's animation featuring a new brand of animated idol--does it deliver? Will the extra baggage get in the way? It's the most important question, and one that I am now ill-suited to answer. One of IDOLM@STER's trademark themes has to do with people struggling emotionally that come together to face their mutual challenges. The performers and their producer have to come to term with their differences and opposing views to achieve their shared goals. Several times in the story so far, the problem in a particular plot arc may lie in the way how the Producer character fails to communicate with his charges, and vice versa. A lot of the times conflict arise because people have mistaken expectations or out of inexperience, and we see it across the board. In that sense, Cinderella Girls is an admirable vehicle to express these struggles. It's about overcoming them with uplifted feelings, and not so much ticket or CD sales. At the same time, given its progress at the half-way point, it is pretty difficult for Cinderella Girls to achieve even just a fraction of these objectives.  There are just too many characters, too many in-jokes, and too many thematic and story checkpoints that the narrative has to play things very directly. Mio's breakdown in mid-season, for example, became somewhat of a point of confusion because the story didn't take time to explain her mentality clearly. The way Dekorations got separated or how the producer was unable to explain himself to the cops is yet another. I guess these contrivances are not deal breakers, but discerning viewers might argue it adds to the pile of small problems that degrades the experience. The animation too, had its up and downs. At times Cinderella Girls anime looks sublime, such as the pilot episode. Sometimes, however, it looks rushed. The mid-point recap, as adorable as it was, is not exactly the best thing. (Producer's CV, Takeuchi, is only 17 years old! His natural voice is deeper than the Producer's voice.) I think to be fair, Cinderella Girls is a competently put-together production, but there were some seams showing throughout the series that might rub against the more picky viewers. When it comes to where rubber meets the road, so to speak, the dance and new musical numbers from Cinderella Girls are pleasing, perhaps even very exciting. Moreover, the series avoids a monster-of-the-week issue with enough unpredictability thrown in there. The girls are cute, and if one of them appeals to you, congratulations. What does it leave those of us who aren't warming up to any of them? I'm guessing the second half of the Cinderella Girls anime experience will continue to focus on some of these characters while introducing more. One of my pre-anime favorite, Anzu, played the role of a wise-cracker. Rin, Cinderella Girls's iconic cool beauty, didn't get very far besides the initial induction into the 346 fold. But at the same time, I'm not sure if that's enough of a carrot on the stick to keep those of us who are not into idols for idols's sake going forward. Maybe that's okay. For those of us ever become curious as to what IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls has to offer, the anime is a splendid gateway to become a patron of IM@S's multi-faceted castle of a franchise. Just be aware that not only there's a deep rabbit hole beyond it, there are also a bunch of pitiful creatures living off of said animation like yours truly, clinging on to every word and visual symbol. [This review is based on a streaming copy viewed by the reviewer.]
Idolm@ter CG Review photo
And it didn't even cover half the idols
What happens when you take one of the longest running media-mixed franchise about idols and give it new life? What happens when you take a mobile game money mill and try to develop its CCG-style characters? What is an idol? T...

Review: Ressha Sentai ToQger

Jul 03 // Salvador GRodiles
Ressha Sentai ToQgerStudio: ToeiRelease Date: February 16, 2014 Focusing on the ongoing battle between light and darkness, ToQger is about Right/ToQ 1, Tokatti/ToQ 2, Mio/ToQ 3, Hikari/ToQ 4, and Kagura/ToQ 5's quest to find their hometown known as Pleiades Shore. During their travels, the group joins forces with the Rainbow Line, a railway that protects people's imagination, to battle the Shadow Line, an opposing railroad that spreads their darkness across the land. As the team works hard to protect the various stations scattered across the region, they hope that they'll encounter their home as one of their stops. While the series' premise showed potential, its execution turned the program's early episodes into a trainwreck. Instead of introducing the viewers to the cast, ToQger hurled the main characters at the audience's face. Because of the lack of a proper introduction, it felt that we were missing an important segment that would make the gang more interesting. Sure, GoGo Sentai Boukenger followed this format, but the main difference is that the group's actions and conversations contributed to the audience wanting to learn more about them. Sadly, ToQger failed to accomplish this aspect-- even if the five heroes are childhood friends who lost their memories. Even though the show's cast gave off a fun vibe, their childish personality made them a bit annoying. Right was too scatterbrained and the other heroes felt like they were trying too hard to be silly. Not that I have anything against immature characters, but it takes a special touch to make these type of archetypes work well in a title. Despite ToQger's issues making its viewers care about the stars, Tokatti's shy characteristics and Mio's willingness to look out for everyone were both two examples of elements that could improve the series' quality. While we’re on the topic of childishness, I didn’t expect ToQger to justify their decision to have the team act immature (in a slightly annoying way). Even though the team’s personality got better as the show neared its second half, it felt strange to witness a group of young adult act more childish than the usual folks who exhibit child-like habits. In fact, this twist and their true backstory improved the show’s emotional moments that took form during the show’s second half. To an extent, it even manages to act as a decent way to convey the importance of needing to become more mature in grave situations. Separated from their home and family, the ToQger had to go through great extremes to find their town. It was this sense of maturity that helped the series up the ante after its quality was going up. Sadly, this change didn’t result in Right becoming a more likable character. Nonetheless, his role in the team was important since he’s basically that one slightly annoying guy who somehow prevents the group from falling apart. I guess his inner conflict during the final arc was a decent way to have him grow since he was willing to sacrifice his childhood to help preserve the happiness of his friends. As an adult who has an active inner child, I found the team’s struggle to be relatable because it covered the foundations of learning to be more responsible in certain situations. Even though life can be tough at times, that doesn’t mean that we can’t spice things up while we’re at it. That’s where ToQger’s imagination theme comes to play since it acts as a tool to help the gang stay positive during any difficult task. In the end, I commend the show’s staff for doing a decent job in conveying this message during the program’s stronger segments. ToQger's major twist may have been a great way to push the series forward, but the program's viewers had to reach episode 31 to witness this element first hand. Even though it was foreshadowed earlier in the series, it was hard for many folks to notice this element since there have been a few Sentai heroes who have childish personalities (in an enthusiastic way). Based on the shift in quality between the title's two parts, there’s a good chance the show changed in direction style. In the third part of my interview with Bueno (Gun Caliber’s Producer, Director, and Star) of the indie toku studio Garage Hero, the guy said that the folks in the tokusatsu industry go about making tokusatsu in the two following styles: Either they think that slapping a well-known brand's name on a product is enough to have it sell toys, or they take advantage of the toy’s designs and create an awesome show that uses these products in a cool way where it makes people want to buy them. Since the show’s plot, robots, and action scenes felt a bit lackluster, it was obvious that the staff was following the former. Even though ToQger had Yasuko Kobayashi (Kamen Rider OOO and Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames’ Writer), a writer known for adding creepy elements to her toku shows, on the writing staff, her contribution to the series didn’t bloom until the second half. Because of the sudden increase in quality, one can assume that the production staff’s attempt to ride on the easy merchandising express didn’t help them much since the later episodes felt like they were putting more effort into the show. From there, the staff used the imagination angle to focus on fleshing out the ToQger, along with introducing new machines with improved designs. On top of that, Kobayashi’s dark elements complimented the show’s more enjoyable second course. If there’s one thing that stayed consistent throughout the whole series, it’s the show’s main villains. The main group consisted of General Schwarz, the guy in charge of the Shadow Line's train division; Madame Noire, the classy lady that wishes the best for her daughter; and Grita, Noire's daughter who has a crush on Schwarz. Each elite villains had their own special moments, which placed the program's viewers on their toes as they're left guessing about their final fate. Whether it was Schwarz’s hints of ulterior motives or Noire's special plans for Grita, the series’ adversaries rarely stuck to the basic role of conquering humanity. Honestly, it was the evil cast’s personality and motives that kept me interesting in seeing how the show developed early on. In a way, they were the only thing that felt like Kobayashi’s signature aspects when the show was off track. Perhaps the best villain of them all was the Emperor of Darkness himself. One thing that made the Shadow Line's ruler great was that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill evil villain who wants to bring destruction to the world. Throughout the series, the guy only wanted to exhibit his own ‘shine.’ In a way, the Emperor of Darkness’ situation symbolizes the concept of people expectations on certain individuals. Because of his status, the Shadow Line’s top rulers expect him to be a ruthless lord who’s intent on bringing despair to the entire planet. At the same time, his methods exhibit the characteristics of a deprived child who would go through great lengths to get what he wants. Thanks to the way how he was depicted in the show, the staff did a good job in placing the villain in a position where he could switch sides at any given point in time. Speaking of great villains, the Shadow Line’s top member featured some solid designs. The main generals were demonic Victorian/High-Class Wild West creatures that had slight bits of Steampunk and Zed looked like he would be a Devil Trigger Form in the Devil May Cry series. Hell, the great craftsmanship placed into each costume was another great factor that gave me hope that ToQger would improve. Again, this was one of the few things that the show had going for it when it seemed that the show was trying to sell toys based on the Super Sentai name alone. As the program started to improve, we started to see a jump in the robot designs as well. ToQ 6's machine and the other combining mechas were all cool-looking robots since the train features were distributed better across their bodies-- unlike the ToQ-Oh’s Total Recall train chest. For a franchise that’s known for showcasing some fun fight scenes, ToQger fell flat in its early half. While the imagination-based powers sounded like a nifty gimmick, the show’s heroes exhibited clumsy movements that lacked the exhilarating feeling that comes from most Sentai shows. Normally, this sort of style would work great for a good laugh (such as the Go-Onger losing some of their early fights in their show) but the program’s failure to establish its characters properly prevented it from succeeding in this matter. Luckily, the action sequences improved as the series’ quality went up. Part of it likely had to do with the team gaining more experience in battle, along with ToQ 6 changing up the program’s format. Even when ToQger was its worse, the series had a great array of voice actors at its side. Jun Fukuyama (Code Geass' Lelouch, Assassination Classroom's Koro-sensei), Noriko Hidaka (Gunbuster's Noriko and Ranma 1/2's Akane), and Aya Hisakawa (Sailor Moon's Ami/Sailor Mercury, Cardcaptor Sakura's Kero) all did a wonderful job with voicing Nero, Noire, and Grita. Of course, their great performance contributed to the Shadow Line being a great group to follow. For the good side, Kappei Yamaguchi (One Piece's Ussop and Persona 4's Teddie) and Yui Horie (Persona 4's Chie and Golden Time's Koko) both hit the park with their roles as Ticket the puppet and Wagon. With the Conductor by their side, they were the Rainbow Line's best characters during the show's first half.  ToQger may have had a weak start, but the show easily gained the title of the Little Engine that could when it ended its run. ToQ 6's silly backstory and Emperor’s story were two key ingredients that threw the series back on track. Combined with the various power uprisings happening among the main adversaries, the program started to become more entertaining than before. Of course, the program’s theme about children learning to be responsible while retaining their imaginative creativity was another factor that improved the title. Unfortunately, one would have to sit through 12 or 13 mediocre episodes before the train-themed Sentai title picks up; therefore making it a difficult series to recommend to people. However, if a person can endure the darkness that plagues the series early on, then he/she might come out with a smile that’s powered by imagination and rainbows. Once you reach your final destination, there’s a small chance that you’ll reconnect with your inner child. Depending on your experience, you might have a better appreciation of the term ‘IMAGINAAAATION!’ [This review is based on a broadcast of the program obtained by Japanator] If there’s one thing that ToQger shares with Goseiger, it’s that both shows have a weird-looking Super Form for their Rangers. While the team’s Hyper Express Mode looks better than the Goseiger’s Miracle Mode, I feel that it’s lacking since the armor doesn’t complement the suit much. Nonetheless, the new transformation worked well in pushing the story forward as the Marquise Mork entered the scene. In this case, it shows us that an average power-up can improve a program’s plot when used right. It also helps that Zed remains as one of the series’ best villains. One thing that made Zed great was that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill evil villain who wants to bring destruction to the world. Throughout the series, the guy just wants to exhibit his own ‘shine.’ In a way, the Emperor of Darkness’ situation symbolizes the concept of people expectations on certain individuals. Because of his status, the Shadow Line’s top rulers expect him to be a ruthless lord who’s intent on brining despair to the entire planet. At the same time, his methods exhibit the characteristics of a deprived child who would go through great lengths to get what he wants. Thanks to the way how Zed was depicted in the show, the staff did a good job in placing the villain in a position where he could switch sides at any given point in time. While we’re on the topic of children, I didn’t expect ToQger to justify their decision to have the team act childish (in a slightly annoying way). Even though the team’s personality got better as the show neared its second half, it felt strange to witness a group of young adult act more immature than usual folks who exhibit child-like habits. The idea behind Right and his friends being children who were turned to adults to fight the Shadow Line added to the show’s emotional moments that took form during the show’s second half. To an extent, it manages to act as a decent way to show the importance of kids needing to become more mature in grave situations. Separated from their home and family, the ToQger had to go through great extremes to find their town while fighting the Shadow Line’s forces. It was this sense of maturity that helped the series up the ante after its quality was going up. Sadly, this change didn’t result in Right becoming a more likable character. Nonetheless, his role in the team was important since he’s basically that one slightly annoying guy who somehow prevents the group from falling part. I guess his inner conflict during the final arc was a decent way to have him grow since he was willing to sacrifice his childhood to help preserve the happiness of his friends. As an adult who has an active inner child, I found the team’s struggle to be relatable because it covered the foundations of learning to be more responsible in certain situations. Even though life can be tough at times, that doesn’t mean that we can’t spice things up while we’re at it. That’s where ToQger’s imagination theme comes to play since it acts as a tool to help the gang stay positive during any difficult task. In the end, I commend the show’s staff for doing a decent job in conveying this message during the program’s stronger segments. While the show’s major twist was a great way to push the series forward, the show’s viewers had to reach episode 31 to witness this element first hand. Even though it was foreshadowed earlier in the series, the franchise’s status as a children’s program made it hard for most folks to notice this element since there have been a few Sentai heroes who have childish personalities (in an enthusiastic way). Based on the shift in quality between the ToQger’s early and later episodes, there’s a good chance the show changed in direction style. In the third part of my interview with Bueno (Gun Caliber’s Producer, Director, and Star) of the indie toku studio Garage Hero, the guy said that the folks in the tokusatsu industry go about making tokusatsu in the two following styles: Either they think that slapping a well-known brand name on a product is enough to have it sell toys, or they take advantage of the toy’s designs and create an awesome show that uses these products in a cool way where it makes people want to buy them. Since the show’s plot, robots, and action scenes felt a bit lackluster, it was obvious that the staff was following the former. Even though ToQger had Yasuko Kobayashi (Kamen Rider OOO and Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames’ Writer), a writer known for adding creepy elements to toku shows, on the writing staff, her contribution to the series didn’t bloom until the second half. Because of the sudden increase in quality, one can assume that the production staff’s attempt to ride on the easy merchandising express didn’t help them much since the later episodes felt like they were putting more effort into the show. From there, the staff used the imagination angle to focus more on fleshing out the ToQger and the newer machines featured improved designs. On top of that, Kobayashi’s dark elements complimented the show’s more enjoyable second course. If there’s one thing that stayed consistent throughout the whole series, it’s the show’s main villains. Aside from Zed’s situation, the other big villains had their own special moments. Whether it was Schwarz’s transition from conquering the Shadow Line to avenging Grita or Noire’s attempt to make Grita the head of the group, the series’ adversaries rarely stuck to the basic role of conquering humanity. Honestly, it was the evil cast’s personality and motives that kept me interesting in seeing how the show developed early on. In a way, they were the only thing that felt like Kobayashi’s signature aspects when the show was off track. Speaking of great villains, the Shadow Line’s top member featured some solid designs. The main generals were demonic Victorian/High-Class Wild West creatures that had slight bits of Steampunk and Zed looked like he would be a Devil Trigger Form in the Devil May Cry series. Hell, the great craftsmanship placed into each costume was another great factor that gave me hope that ToQger would improve. Again, this was one of the few things that the show had going for it when it seemed that the show was trying to sell toys based on the Super Sentai name alone. As the program started to improve, we started to see a jump in the robot designs as well. The Build Dai-Oh, Super Duper ToQ-Oh, Hyper Express Emperor, and ToQ Rainbow were all cool-looking robots since the train features were distributed better across their bodies-- unlike the ToQ-Oh’s Total Recall train chest. For a franchise that’s known for showcasing some fun fight scenes, ToQger fell flat in its early half. While the imagination-based powers sounded like a nifty gimmick, the show’s heroes exhibited clumsy movements that lacked the exhilarating feeling that comes from most Sentai shows. Normally, this sort of style would work great for a good laugh (such as the Go-Onger losing some of their early fights in their show) but the program’s failure to establish its characters properly prevented it from succeeding in this matter. Luckily, the action sequences improved as the series’ quality went up. Part of it likely had to do with the team gaining more experience in battle, along with ToQ 6 changing up the program’s format. ToQger maybe had a rough start, but the show easily gained the title of the Little Engine that could when it ended its run. ToQ 6 being a former Shadow Line member and Zed’s story were two key ingredients that threw the series back on track. Combined with the various power uprisings happening among the main adversaries, the program started to become more entertaining than before. Of course, the program’s theme about children learning to be responsible while retaining their imaginative creativity was another factor that improved the title. Unfortunately, one would have to sit through 12 or 13 mediocre episodes before the train-themed Sentai title picks up; therefore making it a difficult series to recommend to people. However, if one can endure the darkness that plagues the series early on, then they might come out with a smile that’s powered by imagination and rainbows. Once you reach your final destination, there’s a good chance that you’ll reconnect with your inner child. Depending on your experience, you might have a better appreciation of the term ‘IMAGINAAAATION!’
Ressha Sentai ToQger photo
Imagining Victory!
When it comes to TV shows that run for a year, it’s hard to imagine that a long series could improve when its early segments failed to impress most viewers. In many cases, if you can’t grab the audience during the...

Review: Kantai Collection - Kancolle - Season 1

Jun 21 // Anthony Redgrave
Kantai Collection Studio: Diomedea/ Doga KoboRelease Date: January 7, 2015Format: Streamed via Crunchyroll Story-wise, Kantai Collection has had a lot of breathing room when drawing from its game counterpart. The game's main draw were the fleet girls, each one unique in their appearance, personality, and often drawing from anime stereotypes. The game had little to no story but had lots of different fleet girls that needed to be managed and micro-managed. So the anime focuses on the little destroyer that could, Fubuki. She is a new recruit to join the fight against the Abyssal fleet that had mysteriously surfaced. Even though it was advertised as a light-hearted slice of life moe school girl anime, Kancolle mixes in drama, suspense, and action moments that can satisfy the manlier viewer's palette. This title is also a period piece making many references to the Pacific Theatre; from Battle of W island (Battle of Wake Island) to all the fleet girls being based off real world battle ships e.g. Fubuki is based off a Japanese Destroyer Fubuki. However, history buffs may scoff at the inaccuracies depicted in Kancolle but for the average viewer it may provide a rabbit hole of interest into the naval campaigns of WWII. Attention to detail is one of Kancolle's greatest strength though they do blur the lines in this regard.  The mood is never confusing because of its superb pacing. Each episode allows viewers to revel in the banter and gags at the naval base, watch as the battle unfurls from plan to operation, and grow closer to each character as the episode concludes. It follows this formula so the mood flows cleanly between each scene. This cycle is toned down during the middle of the season to give way for a beach episode and a curry cook-off. The latter isn't necessary for viewing but provides the moe fan service that many viewers would be expecting. This formula wouldn't work as well if the fleet girls weren't all charming in their own way. Partly because of their visuals making them all look attractive but also their amplified personalities. Kongou is the loud big sister type with an obsession for the unseen admiral and verbal English tics. Her brash head-strong personality coupled with random linguistic interchanges would come off as annoying, but the latter is a delightful reference to her real world British roots. The fleet girls even wear their personalities in the heart of battle, I really liked how Naka (self-proclaimed idol of the fleet) would exclaim "Please no more autographs" when she was getting attacked. It's these little character points that make all the fleet girls endearing.  The visuals in Kantai Collection are excellent. Like with most school girl anime, all the characters look beautiful and cater to a variety of moe subgenres. Although they do go overboard when there are girls that are battleships and act like animals!? On the animation side, they do a wonderful job converting static 2D portraits from the game into moving anime characters, and then pulling those characters into CG for the battle scenes. I only realized they went CG once the stereoscopic shots of girls firing the cannons made it abundantly clear. The designs are kept wonderfully consistent so nothing looked out of place when they switch between animation styles.  The whole premise of Kantai Collection is interesting as it brings novel ideas to the table. Turning girls into battle ships or vice-versa seemed like a strange concept but they fleshed out the details to make it more than just a throwaway slice of life in disguise. It doesn't copy the game but draws elements from it. For example; in every school girl anime there has to be a bath scene because fan service. But Kancolle makes it a prerequisite as each girl has to take a bath to repair the damages they have sustained. Instant repairs (a rare item in the game) comes in the form of specialized water making the link to the game subtle and not shamelessly promotional. Even the "excessive eater" gag has its place as the larger ships require more energy to run so have to eat more than smaller ships. They never don't explain why they have to exercise though... I went into Kancolle because it looked like a fun dumb slice-of-life about girls that happened to be ships. When I finished the short 12 episode season I was surprised by how good it was for a school girl anime. It didn't overstay its welcome with excessive fan service so the 12 -episode length was just the right on the money. Viewers that have a tolerance or preference towards anime school girls should definitely give this one a run through on Crunchy Roll.  [This review is based on a streaming version of the series viewed by the reviewer at personal expense] Battle of W island
Kantai Collection Review photo
Anchors A-moe
Kantai Collection, often shortened down to Kancolle for the more efficient speaker, has a bizarre premise. It's strange that a veteran anime viewer like myself had to double-take on Kancolle's premise; battle ships that live ...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 5

Jun 11 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 5 Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: March 3, 2015MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) I'll open by saying that 100 episodes in, Ranma fatigue does tend to set in. Fortunately for fans, however, Set 5 contains some of the most entertaining and hilarious episodes yet. That's a good thing, because at just over the half-way mark in the series, there really needs to be something compelling to keep fans wanting more, and this season rarely lets up. There isn't much that I can say is new in this season. You get the same cast of lovable characters, starring the heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts, Ranma Saotome, and his fiance, Akane Tendo. The two are promised to each other by their parents, and thankfully in this season, we start to see that the two are actually starting to fall for one another. The art style holds up well, and the music ranges from appropriately quirky to downright moving. Perhaps taking some of our past reviews to heart, the episodes in this set have been cut to feature only one opening theme, "Earth Orchestra" (which first appeared at the end of Set 4) and the same closing theme, "Hinageshi." In case you've forgotten, the premise of the show is that Ranma is under an ancient Chinese curse that causes him to change from a man into a woman when splashed with cold water, and back again with hot water. Various other characters are afflicted with similar curses, and the majority of the supporting cast are in love with Ranma in either his man or woman form or Akane, leading to some crazy love... hexagons? Maybe even octagons. They're joined by a great cast of characters, including Akane's protective father, Soun Tendo, Ranma's free-loading father, Genma Saotome, Akane's sisters, and Soun and Genma's master, the creepy undergarment-stealing Happosai. So on with some of the standout episodes of the set, which includes a brand new array of bizarre martial arts styles. There's Marial Arts Tea Ceremony, wherein Ranma is kidnapped and promised to the charming heir and must fight her way to freedom, the Good Ol' Days Style of Martial Arts, a nostalgic bunch who challenge Akane and use nursery rhythms and old toys in their matches, Martial Arts Shogi, where Genma Saotome's cheating catches up with him and gets him and the cast stuck in a life-sized Shogi match, Martial Arts Dining, which is a hilarious insult to French people and Westerners in general with its outrageous eating competition, and Martial Arts Calligraphy, where Ranma is refused a challenge due to his terrible handwriting. Crazy martial arts styles aside, there are a lot of fantastic episodes. In one, the family wins a raffle for a free stay at a hot springs resort, only to find something lurking in its waters. In another, Ranma comes to use one of Happosai's enchanted bandaids that causes him to fall in love with all the show's female characters, and in the aforementioned Martial Arts Dining episodes (the only multi-episode arc featured in this set), the focus on food and the ridiculousness of the eating style the Westerners use is absolutely hilarious. Ryouga has a Western-style adventure protecting the ranch of an old man and his daughter, whom Ryouga falls in love with, Nabiki takes a joke too far and feigns affection for Ranma in a bid to steal him from Akane, and a new student, the exceedingly clumsy and akward Gosunkugi places hexes and curses on Ranma in an attempt to steal Akane away. My favorite episode of all, however, is "Case of the Missing Takoyaki," which is a who's-done-it tale where each character tells their portion of the story leading up to a hilarious conclusion. The last thing I'll note is that we reviewed the limited-edition Blu-ray version, which contains "extras." This time this comes in the form of interviews with cosplayers and anime industry professionals about their experiences collecting Ranma 1/2 paraphernalia, which is interesting, especially when multiple people bring up the SNES Ranma 1/2 game and one interviewee discusses the early days of the Internet. There are also trailers for other Viz Media products and the opening and ending themes as well. In all, this set is as over the top as ever, and that's why I think fans of Ranma 1/2 will be re-energized and ready to delve into the final two sets after watching it. I was as tired as anyone going into the 100th episode, but the latter half of this set is so good that I can't wait for more. Fortunately we won't have to wait long, as Set 6 has just been released, so watch for our review soon. Images © Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan  9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Just what Doctor Tofu ordered!
And onward we go! Ranma 1/2 Set 5 breaches the 100-episode mark, and as I've noted in past reviews, if you've made it this far, you've likely passed the point of no return. Watching such a lenghthy series is a serious investment, and fortunately while Ranma 1/2 doesn't really have much overarching plot to advance, it somehow continues to be wildly entertaining. Let's dig in, shall we?

Review: Starless: Nymphomaniacs' Paradise

May 18 // Soul Tsukino
[Warning: This is a very adult game and is unsuitable for minors. This review is work-safe, but the game is definitely not. It also contains plot spoilers. Seriously, you've been warned.] Starless (PC [reviewed])Developers: Roll7Publisher: JAST USAReleased: May 11, 2015Price: $39.99 Anyway, Starless: Nymphomaniacs' Paradise is a game brought to you by the same group that brought you Bible Black (the titles are references to the 1974 album Starless and Bible Black by prog rockers King Crimson) . Starless was first released in Japan in 2011 and even has a hentai anime series based on it. The game was licensed by JAST USA and the English translation was released in May of 2015. The story is a rather simple one. You are Sawatari, a poor kid about to be off for college. He has no job, little money, and more importantly no girlfriend. He is desperate for some quick cash since, while he has his driver's license, he can't afford a car and if he doesn't have a car, he can't get a girlfriend. He find an ad for a house servant position in the back of a car magazine that advertising 4 million yen for 2 weeks worth of work. PERFECT! Not really.  It turns out that he will be serving the Mamiya family. A rich, influential, but somewhat reclusive clan who are, to put it simply, sexual predators. So while he does do menial house chores, most of the time he and the other staff are just sexual playthings for the family. You must survive the 2 weeks (actually it's like 16 days) trying not to buckle under the stress, offend any of the family members, or die. The characters in the game really do fall into one of 2 categories, they either make you feel sorry for them, or you want them to die a million deaths. The main character, Sawatari, is a decent guy and I will admit he pretty much shared my personal feeling for a lot of the events in the story. The fellow staff members of the house are Sachie. A cheerful girl who starts out like a decent person but as the game goes on, she turns into a lazy good for nothing who either tries to get you to do all her work or take money from you to gamble away to one of the family's daughters. You also meet Mikako, the older gentle mother like figure who works in the kitchen, and her son Matoko, who is about your age (supposedly anyway) and very feminine. You are then joined by fellow new staff member Mitarai, an innocent girl who much like you has no idea what she is getting into. On the other side of things are the members of the Mamiya family. The mother, Marie, is the current head of the family, with her husband have died. She abuses her power to torture people to do whatever she wants. She also has constipation problems that gets mentioned.. a lot. Her eldest daughter is Marika. She is soft spoken and gentler, but she is more putting on a front. She takes a liking to Sawatari and is always trying to convince him to stay and get married so he can father her children. Then there is the younger daughter Marisa. She is a spoiled rotten brat who is implied that she is underage. She does everything to torment you, so guess who you spend most of the game dealing with? Yeah, you grow a urge to want to punch her in the mouth rather quickly. You also have Marie's son, Kyouichi. He has zero interest in you and spends most of his time either in his room playing video games or in the arms of Mikako, since he has a mother fetish.   There are other characters that show up in the last few days of the game, but they are all minor and don't have a lot of depth to them. The mechanics of the game are good. You get the basic menu for a visual novel with Save, Load, Skip, Options, and so forth for buttons. The skip function only works on skipping parts of dialog you've already seen, so it's useless until you've beaten the game already. The English translation is decent but I found a few spelling errors along the way. Nothing horrendous and there didn't seem to be a whole bunch of them, but they were there. The art is very well done for the game, even if in typical visual novel style they reuse several art frames, with minor added differences, in many scenes. Noticed that I'm avoiding talking about the actual game play yet? This game is not for the faint of heart. If you have never played a Japanese visual novel before, Don't start with this one. The games I played before are nothing compared to this. This story isn't some cute story about a fumbling loser who has a girl he kind of likes, this story is about flat out abuse. Depending on which of the different endings you end up with (I played to 5 different endings), the sex is only consensual once to four times, the rest of the time everything is watching characters get raped, abused, tortured, humiliated, and degraded in every worst nightmare way possible. The things that go on in this game cross the gambit from incest, bestiality,  and a horrendous amount of scat play. Even some of the more benign scenes are "pissed away" if you know what I mean. There is nothing subtle here. What little consolation there is, is that the American producers of the game removed the art explicitly showing poop (let's just say the farting sound effect is used quite a bit though), animal encounters, and dismemberment. Well, that's a load off my mind. Although they created a patch to put them all back in if you want.  Besides the actual acts that are committed in the game, the game repeats itself way to much. For a good chunk of the two weeks you have to "dress" the youngest daughter every morning. Once or twice is one thing, but they play these scenes out multiple times with very little difference. Same goes for the morning breakfast scene between Kyouichi and Mikako. Neither scenes are very fun to watch either, unless you really get into that kind of thing. The game also doesn't skimp on the other scenes either. Very little of the different scenes have you just doing a quick moan & groan and then you are done. Scenes are stretched out to an ungodly amount, with the excuse of being drugged and injected with hormones and aphrodisiacs. Again, if you are really into this kind of thing then I guess you would enjoy it, I'm not so not only does this game feel like a chore to play before the first day is even done, but it actually made me strain the muscles in my throat trying not to hurl all over my computer desk. And the sad thing is that it really isn't worth it. Now, maybe this is the difference between the American sensibility and the Japanese sensibility, but for me if I played this game and had to watch not only the first person character but the characters I feel pity for go through this for 2 weeks, I'd like an ending that really gives the Mamiya family the what for. I wanted to see the mother reduced to a drooling vegetable (or worse), the snooty brat daughter get mauled by her own dog, something. But nope, even the best of the endings has you leave with only part of the money, Sachie makes off better than you and in none of the endings of the game do any member of the family have anything bad happen to them. So after playing this game for nearly a week waiting for one of these rich pieces of shi... err... garbage to get their what for, it doesn't happen. As I have read from others who played it, none of the endings has any member of the family have anything happen to them. Yeah, not a satisfying ending for me at all. But it's not like it's the first game to do that. Typically these kinds of games never have a "everyone has a happy ending" finale to it. So in all, I can not recommend this game unless you are an absolute hardcore visual novel fan. I'm not so I found this game not only to be the stuff of nightmares, but it seems like it's a parody of the genre. It's just one terrible over the top scene after another padded out to the point where I'm just as glad to have the 2 weeks done as the main character is. The endings were not worth the time it took to play this, let alone the physical strain of me not seeing my dinner come back up on my keyboard. If there are any positives to this game is that the art is good, the characters are decently written, and the damn thing didn't crash. Beyond that I found absolutely nothing redeeming in this whatsoever. If you get your rocks off on this stuff, more power to you. but if you aren't turned on by repeated scenes of rape, sex with animals and people crapping all over the place, avoid this like a case of the clap. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Starless Review photo
So many shades of rape
So here I am, brand new writer for Japanator looking for content I can write for the site. The offer is made to review a game that I had heard plenty of buzz about in Starless: Nymphomaniac's Paradise, a visual novel type gam...

Review: Chroma Squad

May 05 // Josh Tolentino
Chroma Squad (PC) Developer: Behold StudiosPublisher: Behold StudiosReleased: April 30, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Not that they really needed to, of course. Such a "feature" would interfere with play, and there's plenty of service in the game as it is for fans. The play, in this case, is of the turn-based tactical variety, as if Behold took XCOM and ran it through the parodic, pixelated filters of Knights of Pen and Paper.  Like the former, players will manage a small squad of combatants, with unique classes and abilities, running them up against groups of goons and the occasional boss, one turn at a time. Like the latter, every mechanic serves as a distillation of tokusatsu's essence through heavy referencing and a clear, almost palpable appreciation of the source material. The premise alone is ripe enough with potential that it's baffling more games haven't taken advantage: Players manage a fledgling production studio, with each mission treated as an "episode" of an upstart spandex superhero show. Names, casting, and even catchphrases are up for customization, as well as the requisite selection of bright primary colors to outfit the roster with. If players want to commit sentai sacrilege and name a non-red-colored character the "Lead," no one can stop them but their inevitable guilt (guilt, I say!). Cast members can also be selected from a pool of actor candidates, each with their own special qualities.  [embed]33795:4709:0[/embed] When the cameras start rolling and the minions exit wardrobe, the fight is on. The goal of any given mission is to amass as much "audience" as possible, by performing flashy attacks, fancy stunts, and of course, winning the fight. Additionally, optional "Director's Instructions" add extra conditions, such as finishing off boss monsters with a screen-filling finishing move, or not killing off the boss before dispatching the cannon-fodder minions. Such extra goals help introduce variety to the combat, which is more simplistic than one might find in XCOM or other dedicated tactical titles. Enemies follow simple patterns and lack much in the way of extra abilities, so most of the tactics devolve to crowd and ability cooldown management rather than more elegant stratagems. Chroma Squad's main mechanical wrinkle comes in the form of "Teamwork," which allows squad members to leapfrog over each other to boost their movement range, or carry out simultaneous attacks with adjacent teammates. This, alongside somewhat simplistic giant-mecha boss battles, give the game enough of a unique flavor to override its otherwise thin tactical substance.  Following the mission, gained audience is converted into "fans," and also into increased studio funding, the better to buy one's way out of Papier-mâché costumes and into somereal spandex duds. Behind the scenes, the studio itself can be outfitted with various upgrades that improve performance in each episode. Buying health care for the actors improves their health in combat, and improving the lighting on set reduces enemies' chance to dodge or counter blows. Materials dropped in combat can also be used to craft customized gear with semi-random statistics, a useful (and cheap) alternative to costly store-bought costumes and weapons. Fan mail can be answered for flavor and smaller benefits, and players can even choose marketing agencies to confer more benefits. Going with a niche-market enthusiast firm might increase the amount of fans gained after an episode, but will likely lack the mass-audience-gathering benefits of a more mainstream advertising push. Tradeoffs like that characterize much of Chroma Squad's meta-game. Speaking of meta-things, the game's narrative and missions regularly break the fourth wall, and form one of the game's potentially divisive aspects. While the self-aware script and obvious understanding of tokusatsu's many conventions and tropes lend it an endearing level of charm, some players might be turned off by references to dated Internet memes and other metahumor. Personally, I found the story hit quite a bit more than it missed, but I will admit that at times the dialog read more like a forum chat log than a script, and wasn't always helped by rough spots in the localization and editing. Then again, it's not like tokusatsu attracts its fans for complex plotting and characterization, so it may balance out in the end for players in the right mindset. What isn't as easy to let by are some unfortunate, if minor, technical and design blemishes on Chroma Squad's pristine pixelation. Mission scripts would occasionally freeze in "cutscene" mode, forcing me to start the mission over. A nasty little bug accidentally equipped low-level equipment on my giant robot, making some late-game boss battles much more tense than I'd have liked them to be. One bug even gave me control of an enemy unit rather than my own squad members for a few turns! Thankfully, dev posts on the forums appear to indicate that Behold is aware of most of the bugs I encountered, and a patch is in the works at the time of this writing. Beyond that, the lack of a mid-mission checkpoint or save, or a mission-select option is inconvenient for players wanting to explore the game's branching story paths (especially for those curious to see what Behold has to say about Kamen Rider). That said, the team has stated a New Game+ option may yet be in the cards for a future update, so repeated playthroughs may become more appealing in the future. Zordon may have wanted "teens with attitude," but Chroma Squad and its unabashed, utterly geeky love-in for all things tokusatsu shows something even harder to find: A game with heart and soul. That heart shines through the rough edges, and in some ways even turns them to its advantage. It might have taken quite a while in getting here, but fans of spandex-clad superheroic finally have the videogame to help them fill that little fantasy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]  
Chroma Squad photo
Lights, Camera, Henshin!
Ever since a badly-dubbed lady popped out of a dumpster on the moon, sending a weird computer-man to seek "teenagers with attitude," geeks of a certain age have been on the lookout for a game that can capture the es...

Review: Omega Quintet

Apr 30 // Josh Tolentino
Omega Quintet (PS4) Developer: Compile HeartPublisher: Idea Factory (JP), Idea Factory International (US/EU)Released: October 2, 2014 (JP) / April 28, 2015 (US) / May 1, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $59.99 Speaking of other "firsts," playing Omega Quintet brings to mind the very first Hyperdimension Neptunia title. That's not a good sign, seeing as the original gameliterally put Matt Razak to sleep back in 2011. Indeed, despite being, on paper, one of the most feature-rich titles Compile Heart has produced, the experience of playing Omega Quintet feels decidedly regressive, a far cry from the comparative refinement that theNeptunia franchise has managed to cultivate over the years. Perhaps some of that disconnect is cultural. Whereas the Neptunia series' light parody of the game industry and its never-ending platform wars will be familiar to most gamers, idol culture -- which informs much of Omega Quintet's setup -- is largely absent outside of Japan. Many of its references to the peculiarities of pop-princess life fall flat for lack of that common ground. On the other hand, not even Neptunia could be considered especially sophisticated in its satire. Anyone familiar with that series would know that the premises, however niche or inventive, really serve as a framework on which to drape a proven mix of cute girls, complex battle systems, anime-tinged humor, and sexualization. Omega Quintet is in much the same way, and its paeans to the life of celebrities are ultimately skin-deep. Except even by those lowered standards and tempered expectations, the game still comes across as lazy and half-hearted, without the charm or spark that helped its cousins rise above their otherwise mundane core.  Omega Quintet at least sounds interesting at first. Its future-set, ostensibly apocalyptic setting is cutely subverted by the fact that the Blare, an existence pushing humanity to the brink of extinction, can only be stopped by the Verse Maidens, a troupe of magical girl idols who sing and fight with giant weapons called "Mics". The Verse Maidens are powered by the adoration of the people, which necessitates their fights being broadcast live like a concert. Sadly, the last active Verse Maiden, Momoka, is retiring, because she's apparently much older than she looks. Enter Otoha, a fresh-faced youngster, and her male friend/player stand-in Takt, as the newest Verse Maiden recruit and the team manager, respectively. As more new Verse Maidens join to take up the reins, various anime-flavored antics ensue alongside goodly amounts of suggestive posing, relationship-building, wacky conversations, and of course, saving the world. The catch, unfortunately, is that all this cutsey waifu fun has to be experienced from the perspective of Takt, one of the least likable male leads ever to be inflicted on videogames. It's as if whomever wrote his lines mistook being a total prick for an aloof kind of coolness. Every word from his mouth is marinated in pointless sarcasm and brain-dead snark that it makes the event scenes -- which already run far too long and stretch their one-note jokes to the breaking point as it is -- a grating exercise in tedium. If he can't even be bothered to care what's going on, why should we? The game can't even be bothered to fully incorporate its premise into the main structure.Omega Quintet comes with a surprisingly robust "PVS" mode, which allows players to essentially construct dance and concert videos from the game's (rather small) collection of idol songs, complete with video recording and upload functions, but there's rarely any point or main-game benefit to engaging it. Ironically, despite the fact that this game is supposed to be Compile Heart's "idol RPG," Neptunia Producing Perfection, which is more of an actual idol-centric game than this could hope to be, came out last year. [embed]33790:4702:0[/embed] If there is a group that could look forward to enjoying Omega Quintet, it's the crowd that comes to JRPGs not for narrative or anime antics, but for abstract and engaging battle systems. Omega Quintet's is enjoyably complex and interesting to master. Where the trend in RPG battle has moved away from menus and into quasi-action game territory, Omega Quintet is all too happy to throw players into a sea of menu selections and gauge-driven turn-based combat. At its core, the game's battling relies on using attacks of varying effectiveness, range, and recovery time to manipulate the turn order. Stacking commands and attacks so that the Verse Maidens all take their turns in quick succession unlocks powerful Harmonics attacks, and building "Voltage" (a gauge representing the audience's fervor) eventually results in engaging the cinematic "Live Concert" mode, a sort of super attack that involves big damage, over-the-top animation, and background lyrics. Throw in Takt's ability to partner up with the Verse Maidens to deliver follow-ups or stat boosts, as well as score-boosting Overkill systems, a Sphere-Grid-like character progression system, and even item and gear crafting, and there's plenty of mechanical fat to chew on. If only the context and characters surrounding this part of the game were more worthwhile. Though there's nothing explicitly wrong with it, Omega Quintet feels far too much like a "by-the-numbers" Compile Heart title to do justice to the studio's first current-gen effort. Its narrative and aesthetic "fluff" ultimately fail to support its dense and otherwise engrossing mechanical heart. For a game about a bunch of girls finding their voices and path in the world, it has distressingly little "voice" of its own.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Omega Quintet photo
Same old song and dance routine
Omega Quintet is a game of firsts. Chronologically, it's the PlayStation 4's first exclusive Japanese RPG (Final Fantasy Type-0 originally being a PSP game). It's also developer Compile Heart's first PS4 game, and b...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 4

Mar 29 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 4 Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: December 9, 2014MSRP: $44.82 DVD (reviewed) / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-RayI admit I was nervous when the second episode of this set was a recap episode featuring Ranma's rival, Ryoga Hibiki. It obviously felt way too early to be relying on these kinds of episodes, but fortunately it's the only episode of its kind in this set. There are some returning minor characters, including Ling Ling and Lung Lung, Shampoo's Amazon sisters from China, who are comically defeated time and time again in their plot to force Ranma to marry Shampoo. Azusa, the ice skating martial artist, also makes a return appearance, bringing our characters back to the skating rink. There're also two episodes featuring the ghost cat, the second of which features this ethereal being possessing Ryoga's body and proposing to Ranma's love interest, Akane Tendo.There are two multi-episode stories featured this time around. The first centers on Ryoga becoming invincible when a silly marking is tattooed on his stomach that he desperately wants to have removed out of embarrassment. In the second, we learn that Ranma's pigtail is actually tied with a powerful Chinese relic known as the dragon whisker, which can be used to grow hair in bald men, leading to some hilarity when Ranma's father, Genma Saotome, and even their master, Happosai, want the whisker for their own gain. From there, we get a series of one-off episodes. There's an inspirational teacher who begins work at the high school that the characters attend who encourages Ranma and Akane to express their feelings for one another, a disciple that Happosai starts training to help him in his underwear-stealing hi-jinx, and some interesting backstory about Kasumi as a childhood friends returns to town. It was interesting seeing more light on her as a character. Some of the more comical episodes center around a love story between Happosai and a young woman teacher that leads to Happosai giving up his underwear collection, Kuno acquiring a magical sword that grants him three wishes which he promptly wastes in order to woo female Ranma, Shampoo's red thread of fate that attempts to magically seal a loving relationship between Ranma and Shampoo, an episode featuring the "Gambling King," who flips Ranma off and is exposed as a cheater who preys on children, and the final episode that features a rift between longtime comrades Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo.There's nothing really new to report in terms of visuals that I haven't noted several times in reviews of the past sets: Ranma's visual appeal has remained surprisingly intact. We get a new opening an ending theme about halfway through this set, with the "Earth Orchestra" opening that doesn't do much for me, and the melancholy "Hinageshi" closing theme which is fantastic.We reviewed the DVD set, which didn't sport any extras this time around except some Viz Media trailers. Past releases have featured footage from various conventions and such. We didn't get our hands on the Blu-ray this time, but the limited edition sets come with a character portrait card and a booklet with a episode summaries. In all, I had a great time with set 4, but as with set 3, this is the point at which you really need to be invested in the series if you want to continue on. Nothing groundbreaking happens in this set, although the episodes are highly entertaining. In an industry where everything seems so broody and serious with a lot of recent anime series I've seen, having access to the upbeat and comical Ranma 1/2 series has been a real treat.  8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Were finally used to Ranmas new voice
  It’s been a while since we’ve visited the world of Ranma 1/2. It was my favorite anime growing up, though I never came close to seeing all that the series had to offer. Like many people out there, I’v...

Review: Naruto: The Last

Mar 21 // Red Veron
Naruto: The LastStudio: Studio PierrotLicensed by: Eleven ArtsReleased: February 20, 2015 (North American Theatrical)Naruto: The Last offers up a chance to see a little bit of what happens in the penultimate chapter of the Naruto manga. It’s been two years since the end of the war and peace reigns throughout the ninja nations until the world notices that the moon is coming dangerously closer to the earth with moon rocks breaking off as meteorites fall to earth. Things get worse when a mysterious figure who claims to be responsible for the lunar lunacy kidnaps Hinata Hyuga’s little sister, Hanabi. Now Hinata and Naruto along with Sakura, Shikamaru, and Sai go off to save Hanabi and the world. If you’ve been paying attention to all the trailers and the last chapter of Naruto, you may know that this movie features Naruto and Hinata finally getting together as a couple.  Don’t go expecting full love story with a style similar to that of a shoujo romance. It gets the job done; it’s the catalyst that finally gets Naruto and Hinata together though we don’t get to see them as an “official” couple. It’s similar to how shounen action handles romance though instead of being a thing that breaks up the action, but here it’s part of what gets the plot going in Naruto: The Last. The movie does get a chance to show a little bit of Naruto and Hinata’s budding romance. It is very refreshing to see characters from something so focused on action like the shounen genre in a different light, I’ve always loved seeing art of characters being in a different setting. For a few minutes in the movie, Hinata gets to be a normal teen girl dealing with love problems and Naruto gets to be a clueless harem protagonist that just doesn’t get it. I have to admit I enjoyed that part and it helped my enjoyment of the movie so much more. If you’ve been keeping up with the Naruto manga, you may have seen that Naruto is super powerful towards the end of the manga and would probably crush anyone who starts up trouble. The new baddie in this movie is a crafty one, and a 114 minute movie doesn’t have the same luxury of the anime and manga that can show off that the bad guy is more capable than the protagonists in multiple chapters or episodes. This power difference scale thing can be a bit distracting when you see someone skilled in fighting like Hinata Hyuga be somewhat relegated to a damsel-in-distress role. I can forgive that since there are reasons for such a thing and that it actually gets Naruto to think of her as more than a ninja buddy. There has to be some sense of urgency and a challenge for our protagonists to get the movie going. As for how the movie looks, it looks great. Fluid and clean animation pumps up the action in the fight scenes. It’s great to see the Naruto cast in action showing off their special moves and techniques in a much better  looking quality than the anime, especially that this is “The Last” one.  It’s not just the action that looks great, there are very visually pleasing sequences in the movie. I liked the intro sequence that gives a brief look into Naruto history; it’s well done though a bit weird when you realize the choice for the background song. There’s another sequence in the movie that gets a bit surreal that is a nice treat for those that have seen all of the Naruto anime. Those ending credits are just so pretty. If you’ve seen the trailer then a lot of you may be excited that certain characters that you love will show up again. Some of you may be disappointed that not everyone is going get much screen time, if at all. We do get a chance to see a few of other characters dealing with the impending threat of the moon crashing to Earth while Naruto and company are on their rescue mission, which is a nice treat for longtime fans. So should you go see Naruto: the Last? It’s a must-see for diehard Naruto fans that need to see more of the character Naruto before he grows up into an adult in that last manga chapter. It shows off a different side of Naruto and Hinata and how they grow beyond more than just being fighters. If you like Hinata and Naruto, you’ll like this movie and you’re going to get to see a lot of them here since this movie is about them after all. I loved how this movie shows a protagonist that finally gets romantically together with another character, since you hardly see that in the shounen action genre. I have to admit that I got something in my eye as I watched the ending credits that had beautiful art of the characters with that very sweet accompanying song just got to me. This movie is a great farewell for Naruto, to his action packed adventures as a teenager and a great beginning to his path to adulthood achieving his dream to becoming the Hokage. 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.
Naruto: The Last photo
Going off with a blast
Naruto is a name known throughout the anime and manga world that stands alongside shounen action staples such as Dragon Ball and Bleach. Masashi Kishimoto’s orange-clad ninja has been around since 1999 and has grown ...

Review: Bladestorm: Nightmare

Mar 17 // Josh Tolentino
Bladestorm: Nightmare (Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS3 [reviewed])Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Koei TecmoReleased: March 17, 2015MSRP: $59.99 (PS4/Xbox One), $49.99 (PS3) [Note: This review was originally posted on Destructoid. Screenshots used in this review are taken from the PS4 version of the game.] As an aside: this game, based on 2007's Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, is one of the weirdest choices anyone could've made when deciding on which games to add to the growing number of "remastered" titles popping up on current-generation consoles and PC. Despite initially generating excitement among the Dynasty Warriors-loving crowd as a long-desired European-themed entry to the franchise, the original game came and went without much comment. That was thanks to its odd-duck design, which even led Jim Sterling, a much bigger Warriors fan than yours truly, to call it a real-time strategy game in his review. I'm not quite as inclined towards that drastic recategorization, but ol' Jim does have a point: Bladestorm is, for good or ill, of a more thoughtful mind than most of Omega Force's  offerings. Indeed, whereas typical Warriors games take history's leaders and convert them into armies unto themselves, Bladestorm takes the player and molds him (or her) into a leader of their own squad of troops. If Dynasty Warriors is about being a human Cuisinart,Bladestorm attempts a wartime version of Katamari Damacy. More on that in a bit. [embed]33644:4594:0[/embed] Bladestorm: Nightmare comes with two main modes. "The Hundred Years' War" mode is essentially identical to the original 2007 release, aside from graphical/mechanical tweaks, and drops player-created mercenaries -- or "merthenaries" to hear the comically bad European-accented voice-acting say it -- on the battlefields of medieval France. There players can work for the French or English factions, supporting one or the other as pay and scruples dictate. They'll interact with luminaries of the era like Edward, the Black Prince, Philippe the Good, and Gilles de Rais, and participate in key engagements like the Battle of Crécy and the Siege of Calais.   The second mode, "Nightmare," is a more linear, scripted campaign set when a monster invasion interrupts the Hundred Years' War, forcing France, England, and the merthenaries they employ to ally against hordes of hellbeasts commanded by none other than Joan of Arc herself. Interestingly, though Nightmare mode is clearly designed to be played after finishing off The Hundred Years' war, players can switch between the two freely, with progression data like levels, money, equipped gear, and distributed skill points carrying over with virtually no restriction.  Graphically, Bladestorm works best on newer hardware. Aside from the added special effects and improved draw distance and environments, the frame-rate drops that I experienced on the PS3 are absent on the PS4 version. Additionally, the Nightmare campaign on PS3 is prone to drastic loss of frames as well, likely due to the much larger squad sizes and the hordes of monsters.  Both modes essentially boil down to an expansive form of territory control. Each of the battlefields is divided into numerous forts, towns, and castles defended by allied or enemy troops. Most missions ("contracts" in merthenary lingo), particularly in the more open-ended base campaign, will task players with conquering one or more settlements by killing off their defenders and beating their commanding officer. The bigger the settlement, the tougher the commanders, and some particularly large castles are basically defended by mini-boss enemies with distinct attack patterns. In Nightmare mode, those defenders can even include dragons, cyclopes, or grim reapers. Doing the killing involves taking command of a squad of troops. Though broken down roughly by weapon type, each soldier type is unique, with strengths, weaknesses, and a set of special attacks mapped to the face buttons. Players can pick up or drop squads they find in the field, or summon reinforcements directly. New to Bladestorm: Nightmare is the ability to create multiple squad leaders, commanding them separately via the battle map or attaching them to a personal unit as a bodyguard, ultimately allowing for up to 200 troops to move and act as a single unit, rolling everyone in the way (hence the Katamari analogy). This type of of structure provides Bladestorm with the same kind of dynamic as the typically more action-oriented Warriors games. Like in those titles, players in this game are often "fire-fighting," moving as quickly as possible between crisis zones, keeping scores and rewards up by plowing through everything along the way. Though ultimately shallow, Bladestorm's battle mechanics do lend the game an impressive sense of scale, particularly when playing as a cavalry leader. I must have done it hundreds of times in my hours with the game, but it never gets old to trigger a charge and flatten dozens of enemies under the hooves and lances of your soldiers. It also never gets old to watch horses slide across the ground like they are hovercrafts, a testament to how rough-hewn the game can be at times. Balance issues are also a concern, as properly leveled cavalry units basically trivialize the whole game except at the highest difficulty levels. I'd actually be more mad that cavalry are so overpowered if they weren't already the most fun class to play, but that's neither here nor there. Bladestorm: Nightmare isn't a Dynasty Warriors game, but it doesn't aim to be, and still ends up being good time when taken on its own merits. In fact, it's a little ironic that its unusual qualities doomed the original release commercially, but help this new release feel much more fresh and engaging than even the latest "core" franchise entries. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.] 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.)
Bladestorm Review photo
Merthenary Lyfe
Bladestorm: Nightmare is not a Dynasty Warriors game. That bit of information might be good or bad news, depending which side of the fence one falls on with regard to Tecmo Koei's long-running brawler series. A...

Review: Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines

Mar 03 // Josh Tolentino
Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (PS Vita, PlayStation TV)Developer: Alfa SystemPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentReleased: March 3, 2015 MSRP: $19.99 About that "dead soon" thing: It's the premise of the game. Players start as the head of a Japanese clan (that they construct themselves in a rather detailed character-creation interface), murdered to a man in a gruesome ritual of human sacrifice after being framed for the disasters rocking 12th-century Kyoto. Fate is kind, though, and a few members are brought back to life to exact revenge upon the wrongdoers. Unfortunately, everything has a cost, and the price for a second chance is the dual curses of Ephemerality and Broken Lineage. The first curse dooms all members of the clan to drop dead two years after their birth. The second prevents them from having offspring with humans. Talk about a double-whammy!  Thus the mission is set: Continue the family line long enough to break the curses, by having children with willing gods and spirits (sidestepping the "Broken Lineage" part), and having those children have their own children before their two years are up, in addition to becoming strong enough to defeat the villain that cursed the clan in the first place. It's a morbid and deliciously effective premise, so much so that one wonders why it hasn't been thought of before. [embed]33597:4548:0[/embed] Except...it has, for Oreshika is technically a sequel to 1999's Ore no Shikabane wo Koete Yuke, an influential PS1 RPG that involved largely the same concepts. That said, the game never made overseas, which makes it completely new to most players. Its relative age, though, would explain why Oreshika feels like a pleasant throwback to the early years of Japanese RPG-making, when the primary influences on design came from free-roaming dungeon-crawlers like Ultima and Wizardry. That same narrative-light, systems-heavy approach largely defines Oreshika's play experience, which should delight fans who've begun to chafe under the typically linear storytelling of most JRPGs. That isn't to say the story beats are absent. Oreshika has its own complement of directed cutscenes and dialog sequences, most involving named, voiced side characters. They appear during certain missions to drop some exposition or plot twists, and in some cases join the party. The meshing of traditional narrative with the game's more free-form structure isn't perfect, and it's during these moments that the player's own created clan can feel like extras in what is ostensibly their story. The missteps are mostly inoffensive, though, and to be fair, the story does end up going deeper than might have been possible without the benefit of more defined characters to fall back on. Then again, perhaps that more traditional story wasn't that necessary at all, because for me, the most memorable moments in Oreshika come with each passing minute of my family's short, short life. The game is conducted on a month-to-month basis, either raiding or preparing to raid one of the land's many labyrinths. The preparation involves buying gear and items for use during the raid, improving the local town to upgrade the various shops' offerings, or performing the "Rite of Union" with many gods and goddesses to create offspring and ensure the family's continuation. That might sound like a lot of babies to magic up, but considering that thanks to the rigors of dungeon-raiding many of the clan's members will kick the bucket long before their two years are up, a deep bench is critical. Longer games can go for hundreds of generations, and every death can hurt, thanks to the "XCOM effect" of growing attached to people one had a hand in creating and customizing themselves. Dying family even leave semi-randomized "parting words" upon their passing. Oreshika's also quite adept at making that customization feel like it matters. Every new addition to the family takes on the characteristics of their parents, including inheriting physical features (which can turn out hilariously when uniting with some of the less "human" gods), and statistical traits. The game's item creation system allows "heirloom" gear to be created that gains power every time a departing family member bequeaths it to a new generation. And the game is all too happy to use the PS Vita's built-in screen capture function to take "family album" photos and collect them like fond mementos of bosses beaten and dungeons delved. It's almost strange that for all the time one spends preparing for dungeon raids, Oreshika's combat and exploration are designed to be over and done with as quickly as possible. When out in the world, players are literally on the clock. A real-time counter ticks down towards the end of a given month, which lasts between five and ten minutes, depending on how many battles one gets into. At the end, players are given the option to go home, or continue the raid through the next month without rest, increasing the chance that tired or injured party members might die permanently. Given that every character is already born with a very short lifespan, the timers instill a kind of frenzied pace and tension to what could otherwise have been a ponderous affair. "Frenzied" is also a good way to describe Oreshika's visuals, which are a riot of color and animation. The game's watercolor tones and melding of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock style, traditional folkloric creatures, and anime character design make it one of the best-looking titles on the platform, and possibly one of the prettiest "anime" games since the originalValkyria Chronicles. And thankfully, unlike many games that involve procreation as a concept, Oreshika lacks much of the prurient undertone that make such titles slightly embarrassing to play at times. As lovely as the characters are environments don't fare quite as well, as the pace at which a typical dungeon run is conducted doesn't leave a lot of time to admire the sights. A limited camera setup and frequent use of revisiting (often to unlock a shortcut using a key found in some other dungeon) can also sap locations of their initial charm. Despite the fact most of us will never have played the game it's a sequel to, the quality of Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines shines through its gorgeous visuals and deep mechanics. Come to think of it, there's no more fitting way for a game that's about leaving a worthwhile legacy to conduct itself. 8.5 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.) [This review is based on a digital retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Oreshika Review! photo
Generations of Phwoar
[This review originally appeared on Destructoid] Like many games of its type, Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines features a tiny graphic in its text boxes to remind players they can press a button to advance to the next l...

Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary

Feb 22 // Josh Tolentino
htoL#NiQ: The Firely Diary (PS Vita)Developer: Nippon Ichi SoftwarePublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $19.99 First, to that bit about minimalism: htoL#NiQ has virtually no written or spoken dialog, or even text. Apart from some prompts explaining the basic controls and a brief crawl in the opening, players won't even encounter so much as a lettered sign in the background. The plot, such as it is, is delivered almost entirely in-game, via environmental clues and lightly interactive flashbacks.  The game screen itself is largely free of HUDs and icons, and combined with low-lit environments that flicker as if beaming from a vintage film projector, gives off a universally gloomy, unsettling aura that contrasts well with the cutesy character design. The flashback scenes are rendered in a totally different, isometric style that recalls older RPGs like Contact. [embed]33553:4522:0[/embed] Exploring this downbeat dystopia is Mion, a silver-haired waif with big eyes, a pair of branches growing from her head, and all the self-preservation instinct of a videogame lemming. Accompanying her are Lumen and Umbra, the titular fireflies and the only means by which players can guide Mion through the wilderness. Players can use the touch screen to move Lumen, with Mion following her Navi-esque companion wherever it goes. Lumen can also signal Mion to throw switches, push boxes, and other puzzle-solving interactions. Umbra, on the other hand, resides in Mion's shadow, and can only be controlled by shifting to an alternate dimension with a tap of the rear touchpad. From there, Umbra can move through shadows freely - including those cast by Lumen's glow - and interact with objects too far away for Mion to reach. Manipulating the environment and using the firefly duo to help maneuver Mion past various hazards forms the bulk of htoL#NiQ's mechanics. This all sounds simple enough, but the game in which these mechanics are employed is an artifact of what I can only describe as gleeful, knowing sadism. htoL#NiQ is one of the most difficult games I've ever played, and the bulk of my playtime has been spent dying, over and over and over again. That's not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the last few years have brought a new renaissance for tough, uncompromising game design, but the type of pain dealt by htoL#NiQ is of a very particular type, one that's been justifiably abandoned by most modern titles. Simply put, this game trades in pure, trial-and-error frustration. Thanks to a combination of deliberately lethargic controls and deathtrap-obsessed level design, virtually no challenge the game poses can be passed on the first try - or the 48th try, for that matter. That's how long it took me to overcome just a single checkpoint in the second level, a checkpoint that, performed successfully, takes about a minute to transition through.  Since Mion can only be moved by moving Lumen ahead of her, a slight delay accompanies every movement, and Mion herself hits her top speed at "leisurely stroll", even when pursued by rampaging hellbeasts made of shadow. The awkwardness of using the touch screen and rear touch pad to control Lumen and Umbra can be alleviated somewhat by switching to an optional control scheme that uses the analog stick and face buttons, but the precision and sluggishness in movement remains. Worse still, some challenges demand precise timing to trigger environmental actions using Umbra, but the pauses that accompany attempting to switch to Umbra's dimension make that timing even tougher to nail down. Add in hidden enemies, barely-telegraphed hazards, instant death, and occasional randomized factors that cheapen every death, and htoL#NiQends up embodying a strange sort of videogame Murphy's Law: Anything that can kill Mion, will kill Mion. Several times.  To clarify, there's nothing wrong with deliberate, "slow" controls. As a fan of Monster Hunter and the Souls games, I can appreciate that style, and intention behind them being in this game is fairly clear. htoL#NiQ aims for the kind of dynamic that defined the likes of classics like Ico. The problem here is the decision to combine the tension of having to escort a helpless charge with such demanding level design. The stress of both having to keep the charge safe as well as perform feats of precision timing and speed is almost too much that would stand to gain the most from the game's low-key storytelling and unique aesthetic. Extending the comparison further, if htoL#NiQ were to be compared to Ico, the difference between the two in terms of difficulty would be akin to trying to shepherd Yorda through the Tower of Latria from Demon's Souls.   It simply isn't fun to have to redo every section just to pass - or replay certain portions perfectly just to access all the game's collectible flashback scenes (which form its most substantial narrative payoff), but then again, I did retry a single section forty-eight times in a row, so there may be something to htoL#NiQ, after all. The creepy atmosphere and interesting visuals were just enough to keep me hooked alongside its grim, intriguing story. And of course, there's the stubborn, bitter, vengeful thrill of finally defeating a game that's seemingly designed with the middle finger extended towards its players.  I won't lie: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary feels like an ordeal to play, but it is worth noting that historically, surviving an ordeal was often taken as a sign of being blessed by a higher power. That notion may appeal to some types of players, and it's they who'll find the fun in this gorgeous, cruel game. Everyone else should just hang back and ask how it went. 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.) [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
htoL#NiQ Review photo
Oh Dear, Diary
[This post originally appeared on Destructoid.com] No, that isn't an encoding error up there in the headline: "htoL#NiQ" is indeed this PS Vita game's title, and is essentially a very stylish way to type "The Firefly Diary" i...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 3

Nov 28 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 3Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: September 16, 2014MSRP: $44.82 DVD / $51.99 limited-edition Blu-Ray (reviewed) I'll start by saying that set 3 offers some of my favorite Ranma 1/2 episodes yet. There are a ton of memorable moments despite the lack of overarching plots for this season. Some favorites include an episode where Ranma's fiance, Akane Tendo, consumes a bowl of "super soba" that makes her all-powerful (which is difficult for Ranma to accept), but has some rather humorous adverse effects, while another follows Sasuke, servant of the Kuno family, as he's ejected from their household only to take up service with Akane where we learn more about him and the Kunos.One episode features a trip to the beach where Grandfather Happosai (founder of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts) tries to use magic pearls to make the various female characters fall in love with him, while another takes the cast to the past with Happosai's magic mirror, where they're surprised to discover young Happosai's relationship with another of the show's characters. There's magic soap that prevents the transformations that afflict so many of the characters in one episode, and another where Ranma intends to travel into the past to prevent himself from acquiring his curse, only to be sent into the future to make a startling discovery about what may be coming. My favorite episode of all, titled "Am I... Pretty? Ranma's Declaration of Womanhood" sees Ranma sustain an injury to his head that has him believing that his female form is his true form. It's a lot of fun watching Ranma truly play the part of his girl form rather than relying on it to get free food or woo the show's male characters.There is one story arc found in this set. Three episodes center on Ranma losing his strength and his journey and hardships trying to get it back. It's a fantastic run of episodes where we see the relationship between Ranma and his betrothed continue to grow. In fact, throughout the entire set, we see Ranma and Akane grow closer and become convincingly jealous of the shows other characters, which is really touching to see.I discussed the music of Ranma 1/2 in my review of set 2, and nothing has really changed in terms of the short stinger format used throughout. We do get a new opening and closing theme towards the end of the set as we transition into what used to be season 4, with an infectious opening theme and heartwarming ending theme that do the job.There are a couple interesting changes in art style found in this set. The first occurs in the aforementioned episode where Ranma comes to believe he's a woman after a head injury. The art style is much more fluid with an emphasis on shadow effects and a more curvy interpretation of the characters. Generally speaking, the art style for Ranma 1/2 is pretty simple, with lots of solid colors, minimal shading, and straight lines, but this episode was drastically different. There was another episode that I can't recall that also deviated a bit, leading to some particularly funny looking expressions by Ranma's father, Genma Saotome, and Ranma himself. In all, however, regardless of the slight variations, I love the style for its simplicity.Now, there is one big issue I have with set 3. It shattered my world to find that, moving into what used to be season 4, the voice actor for male Ranma changed. For season one through three, Ranma was voiced by Sarah Strange, who lent Ranma a heavily sarcastic and oftentimes indifferent vocal performance. It was perfect for Ranma's character, as he generally goes with the flow and tries to stay out of drama. Richard Cox takes over from there, and while his delivery is much more dynamic in range, I can't help but feel the youthful spunk he brings to the character takes Ranma from the cool and above-the-fray personality to a more typical angsty youth. It's taking a lot of getting used to for me, and to make matters worse, the episode resequencing puts an episode with Ranma's old voice at the very end of the set, right when I was starting to accept his new voice actor. I'll likely have to start over again warming up to Ranma's new voice with the next set. Interestingly, little to no new major characters were introduced this set. Tsubasa Kurenai, a character who was introduced at the end of set 2 and is infatuated with Ukyo was not present at all, much to my surprise. I suppose there's the new school principal, back from Hawaii, where he picked up an outrageously stereotypical Hawaiian speech pattern and new ways to annoy his students, but he only appears in a few episodes towards the end of the set, so the verdict's out as to whether or not he'll be a major character going forward (I certainly hope not, as the I can only take so much of his over-the-top Hawaiian speak). We also see an appearance by Doctor Tofu, who we haven't seen since set 1.I should also mention the bonuses included with the limited edition Blu-ray version that we reviewed this time. While I couldn't really discern any differences in the visual presentation, the disc case comes in a sturdy cardboard sleeve and includes a glossy portrait card of Ryoga and a nice booklet summarizing the series so far and offering recaps of each episode found in this set (super helpful for this review!). In terms of content on the discs themselves, the third and final disc features extras, most of which you won't care about (Viz Media trailers, clean openings and endings), but there is a nice series of interviews and commentaries from New York Comic Con 2013 with some Viz Media staff, anime industry professionals, and cosplayers talking about their love for Ranma 1/2.While I'm still coming to terms with Ranma's voice change (I almost felt like the old Ranma died and I was starting over again with a new character), Ranma 1/2 set 3 features some of the best episodes of the series yet. I wasn't able to mention them all here, but it should suffice to say that this is one of the most entertaining sets yet. I'm enjoying the dynamic between Ranma and Akane, and characters including Happosai, Genma Saotome, and Akane's father, Soun Tendo, are incredibly memorable and are some of my favorites in any anime ever. I'm eager to see what happens with set 4 next month, so stay tuned!9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
More changes than just Ranma's gender this time!
After reviewing Ranma 1/2 set 2 earlier this month, I knew it was time to hunker down and dig deep. This series had a seven season run, and while this latest re-issue from Viz Media has resequenced the episodes to align more ...

Review: Ranma 1/2 Set 2

Nov 08 // Jayson Napolitano
Ranma 1/2 DVD Set 2Publisher: Viz MediaRelease Date: June 24, 2014MSRP: $44.82 DVD (reviewed) / $54.97 limited-edition Blu-Ray At this point, viewers of Set 1 should be familiar enough with the premise of the series. Ranma Saotome of the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts and a number of other characters have been afflicted with a Chinese curse that transforms them upon being exposed to cold water. In Ranma’s case, he turns into a girl, whereas other characters turn into all kinds of cute animals. These transformations play out in often comical ways as our protagonist, Ranma, and his fiancé, Akane Tendo, each have their vast following of suitors, some of whom are in love with male Ranma and others who are in love with his female form. Those who were getting tired of the repetition featured throughout Set 1 should be pleased that the random appearance of water just for the sake of these transformations isn’t as prominent in Set 2. More so, this set is about the developing relationship between Ranma and Akane as well as the introduction of several new characters. These new characters include some of my favorites, such as Moose, a martial artist who’s followed the Chinese Amazon martial artist Shampoo from China and is desperately in love with her, and relies on weapons and gadgets procured from his massive sleeves when doing battle with Ranma to win Shampoo’s affection. There's also Happosai, the perverted and often hilarious master of Ranma and Akane’s fathers, Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo. Happosai is obsessed with woman’s undergarments, which is the focus of several episodes, and I have to say that his English voice dubbing is absolutely perfect, convincingly conveying a perverted old man ogling over womans’ bosoms and undergarments. Two more characters are introduced towards the end of the set, including Ukyo Kuonji, a childhood friend of Ranma who’s a master at cooking up okonomiyaki, and Tsubasa Kurenai, an interesting character who’s in love with Ukyo and wants to battle Ranma to win her affection. These new characters offer a new fold in the formula. Whereas Set 1 featured characters who were infatuated with the two main characters, Ranma and Akane, the addition of characters who are after the affection of these potential suitors allows for some variation in their respective relationships. Story-wise, many episodes are stand-alone experiences, although there are two major story arcs featured in Set 2. The first involves some trouble Ranma finds himself in when he’s unable to turn back into his male form, and the second follows our cast as they try to find a cure for the Chinese curse to much hilarity as all of the afflicted characters trample over one another to find the cure for themselves at the expense of their comrades. This seems like a good time discuss the episode sequencing, which is actually a tad problematic. With this re-issue, Viz Media has taken the opportunity to resequence the episodes to fall more in line with the manga series. While this is much appreciated, it has resulted in somewhat jarring transitions in the opening/ending sequences, for example (this was much more of an issue in Set 1, where episodes went back and forth between opening/ending sequences as later episodes were inserted into earliest spots in the episode sequencing). There’s also a long stretch of episodes in this set that are missing their opening sequences entirely. This resequencing also results in rather abrupt endings to the sets, meaning, in the case of Set 2, that you may be a little lost as it picks up right where Set 1 left off, and Set 2 introduces both Ukyo and Tsubasa right at the end of the set, whereas in the traditional seasons, they didn’t appear until season 3. I wish the team had been able to splice the opening and ending sequences into the episodes to create a linear progression rather than jumping around, but this is really a minor gripe. Some of my favorite episodes of Set 2 include one that explores an interesting tale about a previous engagement that Ranma was entered into by his father in exchange for a meal, which requires Ranma and Akane to take part in a ramen race (that is, all entrants must complete a foot race while taking care not to spill a bowl of ramen that they must carry across the finish line) to get out of. Another features a high school production of Romeo and Juliette with Ranma and Akane in the lead roles, which offers a great opportunity to focus on the relationship between the two characters. Finally, one of the funniest episodes involves Ranma and Happosai and their trip to the public bath house, which of course turns into a nightmare for Ranma as he tries to control Happosai’s urges to sneak into the female side of the bath house. Karen hit the nail on the head with her assessment of the art direction in her review of Set 1, so I won’t belabor the point, but I love (and miss) the attention to detail in the animation and the lack of technical magic that we often see today. The music, too, is excellent, with opening and ending themes that I rarely found myself wanting to skip, and in-show cues that accent important moments, with one dedicated to dark or mysterious moments standing out, and another comical cue that I think is really a signature of Ranma 1/2's comedic style. We reviewed the DVD set, which boasts extras such as clean opening/ending sequences and trailers, but these are unfortunately only accessible from the third and final disc, and cannot be enabled throughout the series, but rather viewed separately. It would have been nice to have included an option to turn on clean openings and endings for the entire series, but perhaps that was technically not possible. There’s some mild nudity found throughout the series and in the main opening sequence featured through Set 2 (although, as mentioned before, the opening sequence is missing in a long stretch of episodes), but it’s minor enough that I personally didn't mind watching alongside my son. I know some parents will not be as comfortable. In all, the developing story and new characters add a new dimension to the series throughout Set 2 of Ranma 1/2. While sexism and stereotypes are still rampant (they constantly note how Ranma’s female form is weaker than his male form), Ranma 1/2 doesn't take itself all that seriously; it’s really meant to be stupid, silly fun. I appreciate the fact that they’re not relying as heavily on the transformation gimmick at this point, but I know that the growing number of characters and ensuing love triangles will start to wear on some viewers in a similar fashion. With five more sets to go, watching Ranma 1/2 is definitely a huge investment, and while I couldn't be more thrilled to charge ahead into the series, I realize that some out there will likely begin experiencing Ranma fatigue towards the end of Set 2. 9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced. Its example will be copied or taken into account by almost anything that follows it.
Ranma 1/2 Review photo
Ahh, Akane-chan no panty!
Ranma 1/2 was my first anime. Sure, I might have watched a few feature-length titles like Ninja Scroll or Akira before sitting down to watch Ranma 1/2 with my half-Japanese friend who was always up on the latest gam...

Review: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Sep 21 // Josh Tolentino
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (PS Vita) Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NIS AmericaRelease: September 2, 2014MSRP: $39.99 For the uninitiated, the Danganronpa games are visual novels with a courtroom twist, their gameplay (such as it is) a fusion of Phoenix Wright with Battle Royale. As with the first game, Goodbye Despair stars a group of sixteen elite high school students, "Ultimates" among their peers, recently enrolled at the exclusive Hope's Peak Academy. Their first day at class sees them abducted, spirited away to the tropical Jabberwock Island by Monokuma, a murderous, two-tone teddy bear. Also as before, Monokuma presents the Ultimates with an ultimatum: Stay trapped on the island forever, or kill a schoolmate to earn the right to leave. The caveat: Once a murder happens, the whole cast gathers together to conduct a "Class Trial", debating the case and voting on the "blackened". The murderer needs to avoid getting fingered, or else suffer deadly consequences. [embed]32999:4157:0[/embed] Players are put into the shirt-and-tie ensemble of Hajime Hinata, the one member of the group who can't seem to remember just what his "Ultimate" talent is. Thankfully memory loss hasn't impacted his prowess at playing "getting to know you" with the world's most puissant (and unstable) studentry. Nor has it hindered his ability to argue way to the truth, something that will come in handy once the bodies start hitting the floor.  But, though Goodbye Despair is no mass murderer. The need for would-be players in Monokuma's "killing school trip" both make the kill and get away with it ensures that every new case, investigation, and subsequent class trial a roller-coaster ride of elaborate murder plans, red herrings, and last-second plot twists. In any rational setting the logical leaps required to make sense of each incident would drive one to despair, but the Danganronpa series sells the inherent absurdity of the scenario, setting, and characters so well that virtually anything is fair game. Goodbye Despair upholds that tradition, and in fact manages to surpass the original in some key ways, particularly where it comes to characterization. The sequel's cast of sixteen students is more dynamic and colorful than the original's, hard as that might be to believe for series fans. The archetypes employed are less obvious, and all but the earliest victims manage to grow out of their initial one-dimensional niches, becoming characters that one really doesn't want to see kick the bucket. As for the larger plot...well, "nuts" doesn't quite do Goodbye Despair justice. Somehow, it even tops Trigger Happy Havoc for off-the-wall happenings and genuinely surprising twists. Even more than the first game, Goodbye Despair glories in its inherent pulpiness, rather than striving to "elevate" itself. This gives it the freedom to play with expectations, fulfilling them at first glance right before pulling the rug out from under the player. All the while, the goofy, screwball tone of it all prevents the premise from ever becoming too bleak. Players will be sad that so-and-so character kicked the bucket, but they'll never fear being overwhelmed by the seriousness of an island trip where young high-schoolers are forced to murder each other for survival. And that's exactly the point.  NIS America's localization manages to capture the slightly unhinged tone of the game perfectly, despite a few typos and some questionable decisions to "westernize" certain references. It's one thing to find familiar cultural touchstones to ensure the jokes get across, but converting Yen figures to US dollars seems an out-of-place thing to do when most everyone in the story is quite obviously Japanese. But these are minor quibbles overall. The voice performances are serviceable in English, though dub purists will miss out on an all-star Japanese voice cast, including standout jobs from the likes of Kana Hanazawa and Evangelion alumnus Megumi Ogata. When it comes the individual cases themselves, they're more difficult to predict, with much of the crime-solving done during the actual Class Trial, rather than during the investigation. The characters themselves also tend to play bigger roles in each trial, so there's less of a feeling that events are contrived to allow Hajime to solve every aspect of the murder. The changes, however, cut both ways, as the more unpredictable stories and involved characters tend to lessen the feeling that the player is genuinely involved in the proceedings, rather than simply pushing buttons to advance. Put plain, Goodbye Despair trades away a key component of a good "whodunnit"- the sense of audience participation - in exchange for deeper characterization and plotting. The trade has paid off, though players looking to get their detective itch scratched may come away slightly disappointed. If this all sounds rather familiar to series veterans, that's because it is. In straight mechanical terms, Goodbye Despair is virtually identical to Trigger Happy Havoc. Every major gameplay element from the original has been carried over, either as-is or with slight tweaks. Map navigation is less time-consuming, with the first-person exploration swapped for looping two-dimensional plane. A leveling system has been put into play, based on the amount of steps Hajime takes. Skills - the perks that make class trials easier - are now purchased using "Hope Fragments" awarded for progressing classmate relationships. The minigames do their job, though, using mechanics to make literal the idea of debate-as-combat. As before, players shoot down contradictions with ammunition made of evidence, with a new twist that allows Hajime to agree with a classmate's statement. Stubborn comrades can be convinced in the new "Rebuttal Showdown" that swaps Truth Bullets for blades and marksmanship for Fruit Ninja-esque screen-slashing. The Logic Dive challenges players to solve key dilemmas by surfing their way through a Tron-like landscape of multiple-choice questions. It could be said that the minigames, and particularly their emphasis on getting things right or risk "failing" the trial, ultimately distract from the story, but they're simple enough to get by (especially if one sets the difficulty to "Gentle", with no consequences), and help preserve the manic tension of the arguments going on. If real-life jury deliberations worked that way, one would bet that jury duty would be a thing to look forward to. Not to mention that they make up the bulk of gameplay, and a not-insignificant portion of its stylistic flair. There's no doubting that it's all arbitrary and unecessary, but there's also no doubting that Danganronpa 2 would be a poorer experience without it. There's no shortage of worthwhile extras as well. Once the main game is rounded off, "Island Mode" is unlocked, allowing players to explore Jabberwock Island risk-free in the kind of dating sim-like scenario Goodbye Despair parodies in its own opening movie, and a throwaway minigame starring Monokuma's sister Monomi allows one to earn more Monocoins (used to unlock extras and buy relationship-boosting presents). Most interesting, though, is Danganronpa If, a full light novel containing an alternate scenario for Trigger Happy Havoc, telling the story from the perspective of a new character. The latter is worth reading through, if only because its viewpoint is much less milquetoast than the game's "canonical" hero. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the perfect sequel. It preserves everything that was good about its predecessor, while building on its foundation a worthy story that not only helps draw in newcomers but excites and satisfies fans of the original. If there's anything to be held against it, it's that it accomplishes all this by barely deviating from the path gone before, but that's hardly a complaint when the result is a solid, thoroughly entertaining coda. Anyone who won't accept those terms, though...well, they can go feel some despair.   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.)
Danganronpa 2 photo
Double Jeopardy
I almost don't want to be writing this review. That's because Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is quite a lot like its predecessor, Trigger Happy Havoc. That means it's one of the few games where "spoilers" really matter, and t...

Review: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream

Aug 27 // Elliot Gay
Persona 3 The Movie #2: Midsummer Knight's DreamStudio: A-1 PicturesDistributed by: AniplexRelease Date: June 7, 2014 Much like Movie #1, Midsummer Knight's Dream cuts off a lot of the fat from the Persona 3 story so that it can make its way to the end goal within the allotted run-time. What this means is that there are zero social link side stories, and ultimately very little of the school-life portions that help to make the game's so endearing. That being said, I think in the name of letting the full Persona 3 narrative breathe, these were necessary cuts. The film already suffers from how chopped up the original storytelling was, and bringing in the optional content would have only made the pacing suffer more. Unlike Spring of Birth however, the portion of the game that Movie #2 covers is both eventful and ties into the larger plot at large. The film essentially kicks off with Aigis' entrance, and it ends on a huge story beat that also happens to serve as a strong cliffhanger. In my Persona 3 The Movie: #1 piece, I noted that in order to give the narrative a proper through-line, Yuki was given an extremely apathetic personality. The goal was to show his gradually growth into a person who could depend and care about others by the end of the movie, and it works. This time around, the underlying theme becomes “do we really want to go back to everyday life?” The notion of a fear of normality is shared across most of the cast: Yuki is afraid of losing his place, Fuka wants to be useful to the people she cares about, Ken has finally found a new family. The list goes on, but ultimately the heroes now have a true objective (destroying all the large Shadows), and are unsure as to whether they actually want to see it through or not. The seeds of confusion are planted by the primary antagonists, the Persona-users that comprise Strega, who would see the Dark Hour continue eternally if they had their way. Much of the film's focus is on Aigis and her super powers, but the emotional core rests in Ken and Shinji's laps. If you despised Ken in the original game, this isn't going to change your opinion, but I for one never had much of a problem with his character. He's an emotional elementary school kid who has no family to turn to, is given a powerful weapon, and is jarringly made aware of the tragic truth behind his mother's death. After barely appearing in Spring of Birth, Shinji gets plenty of screen time here and happens to have one of the funniest moments across both films thus far. My biggest complaint yet again is the general disjointedness of the movie. Often times the characters will go from hanging out at a restaurant to fighting a main boss Shadow back to back with only a calendar transition to let the audience know that time has passed. On the one hand, the film series has finally introduced its main antagonists and end goal, so it actually feels as though the characters are working toward something. On the other hand, that hasn't erased the fact that due to the nature of the source material, lots of time gets skipped over frequently. That being said, I understand that this is a unique problem that's present when adapting the Persona franchise for TV or film, and I'm willing to accept that these films aren't going to try and find an alternative. It's just something that bares mentioning regardless. On the technical side of things, A-1 Productions has taken over animation duties for AIC ASTA, and it certainly shows. Aigis gets the brunt of the great animation cuts, with her introductory action sequence being a real showstopper. There's still some off-model wackiness that goes on here and there, but on the whole it's solid across the board, and a decent enough step up from the first movie. It's certainly leaps and bounds better than the original animated cutscenes in the Persona 3 game. Shoji Meguro's soundtrack is an electric mix of music from the game and new themes which blend together nicely. His work is rarely ever anything less than great, and I'm looking forward to grabbing the soundtrack CD whenever it's made available. I also want to give a quick shout-out to the best use of the Persona 3 battle theme ever: you'll know it when you see it. Persona 3 The Movie: #2 had the monumental task of not only introducing the core story for the remaining films, but also its primary villains and the rest of the cast. Despite thr brief run time of 93 minutes, it manages to do that as well as impress with some great action sequences and some drama to boot. I wasn't sure what to expect with the studio switch from AIC ASTA to A-1 Pictures, but clearly it was the right move. I had my doubts about trying to adapt Persona 3 into a series of films. It's a huge game with a massive cast, lots of various subplots, and way too much content to tackle in such a short time span. To my surprise however, the movies have been doing a noble job of it. While nothing can replace the experience of actually playing the original source material, Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight's Dream is a great watch for fans of the game. If you have friends who have always wanted to dip their toes into the franchise without the time investment, you can do a hell of a lot worse than sitting them down with the films. 8.0 – Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.
Persona 3 The Movie: #2 photo
Baby baby baby baby baby
Despite its pacing problems and general lack of an overarching story, I enjoyed Persona 3 The Movie: #1 Spring of Birth. As far as animated film adaptations of long games go, I think it did a novel job of compressing hours of...

Review: Kamen Rider Battride War II

Jul 29 // Salvador GRodiles
Kamen Rider Battride War II (PS3 [Regular Edition Reviewed], Wii U) Developer: Eighting Publisher: Bandai Namco Games Release Date: June 26, 2014 MSRP: Regular Edition: ¥ 7,689 [PS3, Wii U], Limited Edition: ¥ 11,286 [PS3, Wii U] Starting off with the latest Kamen Rider series, Kamen Rider Battride War II focuses on Kamen Rider Gaim, Baron, and Ryugen, as they’re sent into a strange movie theater. In this mysterious cinema, the three Riders meet two ghost-like children and suspicious fellow who goes by the name of Sinema. As Kamen Rider Gaim’s characters try to assess the matter at hand, our heroes end up being taken to various realms that Sinema sends them to. Of course, these areas are based off of the Kamen Rider movies from the Heisei Rider shows. [embed]32905:4076:0[/embed] First and foremost, Kamen Rider Battride War II’s plot is very straightforward. Gaim and his crew travel to different stages until they meet up with the other Heisei Riders. Then the players have to help the Heisei Riders win their signature battles in their corresponding films. Aside from that, the game throws in a few surprises when Sinema decides to change things up for our heroes, which acts a way to add variety to the story. Sadly, Battride War II's Chronicle/Story Mode wasn't executed well. Instead of utilizing elements from every Heisei Rider film in existence, Eighting chose to use one film per Rider show. Because of this decision, players were forced to re-battle the game's bosses more than twice. Ironically, this choice was an element that affected the first Battride War game’s quality as well, so it’s a bit disappointing to see that Eighting didn’t learn from their previous mistakes. On top of that, the most of Battride War II’s movie stages are missing certain Riders and monsters that played a major role in the original Heisei Rider films (such as Shadow Moon from the All Riders vs. Dai-Shocker film). Perhaps if Eighting chose to split each film into three stages to represent the movie’s key points (beginning, middle, and end), then we could’ve gotten the chance to battle every Heisei Rider movie villain during the game’s Chronicle Mode. If there’s one good thing about Eighting's involvement with the Battride War series, it's the Riders themselves. Players have access to three special finishing moves that can be executed with the Triangle, Circle, or Triangle and Circle Buttons together. When you press the Square Button, you'll be able to execute the Riders' normal combo. Despite the title’s simplistic combat actions, each Rider is capable of changing various forms, which changes the way how their combos and special moves work. While they could’ve added some branching combos to each character, Eighting still managed to capture the feel of using our favorite Bug-Eyed Heroes against hordes of enemies. Thankfully, Kamen Rider Fourze Base States and Gaim Zenith Arms are capable of doing different moves based on when you press Triangle during their combos, so players at least have the option to use a character with a broader move set. Aside from capturing each Rider’s fighting style, Eighting managed to improve Battride War’s II gameplay. For example, Kamen Rider OOO’s Tajador Combo now has an actual move set, and players are able to equip different Super Forms to Riders like Fourze and Wizard. While we’re on the topic of powerful transformations, if a player changes into a Rider’s Super Form, then they’ll be able to unleash the hero’s ultimate finishing move on your targets. Afterwards, you’ll be able to play as a Super Rider until your special gauge goes down; thus granting players the ability to feel like a true Kamen Rider. In addition to the Riders' Super Forms, Battride War II added an Ultimate System where players can change into the Riders' Movie Forms. Unlike your Super Transformation, the Ultimate Special only increases your strength while slowing down all enemies and bosses on screen. If a Rider lacks an Ultimate Form, then they’ll remain in their Super Form while receiving the Ultimate System’s benefits. Besides the game's two destructive specials, players can now cancel their combos with the X Button. Depending on the Rider that you select, players’ll get to roll, jump, or use a special ability when they cancel a combo. Other gameplay features include the Assist Rider System, which allows players to summon a Rider to hit an enemy or boss with a special attack. Thanks to this system, a good chunk of the Heisei Rider series’ Secondary Riders are now usable in the game. While it’s unfortunate that Kamen Rider Accel, Birth, Meteor, Beast, and Baron are the only playable Supporting Riders, it’s nice to see that Battride War II put some of the other Riders to good use. Best of all, the main Riders can be set to Assist Characters as well, so you’ll have a ton of combinations to experiment with. Since the new system allows you to summon an extra attacker, I found this feature to be very useful when I needed to break out of a boss' combo. All in all, the game's new elements allows players to implement more effective strategies against Battride War II's challenges, which act as a nice warm welcome to the series. When you’re not playing through Battride War II’s story, players have the option to test their skills in the game’s Survival Mode. In this segment, you’ll get to fight your way through random stages while overcoming various handicaps, which is very similar to the Rider Road Mode from the first game. If you managed to reign supreme, then you’ll be rewarded with special Figures that can be used to improve each Rider’s ability. Unlike the first Battride War, the Figures can now increase a Rider’s stats while retaining their special abilities. On top of that, the Toys are now capable of leveling up in battle, which adds a neat layer to the game itself. Unfortunately, Survival Mode is the only way for you to unlock Figures, so you’ll want to switch between the title's two options if you want to awaken your favorite characters true potential. Despite Eighting's attempt to improve Battride War II’s gameplay, this didn’t save the title from its flaws. Besides battling human-sized bosses, the team decided to add giant adversaries to the game’s sequel. While this concept sounds great on paper, the battles themselves were annoying to get through. Since it seemed that Eighting didn’t program the large boss’ hit-boxes properly, I found it very difficult to land a hit on most the title’s huge enemies. Compared to games like the Monster Hunter series, I felt that my attacks had little to no impact on the title's ginormous foes. Thankfully, these battles weren’t frequent, so it wasn’t enough to turn Battride War II into a terrible game. Other than that, it's still unfortunate that players can't run over enemies with their motorcycles, and the lack of a co-op option continues to be two minor recurring issues that have yet to be resolved. Besides my issues with most of the game's mechanics, I encountered a few glitches in Battride War II that prevented me from clearing certain stages. On a few occasions, I fell through the stage, which meant that I had to replay the entire level all over again. Luckily, I only encountered this bug twice, so there’s a chance that it might not happen too frequently. Other issues include the game's sound muting in most areas, and a freezing issue that occurs when you continuously use your Ultimate in any area that takes place in the castle from the Kamen Rider Wizard movie. While none of these glitches have messed with my game file, they can be annoying when you’re doing great during certain stages in Battride War II. As for Battride War II’s graphics, the game looks no different from the first title, as it still looks like an early PS3 game with HD PS2 quality environments. In fact, many of Battride War’s previous assets were recycled in the second installment. From the stages to the Riders and enemies from Kuuga to Wizard, none of these aspects were given a graphical update. While the Kamen Rider franchise has been known for reusing sets and locations, this doesn’t mean that Eighting should use the designs from the previous game without improving them. Despite being a person who favors gameplay over graphics, I felt that Battride War II could've look a bit better to warrant the title’s retail price. On a more positive note, the second game’s animations are better than before, which meant that Eighting touched up the characters who didn't receive new moves and/or Forms. Music wise, the game's soundtrack was disappointing, as each track felt like a generic freeware song or a rejected Kamen Rider battle theme. Sure, “Break the Shell” by Kamen Rider Girls was amazing, but one tune isn’t enough to save Battride War II’s entire music track. Luckily, players are given the option to create a Custom Soundtrack with any song that's on their PS3 console. On top of that, you also have the option to decide when the game plays your selected tracks (such as the menu, stage music, or the Riders’ transformation themes), which can be set to each Rider as well. Thanks to this feature, players can bypass the game’s mediocre tunes. Overall, Kamen Rider Battride War II had the potential to be a great game for the franchise's viewers, but the title's various flaws held it back from becoming a fine product. Even then, it was still a blast to obliterate waves of enemies with the Riders that Battride War II had to offer. While the title has enough content to please most Kamen Rider fans, I recommend waiting for Battride War II to go down in price before diving in. In the meantime, if you’re interested in a good Kamen Rider action game, then I recommend checking out All Kamen Rider: Rider Generation 2 for the PSP or DS, since it’s a beat em’ up title that contains over 50 Riders and villains. 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.)
Import Review photo
Journey through the Decayed
Back when Kamen Rider Battride War was first announced, many toku fans were excited over the fact that they were getting a Dynasty Warriors-like game that featured their favorite Heisei Riders from Kamen Rider Kuuga...

Review: World End Economica Episode 1

May 27 // Brittany Vincent
World End Economica Episode 1 (PC)Developer: Spicy TailsPublisher: Sekai ProjectRelease: May 5, 2014MRSP: $12.99 The tale of pipsqueak stock broker Yoshiharu (nicknamed "Hal") is one that piqued my interest right away, as it didn't include your average (and faceless) high school student seeking a girlfriend or sifting through a boring harem. Its sci-fi lilt brought with it an air of freedom from the chains that traditionally bind VN protagonists, and thus I was all in from the beginning. World End Economica follows the completion of mankind's greatest accomplishment: colonization of the moon. Humanity is migrating to space, though this advancement creates as many new problems as it does opportunities. There's a growing rift between those born on the moon and those born on Earth, and it's clear through Yoshiharu's journeys that "moon children" aren't exactly welcomed on our blue planet. As the teenage son of the very first two colonists on the moon, Hal decides he's had it with working-class life and wants to strike it rich through stock trading. He drifts from net cafe to net cafe, a vagabond narrowly avoiding scrapes with the police, until he runs into Lisa, a friendly church owner who gives him room and board. [embed]32623:3921:0[/embed] Unfortunately, there's another teenage runaway who's also taken up residence with Lisa, and she's as tsundere as they come. She's a mathematical genius, but a loner through and through. In case you couldn't guess that simply by looking at her (her character design is typical of the archetype), the novel finds plenty of ways to remind you here and there of how "cold" she truly is. Hal and Hagana simply can't get along, and right about where they begin their ceaseless bickering is when I decided World End Economica just wasn't doing it for me. There's something to be said about new and gripping ideas when it comes to visual novels, and with a story that appears to be heavily focused on elements so far outside the norm for the genre, seeing cookie-cutter tsundere girls and a protagonist who's little more than a selfish brat is more than a little disappointing. It's especially disconcerting when you factor in the main focus of this episode, which happens to be a virtual stock trading competition that Hal will be competing in. There's so much fluff masquerading as character development from the beginning up until the big reveal that it's difficult to maintain even a passing interest in what the characters are actually doing. Given that I didn't connect with any of the cast at all in the first place other than with Hal and his love of money, it was a difficult read. While both Hal and Hagana do tend to soften considerably and both become more personable near the end of the episode, I didn't feel moved to investigate the next one -- especially if it all it's going to deliver is a heavy dose of exposition with characters I'm not even interested in learning more about. And then there's the stock trading itself. For a game wholly based on the idea of virtual stock trading, there's little to no visual representation of said activity or any attempt to involve readers in the economical side of things beyond technical jargon and straightforward descriptions of how playing the stock trade actually works. I was hoping there would be at least a few interesting attempts at making the trading accessible for any type of audience, but it just didn't work out, and with bland visuals and sometimes black screens accompanying simple text, I found myself bored to tears more often than not. When reading is already your primary interaction with a VN, the story has to keep you entertained, and this one failed to on several occasions. Luckily, the CG scenes were quite aesthetically pleasing, even if the character models themselves had an amateurish feel to them overall. Poses don't always seem natural, and there's a strange look to the shading in some areas, particularly the necks on both male and female characters. It's hard to ignore, especially considering the fact that it gives young girls the appearance of having wrinkled skin where there should be a youthful complexion. And the music's nice when it's around, but wholly forgettable. World End Economica has so much going for it: an interesting premise, a protagonist with an actual design and personality (even if it is a little rotten) and the opportunity to capitalize on a business rarely (if ever) explored in video games: stock trading. Unfortunately, it squanders the opportunity to capitalize on these great bullet points and winds up a generic, muddled mess of pacing issues, bland dialogue, and characters too difficult to connect with. There are plenty of other more meaty and fulfilling visual novels out there that may be a little more expensive than this budget indie release, but you'll come out of those feeling much better about your purchase than you would about World End Economica. 4 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)
World End Economica photo
Don't fly me to the moon
[Originally posted at Destructoid.] Visual novels are a finicky medium. It's difficult enough to drum up interest because of their exotic origins, and harder still to find an audience due to their nature -- it's a bunch of re...


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